Ed. note: It's going to be a relatively slow week on the site this week. I have family in town and this game was never in doubt. Chances are there will only be one post a day this week. Some might come later than usual.
A lot has been made of Denard's regression in the passing game this year without many answers. His accuracy has always been a problem, but more disturbingly, Denard makes poor decisions, often throwing deep into double coverage. Jump balls have become a staple of the offense but they haven't been a particularly reliable option. One jump ball that Denard threw against San Diego State illustrates why his passing numbers may be so poor this season.
It's midway through the first quarter and Michigan just forced the first of Ronnie Hillman's fumbles. The offense comes out in a shotgun, three-wide, two-back set. The defense is in a 3-4 front wth man coverage.
On the snap, the defense rushes five with a stunt on the defensive line. Denard has man coverage on all the receivers with one "deep" safety (who is only six yards from the line of scrimmage).
A moment later, Denard has locked onto Roy Roundtree on the outside. My impression is that the coaches told Denard to take shots down the field. He was likely told that whenever he has one-on-one man coverage on the outside without safety help, that he should throw it up to that receiver. Here, Roundtree has single coverage on a fly route. On the other side of the field, Drew Dileo and Junior Hemingway are bother going to run hitch routes; Denard will never see these.
Hemingway and Dileo are breaking off their routes. The closest defender to either of them is five yards away. Roundtree, meanwhile, was jammed at the line of scrimmage and being pushed to the outside. Denard is about to throw to Roundtree who still hasn't beaten his defender.
As Denard lets the ball go, Roundtree is still below his defender. In addition, SDSU's safety is breaking on the pass, though he's too far from Roundtree to be a factor. Dileo and Hemingway are wide open.
This is a fundamental difference between Al Borges' and Rich Rodriguez's offense. In Rodriguez's option offense, the focus was always to pick up yards and stay ahead of the down and distance. Any time they did take a shot downfield, it was the QB Oh Noes that were wide open. In this pro style offense, the coaching staff expects Michigan's players to simply out perform the defense, rather than keeping them guessing with simple routes and reads that would produce 5-6 yard gains and possible yards after catch*.
There's nothing wrong with this style of offense if you have the players to do it (the Chad Hennes and Braylon Edwards of the world). Michigan. however, is loaded with players that aren't necessarily able to out perform their counterparts, rather, they're able to make something out of nothing. Denard needs to recognize the cushion that the weakside defenders are giving Dileo and Hemingway and pass on the single coverage against Roundtree, who isn't much of a leaper.
I'd have to go back and look at the other ill-advised jump balls that Denard has thrown this season, but this seems like it's probably indicative of the problem: Denard making up his mind before the ball is snapped and throwing even when his receiver can't get free. It'll be crucial for Denard to be more judicious in these situations if the team is going to sustain drives and if Denard is going to keep his numbers up.
*It would be difficult to track, but I would bet that a significantly higher percentage of Denard's passing yards last year came after the catch. This season, when he completes passes, they seem to be further downfield. This probably also explains his lower completion percentage.