Michigan football in 2013 is going to look drastically different than the breed of football the school fielded the past few years.
Gone is athletic quarterback Denard Robinson. Gone are the ghosts of Rich Rodriguez's past, including a spread offense that struggled at times to agree with the personnel the staff recruited.
In its place this season, Michigan fans will find more of a pro-style offense with quarterback Devin Gardner actually under center.
Head coach Brady Hoke is the man responsible for the culture change. Hoke wants to bring physicality back to the program and to beat opposing teams in the trenches rather than through the air with a bit of finesse.
We have a snap count, we come downhill, we're not in shotgun as much...I believe there's a physicality that comes with pro-style offense that doesn't come with other offenses. ... A lot of it is how you coach it. You can be a pro-style team that throws every snap and you're not going to have a lot of physicality with that. We don't have that philosophy.
The change in culture has already been felt. Offensive lineman and team captain Taylor Lewan has high expectations for the line after a rigorous camp, according to the team's Twitter account:
While preparing for Michigan's opening-week contest with Central Michigan, Hoke has said he expects his team to run the ball anywhere from 18-35 times:
For Hoke, the transition is a stroke of genius. Running a more traditional offense will keep his defense off the field. In a spread attack where scoring fast is critical to take advantage of opposing defenses, it often hurts the team's own defense as a result.
The Michigan defense has suffered as a result of the Wolverines' use of the spread offense. In 2010, the defense gave up an average of 451 yards per game. The 2011 squad surrendered 322 yards. In 2012, the unit allowed an average of 320 yards.
Now Michigan's defense is on an upswing, as the spread has been phased out, but the defense will have to be on the field less for its momentum to continue. The complete removal of the spread offense will help.
The move will also allow the Wolverines to utilize their crop of talented running backs. Robinson amassed 177 carries last season. As a result, Fitzgerald Toussaint only received 130 carries and turned them into 514 yards and five scores—a far cry from his 1,041 yards and nine scores on 187 carries the year before.
Toussaint's carries were also down because of a gruesome leg injury that he suffered in November, but his output would have been much higher if the offense had been more traditional. He will split the load this season with talents like Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls, the latter of whom rushed for 242 yards and four scores in limited action.
The Wolverines' bevvy of backs barraging defenses will allow Michigan to keep its own defense off the field. It helps that Gardner has shown to be a solid decision-maker, completing almost 60 percent of his passes last season while tossing 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Robinson had 41 more attempts, but only completed 53 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions.
All of this follows a certain calculated formula Hoke wants to maintain.
As Snyder points out, Hoke learned a serious lesson when his team was embarrassed at the start of last season by Alabama, 44-14:
It helped our mentality, it helped from a standpoint with our kids when you go back and look at it how they stood up and how they did things. I think it was a good experience for us.
The writing is on the wall for Michigan. Last year's 6-2 finish in the Legends Division was not acceptable— neither were the 18 turnovers in its five losses. For Michigan to get back to contention, turning around its defense and providing a complement for it with a strong running game and smart quarterback is the only way to go.
It may not be as exciting as the offenses in years past, but like Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo summed up in Snyder's piece, spread offenses have yet to win the big one. Traditional power teams like Alabama become dynasties.
That's the model Hoke is following in Ann Arbor, and ultimately, the Wolverines will be better for it in the grand scheme of things.
All statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com
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