Much to the delight of Michigan fans (or maybe just bloggers), Smart Football has taken a fairly serious interest in Michigan since Rich Rodriguez has been the headman. Of course, part of the reason that the Wolverines get mentioned time and again is the fact that everything is not all sunshine and lollipops in Ann Arbor. Of course, Rodriguez has never taken a significant interest in the defensive performance of his teams, so surely the focus of Smart Football is on that side of the ball, no?
Not So Fast My Friend. It is in fact the offense that Chris has taken an interest in. More specifically, it is the idea that Michigan’s offense is not as diversified or systematic as perhaps it should be. This is not an old issue for Chris, who has brought up the point before that the passing game is not conceptually designed. In the more recent post, he goes a little more in-depth:
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.
Let’s break this down, shall we?
Smart Football sez:
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.
Brian’s take on the matter is that Rodriguez hasn’t been forced to have a complex passing game, because with Pat White at the helm, a dominating run game and simple pass game will work just fine, thank you. I tend to agree with that assessment, and it better be true, because, as noted by Smart Football, the Wolverines are likely a year away from being able to add any complexity to the passing game.
With Pat White able to run the ball like he did, and probably not able to pass well enough to have a full pass game installed, it’s easy to see a potential reason the pass game stayed stagnant. Rodriguez’s recruiting has shown that he’s more interested in being able to throw the ball, however, and Tate Forcier may even be a better passer today than White, if not quite the runner:
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.
All due respect to Smart Football (and I may be wrong here, because he knows a hell of a lot more about the game than I do), but I’d be willing to say that even Rodriguez’s ground game, at least as implemented last year, is simpler than other spread teams, most notably Florida and Oregon. Again, part of that might have been players who were less-than-optimal for the spread offense, particularly at the quarterback position.
In the future, however, a diversification of the offense, perhaps including innovations like Meyer’s use of the H-back as a shovel option, or more counters, even the triple option/throwback pass that WVU used in the Meineke Bowl. Having better fits at the QB position, and not having to install just that base offense all offseason, will certainly help that in the future.
Perhaps Pat White got a bad rap as a passer, or maybe Bill Stewart actually knew what he was doing for WVU’s offense, thoughthe stats don’t agree – and that’s in a year where a senior Pat White was supposed to lead WVU to one of the most prolific offenses ever. However, with White looking more like a quarterback than a wideout or return man at the NFL (for better or for worse), it looks like Rodriguez’s schemes will be able to develop more complexity down the road.
As far as diversifying schemes goes, Chris points out that Oklahoma is an example of a spread team with a much more complex (and effective) passing game than Michigan’s. The use of the tight end is pointed out specifically. In fact, Rodriguez has reportedly planned to visit Oklahoma’s coaches in the offseason to trade information on the passing game, particularly the use of tight ends (of which Michigan has many who aren’t getting very much use).
In the future, I would love to see visits to Florida as well, for diversifying the running game a bit, along with figuring out other ways to use the tights ends effectively in the spread offense.
And, as pointed out by Smart Football, Oregon’s offense is one of the best-designed as well. I’ve pointed out in the past that I don’t think Michigan’s schemes are as creative as Oregon’s, and that’s one area where there is room for improvement. Perhaps in the future, Rodriguez can pick the brain of Chip Kelly.
And, most importantly for the future comes recruiting. Rodriguez has more resources available at Michigan than he ever did at West Virginia. White’s emergence as a possible NFL QB has to help recruiting as well. Even if he didn’t tweak his offense at all, if he continues to recruit like he has for the past two classes (or, more likely, improves it by having more success on the field), He could be able to usurp the quality of his offenses in Morgantown. With minor improvements to certain aspects of the offensive side of the ball, an outstanding offense is likely in the future of Michigan football.