Warning to Michigan fans entering the Big House on Saturdays: You are victims of fraud. No, it’s not the hot dogs – those are, in fact, real. And yes, you are really a part of the largest “crowd to watch a football game anywhere in America.”
But look closer and you’ll find out that it’s what’s on the field that may be deceiving and you’ll come to realize that the only things that never change are death, taxes and the Michigan offense.
Ever since coach Lloyd Carr inserted former offensive line coach Terry Malone at the helm of the Michigan offense, the word out of the football office was that a “new” scheme was on the rise.
But after all, that building is named after Schembechler. Not Spurrier.
No one really expected the Wolverines offense to go crazy – after all, Carr still coaches this team. But some change was thought to be in store.
After four games in the nonconference season, it appears to be the same old song as far as Michigan offenses go – same players, same efficiency, same results. And the same record as last year.
But that’s not what the players say.
“We are more balanced,” quarterback John Navarre said. “We are running the ball better. We are more efficient in the passing game. We are getting the ball to everyone all over the field. I think overall we are balanced. I am happy with the execution and the coaches are, too.”
Yeah, and I can run a 4.4 40-yard dash.
Let’s start dispelling these “mythical” differences one by one.
More balanced: Yes, Michigan seems to be running the ball better – at times. Chris Perry has already had more long runs (over 20 yards) than the Wolverines have had in the past three seasons, but Michigan was averaging an identical 159 yards per game on the ground at this point last season. More importantly, the Wolverines are still having trouble creating a push in short yardage and goalline situations.
And balanced offenses force opponents to be on their toes – respecting the run while at the same time expecting pass. Either Michigan isn’t utilizing its balance by changing up play calls or something, because not many teams are exactly biting on Navarre’s play-fakes.
More efficient: Efficiency is defined in Webster’s dictionary as “acting or producing effectively with a minimum of waste, expense or unnecessary effort; exhibiting a high ratio of input to output.”
Tons of results with little effort: Sound like the mantra of the Michigan offense to you? Didn’t think so.
At least not the one displayed in the Utah game, in which the Wolverines barely mustered more points (10) than the field hockey team did (8) in its victory last Saturday. Michigan was horrendous on third down, going 5-of-19, and holds a 40-percent conversion rate, identical to last year. The new offense composed of short passes, easy gainers and big plays was supposed to improve this category by not putting Navarre and Co. in numerous third-and-forever situations. That hasn’t changed much either.
A crowning example of offensive futility came against Utah, when Michigan saw 10 drives that crossed midfield end in zip, zilch, nada. Efficiency is making the most of opportunities, and while Michigan can move the ball, it’s letting its scoring chances waste away like Pauley Shore’s acting career.
Spreading the ball around: What happened to sharing the wealth? Navarre spread the ball around against Washington by utilizing six receivers, but ever since then that silver lining of “everyone’s involved” has slowly disappeared.
As for Navarre not locking in on a receiver like he did a year ago with Marquise Walker, Navarre threw 18 of his 36 passes last Saturday in the direction of his new favorite target – Braylon Edwards. Edwards has nearly identical numbers to Walker after three games – except for the three fumbles.
Is Edwards the only one getting open?
“All the guys are getting open,” Navarre said. “I have confidence in all of them, but Braylon is the primary receiver most of the time.”
Yes, other receivers like Tyrece Butler have suffered from the dropsies, which has to bother Navarre, but the junior signal caller says that most of the plays are designed for Edwards – and in many cases, the other three receivers on the field at the time run routes “specifically to get Braylon open.”
If that doesn’t sound like locking-in, I don’t know what does.
And I’m sure it won’t take very long for other teams to notice Navarre’s tendency to throw to Edwards and double-team him. It also won’t take long for opponents to size up and diagram the idiosyncrasies of the “new” offense.
If they can tell the difference.
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.