September 13, 2009
There was an ESPN graphic last night comparing Michigan's offense through the Wolverines' first two games to Michigan's offense last year, which is somewhat instructive but also somewhat ludicrous to anyone who's been paying attention: Even before we knew Tate Forcier was arriving in nearly-finished form, there wasn't really any comparison between last year's totally inexperienced horror show with two untenable quarterbacks and one returning starter and this year's lineup, with eight returning starters. Of course it's dramatically improved, because it couldn't possibly be worse.
Watching the Wolverines Saturday -- especially on Forcier's 31-yard, fourth-down touchdown run early in the fourth quarter -- I thought the more apt yardstick for the new-look UM attack was the successful segment of Rodriguez's resumé:
Lest we forget, those Mountaineer offenses were dynamic, big-play attacks that won two Big East titles, averaged between 32 and 40 points per game and finished three straight seasons in the top ten, which puts into context just what a breakout Rodriguez's new, still-young bunch had Saturday: Save the first interception of Forcier's career, the effort against the Irish was pretty much the systemic ideal in action. Brandon Minor established the spread running game between the tackles, and both quarterbacks established themselves as threats with their legs. Consistency is always the question -- we don't know what's going to happen the rest of the way -- but after two extremely impressive games, there's no question this group is capable of hitting those heights, and may now even be expected to operate in that stratosphere, which was not supposed to happen this year.
To be clear, the offense at Michigan is not a direct transposition the offense at West Virginia: Forcier attempted 33 passes Saturday, eight more than White ever attempted under Rodriguez, which gives the Wolverines more versatility than those Mountaineers had with their extreme reliance on the read option and a very safe, screen-heavy passing game; Forcier doesn't have a big arm, but he can get the ball past the sticks on a consistent basis, which made all the difference on UM's game-winning touchdown drive. On the other hand -- despite long touchdown runs so far by Robinson and Forcier in their first two appearances -- Michigan may lack the perennial home run threats that made WVU so lethal.
But the broader point is that the fundamental question of Rodriguez's Michigan tenure from the second he was hired -- can he incorporate his offense here, with a seemingly incompatible culture and talent base? -- has been definitively answered: Obviously, yes, it can. Now comes the next round round: Can it be sustained?