What the Deuce: Vamos! No!

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Vamos! No!

A rare midweek appearance! This is the post I mentioned earlier - the one about Michigan's win over Northwestern this past Saturday.

As I watched Michigan on Saturday, I remembered a conversation with my high school Spanish teacher. She could not understand why I found football fun to watch. In her words it was nothing more than "Vamos, no. Vamos, no. Vamos, no. Comercial." She'd probably gotten this impression after watching Michigan play an overmatched opponent.

Michigan ran the ball right, ran the ball left, and ran the ball up the gut. They ran with Mike Hart, they ran with Kevin Grady, they ran with Brandon Minor, and they ran with Jerome Jackson. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing performance, but it resulted in a 17-3 win.

During the game, I kept one eye on the open thread at MGoBlog, whose comments Brian summarized so eloqently the yesterday. Like him, I'm very surprised that one man could polarize a fan base as much as Mike DeBord has. And like MGoBlog, I find myself somewhere in the middle.

DeBord deserves credit for his playcalling against Notre Dame and his emphasis on getting the tight ends involved in the passing game. Still, I don't understand his insistence that Michigan can only run the ball against inferior opponents. I think its a combination of arrogance and reality. Simply DeBord thinks "because we're Michigan, we can win by just running the ball against inferior opponents." The reality is that he's probably right and it leads to wins that aren't sexy or big as the fan base would like.

I have four problems with this strategy. First, it increases the risk of starters getting hurt. Second, it reduces the opportunity to devlop talent. Third, it wastes opportunities to develop the offense. Most importantly, occassionally, it results in Michigan losing a game that it shouldn't.

Injuries to Starters: Simply, because Michigan chooses to run no matter what, the risk of injury is increased. It can't be easy running into 8 and 9 man fronts down after down. And because this offense doesn't generate many points, the starters are forced to play well into the forth quarter. This has happened in the last two weeks. I don't understand why the coaches would risk injury to key players in meaningless games, especially with OSU 3 weeks away. Ideally, I would like to see Michigan jump out to a 3 or 4 touchdown lead and pull the starters in the 4th.

Talent Development: This is a result of point one. If the starters are playing until the last offensive drive of the game, the younger players don't get to play, diminishing their ability to get meaningful snaps. Getting snaps in practice is worth only so much. Getting game experience, in my opinion, is more meaningful because practices don't simulate game conditions.

Development of Strategy: Why not take the opportunity against a lesser opponent to try things out? I understand that a team doesn't want to reveal too much at the risk it will end up on film, but what's wrong in practicing routine pass plays that are the staples of a balanced offense? This is my biggest problem with continuously running the ball. I think it's possible to throw the ball and play close to the vest at the same time. Doing this would help improve the timing between the QB and receivers, it would give the line some practice pass blocking, and hopefully, it would result in points which would then allow the starters to rest in the 4th while giving the younger guys some game experience.

Losing: See Michigan v. Illinois in 1999. For those don't remember, Michigan blew a 20-7 halftime lead by using an ultra conservative offense in the second half. There are countless other examples of Michigan losing as a result of "vamos, no. vamos, no. vamos, no." Simply, running the ball 3 times and punting allows the opposition to stay within striking distance.

While I don't think Mike DeBord is the worst offensive coordinator ever, I do think his offensive philosophy is outdated. I am confident that he could mix the pass and the run while not revealing too much on film. I wish he were more aggressive in his playcalling against teams that aren't Notre Dame, Ohio State, or Bowl Opponent. It's frustrating, to me, to watch Michigan have to grind out a win, when it doesn't need to, against a team that has a lost to 1-AA New Hampshire and allowed Michigan State to come back from 35 points down.

Now, I understand the weather conditions on Saturday were less than optimal so throwing the ball was difficult. But, in general, for a change, I'd like to see a halftime update with Michigan up 24-7 and a final score of 45-17. And it's possible if Mike DeBord chose to do more than just run against these teams. I would like to see Michigan just dismantle lesser opponents like USC, OSU, or even Texas.

What scares me, right now, is whether DeBord's philosophy has negatively affected the offense. It's November and you want your team to be peaking. While the defense looks like it is, I can't say the same about the offense. Has the offense taken a step back because of the playcalling or has it had no effect at all? Will Michigan be able to turn it on when it needs to? I don't know, but we'll all find out November 18th.


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