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Has Michigan finally found an elite offense? // B1G 2019, Potluck #2

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The Wolverines supposedly have their “speed in space” to go with a world-beating offensive line and an experienced quarterback. Can it win them a Big Ten title?

Michigan Week marches on!

Today we’re ready to trot the fullback out and run 3-yard dive after 3-yard dive until we reach the end zone or die trying.

Or are we?

As Brian Gillis has pointed out, the pieces are there for Michigan in 2019, and uncertainty in Columbus has set the stage for the Wolverines to vault to the top of the Big Ten. But, despite a raft of All-B1G players like RB Karan Higdon and a road-grading offensive line, the wheels came off for the Wolverines down the stretch.

If you don’t like those roads metaphors, it’s going to be a long article.

Question #1: A Bumpy Road

Today, we’d like to salute the state of Michigan for giving us one of the great innovations creating order in modern society (shamelessly ripped off Wikipedia):

In the United States, the first documented use of a painted center line was in 1911 along Trenton’s River Road in Wayne County, Michigan. According to the state of Michigan, the idea of using a painted center line was conceived in 1911 by Edward N. Hines, the chairman of the Wayne County, Michigan, Board of Roads, after watching a leaky milk wagon leave a white trail along a road.

Michigan’s roads have remained notably excellent and well-maintained ever since. Thanks, Edward Hines!

Tell us, writers, about your worst Michigan driving experiences and how you’d rate your own state’s roads.

Boilerman: If I never have to drive on the death trap known as I-94 ever again, it will still be too soon. Nothing like only having two lanes for the main highway between Detroit and Chicago and going from 75+ down to 50 in the matter of two seconds between K-Zoo and Battle Creek because some asshat trucker decided to cut you off so he could play leap frog with another truck going 2 MPH slower than him. Only slightly better is hitting a pothole along I-69 North and blowing out a tire on my rental car en route to Ontario for work. Fuck off with that noise.

BrianB2: Driving in Michigan is something that has happened exactly once in my lifetime. I cannot recall anything that happened during my brief travels that was either overtly positive or negative. I could lament about the state of Maryland roads in a short novel, but I won’t bore everyone with such things. In short, the roads, overall are maintained reasonably well, excluding the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, which has more holes than the Maryland defensive line.

The Baltimore Beltway (695) has been under construction since 1966. I-95 and the D.C. Beltway should be avoided at all costs, and don’t even attempt to cross the Chesapeake Bay during the summer. If you intend on driving anywhere in Maryland during the week between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00PM, be prepared to sit in a lot of traffic...this sometimes includes Sunday too. If you’re looking for something more adventurous, head to Northern Virginia, where the traffic is even worse and back roads aren’t even paved, the joy!

WSR: I’ve never driven in Michigan myself, so I’ll just have to take everyone’s word on how things are. Minnesota’s roads are actually quite wonderful if you can find them at a time when there isn’t a layer of ice and snow that causes potholes or road construction to fix said potholes. It’s a glorious 2-3 weeks every few years.

Brian: I live in Southern California, but make it back to Michigan to catch three or four games each year. I set up camp in Grand Rapids and drive across the state to Ann Arbor on gameday. And in the early morning hours, when I usually hit the road, it’s a beautiful drive.

Thumpasaurus: I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, spent five years in Champaign and then moved to Michigan seven years ago. Nobody ever sings the praises of Illinois roads, but the difference is incredible despite the fact that Chicago gets harsher weather conditions in the winter. If your car’s steering is perfectly aligned, it’s because you’re leaving the shop where you just had an alignment done and haven’t yet turned onto a street. I don’t know why they even have speed limits on I-75 considering that if you drive much faster than 80, all the fasteners on your car will vibrate themselves free and shit will just start falling off. I commute about 10 miles to work and never fail to drive past at least 4 different cars stuck on the side of the road with a cut tire. You just see mufflers lying around sometimes.

My sister did a bunch of agricultural research in the easternmost parts of Ukraine and that’s the only place she’s ever found comparable to Michigan as far as the roads are concerned.

When you see Lamborghinis and Ferraris, you know the owners are SUPER rich, because they know they’ll probably crack two rims and rip the front splitter off the car if they go more than 25mph on the PAVED roads in Oakland County (which make up maybe 60% of the roads there) and they’re fine with this. If I owned a supercar, I’d trailer it out of the state before I drove it.

A few years back, I did a road trip from my place north of Detroit to Talladega, AL. It was such a long drive I left at 5 in the morning just to have a prayer of making it before 10PM. Before I could even get to Ohio on 75, a truck kicked up a chunk of asphalt into my windshield and shattered it.

I’d gladly pay 45 cents a gallon in gas taxes if I could be assured it would fix the roads in a way that actually lasted. I’d rather know when I’m going to pay for the condition of the roads instead of being surprised with four-figure repairs that are suddenly necessary as a result of the condition of the roads. The only sensible solution besides allocating serious money to fix this problem is to require all passenger cars to have NHRA-spec roll cages, five-point harnesses and racing helmets so that when a series of hard-to-see craters catches your car just right so that a chunk of the road kicks up and knocks out your driveshaft, causing your car to pole-vault off the driveshaft (its front end lodged in yet another crater), you survive your car somersaulting down the highway, coming to a stop, and being further punted by a lifted F-650 occupied by a single person on his way to an office job who has his high beams on because he wants to make sure you know you’re being an asshole for being upside down in a half-destroyed car in the left lane. If you don’t survive this ordeal, you won’t make it into your job in the auto industry, where you’re one of the 80% of “engineers” the industry employs that just forward documents along to the next person.

In conclusion,

Poll

Whose roads are the worst?

This poll is closed.

  • 80%
    Michigan’s
    (93 votes)
  • 19%
    Anyone else’s (comments!)
    (23 votes)
116 votes total Vote Now

Question #2: An Offense with No Speed Limit?

When WSR and I planned out these potluck topics over a few Naturdays a month and a half ago, he apparently wrote in “New OC or Harbaugh jerking off”.

I don’t know what that means, and I don’t think I want to.

So let’s pick up the bumpy road metaphor and note that while the Wolverines’ defense has been cruising the last few seasons--the last two games of 2018 definitely excluded--they’ve run off the road at the worst times, with Jim Harbaugh squarely at the wheel and insisting that no, he wouldn’t stop and ask for directions, and no, you should have peed before we left; it’s a 2.5-hour drive to Grandma’s and we’re not stopping until we get there.

But the Wolverines do have a new offensive coordinator this year, as Harbaugh lured Josh Gattis away from Maryland, who had in turn lured him away from Alabama. Gattis, the hyper-Twitter-active Wake Forest safety-turned-WRs guru, co-coordinated the ‘Bama offense with Mike Locksley and agreed to head to College Park with him before taking the elevator straight to the upper floors of the college football world.

Yesterday Brian mentioned that Gattis will have a “similar impact not just on the Wolverines’ passing game, but on their offense in general,” and that’s his “speed in space” approach to the Michigan offense. QB Shea Patterson will lead the offensive attack, joined by a talented but possibly thin corps of receivers headlined by Nico Collins and Donovan Peoples-Jones. Patterson was efficient throwing the ball in 2018 (64.6%, 8.0 YPA, 22:7 TD:INT). Now, with Gattis talking about changing the angles at which Wolverines O-linemen challenge defensive lines and promising a higher-tempo, no-huddle, pro-spread style offense, Outland Trophy watchlisters LT Jon Runyan, LG Ben Bredeson, C Cesar Ruiz, and RG Michael Onwenu should be able to spring Patterson and a deep bevy of little-tested backs like senior Tru Wilson and redshirt frosh Ben VanSumeren to replace the ineligible Chris Evans--to say nothing of the injured Christian Turner (who played in the Peach Bowl), Zach Charbonnet, or Hassan Haskins.

Oh, and shoutout to Truest Big Ten Position Player FB Ben Mason, even if he’s used more like a Northwestern superback.

All that leads us, kids, to the questions: Can Gattis loosen Harbaugh’s grip on the Wolverines offense enough to lead Michigan to the top of the Big Ten East, and will the Wolverines have success in a higher-tempo style?

Bonus: What coordinator was the Next Great Hope at your school? Were there personality clashes with the coach, how did they do, etc.?

Boilerman: Looking at the numbers for last year, Michigan’s offense was actually pretty good...as long as they were in the state of Michigan. They consistently scored 31-plus inside Michigan Stadium. Away from home? Notsomuch. You’ve got to think Harbaugh sees the problems with not letting his offense open up and run tempo but I honestly have no idea if he truly lets the taps open up or not. If he does, this team could be downright scary.

Next Great Hope? Let us not mutter these words ever again. K. Thx.

Thumpasaurus: Well, the good news for Michigan is that Ann Arbor is on the same side of Detroit as the DTW airport, so they never have to get too close to Detroit. Ann Arborites show a lot of compassion to the plight of Detroit, but only in ways that don’t require them to ever get near the city, and also don’t cost them any time or money. The reason this is good is because Michigan Football doesn’t have to spend very many miles ON the actual road, which is good because you never know when you’ll hit a colossal pothole that will set off the airbags, blinding the bus driver (or killing, if made by Takata) and leading to bus disaster because the bus knocks down a Jersey barrier that’s being used to keep the highway down to one lane in each direction and gets crushed by a truck carrying five times what it would be allowed to in any other state.

My point is, the location of Ann Arbor is ideal for Gattis to stick around for a while, so they’ll at least have some continuity. Lord only knows how many promising young coaches have been lost on the drive between Ypsilanti and Toledo.

BrianB2: Michigan, last year, was 21st in scoring offense, 31st in rushing, and 79th in passing offense. You’d think Gattis would improve on the passing aspects, but it isn’t like Michigan’s offense was Spartan levels of terrible last year. It isn’t like the offense gave up 600 yards and a million points to the Buckeyes last season. Anyway it doesn’t really matter if they improve all that much, because all of the teams around them probably got worse. (Except Maryland, Maryland undoubtedly got wayyyyyyy better, duh.)

Fun arbitrary fact, while looking this up I noticed that in total offensive yardage, Rutgers ranked 128th last year, only beating out Central Michigan and the University of Texas-San Antonio. The more you know.

Dare I bring up James Franklin. He was the hairless apparent to take over Ralph Freidgen’s egregiously oversized throne. Long story short, that didn’t happen and he bolted to Vanderbilt, now he’s at some school up north I think. People at Maryland probably expected a lot more from OC Walt Bell during his short stint here. Then he ran the Seminole offense into the ground (although that might be more on Willie), and got the head coaching gig at UMASS, what a career trajectory.

Brian: First of all, what Brian said was: “The hope in Ann Arbor is that he (Gattis) will have a similar impact not just on the Wolverines’ passing game, but on their offense in general.” :-)

It’s funny you ask whether Gattis can “loosen Harbaugh’s grip on the Wolverines’ offense.” I’ll get into that question more Wednesday, because it’s a question that many have asked. But I think it’s really a two-part question: Will Gattis really be running the show? And what kind of impact can you expect to see in year one of a new offense? Michigan’s Ben Bredesen told me that he’s seen the impact (of the new offense) already, and that the team is getting more comfortable with the new system every day. But that’s a big change, and it seems like something that won’t take complete hold until year two or three. How much can be expected in year one? I think the jury is still out on that. If there’s a positive for Michigan, it’s that this offense isn’t entirely different than the one quarterback Shea Patterson ran while at Ole Miss, and it seems to play to his strengths. So perhaps he, and by extension Michigan, will be on the front end of the learning curve.

WSR: I believe the original intent of that line was to use it to revisit my previous favorite “Head Coach Makes Coordinator Change, Nothing Changes” stories. Once upon a time Glen Mason would fire his DC after they would be exposed as utter trash, and he would promote his LB coach into the role.

And what would happen? Well...nothing. Because Glen would have his style he would want the defense to run, and by God they’ll run that. It wouldn’t matter if it was Moe Ankney, Greg Hudson, or David Lockwood because every single defense under ol’ Grinnin Glen would look exactly the same (read: inept). David Gibbs must have done something horrible to his wife or dog or daughter or some combination of that group to make it so that Mason would never trust a DC again.

I can’t help but watch Jim Harbaugh’s crazy ass and think the same thing has been happening on offense at Michigan. Maybe there will be a seismic shift and the Wolverines will extract themselves from 1982, but I’ll need to see it in multiple B1G games to be convinced of it.

Poll

How will the Michigan offense fare under the new Gattis-Harbaugh pairing?

This poll is closed.

  • 20%
    Elite — #speedinspace to the top of the Big Ten
    (42 votes)
  • 38%
    Top-tier, but just a little short
    (79 votes)
  • 32%
    Mediocre—too big a change too fast
    (66 votes)
  • 5%
    Below-average—it’s like nothing changed!
    (11 votes)
  • 2%
    Rutgers-level bad. What’s RichRod up to these days?
    (6 votes)
204 votes total Vote Now