Last week, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez announced quarterback Justin Feagin was redshirting.
The news appeared on the front page of ESPN.com and on the channel’s Bottom Line ticker.
Feagin is a true freshman, a three-star quarterback recruit according to rivals.com, who has never made it onto Michigan’s official two-deep depth chart. Is the decision to redshirt him really one of the 10 biggest headlines in sports?
It might have been a slow news day, but the Feagin hype just goes to show that there’s been too much attention paid to the Michigan’s quarterback situation.
On Saturday, quarterbacks Steven Threet and Nick Sheridan had their ups and downs. Threet started the game strong but couldn’t recover his rhythm. He substituted with Sheridan throughout the day. In the fourth quarter, Sheridan put together an 87-yard touchdown drive, but was otherwise unimpressive.
The offense couldn’t establish the tempo it wanted, and, after the game, Rodriguez faced several questions about the quarterbacks.
“Everybody is grinding on the quarterback thing,” Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. “It’s just one position. It’s obvious to everybody else that we are still searching at times to get a rhythm on offense. It starts with the quarterback, but it’s not only the quarterback.”
There are, after all, 10 other guys on the field.
Because of the nature of the spread offense, the quarterback has a greater responsibility, but it’s time to look beyond Threet and Sheridan when judging this offense.
Bubble screens to the wide receivers are an important aspect of this timing-based attack, for example. The idea is to get the ball to players with game-breaking ability in open space. It relies on big-play receivers and blocking from other outside receivers to create the initial separation.
You saw that on Michigan’s first offensive play against Miami (Ohio), when freshman wide receiver Martavious Odoms broke a 50-yard gain on a pass that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage. A crucial block from a wide receiver gave Odoms the initial separation he needed.
Threet made the read to get the ball to Odoms, but the throw wasn’t complex. The blocking and Odoms’s speed were the keys to the play.
When these passes along the line of scrimmage go for little to no gain, it’s not always because the quarterback made a bad read. The receiver might have missed a hole, or a receiver might have missed a block. This was evident against Utah, when Odoms caught five passes for seven yards.
Against the RedHawks, the Michigan running game showed some of its potential. Freshman Sam McGuffie showed quickness getting to the outside, and junior Brandon Minor broke through multiple tacklers in a fourth-quarter touchdown run.
On option plays, the quarterback decides where the ball goes. But beyond that, the running back has to choose which hole to hit. The offensive line’s job is to create those holes.
But when the running game stalled in the second and third quarters and the quarterbacks switched in and out, how much of the blame should go to the quarterbacks?
When watching the game, focusing on the offensive line can be difficult, but when Michigan struggles to reach the line of scrimmage on a running play, the line is probably losing the battle in the trenches.
This is an inexperienced offensive line that is already missing two starters and lost another one, Mark Ortmann, on Saturday. Lines need time to coalesce, and they will make mistakes. When the quarterback is under pressure, don’t jump on the quarterback for making the safer, shorter read.
So next Saturday, when the quarterback throws a bad pass, a bubble screen goes nowhere or an option gets stopped behind the line of scrimmage, remember it’s not always the quarterback’s fault.
— Robinson is looking for his lost iPod, full of Michigan football press conference recordings. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.