When you enter the Big House in Ann Arbor, you will instantly see eight story unfinished pillars rising from the ground with their bronzed metallic rust showing. The RichRod Spread showed similar signs of rust during the Wolverine's opener versus Utah, but unlike those metallic pillars, failed to ever get off the ground. Stymied by the Utah front 4 and unable to run the ball, the Wolverines piled up an anemic 203 offensive yards and scored a deceivingly high 23 points. How did a school famous for offensive stars become so inept so quickly? The Rivalry is here to give you a few talking points for that party you go to...You know that party, the one where you have to wear a Utah jersey because you made a bet after drinking too much Crown Royal.
Michigan was rumored to have solid running backs in Sam McGuffie, Brandon Minor, and Carlos Brown. How did they only manage 36 yards rushing on 25 carries?
The Wolverines ran the ball from the same formations and with similar play fakes as West Virginia did under Rich Rodriguez. The main differences are twofold:
First, Michigan's lineman did not open a single gaping hole the whole day. These linemen were not recruited to Zone Block or block while running laterally. They were recruited to block straight ahead for an I-Form or Pro-Form offense. These bigger linemen failed all day to move laterally and open holes.
Second, Michigan does not have Pat White. The Utah defense, once they figured out that Nick Sheridan or Steven Threat weren't run threats, flowed all their linebackers to the running back and left one LB to spy quarterback. Multiple times in the 2nd half, Threat would fake a handoff to an RB, and while all the linemen and defense flowed to the side of the fake, Threat was left in a one on one situation with the linebacker. Not a single time did the 6' 5'' 230 lb quarterback make the linebacker miss and get into open space.
In sum, it's not the running backs fault! Michigan has a talented and deep stable of running backs. But for these workhorses to pile up some yardage, RichRod needs to find running plays that play to Michigan's offensive strengths...And one of these strengths isn't sweep plays with slow, inexperienced linemen.
If they couldn't run, could the Wolverines throw the ball?
Steven Threat proved himself to be a more effective game manager than Sheridan, which is why RichRod brought him in and kept him in during the 2nd half. His arm strength is decent, but he proved that he cannot make the cross-field misdirection throw for a Wide Receiver screen. This play, truly important to the West Virginia offense, involved the QB faking a hand-off or pass one way, and then turning the other way quickly and whipping the ball to a Wide Receiver. Michigan tried it numerous times against Utah and the results were a plethora of incomplete passes and two yard gains. Not a good start.
On the positive side of the passing game, RichRod dispelled the notion that you cannot throw vertically while in the Spread Offense. Threat and Sheridan attempted about 10-12 deep throws to the under utilized Michigan receivers, connecting on only one throw. So maybe it wasn't a complete positive.
And neither is this: the accuracy of Michigan's quarterbacks was dismal. The fourth down that sealed Michigan's fate was a perfect example - Threat dropped back on 4th and 10, looked left to a wide open Junior Hemingway (the Utah secondary had backed up to avoid giving up a long play), and overthrew Hemingway horribly. Game Over.