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Random Thoughts on Michigan Football Through Five Games

Were you aware the quarterback plays a large part in the success of an offense?

It would appear many of our conference foes were not aware of this, so I felt I'd help them out... if you look at the rankings of total offense in the nation, you have to go through a list of 80 names before you happen upon someone who plays a position other than quarterback, that'd be LaMichael James of Oregon at 178 yds/game.  How's it shake out in the conference?

  1. Denard Robinson is accounting for 382.6 yds/game, which is 67.7% of Michigan's 565 yards/game 
  2. Ben Chappell, 335.25 yds/game, 73.6% of Indiana's 455 yds/game
  3. Dan Persa, 325.8 yds/game, 75.2% of Northwestern's 433.0 yds/game
  4. Terrelle Pryor, 276.0 yds/game, 59.6% of Ohio State's 463.4 yds/game
  5. Adam Weber, 249.8 yds/game, 61.3% of Minnesota's 407.4 yds/game
  6. Ricky Stanzi, 243.2 yds/game, 57.0% of Iowa's 426.4 yds/game
  7. Kirk Cousins, 222.2 yds/game, 48.2% of Michigan State's 460.6 yds/game
  8. Robert Bolden, 211.8 yds/game, 59.6% of Penn State's 355.2 yds/game
  9. Scott Tolzien, 192.8 yds/game, 43.2% of Wisconsin's 445.6 yds/game
  10. Nathan Scheelhaase, 176.25 yds/game, 53.0% of Illinois' 332 yds/game
  11. *Robert Marve, 136 yds/game, 36.3% of Purdue's of 374 yds/game
So, in fairness to Purdue, we'll leave them and their injury plagued team out of this analysis.  Looking at the remaining 10 teams, there are exactly two whose QB's account for less than 50% of their total offense: Wisconsin and Michigan State... is anyone surprised by this?  Anyone at all?  Ok then.  After reading much of the analysis throughout the year, you might be forced to reach the conclusion that Michigan's offense was the only one that the quarterback featured prominently in.  I guess I should start writing inferiority-complex laden comments about how Dan Persa is a gadget-player...

The offense is incontestably magnificent

Michigan's O ran a grand total of 45 plays (5 of which were punts) and score 42 points, with a fumble on Indiana's one yard line.  Conventional means of describing what the Michigan offense has been able to thus far this year continue to remain woefully inept.  Hey by the way, remember how our leading rusher had all of 500 yards total last year?  Yeah, me too.

And yet the offense can still improve

There were multiple opportunities on Saturday in the second half to push the lead to two scores,. and each time the O seemed to stub its proverbial toe.  Denard didn't misfire much on the field, but twice had guys running free behind everyone and just overthrew them.  I've heard some grumbling of going deep on 3rd down, but when those guys are that open, you have to throw the ball their way.  

The I-formation... stop it

So, with the game on the line, are we under center with Denard taking the snap?  Not a chance.  So why change it when you have a chance to go up 21-7 (and let's be honest, end the football game) in the 1st quarter?  There is no defensible reasoning here, the next time we line up in the I, I'm not even waiting for the snap before I act out in an immature and inappropriate way.

I don't understand our defensive approach 

Not much more to it than that really, I don't get it.  I am intimately aware of the limitations we have from a personnel standpoint, from the decimated secondary and the lack of a real game-changer in the middle of the linebacking corps, I get all of that.  I even have a layman's grasp of what the 3-3-5 ought to do when utilized effectively, I get that it requires a beast of a nose tackle (check) and a MLB that can effectively read gaps (errrrr).  

What I don't understand is a scheme that seems to be in place to try to mask our deficiencies when really it seems to expose them even more.  The deepest position on the defense in terms of talent, by far, is the defensive line, of which we put (generally) only three guys on the field at once.  We have a guy in Craig Roh who has demonstrated a great ability to come off of the edge and rush the passer, and we're dropping him into coverage now... why?  Watch him repeatedly coming off the edge and influencing the play against UConn:

I'm not sure whether this was something we put in place for Indiana knowing that they'd throw nearly every down or not, but even in the Notre Dame game I felt we used Roh more as a pass rusher than we did as a true LB with him dropping into coverage. 

I just don't get it.  Your secondary and linebackers are the areas of deficiency on this defensive squad, and yet we only bring three man rushes and use the same deep zones that not only give the QB time but also his receivers decent acreage to run through while forcing the weakest area of the defense to come up with plays.  I'm not advocating for press coverage and bring-the-house blitzes, but the three man front and three man rushes needs to die quick deaths this week.  Particularly with teams like MSU and Iowa approaching, we need to really focus on controlling the line of scrimmage and trying to pressure Kirk Cousins and Ricky Stanzi.

Greg Robinson needs to make a decision here, either you're going to bring some pressure and rely on your young secondary to cover some guys on occasion for a short period of time, or you're going to sit back and prevent the big play.... all while allowing the opposing teams to make tons of small plays to walk down the field (99 yard drive by IU anyone?).  I am but a humble fan, but I really think that if Michigan can focus on controlling the line of scrimmage they'll see an improvement in their defensive performance, however they go about achieving that is beyond my scope, but that should be the focus.  If I had my druthers, I'd be bring Roh off the edge on every single snap, but hey, that's just me.

Get off the go@#%@ field

This belongs with above, but I'm breaking it out anyway: the whole bend but don't break approach really only works if you manage to take advantage of things like 3rd and 16 and 4th and 7 and get your defense back on the sideline.  So if you're going to go with the 3 man rush stuff, perhaps playing a 20 yard deep zone on 3rd and 16 with your linebackers backing up all the way to the first down marker isn't the grandest of plans.  

Huge matchup of the week

The Michigan O-line and backs blocking against the Michigan State linebackers, and yes of course Greg Jones in particular.  Getting a hat on Jones will be an enormous priority, just like taking care of Manti Te'o was against Notre Dame. Thus far in the year, the O-line and backs have been the unheralded heroes of the offense, the blocking has just been that much better. I'm really looking forward to seeing how we scheme for the strength of the Michigan State defense.