Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Way too many observations on Illinois (QB Edition)

  • While some—usually the “glass is totally full” crowd—insist otherwise, Michigan has not improved one lick since the first game of the season. Go back and look at the tape of the games. Remember the Utah game? Michigan played miserably in the first half only to play brilliantly in the second half. Sound familiar? The exact same thing happened against Wisconsin. Remember the Miami (OH) game? Michigan played brilliantly for a quarter and then played terrible for the last three quarters. The exact same thing happened this week against Illinois. Remember the Notre Dame game? I hope you don’t. Nothing has changed since week one. Steve Threet is just as capable now as he was against Utah. The execution is the same as is the production. This team will not improve until it gets a quarterback who can hit a wide open receiver at a better rate than one in three. It’s frustrating but not unexpected. This was always a possible outcome for year one under Rich Rodriguez considering Michigan never recruited dual-threat quarterbacks under Lloyd Carr. The two he did recruit recently—Jason Forcier and Antonio Bass—transferred and suffered a career-ending knee injury on a run-drill, respectively. Both would’ve probably led Michigan to a bowl game this season.

  • John Navarre took a lot of criticism for playing poorly at Michigan. His play was certainly his fault but the fact that he was playing was not. Lloyd Carr got hoe’d out by Drew Henson and was left with a defensive end/4th string QB as his starter. The same situation is going on right now with Threet. Threet transferred to Michigan because he thought he was going to play in Michigan’s pro-style offense. Like Navarre, he was thrust into a situation that he was mentally and physically ill-equipped to handle. In the same way that Michigan’s offense was inept under Navarre, this Michigan team is inept under Threet. Threet is the worst thrower that I have ever seen. I’m sure some of it (maybe even most) has to do with nerves or lack of confidence. Clearly he isn’t that bad when he’s playing catch with his friends. Nobody is. Regardless, he is an extremely poor QB right now. His 49% completion percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Most of his incompletions are to wide open receivers. Navarre gave it his best and Threet is doing the same. It sucks but he deserves empathy.

  • There is no doubt in my mind, however, that your classic tall, slow, pocket-passer can run this offense. A dual-threat QB is ideal but not exclusive for success. The reason why Threet can’t run it is because he is woefully inaccurate. As an example, if Michigan had Graham Harrell (or any dude on this list), I really think we’d be looking at an explosive offense. There are so many big plays being missed by poor throws. That, in turn, has a twofold affect: 1) ‘M’ is losing out on those big plays and 2) defenses don’t fear the passing game so they key on Sam McGuffie. The average fan doesn’t realize how crucial the QB is to the spread. The spread is designed to attack via three different avenues: 1) QB run, 2) RB run, 3) QB pass. Right now, Michigan can only accomplish #2, and even then, we’re only getting 3.6 yards per carry. In conventional football, a subpar QB can be masked on a good team. These sorts of QBs are affectionately called “game managers”. In the spread, a subpar QB sticks out like Rush Limbaugh in a thong. Michigan looks much worse off than it is. There are 100 QBs in D-1 football right now (first string and second string alike) who would probably have Michigan ranked with one loss right now. Unfortunately, none of those QBs are on the roster and we have to live with the consequences. However, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend the “sky is falling”. Michigan is one decent spread QB away from killin’ fools like Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson inherited a team that was much less talented than Michigan but he had the luxury of not just one, but two spread (or triple option) QBs. If RR had Josh Nesbitt or Jaybo Shaw, Michigan would be averaging 500 yards per game and everyone would be worshipping RR.

  • There is some skepticism—and rightfully so—that a true freshman QB could come in next season and put up big numbers. You never know how a freshman is going to handle the pressure of 100,000+ fans hanging on his every move. It’s true that Tate Forcier could come in and suffer a mental breakdown Chuck Knoblauch-style. However, he has all of the tools to the run the spread. He is the most accurate passer in high school football. He is a running QB. Those just happen to be the two things missing from Michigan’s offense. It’s a round peg for a round hole. Forcier may not win Michigan a National Championship next year but he’ll give Michigan the chance to run the zone read the way it was meant to be run and he’ll hit open receivers. I’d pay $500 to magically give Steve Threet those abilities. Don’t underestimate the importance of Forcier enrolling early. He will be practicing with the team from January until August. That is eight times the amount of exposure as your normal true freshman. Shavodrick Beaver (Michigan’s other top ten Dual Threat QB in the class of ’09) will also be enrolling in January. The chances of neither being ready after eight months of practice are slim, in my opinion.

  • There has been a substantial debate among Michigan fans regarding which unit was most responsible for the loss to Illinois. Clearly, both were responsible but if you held a naked picture of Charlie Weiss to my head, I’d have to say the offense was the biggest culprit. Everyone knew that Illinois was going to score points. We knew going into the game that Michigan would probably have to score 30+ points to win. When the offense inexplicably shut down after the first quarter, the defense was left for dead. After Greg Mathews scored Michigan’s second touchdown of the first quarter, the offense went three and out on five of the next seven possessions. The other two possessions were five and six plays respectively. Seriously, look at Michigan’s drive chart after the first quarter (page 5). The defense had little opportunity to rest and even less time to figure out what it was doing wrong. Against a team like Illinois, a totally ineffective offense has a snowball effect that can, and likely will, lead to a blow out.

  • I realize this idea usually falls under the “you have to be insane” category. Nonetheless, why doesn’t Michigan take a fast player who played QB in high school and make him the QB for the remainder of the year? This season is a wash from the QB perspective. We know exactly what we’re getting from Threet from here on out. For the sake of salvaging the season, get someone back there who isn’t “no-dimensional.” Seriously, burn Justin Feagin’s redshirt. Throw him behind center. I know the armchair coaches and the expert insiders will think I’m crazy but a QB cannot be worse than Threet at this point. At least put someone in there who allows RR to call the zone read. Threet’s accuracy is so atrocious that it doesn’t make sense to keep him at QB. He averages 5.3 yards per attempt which is one of the worst averages I’ve ever seen. His QB rating is last in the Big Ten among full-time starters. We already know he can’t run. If he can’t run or pass, then why is he in there? Why not force defenses to do more than key on Sam McGuffie? Maybe Threet throws better in practice than Feagin but clearly Threet can’t throw in games. That’s really all that matters at this point. It doesn’t even have to be Feagin. Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor could do it. It just doesn’t make sense to keep throwing this season away with a QB who hasn’t improved at all since game one and probably won’t be the QB next season. The offense is absolutely atrocious. Michigan is 10th or worse in the Big Ten in virtually every offensive statistics. There isn’t anything to lose at this point. Threet is playing worse than I ever imagined possible. I would be shocked if a running back played worse under center.

  • I continue to be amazed by the number of fans who think Michigan football is going into the tank Notre Dame-style. The problem with the various freedoms we have (i.e. freedom to vote and freedom of speech) is that there is no prerequisite for being able to use those freedoms. You can vote for John McCain because he’s not black or Barrack Obama because he’s not white and your vote counts just as much as mine. It sucks but it’s true. Likewise, there are a bunch of college football fans who choose to use their freedom of speech without having even a single clue what they’re talking about. People who vote or speak based on ignorance make life suck for the rest of us. If you didn’t think there was a good chance that Michigan was going to struggle offensively coming into the season running the spread with a freshman QB who can’t run, then you have serious logic issues. If you’re giving up on Rich Rodriguez after five games—universally regarded as one of the best coaches in the country—then you have serious loyalty issues. RR is putting the finishing touches on a top 10 (maybe even top five) recruiting class and he’s already got the 2010 class in good shape for a top five class and possibly even better. Two years from now, Michigan is going to be destroying teams and everyone is going to be complaining about RR running up the score. The same people who are complaining now will be the same people saying, “Lloyd Carr wouldn’t have scored 63 points against Western Michigan.” The ignorance in the Michigan community is nauseating. I do think the majority of fans are hip to the whole idea of transition but 35% of 5 million (a rough estimate of Michigan fans) is still a lot.

  • Go Blue!

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