A couple thoughts on the offense

Submitted by Dan TrueBlue on November 14th, 2010 at 9:06 AM
First off, congratulations to RR!  Not only a bowl game but a winning season, and officially on the way up.  I'll gladly take a 2-game improvement every year.  With that said, here's a couple things I've been thinking over the last couple weeks that I haven't seen posted yet.
I'm not quite as high on the "never punt it" bandwagon as I used to be.  Yes, it's a good strategy when you have a really good offense.  And we do have a good offense... only it's not one that can reliably pick up a few yards on every play.  It's more the kind of offense that will get you 0-2 yards a couple times and then pop you for 20.  That means that despite getting lots of yards and first downs, you can't really depend on them to convert on any one particular down.  Also, with the defense playing a little tighter the last two weeks, it's become safer to punt than it was earlier in the year.
Predictability.  I never thought I would say this about our offense, but it has become a bit predictable.  I'd like to know how many times in the last two weeks we actually called for a pass on first down.  Other than the first play of each game, I don't remember a single one.  I'm not saying there weren't any, just that I don't remember them.  We somehow seem to have reverted to the old Lloyd Carr adage of "run, run, until you have to pass."  I'm going to put my rosy glasses on and hope this is so we can catch Wisconsin and OSU a little more off-guard in our play-calling.  It might have been just because of the rain, except that it happened against Illinois too.  Whatever it was, I just hope to see us mix it up a little more in the next couple weeks.
I was also going to comment that Denard has seemed a step or two slower in his last few games, and that maybe he's not quite as healthy as it's been made out.  But Humen beat me to it (a few comments down in this thread).
I'm very happy with the team and the coach right now.  But there's a couple things like this that worry me, and I want to see us play as well as possible against Wisconsin and OSU!  If we do, I like to think Michigan might just be able to sneak out with one more win.
Addendum: I added some data in one of the comments below, and thought I should copy it up here.
Yards Frequency
<0 10
0-2 31
3-5 12
6-9 10
10+ 17
I also checked the play-calling on first down.  We ran on first down 28 times, and passed on only 5.  That includes 9 first-down runs in a row in the first half, and 16 in a row in the second half, during which our only first-down pass came on the first play of the half.



November 14th, 2010 at 9:23 AM ^

"Also, with the defense playing a little tighter the last two weeks..."

I know we made a stop on the 2 pt attempt against Illinois but giving up 65 is not my idea of the defense playing "tighter".

However, I did like our effort against a severely under-manned Purdue offense yesterday.

I liked our defensive effort yesterday and I can only hope we play as well against a very tough offense in Wisconsin on Saturday.


Go Blue!

Dan TrueBlue

November 14th, 2010 at 9:26 AM ^

I understand that if you just look at the points scored by Illinois, it looks bad.  But 20 of those points came because of the 3 overtimes.  Those don't count.  Some more came because of possessions without Martin -- by far our best defensive player -- on the field.  And others came because of really bad offensive turnovers, where the defense still held them to a field goal.  In fact, the defense stopped them with a really short field several times, and forced them to punt on half of their possessions.  Depsite what the points say, I think that was the first decent game of the year (or at least since B10 play started) for the defense.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:35 AM ^

How does overtime not count? I understand that overtime will generally increase the stats and points a defense gives up, but believe it or not it is possible to get a stop in overtime. Its not an automatic TD. Also we were going against Illinois last week. they don't exactly have a high powered offense. 45 in regulation is still the most they have scored all year.

Dan TrueBlue

November 14th, 2010 at 12:09 PM ^

Overtime doesn't count because all judgment is relative and 65 points only sounds as bad as it does when you're comparing it to other games that don't have 3 OTs.  I guarantee you: if every game went an extra 20ish minutes, with possessions starting on the 25 yard line, 65 points would sound a lot more normal.  You can compare triple-OT scores to other triple-OT scores, or the regulation score to other regulation scores, but it's deceiving to mix-and-match.

As you say, 45 points in regulation is still a lot, but see above for why it wasn't as bad as the final [regulation] score made it out to be.


November 14th, 2010 at 9:32 AM ^

yesterday the defense did what they were supposed to do.....which as crappy as purdue was, is still something good to take away from the game

lets also keep in mind that there was a whole lotta mark moundros out there, and no mike martin.


November 14th, 2010 at 9:31 AM ^

Purdue some credit as to how our offense played yesterday, in particular, two players. Kerrigan and their other DL, I think his name is Short, both played extremely well and were in the face of our QB's nearly every play. Those two are serious players, and considering how well our line has played most of the year, deserve some credit as to how inept our O was most of the day.


November 14th, 2010 at 12:36 PM ^

I seem to recall that we were pretty successful for about a 35 year period or so with what I always considered fairly predictable play calling under Bo and Lloyd (Moeller had some of the current Mad Hatter Les Miles in him).  The attitude used to be that, yeah , you know what we are going to do, but you can't stop us anyway.

Dan TrueBlue

November 14th, 2010 at 1:50 PM ^

I just thought one of the touted reasons for picking up RichRod was the unpredictable nature of his spread offense.  It was to achieve the lethal combination of "you can't stop us" with "you can't even begin to guess what we're gonna do."  

Anyway, I believe Roriguez will get us there soon enough.  We're just quite not there yet.  And with the holes in the defense, we need every advantage we can get.


November 14th, 2010 at 2:11 PM ^

The attitude used to be that, yeah , you know what we are going to do, but you can't stop us anyway.

Problem is, we frequently were stopped offensively, especially in the Carr years.  Bo and Moeller's offenses were generally at or near the top of the conference in points and yards; Carr's were more middle-of-the-pack, despite having phenomenal talent.  If not for generally good (and occasionally dominant) defenses, we could have been in a lot of trouble.


November 14th, 2010 at 1:26 PM ^

Kerrigan played like an absolute madman yesterday. He consistantly tore past our line like they weren't there. Very BG'09. Compare that to Clayborne, who was supposed to be the other monster DE in conference, and his day against us.

I'm sorry to say, I haven't really seen Kerrigan play other than yesterday, but his stats say he's every bit the player we saw. DE isn't a huge need for the Lions, but I'd be perfectly happy if he was their 1st-round pick.


November 14th, 2010 at 9:31 AM ^

Personally, I think the offense is fine.  I just wish (as was mentioned) that Denard would progress through his reads, and if nothing's there... take off. You know, the way Troy Smith and any other mobile QB pretty much smoked us?

Teams struggle... just ask Oregon.


November 14th, 2010 at 11:13 AM ^

Yeah they do. Ask Stanford too.

Brian seemed to say this week that teams are terrified of that possibility and that they have a dome glove around scrambles.  I can't picture the coaches telling Denard not to take off. My thinking is that it must not be there as often as we think it should be.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:00 AM ^

that's the one thing that's baffled me this season - that Denard won't pull it down and take off. I can't begin to think about how much that would eff up the defense.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:09 AM ^

......has had such great success most of this season in faking the run and then passing to a wide open receiver that the DB has left to attack the qb run, that he relies too much on that being the case at all times. So, yes, he could pull the ball and run and many times has had running lanes open to him, so he should be doing that as well. But, don't underestimate the desire of Denard to throw the ball instead of becoming the next Pat White. He want's to become more like Michael Vick in that he can actually make the throws as well as be a great runner.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:25 AM ^

the play was rushed and I don't feel the guys were prepared to run it. I think we should of ran our standard offense as well,  I think Purdue would of been more hard-pressed to stop that versus an I formation attack, especially when we didn't give them an opportunity to prepare for the 4th down.

Yay Tony Boles

November 14th, 2010 at 10:30 AM ^

The only problem I have with the offense is the seeming inability to put teams away.  Yesterday's game would have been much different had the offense finished the drive in the early second to take a 21-3 lead, instead of throwing a pick six to narrow the score to 14-10?


November 14th, 2010 at 10:33 AM ^

Denard was clearly off, the conditions were rough, and the OL seemed to have their worst game of the season.

I'm all for going for it on 4th and 1, virtually anywhere on the field.  But my God, I hate seeing us go into the I-form on such downs.  This isn't an I-Formation team, period.  I'm all for mixing different formations in to the regular flow of the offense, but not on 4th and short downs.  I'd have felt the same way if Lloyd decided to get into a 5 wide spread shotgun with Henne on 4th and short (actually - no.  That would have been hilarious).  It's just not what this offense does best.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:45 AM ^

But even in our wins our offensive play-calling has been bipolar.  We go in spurts of absolutely awesome right on the money calls where we keep the defense guessing and then we call three straight QB iso runs or a bunch of Vincent Smith runs right into the middle of the line (opening play in Illinois game vs. opening drive in PSU game). I would love to see the playbook diversified and maybe it has not been because Denard has been banged up but our defense needs to stay off the field as much as possible especially considering when we are scoring we do it at light speed. Denard has the ability to run out of any set so why not run plays where he has a run pass option on every snap? Our ability to score from aywhere on the field (Denard) is our biggest strength but it seems like we are getting too comfortbale with a handful of plays limiting our overall effectiveness.


November 14th, 2010 at 10:47 AM ^

to be the first to 2000yds passing/1000 yds rushing this season between him and Newton, but should win the race to 2000yds passing/1500 yds rushing. He only needs 10 more passing yards and 83 rushing yds to reach the mark. Newton needs 203 yds rushing to reach that mark, and I doubt he gets it against Alabama.

I'd love to see Denard reach 2500 yds passing with 1500 yds rushing, but I don't think he will with games against Wisky and tOSU coming up. Possible, but not probable.


November 14th, 2010 at 11:14 AM ^

I think most of the predictability in the second half had to do with shaky QB play and the wind/rain.

I also think Purduce's D definitely deseres some credit as well. They had a very good day against our O-Line. I also just looked up that they only gave up 303 yards to Wisconsin last week - in the sunshine vs. the 395 we had in the slop. Obviously yards aren't everything but it shows they're D isn't full of a bunch of stiffs either.


November 14th, 2010 at 11:37 AM ^

If the players are struggling to execute the basic plays well, then you are stuck with the basic plays until they do. Now, there is a certain level of variation that is possible... but it seems that RR dictates the type of plays that are called based on level of execution. Games when the players (esp QB) are confident, we see a wide range of play calling and unpredictability. When Players are not confident and are not taking care of their base responsibilities then you hear a giant sucking sound as the playbook tightens up tremendously.

We are still a young offense. I cannot wait to see next year as we feature experienced, killer athletes at most every level... who are hopefully far more competent and capable and comfortable. This, not to mention, experienced in tough situations and environments.


November 14th, 2010 at 11:58 AM ^

"And we do have a good offense... only it's not one that can reliably pick up a few yards on every play.  It's more the kind of offense that will get you 0-2 yards a couple times and then pop you for 20.  "


This is completely wrong.  Look at the number of negative yardage plays and sacks, and you'll see we're an offense that consistently gains yardage on every play.  Before the Purdue game we had only allowed 4 sacks.

Dan TrueBlue

November 14th, 2010 at 1:36 PM ^

Actually, no I've looked at the numbers.  In fact, I just went through every play.  Here's a chart:

Yards Frequency
<0 10
0-2 31
3-5 12
6-9 10
10+ 17

Out of 80 plays, we went for 0-2 yards on 31 (3/8) of them.  I think that's pretty high.  The 17 plays of 10+ yards is also pretty high, and is what saved us.  But when you look at the numbers, more than half (41) of our plays went for 2 yards or less!  Overall, the picture is pretty schizophrenic.

I don't think it's limited to just this game either.  RR himself has emphasized how we've had trouble making 3rd down conversions all season.  Although this game was certainly a more extreme example of it, I think it points to why.

Don't get me wrong, our offense is awesome.  It's #5 in the country.  But it's also a little schizophrenic, which is why those conversions have been more sparse than we'd like, and why I no longer think going for it on 4th down is such a hot idea.  The offense is terrific in terms of yards-per-play average, but there's a wide variance beneath that average which makes it not so reliable in terms of moving the ball forward consistently on every play.  Ideally, we'd like to see a few more plays in that "3-5" category.

On a side note, I also checked the play-calling on first down.  We ran on first down 28 times, and passed only 5.  That includes 9 1st-down runs in a row in the 1st half, and 16 in a row in the 2nd half, during which our only 1st-down pass came on the first play of the half.


November 14th, 2010 at 12:55 PM ^

Offence plays with swagger, especially the O-line and they did not have a very good game.  They know this - enough leaders on O-line to make sure that the mess at Purdue does not happen again.  As painful as it is to see Shoelace make those terrible reads they are necessary evils that he needs to go through to become one of the greatest QB's in college football


November 14th, 2010 at 1:21 PM ^

with the offense is game after game they keep turning the ball over. You can't expect to win the next two games if you're turning the ball over and failing to finish drives with points after you've moved the ball the length of the field. The offense has no problem moving the chains, their biggest problem is finishing every good drive they have. If we can finish drives and take care of the ball in the next two games, we should be fine. If we see more of the last two games...yeah.

Another observation I've made is that they seem to play with little sense of urgency when we're in the lead. We've had opportunities to put the game away and they have sputtered. I'm not sure if it's a mindset thing or an actual play calling thing, but when we're ahead, we need to step on their throats, so to speak.

Dan TrueBlue

November 14th, 2010 at 1:55 PM ^

Definitely agree on the turnovers.  I just wanted to bring up things I thought were less cited and easier to fix.  Turnovers have been an up-and-down but ongoing problem for 3 years, and they come with inexperience.  But some other things like play-calling and going for it on 4th might be easier to change.


November 14th, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

I didn't understand why we went for it on 4th and 1 in our own territory.   Even if your odds of converting are greater than 50%, in this case - with an anemic offensive team playing in the rain - why even give your opponent the opportunity to have a short field?  I thought that was a prime opportunity to play field position.  We made another head-scratching decision right afterwards, when we passed up a holding penalty that would have forced a 3rd and a mile for a team that couldn't throw, allowing them to attempt a FG with their excellent kicker.  I would have had no problem with that against a more profilic passing team, but there was no way Purdue was going to convert a 3rd and 19 or whatever it was.  Lloyd Carr would go way, way overboard with his obsession with field position, but sometimes RR goes a little too far in the other direction.  I guess if I have to choose, I'll take RR's stance, but I wish we could find the happy medium.

And we definitely got too conservative offensively in the second half.  If your opponent is bringing up eight players into the box on every first down, that's an open invitation to throw.  Take it.