Shotgun formations. Wide receiver screens. Four- and five-receiver sets.

Sounds like this year’s Michigan offense, right?

Not exactly. That’s how Michigan came out in the Capital One Bowl against Florida on New Year’s Day, for former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr’s last game.

In the month between the Ohio State and Florida games, Michigan installed a version of the spread offense that played to the strengths of its skill players and took advantage of the Gators’ inexperienced defense.

The veteran Michigan squad had been accustomed to a pro-style offense and surprised the college football world by changing offenses. On the first drive, the ABC commentator compared it with the spread offense Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez would implement.

Against Toledo, Michigan fell victim to a similar type of offensive adjustment.

With rollouts, two-tight-end sets and quick screens to the outside, Toledo essentially took Michigan’s defensive line out of the game.

The Wolverines had practiced all week to face a different style of offense, senior nose tackle Terrance Taylor said. And the Rockets surprised them.

Toledo coach Tom Amstutz adjusted his offensive scheme to play to the defense’s weakness — open-field tackling and linebacker speed.

The Wolverines have adjusted offensive schemes in the past and have learned how it feels when it happens to them. So why can’t they make similar changes?

It’s something Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said he would do.

“I think we have the ability to adapt our schemes to our personnel,” Rodriguez said when he was hired in December.

The problem is that Michigan doesn’t have the players it had when Rodriguez accepted the job. And the remaining talent would have trouble adjusting to any offensive system, whether it be the spread or a pro-set. The Wolverines have nine new starters on offense.

When Rodriguez was hired, cannon-toting Ryan Mallett was projected to be the starting quarterback. He didn’t have the mobility Rodriguez looks for in a spread quarterback. But he could have adjusted the scheme to put more emphasis on Mallett’s arm. Mallett transferred to Arkansas.

When Terrelle Pryor spurned the Wolverines for Ohio State, redshirt freshman Steven Threet and redshirt sophomore Nick Sheridan were the top two options at quarterback. Neither of them have the ideal foot speed for the spread offense. And neither has an exceptionally strong arm. They don’t have strengths Rodrgiuez can modify an offense to.

It’s the same situation on the offensive line.

A strong line can make every player on the offense look better, and a bad one can make good players look terrible, making it the most important unit on an offense.

When Rodriguez signed, it looked as if the unit would return three starters — Stephen Schilling, Justin Boren and Alex Mitchell.

By summer, three became one — Schilling.

It’s impossible to cover for the inexperience of four new starters. The consistency hasn’t been there either, with four different lineups in six games. Defenses have exploited this by putting more pressure on the ever-changing left side of the line.

On the outside, Rodriguez hasn’t had adaptable talent, either. First, there were Adrian Arrington and Mario Manningham’s early departures for the NFL. Other than junior Greg Mathews, Rodriguez was left with a bunch of inexperienced receivers.

During recruiting, Rodriguez stocked up on guys who could play the slot in the spread. There were Terrence Robinson, Roy Roundtree, Michael Shaw and Martavious Odoms.

Injuries have prevented two of them from even seeing game time. Health issues have limited Shaw, who was considered on par with freshman running back Sam McGuffie before the season. Odoms has been the only regular contributor and relatively healthy player from that group, and even he has missed a game, against Toledo last weekend.

If Rodriguez had Arrington or Manningham, he would be able to take advantage of their strengths on the outside and their ability to make plays in open space.

But he doesn’t have them.

This isn’t to say he should’ve gone out of his way to convince these guys to stay, but Michigan’s current offensive struggles aren’t because of who they have — they’re because of who they don’t.

Robinson can be reached at irobi@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.