It’s unlikely Josh Gattis ever tried to envision what his first in-season press conference as Michigan’s offensive coordinator would look like because, frankly, he has better things to do. But if he did, he probably didn’t picture reporters trying their best to play Operation, guessing at potential issues to try and find an answer for why his offense hasn’t worked.
But the Wolverines enter their bye week with no topic of greater importance. They will likely spend the 11 days before a trip to Wisconsin doing the same thing — watching, diagnosing, fixing. If they don’t, their season will hang in the balance sooner rather than later.
Through two games, senior quarterback Shea Patterson is averaging 7.1 yards per passing attempt, down from 8.0 last year. Michigan’s run game is averaging 3.8 yards per attempt, down from 4.8 last year. Those two games came against Middle Tennessee State and Army, and to put it kindly, neither defense is representative of what Michigan will see in Madison, or throughout the Big Ten season.
To hear Gattis, and Michigan’s players, tell it, the problem lies in self-inflicted errors. The system is working, but the execution is not yet there.
“When you look at it over the past two games, we got seven turnovers, we got seven fumbles, we have 10 penalties and then we also have seven drops,” Gattis said. “And so, you go back and you look at all those plays in critical situations, they’re killing us now.
“There’s been a lot of positives over the past few games. We’ve ran 160 plays, we’ve had 17 explosives and we’ve had a number of different other explosive opportunities that we’ve just missed, whether it’s overthrown balls, dropped balls, guys wide open to create some big opportunities. We’ve missed about six of those. We just gotta get our timing down in every phase and every asset of our operation in offense.”
There’s truth in this — the conversation would be different if Michigan hadn’t lost five fumbles in two games. There’s no inherent correlation between a spread offense and a lack of ball security. Ditto for penalties and drops. It’s not the whole picture though.
When an offense predicated on forcing players into conflict — be it on zone reads or run-pass options — becomes predictable, the ball getting handed off 37 times and the quarterback rarely keeping the ball on options, it won’t work.
“Everything that we do has some level of read, whether it’s an RPO read or quarterback read run,” Gattis said, and if that’s true, the Wolverines don’t seem to be taking advantage.
Maybe that has to do with Patterson’s oblique injury, which Gattis said has been an issue in both games. But the offensive coordinator also seemed to believe it had little effect on his quarterback’s play. The reads are more complex than they seem, he said, particularly against a team that might be playing defenders wide up the field, cutting off a potential run by the quarterback.
“He made some good decisions in there,” Gattis said. “There were some decisions, obviously, that you wish you could have back, but you gotta continue to correct those decisions and get better from them.”
Gattis’ message — fix the obvious errors and everything else will fall into place — holds true. Center Cesar Ruiz searched around for the right phrasing to describe the struggles and never quite found it. “I wouldn’t call them growing pains,” he said, “but there’s some things we got to — some things, we understand the offense. We understand everything. … Every game’s not going to be perfect.”
Right now, mistakes or not, the Wolverines must find a way to run the offense as Gattis described it in the spring. Option-heavy, fast, keeping defenses off-balance and above all, modern.
“Obviously is there areas and room for growth? Yes,” Gattis said. “Like I said, the mistakes and everything. But I think ultimately, it’s my job to put them in a position to be successful.”