Denard shockingly efficient under center

Submitted by AAK15 on September 13th, 2012 at 12:10 PM

Robinson has completed 46 of 70 passes from under center in his career. That's a 65.7 percent completion rate. As if that weren't eye-catching enough, consider this: As a dropback quarterback, Robinson has thrown 12 touchdowns and only one interception and has a passer efficiency rating of 197.9 under center.


Good article from ESPN analyzing Denard's QB play under center vs. out of the shotgun.




September 13th, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

The discussion has focused on how ineffective the rushing game has been from under center, correct, but never once has this information been introduced to explain why it has continued.  This certainly adds to the discussion I think, no longer is it a matter of simply saying nothing good comes out of under center snaps. 


September 13th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

There's been a lot of discussion on how we should never be under center, and what is the point of it outside of short yardage situations. And many have countered that a lot of those under center pass plays, particularly the play action, see to work pretty well, so there is SOME reason to do it, even if it isn't your primary offense.  It's also been said that "Denard can see things out of the pass from the shotgun better" and "if Tom Brady can do it, why does ANYONE snap under the center...what's the advantage?"  Now I know that's not all from Brian, but it's from people who take what Brian beats out of his drum over and over, and then run with it.

If you can find any passage that says SHOTGUN NOW, FOREVER, AND ALWAYS....(unless you're going to pass the ball), your memory might be right. But I don't recall it framed solely in that aspect. That may have been the primary reason for it, but I don't remember any acknowledgement of exceptions.

Though I am curious how this information will be discussed.

Blue in Seattle

September 13th, 2012 at 1:48 PM ^

This article from SmartFootball was very enlightening for me, and if you scoll down to the section that lists the pros and cons of Shotgun versus Under Center, it could help to give explanations for Denard in his passer improvement and growth.


The Shotgun, The 'Gun, and the Shotgun Spread Offense

you have to scroll past what they call the landmark game in the Northwestern vs Michigan 54-51 game.  And if you don't like reading about Michigan defenses that can't contain a rushing attack, then you need to scroll past that.

But I'm going with a conclusion of, being under center helps the less experienced QB in his reads, since he never has to take his eyes off the defense.  I don't know if how many on the blog have played football at any level and tried to snap the ball, but under center snapping is all done by "touch" and allows a lot of control incidentally on changing the snap count over shotgun which is all sight, and a little sound.

So going on the tangent of Brian's critique about "change the snap count", I don't think he realizes how difficult that really is for shotgun.  But reading up on it, yes it can be accomplished, but it's yet another technique that must be practiced.  And Borges does not have unlimited time to practice with these players.  He must pick and choose which element to practice and when.  I think this also plays into the statistic evidence that players with more experience in a system get better, and have most improvement from year one to year two.

Don't forget that last year everyone on the team seemed to improve week by week.  That is a reflection on these coaches.  Where ever we think Michigan as a team is now, they will be better week by week.  And have two more games before their goal is impacted.




September 13th, 2012 at 1:48 PM ^

You're right - I never noticed a glaring disclaimer inserted either.  I (and most of us?) just always assumed that the shotgun vs. under-center discussion focused first and foremost on the effectiveness of the run game.  Maybe its because Denard was always going to be a better runner so it was assumed that whatever made the run game better was the way to proceed. 

I'm no apologist, chronie, champion, or cheerleader (I'm just an unpaid minion) but the above kinds of "HAHAHAHA, YOU WERE WRONG" comments (not yours), and whether they are focused at Brian, you, me, or whomever and on whatever topic, are annoying.  Its like my wife refusing to do something and then yelling "why did you do that?" at me if I mess it up.  Annoying.



September 13th, 2012 at 2:37 PM ^

At the end of the day, its really all about delivery.  The Board functions at its peak when people set forth information and "arguments" in a way that provokes thoughtful discussion.  All that comments like "hahaha, you're wrong" or "I told you so!" do is start flame wars and then it causes lots of work for the mods.  Say it in the sort of way that user ross03 did below and we've got ourselves a good discussion brewing!


September 13th, 2012 at 3:36 PM ^

I'd still guess the net gain of the run threat on the majority of plays makes Denard overally more productive from the shotgun. But there was an undercurrent of "why even have plays from under center", and even if under center is going to be primarily used as a passing formation (which beyond these stats have anecdotally seemed to have pretty good success) then you're going to have to run it from those formations on occasion, even if it doesn't work really well, just to keep defenses honest, so they don't think "I-Formation = pass play."  Same way where if you pull of 8 yards a carry on 1st down a couple of times, you're eventually going to have to pass it, so it's not all sell out to the run every 1st down.  We've done that, and it's not been very popular.


September 13th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

I find this very interesting.  Maybe this explains why Borges continued to run from under center last year despite it not working well as Brian pointed out several times.   If he realized Denard was a much better passer out of the I then it would make sense to run out of that formation some as well - otherwise it's a sure tip of run vs. pass.  


September 13th, 2012 at 12:29 PM ^

70 times in 3.2 years... not very many. Think about all the passing plays that have been ran from under the center. The 2 that really stick out to me are screens and play action to the TE.


September 13th, 2012 at 1:06 PM ^

Exactly. Only about 1/9 of his passes come from under center. Not to say that he isn't efficient under center, but what plays, particularly passing plays, are we running from under center and when do we use under center the most (often near the endzone)? PA to TE's, ala Kevin Koger being president of Koger land against Ohio last year; easy throw to make. Or how about his woefully underthrown PA pass to Watson, I believe, that was a TD against Northwestern. Although that was a TD and a completion that was a significant indication of Denard's bad mechanics in passing. Granted this might explain why we run from I-Form, to allow us to continue passing from the I-Form, but it doens't explain why we run a 5'6 175 pound Vincent Smith from under center. Insightful but still really isn't that groundbreaking as it just shows why we occasionally utilize a less effective play to be able to have the option of using a more effective one later.


September 13th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

Sophmore year: Denard operates almost exclusively out of shotgun.

Junior year: Improve naturally as passer and run out of center sometimes.

Lump the stats together...



September 13th, 2012 at 12:42 PM ^

Right -- and this raises broader causation/correlation issues.   Is there a systematic difference in the situations in which under-center plays are called (short yardage situations with a heavy box and easily exploitable secondary for instance).  Don't get me wrong this is great information and really destroys the NEVER UNDER CENTER bias that I picked up from Brian, but without filtering out some extraneous variables, it doesn't quite prove that "Denard is more effective under center."

turd ferguson

September 13th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

Agreed.  I've never bought the "never under center" stuff (partly b/c of causation/correlation issues, partly b/c of other potential short-term and long-term benefits, etc.), and I'm equally unconvinced that this is definitive evidence that Denard should be under center much more than he is. 

It's an interesting question that's worth exploring, but I think people jump to a particular solution/conclusion much too quickly sometimes, given the available data.  This one actually might be semi-answerable with enough data and some nicely specified models.

More broadly, I love this site, but when it comes to scheme and other football-related stuff, in the absence of amazing evidence I'll trust Hoke/Borges/Mattison ten times out of ten over Brian/Ace/others.


September 13th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

Sample size, sample size, sample size. 70 passes is what, two or three games worth for an always-under-center QB? And we're comparing that to the much larger set of all of Denard's throws, including 2009/2010, when he never was under center at all?

Brian's analysis was definitely run focused, but that did seem to show that both the RBs and Denard were nearly useless from under center, while Denard has thrown good balls from both center and shotgun.

That said, I think Debard can throw reasonably well under center and he seems to do better with quick reads than scramble improv throws, but the play action game will always be suboptimal till we get a good under-center running game, which has yet to materialize.


September 13th, 2012 at 4:17 PM ^

Those numbers for the 70 passes are great w/o any comparison to 2010 or 2009. Last year Denard threw for 20 TDs. A large percentage of those were the 12 under center TDs he has thrown.

This does not necessarily mean Denard should pass from under center more but it definitely means that one should think twice before mocking under center plays. For instance, those "nearly useless" runs set up those very successful passes.


September 13th, 2012 at 12:31 PM ^

Most west coast passing plays are predicated on a 5-step drop.  The QB is supposed to make his reads during the drop and release the ball as soon as his foot hits the turf on the last step.  So, from a timing standpoint, it isn't surprising that a QB would be more efficient from under center in a WCO.  Overall, the shotgun formation makes Denard more of a threat because he can run or pass, but this data does suggest it may be preferable for him to go under center on obvious passing downs.


September 13th, 2012 at 12:44 PM ^

Denard struggles more in shotgun because his mind is racing to make the right decisions (as opposed to technique, knowledge, etc.) because he has to wonder "do I hand off? did the end crash? do I give up and run? is the pocket collapsing? is my 1 receiver open? do I check down?" whereas under center all he has to do is 3 step drop, check 1 and throw, or check down and throw.

death by trident

September 13th, 2012 at 12:46 PM ^

The ESPN comments always amuse me.  In an article about how Denard is an improved passer, and very lethal from under center with Borges, we get this comment -


Denard is most lethal in space. What I've never understood is the hesitancy to mix up packages to feature him as a RB. Of course in doing so Denard would have to block and Michigan would require another QB threat, but it'd be an interesting formation to roll out with to confuse opponents and put Robinson in the best possible position to eviscerate opposing defenses.


September 13th, 2012 at 1:43 PM ^

I am guessing this person asked themselves, "Why wouldn't you want to give the ball to your most prolific rusher?"

Oh wait...

Good article though, and quite illuminating. It basically underscores how unique a player Denard Robinson really is and how they try to balance the multiple ways he can beat defenses. It is good to see the under center stats separated out, because it does show people that he's got a good arm and can effectively throw. I imagine that Denard Robinson is probably the best problem that Al Borges ever had simply because of what he can potentially do with him at QB (opening chapters of the playbook that might never see daylight otherwise), and it is good to see ESPN recognize this.


September 13th, 2012 at 2:17 PM ^

Wants him to line up as a running back on runs? That means someone hands him the ball, and it gives him one less blocker. Uh, hello, he can run now when we do that snap the ball straight to him thing. My word, ESPN poster. I hope you read this thread and realize how dumb that sounds.


September 13th, 2012 at 3:16 PM ^

I think there is also this misunderstanding that he throws better on the run, which is contrary to my anecdotal evidence. I actually commented on a comment (I don't really ever comment on ESPN because it's pointless) because I see this statement all of the time: We need to roll him out more. Usually when I see Denard roll out, I am completely terrified. He is less effective scrambling because, contrary to popular belief, he has actually shrunk the amount of field he can work with, not "in space." He also seems to make his worst throws this way.


September 13th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

I think this makes a lot of sense and aligns with some observations people have made in the past. When Denard has the time to set his feet and step into his throw, his accuracy had been fine. On the run or under pressure, he has shown a tendency to throw off his back foot and then well, bad things happen more often. I guess you could say that about any QB though.

So, apparently DR is a more effective passer from under center, but as others have pointed out the more intriguing and harder to answer question is whether or not he is a more effective player from under center. Beyond that, what formation is most effetive for the offense as a whole...etc.

NEvertheless, good stuff for discussion

Seattle Maize

September 13th, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

People around here bash Borges for everything but what they don't talk about is that he is in the process of totally transforming an offense for the future and even then has managed to put up over 30 ppg. Along the way he has taken a pure runner and turned him into much more of a dual threat and the Michigan offense has been better for it.


September 13th, 2012 at 2:54 PM ^

I think the whole shotgun vs under center argument is somewhat missing the real issue.  For the past two years, Michigan beat you running.  At first it was all the Denard show.  Then we had the one/two punch of Denard/Fitz.  Teams will get that memo.  I think Alabama was the best of example of it, they came out configured to stop the run from anyone and did just that.  Air Force is harder to judge in the fact we pretty much took advantage of short DBs and exploited the hell out of that.  

Undercenter pocket passing does need to happen, even with someone like Denard.  Show all the D-Coord that "Alright, go ahead and load that box up and focus on stopping the runs and shorter routes, we'll just air it out."  Basically show that Denard can throw the deep routes with enough accuracy to punish you if you leave a guy one on one with Devin or D. Funch.  Otherwise it will be 8 or 9 in the box every play and our O-Line isn't good enough to blow through that logjam of players.  

We'll see what we do against Notre Dame.  If Kelly just copies Saban's defense, we need to be hitting those deep routes.  If he plays a more balanced style, then Borges needs to be capable of figuring out when we use shotgun and when we go from under center.  

Eye of the Tiger

September 13th, 2012 at 6:52 PM ^

When defenses stack the box, pro-style teams typically go into shotgun so the QB can deliver the ball more quickly. 

Denard may be less accurate in passing situations from the shotgun because he's taking too long to make decisions. We've known for years that he's a bit indecisive, and being under-center may help provide some much-needed discipline in that regard, as it encourages quick reads. 

On the other hand, as Borges says, we just don't run as well under-center, and if we did it too much, we'd get too one-dimensional and defenses would adjust to that.



Eye of the Tiger

September 13th, 2012 at 3:01 PM ^


"I don't monitor those numbers like that but I know the under-center play has been pretty productive," Borges said. "He's asked for more under-center plays, but the problem with that is it takes him out a little bit as a runner. So we're hesitant to do too much of that.

"But we still feature it and he's been very good when we've used it with the run and pass."

Seems like the coaching staff knows what they're doing with this stuff, no?