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What are the difficulties in adjusting to the spread offense?
Everybody talks about how hard it is for a quarterback to adjust to Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez’s spread offense, but that’s not the biggest concern on offense. The biggest concern is the offensive line. There are four new starters this year. More than any other position, experience is a huge factor in the development of offensive linemen.
As we’ve seen this year, a running back can come in and make an instant impact. But I’ve never heard of a freshman phenom offensive lineman. It takes time. There is a huge difference between high school and college, and linemen need time to adjust.
It’s common sense, but without a decent line in front of him, the quarterback won’t have time to pass and the running back won’t have room to run.
Now that it’s the Big Ten season, how important is it to have one quarterback?
First off, though coaches often say otherwise, it’s important for the offense to know who the quarterback is. It allows the unit to get in a rhythm. And if the quarterback changes with each drive, it makes it more difficult for the offense to establish a rhythm. And neither redshirt freshman Steven Threet nor redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan offers a drastically different talent set. So there isn’t much of a need to put both of them in the game.
After following college football for years and researching this question, I can think of just a few instances in which the platoon quarterback system worked. And even those cases were rare, because both quarterbacks were extremely talented. There was Wally Wooham and Jimmy Jordan at Florida State in 1979, Joe Germaine and Stanley Jackson at Ohio State in 1997 and Chris Leak and Tim Tebow at Florida in 2006. I wouldn’t put Threet and Sheridan in the same category.
How surprised are you that Ohio State true freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor already has the starting job?
Not very surprised. Considering how much Todd Boeckman (and the rest of the team) struggled at Southern Cal, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel needed to make a change.
With incoming quarterback recruits Shavodrick Beaver and Tate Forcier, do you think Threet and Sheridan will be competing for No. 2 next year?
Next year, I see a situation similar to this year, when Rodriguez refused to name a starting quarterback until just before the season. Threet and Sheridan will be involved in the competition, and because of his experience in the spread, I think Threet will be the starter, at least at the beginning of next season, until the freshmen quarterbacks adjust. Justin Feagin showed how difficult it can be a for a true freshman to start in the spread offense.
How good is Sam McGuffie going to be?
He tore up Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame’s defenses, but those teams are unranked. We will know a lot more this weekend when he faces No. 9 Wisconsin.
If McGuffie continues producing, what happens with junior Brandon Minor, redshirt junior Kevin Grady, junior Carlos Brown and true freshman Michael Shaw?
Every week, Rodriguez has insisted that the only thing holding Minor, Brown and Shaw back from getting more carries is injuries. The coaching staff says that if a player can’t practice during the week, he won’t play as much. And because McGuffie has been the only back who hasn’t missed practice because of and injury at some point, he has gotten more reps. As these other backs get healthier, McGuffie should continue to get the most carries, but the workload will get spread out a bit more.
Last week, Rodriguez said Brown started working more in the slot, which is something he wants all of his running backs to do.
Shaw received quite a bit of hype during fall camp and showed some of his potential at the beginning of the season, but a groin injury limited his touches against Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame. If healthy, Shaw would probably be the No. 2 back behind McGuffie.
Grady was suspended for the season opener, after he pled guilty to driving while intoxicated in the offseason. He offers a change of pace from the other backs because he runs between the tackles. As his touchdown run against Notre Dame showed, Grady is not afraid to lower his shoulder and drag a tackler with him.
Since Steve Breaston graduated two years ago, Michigan’s return game hasn’t been a factor. Do you see anybody on this roster changing that?
Freshman Boubacar Cissoko might not have Breaston’s moves, but he has already displayed the speed and shiftiness needed to give Michigan some decent field position. Shaw also has the potential to do this. But as they both showed in the first quarter at Notre Dame when they both dropped kickoffs, they are still freshmen and prone to making some freshman mistakes.
On punts, Rodriguez has said that sophomore cornerback Donovan Warren is a few feet from breaking a touchdown return. Maybe so, but Warren should also work on calling fair catches. Sooner or later, he’s bound to lose the ball by choosing to return it when he shouldn’t.
At this point, I wouldn’t worry as much about the returners breaking the long runs as I would about them holding onto the ball.
Will Michigan make a bowl?
The Wolverines need at least six wins, and maybe seven, to make a bowl. Before the season, I thought that despite all the transition, the 33-year bowl streak was almost sure to continue. But after losing two winnable games, Michigan’s bowl hopes have slipped a bit, especially with both Minnesota and Northwestern within two wins of bowl eligibility. As long as Michigan beats Toledo, it will still have to win four Big Ten games. However, the dramatic offensive improvement between Miami (Ohio) and Notre Dame suggests this team could win at least five more games this season.