Whencame to Michigan in 2008, it was widely expected that he would install his vaunted spread offense immediately. This was despite the fact that he had essentially no recruits coming in that were fit to run the system, and few already in Ann Arbor that could adapt to it.
In his first year, he failed. Miserably.
Trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, Rodriguez installed an offense that requires a mobile quarterback without possessing a mobile quarterback. Michigan stumbled to 3-9. Rodriguez sent Ryan Mallett (it was a mutual decision actually, more on this later), who was the No. 2 quarterback prospect out of high school, packing to Arkansas after deciding that the offense didn't suit his talent. It was the worst season in school history.
Now as we enter week three of the Brady Hoke Experience at Michigan, it's clear that the two coaches have very different philosophies.
Hoke had planned to implement some form of a pro-style offense at Michigan, returning to what Michigan had run for decades. The problem was he had a spread offense quarterback in Denard Robinson, who stayed in spite of the fact that the coach that recruited him had been canned.
The solution? Put him in spread formations -- well, sometimes.
Indeed we've seen Robinson line up under center this season at moments. He's handed the ball off to a running back in the I-formation and that running back has proceeded to run for three yards up the middle, just like the Michigan days of old.
But we've seen a lot of him in the spread, too.
The spread is what allowed Michigan to drive 80 yards in 28 seconds on Notre Dame Saturday night for the game-winning score, without using either of the team's two remaining timeouts. It's what allowed Robinson to rush for over 100 yards and pass for 338 more -- despite completing only 11 passes.
A 30 yard per completion average isn't too shabby at all. Not your typical pro-style numbers.
The question entering this season was whether Robinson could become a pocket passer, and frankly the jury is still out. He threw the game-winner after taking the snap under center, after all. In fact, many of his biggest throws were from under center. But right now he's still most comfortable in the spread -- and Hoke seems willing to take advantage of it.
The "spread" has a little negative undertone to it because of what has transpired over the past few seasons in Ann Arbor. But we see spread formations all the time in the NFL; teams like the Indianapolis Colts routinely run plays from the shotgun with three or more receivers. And they have Peyton "Statue of Liberty" Manning running things (well, they did). Not exactly a mobile quarterback.
MGoBlog has an incredibly awesome breakdown of every offensive play that Michigan ran against Notre Dame. It's a bit of a read, but well worth it. I'm not going to break down every single play; just going to take a few stats to make my point.
A simple analysis shows that Michigan ran a total of 50 offensive plays against Notre Dame, never going on a drive that lasted more than five plays. Considering they put up 35 points, that's pretty impressive.
Here's the kicker: of the 50 total plays, Robinson took 32 of them from the shotgun formation. The other 18 snaps were from under center.
This means that Michigan ran 64 percent of its offense last week with Robinson in the gun, rather than under center. That doesn't seem very pro-style-y now does it?
Just because Michigan ran the majority of its offense from the shotgun doesn't necessarily mean that they didn't work successfully under center. In fact, all five Michigan touchdown plays were run from under center, including Stephen Hopkins' fumble at the goal line that Robinson scooped up for a score, and most importantly, the game-winning pass to Roy Roundtree.
Of Robinson's 24 pass attempts, 16 were from the shotgun and just eight from under center. Though the majority of the plays were from spread formations, when Michigan scored they were lined up in pro-style sets.
What does all this mean going forward? It's not really clear at this point. One thing that is clear through the first two games is that Hoke seems willing to sacrifice the traditional drop-back passing game at Michigan if it means more success for Robinson's game. Remember, backup quarterback Devin Gardner is not a traditional quarterback either; he was recruited for the spread under Rodriguez as well. It's not like Michigan has a Mallett in its back pocket; they don't.
But the biggest thing Hoke has done since getting to Michigan was asking Robinson to stay and run the show this season. Had Hoke told Robinson the offense wasn't for him like Rodriguez did with Mallett in 2008, Michigan's offense would likely be hurting right now, much like it was three years ago.
You don't tell talents like Robinson and Mallett to take a hike. You work with what you have. Rodriguez insisted on installing his spread scheme right away in year one; as a result, he lost one of the top talents in the country. Hoke, on the other hand, said "wait just a minute" and adopted his scheme to the pieces already in place.
This team will only go as far as Denard Robinson can take it in 2011. Right now, the best route seems to be putting him in the gun and letting him do what he does best.