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Michigan Offense 2010 in Review; Potential Improvement for 2011

A lot has been said and written about how good Michigan's offense was in 2010, and how it will change under Al Borges in 2011.  Some has been said by Al Borges himself:

"To a degree … we're blowing a lot of it up," new Michigan offensive coordinator Al Borges said. "In our offense, I don't see Denard rushing for 1,700 yards, and I told him that. But I could see him rushing for 1,000 yards, and I could see him throwing for that 700 or 800 he didn't rush for..."

...Borges explained to Robinson he was taking too much of a pounding, and wants him to be the leader of a more-balanced offense that incorporates more tailbacks, tight ends and receivers, behind a rugged line.

"They were tattooing him," Borges said. "I came at him that way — we can save you a little bit. Everybody knew Denard was the show. He's tough, he's smart and he's athletic, and we have to get the most out of him."

Regarding that offense that Borges is apparently set on incrementally blowing was pretty damn good.  This has the majority of people - even those firmly on board with Hoke et. al. - a little wary of this new guy who seems to be telling everyone that your favorite Michigan player and the reigning Big Ten player of the year might look a little different next year.  Take a look at the offense last year, featuring Denard Robinson the every single play destroyer:

Michigan Nat'l Rank
Scoring Offense 25th
Total Offense 8th
Rushing Offense 13th
Passing Offense 36th


Points, being what wins games, are the stat that that I'm focused on primarily, and Michigan ranked 25th in the nation without a field goal kicker.  I would imagine that this number shifts upwards at least a couple ticks with a kicker who can put 3 on the board instead of facing 4th and 9 from the 32 yard line.  This is not a digression, with the simple addition of a competent field goal kicker - something that seems easy unless you're Michigan - the scoring offense is likely better than 25th in the nation.  The point remains, however, that the offense was pretty deadly. 

When Denard was first unleashed against Uconn, it was pretty clear that the Huskies - the eventual Big East Champions for what that's worth (hint: a little?) - were completely unprepared for what hit them.  The following non conference games were equally devastating.  As conference play started, however, the offense started to fizzle.  Some of this is due to the apocalyptic situation at kicker and defense, but the offense (and that means Denard) struggled once they hit the Big Ten schedule.  Do you like tables? I hope you do.

Month Scoring Total Passing Rushing
Aug/Sept 10th 1st 50th 2nd
Oct. 43rd 18th 35th 17th
Nov. 38th 21st 33rd 33rd
Dec/Jan 67th 56th 32nd 70th

As the season wore on, and the Denard-factor became known, Michigan's output steadily declined in the national rankings.  The early season - played against Tomato Cans with a weapon that nobody saw coming - was so good that it skews the end-of-season rankings.  To say that Michigan had a truly elite offense is taking into account games played against inferior competition with a weapon that could not be game-planned for.  As soon as Michigan entered conference play - see Oct. and Nov. the stats fell precipitously.  It's a little disingenuous to include Dec/Jan in there - most teams only had their bowl games, but a good number had 2 games which drastically changes the sample size, so excise that in your head if you're so inclined.  More table:

Filter Scoring Total Passing Rushing
Vs. FBS winning 32nd 12th 32nd 15th
Vs. Conference 35th 15th 44th 18th
Vs. AP Ranked 67th 36th 33rd 25th

While the disparity between total offense - which remains potent - and scoring offense can be partially explained by a lack of a kicking game, the fact remains that Michigan had trouble putting up points against teams to which varying degrees of "good" can be applied.  Against ranked teams, Michigan's scoring offense was below average. 

This table isn't perfect.  For one, the sample sizes vary widely because not every team played the same number of ranked teams.  Additionally, there is nothing distinguishing between playing the #1 team and the #25 team.  Theoretically, a team could have played Alabama as their only ranked team and have a terrible ranking in the "Vs. AP Ranked" category because Alabama's defense was killer while another team could have played Tulsa and their 85th ranked defense and have a great ranking.  Not perfect, but across the whole of college football, these types of anomalies are likely contained to a few instances.  Given that Michigan's final SOS was pretty impressive - #14 in the nation - that #67 against AP Ranked is probably a little low, but I don't know if it's enough to throw out completely.

The larger point remains, however, that as the season wore on and the schedule got tougher, the 2010 offense got worse.  It's worth pointing out that the November number also included a 67 point game against Illinois that included a number of overtimes.  While you can't throw that out because, hey, it happened, it's still an outlier that significantly impacts those November numbers.

To Borges' original point, and the gnashing of teeth that comes with any suggestion that Denard won't be quicksilver in cleats anymore, he was often injured last year resulting in him either missing time, or in one case an entire game.  The offense, which made Denard the Big Ten Player of the Year also put that talent on the bench with injuries during significant portions of games.  The offense, as much as it made Denard Robinson the threat that he is, was also a liability with his health.  Having a threat like Denard isn't worth much if he's on the bench with a concussion.

The offense was not nearly as good as their final numbers suggest.  The combination of tomato can + "surprise Denard is really really good" at the beginning of the season skewed the numbers.  When you take a closer look at what happened against teams that were actually good in the Big Ten, the offense's potency is significantly reduced.  It still ranked 4th in conference against conference opponents in scoring offense, but to suggest that it was some kind of destroyer of all opposition is overstating the facts.  It was a good, not great, offense.  Compound this with the fact that Denard was often injured and I think there is reason to find some optimism that the transition to Borges' offense won't be as painful as we all think.  There is still room for improvement in 2011 in a system that allows Denard the ability to stay on the field, and maybe - just maybe - score more points against the teams that we're going to have to beat if Michigan is going to return to elite status, both in the Big Ten and Nationally.