Deconstructing Meme: The System Won't Work


Go on over the Bucknuts.com (no really, I dare you), and make a quick post about what they think of Rodriguez.  You'll quickly get a slew of answers, and through the incoherence of most of them, you'll pick up on one popular theme:  his system won't work in the Big Ten.  At first, this wasn't an internet exclusive meme; major media outlets were clamoring to pile on to the "spread won't work in the 3-yards and cloud of dust Big 10" bandwagon.  Since, the MSM have backed off slightly, and yet the Internet commenting continues unabated.  Take a look at this Eleven Warriors post (featuring MnB Dave!).  Notice the last paragraph?

Honestly, I am not convinced this offense is going to work in the Big Ten and I am still not sold on RichRod’s overall style.

Here's why they're wrong:

"Players not schemes"

The first thing you'll notice whenever a member of Rodriguez's staff, or the coach himself, is asked whether his scheme will work is just how much they downplay the importance of it.  Por Exemplo:

Rodriguez:

There's a lot of talking about schemes, but more important is execution.

Robinson:

People are all worried about systems...It's more about an attitude. We'll get a system, but it's not like we're going to reinvent the wheel. We'll try to emphasize strengths and hide weaknesses.

The "Rodriguez system" is clearly secondary, in the minds of the coaches,  to the actual players they have running that system.  Gsimms, the Michigan blogosphere's resident coach, is fond of the saying "jimmies and joes, not X's and O's."  It's the talent on the field that makes or breaks the system; not the system making the talent.  If there is a legitimate concern here, it's whether Rodriguez can get the talent needed to be competitive, not whether his system will work.  Early returns are positive pending the onslaught on 3-star types in this year's class.

The Shifting Big Ten

Any questions as to whether a shot-gun based spread offense will work in the Big Ten have already been answered.  Take a look at these 2008 statistics for total offense:

Penn State:  449 YPG; 1st in Big Ten

Illinois:  438 YPG; 2nd in Big Ten

Purdue:  375 YPG: 4th in Big Ten

Notice anything in common here?  They're all spread teams!  The notion that the Big Ten continues to be a pound it on the ground type of conference is complete myth.  Even the most vocal fan base in terms of Rodriguez skepticism, Ohio State, will be running a primarily shot-gun spread offense with Pryor this year.  I know not all spreads are created equal, but here's a look at the run/pass ratio of the above teams compared to Michigan's run/pass ratio:

Penn State:  39 Rushing attempts per game (RAPG)/29 Passing attempts per game (PAPG)

Illinois:  38 RAPG/32 PAPG

Purdue:  32 RAPG/41 PAPG

Michigan: 32 RAPG/28 PAPG

Note the depressed number of total plays on Michigan's behalf; a sign of a struggling offense.  Regardless, the ratio of Michigan's run/pass is nearly the same as Penn State and Illinois, the two top offenses in the conference last year.  A stupid point that may need clearing up: this isn't meant to show that Michigan's offense was in the ballpark of either of those two offense.  But it does show that Rodriguez's system - at least in terms of being a rush-oriented spread offense - can work in the Big Ten.  The two top offenses last year were both rush-oriented spreads with nearly identical balances of run/pass.

But he runs that wacky 3-3-5!

Um, no.  No he doesn't:

Switching to the 3-4 Defense

Rodriguez said that Michigan will run a base 3-4 but also play some 4-3. The switch to the 3-4 is partially to counter the spread nature of the new offenses that the Big Ten is shifting to, but also on the recommendation of Greg Robinson, his new DC. When Robinson came in, Rodriguez told us that he did a thorough evaluation of the players, depth, and positions. Robinson then came to Rodriguez and said "This is what I have, strengths and weaknesses. Let's put in a package that fits them." As a result, Michigan is implementing the 3-4.

Spread QB's are too vulnerable and will get hurt.  Pat White broke his thumb!

While not a definitive answer, a good start is here, from an mgodiary entitled "Busting the Myth of Option QB Fragility."  There is a lot of sorting of QB's into different categories, and I suggest you read the entire thing, but the upshot is this:

Surprise, surprise the critics are wrong. On a percentage basis the only group that suffered an out of norm injury percentage were level 2 QBs which I think of as QBs that are used like running backs (Juice Wiliams) or QBs that are too slow to be running in the first place (Steven Threet). All other groups suffered injuries at about a 23% clip. Meaning about 1 out of every 4 QBs in a given category lost playing time due to injury in 2008.

If your QB is leading the team in rushing, or is too slow to be successfully used as a rusher (Threet) then he's probably going to get hurt.  Even if you combine 2 groups of what MCaliber - author of diary - calls "run-first" and "dual threat" quarterbacks, you'll find that that group gets injured 32% of the time.  Statue QB's get injured 23% of the time.  The difference is there, but not nearly in the season-ending OMG this won't work way the doomsday folks predict.  Pat White just got unlucky and broke his thumb.

The Upshot

The upshot is that the meme of "Rodriguez's system won't work" is, in a word, stupid.  It didn't work last year because Rodriguez didn't have the players to run it.  A system very similar to Rodriguez's - as run by Penn State and Illinois - worked to the tune of the top two offenses in the conference.  Rodriguez has been adamant that his system is not going to win football games; his players are.  Last year's players were too raw or too injured to be effective, which is why he lost 9 games.  Excuses are like assholes?  Maybe.  But the evidence is there to suggest that a rush-oriented spread attack will work in the Big Ten.  One needs only to look at last year's offensive rankings as a conference to get proof.

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