I’ve never coached a college football team, nor have I ever coached a high school football team.
Still I, for whatever reason (and this also may explain my fascination with French philosophy, predicate logic or the eating habits of Americans, among other things) I fancy myself a student of the game. Whenever a team comes out with a wild formation or playcalls its way down the field against a clearly superior team, my spidey sense perks up and I pay even closer attention.
Locally, I’ve loved Montague head coach Pat Collins’ offensive schemes from the day a decade ago that he took over the program from Ken Diamond (Mr. Diamond’s offenses, though cut from a more traditional cloth, were still very effective), and Shelby head coach Lorenzo Rodriguez, who uses plays to set up other plays, which are used to set up still even more plays.
Same with Reeths-Puffer head coach Kyle Jewett, who uses formations to continually outflank the opponent – as though they were on the battlefield at Gettysburg instead of on the turf of Rocket Stadium – and Muskegon head coach Shane Fairfield (care of offensive coordinator Brent White, working off former head coach Tony Annese and Annese’s current offensive coordinator at Ferris State University, Rob Zeitman, also a former offensive coordinator at Muskegon) and the dreaded spread veer offense that confounds opponents left and right.
In a sport that is much-maligned as simply a brutish bashfest, offensive schemes offer hope to the more cerebral, less brutish among us. Offenses can be hammers (a la Muskegon Catholic’s or Oakridge’s manball approach) or they can be chameleons (like North Muskegon, who run and pass with great efficacy) or be pass-happy flyers, like Matt Koziak’s Mona Shores squad.
At this point, my beloved University of Michigan Wolverines resembles neither hammer, chameleon nor pass-happy flyer.
At this point, the Wolverines more resemble a Yugo…with bald tires…stuck in some good, old White River mud.
Starting out with a crushing win over Central Michigan (59-9) and then a dominating victory over Notre Dame (41-30) in Game 2, cracks in the Wolverine amour starting appearing in the second half versus the Fighting Irish. It seems like at a certain point in the second half, all the bluster of the vaunted Wolverine’s offensive line reputation turned into nothing but hot air.
Sure, UofM has had a revolving door at the center and guard positions, ushering in true freshman after red-shirt freshman after true freshman. Yet, what we’ve seen over the past seven games cannot simply be blamed on ‘youth’.
The fact is Michigan’s offense, despite holding a great deal of talent, lacks anything remotely resembling a coherent identity. That is, it cannot do a single thing well.
The blame for that primarily falls on Wolverine offensive coordinator Al Borges and offensive line coach Darrell Funk. Blame also must fall on Head Coach Brady Hoke, a man who once looked perfect for the job, but now is quickly appearing to be nothing more substantial than a position coach.
Wolverine fans are in pain, people; if you had been through what we have the past half decade, you’d be in pain, too.
At least during the Rich Rodriguez era there was hope that the program would, eventually, improve to the top tier. His offenses were some of the best of all time. If nothing else, under Rich Rod Michigan’s offense was a ton of fun to watch.
Under the current bunch, most prominently Borges and Funk, this offense shows no signs of getting any better; in fact the O Line is clearly regressing. Mark my words, at this rate QB Devin Gardner is going to get hurt. It’s a shame because the defense isn’t half bad. The offense, though, straight-up stinks. And not just the offensive line play.
The play calling is some of the worst I’ve ever seen at any level.
Rich Rod, we can all agree, was supremely stupid about defense, and his insistence on the interesting, but ultimately doomed in the Big 10, 3-3-5 defense was the thing that did him in.
But his offensive scheme was a thing of beauty, and Denard Robinson ran it to perfection. Rich Rod and current defensive coordinator Greg Mattison would have had us in the national title game by 2015. As it is, we’re cleaning the Big 10’s toilet bowl for yet another year.
Little Caesar’s Bowl here we come! If they’ll have us, that is.
Strangely, the thing that always bothered me about Rich Rod, and now Hoke, is both claimed things would get better once they ‘got my players’. Rodriguez went from three wins in his first season to seven wins in his last, an improvement, yes, but too little too late. Conversely, Hoke has gone from 11 wins in his first season to eight last year. It is completely possible the Wolverines won’t win another game this year.
Not sure about the math, but I think that adds up to six wins.
By almost any standard, that’s a step backwards
In high school, coaches need to win with the players they inherit. Some stick to the same offensive system, one that works with lesser talented players (like the Wing T) or one that takes advantage of the kind of student a particular school always seems to have (like the I formation for schools that always have a monster at tailback).
At Michigan over the past decade, all I keep hearing is once a certain coach’s players are installed, things will get better. That means, ‘I can’t win with the players I inherited.’
For Hoke, the claim even more bizarre because he had better luck with Rich Rod’s guys than he’s had with his own.
When Michigan’s offensive line woes first appeared, Borges did nothing to combat it. Weeks later, Borges continues to call the game as though he’s coaching the Alabama offense instead of his own. Instead of wily screens to his backs, draws or counters, Borges continues to try to run straight ahead.
Instead of quick-hitting slants or passes into the flat, Borges insists Gardner continue to run five-and seven-step drop passes.
Another bad idea.
So, just in case Borges has forgotten, offensive schemes are a chance to be creative. Screw what he has always done. He needs to step up his game.
Below are some of the coolest offensive tricks in the book. First up is Princeton’s very cool three-quarterback offense.
Heck, at this point, Borges couldn’t do any worse running the Denison single wing offense. In the late 70s and 80s, Denison University ran this offense, which is novel because it doesn’t even need a quarterback (it takes a skilled center, however).
Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, not one who routinely pushed the offensive envelop, could sometimes even be counted on to use all 11 players on a single play.
Michigan coaching legend Fritz Crisler even had more innovation than Borges. Here his 1947 team, labled the Michigan Mad Magicians, which looks a lot like Princeton’s 2013 squad.
Above are just a few ideas for Borges.
The way things have gone so far this season, it couldn’t hurt Michigan to try something, anything, different.
You’re welcome, Mr. Borges.