The Wolverine

February 2019

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 72 of 75

FEBRUARY 2019 THE WOLVERINE 73 M ichigan's hiring of Josh Gattis as offensive co- ordinator is a sign Jim Harbaugh may adapt. Harbaugh prefers to pound the football on the ground. Last season, Michigan was 22nd in run rate on standard downs, also known as non-passing downs, and primarily relied on Karan Higdon's legs to set up the pass and mitigate turnovers. This strategy worked rela- tively well. U-M had its best finish in Offensive S&P+ (24th) and yards per play (42nd) un- der Harbaugh. However, a rank of 24th in Offensive S&P+ or, especially, 42nd in yards per play is not a benchmark of an elite offense. This became clear in Michigan's final two games of the season. The Wolverines watched Ohio State's receivers cross and zig-zag through their defense to the tune of 62 points and their of- fense crumble when the run faltered against Florida again and again. Under Harbaugh, Michigan is 0-13 when it doesn't average at least 2.90 yards per carry. U-M has become too dependent on running the ball, so when that doesn't work, which hap- pens too frequently against quality run defenses, the passing offense is unable to carry U-M to a victory. With a quarterback talent like senior Shea Patterson and a trio of wide- outs like redshirt sophomore Tarik Black, junior Nico Collins and junior Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan shouldn't be in such a predicament. Gattis' arrival in Ann Arbor could solve this problem. The 35-year-old was the co-offen- sive coordinator and wide receivers coach at Alabama last year. It was his first taste of coordinating duties, and it was an encouraging sample of what he can do. In 2017, the season before Gattis came to Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide counted on their dominating defense and the strength of their powerful ground game. They were first in De- fensive S&P+ and 23rd in Offensive S&P+. This should sound familiar. The difference between 2017 Ala- bama and 2018 Michigan is that the Tide were 12th in Rushing Offensive S&P+ and 15th in rushing efficiency, while U-M was 38th and 84th in those respective categories. It thus made more sense that Alabama ran the ball as much as it did, ranking 30th in run rate on standard downs. Nonetheless, the offenses for 2017 Alabama and 2018 Michigan had similar profiles. It must be noted then that, in one offseason, Gattis transformed Ala- bama's offense into one of the most electric units in recent memory. And he did it by unleashing the football through the air. In 2018, Alabama was only 103rd in run rate on standard downs, dropping back to pass nearly half the time in such situations. With the Crimson Tide throwing to such ex- cess, they improved in nearly every meaningful offensive statistic. They jumped from 15th to third in scoring offense, 13th to second in yards per play and 23rd to second in Offensive S&P+. They were first in offensive efficiency and sixth in of- fensive explosiveness. They became nearly unstoppable. This was largely due to their pass- ing offense. Alabama was first in Passing Offense S&P+, first in passing efficiency, first in passer rating, first in Passing Downs S&P+, second in pass- ing yards per attempt, fifth in completion percentage and fifth in passing explosiveness. The Tide could throw it hori- zontally. They could throw it vertically. They could throw it short. They could throw it far. It didn't matter where they threw it because defenses had the toughest time stopping it. We lived in a new world where Alabama was a virtually invincible throwing machine. This is the promise that Gattis brings with him to Michigan. He may be able to retool a Wol- verine offense that needs to be able to sustain its passing game and air it out more often. One question will be how much of Alabama's success should be attributed to Gattis. He was a co-offensive coordinator with Mike Locksley, who presumably han- dled most of the play-calling duties. He had Tua Tagovailoa as his quar- terback, a special prospect who was the favorite for the Heisman Trophy most of the season. He had Jerry Jeudy on the outside, who won the Biletnikoff Award, which is given to the nation's best wide receiver. Did this talent on the gridiron and coaching assistance prop up Gattis? Or was Gattis the catalyst for this of- fensive burst? The other question also will be how much Harbaugh will let Gattis take the reins. He has said that Gattis will "run the whole offense," but there has been evidence the head coach will revert to what he is more comfortable with if the game plan begins to go awry. If Harbaugh can shrug off that impulse and give Gattis the oppor- tunity to take control and show that he was main reason for Alabama's explosion, U-M's offense may very well take flight. ❏ INSIDE THE NUMBERS   DREW HALLETT U-M Is Gearing For Flight With New OC New U-M offensive coordinator Josh Gattis helped orchestrate an Alabama attack that finished sixth in the nation in passing offense (323.6 yards per game) last season. Michigan placed 79th in the same category, posting 215.7 yards per contest. PHOTO COURTESY BLUE WHITE ILLUSTRATED Staff writer Drew Hallett has covered Michigan athletics since 2013. Contact him at and follow him on Twitter @DrewCHallett.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Wolverine - February 2019