Ever sine Rich Rodriguez stepped onto the University of Michigan campus, he has talked about playing fast. He wanted his players to be faster, to get to the ball quicker, to hurry to the line of scrimmage faster than the other guys.
The idea behind “playing fast” is to wear the other team’s defense down, so that come the fourth quarter his team is the stronger one, running away from the opposition.
In theory, it makes perfect sense. Be the better-conditioned team and run the other team silly for three quarters chasing you, and then break through in the fourth.
However, Rich plays a very risky game with his hurry-up offense. If your offense can move the ball, the concept is going to work—but if your offense can’t muster first downs, you put your defense on the field and the concept works against you, wearing out your own defense.
If you have watched a Wolverine football game this year, you know the offense struggles to get back to the line of scrimmage, let alone make a first down.
Most of the time a Michigan possession will look something like this: first down, a sweep to the right for no gain; second down, a run up the middle for two yards; third down, an incompletion results in a punt. All this takes about 45 seconds off the clock as Michigan hurries to the line after each down.
The defense can hold up for the first half, but come the second, and especially the fourth quarter, they are the ones getting blown off the line of scrimmage and out of gas.
In eight games thus far, the defense has been on the field for 35:54, 35:13, 27:48, 36:04, 33:06, 33:08, 30:19, and 35:18. The defense is averaging 10 more minutes per game than the opposition, and you can see it each and every week.
What should be done? It is clear that Rich does not have the type of players in place to run the type of offense he wants. Well, he can run it, but he cannot run it effectively.
So scrap the "hurry-up" part of the offense.
Take advantage of the 40-second clock and shorten the games. Run the ball but eat up some of that play clock, break the huddle later, and slow things down. You may not produce more first downs, but you at least give your defense a chance to catch their breath.
Will this result in more wins? Probably not. You can’t look at the Illinois or Penn State games and say it would have made a difference.
However, what about Michigan State? The defense was gassed by the fourth quarter, and Ringer ran it right down their throats. Perhaps if the Michigan offense would have slowed things down a bit instead of being down 14 at the end, the defense could hold and Michigan is only down seven with a chance to tie.
Does the lack of time of possession absolve the defense from all their problems? Not by a long shot, but that is a topic for another article. However, in the remaining four games the offense has to help the defense out if Michigan has any chance of winning another game—and the place to start might just be time of possession.