Baumgardner: Harbaugh should change his philosophy about what wins big games or M will stay nationally irrelevant

Submitted by wolverine1987 on January 8th, 2019 at 9:34 AM

Nick's latest, making the case that to go from good to playoff contenders Harbaugh must adjust his offensive philosophy.

"When talent is close to even in modern football, the team that rides with its best athletes and an open throttle wins more than not...

"If you enter a football game against a team with even or better talent and don't have enough in your toolbox to change speeds and allow your best athletes to be explosive, you're going to lose. Michigan went conservative without enough tempo at Ohio State and lost. It went conservative without enough tempo against Florida in the Peach Bowl and lost. It went conservative without enough tempo in the season-opener at Notre Dame and lost."





January 8th, 2019 at 2:34 PM ^

I didn't know who he was 2 years ago either.  Don't live in the area anymore so wasn't actively tracking the Freep.  

However, I saw some of his articles linked and liked what I read.   He's pretty good, actually.  And he's aware you can't just be a print journalist anymore.  He's branched out to a podcast (also pretty good), and I've even seen him on youtube here and there.  

So if you're looking for some fresh content, I would encourage you to check him out.  


January 8th, 2019 at 10:46 AM ^

I’m saddened that there are a couple people rushing to brag about not reading papers. If you mean “not reading papers for Michigan football news”, then fine. Otherwise, you’re broadcasting ingnorance. I’m not saying every story is earth shatteringly important, but journalism is necessary. Watch Spotlight a couple dozen times to help with that notion. 


January 8th, 2019 at 10:57 AM ^

You guys act like he only writes for  a printed newspaper that you have to pick up at the news stand.  Like he is some antiquated guy wearing a visor and typing away on an IBM selectric.

He writes for the Free Press, which by the way, has a website.  It's not like you can't Google UM football and get links to his stories.

CRISPed in the DIAG

January 8th, 2019 at 10:26 AM ^

A newspaper reporter is by definition pretty damn "irrelevant."

A football team - one with the most wins in the history of men's collegiate tackle football - who was in the playoff discussion for until the end of November is not "irrelevant." 

If someone want to argue that we need to change offensive philosophies (or whatever) that's fair. But calling UM irrelevant is lazy.


January 8th, 2019 at 2:15 PM ^

Oh, but he is wrong. If we go tempo against ND, Runyan gives up 9 hurries instead of 6, or whatever the number was. If we go tempo against OSU, they beat us by 34 instead of 23. We passed more against Florida than we ran. Going tempo doesn’t magically make Turner’s foot stay in bounds or improve Shea’s accuracy.


January 8th, 2019 at 9:54 AM ^

Yeah, because every great football team has a 5 star QB.  I don't think our problem this year was our QB.  I get your point about modernizing our offense, but I think it is more about tempo than changing our offense all together.  Both teams last night were set and ready to go with at least 20 seconds on the game clock.  This gave the QB plenty of time to review the defense and make any changes necessary.  Tempo is the key more than anything.


January 8th, 2019 at 10:06 AM ^

Yeah, because every great football team has a 5 star QB.

Yep pretty much.

Tempo is the key more than anything.

The schematic design of our passing game is busted doesn't matter how much we throw or how fast we line up our route tree sucks and doesn't utilize mesh, slants, crossing, intermediate routes in the middle of the field, or screens. Which is beyond baffling considering our base running play is inside zone. It's long developing PA to the TE up the seam, WR down the sideline, or something in the flats quickly. It's sad how easy we are to defend.


January 8th, 2019 at 10:15 AM ^

So true...  That is the entire route tree.  And to add to the dysfunction, the running game is predicated on nothing more than hitting each block to get anything.  There is no misdirection to wherever blocks are not flowing; there are no immediate tosses to get the RB outside in a hurry; there are no quick hits anywhere that doesn't require a pulling OL or a motioning-in to the blocking spot of the TE...

The offensive scheme is great for controlling the ball against lesser opponents.  It is incapable of winning a game against the types of offenses we saw last night.  And it doesn't matter how well Brown's defense may play...


January 8th, 2019 at 10:36 AM ^

And we saw what a little misdirection can do in our offense during the Florida game.  The third play of the game Turner gets the ball on a jet sweep and is able to use his speed to turn the corner and is within a quarter inch of going for a touchdown...frustrating that we went away from that basically from the 2nd quarter on.


January 8th, 2019 at 11:32 AM ^

See, this is the problem with these discussions. We say "the offense doesn't work," but people wind up saying things that have little relationship with what is actually happening on the field. 

Take the above comment about Michigan's route tree, for example. No mesh? Michigan basically beat Purdue last year running nothing but mesh. Here's a refresher, for those who forgot. Intermediate routes? Quite a few of those. Screens? Michigan ran many. A curious aversion to RB screens, yes, but the idea that Michigan doesn't have screen passes in the arsenal is specious.

The idea that Michigan's route tree is too simple is... not in keeping with the facts. If anything, it is too complex, requiring receivers to make option choices in tandem with the QB; this caused problems in 2017 when both the QB Michigan went with down the stretch and the receivers were inexperienced. Remember Kekoa Crawford breaking off his route and John O'Korn throwing deep directly to an OSU player? That was an option route.

Most people who want Michigan to "get with the times" would be delighted with a guy like Kliff Kingsbury, were he an option. The truth is that Kingsbury's air raid offense installs considerably fewer routes than Michigan. It's not quite as basic as the Briles Baylor offense, whose route tree was skeletal in its simplicity, but it's pretty simple. 

Michigan's running game (which was basically the Ed Warinner program this year--nobody should be complaining about integrating his vast experience and his terrific record at producing running offense) is also not as described. Misdirection? Michigan under Harbaugh runs one of the most varied and diverse running attacks in college football. Michigan ran numerous different run looks, including inside zone, Down G, Pin and Pull, split zone, power, a brief touch of counter, you name it. They combined it with selective zone read options that put Shea Patterson in space, including the deadly arc bluff combo that Harbaugh and Greg Roman basically invented that sprung Shea on that long run against Wisconsin.

Michigan's run offense features considerably more variety than most college offenses, and quite a few pro offenses. The Rams may have the best rushing attack in the NFL; their RB run repertoire is limited to inside zone, outside zone, and split zone. That's it. 

Jet sweeps? People have short memories. Christian Turner's sweep was Michigan's most successful, but it was far from the only jet sweep Michigan ran; they ran it multiple times every game in the first half of the season using virtually every receiver on the field, reducing it in frequency only as defenses keyed on it.

The problem Michigan has is not a lack of concepts or ideas. It's not a lack of scouting, or of coaching effort.

The problem is philosophy and execution. Michigan ran screens, but they worked poorly; they didn't quite have the speed or precision you see in other offenses. The jet sweeps were often failures, running them into defenses that outnumbered them, whiffing blocks or angles, that kind of thing. Michigan has the route combos, but doesn't combine them well, and the QBs seem to have a hard time executing them, which makes me suspect the way the QBs are coached by Harbaugh is an issue (remember Wilton Speight just flat ignoring a wide open Grant Perry in space on an intermediate route last year?). 

Also, I think one of Michigan's challenges is that the defensive philosophy, while not awful, makes it hard for the team to cope with zone defenses. Michigan can run zone, of course, but Brown is not a zone man. People want to see mesh, but mesh doesn't work well against zones and virtually everyone ran zone against Michigan because they knew that Shea had trouble with it. Remember last year when Harbaugh admitted that Speight's high INTs against Florida may have been the result of practicing against man coverage, because he was used to getting away with that against man? Same deal now. Shea isn't comfortable picking apart zone windows. 

There's other stuff. But the issue is not that Michigan doesn't have these features; it's how they use the features together and coach the players to build a college offense. How, exactly? Well, it behooves us to admit when we can't be sure.


January 8th, 2019 at 4:10 PM ^

Great post. I get the point about Brown running almost exclusively man to man. However, our offense must get zone looks from the scout team defense during the week since it's their job to mimic the opposition's defensive tendencies. If the opponent plays lots of zone then our scout team defense must be doing the same. 


January 8th, 2019 at 6:29 PM ^

Yes-outstanding post. However, the "however" is huge...and it is tied to the quip "Perfection is the enemy of good"...and too many coaches get caught up in this "trap". This offense, indeed this team, is losing it's way in its quest for perfection. Good teams execute the hell out of you even when you know what is coming. You are better off doing three things very well than being half-assed at ten. 

Line up DPJ and Collins wide right with Giles in the slot. Black is wide left and Schoonmaker is there to help chip and then release. You RPO with Charbonnet...and you execute that thing to both perfection and death and you can run the same thing 10 times in a row and they cannot stop you. This is what Oklahoma stretch the defense, force mismatches and put them in a perpetual hell. You don't need 17 different blocking schemes and route trees...every play (at least) one of your playmakers is going to win their personal battle. Patterson and McCaffrey are bright, gifted and competitive kids. They will know at the line of scrimmage where their advantages are-and will make you pay. It's all about execution...just ask Michigan's defense after that OSU game!

Benoit Balls

January 8th, 2019 at 10:28 AM ^

Same thing happened to McCarthy in Green Bay.  Routes are the same as what you describe for the most part, and even with Aaron Rodgers, its wasnt anywhere near as good as it should have been.  

Defenses learned to handle this flavor of offense long ago.  It works against teams you have a decided advantage in player skill/ athleticism, but it doesnt work when your opponent is on your level (or higher). 



January 8th, 2019 at 10:31 AM ^

It is hard to defend our passing game, but I think you are being overly critical on the routes.  We most certainly ran mesh routes all year long.  I would say the criticism lies more in the routes called on certain downs.  There were multiple times where the routes weren't even completed before Shea had to get rid of the ball.  Which brings me to the next point in that our O-Line was improved, but it's still not near where it needs to be in giving Shea time.  If Harbaugh changes his entire offense I would be fine with it, but at the very least, he needs to change the tempo at which our offense operates.


January 8th, 2019 at 10:39 AM ^

That’s literally the point though. All our routes are these mega-slow developing long-ass routes where our QB needs a day and a half in the pocket before he can actually throw the ball. The successful teams with high powered offenses have cerybquick developing routes which allows the QB to dump the ball off quickly and get it to athletes in space allowing for YAC. Virtually the polar opposite of what we do. 


January 8th, 2019 at 10:03 AM ^

Not sure the indictment here on his relevance. Is it because he's appropriately critical of the program and isn't a mouth piece of the organization, so he's irrelevant?

I for one am so sick of the pre-season mouthpieces parroting the company lines about players, systems, etc. because it's almost always hogwash. I find his critical (and accurate) concerns with the program to be refreshing at this juncture.

Michigan Shirt

January 8th, 2019 at 11:28 AM ^

What does coaching football games or actually playing have anything to do with being able to provide analysis? You realize you are on a blog reading analysis from someone who has the same amount of games played and coached as Nick right?

Also, this article is on the internet, it's not like you had to go buy a paper to read his opinion so all the talk about newspapers are irrelevant. Just because print is dead doesn't mean that we all stop reading articles on the internet, it's just a matter of what site hosts the authors content.


January 8th, 2019 at 9:43 AM ^

Quit acting like a martyr every time you criticize this coaching staff/team/offense/whatever. Nobody's arguing that Michigan can stagnate their approach to football and win a National Championship next year. I'd love to see an analysis of how many posts read "fire Pep" "outdated offense" "dinosaur" "up the gut" run, run, pass, punt" etc. lately. You're not in the minority here, and we've seen more than enough iterations of your opinion. I'm sure it's making the difference you're hoping it does.


January 8th, 2019 at 9:58 AM ^

I get to have an opinion on a message board.  You are free to disagree with it.  Neg away, I can take it.  I'm no martyr.

My opinion is that Michigan's current issues are self-inflicted and unnecessary.  We do agree on one thing, I'm not in the minority on that.

If there is a quota on how many times that is allowed to be said in different ways, the mods will let us know.

It's the day after the college football National Championship game, so it's probably not going to be today.  You will have to endure for at least that long.




January 8th, 2019 at 10:14 AM ^

We agree on more than one thing. The assertion that you'll get negged for disagreeing with Harbaugh is not somewhere we agree. I see plenty of (often very justifiable, sometimes baffling) criticism thrown his way around here. We definitely don't agree on how many times one's opinion should be stated on the same message board. I guess my options are to stay away from the boards or to find a way to enjoy reading the same comments over and over? That's a bummer.


January 8th, 2019 at 10:29 AM ^

Just ignore the comments you don't like or neg them, either way is pretty quick.

There are a lot of comments, even entire threads, on this board I don't like.  But it's too much work to try to police the entire board. 

Just move on to the stuff you like, there is still something for everyone that makes it worth it.