Eleven Warriors analyzes why RR & Spread failed at Michigan

Submitted by StephenRKass on February 23rd, 2012 at 10:15 AM

(Note:  I struggled with whether or not to title this OT in the subject line. However, it is about Michigan, and Ohio, so I didn't go "OT," even though it is yet another RR rehash.)

Over at Eleven Warriors, their current headline article is (link:) The Spread in the Big Ten:  Why Did Rich Rod Fail at Michigan? This is a followup to an earlier 11W column on Meyer's Spread Failures. I am posting this NOT so there can be another discussion / flamewar about RR & "what went wrong" with lots of hand wringing and readers lining up for or against RR & the Spread. As mentioned here many times, "No Moar RR!!" Rather, I find it interesting that Ohio is looking at this, and wondering what Meyer will bring with the spread. They clearly are curious, and trying to ascertain what to expect in Ohio's future.

FTR, the writer (Fulton) suggests that RR's failure was due to not adapting the spread beyond it's origins. I disagree, and so do many of the 11W readers. RR's offense was doing well by 2010, and would likely have improved in 2011. The major problems, as every mgoblog reader already knows, were:

  • The defense (Schafer, Gerg, RR meddling, lack of bringing Casteel with him from WVa.)
  • The special teams.
  • Lack of institutional support. (Carr et al, not paying enough to bring in Casteel.)
  • RR's failure to fully understand and embrace Michigan culture (including Ohio rivalry.)
  • RR's failure at diplomacy (Josh Groban, anyone?)

They also give Hoke and Borges credit for a number of things, including "getting" Michigan, and adapting to current personnel.



February 23rd, 2012 at 11:39 AM ^

Even with all the RR stuff, I think one of the coolest things about the entire misadventure is that we're now HERE.  What I mean is, the ability of Michigan to not shy away from turning the magnifying glass on itself and to LEARN from missteps has really been demonstrated by how the system handled the entire RRod situation (once it played out).


Seriously, so many other programs/corporations/universities/organizations would have taken FOREVER to be able to retrospectively analyze past missteps, forensically determine the problems, yet somehow retain the sound components of the culture to keep a solid foundation, and totally reinvent the program as efficiently as Michigan has.


Brandon comes in, boosts revenue stream, diverts the resources to football coaching salaries and basketball facilities.  He hires people that not only buy-in to the Michigan tradtion, but have it SO ENMESHED into their very fibre, that they are not paralyzed for fear of violating that tradition, but rather DYNAMIC in execution, for both the round ball (bball) and the good old prolate spheroid.  The recruiters recruit locally and solidly.  Yet pull in from the diaspora better than ever, because the Michigan tradition of integrity and performance was something they had even before they came here on this particular stint.  College recruits TRUST our ambassadors because they're sincere.

Simultaneously, NCAA scrutiny gets ratched up, and Michigan, even during the RR years, is proactive about it.  A nuisance violation is owned, digested, and effectively addressed.


Contrast that with Ohio.  A program that still seems to be in denial over the extent of decay to its foundation that has nothing directly to do with wins.  Just what that program is sadly willing to do for the sake of wins, and ability to delude itself that its okay.


Picking up Urban Meyer was symbolic of many, many things regarding the direction Ohio is headed.


The LEAST of it is the spread offense.  And I think Buckeye fans should be concerned.


So in the spirit of self evaluation, I think (to a degree) our collective ability to look at the RR years as a learning opportunity has been demonstrated.  And it is remarkable.


Go Blue.


February 23rd, 2012 at 3:26 PM ^

to a successful spread offense takes many years. You need to recruit a totally different athelete and considerable patience. At a school accustomed to winning the majority of their games, the transition did not make sense. Gary Danielson made this point when he learned of RR going to Michigan.

He predicted failure because Michigan and its fans could not tolerate the difficult and lengthy transition. 

Arizona State made the right decison in hiring RR. Their programs is in deep trouble and Michigan's was not.





February 23rd, 2012 at 10:18 AM ^

I don't think the spread failed at all. Rodriguez ultimately didn't succeed at Michigan for a variety of reasons...but his offense schemes and execution weren't part of the problem. 


February 23rd, 2012 at 11:26 AM ^

To be fair, the spread was, at least, very inconsistent against better defenses, but alot of that had to do with youth at quarterback.  But, you can say that about any offense that has a freshman/sophmore qb.


February 23rd, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

I think you're right here, and it was only made worse by Tate losing his starting position (although that's obviously turned out to be for the best). The difference was that a layperson like me would look at the offense, even on a blown play, and be able to say, "ohhhh, I see what we're going for here". It was pretty clear the offense's problem was execution.

The defense and certain aspects of special teams looked like our coaches had money on the other team, though.


February 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

In a heartbeat I'd read such a book. If someone on the inside (TP?) worked with the Tat guys and the Parlor owner and the lawyer and the dealership to write a full expose on what occurred at Ohio over the last five years? Shoot, I'd gladly see TP paid $2mil upfront to dish on what REALLY happened.

What would really be glorious, in a way, would be if NOTHING happened to Ohio because of such a book. It would cause shame for fans, and the institution, and expose the NCAA for the toothless, spineless, ineffective (corrupt?) organization it really is.

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 11:35 AM ^

Yes the defense sucked and it is unfathomable to think RR couldn't get a decent DC in three years. However there was evidence that suggests that as great as the O looked against the weaker teams of the B1G (e.g. IU, Illinois, Purdue) it didn't perform so well against the better teams (e.g. ohio, UW, PSU, Iowa, MSU).

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 2:19 PM ^

As I state down below MSU, UW and PSU were not even top 25 defenses. PSU was barely top 50. As far as our D not being able to stop anyone I get that. I'm not arguing that point. But there were some games (MSU/PSU) where the D kept the score within reach and our offense couldn't get the job done against an opposing D that wasn't all that good. If our O was so great they should have been able to overcome those challenges.


February 23rd, 2012 at 2:51 PM ^

I dunno; scoring 17, 31, and 28 seems like a good enough job most of the time. I think the biggest thing was that we were essentially starting a RS Frosh at QB, in an offense that relies heavily on production from the QB in passing and running If we had stayed the course another year I think the offense would have been dynamic due to Denard having spent 3 years in the offense, and getting a guy like Fitz healthy as well

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 4:59 PM ^

put up 35 to take ND and 40 to take OSU in 2011 so I dunno.

"Rodriguez's Michigan defenses and special teams worsened every year and were frankly horrible by the end of his tenure. This deficiency, more than anything else, sunk Rodriguez's tenure. Yet it is too much to give Rodriguez's offenses a free pass."

I agree with this assesment and I think michgoblue (correct me if I'm wrong) is in agreement with it as well. Everyone wants to think that the offense was great and that the only thing that was wrong was the D and the ST. I and others are saying the O wasn't all that great either. Granted it wasn't the biggest problem but there were issues.





February 23rd, 2012 at 5:56 PM ^

Is the Pope Catholic? What would you define as "great?" You're reminding me of that meme of the guy who thinks Kate Upton has pointy knees. Kate Upton may not be perfect to look at, but you get the picture. If she has deficiencies, it isn't her appearance or her pair of fine personalities. Likewise, Michigan had deficiencies during the RR tenure, but the Spread offense wasn't particularly one of them.


February 23rd, 2012 at 11:50 AM ^



RRod's ability to score, yardage, was amazing.  And fun to watch.

He was/is a brilliant and gifted Offensive Coordinator.


But football is a funny sport, and as much as it is tempting to break the game down into the three phases, the fourth phase (I'm not talking about the fans) is how the other three phases INTERACT.


And that is the art of ball control/clock management, when you get right down to it.  It is specifically how a team balances its abilities in the three phases of the game to allow for their defense to rest, their offense to maintain total freedom of choice in run vs. pass selection, and keeping the ball out of the other team's offensive hands.


At this, sadly, RR failed miserably.  Which is ironic because HE HAD THE HARD PART DOWN: his offenses could score.  But they couldn't keep the ball out of the other offense's hands.  And a small boost in performance on that side of the ball would have helped his record dramatically.


No, RR's tenure in no way suggests that the spread offense would fail in the B1G.


However, it DOES suggest, much like the first Gulf War, that one cannot win a land war with air superiority alone.  Shock and Awe only gets you so far, and at some point, you need boots on the ground, ie defense, ie ball control.


So RR=Amazing Air Force.  Lousy Army and Marines.


Go Blue.


February 23rd, 2012 at 11:04 AM ^

I'd argue that failing to land Pryor was RichRod's biggest *gift* to Michigan.  Obviously, hindsight is 20/20 and none of us thought that at the time, but if we'd had a crystal ball in 2008, I'm pretty sure us and reasonably sane Ohio fans (hurr hurr) would've been falling over each other saying "No, you take him. Please."


February 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^


I wasn't going to comment on RR, but this statement -- "his biggest failure was not signing Pryor" -- is ABSURD.

Pryor was an intellectual retard, he was 100% all about Tyrelle Pryor, he didnt get it, he never will get it, and frankly, he wasnt much of a team leader or field general.  He just had mad raw skillz that he used successfully.

And because we didn't get him, we got the EXACT OPPOSITE, and WE LOVE HIM SOME DENARD.

Denard is 100% the perfect student representative for a football program.  Polite and modest to a fault.  Always smiling.  Exceptional team leader, he is the undisputed leader (even was as a junior).  Finds ways to win.  Pure dilithium, of the flash variety.

Had RR gotten Pryor, we would have (1) gotten a sulking, self-centered, trouble-making loser as QB, and (2) gotten an opportunity to watch Urban Meyer (!) use Denard down at Florida on TV.

Was not RR's biggest failure.  Was in hindsight his BIGGEST BLESSING.  Because the GREATEST thing RR did was, HE GAVE US DENARD.


February 23rd, 2012 at 2:22 PM ^

Pryor > Threet.

I'm glad he didn't come here but don't try and tell me that pryor wouldn't have been a better option in 2008 and 2009 than the threet/forcier combo.  Did you read three and out?  Threet cried at halftime and Forcier was uncoachable. 


Sidenote: Meyer was recruiting Denard as a Corner. 

Mary Markley

February 23rd, 2012 at 10:25 AM ^

Ross Fulton (the author of the post at Eleven Warriors) is actually a Michigan Grad; I graduated with him in 2004. I find his posts to be reasonable and well thought out; that's the Michigan difference.


February 23rd, 2012 at 10:38 AM ^

I think that the point of the 11W post was whether the RR spread failed "in the B10."

So, if you are looking at the 2010 offense, you need to strip out the out of conference games (except maybe ND) and see how the offense performed in the B10. 

Disclaimer:  the following is NOT intended to be a criticism of RR or to re-start old debates.  Just a response to the question posed by the OP and by the 11W article.

In the B10, and in particular against the better B10 teams (see Wisco, OSU, Iowa, MSU and even PSU) our offense was flat out ineffective for large chunks of the game, and only put up significant points when the game was out of reach or close to out of reach and the opposing defenses went into "play it safe" mode.  The same thing happened in the Gator Bowl against an average MSU (not that MSU) defense. 

So, from our limited experience of 2010, my view is that the spread is not ideally suited for the B10.  Not saying that it can't be effective, but as we ran it, it was not, in my view, effective.  Anyone can put up points against crap defenses, but the test is whether you can score against the big boys, and in 2010, we could not when it counted.

Now, this is not a criticism of RR or even the spread, necessarily..  We largely ran the spread for much of this year, and had similar results on offense against Iowa, MSU and even in the Sugar Bowl.  So, the problem may equally be Denard at QB being somewhat 1 dimensional, or Denard being a poor in-game decision maker.  Run the same spread with Tate Forcier (let's ignore the crazy part, just his QB style), and we may be more effective because he could move, but could also hit a throw right on the $$, forcing defenses to defend the pass. 

Also, 2010 was played with a first year QB started who had only taken a handful of snaps.  Essentially, a freshman.  Not ideal under any circumstances and even the best offenses will struggle with a freshman QB.  As an example, Jimmah at ND went on to get drafted by the NFL, but does anyone remember ND's offense during his first year?  More turnovers than TDs and they couldn't score when facing a decent D. 

I guess that my view is that from what I saw, the spread (as run by RR) was not well suited for the B10, but there may have been some mitigating factors that caused this result. 


February 23rd, 2012 at 11:20 AM ^

I still don't understand how people don't understand that good offenses will normally play worse against good defenses. That doesn't mean it isn't effective or it won't work, it means good defenses are good for a reason. We had a very good defense this year and a crap OSU offense put up a lot of yards and points against us. Chad Henne put up 3 points against OSU as a senior...does that mean a pro style offense can't work in the B10 or does that mean Ohio State had a good defense?


February 23rd, 2012 at 12:11 PM ^

Agreed and 100% valid because, against good teams, none of our quarterbacks were ever injured in RichRod's 3 years and none of the WRs dropped passes.

This line of logic always baffles me as a major complaint about the spread is the QBs are injured too much.

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 12:45 PM ^

That may explain the results of one or two games (MSU/OSU) but we're talking five games in 2010. So what's the rationale for Iowa, Wisconsin and PSU?

Tsio's offense was not crap.  They had a lot of talent off the field last year due to suspensions. They've had many good recruiting classes in recent years and are not devoid of talent. Miller had to grow up in the pocket which clearly wasn't the plan but he's talented and it started to show towards the end of the year. Their O-line struggled as did other parts of their game but that team had some adverse conditions to contend with. I for one have no pity for them I enjoyed watching them flounder.


February 23rd, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

You named 3 teams we averaged 30 points per game against...and that is struggling? Take out the fact that Iowa had a top 10 defense, Wisconsin was 11-1 with a good defense, and PSU had a good defense, do you think averaging 30 per game is bad or are you one of the people who think teams give up and put reserves in when up 7 or 10 points in the second half?

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 2:04 PM ^

If that offense is as prolific as you suggest than they should be able to pick up the slack in at least one of those games and deliver a victory. BTW they didn't average 30 ppg they averaged 29 ppg. Averaging 30 a game for 3 games in a pro-style set is good but the expectation is different when it comes to a spread offense. Of the five regular season losses, the opposing D was ranked in total team defense:

MSU 27th

Iowa 8th

PSU 43rd (not what I would call a good D)

UW 31st

ohio 3rd

(Just for giggles Miss. St. was ranked 29th)

So 3 of those losses came against D's that weren't even ranked in the top 25.


February 23rd, 2012 at 3:38 PM ^

Yes, and those 3 teams that didn't have a top 25 defense (which is quite the arbitrary number because none of them were top 25 but 2 of them were the 27th and 31st ranked defense....which is way worse than top 25) were 11-1, 11-1, and 7-6 (I think that's what PSU's record was). Averaging 29 points per game and giving yourself a chance to win against 3 teams with a combined record of 29-8 is actually pretty good.

And I have no clue what your point is about spread vs pro style. Please enlighten me as to why expectations are higher for a spread offense than a pro style offense? A good offense is a good offense....what else are we judging it on? The ability to win a game? Why didn't you include Illinois then? Our offense won us that game and I believe their defense was better than PSUs. I know why, because that doesn't fit this "offense needs to play good in games I say are against good teams, but only when I say and not games they perform well in."


February 23rd, 2012 at 4:03 PM ^

My guess is his answer will be that ball control offenses don't have as many chances to score points since they limit the possesions in a game.  Whereas spread offenses score/don't score quicker, thus giving them more possessions to score.  Kind of like how a leadoff hitter in baseball has a substantial advantage over a #9 hitter in reaching 200 hits, even if they have the save average. 

29 PPG when you are giving your opponent 12 possessions a game is different than 29 PPG when you are giving your opponent 20 possessions a game. 

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 5:18 PM ^

Thank you butterfield, that was my point precisley. If you have the same expectations for a spread offense that you do for a pro-set then why would anyone use it? Because it looks cooler? Throwing the ball is risky. The only reason to take that risk is because you feel the rewards outweigh the risk. The reward being higher output. If you looked at the box score from the Rose Bowl TOP for Oregon was 24.18 and UW was 35.42, everytime the Badgers scored Oregon threw 3 or 4 passes ran the ball a couple of times and scored again. 

The reason I didn't include Illinois is two-fold one it wasn't a loss and two, I think many will agree, it was more of an aberration or an outlier compared to the rest of the season.


February 23rd, 2012 at 6:05 PM ^

This is just silly. You run the spread offense because it is effective at creating one on one matchups in space, you know, by spreading the field out.

Do you even know what kind of spread offense we ran? It doesn't really sound like you do.

And you know what is an outlier....scoring 7 points for a team that averaged over 30. I wonder why you didn't throw out OSU. Again I know why....because you wanted to throw out a game we scored 30 over our average as an outlier but not 30 under our average as an outlier. Weird the way all your data points to everything that makes your point stronger but ignores everything that makes it weaker.

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 8:13 PM ^

we run the zone read spread so we can create one on one match ups? That's all? We just spread the field because it's easier to throw the ball. What's the goal of the spread? Just to isolate defenders and create vertical passing and running lanes? The byproduct of the spread is that because it's pass oriented with 4 and 5 receiver sets it has the tendency to move the ball down the field quickly which translates into short drives, more posession opportunities and higher scoring potential.

As I said before my examples were chosen becasue they were LOSSES and nothing else. I wouldn't consider OSU and outlier because they had the #3 defense.


February 23rd, 2012 at 8:56 PM ^

You said our offense didn't play well against good teams and then pointed to PSU as one of your examples. It is pretty easy to make a point when you only look at data and facts that you want to. First off, PSU wasn't a good team and second we scored 31 against them. When I point out Illinois as a better team with a better defense, you can't just say "I don't count them" because you are completely missing any evidence that counters your statement.  That would be like me saying "our offense was actually the best in the nation because we scored 67 against Illinois and I don't really care what other games we played, that is the only one I am looking at."

Yost Ghost

February 23rd, 2012 at 9:57 PM ^

You started out telling me that PSU had a good defense. I point out that they were ranked 43rd and now you're saying that they weren't good. Then you throw Illinois at me and say that they had a better defense than PSU. Illinois was ranked 54th, clearly that is not accurate.

My premise about the offense was not that they sucked but that too many people give the O too much credit. There were issues with the better teams. Illinois wasn't one of the better teams in the B1G, nor was Purdue or Indiana that's why I didn't include them NOT because I'm trying to skew my data.