In all six games of 2020, the Michigan football team failed to score on its opening drive. Not even a field goal. Each time, its opponent marched down the field and scored a touchdown before the Wolverines got on the board.
“Even in the games where we had success, we didn’t have opening drive success,” offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said. “We’ve gotta do a better job going out and establishing better success on the first drive.”
Over the course of his 27-minute Zoom press conference Wednesday, Gattis named several other areas he’s targeting to fix on an offense that broke down across the board in a demoralizing 2-4 season last fall. Above all was what he dubbed “complementary football”: an emphasis on making sure all aspects of the game work in tandem.
One example Gattis used was that Michigan was third in the Big Ten in yards per play but constantly struggled to stay on the field on third down. On average, Michigan faced eight third-and-long situations per game. Yards per play only means so much when you’re constantly in situations where you need a big play to stay alive.
“Third down, I know it’s the money down, but first and second downs, a lot of first downs are gained there,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said after the loss to Indiana in November.
In Gattis’s vision of complementary football, more success on first and second down would combine with good short-yardage game plans to keep the offense on the field without necessarily requiring big plays every third down.
Thus, Gattis has been trying to instill a more physical mentality to help with short yardage — an area in which the Wolverines excelled in 2019 but struggled in 2020. On the mental side, Gattis has been attempting to instill a greater attention to detail, especially with a team whose offense last year primarily consisted of underclassmen.
“Nobody’s pleased with the performance we had last year,” Gattis said. “Like I said, there was positives, there was negatives, but no one’s pleased. It’s not our expectations, it’s not anything that we’re gonna accept. But we’ve gotta go out and earn it. We don’t just get a pass because we wear this winged helmet. No one’s just gonna roll over and say, ‘They’re Michigan,’ and I think we learned that the hard way.”
Gattis also heads an offensive staff this year that has two new faces in running backs coach Mike Hart and quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss, as well as new position titles for the returning coaches. Additionally, Sherrone Moore, formerly the tight ends coach, has moved over to the offensive line and become Gattis’s co-offensive coordinator.
The staff shakeup has taken some of the work off Gattis’s shoulders and allowed him to get a fresh perspective on what he could be doing better.
“(Weiss’s) background is, he’s obviously a very smart coach, he’s been around a lot of different systems, he’s done some things analytically, been around — obviously they were really productive in the quarterback run game area at Baltimore so there’s some elements of just experience alone, just being in there,” Gattis said.
“One of the things that he’s done … is cleaning up the quarterback/running back mesh and some little things like that that oftentimes go unnoticed, but with his experience at the running back position and obviously seeing some of the different ball-handling quarterbacks have had, just to put his finger on that and have a different style and really lay out the touch.”
There’s not one magic fix for what ailed Michigan’s offense last season. With a new staff in place, it remains to be seen if the Wolverines can turn things around.
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