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MnB staff roundtable returns with zero trademarks and space

College Football is back...will Michigan’s offense be?

NCAA Football: Michigan Spring Game Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The 1901 season for the Wolverines demonstrated a massive shift in success. That year, [Fielding] Yost spurred an intensity in the offense that equipped the Wolverines with the ability to remain undefeated for four seasons, notching 40 straight wins for four national titles in a row...Those Michigan teams went down in history as the ‘point-a-minute’ programs, categorized for their lethal offenses that outscored opponents 2,821-42, with a combined 55-1-1 record from 1901-1905.

-From “Fielding Yost and his famed point-a-minute teams,” The Michigan Daily, 11/14/18

If you’re wondering: that lone loss? 2-0 against The University of Chicago, 1905.

The tie? 6-6 against Minnesota in 1903.

Josh Gattis doesn’t have to be point-a-minute-level good, but the notion of a lethal offense has been missing for the duration of the Harbaugh era.

And with that, we’re back.

An all-too-familiar thing happened at the end of last season: a collapse. Michigan entered November with a path to a division title and a playoff spot. They then imploded against that school from Ohio and then again a month later against an SEC foe in a bowl game.

It can’t happen this year.

Athletic Director Warde Manuel said that Jim Harbaugh puts himself on the hot seat when he doesn’t get it done, but if this season goes south, I fear Harbaugh isn’t going to like where the fan base will want to put him. Expectations are lofty, yet Michigan still has the luxury of being Not Alabama and Not Clemson, and can stay under the radar a bit while this new offense takes hold. Big Ten play gets real serious real fast, as the first test is in week three. In Madison.

The offense will need time, but we Michigan fans want instant gratification, don’t we? No matter what emerges out of the first couple weeks, I am on Team #SpeedInSpace for the long haul, because it can’t possibly be any worse than the last couple of seasons. Look for some signals to prove that the switch has been flipped and Harbaugh has truly given Josh Gattis the keys to the offense: not hearing opposing coaches or players tell the media they knew what play Michigan was running before they broke the huddle; a forward pass on first or second down; a running play that is somewhere besides off tackle.

It’s baffling to think this was Michigan’s offense in 2018, but Josh Gattis has the mind to fix it. At times, Michigan moved the ball well with Patterson making correct read after correct read on some of those RPO plays from the gun or pistol formation. Now, the holdup that was Pep Hamilton’s unwillingness to throw the ball to his playmakers is gone. Gattis should bring plenty of no-huddle, quick throw type plays to confuse a defense, and go deep when the slot receivers’ motion has cleared out the secondary. Gattis is a first-time solo OC so it’s difficult to describe his scheme, because he’s still building it. As best I can tell, think RichRod slot system 2.0 with five-star athletes, plus the Penn State/Alabama spread that shreds a man scheme like Michigan’s, mixed with the true Stanford pistol/power gun scheme Harbaugh ran there. Make sense?

All of us on this site have begged Michigan to drag itself kicking and screaming into the 21st Century of offenses, and this guy is the best chance the program has to get it done. Pep was too stuck in the ways of the (old) NFL, but Gattis has learned from some of the smartest college assistants in the game his whole career. What Harbaugh has brought in is a spread tactician whose sole purpose is to simplify the offense so that it can make plays. This has to work.

Don Brown has a mostly-returning defense, and hey, Khaleke Hudson is still the viper, so look for him to emerge as a leader on that side of the ball. The Cover 1 in that 4-2-5 set worked for Michigan until it didn’t, because opposing offenses figured out that confusing defenders, mainly Brandon Watson in the case of the OSU game, or beating them on the edge was Brown’s weakness. Michigan didn’t adjust, and got throttled. Brown’s typically-good halftime adjustments crumbled against spread teams, and this year he has to recognize when even the adjustments aren’t working, and have a zone scheme in his back pocket. Crossing route plays all day makes for a very long day. It’ll be Hudson’s job to patrol the edges, since Devin Bush won’t be zipping from sideline to sideline chasing people down.

Michigan is loaded in general, but there are question marks with either depth or starters at offensive line, defensive line, running back, and linebacker. Experience returns at wide receiver, the secondary, FULLBACK, tight end and special teams (I see you, Will Hart!). This has to be the year Harbaugh’s recruiting over the previous three seasons pays him dividends.

The biggest question mark is this dual-quarterback plan that is being kept a secret. Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey will both see the field, but do it too often, and opposing defenses are going to figure out that they’re just situational sub-ins rather than two lethal quarterbacks who can find a defensive weakness. Expect more of what Michigan demolished Wisconsin with last season.

We’ll know a lot more after week one, but until then, college football is back. CFB returning is like when your crush comes back from summer vacation and you forgot what said crush looks like, but then after only a few minutes you remember why they’re your crush because there’s 85 games over a week span, and you think how did I live without this for so long.

Instead of the Revenge Tour, Michigan is embarking on the Prove It Tour, because we hope this staff and team prove they can get to where everyone expects them to be instead of another season of almost-got-there football.

Onward, and Go Blue...

PART ONE: This week, what Michigan football-related thing has been stewing inside your brain since last January that you haven’t been able to talk about with anyone because they just don’t understand?

Daniel Allweiss: This is only related as a tangent, but I’ve seen a handful of primers for the season that talk about “Must Do’s” for when you’re in Ann Arbor for a game. Whether it’s weekend food or post-game food. I have a take, and everyone needs to know. Zingerman’s is mediocre, and belongs nowhere near these lists. If you need food during the game, go to watch it at Charley’s. If you want food after, go to Spots. Zingerman’s is like the 3rd or 4th best deli on campus and falls even further if you count Frita Batidos. Had to get that off my chest.

Kevin Bunkley: I’ll defend you, Dan, don’t worry. The flaw in those must-do/reasons why A2 is a great gameday place things is that the people making them only go to the trendy places, not the places that have the atmosphere plus delicious food. Places like Pizza House, Scorekeepers, and Maize n Blue Deli run circles around Zingerman’s.

Once upon a time, Spot’s had a truck inside the Michigan Stadium concourse, too, before the University kinda consolidated the food vendors under their control. #bringbackmrspots

About two weeks ago I had been thinking, “gee, we are close to the season starting and no school has done something dumb, no player has gotten in major trouble and no coaches have said something that gets picked up by sports talking heads!”

And then Jim Harbaugh, bless his heart, started talking about Luke Fickell.

I really hate that every year some dumb thing -- and not just with Michigan -- happens before the season, and it makes everyone clamor for college football even more, and by the time the first weekend is over, it is like it never happened. But, Jim, buddy, next time just keep a transfer situation between the coaches. He already found himself getting roasted because of his Urban Meyer comments (not exactly earth-shattering revelations). Didn’t need to make this other thing public knowledge. If the goal is to get a kid eligible somewhere else, file the paperwork, and move on. Probably some more behind-the-scenes stuff went on, but it has nothing to do with preparing for the season.

I suppose I’d rather have the coach be the one saying this stuff because he can take the heat, and I am glad there wasn’t any off-the-field debacles during the summer for Michigan, or any school for that matter, but just once I want to make it to September without letting out a dejected sigh.

Speaking of dejected sighs, the NCAA changed targeting and overtime rules again for this season! It appears to be a mix of good and bad. Games are going to potentially take even longer, as all targeting calls will be reviewed to confirm the ruling on the field. The suspension for half a game thing has been changed to a one-game suspension if a player accrues three targeting fouls. Khaleke Hudson fell victim to the confusion over what exactly qualified as targeting, but the rule as defined is pretty clear; it was just poorly interpreted by every officiating crew. Overtime is going to possibly get dumb too: games that reach a fourth OT will only have two-point plays from the three yard line. I don’t want to neg player safety, but, college overtime is one of the last football things that isn’t broken. The PAC 12 would like to speak to your manager, NCAA.

David Noe: It’s hard to imagine the season is here, but we all want the offseason stories to go away. This transfer portal, reviews about comments made in a book 99% of people voicing their opinions haven’t even read, and the trip to South Africa made it in the news because of what Jim Harbaugh did or said. People are sick of him and are so quick to judge him only because of what he hasn’t been able to do on the field and win big games. I’m not giving him any form of excuse or blaming anything or anyone, but I do know what that program was like before Jim Harbaugh. The pressure to win will definitely build each year until he gets over that hurdle or people will question how much longer he will last. Eyes will be glued in on this season for Michigan, especially with more analyst’s and national media picking them to win the Big Ten. I think many people are in the, “I’ll believe they can win a big game when they beat Ohio State and the Big Ten.” They’ve been very close in multiple years, but close only matters in horse shoes and hand granades.

Jay Winkler: Zingerman’s is an elite high-end grocery store and bakery and a mid-level sandwich place.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Michigan’s home schedule is going to shake out. When the lights were added one of the biggest effects was how much easier it made to have 3:30 games. Michigan has averaged a little under four 3:30/3:45/4:00pm games in the Lights Era, including six in 2016. However, there’s only two unscheduled games left, and I think this year might match 2017 with zero 3:30 games. I predict Rutgers get scheduled for noon and Notre Dame gets scheduled at night. I also think Fox’s decree that they’re going to put their best game of the day at noon is going to be very successful for them, and we’ll see the “Noon on Fox or Night on ESPN” trend continue for the next few years of Michigan schedules.

Jay Sarkar: I am going to ignore the Zingerman’s slander (that reuben is one of the best on the planet, signed, an Ann Arbor townie) but in terms of must-do or see on a game day, I suggest the following for anyone who is going to their first game at Michigan Stadium or their 100th. Go to Revelli Hall near the IM Building and see the marching band begin their pregame walk down Hoover St, turning left on Greene and towards the stadium. Watching the players and coaches arrive via Blue Bus is also a great experience. With a night kick, Saturday provides plenty of opportunity to tailgate and witness these unique game day experiences that you only can see seven(ish) times a year.

As for what’s eating my brain, I still cannot shake the ending to last season. The Ohio State game got so bad I turned it off in the fourth quarter. I put false hope in the bowl game and was laughed out of Mercedes Benz Stadium by Florida (Michigan’s #realrival) fans. The offseason has every reason to give fans hope that 2019 could be a magical year, but my skepticism will remain until I see the finished product execute on the field.

PART TWO: What’s on your mind as the season gets are we feeling while Michigan’s record is still 0-0?

Daniel Allweiss: On the field, god damn am I ready to see this Gattis machine on display. I don’t know if anyone here has been more critical of Michigan’s offensive approach over the last few seasons, and I’m honestly somewhat nervous to see how the switch flips. It’s easy to complain about the way someone else is doing something. Everything Gattis has said and seemingly installed is along the lines of what I’ve been preaching for, hoping for, even occasionally praying for. I want to see like 42 points dropped in the first half against Middle Tennessee. Then I want to see McCaffrey and Milton drop like 35 in the second. I want to slaughter these fools, but I want Rutgers to keep their futility crown.

Kevin Bunkley: The only thing we want Rutgers to be known for is the fat sandwiches at the R.U. Hungry restaurant.

I’ve been telling myself to tone down expectations, to be prepared for a slow start, to not get ahead of ourselves, to be patient, because overhauling an offensive system is not a single offseason or even a one game task. Gattis, who I’m proud to say started his coaching adventures in my own backyard at Western Michigan, has said all the right things. He has promised speed plus space, he has talked up Michigan’s running backs to an absurd level that gives me anxiety; his fellow assistants have shouted from the mountaintop about how he coaches; this guy has hysterically-high expectations being placed on him, and yet, we have to prepare ourselves that it won’t be instant. Right?

However, he angered Nick Saban when he left Alabama, so Michigan could just as easily vault to the top ranking in scoring offense in a flash. Which is alright by me.

Andrew Vailliencourt: I’d echo a lot of what Daniel said. My expectations are high, but I want to see the offense explode in the first few weeks so I can feel confident that Michigan won’t have the same problems it’s had over the last couple years on offense: poor playcalling and a slow/stubborn style of play. If Shea Patterson shows he’s an elite quarterback, this team has as good a chance as anyone to reach the playoff.

David Noe: Well, on paper with the roster and schedule, my expectations are Big Ten Championship or bust. This year it’s all aligned for them to get over that hurdle and win the East to play in Indianapolis. I like them starting against someone other than Notre Dame week one to get prepared for Army. Each week will bring challenges and I truly hope we see so much depth at every position, more than we’ve ever had, in case of any injuries. With an experienced quarterback like Shea knowing how well this offense sets up for him, we could be in for a treat with likely the most balanced team we’ve seen in a long time. The defense lost a few but having Don Brown running that side of the ball and how last season ended, his group will be ready to spit that sour taste out of their mouth all season. Many teams in the Big Ten, especially the West, seem very similar with several who could win. I think the East is a race for the Wolverines, Buckeyes, and Spartans. Home field advantage will help and I see this being the year they get to Indianapolis.

Dan P: Last season we waited, then waited, and waited some more for Michigan to “unleash” Shea Patterson and it never happened. The offense was not tailored for him and he still put up solid numbers throwing the football. Now he will be expected to be even better this season with an offense that is much more suitable to his skill set. These ‘Prove It Tour’, as Kevin so geniously put it, will be on Patterson’s shoulders. As it is every season, the team overall has a ton of pressure on it. But Patterson will be the scapegoat at this point if Harbaugh has truly handed the keys of the offense over to Gattis.

On the defensive side of the ball, it is imperative that Don Brown revolutionizes his defense. The man-to-man, blitzing defense is an easy one to run when you play teams like Rutgers, Western Michigan, and SMU. The Michigan athletes are bigger, faster, and stronger than their opponents so they can just bully a weaker team. However, when it’s top-dog on top-dog like Ohio State and Florida, it is all about one side being smarter, faster, and more diverse than the other. Last season, Brown was a one-trick pony and Ohio State and Florida figured that out swiftly and easily. He must throw in some zone packages or this team will once again fail the daunting expectations that the national media consistently puts on it. The offense just had a major turnover, and if Brown can’t get it done in the big games this year, maybe it will be the defense’s turn.

Jay Winkler: I agree with Dan that I want to see Michigan really run up the score against MTSU, and I further want to see them attempt to do the same against Army. I think a lot of fans are wary of the Army game and I think a lot of fans’ season-long fears can be assuaged by putting it away early in the third.

Kevin is right that the defense has been a bit of a one-trick pony the last few years, but I truly believe Brown knows he needs to make some broad changes. More than big scheme changes, I am interested in seeing Michigan’s late game defensive adjustments. I simply do not think the defense is going to be good enough to let a higher-powered offense run away with games against Michigan’s best opponents. We know that in the Brown era the defense has typically done a good job making that last stop they need in a 17-10 nailbiter. I think Michigan’s going to play a handful of games this season where both teams score 35, and I am curious to see what sort of changes are made so that they can make that last stop before Shea and the offense crack 40.

Jay Sarkar: Dan and I share a similar sentiment. I want to see Josh Gattis’s offense show no mercy against MTSU and pour it on against Army if possible. The unusually early bye means Michigan gets two weeks to try out some things on offense and defense against MTSU and Army before returning to the lab prior to a trip to Madison, where Michigan has not won since 2001 (0-4 since Lloyd Carr’s last win at Camp Randall.)

The defense also has many question marks. Last year’s unceremonious ending saw Don Brown’s defense ripped apart by Ohio State and Florida. Shutting down Middle Tennessee State would meet expectations, but how Brown’s unit fares against Army, and the triple-option bag of tricks Jeff Monken employs could put Michigan to an early test that will help the Wolverines as the season progresses. Once Michigan gets through these first couple games, I feel like I can make better judgments on knowing if this team is going to be the one that breaks the 15 year Big Ten Championship drought that is currently plaguing Ann Arbor.

Of course, we could turn out to be wrong about all of this. Stay with Maize n Brew all season, engage with us. We’re glad you’re here...