Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Michigan Football Preview - Offense

Last year was a trying year (to say the least) for Michigan football fans. Among the litany of problems: horrible QB play, young offensive line, turnovers, confusion with the new system, poor tackling, bad pursuit angles, etc. Believe me, I could go on. And on. Anyway, 2009 is a new year, and with it comes renewed optimism. Last year I predicted a 9-3 season. I was correct with the numbers, but I had them in the wrong order. My prediction for this year will come later.

Since writer/director John Hughes passed away recently, I thought I'd use some quotes from some of his best films to help me preview this year's Michigan Wolverine football team. Today, the offense:

"Sixteen Candles"
Samantha: This is Farmer Fred.
The Geek: Ted.
Samantha: Oh, I'm sorry, Farmer Ted.
The Geek: I'm not really a farmer. I'm a freshman.

Barring injuries, the QB position will most likely be manned by two freshmen this season - Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. Since he enrolled in January, Forcier will probably start the season as the QB, but expect Robinson to see plenty of snaps in running situations. There is no way, even though they are freshmen, that these two will not be able to be better than last year's tandem of Sheridan and Threet, who were historically awful. The final numbers for the Michigan QBs last year: 165-for-338 (49%) with 12 INTs and 11 TDs. I expect a much higher completion percentage on fewer passes this year (180-for-300). And I also expect a lot more than the 345 yards rushing from the QB position (maybe 600 yards). While I wouldn't exactly say that QB will be a position of strength this season, I also think that it won't be a glaring weakness.

"Sixteen Candles"
The Geek: Relax, would you? We have seventy dollars and a pair of girls underpants. We're safe as kittens.

The Michigan stable of running backs is pretty stacked this year. The only significant loss from last year is Sam McGuffie, who after a promising start to last year was laid out by a concussion and was never the same in the second half of the season. He transferred to Rice shortly after the season ended. Returning are seniors Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown (and I almost forgot Kevin Grady). I suspect that Minor will see the majority of the carries, but Brown has shown flashes of greatness when he's been able to stay healthy. Grady will probably continue to be the short yardage battering ram. Also returning is sophomore Mike Shaw, who had some great runs last year, and RS freshman Mike Cox. In addition, there are several freshman who could make some waves as well (notable nano-bots Vincent Smith and Fitzgerald Toussaint). Much like last year, I feel that running back should be a position of strength and depth.

"National Lampoon's Vacation"
Clark Griswold: O God, ease our suffering in this, our moment of great despair. Yea, admit this kind and decent woman into thy arms of thine heavenly area, up there. And Moab, he lay us upon the band of the Canaanites, and yea, though the Hindus speak of karma, I implore you: give her a break.

The offensive line situation at the start of the 2008 season could best be described as "desperate." There was only one returning starter (Steve Schilling), and one of the guards (Tim McAvoy) was so bad that he was replaced part way thru the season by a former defensive tackle (John Ferrara). Many times during the first half of the season, McGuffie and the QBs were treated like tackling dummies. However, the line seemed to gel a bit in the second half of the year and it began to open some holes for Brandon Minor. The line went from cover-your-eyes-awful to competent. This season, I expect the line to make another leap forward from competent to good. The linemen have one more year in the spread system, and there is much better depth than last year. This year's line will return last year's starters Schilling, Molk, Ortmann, Moosman, Ferrara, Dorrestein, and some these guys may be replaced by RS sophomore Huyge or RS freshmen Omameh, Khoury, and Barnum. So unlike last year, there is depth and more talent and experience. Along with QB, this will be the most improved unit on the offense.

"Sixteen Candles"
The Geek: Yeah, but the thing is, I'm kinda like the leader. Kinda like the king of the dipshits.
Samantha: Well, that's pretty cool. Hey, but a lot can happen over a year. I mean, you could come back next fall as a completely normal person.

The wide receivers/slot receivers were a perplexing bunch last year. There seemed to be a lot of talent, but it was hard to get a feel for how good they were when they were constantly being thrown uncatchable balls. When the Wolverines ran the bubble screen last year, it worked when the throws were on the mark - which was rare. That is a pass, more than just about any other, that has to be thrown to the receiver in stride so that he can continue upfield. It's essentially a long handoff, and our QBs were not good at it last year. Henne used to throw that pass perfectly all the time to Breaston, Manningham, etc. This is coming off as QB-bashing in the WR section of the preview, but the point of this is that it was hard to tell how good the WRs were last year when the throws to them were so bad. This year, all the receivers return, and new ones are arriving. I wish I could say with confidence that the receivers are going to be great and no on will ever fumble again, but until we see how they perform when passes hit them where they are designed to, it will be a mystery. I am optimistic that Forcier/Robinson will be much more accurate than Sheridan/Threet, so I expect better things from the receivers, but who knows. At WR, Mathews is a steady and dependable guy, and I expect big things from Stonum and Hemingway. At SR, Odoms showed flashes of brilliance (but he fumbled too much), and the incoming guys could be very exciting (Teric Jones, Jeremy Gallon, Roy Roundtree, Terrence Robinson). It would be great if Kelvin Grady (former M Hoops player and Kevin's bro) could add something to the offense as well.

"The Breakfast Club"
John Bender: So it's sorta social, demented and sad, but social. Right?

The tight end and fullback spots are an enigma in the spread offense. At WVU, RR used his fullback (Owen Schmitt) a lot, but that's because he was good. I'm not sure if Moundros is that good. The TE is another strange position in the spread. They could use the TE in the slot against a little 5'-8" CB and have a significant mismatch, as all the Michigan TEs are 6'-4" taller. I don't expect the Michigan TEs to have more than 25 catches between them, but I'll betcha they'll have 5 or more TDs.

"Planes, Trains, and Automobiles"
Neal: As much fun as I've had on this little journey, I'm sure one day I'll look back on it and laugh.
Del: [giggles] Are you sure?
Neal: [starts chuckling] Oh God. I'm laughing already

Next year at this time, we'll all be wondering what all the angst and hand-wringing was all about. It may take a couple games to get the freshmen all on the same page as the upperclassmen, but by midseason the offense will be running like a well-oiled machine. Personally, I think this offense is the NCAA offense of the present and the future. It's malleable enough that the mix of running and passing can be tailored to fit the strengths of the team. This year's strength will be the running game. I expect that we'll see around 65-70% running plays, and the team will rush for well over 2000 yards. The strength of the running game will open up passing lanes and make it easier to complete short passes to the talented but unproven slot receivers. By the end of the year, OSU will be very worried about how to stop the Wolverine attack.

Next time: Defense

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