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5 Questions, 5 Answers: Offense 2018

5 Questions, 5 Answers: Offense 2018 Brian September 1st, 2018 at 9:56 AM

[Bryan Fuller]

Previously: Podcast 10.0A. Podcast 10.0B. Podcast 10.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Tackle. Interior Offensive Line. Defensive Tackle. Defensive End. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety.Special Teams.

1. How much can Ed Warinner help in year one?

The quintessential new coach question. How much of a git was that other guy? How much of a swollen genius is the new guy? How fast can our warrior-poets imbibe his wisdom? Usually people expect too much too fast, but in certain situations the new guy can make an impact immediately.

As an OL coach Warinner's resume is about as impressive as Don Brown's was as a DC. He's been a college OL coach essentially nonstop since 1991, first at Air Force and Army, then Kansas, Notre Dame, and Ohio State. Only four years in there saw him have a primary responsibility other than OL: his three year tenure at Kansas and his final year at OSU, when he was an OC with some extra responsibilities attached.

Tim Drevno is a less convincing DJ Durkin impersonator. (To be absolutely clear: I'm talking only about Drevno's level of experience and established performance.) Durkin had never been a defensive coordinator out on his own until arriving in Ann Arbor; Drevno's background as an OL coach upon his arrival in Ann Arbor was a bit thinner than Warinner's, but not by that much. Drevno did not have an extended period at a power like OSU, but he's been an OL coach, give or take, since 1999 and was Harbaugh's sidekick since 2003 save for a gap year in 2014 when Drevno returned to college at USC.

The wild card here is Michigan's approach last year, which featured not only Drevno but also Greg Frey. Frey is indisputably a very good OL coach with a knack for finding future NFL tackles. But he does things one way and Drevno does them another way and putting them together in the way they did was a disaster. I cannot find this now but in one of the many many offseason quotes about Warinner slimming down the blocking playbook one of the players said they had multiple names for the same thing. And the quotes that pop easily to the hand with a quick google are still pretty astounding:

"he offensive line, the stuff they're doing (now), it's making more sense," said defensive end Chase Winovich, who finished 2017 tied for third in the Big Ten with eight sacks. "It doesn't seem like there's as many blatant, like, I'm just running free getting sacks. I still get them, but I've got to work for them. They're not just handed to me."

Spanellis:

"Coach Warinner's philosophy is he doesn't want to start calculus before everyone can start algebra," third-year guard/center Stephen Spanellis says. "Before we were trying to cover everything. Straight to rocket science, trying to cover everything possible in every meeting and some guys just can't keep up. It doesn't have value for someone to sit in a meeting and just have no idea what's going on fundamentally with normal plays like inside Zone or power."

Newsome:

"Coach Warinner came in and said in the first meeting we had with him that he wanted to simplify things greatly," Newsome said. "He said he was even confused by the amount of terminology and different plays we had in the playbook."

These quotes and the zillions like them indicate a broken, incoherent system. Replacing it with one guy's established and successful approach to college OL will be a great benefit.

But it's not going to help guys who can't pass protect one on one suddenly become impassable walls.

[After THE JUMP: save us Cesar]

2. How much can Cesar Ruiz help, then?

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[Eric Upchurch]

Possibly a lot. Everyone's saying that Michigan's season hinges on the tackles. That's not wrong, but it might be incomplete. One does not end up 118th in sack rate allowed just by having some crappy tackles. Michigan's failures last year were comprehensive. The tackles played a part. The interior line played a part. Sometimes blocks got missed. Sometimes blocks were not even attempted.

Last year's UFRs eventually threw their hands up on certain plays that failed to make any sense even after repeated viewings. This culminated after the Wisconsin game:

You were twitching and saying "line calls" earlier this week. I assume this is about that?

Yes. Michigan's apparently busted line calls cropped up even more often than I thought they did live. This killed a number of plays, both on the ground and in the air. The pass pro issues were immediately obvious; we've already talked about that ugly sack Peters took from UW's leading sacker on an early third and six. Maybe that's on Chris Evans. This was not, and it's the same issue:

There are only five guys on the line of scrimmage. It doesn't seem too hard to default to "I get the guy over me" and then try to adjust on stunts and the like. Instead Mason Cole is picking which guy to let through free. Because the line appears to be calling a shifted protection to the right. After a fifth guy walked down and announced himself as a potential blitzer to the left. With no running back. ...

Similarly, Michigan ran a lot of total nonsense on the ground. The early wildcat snap to Evans wasn't actually a tactical issue—Wisconsin had just 6, 6.5 in the box—but the world's most obvious slant. Michigan took the bait, with Kugler releasing downfield into nobody. JBB is picking which guy to not block, and kind of picks both, and kind of blocks both:

#57 C and #76 RT

When I see things like this I try to figure out how the offense could make this work. Here the solution is relatively simple: Ruiz shoves his guy, Kugler picks him up, and Ruiz attempts to release to the linebacker; JBB holds his original block. So why didn't this happen? Kugler couldn't read what was going on despite having no one in the world he can block on the second level. But also JBB seems to have no doubt that he should head to the LB on the second level; he assumes McKeon can pick up the guy he passes off. McKeon has a guy further outside. When I see two guys extremely wrong about what the defense is doing, that points at a bad line call. It is more likely that the kind of failure above is a systematic one than two guys independently borking.

And when you see this kind of thing over and over, question marks begin to resolve themselves into accusatory fingers. This absolutely has to be a bad line call, because Kugler uselessly doubles a nose tackle on a power play, leaving JBB to futilely chase a guy lined up inside of him while no-damn-body blocks the edge player:

#57 C, also poor damn #76 RT

That's how you get a power play destroyed by two all-but-unblocked guys on the backside. That is all Kugler screwing up what looks like a basic call. When I grade power plays I don't even look at the backside (except in situations like this) because the assignments are "vaguely obstruct this person and it'll be fine." To get a power blown up by two backside guys rather boggles the mind.

I know this sounds harsh on one particular player when everyone was borking it on the regular, but I have a hard time constructing a narrative where the center position wasn't a fundamental issue. That opinion was reinforced by semi-regular occurrences where Kugler would fail to do an incredibly obvious thing to do. Here's a power play against Rutgers on which Kugler fails to make a basic downblock opposite the play, seemingly because he realizes who he should block post-snap:

Michigan's first and only play in OT against Indiana was a similar occurrence, with everyone except Kugler going one way and Kugler going the other. A pin-and-pull earlier in the game was destroyed because Kugler pulled despite having a guy he very very obviously needed to block just to his right. So many plays last year were doomed not because of technique or strength but because someone was headed for the backfield without a block.

Contrast that with what Mason Cole was able to achieve in his single season at center. From last year's preview:

[MSU's double a-gap] blitz bedeviled Michigan for years under less competent coaches; Cole (and Harbaugh) throttled it:

The trademark MSU defensive playcall was comprehensively beaten. Finally. All of these plays feature the extreme aggression of the MSU linebackers being used against them, something that Michigan hasn't been able to do in forever. Can't block 'em? Run right by 'em.

The line just about maintained its very good adjusted sack rate with Cole at center despite suffering an injury to Newsome they simply could not afford. A large part of that goes back to Cole's ability to make the line calls. Bredeson's freshman biffs aren't on Cole's ability to organize, and Michigan was pretty dang organized in pass pro.

Cole went in the third round of the draft and is—yup—already Arizona's starting center.

Michigan's stunning lack of organization in all aspects of blocking but especially pass protection did not seem warranted by their experience. Cole was a senior, Bredeson a sophomore returning starter from a good pass pro line, Kugler a fifth-year, Onwenu a true sophomore, and at tackle they were choosing between two third-year players and a fourth-year one. Some chaos might have been expected, but both the depth of said chaos and the total lack of improvement over the course of the season points the finger at Kugler and Drevno. Theory: Cole and Graham Glasgow covered for Drevno's inability to teach, and Kugler was unable to hack center, full stop, but Michigan finally had no choice but to run with him because they were out of tackles.

If Ruiz is anything like he's reputed to be it'll be a revelation.

*[Basically an expected points yielded against an average FBS team]

3. What does a Harbaugh spread offense look like and do we actually run one?

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Well, how about that:

What could a Jim Harbaugh spread offense look like?

Well timed, Ian Boyd. You can read that article for details. The upshot: Shea Patterson is a spread quarterback and Warinner has a ton of experience coaching a physical brand of inside zone from spread sets. He did it at Kansas; he did it at Ohio State. He will coach it at Michigan.

This may raise the dander of certain readers who remember Michigan's ugly early-season forays into inside zone. After adding Greg Frey, Michigan started the year as an almost exclusively inside zone team. Post Air Force:

This is an inside zone team. Frey's arrival has clearly made for a shift in offensive line philosophy. IZ is the bread and butter, power is a constraint. I'd expect the variety to ramp up as the season goes along and Michigan gets a better handle and can spend more time in practice on frippery.

Unfortunately, the variety of inside zone team they were was the one where you run by the guy you absolutely have to block a lot. Michigan gradually shifted away from IZ, first splitting snaps about down the middle. Post MSU:

After trying to be a zone team they're now a gap blocking team in mild denial. Big uptick in power and iso in this game, and it was effective. Expect at least an even split going forward and I bet it shades towards power, because Michigan now has a lot of power on the right side of the line.

By Minnesota they'd all but abandoned zone, running one the whole game. You may ask yourself "if every spread team is heavily into zone, and Michigan can't run zone, what are we even doing?"

Well, there's zone and then there's zone. At points last year I was confused why certain Michigan zone plays featured extended double teams on defensive linemen and tended to leave the linebackers for later while others were so focused on climbing to the linebacker level that they'd often result in a very dumb-looking TFL when a DL was given a free run at the tailback. These former plays are "duo," the latter genuine inside zone. A couple things about duo:

  • It is often described as "power without a puller," which rather implies those big ol' mashing double teams and we'll figure out the linebackers later. Seth has a whole post on it.
  • Ohio State's famous (if you're a football wonk) "tight zone" more or less is duo. Boyd: "Warriner’s teaching of the inside zone play as a “tight zone” run essentially mirrors the “duo” blocking scheme that Michigan leaned on a year ago. The biggest difference is that while “duo” uses FBs, TEs, and H-backs to secure the edge and create double teams, running “tight zone” from the spread can do that or attach options to control the perimeter and isolate the OL and back against an outmanned front."

Michigan failed at running the precise finesse version of inside zone last year and ditched it. When "inside zone" came back it was the mauling extended doubles duo version, which fit with the return to gap running because it's literally power without a puller. Michigan's successful zone runs against Indiana were probably in fact duo:

Wait, so now we can run inside zone?

I'd give it another couple weeks. Indiana did not put a ton of pressure on Michigan to get off blocks with aggressive linebackers, and that helped considerably.

But they're making some progress. Michigan did some work running zone from 2TE formations. IU's more passive approach with their linebackers meant that Michigan could get some extended doubles. Here Kugler and Onwenu get to double a DT off the ball and get off on a linebacker, and that's the cutback lane:

#57 C and #50 RG

Meanwhile next to those guys Cole and Bredeson are doing the same to the other DT. Adding those TEs to the line allowed those doubles, with the other three guys on the LOS fairly easy kickout blocks.

Michigan just hired one of the nation's foremost teachers of this style of zone running.

Long story short: the marriage of Warinner with Harbaugh's manball principles is a good one, the nature of the spread offenses he's run fits with Michigan's talent and their tendency to go under center, and instead of trying to do two really different things the zone/gap distinction in this year's offense is more about variations on a theme. We'll see if it comes together like peanut butter and jelly, but as a theory it's got a lot going for it.

4. How does Michigan mitigate their pass protection issues?

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[Bryan Fuller]

Moderately well? After the Wisconsin game I tried to communicate the Law Of Large Numbers Multiplied A Lot:

This is the difference between the #80 pass protection and #120: when you are that horrid the opposition can tee off on your run game and it just doesn't matter because football drives are multiplicative affairs. 30% * 30% * 30% drops off much much faster than 40% * 40% * 40%. Michigan sucks too hard at pass protection to have a decent offense against good defenses. No matter what they do or do not do schematically. The end.

Last year's protection was so devastating because of that. The simplified protection schemes and presence of Patterson will do a ton to prevent a recurrence.

For the Patterson assertion I submit to you the Alabama Passing UFR I did, which was a pass pro disaster so comprehensive that even last year's Michigan OL offered a long low whistle as they rubbernecked past the carnage. Ole Miss couldn't block a small child with strong opinions and still finished the year dead average in sacks allowed. The stuff Patterson's good at—RPOs, fades, running around like a Forcier with his head cut off—is inherently pass-pro-mitigating stuff. He's a good QB to have if your protection is iffy. And he's used to it.

The protection schemes go back to the Warinner transition and necessarily rely on quotes from people and no hard evidence. I find the many, many quotes about Michigan's garbage protection schemes of yesteryear utterly convincing. Runyan:

“He really simplified our offense this season,” Runyan said. “Not too many calls going on, not too many pre-snap adjustments. If there are, usually our center can make them on the fly. Tackles can make heads-up calls, too. Quarterbacks can point stuff out, too. Really, we can just get up, get on the ball, run a play and we know what to do, what to adjust. Everything’s picking up really fast. This is obviously the best the offensive line has been, the offense has been, in camp. This is my fourth year here. We’re making strides and we’re doing really well. This is the best I’ve seen us compete with the defense since I’ve been here.”

I'm leaving out a dozen other similar takes from virtually everyone expected to block this year. I believe that Michigan's mental pass protection game will be at least average and probably better.

5. Well?

Last year's edition of this post was on point, except it failed to predict that Michigan would have the worst P5 pass protection in the country and all the knock-on effects from that. I mean, it tried:

This should be a real step forward on the ground, with Michigan finally cracking 5 YPC and moving into the top 25 in S&P+. Passing S&P+ should move into the top 20, with pass protection the outstanding question. That will dip significantly; this should still be a significant improvement on last year and the best Harbaugh offense at Michigan.

It could not comprehend the great Lovecraftian depths. It's hard to predict something will be three standard deviations below the D-I mean.

The additions of Patterson and Warinner greatly reshape expectations here but modesty is still called for. This is a year for Lloydball. Michigan returns most of the relevant pieces from a ground game good enough to pummel most of the schedule and should spend its time doing that whenever possible, both to cut down on the turnovers generated by bad pass protection and in an effort to finally get the starting quarterback to the Ohio State game in one piece.

The ground game should at least maintain it's top 15 S&P+ status and probably moves into the top ten. Higdon should crest that 1,000 yard mark and Evans won't be far behind. Pass protection bounces back up to "not great"; Patterson has a good but not mindblowing season. Michigan's offense is has a ceiling, though: against top-level defenses that can really get after the tackles they find it extremely difficult to move the ball with any consistency.

BETTER

  • Shea Patterson >>> Horrific Hodge-Podge
  • DPJ + Collins > Freshman versions of same plus broke Crawford
  • McKeon, Gentry, Eubanks >> FR/SO versions of same
  • Junior Bredeson > Sophomore Bredeson
  • Cesar Ruiz >> Patrick Kugler
  • Junior Onwenu or Spanellis > Sophomore versions
  • Not Having Two OL coaches > That

PUSH

  • Evans, Higdon == Younger Versions + Isaac
  • Ben Mason == Hill + Poggi
  • Grant Perry == Grant Perry
  • JBB == JBB

WORSE

  • LT Jon Runyan

Last Year's Stupid Predictions

Oh God, this one is not going to go well.

Speight is first team All Big Ten and has a decision to make about the NFL.

Cracked vertebra, incomplete. Wasn't trending well.

Six different players crack 20 catches with one guy over 50. That's Crawford.

Three players over 20 with Crawford and Gentry at 17. Nobody had 50 catches. This was an attempt to say the wealth would be spread; there was no wealth. Projecting Crawford as functional was dead wrong. No points.

Black and DPJ combine for 1,000 yards.

Black only played three games, incomplete. FWIW, his 149 receiving yards projects to 646 over the season; DPJ had 277. In a world where Speight and Black are both healthy they probably hit the mark.

Evans goes over 1,000 all-purpose yards and has 5+ YPC.

842 all purpose yards and 5.1 YPC. I missed on Karan Higdon, who did not draw mention. Half-point.

Bredeson and Onwenu are collectively a large upgrade on guard play from last year.

If you include Ruiz this is accurate-ish. Michigan's ground game took a big step forward thanks in no small part to their contributions. Pass protection... I mean, they were bad but so was everyone else and it's probably not their fault it's Drevno's and I'm just gonna give myself a point now. One point.

Khalid Hill creates two touchdowns with edge two-for-one blocks.

Nope. Hill's impact in his final year was rather muted.

Right tackle is a black hole.

Got this one right! /drinks bleach

THIS YEAR'S STUPID PREDICTIONS

  • Michigan finishes 49th in sack rate allowed.
  • If Shea Patterson wants to execute a one-and-done plan he can but will have to settle for a mid-round pick after a good but not mindblowing year.
  • Grant Perry leads Michigan in receptions and yards and is generally a revelation.
  • Runyan holds onto his job all year; James Hudson emerges as the RT starter by midseason.
  • Sean McKeon has the best all-around TE season since MGoBlog has been paying close attention; in practice this means he's a terrific blocker and has 30-40 catches.
  • Karan Higdon is a second-round pick after a 1,000 yard season.
  • There are no stats for centers but nonetheless Cesar Ruiz is f-ing awesome and I'll have the clips to prove it.
Profile picture for user stephenrjking

stephenrjking

September 1st, 2018 at 10:47 AM ^

We have a brand-new 5* transfer QB, a fleet of 5-star receivers, a terrifying giant at TE, and two fantastic RBs. All four questions are basically questions about the OL.

Which is about right. 

Shea can be the key. We haven't had a game-changing QB in so long that when we did have one the sport was different. These days a game-changing QB can elevate Clemson to the national title and make a mediocre Louisville team capable of frightening the best teams. 

Shea could be that man. He has the potential to be a top-5 or a top-10 QB in the country. That kind of firepower would transform the team.

It can happen. It might not, but it can. I really hope that Brian is right about the coaching/center situation, because just fixing the blatant misses would be a huge and critical step forward that can allow the rest of the team to excel.

Profile picture for user Salinger

In reply to We have a brand-new 5*… by stephenrjking

Salinger

September 1st, 2018 at 10:57 AM ^

Your additions and commentary this off season have been fantastic. Thanks for the solid, reasoned hawt takes.

Profile picture for user corundum

In reply to We have a brand-new 5*… by stephenrjking

corundum

September 1st, 2018 at 4:04 PM ^

>fleet of 5* receivers 

So one and some 4* WRs?

Profile picture for user Unfiltered Manball

Unfiltered Manball

September 1st, 2018 at 10:53 AM ^

Great week of content, Mgo overlords.

"Atta-boys" for all.

Profile picture for user Salinger

Salinger

September 1st, 2018 at 10:55 AM ^

Go. BLUE.

bdneely4

September 1st, 2018 at 10:57 AM ^

I love Saturday content. If we do not turn the ball over tonight, we will beat Notre Dame. If we have any turnovers, I believe this game will be a nailbiter. 

Profile picture for user Lou MacAdoo

Lou MacAdoo

September 1st, 2018 at 10:58 AM ^

I would just like to say thank you guys for the work you put into the site. The sheer volume of quality content over the last two weeks has been impressive. I have a feeling 2018 is going to be a season to remember. The tides are going to turn in the rivalry games and their going to get the road victories that have eluded them for the last decade. Time for this program to take the next step.

Profile picture for user Michigan Arrogance

Michigan Arrogance

September 1st, 2018 at 11:11 AM ^

It's a HELL of a lot easier (and thus more probable) ito improve from 5th-10th percentile to 50th percentile than it is to move from 50th-90th percentile. Some simple, minor changes to bring all the guys on the OL up to speed can make HUGE gains. going from 50th to 90th percentile means getting mediocre talent/experince up to all B10 level in one on one situations as well.

It's like getting a math class of 30 up from an ave. test score of 75% to 85%. You aren't going to focus on getting the 3 kids who already scored 95%+ to get scores of 100%. That won't get you where you need to be as a whole. 

You're gonna focus on the bottom 3 kids who BOMBED the test to go from 50% up  to 75%.

Yes, we lost Cole who was a 95% scorer on his tests. his replacement will be a 65% scorer. But we're gonna see the rest of the OL positions go from 40% to 70%

2017 OL: (40*4 + 95)/5 = 51 == Very bad 

2018 OL: (70*4 + 65)/5 = 69 == not great, but passes most tests

Profile picture for user Gulogulo37

Gulogulo37

September 1st, 2018 at 11:18 AM ^

I still don't think Kugler deserves much blame. Cole was the center the year before and did well, but they couldn't find any possible way to get him back at C while Kugler is causing the entire line to screw up? Just doesn't make sense. And posters here who actually know OL play have said so. I realize the tackle situation was bad but almost anything there would have been better if Cole could still be a solid C.

I hadn't heard the one about using 2 different sets of terminology for the same thing. That's insane! Michigan already had a complex running game and then you're simply adding a whole new system to that. And wasn't Frey supposed to be the tackles coach while Drevno had the interior? I think we all figured they were basically just doing it all together but I guess it really was that disjointed.

In reply to I still don't think Kugler… by Gulogulo37

blue in dc

September 1st, 2018 at 12:01 PM ^

given what was happening at right tackle, what suggests they could have found another tackle?

In reply to I still don't think Kugler… by Gulogulo37

funkywolve

September 1st, 2018 at 12:31 PM ^

Agree.  If the coaching staff thought Kugler was as bad as Brian does, I can't believe they would have brought him back as a GA Coach.

In reply to Agree.  If the coaching… by funkywolve

jakerblue

September 1st, 2018 at 2:30 PM ^

Big difference between doing and teaching. He might be able to kill it in the film room but when he steps out on the field he can’t see enough



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