CHAMPAIGN –

Over the past season and a half, the oft-maligned Mike DeBord has taken his fair share of criticism since becoming Michigan’s offensive coordinator – and rightfully so.

Following the announcement of his promotion from Michigan’s special teams coach, DeBord’s past failures as Central Michigan’s head coach led many to wonder if he was the right guy for the job.

Late last season, his failure to go to the shotgun outside of two-minute-drill situations kept the Wolverines from staying with such high-powered offenses as Ohio State and Southern Cal.

And during his entire tenure as offensive coordinator (this is his second stint), his tendency to begin nearly every game with his now-patented zone left running play made fans roll their eyes in unison.

So when Illinois brought a safety down in the exact spot everyone knew Carlos Brown would run on Michigan’s first offensive play and the Wolverines still ran right at him, it looked like another wing in the DeBord Shaky Job Stability Center would have to open to house exhibit D – excessive predictability morphing into borderline stupidity.

But by game’s end, DeBord’s gameplan had a creative feel to it that’s rarely seen around Schembechler Hall.

When Michigan trailed 14-3, it marched down the field with ease, putting itself back in the game. The Wolverines did so on a road less traveled. Opting away from the usual ground route, Chad Henne and the Michigan offense traveled through the air. The courageous fourth-year starter, playing through the pain of a shoulder injury, went 4-of-5 for 80 yards and a touchdown, with the lone miscue a dropped pass.

Simply choosing to pass more is far from innovative, though. More than the plays, the formations in DeBord’s gameplan were much more impressive.

With takes-on-all-defenders-and-does-everything-but-walk-on-water-in-pass-protection Mike Hart out, DeBord knew he needed to adjust to give his quarterback more time to pass. He threw out formations nobody in Michigan had seen outside of a video game, putting multiple blockers in the backfield in some shotgun situations and overloading sides he expected blitzes to come from. Even though his quarterbacks took some hits, it could have been much worse for a Hart-less offense.

But the pinnacle moment of Saturday’s game came midway through the fourth quarter. Inside Illinois’ red zone, DeBord called for an end-around pass. The play worked perfectly and gave Michigan a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.

DeBord’s play call was a great one for the scenario, but chalk an assist up to dumb luck.

DeBord called the play under the assumption that Greg Mathews – the receiver who had practiced the play all week long – would be in the game. He wasn’t, and when the play was relayed to the huddle, Arrington knew he’d have to step up.

“It was actually a crazy play being called with me in there,” Arrington said. “So when it got called, I was just thinking, ‘I’m going to run it,’ in my head. And then I saw Mario come out wide open, so I had to throw it to him.”

Granted, the night’s biggest playcall may have been a mistake, but I’ll take a blind squirrel finding a nut over status quo any day – as long as that nut is a win.

After an 0-2 start, the team probably feels the same way.

In a game where Michigan’s Heisman Trophy candidate watched from the sidelines and its quarterback left the locker room with his arm in a sling, players like Carlos Brown, Brandon Minor and Ryan Mallett were praised as unsung heroes.

But maybe the most unexpected boost came from DeBord, the guy who wrote the script for those supporting actors to steal the show.

Is this script going to be renewed, or was it a one-night show while Hart sat on the sidelines? That’s yet to be seen. But Saturday night showed if the Wolverines ever want to permanently ditch its black-and-white programming to get in line with the color TV world, it can be done, and it can work.

– Bell can be reached at scotteb@umich.edu.

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