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.