2019 - The final exam of the Harbaugh offense

Submitted by stephenrjking on December 21st, 2018 at 7:10 PM

Shea's back. 

Harbaugh has a returning senior blue chip QB. He has boatloads of receiver talent. The offensive line, finally, appears poised to be good. He has experienced tight ends. The one starter leaving a hole, Karan Higdon, has capable backups and a top 50 prospect poised to take his place.

There's a lot of debate about what, exactly, caused the offense to play at a "B" level when it seemed to have "A" talent last season. Some people assert that Pep is the problem; others assert that the basic philosophy is wrong; perhaps it's an issue of player coaching. The theories are manifold; they are, finally, unnecessary.

We don't know what goes on in the room. But the results, ultimately, are what matter.

Next year, Harbaugh has everything he needs. Barring a series of catastrophic injuries, there is absolutely no reason that the offense shouldn't be excellent. Personally, I am optimistic that it will be. But the time is no longer "some day." The time is now.

2019 is a referendum on Harbaugh as an offensive coach. 



December 21st, 2018 at 8:35 PM ^

I was thinking of making a post about this so I'll just comment here (first post reply!). Remember at the beginning of last year when we kept hearing about Michigan going 4 wide and airing it out, and then it didn't happen? Harbaugh admitted they weren't ready for it. And yes that's on him. But it got compounded by Speight getting injured. I bet if Speight stays healthy last year they manage to find what works for their offense and the offense turns out not great but way better than what it was.

We all remember O'Korn's horrible interception because he didn't understand the coverage for the route tree being used. I don't remember hearing anything about route trees this year. Space Coyote has talked about opportunity costs. A college offense can't do everything. Shea came in knowing less of the offense than even O'Korn I'm sure, the WRs are still young, and we expected tackles that couldn't pass protect to save their lives. The OP mentioned a B offense with A talent, but that talent didn't have much experience. But Shea can run. So what did the staff focus on? The ground game and adding new wrinkles with the zone read. All of those plays should still be there next year and probably with even more wrinkles added in. But I think where the offense will really take a leap next year is in the passing game. Shea's back, the WRs are in their 3rd years, the OL should be solid. I really wouldn't be surprised to see this offense go off next year.

Also another reminder that this offense was about 20 spots higher on S&P+ than it was projected to be this year. Granted, part of that is how bad they were last year, but this offense is still clearly trending up.


December 21st, 2018 at 8:43 PM ^

Good post. The issue of experience can be a real one. There is, indeed, only so much time to learn and practice within college time restrictions.

But if so, that's a potential problem with the philosophy. Because if it requires levels of experience that are hard to produce in college, it means there is a much smaller set of conditions under which the offense can be successful.

If Harbaugh can only run his "real offense" with a senior QB and upperclassmen receivers, that means that Michigan can occasionally have great offenses and will often have underwhelming ones when those conditions aren't met. 


December 21st, 2018 at 8:59 PM ^

Yes, there are teams burning it up with true freshmen QB's in schemes that are both college-friendly and effective.

Look around the country. It's being done everywhere.  And by teams with a lot less talent than Michigan.  

Maryland put up 50 on Ohio State.

Bad offense is a choice.


December 22nd, 2018 at 7:30 AM ^

No, I'm impressed with them putting up 50 points on Ohio State via an offensive scheme that exploited OSU's weaknesses. 

Meanwhile we entered the 3rd quarter against Ohio State down only 5 points . . . and proceeded to go scoreless for the entire quarter.

But hey, we had a better S&P+ offense against second tier teams.

There's probably a trophy for that.



December 22nd, 2018 at 8:44 AM ^

1. 39 points should be enough to beat any team when you have the #1 Defense lined up with you.

2. Anyone that thinks OSU was as prepped or motivated to play @ Maryland as the were for a Senior Day game against their most hated rival doesn’t understand sports very well. 


Our offense is fine. You may not like full back runs over slants and fly patterns, but it was effective. It’ll be interesting for Harbaugh to have a returning starter at QB in 2019.


December 22nd, 2018 at 1:07 PM ^

39 points is kinda of a silk stocking on a pig if you’re honest about it. That end of the 2nd quarter td was a total gift. 99.9% of the time the kickoff returner doesn’t drop it near the sideline on the 4 yard then, and if he does the ball doesn’t stay in bounce to be recovered by the kicking team. 

Then several of those points were garbage time points in the fourth when the game was over and it didn’t matter anymore. 

I look at that game and realistically see maybe 14-21 points Michigan scored that actually mattered and had a possible impact on the game. 

The offense was super conservative. Not wanting to open it up which was a total wrong move. It was frustrating watching the same crap that hadn’t worked the past few weeks, the 3&outs, etc when we all saw how Maryland ripped up OSUs defense. 

Top college programs can’t win on clock management and a great defense. You need to have a fast scoring offense that has to spread athletes out. Too many advantages in the game now going to the offense so coaches need to take advantage of that. 


December 21st, 2018 at 10:13 PM ^

I didn't say he needs a senior QB and upperclassmen receivers, but it no doubt helps. I think the idea that there are teams lighting it up with a bunch of inexperienced players is a figment of imaginations though. I'd like some specific examples because I feel like they could be picked apart pretty easily. We all know Jameis Winston did well as a freshman. But he was on a redshirt for one. Also, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2013_Florida_State_Seminoles_football_team#Returning_starters

Check out those returning starters on offense. His entire OL was made of returning starters who were juniors and seniors. They had upperclassmen returning starters at WR and TE. And no doubt those guys were highly ranked. Give Michigan that OL last year even with O'Korn and I doubt we have people complaining about Pep.

Well what about Rondale Moore? Purdue doesn't have a lot of talent. That's true. They also had a redshirt senior QB and all upperclassmen OL.

Shea may have been listed as a junior, but as we've seen, he ran almost as simple a system as you can get at Ole Miss. He was hardly more than a freshman when he arrived. I'm glad Shea's back, but I actually would have been fine if he didn't come back because we have QBs with experience in the system. But I actually do think Harbaugh's passing offense is harder than a spread system, and it can have some problems without an experienced QB. But we also know Harbaugh is going to take AT LEAST one QB every class, so I think he's aware of that.


December 22nd, 2018 at 1:05 AM ^

Michigan's strength was running the football, which they did 62.5% of the time.  Meanwhile, Michigan has really good wide receivers and running backs that are way underutilized in the passing game.  Michigan also has very good tight ends that spend most of their time blocking.  The routes combos that they use often appear to be the long developing type.


December 22nd, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

Very good summary. Offensive play calling is still too conservative. Playing Bo Ball without linemen that have a 60 lb. weight advantage wont work when the heavy weights have speed nowadays. Harb. needs to make things easier on himself by going out and finding the number one offensive coordinator/mind in the business, (I mean one who can score points on anybody) just like he did with Don Brown and make him an offer he cant refuse. So as things are, we win 80% of our games. This fan base will only accept  80% if we beat MSU and OSU.


December 21st, 2018 at 7:39 PM ^

Good discussion of this in a thread last week suggested the time by itself is not a problem. Methodical--everyone on the same page--can be good thing. Keeping the o on the field and the D rested may be as well. O by committee may sometimes just mean it takes time to get plays in--if Harbaugh and Warriner are continuing to develop a hybrid offense next year that might not change, either.

What I would like to see is a more nuanced ability to employ tempo; I expect that Shea's full acclimatization next year can make that possible. Could be that he's calling more of the plays, too.

Coach Carr Camp

December 21st, 2018 at 8:42 PM ^

I swear I remember last year in the opening drive of the second half against Florida (where we scored to retake lead) we went into tempo mode for part of that drive. I remember getting excited thinking we would see more of that  - not all the time, but a more strategic deployment of tempo. You would think with an experienced Shea we could have some scripted sequences to deploy when the offense needs a little momentum.  


December 21st, 2018 at 8:20 PM ^

When you are leading it's not a problem, but it can be murder when you are trailing by more than a score or are tying to play hurry up.

It's partially a problem of the notoriously wordy West Coast Offense--some calls can be twenty words in length. Contrast that with some spread systems where only a couple of words are necessary. It be nice if there was a way to do that in certain situations.

The Fan in Fargo

December 21st, 2018 at 9:26 PM ^

Yeah sledge hammer, I've witnessed it too many years now. Even in the Carr years, if a team was down they couldn't manage to get back to the line. Lineman would be walking up to the line and the quarterback was trying to get the play in. Team would be down a couple scores with 5 minutes left. Just never made any sense. Do they ever practice a hurry up offense? If they are, they need to rethink what they are doing and teaching because it isn't right. When Michigan is down against the good teams and which it usually is for the past decade plus, there is no urgency. If the receivers are running routes way down the field, I can see it taking somewhere in the range of 10 seconds at the most to get back, get the play and get to the line of scrimmage with the clock running. If it is short routes, should be even faster. You run a hundred meter dash in 10 seconds. If you're me, you run it in nine flat. Besides the point. If it is a pass completion for a first down then a team should basically have the play in and be lined up when that clock starts again or very shortly after. You'll see guys catch a short pass that is short of the first down marker and not get out of bounds and then jog back to the huddle. The quarterback will be waiting for the play-call. Get that fucking play called and move your lazy asses with some urgency on the field. Unbelievable how you can play football this many years and not get that yet. I get that the team wants to control the clock and win time of possession but man oh man, sometimes you have to run hurry up boys and believe it or not, it shouldn't be your own slow ass version of it. Should probably be close to as fast as you can fucking go. Get down the field, score the points and make your defense defend. If they cant take advantage of the momentum, then it is what it is. They are outgunned or out of shape. 

Indy Pete - Go Blue

December 21st, 2018 at 7:48 PM ^

You are not alone. Not much optimism left around here - too much pain and let down. I am still optimistic and I am basing my optimism on a lot of factors that are not hard to see if you endeavor look beyond the close calls (2016), misfortunes (injuries) and disappointments (@osu). 

Here a few of the reasons for my optimism:

Coaching, leadership, QB, culture, recruiting, returning talent, years in system, OL coaching and improvement, program trajectory, Harbaugh’s track record, Dax Hill, motivation, schedule, Don brown


December 21st, 2018 at 7:16 PM ^

I hope we can finally make good use of our several athletic slot wide receivers and Chris Evans. It would be nice to just try and get our guys into open space like Purdue with Ronald Moore .


December 21st, 2018 at 7:35 PM ^

They tried some of this stuff in theory. Early, in particular, they were throwing a lot of bubbles to the perimeter to try to get receivers in space. It never seemed to work well--watching the plays, it felt awkward and slow somehow. Some of the issue may be willingness to use the ideas, but part of the problem may be an inability to coach the team to execute the plays right.

The 2003 Michigan team tried to adopt the spread punt, which was becoming popular in the game. It was an example of Lloyd adapting.

The punting unit was absolutely awful. It didn't work. They went back to the old way. It wasn't that Lloyd was unwilling to try new stuff, it's that he and the staff only knew how to coach certain methods, so they just focused on what they were good at.

Regarding guys like Evans: I don't understand why Michigan was so allergic to RB screens. Evans and Higdon are both good in space (give Higdon an opening and his speed makes things happen) and yet they were virtually ignored in this capacity. 


December 22nd, 2018 at 12:06 AM ^

The problem with those WR bubble screens out on the perimeter is that it takes way too long for the ball to get out there, with the receiver typically not even moving.  It gives the defense too much time to react.  It works once only.  Get the receiver running and hit them in stride and it will be a lot more effective. 


December 21st, 2018 at 7:40 PM ^

Agree they should do cool slot stuff, but which athletic slots have we not been using the last few years?

Once Black went down, DPJ and Martin were basically resigned to the outside. I like Grant Perry but he is not sudden.

With the numbers back up at WR and the twitchy freshman slots I expect they'll do a lot of this. 


December 21st, 2018 at 7:22 PM ^

If Harbaugh can’t manage a S&P+ top 10 offense with what he has next year, then the college game has passed him by. 

Up until this point, only his Jeddfense has looked capable, and that team wasn’t nearly as talented as what he has next year. 


December 21st, 2018 at 7:34 PM ^

The Jeddfense was 41st in S&P+ with a decent number of NFL players (Butt, Darboh, Chesson, 4 OL). 

This year they're 24th. That's more than capable. 

They should be really good next year and if they're not it will be a huge disappointment, but the deification of Jedd says more about how our expectations have changed than it does about Jedd.