Losing Denard Robinson and finding an offensive identity

Submitted by Blazefire on October 27th, 2013 at 12:43 AM

I see so, so many people complaining about the lack of a steady offensive concept, and an effective one, and I'm trying to understand the complaints as they relate to this year. I want to know what other people think as far as how the loss of a record setter affects a team going forward.

The past four years, Denard Robinson has been the face of Michigan Football. When the offense was working, he was amazing. When the offense wasn't working, he was still amazing. How many times did a play or an entire game almost fall apart entirely only to become "DO SOMETHING DENARD! Oh, wow... did you see what he did? DID YA!?!"

What I want to know is, what do fans think is a reasonable amount of time for a program to find its identity going forward following four years of DENARD DO SOMETHING football? Pre season? One game? Four? One Season?

I personally think that once you no longer have, nor expect to have, Denard Robinson\ in your backfield, it makes sense that you would at first try to go the other way, to bring some sense into your game, since so often, plays with Denard made no sense, and that's what made them awesome. I would, in fact, expect somewhere between one half and one full season, the team would start to figure out what works and what doesn't following four years of having a guy that made nothing and everything work.

What's your timeline?



October 27th, 2013 at 2:13 AM ^

The issues the offense has (and there are some knucklehead things that make us easier to defend at times) don't really revolve around the nature of the attack or some philosophical issue.  The tackle over stuff isn't a bad idea, but you don't get much of an advantage when you are just shuffling base formation players (still 5 linemen plus AJ Williams) and tipping your hand to the defense.  Or when you totally tip your hand against Minnesota before trotting it out at PSU.  When a team like Stanford does something like that, they put an extra lineman on the field.  When we do it, a sophomore tight end who never goes out for a pass pattern and has struggled at times blocking becomes the end man on the line (and if we pass he is put in a particularly vulnerable position, which led to trouble against PSU). 

Things like putting Kalis/Braden/Magnuson in at TE if you are going to have a guy who doesn't threaten the D through the air but may give you a bulk advantage on the ground would be nice.  Passing out of those heavy formations if/when the defense overcommits (like we did more of against IU and failed miserably at against PSU) is good.  Making the right personnel decision instead of shuffling guys on the interior all year in seemingly random fashion (How do Bosch, Magnuson, and Burzynski all pass both Kalis and Bryant in one week and how did Braden seem to fall so far down that pecking order? And how do we expect consistency when the lineup isn't consistent?) might help as well.

None of these things have to do with identity or philosophy.  And for all that, we've scored 41 against ND and at least 37 in every B1G game.  Not exactly 3 yards and a cloud of dust.


October 27th, 2013 at 2:25 AM ^

What we do and what Stanford does are different. We bring a tackle over out of normal personnel, which theoretically keeps the defense from subbing into their "jumbo" group. We then get to run to a very strong point of attack against their base defense. So, the idea is that we get to run towards a Lewan/ Schofield double, or have those guys each handle a player. Its a sound idea. Stanford just brings in an extra tackle and doesn't care if the D substitutes. They'll either out-execute the D, or they'll run a play-pass against the heavy front. I'd like to see us do that as well, but they are different things with different goals.


October 27th, 2013 at 2:52 AM ^

I'm saying, which I think you can agree with, that they do it better, if only from a strategic standpoint.  Forcing the D into a jumbo package is one thing (Stanford when they are doing things well).  Tipping a play such that they are able to put in a jumbo package against our base personnel and keep just about every defender in the box (us against PSU) is less preferrable.  Having Kalis/Braden/Magnuson block an extra DL is one thing.  Having AJ Williams do it is another.  When the respective threat as a pass catcher between those groups is about the same (at least so far), I'd go with the better blocker every time. 

Like you allude to though, some of our issues (to the extent we've had them) are just not taking advantage of a team overplaying the run.  Part of that was game-management decisions against PSU (and not necessarily ones I disagree with), but it is frustrating to see plays run that have virtually no chance of success from the outset.



October 27th, 2013 at 3:08 AM ^

and was mocked (on scout, where I no longer visit) only for it to happen. That said, he is staying at QB. Whether he keeps the job is coaches/system/development/etc. I think he does. THAT SAID, I loved me sine Denard but he was a glorified HB. Gardner, on a week's notice, was immediately a better QB in the traditional QB sense/skills. In fact, to answer your question/pose I well say that a huge issue is that Devin is not paying add well as he did LAST YEAR. He, like Denard, has regressed mentally as a QB under Borges. I'm yet to see the decisive, heady (like taking the free play when getting the DL to jump) and can QB we saw last year in literally game 1 of his tenure (let alone later on). That disturbs me. I don't recall seeing so much turning his back to a defense while escaping the pocket, bailing the pocket on a pass so early to run, accuracy inconsistency, etc. He looks less ready to come out and start killing opponents almost right away (even just in attitude) than last year. You'd see him smiling after most mistakes and now he looks angry or outright broken. Instead of allowing the WRs to end routes and make his "2 reads and run", he stares down one and takes off or Benny Hill's it in the backfield the second a defender even looks like he may beat his man/crosses the LOS. I'm not knocking Devin. I think it's truly as play calling/coaching thing. Whatever they told him last year, they need to go back to as Indiana didn't "fix" anything on our offense, it was Indiana. We'd be better off with last year's Devin at QB, imo. As for the running game, seeing how we need to just do what works if Hoke cares about playing for a B1G title, we need to run out of it as we throw more from it.
PREDICTION: The always 1st pass under center is that PA Gallon comeback screen. msu takes it to the house. Stunned no other team has as it's Borges' "of Takle left" to start the game.


October 27th, 2013 at 10:03 AM ^

I agree with you in that once sh*t hits the fan with Devin, he is fundamentally broken.... but I honestly think he has the talent to be our QB.  The worry now is ( and we're sort of in the same position as when this current group of coaches got here...with Denard...I think they'll have a hard time giving up on him....and) that our OLine doesn't improve and Devin does not progress as a decision maker when it comes to passing.  He's demonstrated the ability to throw the ball accurately when not under pressure.  The problem is...he's always under pressure...because we cant run the ball to save our lives....and he needs to make every throw to move the offense.  Teams know we cant win by running (with the running back that it is).  This is why we're going to have a near impossible time in beating MSU or anyone with a decent defense (without sacrificing our QBs health).  It's so simple even my 10 year old son can figure it out.  We are one dimensional because our offensive line cant run block well enough to get a 3 yd avg.  It's hard for a guy like me to see why?!  I hear a lot of talk that "its just one guy missing an assignment" and it ruins the whole play.  So maybe we are really close to unlocking the key ingredients to a balanced offense.  In the meantime, anyone we put back there is going to have the weight of the world on their shoulders.  I personally dont think Shane or Wilton will just step in and shine with our current oline situation (or next year without Lewan and Schoffield).  

In the mean time, the one spectacular thing about Devin is he athleticism.  He, like denard, can create in space...or when a play breaks down.  This at least makes it difficult for teams to defend.  Someone always has to be watching for him to run.  You put a guy like shane or wilton back there, fresh out of the gate, whats going to happen?  I think there is going to be a lot of sacks.  These guys have incredible high school pedigrees, but lets face it, this ain't high school.

Frustrating to watch no matter which QB side you choose....


October 27th, 2013 at 4:49 PM ^

like Indiana, when given time, he has shown he is largely accurate with consistency. He does get pressured often due to our life but even when they hold up he is almost expecting to get hit in 2 seconds now so he panics, imo. Line was no better last year and he was better last year in almost every facet. Odd. Oh, and msu is going to play Denard defense on him for sure as that's what we are right now.


October 27th, 2013 at 11:20 AM ^

Gardner is a better weapon than Denard. He has a big arm, as well as much better scrambling skills. Any OC would/should drool over a guy with DG's skill set. We should be good now. If you can carve up Notre Dame, then you should be able to carve up 95% of teams in the FBS. The problem is Michigan/Hoke/Borges's stubbornness. They want to assume an identity that we are ill-fitted to establish. Perhaps they are laying a foundation for the future, like when RR ran the spread with Threet/Sheridan. However, we are massively under-utilizing Gardner, as well as the "threat" of Gardner. Some will say that they are protecting Gardner from injury by not running more "spread" plays. However, what is the point of saving your QB for future games if you are losing the present game that you are restricting him in? Also, Gardner is not a stick. As you can tell by the array of OMG Shirtless photos, he's a well built QB. A guy with the physical attributes to play FBS WR, should be able to take a few hits. Run up the middle all you want against Minny & CMU, but in OT vs Penn St I want to see read-options and power QB runs. Those are low-risk, high-reward plays, with the only drawback being the hits the QB takes. With the game on the line, I'll roll the dice with DG taking those hits.

snarling wolverine

October 27th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

I don't think we need to use Devin more as a runner.  What we need to do more of is go downfield to Gallon/Funchess.  I don't know how many college defenses are out there that can defend both guys in the same play.  If there are any, then Dileo, Chesson and Butt make for solid secondary targets.



October 27th, 2013 at 12:58 AM ^

Considering we ended the season with Gardner starting more than 40% of the games, we should have been able to find our identiy, especially with him going out there and playing like he did. Add in a whole spring, offseason, and pre season within the offense, it should have resembled the Notre Dame game more than Akron, UConn, and Penn State.


October 27th, 2013 at 1:01 AM ^

That's fair. However, I'm not sure I would agree that taking over mid-season for a player that everyone expected to come back within a week or two (initially. Remember, nobody thought he'd be out through the end of the year.) counts as much, because I don't think they spent much time adapting the offense. They had fewer QB runs, but overall, they still ran it like it was Denard's offense, under the assumption that he was coming back.

Remember, I'm not talking about Gardner improving (which he has, albeit in fits and starts). I'm talking about finding the right formations and playcalls to get the most out of the players you have now.


October 27th, 2013 at 10:08 AM ^

....agreed....BUT WE CANT RUN BLOCK!!!! WE ARE ONE DIMENSIONAL!!! Why??? I have no idea.  Is it coaching?  Is it lack of talent?  I sure dont think its the latter.  I just fail to see why we can't generate some run offense with the current group of guys we have playing the line.  I know they are young but c'mon. Is it going to be a good situation next year without Lewan and Schoffield????  About to hit panic button on our offense.

Marley Nowell

October 27th, 2013 at 12:55 AM ^

The clamoring for an "offensive identity" is overrated. The offense should be structured in a way to put players in a position to succeed based on their skills while building off each other in a cohesive fashion.


October 27th, 2013 at 12:58 AM ^

How long does it take to figue out how to best compliment players? How long does it take to figure out what offensive style will be the best for a team for the season. I mean, you can score an instant touchdown with a good hook and ladder. Should a team make that their base play?

steve sharik

October 27th, 2013 at 1:00 AM ^

At that point we'll have experienced OL at every position, unless there's an inexperienced badass out there ahead of a quality player who's been through the fire.

Everyone is comparing Ohio and us in our Penn State games.  Ohio has 4 senior OL starters, 3 of them 5th year guys.  We have Lewan.  Nuff ced.


October 27th, 2013 at 10:58 AM ^

That's one example.  A few years ago FSU started a bunch of freshmen and sophmores and went 8-4 in the regular season.  Now they have a bunch of returning senior and junior starters and are one of the best teams in the country.

Not to mention Michigan is ahead of UCLA per FEI.

Generic MGoBlogger

October 27th, 2013 at 1:07 AM ^

I think that too much of an identity is bad at this point for this team.  Ever since Devin took over last season, while we have definitely have become more of a pro style offense, spread concepts have been a commonality as well.  This team hasn't really had one singular identity, and I think it should stay that way.  

I remember early in the season specifically against ND and CMU that we used anywhere from spread concepts to pro style to running the pistol, and well, it worked very well to say the least.  As the season has progressed, Borges has tried to adapt that power mentality, and most likely because of our skill set and experience with it, it has not gone very well to say the least.  

I feel as if allowing for multiple identities on offense allows the players to feel a little more independent on the field and allows for them to improvise which worked very well against CMU and ND.  It also makes us very hard to prepare for.  The only game that I thought Borges has implemented a sound utilization of all of his tools and skill sets so far was how he utilized Denard and DG against South Carolina.  It was very frustrating last season and the first season trying to watch as Borges insisted upon running a read option with Denard on every play instead of possibly utilizing Gardner in different situations.

Mr. Carson

October 27th, 2013 at 1:08 AM ^

Jesus do people give too much credit to Denard on this site.  The guy was a great Wolverine, but come on.  He singlehandedly took us out of virtually every game we played against good teams.  He was an Offensive Coordinator's nightmare in many ways, and severely limited the team's offensive ceiling.


October 27th, 2013 at 1:12 AM ^

Although I'm not nearly so negative on him (he single handedly won as many games as he single handedly lost), you just said exactly what I said. He was too good to take off the field (plus we had no other options), but because of the way he was built, as a QB, our offense had to be the DENARD OFFENSE. It takes time to make a paradigm shift from the DENARD OFFENSE to something else. How long?


October 27th, 2013 at 5:21 AM ^

One could argue that he carried the team on his back because of his inaccuracy. This lead to not being able to pass and opposing defences stacking the box to the point only Denard had a chance to run.

For the OP, Denard was really only the identity for 3 years, Tate was there Denard's first year.


October 27th, 2013 at 1:16 AM ^

I like OSU and their offensive identity. I think the identity of Manball is skewed towards double tight, I form, etc. I would like for us to run "not your daddy's Manball". Seems to me OSU runs Hyde downhill through the tackles quite a bit as he is a big guy who can handle that load. I see no reason not to run like that, and still be able to throw from the gun and have a strong play action presence. It just won't be as much from the I form