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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smart Notes - Feb. 22, 2009

1. How sophisticated is Michigan's spread? It is now apparent that the Michigan Wolverines will have to start a freshman quarterback -- one or another -- in 2009. Despite their inexperience, these guys seem, at first glance, to be a better fit with Rodriguez's vaunted spread-to-run offense simply because they are more athletic than anyone Michigan had last year. The idea is that Rich Rod needs to find the next Pat White (or at least the next Woody Dantzler). And maybe so.

But, as I have discussed previously, if Rodriguez wants his offense to be truly elite again, it's the passing game that has to be the source of innovation. The run game tools are largely in place. There's some room for improvement all around, but, last season with general inexperience -- and without a legitimate running threat at quarterback -- the lack of a viable downfield passing attack worked to help cripple the Rodriguez offense. But the fact that this aspect never developed over the course of the season was what really troubled me.

There's much more to say on this topic, but for now suffice to say that Rodriguez is in danger of falling behind in the spread offense arms race in terms of sophistication. I discussed that phenomena with Purdue as a pass-first spread team over the last decade, but it's of a slightly different order with Michigan. In the spread's nascent days, the spread-to-run innovators included Rodriguez and Kevin Wilson and Randy Walker at Northwestern, with Urban Meyer following shortly after. Wilson is now at OU and of course Meyer is at Florida. Compare their offenses with Rodriguez's: there's not much difference from a run-game standpoint (though Meyer and OU mix up their sets a bit more and use more tight-ends now), but the passing games have seen a wide departure. Wilson now uses what Chuck Long put in at OU, with some schematic residue lingering from Mike Leach and Mark Mangino, while Meyer, along with Dan Mullen and Mike Sanford, assembled a pro-style one-back approach gleaned from John L. Smith and Scott Linehan from Louisville and Joe Tiller and Jim Chaney from Purdue. I can't say I'm a huge fan of Meyer's passing game, but it's definitely more sophisticated than what Rodriguez has going on.

But Rodriguez is a bright guy and his passing game originally derived from (though is a long way now) the old run and shoot. So you'd think he could remedy this. Yet with nothing but true freshman, that evolution will have to wait. The longer they wait, however, the farther behind they fall. The only hope is the increased athleticism masks these deficiencies.

On a related note, below are some cut-ups of Oklahoma and Oregon, two of the better spread teams.

UPDATE: Brian Cook of mgoblog chimes in with thoughts here. Also, it's worth pointing out that I don't mean to say that the sophistication of Rich Rod's passing game (and by "sophistication" I mean efficacy -- i.e. how well the passing schemes fit with the protection, reads, and quarterback actions to actually get guys open on rhythm) was the sine qua non of increased success at UM, talent, fit, and techniques all be damned. Instead, it is just one more piece of the puzzle for Michigan to eventually get back to being a National Championship type team. Nevertheless, stagnant schematics and gameplanning is among the many issues inherent in (a) taking over a new program, and then (b) starting a true freshman quarterback, and a serious one, though at the margins behind the more obvious areas where Michigan must clearly improve.

2. Football pet peeves from Pro-football Reference Blog. Check it out here. A couple of the best ones:

JKL: Also, timeouts called to determine whether to challenge. I’m pretty sure I have seen Herm Edwards do this. Nothing quite as gut-wrenching and mind numbing as watching your coach burn two timeouts in a row.


JKL: Announcers who refer to how costly an intentional grounding penalty is, because of the loss of down. Hello! If he had simply held the ball and taken the sack, he risks a fumble and a sack also results in a “loss of down”. It’s actually one of the smarter penalties a player can risk taking. Rarely does a QB do it without a sack being eminent. At least half the time, they can convince the ref that they were trying to throw it to someone and got it close. And when they don’t, they don’t lose anything except the same result as a sack.

3. NCAA as cartel.

4. Coffee fix. Those who know me know that coffee is often my favorite reason for getting up on a given day. So I was happy to stumble on this new blog, Manhattan Roasts.


Anonymous said...

There were a lot of reasons the UM downfield passing attack didn't develop last year: a pair of receivers left for the NFL, the remaining crop turned out to be recruiting mistakes, the OL was decimated.

But a big reason that hasn't rec'd any play is the QB coaching. Steven Threet has a very good arm. But his mechanics are awful. And they didn't improve as the season wore on.

Under the old QB genius Scot Loeffler those problems would have been addressed more effectively. But RichRod didn't want the guy from the old regime.

So Loeffler goes to the Detroit Lions and does a nice job with Dan Orlovsky, who was previously thought to be worth less than a bucket of warm spit. Rod Marinelli gets canned, and who scoops Loeffler up? None other than Urban Meyer. Which lays to rest the notion that Loeffler couldn't be a spread QB guy.

Don't be surprised to see Tebow become a more polished passer in 2009.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Grennes (the NCAA cartel) ends his article alleging that Americans would not tolerate such cartel conditions in any other enterprise than college athletics. Obviously he hasn't considered Exxon-Mobil, OPEC, Halliburton, Blackstone, CitiGroup, etc. with their penchant for vertical integration, outsourcing, price manipulation, monopoly, sole source bids (for government), tax avoidance, and supply manipulation.

The NCAA cartels are rather benign in comparison. (Oh, and don't forget NASCAR and the National Dairymans Association, or that other form of cartel - try any organized religion,especially Catholic. How about Google?)

Anonymous said...

This excuse of "RR not improving the passing game because of a true freshman QB" is weak at best. He likes to have the so called "athlete" as his QB, this means that the "athlete" is gonna be running more than going through a pass progression because running is what he is comfortable with. As with Pat White, he was so good at running that his mediocre passing under RR was never a problem. As a junior he should have been exposed to a more sophisticated passing scheme but he was not....and this was at a program that was almost on "auto pilot" rebuilding going on there.

With Forcier, RR might be forced to pass more (Yes Forcier is more athletic than Threet, but he is not the Pat White/Pryor types that RR loves), but this "freshmen initiation" issue will be brought up and all we will see will be more 4 verticals and slot screens.

If RR wins no one will give a shit..other than maybe a football purist (Chris) and a few others who know football, but the rest will happily forget it.

The negative recruiting of "RR has not put a "legitimate" QB in the NFL" used against RR might have a hidden benefit.....he might be actually be forced to have a more "sound" passing game.

It will be ultra interesting to see what will happen if our "athlete" QB Denard Robinson starts to pick up the O in fall...will he play over a guy who has been there since spring (Forcier) and if DRob beats out Forcier, we might not see the "sophistication" in the passing game for the next 3 years!!


Anonymous said...

RR stumbled onto Pat White and now he's addicted. I've seen RR's playbook at WVU and Michigan. Both are the same. Both have smash, high-low, three verts, etc., within them. It's just not how RR is comfortable winning a game. With White, you hardly ever saw smash because he struggled throwing corner routes. RR tried throwing more concepts with Threet, but he was wildly inconsistent, and the backup was awful. Sheridan couldn't hit anything past 15 yards.

RR is basically throwing everything at his QB's and seeing what sticks. Forcier isn't going to light anyone up with his arm, but he is an improvement over what they had. Robinson is the intriguing one. He has better top end speed than White, but he lacks the "shake." That's what made those zone-reads, QB Wraps, and Draws so effective.

BeesThoughts said...

I wanted to ask you if you could make a cut-up of a team who runs the spread by showing a play that went successfully and the same play that was unsuccessful to show where key blocks are, teaching points, and other factor in the play. These cut-ups were extremely helpful and if you make more, I thought this format would be interesting.

Anonymous said...


The play at the 6:30 mark of the Oregon cut up caught my eye. Does the QB make a read on that play, with the options of giving to the back or following his pulling LG and LT? Or are they pulling simply for misdirection and it's a give to the RB every time?

Mr.Murder said...

The Big Ten is a conference dedicated on stopping the run. So the spread run game is kind of moot with ends always flattening the line to spill runs wide.

They lack a true run threat from the QB position as well. The most athletic players there aren't pure passers at all, either.

Square holes, round pegs.

You wanted to make a thread about the rise of an awful spread team?