What the Deuce: It's Not Magic, It's Film Study

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

It's Not Magic, It's Film Study

I'd known for a while that I was going to miss at least the first half of Michigan's game against Northwestern. My friend was getting married and the ceremony started at one. Still, I wasn't too upset - I knew exactly what I was going to miss.

Even though Northwestern provided the coaching staff with an opportunity to rest Mike Hart, expose Ryan Mallet to more of the playbook, and get the subs some meaningful game experience, it wasn't going to happen. Instead, Mike DeBord would mindlessly run the ball in the first half allowing it the Wildcats to keep it close. In the third quarter, the offense and defense would make the minimum amount of plays to take the lead and keep it. In the 4th, Mike Hart would still be in the game because it was close. A couple of players, instead of sitting on the bench because of a blowout, would be lost to injury. Northwestern would make a last ditch effort that would come short and Lloyd Carr would flash that arrogant smile that says "screw you" to those who question his ability to game plan. Oh, and how can I forget, we'd hear quotes from players saying "we came out flat" and "we didn't play Michigan football in the first half."

So I wasn't too surprised by the way the game unfolded. Northwestern was leading at the half. Michigan regained the lead in the third quarter and extended it in the fourth. To their credit, the defense caused 4 turnovers on 4 straight possessions. Still, Michigan lost 3 players to injury - Tim McAvoy, Chris Graham, and Mike Massey. And after Michigan narrowly won 28-16, we heard about how "it wasn't Michigan football in the first half."

Brian, on Monday, wrote brilliantly about Michigan's offensive playcalling. Let me add my piece. If the opposition's defense is a round hole and Michigan's offense a square peg, Mike DeBord is the slow child playing the game. Once again, DeBord wasted a chance against an inferior opponent to get the offense some reps for plays other than zone left.

It's no surprise that this offense struggles year after year. While most teams' offenses are starting to gel and find a rhythm after 5 games, Michigan's is still inconsistent. Granted, there have been injuries this year, but essentially, the story is the same. Instead of improving over the course of the year, Michigan's offense will be as unpolished as it was against Appalachian State. And this phenomenon is a function of Mike DeBord's inability and unwillingness to change.

Honestly, I can't take it anymore. Against Penn State, the coaching staff went deployed a prehistoric offensive strategy because he wanted to protect Ryan Mallet. Instead of keeping the defense guessing, DeBord decided to run on obvious running downs and pass on obvious passing downs. Apparently, DeBord's idea of protection is playing into the hands of the defense.

Still, even after the offensive outputs against Penn State and Northwestern, there are people who brush aside DeBord's ineptitude. They say "well, the coaches did what they had to do." What the hell does that even mean? Either it means that the coaching staff completed something that was unfinished (I had homework that was due, so I did it) or the coaches acted in a manner as a result of necessity (the guy was not breathing and I had to give him CPR). In the football context, I'd assume that "doing what you have to do" is the latter and not the former.

If this is the case, Michigan did not have to run over and over to win that game. They could have passed on first or second down. They could have opted not to kick field goals with a kicker who is terrible. They could have used play action. Let me say this clearly: they did not have to run the ball 44 times with Mike Hart. And if they did, it's their own damn fault for not coming up with a more deceptive game plan or developing more than a basic high school passing game.

Most egregiously, they didn't have to give Penn State one last chance at the end of the game. Instead of going for the first down that would ice the game, the coaching staff thought it best to run the ball and call timeouts. Why stop the clock for your opponent?

Similarly, they coaches didn't have to run the ball repeatedly against Northwestern, especially when the Wildcat secondary being as bad as it is. The most frustrating this about this coaching staff is that it doesn't seem to understand the concept of tendencies. Football is a game of tendencies - that's why coaches and players spend countless hours studying film. Bill Belichick said the reason the Patriots were so successful was because the didn't have tendencies and, if they did, they would go against them, catching the opponent off guard. A simple concept that neither Carr nor DeBord understand, or worse, simply ignore.

What scares me more than anything is that if Michigan keeps winning, there's a good chance that the entire group comes back. And with no Mike Hart, Jake Long, Chad Henne, and possibly Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington, next season could be worse than this one. With an offense that young, DeBords archaic offense becomes even more ineffective. Deception, something this coaching staff loathes, can only assist a young team. Still, assuming they return, we can expect more zone left, zone left, shuffle, punt.

This program has become Texas North - a team with tons of talent that typically underachieves. Only so much blame can be put on DeBord - blame has to be put on the man who hired him, Lloyd Carr. As terrible as DeBord is, there is a chance that Carr is worse. He refuses to change and with time, he has become more conservative and more indecisive. If Henne was okay to play, he should have started the game, helped Michigan open up a big lead, and rested the second half. Instead, Henne plays one series and is pulled for the rest of the half.

The last thing I have to say about all of this is that Lloyd Carr has never been a good head coach and it angers me people suggest that. Family friend suggested Carr was good early in his career as evidenced by his 10-0 start against Top 25 teams. While that may be true, Carr was aided with tons of talent. Before Michigan won the National Championship in 1997, Michigan had posted two consecutive 8-4 records. Carr has always employed the run, run, pass, punt formula. He's always relied on his defense even in seasons that the defense was not good. Most importantly, although Carr has one of the highest winning percentages of active coaches, he has pissed away countless games against lesser opponents. His teams have constantly underachieved. Now, he appears tired and so do his teams. His teams take on his personality, for better or for worse. Carr is a terrific representative of this program and a great recruiter. He should realize this and ride off into the sunset after this year.


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