Denard was a better passer in 2010 than now: Why?

Submitted by wolverine1987 on September 24th, 2012 at 11:18 AM

If you look at basic stats, and compare Denard in 2010 to last year and this one, you can't escape the fact that statistically (perhaps not technically) he was a better passer then than he is right now, or last year:

2010: 63% completions, 2600 yards, 11 interceptions, 150 QB rating. (numbers rounded)

2011: 55% completions, 2200 yards, 18 interceptions, 140 QB rating. 

2012: 55% completions, 800 yards, 8 interceptions, 130 QB rating. 

So as a very raw first year starting QB, after arriving at M without a lot of great HS coaching on QB technique, and with none of the benefits of the subsequent intensive 2 years of QB instruction he has received since Hoke and Borges' arrival, his stats in most areas were better in 2010 than last year or this one. He has worked diligently for two years to correct the flaws in his technique, and looking at film, you see that in most ways his footwork and throwing motion are far improved (his decision making has not improved, or at least not measurably, as we saw Saturday--but it also isn't worse). But his stats, or the outcomes, have not. Why is this?

I'm not claiming to know the answer. Some possible explanations: defenses in 2010 did not yet have "The Denard Rules" down--build a fence around him, force him to beat you from the pocket, etc. The fear of his running then forced them to crowd the line, leaving receivers more open than they are now. Was this actually true? Did they play is differently then? Not sure.

Were our receivers better then? Odoms and Hemingway, are not here, but Roundtree and Gallon still are. Perhaps we can argue that this year the group is not as good, but you can't argue that for last year, when Denard's stats regressed. The O-line? Probably better in 2011 than 2010. Probably marginally worse this year, but again this doesn't seem to explain it. Our defense (a poor defense can negatively impact a team's offense, forcing it to play from behind and get away from the game plan)? Nope, we are better last year and this one. The running game from the RB position? Nope, better now than then. Coaching? I think we can safely say that by reputation, resume, and by observation, Al Borges knows how to coach Quarterbacks. Denard has improved his technique as stated earlier, and by all accounts is also a better leader and QB off the field than he was in 2010. Head coaching? We can all agree we are happy with that, and the results validate that.

That leaves (for me anyway) the question of offensive passing design and strategy. Are the routes and the design of the passing game different now than they were in 2010? The play calls themselves are certainly.  Is it true, as some allege, that by design, the route combinations, routes themselves, keys, 1st reads, and the passing game design itself are not optimized to play to Denard's strengths as a passer? 

Because it doesn't make sense to me that a senior QB with in his third year has worse results than as a first year sophomore, I have to vote yes on that, with the caveat that I'm not as expert at analyzing those things as some on the board. Or is there an explanation that I'm missing?


contra mundum

September 24th, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

very simply, the offense he is being asked to run. Denard is a runner who can throw...not a thrower who can run, and Borges needs to get comfortable with that concept....and frankly, so does Denard.


September 24th, 2012 at 6:32 PM ^

Well, the OP is comparing entire 2011 season stats (including games against SDSU, Western, Eastern, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois)  with 2012 stats (of which 50% of the stats are 2 road games against the best d in the country and probably the 2nd-3rd strongest D we'll play all year).


It's skewed statistics.  


September 24th, 2012 at 8:48 PM ^

But not every part of his passing game got worse from 2010 to 2011.  In 2011 he threw 2 more TD than in 2010 (20 compared to 18) despite throwing 32 fewer passes.  And his yards per attempt barely went down (8.8 to 8.4).  So the only thing that really got worse from 2010 to 2011 were interceptions.  

2010 Denard was in his second year of a college offense, and 2011 he learned a new one.  A handful of those picks could be attributed to that.  

I think any conclusion you draw from this season is premature.  We've played two tough games on the road against very good defenses, and one game were Denard didn't play most of the second half due to being up big.  Wait until we are 4 more games into the season before you start making claims like that.


September 25th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

My contention is that so far, not in absolute terms, Denard is doing at minumum the same as 2010, arguably worse, which a couple stats confirm. It's too early to make finished claims, it's not too early to make a claim like that with a caveat that we've only completed a quarter of the season so far. To your point though, and this is arguable of course, IMO coming from where Denard came from HS wise, his first year in a college offense (2010) is MORE challenging than dealing with a new OC in 2011, especially given that Borges tried mightily to keep him within some are of comfort. I certainly hope I'm wrong about all of that.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:24 AM ^

  1. like a rookie hitter, no one knew how to "pitch" to him yet.  DC's learned how to defend him over time
  2. wasn't asked to make reads as much.  Spread offense was call a play, look at the sideline, throw to who the sideline said to throw to
  3. West Coast offense is difficult for receivers as well - some incompletions and interceptions have been on them

snarling wolverine

September 24th, 2012 at 3:49 PM ^

Honestly, I think #1 might be the biggest one.  The 2010 MSU game seemed to provide a blueprint for how to defend him.  Ohio and Mississippi State followed that plan later that season and also held him in check.  It's continued against better defenses (with 2011 Ohio being an exception, fortunately).  

The big thing, I think, is that defenses figured out that Denard doesn't scramble on designed pass plays.  That meant that they could play man coverage in the secondary, instead of zone, which is pretty standard against a mobile QB (because you want your DBs to be always facing a running QB).  When teams started playing man, our WRs had a harder time getting open and suddenly Denard was having to thread the needle.  The way for him to counteract this is to either step up his accuracy (which he did against Nebraska and Ohio) or start scrambling more often, to punish teams for playing man.  



September 24th, 2012 at 11:25 AM ^

One fits Denard's abilities well and the other probably does not.  That is not to say Denard does not deserve much of the blame.  He played horribly against ND. 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:25 AM ^

It's simple and has been covered extensively by Brian and others. Borges isn't RR. Borges really doesn't know how to use what Denard has to generate easy things. Well, maybe he does but he hasn't been doing it. Denard was built for constraint. You use the threat of him running to suck people in and you take the easy throw for a TD. Borges has tried to make him into something different. Sure, he still uses his legs but he doesn't use his legs to create constraint. 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:39 AM ^

Uh, what? Is your reading comprehension struggling? Denard isn't in a system where he can succeed at the same level one would expect after his first year. I don't care who the recievers are. You can't sit Denard back in the pocket and expect him to make NFL throw in NFL windows, at times, with mediocre receivers. That's not his game and by doing so, you have taken is greatest asset (fear) and thrown it out the window. Would you be worried about Denard scrambling? I wouldn't because he never does it and it's obvious at this point he hasn't been coached to do it. If it is not a called run he doesn't take off very often. I didn't say this is all on Denard. He has to run the plays that are called. I would put more of it on Borges because I feel that he has been stubborn. Either that or he really has no idea how to use him which I find hard to believe because he is an intelligent person. I'm completely fine with that as long as it pays off in the long run. If in 5 years our offense is mediocre and I have to look back and see that two years of Denard was hurt for no later gain, that will be disappointing. 


September 24th, 2012 at 12:02 PM ^

I agree with all of what you said sans for the Borges being stubborn.  I think he has tried to incorporate some spread concepts - he just doesn't know that type of offense.  RichRod was stubborn in 2008 - trying to make two of the slowest QB's become running threats.  He made no attempt to change his offense to fit the personnel.  



El Jeffe

September 24th, 2012 at 1:45 PM ^

I've posted these stats a number of times, but the argument that RichRod "made no attempt to change his offense to fit the personnel" is hogwash.

From 2008 to 2010, M ran the ball on almost exactly 60% of their offensive plays each year. HOWEVA:

% of total plays that were qb runs

  1. 2008: 16.3%
  2. 2009: 23.2%
  3. 2010: 30.3%

% of rushing plays that were qb runs

  1. 2008: 28.5%
  2. 2009: 38.7%
  3. 2010: 51.3%

So when he had Tate and especially Denard, RichRod called 85% more QB runs as a percentage of all plays, and 80% more QB runs as a percentage of rushing plays.

This is the very definition of changing your offense to fit the personnel.


September 24th, 2012 at 3:10 PM ^

...RRod was running a zone-read spread offense in 2008 with two QB's that were not only unable to grasp it, they were not "dual threat" athletes/QB's and had no experience in that type of offense.  

Sure, fewer QB designed runs, but you still have a pocket-passer trying to run a zone read scheme.  When your QB is immobile in a zone read offense, where's the threat?  

Borges has been far more accomodating to Denard's talent than RRod was to Sheridan/Threet's talent.  I don't see how  you could disagree with this statement.  


September 24th, 2012 at 5:48 PM ^

I don't know why people keep thinking that Threet, as a redshirt freshman, would have been better in a pro style offense when he wasn't much better 2 years later, in a pro style offense, as a drop back passer. He was in year 4 of his college football career and threw nearly as many interceptions as touchdowns. He wouldn't have magically become a better passer as a redshirt freshman if he takes all his snaps under center. It is much easier for Borges to adapt to Denard's talent because he has a lot of it there and he is a junior/senior. I'm guessing Borges would have run an offense that looked just as shitty as RichRod's version if he was working with Threet/Sheridan as freshmen.


September 24th, 2012 at 8:04 PM ^

You could have run more a pro style that focused on pounding the ball and completing quick short passes and PA. The whole point is RichRods offense relies so much on a dynamic QB and in the pro he could have been asked to be a game manager type. He still would have been bad I agree but maybe 6 wins bad and not 3 wins bad.



September 24th, 2012 at 7:50 PM ^

"... Sheridan/Threet's talent ..."

No offense to those guys, but if you buy the idea you probably also believe that:

* GERG was close to turning the corner with his strategy and crew of assistant coaches

* RichRod's "people" skills are superior to those of Hoke

* we lost to ND on Saturday because Hoke "doesn't understand the rivalry"

* UMich will win if it just gets back to playing "hardnosed football"

etc. ...

El Jeffe

September 24th, 2012 at 8:19 PM ^

But in your original post you didn't say

1.  "Borges has been far more accomodating to Denard's talent than RRod was to Sheridan/Threet's talent."

You said

2.  "[RichRod] made no attempt to change his offense to fit the personnel."

I marginally agree with statement #1, with the caveat that once Mallett left the QB position was a smoking crater anyway, so why not get everyone else used to the offense?

But I was reacting to statement #2, with which I emphatically do not agree.

Bill the Butcher

September 24th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

Never in the 2 years under Hoke and Borges have the coaches ever said they are coaching Denard not to run.  

In fact, Hoke and Borges have said over and over again that they would like it if he would give up on the play sooner and use his legs.  Rich Rod had the same problem when he was coaching Denard.  For whatever reason, Denard just does not give up on the play.  

He actually got better at using his legs as a 3rd read last year (the Nebraska game comes to mind) than what he had done under RR in 2010.  this year, it seems as though he has regressed in that aspect of his game.  I have no idea how you come to the conclusion that Denard hasn't been coached to scramble, because everything we have heard from two coaching staffs has indicated that they would like him to take off quicker when things break down rather than waiting for someone to come open and forcing a throw.


September 24th, 2012 at 5:03 PM ^

This I think, is an apt analysis. I know we all love Denard, but the truth is that he just doesn't seem to have a great QB mind. It's that intangible ability to make the right decision when faced with a defense that made guys like Manning and Luck so great, and Denard flat out doesn't have that. 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:40 AM ^

Great point, jg.  Another thing people fail to mention (or simply don't want to accept) is that Denard feasted on bad defenses in 2010.  Michigan has already played 2 defenses this year (Alabama and Notre Dame) that were better than any he saw in 2010, maybe with the exception of OSU.  I would be willing to bet that Denard's numbers vastly improve from now until the end of the season.  MSU is the only team left on the schedule that has a defense anywhere close to that of Alabama and Notre Dame.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

My point was that Michigan was only stopped by themselves. On the vast majority of those turnovers there were poor decisions and most of those poor decisions were breathtakingly poor. It wasn't like Denard was pressured and threw into tight coverage. Denard threw into places that gave us no chance. Denard played an awful game. He knows it. I think the offense will be fine for the year and I still expect a B1G Championship because, well the B1G sucks. You put us in the SEC or B12, and we are middle of the pack at best. We'll get better and I know all of my posts make me seem to be a huge downer/pessimist but i just don't think we can hide from the fact that the Denard/West Coast passing scheme does not work and will not work against good competition. I find it hard to believe that someone of Borges' intellect and experience cannot watch some tape of Pat White/Denard and figure out how average passers were used effectively. Denard brings fear when he threatens to run. We use that too little, IMHO. I am having trouble ragging Borges for this too because I defended RR for being stubborn and installing his scheme. The difference is Borges has the most dangerous running QB in the nation to use and RR had nothing for a QB no matter what system he installed. It will pay off in the future. Borges is a good OC who will get the right players for what he wants to do and we will score points. DOn't take my comments as anything other than as they apply to Denard. 


September 24th, 2012 at 12:17 PM ^

ND's front seven is pretty damn solid and they were able to get pressure for most of the game which influenced a lot of throws made by Denard.  I agree that we tried to throw a litte too much in the first half, but even in the second half Denard put the ball on the ground while running.  Let's just face the fact that Denard played a poor game and hope that we see a similar improvement as the season goes on with his play like we did last year.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:31 PM ^

i thought they were good, but i also thought the O Line played relatively well, especially in the 2nd half.  ND made plays... i mean think of it this way, how many almost ints has denard thrown this year?  Nothing new was learned... one of the picks didn't even matter, it was virtually a *punt.  Was this his worst game? Absolutely, but we only lost by a TD.  The shocker to me was the fumble.

I said it before, and i'll say it again: as long as Denard isn''t rattled by this (mentally) we should be okay.  Is he turnover prone? Yes, but we knew this.  This bye week is perfectly placed.

Has anyone heard anything about DG?  I suppose we'll find out later today or tomorrow?


September 24th, 2012 at 11:27 AM ^

One explanation that immediately comes to mind, and it's a tired one around here that people don't like to talk about, is that Rich Rod's offense just better suits Denard's skill set. Our offense still used to turn the ball over a lot in his spread in 2010 if I remember correctly, but the design and the threat of his running opened up easier reads and throws for Denard to make. That led to better QB efficiency.

Disclaimer before everyone bashes this: This is not a referendum on Rich Rod!


September 24th, 2012 at 11:29 AM ^

I'd say the sample size from 2012 is too small to do this comparison right now.   We're 4 games in, one was Alabama and one was what everyone is hoping was a wild abberation (ND).  This year's samples thusfar are ripe for confirmation bias that Denard is regressing.  

Denard is on pace for more INTs, but that'll happen when you throw four in one game in the early part of the season.  

Duval Wolverine

September 24th, 2012 at 11:30 AM ^

Denard would fake the run and suck the safeties up into the box and throw it over the top to a wide open receiver, best example was the first play of the 2010 Illinois game to Roundtree for a touchdown


September 24th, 2012 at 11:30 AM ^

Robinson's skill set is just better suited to Rodriguez's offensive philosohpy.  Rodriguez's passing plays were almost always short, quick hitters all based on timing, plus he rarely had Robinson throw downfield which Borges does frequently.  That will really boost the completion percentage.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:30 AM ^

is very simple.  Many do not know this, but one of Rich Rod's best moves as head coach of Michigan, he had Denard stay at a Holiday Inn Express for all of the 2010 season.  Hoke decided to place Denard back in conventional housing and there has been marked decline.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:46 AM ^

Two completely different offenses.  I remember the criticism towards Denard in 2010 being "well, he's got such a high passer rating/completion rate because he throws short passes".  Not only was that true, but it played to his strength(s).

I'm not sure if the data is even available, but I would love to see someone on the board chart out passes from 2010, 2011 and 2012 based on yardage.  Sure, it's not going to solve anything, but it will show the differences in coaching philosophy.

Perhaps the old UFR's could be a resource. There has to be a stat guru willing to take on this task! 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:31 AM ^

I think there is something to be said for the offensive scheme. Borges is running a passing scheme that has a lot of decisional components (as in a NFL passing tree) which might need a lot of time to master. Maybe if Denard were in year 4 of this scheme he'd better understand it.

Compare it with Rich Rod's scheme. I think Smart Football has discussed the "elementary" nature of the passing schemes dreamed up by Rodriguez, Magee and Dews. Further, we know for a fact Rodriguez essentially told both Robinson and Forcier where to pass the ball after Magee could see the defensive alignments, and "Three and Out" confirmed those two guys would seriously criticize those guys for not doing EXACTLY what they wanted the QB to do.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

because I forgot to put Chris Bown's point you mentioned in my OP.  So question for you, if you believe that passing scheme, as I suggest, is the main explanation (perhaps along with others at a lesser level) do you fault Borges for not recognizing this? Or do you believe that he runs the offense he runs, is doing the best he can to accomodate Denard, and has to run what he knows?