Monday, November 19, 2007

I’m Not Supposed to Be Like This

But it's OK.

I listened to Green on Saturday morning and that line, wailed by Michael Stipe, was stuck in my head throughout the game on Saturday. Lloyd Carr's last game in Michigan Stadium was not supposed to be a record-setting show of offensive ineptitude, but it was and that's OK. I wasn't overly upset watching the game. For one thing, I've gotten painfully used to Ohio State being the better team, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. (More on that in a moment.) For another, the injuries that Michigan suffered did present a convenient excuse. A healthy Chad Henne would have made the game closer, although it would not have necessarily changed the result. And finally, knowing that this was Lloyd's last home game made the occasion sad, but it blunted my anger because there was no fear that he would respond to failure by retrenching and demanding greater execution in a completely predictable offensive scheme.

So how did Michigan end up being held below 100 yards of offensive on Saturday. The faux-scientific phrase I kept using to friends on the phone, my wife, and my 14-month old son was "multi-systemic breakdown." Typically, the message board discussion after the game was "it's because of this and not that!" No, it was this and that. The offense collapsed because of a variety of factors, mostly related to complete domination of the line of scrimmage. Why did that happen? I'm glad you asked:

1. If you're a college football fan with Internet access, then you have probably heard Michigan fans complain about strength and conditioning coach Mike Gittelson. I don't pretend to understand weight lifting. My approach at the gym is typically to see what weights are available for the muscle group I've randomly chosen for that day and then to do them in no particular order. That said, Michigan is employing a weight training approach using more machine exercises and fewer power cleans and squats. Michigan's approach has been rejected by every major program other than Penn State. Swirl that around in your mouth so the full bouquet of "we do it just like Penn State" flavor can wash over your palate. When John Beilein was hired as the basketball coach, he immediately created his own weight training program for the basketball team and wanted Gittelson to have no involvement.

As a result, Michigan's offensive linemen typically look like sickly beached whales being pushed around by the tide. This might seem like an odd criticism in a year in which Jake Long is going to be the first lineman drafted, but Long has been excellent since his freshman year. How much development did he really require? Michigan's S&C program didn't fail Long or Adam Kraus, but it does fail players who need more help.

One other thought on S&C: Michigan's one good drive on Saturday was accomplished using a no-huddle offense in the first quarter and then UM didn't use it again until the game was over. I'd prefer not to think that Michigan's coaches are that dense, so is it possible that they went away from the no-huddle because the offensive linemen did not have the stamina to perform without 25 seconds off between plays?

2. Michigan's offensive line coach is Andy Moeller. You may recognize that last name as being very similar to that of former Michigan coach Gary Moeller. That's because Gary is Andy's father. What will follow next won't surprise you in the least. Andy Moeller has been Michigan's offensive line coach since 2002 and Michigan has not had a complete offensive line in that period. Michigan has had a weak right side for three years running. How does that happen at a major program? Is it really that hard to find a decent right guard? Michigan linemen just don't seem to get better. Fundamentally, Lloyd Carr went out with a whimper because he's loyal to a fault and he kept his friend (Mike Debord) and another friend's son (Moeller) on staff in critical positions. It's usually good to be loyal, but in Lloyd's case, loyalty became cronyism.

The contrast between Michigan's coaching and Georgia's was quite evident as I flipped between the two games on Saturday. Georgia started the season with a brand new offensive line full of underclassmen that caused one idiot to proclaim them the most overrated team in the country. Michigan started the season with three seniors (including a top five pick) and two sophomores on the line. By November, Georgia is ripping off huge rushing performances and protecting Matt Stafford on a weekly basis while Michigan couldn't run the ball on Wisconsin's dreadful run defense or protect a gimpy Chad Henne from being pillaged. When Georgia had issues on the offensive line, they went out and hired Stacy Searels, the excellent offensive line coach at LSU. When Michigan had issues on the offensive line, they left the former head coach's son in charge. QED.

3. Steve Schilling, a five-star recruit from Washington State, was a good bet to start as a true freshman in 2006, but he contracted mono and had to be redshirted. Not surprisingly, he lost a good deal of weight when he had mono. He was then injured and missed spring practice. When you think of Vernon Gholston throwing him around like a rag doll on Saturday, keep that fact in mind. Michigan has done a poor job of developing offensive linemen over the past several years, which forced them to rely on Schilling so much, but I'd be lying if I did point out a luck factor involved.

4. Michigan's running scheme is totally predictable. The zone stretch play that was so successful in 2006 was useless in 2007, mainly because opponents figured out to slant their linemen on the plays and shoot into gaps to blow plays up. Northwestern completely shut down Michigan's running game in late September by taking this approach. Michigan being Michigan, little changed. Michigan occasionally had good rushing games because Mike Hart is five feet and nine inches of awesome, but when Hart's ankle went out against Purdue in the second quarter on his 21st carry of the game, the running game went kaput.

5. Ohio State's defense is very good. That's not an excuse for Michigan gaining fewer yards against OSU than any other Buckeye opponent all season, but I need to avoid the fan tendency to assume that my team controls its own fate. Ohio State is strong in every defensive position group, but maybe this shouldn't surprise us since the Bucks had a very good defense in 2006 and then returned nine starters. In retrospect, the "Ohio State is rebuilding" meme from this past summer was complete crap because it assumed that skill position players are the only important players on the field. Ohio State returned almost the entire defense, as well as three starters on the offensive line and an excellent running back. Should we have all thought that the Bucks would collapse simply because they had a new quarterback (and I hesitate to call Boeckman "new" since he's about 37 years old) and new receivers?

Overall, Saturday was an illustration as to why Jim Tressel has asserted control in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry: his teams are simply better on the lines. Michigan dominated prior to Tressel because Michigan almost always had better quarterbacks; Ohio State has dominated since then because Ohio State has better offensive lines. (Florida fans, please stop laughing uncontrollably. Let he who has not put on 40 pounds before a critical bowl game cast the first stone.) Ohio State had absolutely no passing threat whatsoever on Saturday, as Boeckman was spooked by the weather. Nevertheless, they won comfortably because they dominated Michigan on the line of scrimmage. Bo and Woody would have been proud.

(FYI: I feel bad being so negative on the day that Lloyd retires. For the record, I see Lloyd as a solid B+ coach and I'll have some nice things to say about him when I have a little distance from Saturday.)


susieandrew said...

the thing i never understood about andy moeller being the OL coach is that he played LB in college. ok, fine, so it's not like he knows nothing about the OL, being around football his entire life, but is there any disconnect there? you typically don't see guys play on one side of the ball and coach the other, do you? that just always seemed weird to me.

and please, gittleson out. please.

peacedog said...

Andrew, I think it happens (play on one side, coach on the other) more often than people realize, though I wouldn't call it common (I think what is common is to play one position, and then coach another on that side of the ball). Really, Moeller's performance speaks for itself. UGA had a defensive guy - Kirby Smart, who played DB and has coached it at numerous stops - coach the RBS for one year, but then Kirby left to join Saban in Miami (and then followed him to Alabama). It's probably not something you necessarily want a team to look to do.

Georgia is ever an interesting comparison. Last year, people were saying some of the same things about Richt being unwilling to change. But then he went and changes an assload and here we are. Calloway left on his own (many thanks to the Alabama state entity - run by Alabama alumni - who wouldn't let UAB hire Jimbo Fisher), but I suspect he may not have been long for the Georgia world.

Searels has been wonderful, doing more than I dared hope. Saturday was actually one of the OL's worst games in months - that was the most consistent pressure Stafford had in a while (and he played awful to boot), and Kentucky did a decent job against the run at times. UGA still managed to be productive, and would have blown the game open if not for Thomas Brown's second half fumble (an appaling play; brown not only had the ball on his inside shoudler while running to the right sideline on a gain of 8+ yards, but a guy on the grand managed to reach up and bat it out. That should never happen). The 4 turnovers and Stafford's inconsistency helped keep UK in the game, but that's a topic for another time.

Staff made big throws in the 2nd half, geting us several crucual 3rd down conversions, and he was generally unmolested on those plays . The line never plays poorly for longer than a half, a testament to the coaching IMO.

The Dawg-nation is pleased as punch by the whole thing.

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Anonymous said...

I heard a few reports the a Strength Coach at Georgia had similarily rejected Power Cleans and Squats. I heard this nearly three years ago.

The argument goes the some other exercises are nearly as good, require less ramp up time, and cause less injuries.

The argument is hogwash.

Anonymous said...

Last time I checked the University of Michigan did not have a n Olympic Weightlifting Team.

Anonymous said...

The argumentsabout the former strength coach @ UM are pitiful. Look at Mickey Marotti, the strength coach at Florida. Remember Florida? They have won 2 of the 3 last BCS title games. They use a program very similar to what Gittelson did at UM for 30 years. What might be the difference in the success of the two programs? Perhaps, athletes and coaching adjustments. The S & C program at any school is NOT the magic elixir to success, only a spoke in the wheel. How else do you explain UM going 3-9 with the new strength coach?