Is the Offense Too Complicated?

Submitted by KC Wolve on October 23rd, 2017 at 9:41 AM

I have seen this question pop up in various hot takes for the last few weeks and I am curious if there is any truth to it. I would like the opinion of someone that would know more about college offenses Vs pro. I guess it could be possible, but I am of the opinion that if it was too complicated for college players, Jim Harbaugh would know or at least realize it. I have seen various people state that Saban started out with a pro offense and has moved to more of a spread. This could obviously be personnel related. Others also stated after the PSU game that they gave their QB a couple of simple reads as opposed to JOK having multiple to go through each play. Again, I don't know how much truth there is to any of this, I am just curious. Is the offiense set up to dominate when they have all the right pieces, which may or may not ever happen? Is a spread offense that much easier to to install and operate?



October 23rd, 2017 at 9:44 AM ^

No it is not too complicated. Harbaugh knows what he's doing. That's really all I can say without going into too much detail about things that are pure speculation.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:09 AM ^

What I see isn't that the offense is too complicated to grasp, but rather I see significant faults in the players trying to execute it.

A pro-style offense and route tree require some patience from the QB and timing with WRs. Many throws are made before the receiver makes his break. John O'Korn doesn't thrive in an offense like that; again, watch the clips of him starting at Houston and the types of plays he ran there. He doesn't do well taking a 5 step drop or a deep drop off play-action, stepping up into the pocket, and making a throw to a spot. I watch him and wish he transferred here for the 2008 season; he'd do ok in RR's spread option offense with quick reads and throws.

Wilton Speight was able to make these throws, and he looked on the field to be more comfortable with this type of offensive passing attack. The hope is that Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey are ok with this too. 

Another issue is that this group of OL run blocks much better "hat on a hat" instead of inside zone. Add to it that Karan Higdon is very much a downhill, "one cut" running back, as is Chris Evans from what I've seen. Ty Isaac is the only RB who seems to be comfortable being patient on outside runs and waiting for the OL to get out there and block. So early in the season we saw too many 3rd and longers and struggles in the red zone when the predictable 1st down calls netted little yardage. It's tough to move the ball against a defense that knows what's coming, an OL that doesn't block well in that manner, and a RB that wants to accelerate into the line. Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

So is it a matter of the players "not getting it?" I don't know. But what I do know is that they don't have a primary RB who is comfortable running behind inside zone blocks and the QB just doesn't have what it takes to execute a downhill pro-style pass game.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:41 AM ^

Keep in mind that, in regard to personel decisions, they have just over one month of fall camp before the first game. It isn't uncommon for a player to appear ahead of others during practice and then struggle once they get into "live" situations. You also have cases where another player at that position may have been slightly behind by the time camp broke, but continued to progress into the season. It could even be a case where said players were doing better in practice when they had an idea about what the other unit was trying to do against them.

You can question Harbaugh, but I think I will wait and see what happens in the offseason. We all knew that this season was going to be a struggle after the roster bubble that was created with the '14 and '15 classes. I think he understands that there are issues on offense, and hopefully he addresses that after the season. There will need to be some shuffling of coaches/responsibilities.


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:58 AM ^

I just didn't expect such an anemic offense and obtuse play calling.

Fades to McDoom..........

Not rolling out OKorn............

RB's that can't block at all........

Every time we throw it on 1st down it is incomplete and then we run off tackle for 2 yards on second.  

I have yet to see us scheme a mismatch or bring a wrinkle into our game plan.  

I would be more postitive if we saw glimmers.  


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:01 AM ^

I stopped believing in Hoke against Nebraska when he did not play Devin Gardner at QB because "He did not practice that week at QB".  Sheep here were still in love with him at that time.

Who calls our plays?  THAT is who i do not believe in.  the play action 4th and forever stands out to me, and so does a 3rd and mid where all 3/4 of our recievers ran this long enormous routes that gave Okorn no time or shot to complete.

Look, i have problems with OKorn.  But i have way more of a problem with a coach who makes a million and should be exremelly experienced in not only putting our players in positions to succeed, but also calling fucking plays to put our players in positions to execute.

Im just an idiot software developer - i have not spent decades and thousands of hours coaching and/or playing football.  For me to see how blatantly horrible the above were sitting in a bar drinking beers - and the fucking enormously experienced and well paid coaches call that horseshit?

If i performed at my job like they do, i would have been fired a long ass time ago.  And i do not make close to what they are making.  Embarrassing.


October 23rd, 2017 at 12:02 PM ^

Where are the boots and designed rollouts.

OKorn should have an easy job.  Look Primary, look TE /RB valve then run.

Any coaching beyond that is killing us.

RB's are just pathetic blocking and thinking the game.  We had a play where our RB released to be a safety valve to the short side from a middle release instead to a wide open left side.  Incomplete.  OKorn had to throw over the lineman.  If RB released to the open area there was 20 yards of clear field and no OL to throw over.  This is a simple release not a designed play.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:12 PM ^

this 100%

Because in 2015, analysts specifically praised how our coaches implemented the new system for everyone is the EASIEST way possible, giving our true freshman the smallest, most simple tasks to execute and letting them ignore the rest of the offense/reads. This let us utilize more looks with more players and required defenses more to gameplan for.

This was also Rudock's remedy for the 1st half of the season as they whole plan was to have him only read the left or the right side of the field.

That planned worked, and was serviceable at the very least.

Hopefully the coaches will go back to it.


October 23rd, 2017 at 8:01 PM ^

So...what is the playcall for a qb who is incapable of throwing to the right receiver even when there are only two choices and one is obviously better behind a line that can't pass block or run block against a defense that knows we can't pass and puts 9 in the box? Tell me what playcallls work then?


None, the problem isn't playcalling. Problem is Peters not being ready after two years, OL not being ready after two years, and WR not being ready after two years and thats all you can blame on Harbaugh. Which seems rather nitpicky since QB and OL often aren't ready that early and nobody's perfect with high school talent evaluation and nobody can get every kid they identify and target.


You're not a football savant for jumping on Hoke and Harbaugh earlier than hours. You're just an asshole fan with tunnel vision.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:45 AM ^

I feel like we don't have enough of a short passing game. Have we run a slant all year? Those seem like a guaranteed 8 yards a large majority of the time they're thrown. We have almost no screen game. Of course the one we did try got dropped by DPJ. We basically never pass it to the RBs or FBs.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:32 AM ^

Watching all of the blitzes by PSU it was also obvious that there is a significant lack of having/using/understanding hot routes in those situations.  

I also think that too many of the receivers are "thinking" about the game vs reacting to the game and only Perry seems to find space for the QB to throw to in those situations.  In many of the plays downfield, none of the receivers are fighting to get back/open for the QB.

i think right now they are playing to not make a mistake, vs having the ability to understand the situation and adjust to what needs to be done to "win"/execute the play based on situation.


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:13 AM ^

I'll agree with your WR thoughts - nobody is trying to fight through the defender and create space.  Not sure if it's a route running issue, or the lack of physicality in freshmen.  Probably a mix of both...  And I don't think the QB (JOK) is capable of grasping enough to process a hot read.  I think he has trouble reading the defense - what type of coverage they're in and where the blitz is coming from; not to mention seeing a fake blitz and reacting to it every time.  

I'll say it again - the Harbaughfense cannot be perfected in one season.  It is complicated, and it does require a lot from the QB.  People like to compare to Bama - but Saban is pugging in juniors and seniors to run his pro-style offense.  Harbaugh plugged in Hoke recruits and freshmen.  It'll take time to congeal the talent, experience, and playmakers into a machine - but it will happen.

As for Jalen Hurts, Saban changed his offense to make it easier for the redshirt freshman.  And he's still surrounded by 4-5 star upper-classmen all over the field!  Not a valid comparison... 

Ghost of Fritz…

October 23rd, 2017 at 11:40 AM ^

but I believe the a QB can in fact master the JH offense in less than one season. 

Just has to be a guy with the right set of abilities. 

O'Korn is not the ideal guy.  Has some good qualities (decent arm, thrown well on the run, decent accuracy, etc.) that could thrive in a different system. 

JH must find a QB that has the ability to make the reads, stay calm in the pocket, get through progressions, etc.  Not really JK's strengths. 

N. Campus Tech

October 23rd, 2017 at 11:34 AM ^

The offense the last 2 seasons has been at least good. This year's offense flat out sucks. 

What's changed?

WR: Replaced two NFL caliber wideouts with a sophmore and a freshman. Crawford has been a dissapointment. DPJ has been good, for a freshman, but is definatley a downgrade from Chesson/Darboh

QB: Even when Speight was playing, something was still not right. O'Korn is still a downgrade, although things did pick up a little after JOK went in.

RB Coach: I don't see how this would have such a significant impact on guys that have been here.

O-Line: Are they really any worse than what we've had for the last decade?

OL/TE Coach: Frey. We are doing more zone blocking, which has improved the last 3 weeks.

WR Coach/Passing Game Coordinator: Pep replaces Jed. This has got to be the problem. Everything else seems minor in comparison. 


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:52 AM ^

Not sure if it's complicated, but you can't have long developing routes when the line can't protect the QB.  The WR aren't doing JOK any favors though, they need to work back to the ball on their routes too.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:04 AM ^

it feels to me that our routes are not only deep, but they are generally one cut (fly, fade, deep post, deep corner). no double moves or cuts to the middle of the field.

I assume they are doing this so errant throws go OOB, or are unwatchable, but it really limits the playbook when we can't use the middle of the field. mesh is the only time we really probe the middle, and it's pretty successful, albeit at linebacker depth.


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:56 AM ^

It looks like JOK makes one read almost every play that I focus on watching his helmet. If it isn't open he decides to take off running at a random time or is sacked. You can't simplify it so much that you only send out one receiving option each play. 


October 23rd, 2017 at 9:58 AM ^

I really don't like our offense.

It's a Ferrari at a dirt track race.

It's temperamental, it breaks down a lot, it only works well when it is precisely tuned, and it's hard to find the right parts for.

And even when you finally do get it to work properly after all the fuss . . . what does it really buy you that you could not have gotten easier and faster by other means?

When fully functional, it allows you to be in the race, but it's not like it gives you some kind of quantum leap advantage over everybody else.

Lots of other programs have working offenses with just as much or greater productivity without all the fuss and downtime.

The results, if and when they finally occur, are just not worth the aggravation.



October 23rd, 2017 at 10:09 AM ^

This is very true:  "it only works well when it is precisely tuned."

I love Harbaugh, but the one (and really only one) gripe I've had on him since day one was his preference for pro-style offense over the spread.

Look, a pro-style does work, but only if everyone does their job perfectly.  How many times in UFRs have you seen we "almost" go the play to break big if it not for player X messing up? 

Spread offenses don't rely on all the pieces working perfectly to function.  Spread offenses put athletes in space, simplifies the exectution (perfect for college aged kids), and at Michigan where we CAN get great athletes, should totally be used.  Hell, all college teams really should use the spread.  To not run the spread is to intentionally handicap one's self.

Everytime I see Michigan line up in a goal line formation on 1st and 10 I cringe.  We are totally not using the width of the field, which is to the offense's advantage.


October 23rd, 2017 at 4:55 PM ^

You can run a simple pro style offense and spread offenses aren't all simplified.  Michigan needs to rep the hell out of something and build off of it.  You can change this from season to season based on personnel, but what you shouldn't do is rep multiple looks and packages with a young team.  It feels like they haven't started simple or with a base even and even though they are a "meritocracy," players are switched before anyone can find a rythm.  It's frustrating, but admittedly so are offenses that leave ineffective players on the field with no subbing.  Michigan can be basic without being vanilla, but instead they've tried to be diversified and haven't established one thing they do well.  Blargh......


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:47 AM ^

I think that's what it comes down to for a lot of people. It's funny, my buddy who's an OSU fan HATES Urban's offense. He thinks it works well when playing mediocre teams and is inefficient versus good teams. Plus he loves the manball style of just breaking the will of the opponent. 

I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of the system Beilein runs (mainly because I feel like it hurts our interior defense), but I just kinda go with it.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:05 AM ^

Look, this is why people find our fan base so arrogant. This isn't a shot at you OP, just a general frustration that I have with the fan base. 

So many people thought by firing Rich Rod that was the right move because "the spread doesn't work in the Big Ten". And now, we have Jim Harbaugh, who not only is a proven coach, but also runs an offense that is a modern pro-style system. As other, more technical posters have said, the offense is in its simplest form because of the youth of the skill positions and offensive line. 

And now we wanna go back to spread? Well that's not who Harbaugh is and that's not what got him success at other stops. It's just fan arrogance to think that we should completely revamp the offense because we are going through growing pains when we have to replace every skill position player and 3 offensive lineman from last year. 

KC Wolve

October 23rd, 2017 at 10:09 AM ^

I’m not at all advocating for a switch. I’m just curious as I have been seeing this in various places. I do agree with others that with the o line play, it seems strange that we haven’t seen more short passes/slants. The Ferrari analogy that someone used below is more my question. Not saying I agree or disagree with it, but that was sort of my question.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:19 AM ^

It is a legitimate quertion though.

Harbaugh has yet to have an offense that is firing on all cylinders through most of a season.  2018 does not look like a magic cure either.

Meanwhile, dufus James Franklin who was in the same position 2 years ago that we are in now - a tepid pro-style offfense run by a shellshocked Hackenberg behind an anemic and confused OL - makes a change to bring in a top level OC that runs an offensive system that actually works with college kids . . . and he's successful within half a season.

And even when Barkley and McSorley are gone, it will still be an effective offensive system.  It's not waiting four more years for a unicorn to develop.



October 23rd, 2017 at 10:36 AM ^

Yes I totally understand and you may be right. Harbaugh also understands this and if he truly believes that his system can't be effective, then he would do what James Franklin did. 

I just think his system is more of a long-term investment that is going through some volatility right now. Unfortunately, this 3rd year myth, perpetrated mostly by the media, has people thinking we should be crushing teams right now. The fact of the matter is that every program is different and we have an absurdly unbalanced roster. 

You have every right to be frustrated, hell I am frustrated as well. But I always give Harbaugh the benefit of the doubt when it comes to this stuff.


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:49 AM ^

This worries me, though. Long-term investments in college? By the time the players have learned, they leave. 

The point isn't necessarily spread vs. pro. It's that the best college offenses are usually ones that relatively few, simpl and complementary plays based on what the defense offers. It's hard for an offense to outsmarting a defense on the limited practice time.  

This gives the offense time to learn those plays so they're more likely to execute them well. 

(FWIW, my complaints about RR were always about defense.)


October 23rd, 2017 at 11:02 AM ^

I don't mean that like it's long term for the players, I just mean the program. Even in simple offenses, most players don't really contribute until their 2nd or 3rd year anyway. I think the team is on that same schedule. It's important to note that irrespective of the offensive philosophy, we're asking a lot of young players that other programs just simply don't have to deal with. 

Harbaugh is a program builder and I still feel pretty optimistic about the future. 


October 23rd, 2017 at 10:21 AM ^

it's just shouting into a tornado that's all over the place. There's legitimate issues with the team but instead of just acknowledging those issues and chalking them up to youth, backup QB, etc... it has to be some terrible systemic issue that can't be fixed unless Harbaugh either completely changes his offense or fires the coaching staff.

listening to you people is more exhausting than watching the team.