Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Just put points on the board"

It's nearly blasphemy to criticize the Michigan offense this year. By all accounts, it's one of the most prolific in the country. But there's one area in which it fails miserably: getting up by more than one score. I don't know if it's a play calling/coaching issue, an opponent's will to live, or just bad timing, but repeatedly this year, I've found myself saying, "Now just put points on the board" only to see a punt or turnover.

I went back through Michigan's games this year and, excluding the two blowouts (UConn and Bowling Green) tabulated how many attempts Michigan had to take a two-score lead, how many times they succeeded, and the game time that Michigan held a lead of 8+ points. The results are terrifying:

Opponent Attempts Success Game time with 2-score lead
Notre Dame 10 1 4:09
Umass 1 1 25:24
Indiana 5 0 0
MSU 1 0 0
Iowa 1 0 0
Penn State 0 0 0
Illinois 4 0 0
Totals 22 2 29:33

The most egregious example in the chart is the Notre Dame game, where Michigan had countless chances to put some distance between them and the Irish but failed to do so time and again. Some of these instances were the function of turnovers: against Indiana, Denard fumbled at the one yard line, and the Illinois game saw Denard throw an INT on the first play of one such drive, as well as a fumbled kickoff. Just as bothersome, however, is that in every game aside from Penn State--even Michigan's other two losses--Michigan had a lead, forced a defensive stop, and then had the ball with an opportunity to put more points on the board and almost always failed to do so.

There's something a little more revealing though: You can probably blame the three losses pretty heavily on the defense. Through two games, Michigan was only afforded the chance to go up by 8+ points twice, which means the defense was completely unable to stop the opposing offense. But the 0/4 and 0/5 efforts against Illinois and Indiana, respectively, paint the picture of a team forcing defensive stops but an offense that seems to slow down when they have the chance to put their foot on another team's throat. So the games become either a direct back and forth or a game of catch-up for the offense.

I think part of the blame here has to fall on Rodriguez. When Michigan has a chance to go up by two scores, playcalling immediately becomes QB sneak, QB sneak, pass. Rodriguez looks like he's trying to play ball control and run out the clock without actually having the comfort zone to do so (not unlike 3rd and short situations where Rodriguez goes into the I-formation). Other times, like against Illinois, it's just bad timing (Denard's second INT and the kickoff return fumble accounted for two of the four missed opportunities). Regardless, Michigan's offense looks to stall when it should really kick into gear.

For what it's worth, against UConn and Bowling Green, the offense was given one chance to go up by two scores, did so, and never looked back. But against everyone else (seven games), Michigan has only been up by 8+ points for 29:33. Part of that is Michigan's defensive woes, but even that doesn't explain the woeful 2/22 success rate. For a team that scores as often and as much as Michigan does, this stat is simply mind boggling. Not only will getting up 8+ points give a little breathing room for the offense, it'll help the defense by forcing opponents to get out of their gameplan. Whether or not that will translate to more wins is yet to be seen, but if Michigan is going to have any chance going forward, they're going to have to capitalize on opportunities like these.


Nick said...

"Rodriguez looks like he's trying to play ball control and run out the clock without actually having the comfort zone to do so"

...and this is what I was hoping to get away from when Carr retired.

Anonymous said...

Great article. You hint at the possibility (I think) that the O's inability to put up more than a 1 TD lead is a product of the D's predictable awfulness. I truly believe that the pressure on young Denard and co. is taking its toll. These guys KNOW they must score on every drive and they are forcing things - like the repeated throwing to double-covered deep receivers when the TE in the flat was wide open. Just imagine how awesome this O would be with a minimally competent D. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

@Nick - DUDE! Exactly. Carr (great guy but annoyingly conservative play caller) drove us bat$hit on that.

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