Run/Pass balance on 1st down

Submitted by joeismyname on September 25th, 2013 at 4:57 PM

I was reading over at and a poster mentioned how against Akron, UM ran on first down 20/27 plays, and against Uconn they ran on 23/27 first downs. He also said against ND the balance was about split in half.

That got me thinking that maybe Al's 1st down play calling is too predictable and conservative (which has probably been mentioned here) and why we would often see the box stacked on first down. Thus when we lost a yard or 2 due to the extra players in the box, Devin is now forced to make more hero-like plays on 2nd and long translating into mistakes.

Do you all think maybe in the bye-week they will think about mixing it up a lot more on first down as they get ready for the B1G schedule? Maybe Al was intentionally holding back a lot against our very inferior opponents on first down to not give up too much film, despite Brady always praising whatever team we play no matter how good or bad? Obviously it backfired quite a bit by rattling Devin.

Something tells me the coaches are going to come out firing a lot stronger vs. our B1G opponents (maybe minus MSU as I think they will be expecting a field position battle) and we may be pleasantly suprised, as long as the team doesn't cough it up too much.

just some thoughts I hope you all expand on.

this is my first thread, be easy on the OP :)



September 25th, 2013 at 5:29 PM ^

That's fair. Problem is, Manball is no better than hiding. It's passe and Borges is going to kill us by being too slow to realize it.

When you go from Auburn to out of football to San Diego State, you probably aren't Michigan material any longer, especially when Urban Meyer has raised the bar for Hoke's stated standard (conference titles). I'm glad so many of you seem to be patient with this obvious devolving of our offensive design. 



September 25th, 2013 at 7:34 PM ^

I agree about Borges, he costs too much money for the types of gameplans and playcalling he executes every Saturday. I think if he has a bad game versus Ohio State again at the end of the year, then I think he should go, three years is enough, he hasn't done too many flashy things, and has had way too much bad playcalling/gameplans.


September 25th, 2013 at 9:28 PM ^

Gameboy with the ultimate cop-out in online sports commentary: "They know more than you do!"

You see the gameplans on Saturdays. You see how hopeless and non-sensical the running game is. I'd really hope Hoke is not "judging" that to be anywhere near satisfactory or acceptable, regardless of circumstances.

Hoke is a defensive-minded guy so he needs a really, really good OC to work with him and Mattison. He has the budget to get that guy. We are getting pretty damn close to being able to say with certainty that Al Borges is not that guy.


September 25th, 2013 at 6:13 PM ^

and hoping the kids could do it. Those were the games that he was hoping would be the proving ground for a line that could overpower other lesser teams' defenses. Dunno why this is so hard to understand. You can condemn or question this from various perspectives, but at least acknowledge that this was the plan. 


September 25th, 2013 at 8:51 PM ^

When we have Stanford and Wisconsin's size and experience, maybe this is feasible.  We don't, and even Stanford and Wisconsin have counters to their base plays to keep defenses from cheating like they are against Michigan.  Borges keeps running the damn ball even against defenses that out number his blockers in the box.  That is stupid against anyone when you do have the personnel.  


September 26th, 2013 at 11:06 AM ^

It's kind of funny that you complain about Borges being untouchable while making Mattison to be above criticism.  Both of them have had good and bad games as coordinators. 2011 ND, 2011 OSU, 2012 South Carolina and 2013 ND are a few games where our O certainly outperformed our D.


September 25th, 2013 at 9:33 PM ^

77% ain't cuttin' it with how Brandon wants to raise the profile (and of course prices) for this program. Look at Borges history. Things often get worse the longer he's there, not better (at least in the somewhat rare times he was at a school longer than two years).

And throwing out "bottom line" arguments while ignoring the obvious details is so hackneyed. Come on, man. 



September 25th, 2013 at 5:08 PM ^

I know the staff would like to run to set up the pass, but it seems like this team needs to do the reverse.  I also wonder if DG will loosen up some if he's given the chance to throw on first down rather than on second or third and long. 


September 25th, 2013 at 5:20 PM ^ seems like maybe his confidence is being rattled by the fact that he knows he's going to have to convert on 2nd and 3rd and long almost every set of downs. Obviously Al wants to set up 2nd and medium so Devin can make some confident shorter throws for 1st downs and also it will set the defense on its heels. But it's obvious right now the team just cannot generate half the push on first down with the way Bama, Stanford or Wisconsin could, and then combine that with predictability.

I want manball as much as anyone, but I hope they try and mix it up more on first down with this bunch so the defense has to respect both run and pass. I think they will, but it is whatever the coaches feel is best for the team obviously.

Also, Devin has to stop throwing picks for any of this to work...I trust him more than Denard.


September 25th, 2013 at 5:13 PM ^

Against Akron, we were just discovering that our line couldn't hold up, let alone open holes, against an weaker opponent. Up to that point, we did well against Central (probably surprising them by running zone) and game planned against ND assuming we wouldn't be able to run up the middle.

Against UConn, Gardner was more or less crippled, if only mentally, and couldn't hit a pass no matter how easy or open.

So, I'm not that surprised really that we didn't have any balance on 1st down.


September 25th, 2013 at 6:07 PM ^

We really should be able to run on 100% of the plays against Uconn and Akron and still win the game easily. Take a look at OSU last week, they ran the ball on every down in the 2nd half and still scored 21 points. The much bigger issue is that against Uconn and Akron it shouldn't matter if we run mostly on 1st down, we should be getting at least 4 yards from that run. Don't worry about play calling, it will be fine against our conference opponents, it won't be 95% run on first down. What is worrisome is that the runs were not effective...


September 25th, 2013 at 6:18 PM ^

I looked up Fitz's and Devin's splits. Fitz is averaging 3.3 ypc on 1st down and while that is the most common running down and there are first and goals that may skew those numbers, Devin is much better on first down than any other.

At this point in this season, DG is completeing 63% of his passes on 1st down for 10.2 ypa. It goes down to 60% on 2nd down then drops to 46% on third down. He also has 4 ints on third down, all when the distance was 6+yds.

I would think passing to setup the run would be a better tendency at this point, especially with so many defenses playing the run.

Interesting to note: Devin is at his best running on third down, averaging 6.5 ypc, so as the down increases, Devin has been a better runner and worse passer.


September 25th, 2013 at 6:40 PM ^

Per CFBStats, here are the first down splits by game. These numbers are different than those mentioned in the OP, so I could very well have drawn from the wrong game log, but this sounds about right:

CMU 9 11 2
ND 11 11 3
Akron 8 10 1
Uconn 11 6 2



September 25th, 2013 at 7:14 PM ^

You're right, I went back through the Akron UFR just to make sure and I pulled the wrong stat. For the Akron game, it comes out to 10 pass plays to 19 rush plays for the first downs. For ND, if I counted right, we still ran it about 20 times on first down to 12 passing first downs. There's no good way to tally it, so treat these as approximate. 


September 25th, 2013 at 6:52 PM ^

If we don't run on 1st and 10, when do we? 3rd and long? Sure, it wouldn't be "predictable", but it might be overly "conservative". Shucks.

If you can't see the fact that most teams run the ball on 1st down, I don't know what to tell you. They do this because successful runs give them 2nd and manageables. These are good. They allow for just about any call, even some that might surprise the defense.

You also assume passes will be complete. I refuse to do that, seeing as how Gardner has been outright bad in the past two games and has a penchant for turning the ball over, so much so that he leads the country in turnovers. If he throws incomplete 40% of the time, we are still in 2nd and long where he will have to be "heroic".

Running also has ancillary benefits, such as a lower probability of turnovers (and fuck if we aren't battling that a bit), and physically wearing down a defense.

Also, "hiding"? You serious? Bo must have been "hiding" his good plays every time he ran the ball to the tune of 300 yards and 50 points against the Little 8. Running the ball is not just a wasted play. It is half of offensive football. We aren't doing it well enough for my taste, but does this mean we should throw it all the time? No, because that is stupid, will not help us win, will destroy our own damn good defense, and IT TOTALLY IGNORES THE FACT THAT OUR POOR QUARTERBACK PLAY IS WHAT HAS ALL OF US UP IN ARMS OVER CLOSER-THAN-EXPECTED VICTORIES OVER POOR TEAMS.

The solution to our bad offense is not having our poorly-playing QB throw the ball more.


September 25th, 2013 at 7:26 PM ^

These teams being Akron and UConn, you should be able to run on them with relative ease.  So why not run on first down the majority of the time?   Against better opponents, yes, you're going to mix it up more. 

We'd still be complaining about the line after these last two games but we wouldn't have had to experience the scare of our lives both times if not for the turnovers.  Devin stops that, and we're breathing much easier.



September 25th, 2013 at 7:48 PM ^

For those of you who think Borges is obsolete; doesn't understand football as well as you; is incompetent; or is not and never was good at his job - for those of you who think any of that, and therefore think he should be fired, then your bellyache is misdirected.

You should want Hoke fired.  Hoke hired Borges.  Hoke has kept him on staff.  If Borges is so awful, and if "all of us" can see it so darned well...why can't Hoke?  If mgonation thinks Borges is a poo-poo head, why can't Hoke see this?  

In fact, Mattison clearly respects Hoke a great deal.  If Mattison thinks Hoke is a good coach, but Hoke thinks Borges is a good coach, and we in mgonation can't get over just how crusty and unimaginative Borges is...(Doesn't that mean or imply that the entire coaching staff is...underwhelming?  Or at least that they have bad judgment?)

There's a pronounced tendency on this site -- not just among users -- to scapegoat.  It's as clear as day.


September 25th, 2013 at 8:04 PM ^

with reader 7, that was one of the best damn posts i have seen in a long time. oline/blocking must execute a helluva lot better on first down or any down for that matter. that is the only way to help settle gardner down. of course against the b1g, i think we'll see a little more mix, but again, if we can't run it and devin is still struggling, it won't matter. and honestly, imo, this staff is just counting the minutes until Shane Morris can take the helm so they can fling it around and become more balanced.


September 25th, 2013 at 8:32 PM ^

Mike Leach is a weird dude. But he is pretty insightful about offense. And in his book, Leach talks about the idea that offensive balance isn't really about how often you run versus how often you pass. Instead, Leach argues that balance is really about how well you make the defense cover the entire field and respect all of your playmakers. If Leach is correct, then run/pass splits don't tell us much--but the high number of targets to Gallon relative to other receivers might.