Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Grades from the First Third: Offense Part I

Let's look back on the offense so far, shall we gentlemen?
Yesterday I tackled the defensive side of the ball and came away impressed, but still not entirely comfortable moving forward.  Now we shift things to the other side of the ball and examine the offense.  Same rules apply.  I will be grading each unit based on my best and worst case ideas from this off season's preview   links to the original articles will be provided.  Lets not waste any more time.

The Offense.  (One more reminder for those of you who missed yesterday's piece, my analysis relies on the UFR's done over at mgoblog.  If you aren't familiar with these, I would suggest spending the rest of your afternoon at mgoblog.  You can thank me afterward.)

Offensive Line
Half Full: The line is dominant.
Half Empty: The line is inconsistent because of poor play at the tackle positions.

Bad news last year.
Coming in to the season we knew what we had on the interior of the line.  David Molk was returning after missing most of the season with two different injuries.  In the first three games with David Molk at center the Wolverines rushed for 242 yards (WMU), 190 yards (ND), and 380 yards (EMU).  Now the level of competition aside, those numbers show a rushing attack that is executing to the best of its ability (over 6.0 ypc).  After Molk went down in the Indiana game those numbers fell off big time.  Only games against Iowa and Purdue saw anything near that level of production (195 yards and 215 yards respectively).  Michigan State (28), Wisconsin (71), and Ohio State (80) all held the Wolverines under 100 yards, while Penn State (110) and Illinois (113) didn't give up much more than that.  Molk's health was always going to be a key with this line, but with him in the Wolverines have a proven center and leader of the offensive line.  Outside of Molk this year is Steven Schilling, who has fallen off slightly on his all-world hype coming in to school, but has proven to be an effective guard in the blocking schemes run at Michigan.  The other guard spot is filled by Patrick Omameh was also looked on with optimism.  Omameh had went from playing on the defensive side of the ball early in his career to offensive guard, but had improved enough to eventually settle in to the starting lineup in the last few games after injuries had taken their toll on the rest of the line.  Following a strong performance in spring and fall camp, Omameh seemed less the 2-star former defensive player that he was going into last year and more the legitimate Big Ten caliber guard that we hoped he could develop in to.

This optimism for the interior line has been vindicated with the performance of these three so far this year.  Molk has come out and played just as well as he had last year, providing the leadership and accurate snaps that were missing when he went down last year with injury.  Schilling has also been solid so far this year, beginning to gain back some hype back, while Omameh has taken a jump from his marginal first game to being one of the best downfield blocking linemen the team has.

So all is well and good on the inside, which fits the expectations coming in to the season.  However, the area where most believed things could get dicey along the front line is the one are where there has been the most improvement.  Going in to this season, the two tackles hardly inspired much confidence.  RS-Jr Mark Huyge at LT and RS-Sr Perry Dorrestein at RT were the duo stepping into the bookend spots after unspectacular years in 2009.  Neither of them showed themselves to be especially proficient pass blockers, which is, you know, kinda the whole point of having a tackle on the field.  On top of that, everyone was sincerely hoping that RS-Fr wunderkinds Taylor Lewan and, less likely, Michael Schofield would be able to step in and beat out the uninspiring upperclassmen.  This didn't happen (at first, don't sleep on Lewan just yet) and the interwebs exploded in worries and rationalizations.

Despite the emo mood most of us were in when we heard the two upperclassmen would start, through four games Dorrestein and Huyge have played solid football on the outside, proving effective both as pass and run blockers.  On top of this, Lewan has started to show some of his "donkey riding" potential.  Overall the outside of the line has performed as well as the interior of the line, which has helped pave the way for such impressive numbers as one sack allowed and one of the top producing offenses in the country   although these have just a little bit to do with a guy we will talk about later, maybe you've heard of him.

Overall, this unit gets a resounding: Half Full.  They have taken care of business in each game this year, and while there have been individual struggles, the unit as a whole is strong enough to overcome these.  Barring injury   fingers crossed   this offensive line should be one of the best units in the Big Ten and help the rest of the offense produce at levels unheard of in previous years.

Half Full: Potential realized.
Half Empty: Production lacking.

I was very positive coming in to this season that the receivers would make a giant leap forward in production, but I had to temper that excitement with the realization that despite the vast potential, only two players   Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms   had stepped up, and Roundtree had only done so for the last three games of 2009.  We had not seen anyone consistently produce.  Drops had been a problem all over the field and injuries had kept some players off the field.  Guys like Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway had yet to develop into the deep threats that they were touted to be on their arrival to Ann Arbor.  Question marks were everywhere.

So far those questions have been answered, and the returns are all positive.

Eyeglasses for everyone!
Roy Roundtree has returned from his blistering pace at the end of last season to once again lead the team in receptions with 20 through four games.  His crisp routes and reliable hands   even after getting lit up on a couple plays where the ball was poorly placed   have made him the go to receiver for Denard Robinson.  Darryl Stonum, who now sees in "HD" thanks to glasses he received over the offseason, has already produced more through the first four games than he did any of his previous two seasons.  On top of that, his two phenomenal plays against UMass   a fly route and tunnel screen   have shown his big play ability.  Junior Hemingway is, well, still oft injured.  He had a nice catch after beating the zone against UMass which set up the go-ahead touchdown.  If he can stay on the field he adds even more depth and talent to this group.  Martavious Odoms has continued to be the most sure handed receiver on the team, and produced on the outside despite being undersized.  In fact, drops have been down across the board.  As explained in the UFR from UMass, in the first three games, of the 43 catchable balls, only one was dropped.  This is a vast improvement from last year.  If guys like Kevin Koger and Kelvin Grady can continue to be reliable options in the passing game, this unit will be very dangerous.

These two have plenty of reason to celebrate.
Lest I forget, these receivers deserve a great deal of credit for the success of the run game.  Rodriguez's offense relies on receivers who get out and engage defenders in space, and we have seen a number of long runs that have been made possible by receivers working hard down field and tight ends getting good blocks at the line of scrimmage.

This group has done a lot to put aside the concerns that have plagued it for the last two years.  They are working hard in every facet of the offense and deserve not only a great deal of credit for the success of the offense this year, but also a grade of:  Half Full.

This is it for the first half of the offensive grades.  Look for Part II later tonight or early tomorrow.

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