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?


Steve Lorenz

September 24th, 2012 at 11:38 AM ^

The defensive players (Kovacs, etc.) have constantly been given the benefit of the doubt for having to learn new systems, etc., yet Denard is rarely extended that same courtesy. It's a shame because QB is arguably the most difficult position to withstand transition from. 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

Denard has had two coordinators, each for two seasons.

The defense (through 2011) had Ron English in 2007, Scott Shafer in 2008, Greg Robinson's 4-3 in 2009, Greg Robinson's 3-3-5 in 2010, and Greg Mattison in 2011. 

Denard's transition is a little bit different than what the defense went through.

Steve Lorenz

September 24th, 2012 at 11:56 AM ^

It's different, but that doesn't mean it doesn't apply. 

Your post below illustrates his shortcomings pretty well, but I think part of the transition that's been going on under Borges was to expand the playbook for him this season and it hasn't worked. 

It's also clear no matter how you cut it...he doesn't play as well on the road. At all. 


September 24th, 2012 at 11:44 AM ^

It's not about that anymore. He's not confused. He's not lost. He is making bad decisions and they are the same ones, over and over. I will say his accuracy is better, but his decisions are bad. I don't know if he puts himself under that much pressure or what, but what we are doing in the passing game hasn't suited him. Like I said, I don't think it's all on him. Everyone had an idea of what he did best when they got here and for some reason, they don't want to admit that there are better ways to use him. It's really not Denard's fault. 


September 24th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

I think he's more interested in Steeplechase. A lot of variety, and mixing it up, but not just plowing slowly.

In a car example Denard is a drag car, straight ahead speed like no other, but you don't want the car to be doing too much.  And Borges is a Formula One driver, used to the twists and turns of a non-straight away course.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:47 AM ^

He completed passes to open receivers based on the threat of the run. He is now a quasi Pro Style QB, being asked to make different reads. Oh, and Alabama and ND are decent teams. Suprised a thread is needed to figure this out unless you just started watching games this year and are only looking at stats from the previous 2 seasons.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:48 AM ^

Go back and watch film from 2010.  Denard rolled out and threw hitches.  He threw bubble screens and slants from the pocket.  And he threw bombs.  The first three routes are very high percentage plays; the last one not so much, but that's okay because it was rare.

Now look at what he's doing in 2011/2012.  Posts, screens, slants, hitches, curls, outs, play action from under center, drags, flies, etc.

Good defenses stopped those simple plays in 2010 because they were simple.  Now good defenses are stopping the more complicated plays in 2012 because Denard isn't very good at them.  Either way, good defenses can figure out how to stop Denard from having success in the passing game.  Why?  Because he's not very good at it.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

I think Denard is not good at making decisions in the passing game but not good as a passer in a somewhat unique way that confuses people at times.  Specifcally, he's better at throwing a football than most poor passers who can run the ball.  You didn't, for example, see Pat White (IIRC) throw balls like Denard's touchdown to Odoms against Nebraska last year or his deep pass to Gallon against Alabama.  His footwork is inconsistent, obviously, which (again obviously) makes his accuracy inconsistent, but he teases us with really nice throws at times...What Denard is just really not good at is making reads and deciding when to tuck and run or throw the ball away.  His high school offense was really, really simple; RR didn't ask him to do what Borges does; and he's likely just never going to be adept at it.  Some people just don't do certain things well, and that's not a comment on their character or overall intelligence.  It just is. 

Ron Utah

September 24th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

Magnus hit the nail on the head.

Denard didn't have as much to do in 2010, and was completely ineffective against good defenses.  I don't know why the myth of Denard being a good passer in 2010 persists; it's simply false.  The only times he was effective as a passer were against inferior competition.



September 24th, 2012 at 3:28 PM ^

If you look at his 2010 completion rate, you can see that he had a better passing year that year than in 2011 and to this point in 2012.  

What it doesn't take into consideration is that those completions were short yardage/screen passes.  He can be effective in those short, quick passes.  Keep him in the pocket for too long and the threat of an INT goes through the roof.  

So, I wouldn't call it a myth... he's just not an all-around good passer.  


September 24th, 2012 at 4:24 PM ^

"Denard didn't have as much to do in 2010..."

Nah, Denard did more in 2010 than just about any other QB in history.  A better way to put that is that he is being utilized differently.  A criticism of RR's use of Sheridan and Threet should include Borges' use of Denard.

"...and was completely ineffective against good defenses."

Is this Boodini?  Denard is one player.  Those good defenses played aginst not just Denard, but an underwhelming offensive line and WRs that are not the NFL littering.

Denard has his faults, but the faults of any player can be magnified in the wrong setting.

Further, I'd argue that we still have yet to see what Denard could do with a good line, good RBs, good WRs and that "overly simple" offense from 2010, against a good defense.  You can't simply throw everything on Denard when they play a good defense.


September 24th, 2012 at 11:49 AM ^

I think a lot of it had to do with the constraint-drive nature of RR's offense. Plays were often packaged where Denard could give, keep, or throw the bubble based on reads; these packaged plays don't seem to be in Borges' offense.

When you don't keep the defense honest by having constraints on plays, they can more easily "build a fence" because they don't have to worry about being "wrong" by the design of the play. This is why Brian has been harping on the bubble screen. We're using it now, but it doesn't appear to be a read that we're making on a down-by-down basis, which allows the defense to build a fence.

So basically this is an argument about offensive philosophy. RR's offense is designed to make the defense wrong on every play by packaged plays and constraints; Borges's offense doesn't do this. This is basically a "try to score every play" offense versus a "let's just do things that work and let us hang on to the ball." Both can be effective, but we don't have the personnel to run the philosophy this staff prefers, so it seems like we're stuck with an uncomfortable reality for the rest of this year and likely into 2014.

the unsilent m…

September 24th, 2012 at 11:53 AM ^

The games that Denard struggles in now are the same games that Denard struggled in then.  When we face a quality opponent with the ability to close the inner running lanes, Denard, or any other spread quarterback for that matter, must be able to throw and make decisions. 

When playing the spread option, defenses are taking a serious gamble when they decide to take away the run option because they are committing extra defenders- that is the beauty of the spread.  The offense, I don't care which kind, must be able to take advantage of the numbers with the forward pass, which, in turn, opens the running lanes back up.  Opposing defensive coordinators know what many posters are struggling with: Denard does not make good decisions and he does not throw well.  To restate, the games that Denard struggles with in Al Borges' system are the same games that Denard struggled with under RR.    


September 24th, 2012 at 11:55 AM ^

Offensive Scheme. Denard is not very good at making football decisions - doesn't matter if they are in the run game or the passing game. (Note that even RR couldn't really make the pure run-option game work with Denard). The spread made Denard's decisions simple; the WCO puts much more of a burden on the QB, which Denard can't handle.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:00 PM ^

The reason is because Denard fits RRod's offense better. Al Borges is trying to fit a square-Denard into a round-NFLpassingoffense. Borges needs to adapt to Denard. Denard needs to adapt to Borges. He lost good targets. He gained worse targets. Denard wasn't built for this offense. 


September 24th, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^

It's time for everyone to accept that he just is what he is. He makes deer in the headlight throws, especially under pressure. I also feel at times he's trying so hard to prove he's a qb, that he sits in the pocket way longer than he should. The line was blocking well. He just made some awful decisions. 8 picks through 4 games is not what a senior qb should be doing playing at this level regardless of whatever transition he's going through. Purdue's d-line has looked good so we'll see what happens then.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

I can accept that he is not a very accurate passer and he doesn't read defenses very well, but a senior qb with 3 years of starting experience should know to throw the ball away or eat a sack when there is pressure in his face and no one is open.  This is not 2010 when the defense couldn't stop anyone and the offense had to score on every drive, punting is not the worst thing in the world.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:06 PM ^

Needs to simplify the offense.  It would seem that it is easier change the offense than to change the quarterback to fit the offense.  He has no choice.  Gardner is not an option as he is a slower, taller version of Denard and Bellamy is a red shirt freshman who is not ready.  Next year with Shane in the fold, Borges can move more towards his pro style offense he is comfortable with.

One more year Al, please adapt, or this will be a 7-5 season.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:17 PM ^

Sorry, but I don't think Shane is going to be much help as a true freshman.  He's loaded with talent, but he's hardly a refined QB that will come in ready to play.  I was hoping he'd be an early entry, but  that ship has sailed.  Bellomy is likely our guy next year....or Gardner if we want to keep running the West Coast Spread hybrid or whatever this offense is.

Steve in PA

September 24th, 2012 at 12:35 PM ^

Playign true freshman is NOT the answer to any of what plagues the Michigan Wolverines.  If anything it is the problem.  

Next year is Gardner or Bellamy or we're in worse shape than any of us realize.  That is why somene on the roster should have been playing more of the "garbage time" in every game so far this season.

Hoke and company will get us there, but lets be patient.  If it was easy the previous coach would still be here.

 Sometimes I think the BCS win was a bad thing because it warped everyne's expectations.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

Certainly Borges deserves a share of the blame for his struggles but also Denard is just trying to do too much out there. At some point a senior QB should know when to throw the ball away and when and when not to take a sack if nobody's open. I wonder if the pressure of being Denard is making him try to make a spectacular play on every down rather than managing the game as a senior 3 year starter at QB should. The way our defense was playing a few punts wouldn't have been a disaster.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:09 PM ^

Borges asks him to throw the ball more than sideways or 10 yards down the field and I'd like to say part of it is that Juniors gone but I'm fairly certain Gardner and Funchess can at least go jump for it like he did. Somehow his decision making has gotten. I really don't get it.


September 24th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

"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. " - from the OP

Again, the switch to WCO-type schemes created a shift in who the preferred receivers on given plays were. As an example, look at Roundtree's numbers - when we were relying a lot of QB iso type plays, Roundtree would find himself open a lot, but part of the west coast implementation has been the shift to the precise passing routes that require the QB and receivers to be sycnhronized far more, which also means that you find yourself throwing into traffic (whether it is a short or long pass really) more often than not.

It's a difficult shift at each skill position, and you can see it in in Roy's numbers - Hemingway last year seemed to be the clear favorite on deep routes. In the second year of this scheme, it seems as if Gallon and Gardner seem to have emerged as the intermediate and deep threat respectively, with Roundtree getting a lot of the shorter routes at the moment (his longest reception this year is 18 yards, averaging 9 yards per reception). They are all being asked to relearn their positions essentially too. WCO plays, as I understand them, unfold quicker, so timing really is key.

To tie that into the Denard question, as others have mentioned, the offense now asks Denard to throw deeper balls if that is the open route (typically to Gardner this year) and make well-timed passes into narrower windows, which wasn't necessarily a thing in the spread and is definitely not a strength for Denard. That being said, Denard's mechanics are overall much improved, and Al Borges has done about as good a job as anyone could merging the skillset of Denard Robinson with his preferred style of offense to the point where he's used spread elements and at the same time turned Denard into a very good passer under center (classic WCO stuff here). It obviously is not perfect (re: Saturday), but it has been made to work as well as it can - you have an OC and a QB with different wheelhouses.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

It is obvious to everyone in the country Hoke and Borges have no idea how to use the most dynamic player in college football and a once a decade talent. I watched the game with a couple ND fans and they were stunned at how Denard was being utilized. It's really unfortunate. With all the talent we have, It's ridiculous the offense has had this much trouble. There should be no excuses by the coaching staff once Morris gets on campus.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:26 PM ^

So when Denard puts up 400 + yards against Air Force and UMAss thats not Hoke and Borges and when he struggles against Bama and ND thats Hoke and Borges? Go back and look at 2010 it was the same thing. Robinson put up huge #'s against bad teams and struggled against good teams.


September 24th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

It's unprecedented that an offensive player sees a drop in statistical production when playing excellent defenses compared to when he plays against lousy defenses.  Stunning.  I'm sure this trend is unique to Denard Robinson as I've never heard of it before.


September 24th, 2012 at 1:04 PM ^

I am not saying this is unique to Denard. There are plenty of QB's who don't play well against good teams... And we call them..... bad QB's.

But with Denard it always the stubborn Borges who is evil and gets joy out of not using Denard the way he was meant to be used (as a RB).

The thing is, Denard put up such insanely large #'s against poor defenses and was voted Big Ten offensive player of the year in 2010 without every showing up in a big game. Those #'s are so insane that people cannot get over the fact that he's just not that good at QB.


September 24th, 2012 at 2:57 PM ^

Wisconsin 2010 was a pretty big game as they were Big 10 champs. He had 360 yards of total offense and 4 touchdowns. Against Notre Dame, he had 500 total yards and 3 touchdowns. Against Penn State, he had close to 400 yards and 4 touchdowns. Granted, those weren't Ohio State or our bowl game, but those were pretty big games that he "showed up for" and our defense lost us the game. If your point is that he played worse against better defenses, I guess great point. Extremely obvious, but great point. Denard got offensive player of the year because he played great football that year.


September 24th, 2012 at 3:59 PM ^

Extremely obvious? The quarterback at Michigan is obviously supposed to play bad against good competition?  Did you begin watching Michigan in 2008? If so I understand your confusion.  

The point isn’t that there is a statistical drop against good defensive teams, its that’s there is almost a complete lack of production, to the point where his play is actually hurting the team. No one expects Denard to put 400+ yards against Alabama.  But they should expect good decisions and enough positive plays to keep Michigan in the game. 

The other point is that his numbers are so skewed because of some ridiculously crazy statistical games against terrible teams. Overall people just have this false expectation that Robinson is the greatest CFB player ever and can do no wrong because of what he did in those games. And then they are continuously let down and point the finger and the coaching. 


September 24th, 2012 at 6:35 PM ^

Are you actually still arguing that good quarterbacks don't play worse against good defenses? Chad Henne had an awful game against Ohio State his senior year. That was a good defense. Yes, he was injured....but so was Denard for half the year. Every team racks up yards against shitty teams. Most offenses struggle against elite defenses. In 2010, he played really poorly against MSU and OSU. It just so happens that both defenses were ranked in the top 10 in the nation. For the majority of the year, he played very well. Is it really a surprise that a player that plays well against 3/4 of the teams he plays and breaks NCAA records for running quarterbacks as a sophomore to win an offensive player of the year award and be looked at as a great quarterback/athlete?


September 24th, 2012 at 7:56 PM ^

Against ranked teams over the last 2 1/2 seasons here is the average stat line he has given us:

Passing: 11 of 24 (46%) 162 yards 1 TD 2 INT

Rushing: 18 carries 67 yards (3.7 ypc) 0 TD

Looks like most have just conceded to the fact that Denard and Michigan are going to shit their pants offensively against a good team. Why even line up? Their better so Denard isn't going to play well, its extremely obvious right?  Line up some more UConns, UMass, and Bowling Green squads so we can all pat eachother on the back.

I mean I find it sad the average response on MGBLOG is "duh, he's going to play bad against good teams.... but he's awesome still"