Rich Rodriguez's Spread Experiment Must Continue in Ann Arbor

Josh DittonCorrespondent INovember 1, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 11: Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Michigan Wolverines yells at an assistant coach during a game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 11, 2010 in South Bend, Indiana. Michigan defeated Notre Dame 28-24. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Oregon, Auburn, TCU, Boise State, Utah, Missouri, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Arkansas, South Carolina, Barlor, North Carolina State.

What do they have in common?

(1) They are ranked in the BCS


(2) They run a version of the spread offense

Perhaps even more telling is that the first five schools listed (Oregon, Auburn, TCU, Boise State, Utah) are No. 1 - No. 5 in the BCS.  That's right, the nation's top 5 teams run offenses that Michigan is currently implementing.

In 2008, Michigan ranked 109th, 100th, 111th, 108th, and 59th in FBS in yards/game, PPG, First Downs, Passing yards/game, and rushing yards/game, repsectively.

In 2009, Michigan ranked 59th, 41st, 77th, 81st, and 39th in the same categories.

Currently (2010), Michigan ranks 4th, 19th, 27th , 43rd, 8th in the same categories.

In fact, Michigan is averaging an astounding 241.2 more yards/game, 15.4 more PPG, completing 21% more of their passes, rushing 137.6 more yards/game, and passing for 96 more yards/game in 2010 than in 2008 (Rich Rod's first year).

I would say tacking on nearly 250 yards/game more of offense in 3 years is significant improvement.

I've even made a chart, just because this improvement is so legitimate that can be found here.

The chart shows that Michigan has gone from ~300 yards/game in 2008 to ~533 yards/game in 2010.  Alright, the offense is managing to put up 241.2 more yards/game now as compared to 2008.

This statistic should be mind-blowing, but to make it even better, consider that Rich Rodriguez's first recruiting class is only at there true sophomore year.  That's right folks!  Rich Rod's first full recruiting class at Michigan are still all underclassmen.

That's all fine and dandy, but what about the defense..

Alright, at this point there are simply no excuses for our defense to be playing this poorly, except youth.  Even in youth, you'd expect to see improvement week-to-week or at least from game one to game eight.  That doesn't appear to be the case, and while our defensive youth is a glaring problem (more on that in a minute), there does come a point where coaching becomes an issue. 

It seems our defense cannot do anything right; they can't cover, can't tackle, can't blitz, can't get any pressure on a 3rd string walk-on QB, etc.  Some of those things are coaching issues.  Perhaps you should look to fire Greg Robinson if you want someone gone badly. 

Illinois was considering canning Ron Zook after last year, but instead shifted up the coaching beneath him quite a bit and look at the results!  From being predicted to finish last in the Big Ten to being 5-3, with the only losses coming from opponents ranked in the Top 15.  They played Ohio State, Michigan State, and Missouri close.  In fact, Illinois is the second-biggest surprise (behind Michigan State) in the Big Ten this season.

Who's to say a similar plan wouldn't work for Michigan?

Consider also that Michigan's defense is seeing 45% contribution from upperclassmen and 55% from underclassmen.  Compare that to Ohio State (#1 defense in the league), who gets 70% contribution from their upperclassmen and only 30% from their underclassmen.  Further, Michigan has more of the lower end of the underclassmen (i.e. more freshman than sophomores), and Ohio State has more of the upper end (i.e. more sophomores than freshman).

So yes, there is a youth issue there.

Further, if you want to blame it on poor recruiting... Blame Carr.
Carr's last class came in 2007, it was rated #12 in the nation, and it's clear that this was undeservedly high.

QB: Ryan Mallet.  He's doing just fine (at Arkansas).

RB: Vince Helmuth.  He transferred to Miami (OH) and has no statistics recorded. Avery Horn left Michigan to play at Reedley CC in California.  He's not there this year, and he isn't anywhere else either.

WR: Junior Hemmingway is a starter for Michigan.  Zion Babb went to JUCO after not making it into Colorado, and Tony Clemens made it to CU (he's there 2nd best receiver stats-wise).

OL: David Molk is spectacular, 4-year starter.  Mark Hugye is backing up.

TE: Martell Webb is a co-starter with Kevin Koger.  He's contributed, but isn't a star.

DL: Ryan Van Bergen does well in the Big Ten, Renaldo Segasse is a backup, and Steve Watson moved from TE to DE and isn't doing much for the team in terms of game-time production.

LB: Austin Panter is out of eligibility, Marell Evans transferred to 1-AA, Brandon Herron is Craig Roh's backup when healthy.

DB: James Rogers starts but is no good.  Donovan Warren left for the NFL (very, very unwise decision).  Michael Williams is way down the depth chart (looking for a medical redshirt from concussions as well).  Artis Chambers transferred to Ball State but could not be found on their roster.  Troy Woolkfolk injured his ankle and is out this season.

So, only Clemens and Mallet contribute to a Div 1-A team, and Hemmingway, Molk, Warren, and Woolfolk are the only really stand-out members of that recruiting class. 6 out of 20 players turned out to be very helpful to Michigan.  Read:  This is a bad recruiting class.

Then, in 2008, the class was split by Rich Rod and Lloyd Carr

Rich Rod's Recruits:

QB: Justin Feagin.  Got into trouble, he's gone.

RB: Michael Shaw is the starting tailback, when healthy.

WR: Terrence Robinson occasionally contributes.  Martavious Odoms and Roy Roundtree do very well when they stay healthy.

OL: Patrick Omameh starts as a RS sophomore.  Ricky Barnum is a backup, likely a 2-year starter.

LB: Taylor Hill transferred to Youngstown State only 2 weeks after getting here.  However, he is doing well there.

Six of eight guys are hanging around, 5 look to be the "good" players we're looking for (although Barnum could get up to that "good" status when he moves up the depth chart).

Lloyd Carr's Recruits:

RB: Mike Cox is 4th string behind healthy/younger players.  Sam McGuffie was promising, but got concussed every time he touched the ball.

WR: Darryl Stonum is a starter and occasional favorite target for Denard.

TE: Kevin Coger splits time with Webb, Brandon Moore is on the team but hasn't seen any significant playing time.

OL: Dann O'neill transferred to WMU where he starts.  Kurt Wermers transferred to Ball State after failing out of the university and spitting venom at Rich Rodriguez about bringing in players who "weren't his kind of crowd". Rocko Khoury is Molk's backup, played a bit against Iowa.  Elliot Mealer looks like a career backup.

LB: Marcus Witherspoon never enrolled as he didn't get through the NCAA clearinghouse.  Kenny Demens just got his first career start and is looking like an upgrade from Ezeh.  JB Fitzgerald is pretty far down on the depth chart.

DB: Brandon Smith was too slow to be a back, didn't want to play line, transferred, and washed out.  Boubacar Cissoko was suspended then eventually kicked off the team and his life has gone out of control.  JT Floyd is in the starting lineup, but not because he's good, we're just that desperate.

Ten of sixteen guys are still around.  Stonum, Koger, and Odoms are the obvious successes.  Demens and Floyd contribute.  Cox, Moore, Fitzgerald, Mealer, and Khoury are likely career backups or may see some time their senior year and be so-so.

Rich Rod salvaged the 2008 recruiting class with plenty of great late-additions.  He's responsible for 5 of the top 10 guys in the class (Omameh, Roundtree, Odoms, Shaw, and Barnum).  That leaves Carr responsible for the other 5 -- however, Rich Rod's recruits made up 4 of the top 5 recruits for Michigan in 2008. 

The only attrition that has significantly hurt us is Warren's early entry into the NFL.  Only Cissoko might (I stress might) be competing right now, if he were on the team.

What to expect?

Well, Rich Rod landed stellar recruits at QB and OL, but has had much less success on the defensive side of the ball (the latest DB class was horrendous, with Emilien, Turner, Witty gone and Jones at LB).  That's not to say he hasn't tried, but he's faced tremendous hurdles (read:  Demar Dorsey should've been at U-M and would be a huge contribution).

If Rich Rodriguez focuses this class on some good defensive talent (which he is, off to a good start with some LBs and backs), then expect things to get better.  I suppose that might be a hollow statement, as they could certainly not get any worse, but when 5 true freshman are seeing significant playing time (check out the defensive backs), it's hard to be extremely successful.

Imagine -- however unlikely it is -- that these 5 freshman make the quantum leap that superstar Denard Robinson has made between their freshman and sophomore years, but this time on defense.  The defense would be nearly unstoppable.

Perhaps they don't all make that leap, but they all do get more mature, and another year to get the fundamentals down.  If the defense can take half the stride that the offense took between 2009 and 2010 (except this time between 2010 and 2011), then good, and I mean very good things will be happening to this football team.

And, as previously mentioned, Rich Rod's first full class is only true sophomores!  They haven't even reached the height of their career yet! 

Calm down, let the rest of the season play out, and we'll move on.  I predicted 7-5 at the beginning of the year with losses to MSU, Iowa, and PSU, and that's where we are right now.  Admittedly, it gets tougher with Illinois being better-than-expected, but 2010 is setting the stage for a 2011 to remember.

Finally, consider under Rodriguez and Casteel that West Virginia’s defense went from 62nd in total and 109th in pass defense in 2006 to seventh in total and 14th in pass defense in 2007.  While it's highly unlikely that Michigan makes that leap, the defense will be improved simply because we'll have 5 sophomores instead of 5 freshmen.  Combine a (hopefully) average defense with an offense that will be more explosive next year, and you have... Michigan, next year's Oregon.

I know patience sucks, but it is a virtue.


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