What the Deuce: What The Deuce? No Bread and Butter?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What The Deuce? No Bread and Butter?

There are two Michigan opponents that I always worry about - Ohio State and Michigan State. It doesn't matter how good Michigan is or how bad either of these teams are, I'm always going to worry. I even had a dream where Michigan lost 32-28 after a Chad Henne pass on the last play of the game fell incomplete. On Saturday when I sat down to watch the game, I said to the Editor "I'm really worried." She said, "I know, but why? Aren't you guys a lot better than them?" I explained to her that even though Michigan was better, they'd probably putz around allowing State to keep it close. Because the game was in East Lansing, something fluky would happen and Michigan would lose. And it almost did.

When she came back from running errands, she asked me what was going on. I told her that Michigan had fallen behind 24-14, come back to go up 28-24 and State was driving with about a minute and a half to go. She said, "Wow! You were right."

We all know how the game ended. Thankfully, Michigan won. I am ashamed to say that I doubted this team when it got the ball with a little over 7 minutes to go in the 4th. In fact, on the MGoBlog open thread, I wrote: "Whoo Hoo! 10 points in 7:40? Possible? I'm holding out hope." Just like I knew that Michigan would squander an early lead, I should have known the Wolverines would score in minimal time, giving them an opportunity to win the game. The defense did a terrific job getting the ball back and Manningham etched his name in Michigan history when he caught the game winning touchdown. Still, I am of two minds of this win.

Obviously, I'm elated about the win. Six straight wins over Michigan State and a big eff you to Dantonio afterwards. I'm impressed with the team's poise during the last three drives of the game (2 offensive and 1 defensive). I'm happy for Chad Henne, a guy who gets way too much blame and not enough credit. Henne played a great game even though he was playing with shoulder and knee injuries. He walked off an ankle injury, led the team to a score, which ultimately put them in a position to win the game. I will say this with all the confidence in the world: Michigan loses is Mallet was forced to finish the game. Hopefully, yesterday's performance, especially on the last two scoring drives, will change the minds of the anti-Henne crowd. Unfortunately, I doubt it will.

What infuriates me about yesterday's game - in fact, the whole season, save Purdue - is the offensive playcalling. Once again, during the Lloyd Carr era, talent trumped sub par coaching, especially on offense. What troubles me about wins like yesterday's is that people will point to this game as why Carr and his staff are good. "They pulled it out in the end." "They did what they had to do." "DeBord is undefeated when the defense gives up less than 30." I don't care and never will. It should have never come down to the last 2 drives. The game should have been out of reach at halftime.

Michigan has had one quality offensive performance this year - one. In ever other game, the offense has gone cold for long stretches or the playcalling has been overly conservative, which in turn allowed the opposition to stay close. Even last week against Minnesota, Michigan didn't pull away until after halftime.

I know DeBord supporters will say that Michigan's had to deal with injuries and I will gladly concede that point. Injuries are hard to overcome but they shouldn't cripple a team. I'll also concede that Mallet isn't ready, but I don't think he's been helped any by the coaching staff calling run-run-pass. No waggles, no short outs, no quick slats, no bubble screens. No nothing. No simple throws to build his confidence. To me, it doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, to me, the playcalling yesterday didn't make any sense. In fact, its made no sense to me all year. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I think what's killed Michigan this year is that there is no identity when it comes to the passing game. Until the last 2 weeks, the offense rarely stretched the field. Yesterday, for a period that extended from the middle of the second quarter to the fourth, it appeared like the only pass play Michigan ran was the streak to Manningham. No short passes. No intermediate passes. No nothing.

A commenter on the MGoBlog thread said the reason for this was the press coverage on the receivers with doubles on both Manningham and Arrington. I call shenanigans. I can't believe that MSU's linebackers and secondary improved so greatly in the last week where Michigan couldn't attack this defensive scheme. Assuming Michigan came out 3 wide and State countered with 5 DBs, Michigan would have the advantage. Somewhere there is a mismatch. If 2 DBs are occupied with Manningham and Arrington, that leaves 1 to cover Matthews or stay back and help. If he stays back and helps, the Matthews is on an LB. So, I'm supposed to believe that Michigan kept throwing deep, even when Manningham was supposedly doubled because Matthews couldn't beat a safety or LB one on one?

Look, I'll be the first to admit it was great to see Michigan try to stretch the field, but why not try something different when it wasn't working? In fact, it appeared as if the long developing routes ended up leading to more pressure on Henne. So instead of countering the pass rush with short and intermediate routes, DeBord tries to keep going deep when his QB has no time to throw? Brilliant!

I'll make one last point before ending this thing. I want to touch a little bit more on this offensive passing game identity thing. I think because Michigan doesn't run a consistent passing game plan from week to week, more pressure is put on the run to succeed. Even as a casual football watcher, I know that the passing game requires timing between the receivers and the quarterback. I just don't see that with Chad Henne and his receivers and I think its because there is no consistency in the playcalling as it relates to the pass.

What makes Tom Brady so successful is that there is a philosophy around New England's passing game. It's premised on Brady getting the ball to his playmakers and them racking up YAC. The deep ball is mixed in with this general philosophy giving defenses something else to worry about. I guess the best way to put this is that Michigan doesn't seem to have its bread and butter in the passing game. Until they do, I'm not going to expect this offense to hum like it should.


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