The Wolverine

June-July 2020

The Wolverine: Covering University of Michigan Football and Sports

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58 THE WOLVERINE JUNE/JULY 2020 I n the 1990s up until 2008, Michigan football was all about one thing: attention to detail. What had started with Bo Schembechler and a yardstick in 1969 — often including a march down the offensive line like a general assessing his troops look- ing for the slightest misstep — continued through Gary Moeller and then Lloyd Carr. The coaches and their assistants all knew the same thing, ingrained by Schem- bechler from the first day he arrived in Ann Arbor from Miami (Ohio) and preached incessantly — that even two inches off in a stance or the slightest misstep up front could ruin a play. For receivers and quar- terbacks, breaking a route even half a yard early could be the difference between a key completion and a pass getting broken up. And those plays, added up, are often the difference between win- ning and losing against teams with similar talent. It has become cliché, but as offensive coordinator Josh Gattis said during a May conference call with reporters, it is about "con- trolling the controllables," an area in which the offense fell just short last year. "That's an area of growth that, I think as a unit, we're going to be able to take the next step," he said. "We were about four percent off from being in the top 10 in touch- down drive percentage. We had 16 drives last year where we ended up in the red zone that we didn't score touchdowns on. We had to settle for field goals. "And then our scoring drive percentage, we were another 3.5 percent from being in the top tier of top-10 teams, and we had another 17 drives on that field where we didn't score. We had turnovers in the red zone or fourth-down stops … I think we had seven turnovers in the red zone and four missed field goals and four turnovers on downs. I think there are some areas where we can improve offensively." Mistakes are going to happen, of course, and some will be more pro- nounced than others. Wide receiver Ronnie Bell's dropped touchdown pass on fourth down at Penn State last season remains one of the most glaring, a missed opportunity to tie the game and probably send it to overtime. And yet Bell was the least of U-M's problems that night. Several other (more highly touted) receiv- ers dropped balls that could have, probably should have, kept drives alive. On the other side of the ball, a veteran safety missed a call that led to a critical, momentum-changing touchdown pass that was of the few defensive mistakes during a half in which the defense allowed only 72 total yards. Ironically and unfortunately, Bell — the kid who goes all out on every play, pays as much attention to the fundamentals as anyone on every play, whether it is blocking, route running or whatever — was the scapegoat. But there was a reason Bell was the most targeted of all the Michi- gan receivers last year despite be- ing the least heralded of what was considered an NFL corps. His quarterback knew he could count on him being in the right place and that they would be on the same page. Gattis is looking for more of that in 2020, and that is the emphasis — not per- fection, but improvement in the little areas. He has watched each of last year's plays 50 times, he insisted, looking for ways to improve and the nuances that might turn a negative play into a positive. "You can gain a ton of information and a ton of knowledge about yourself from studying yourself and just looking for ways to improve," he said. "That's been huge — going back and studying ourselves. It's things we can control; it's not things opposing defenses are doing, [but] things we can eliminate to help be more successful." Some of them are obvious, and they've already been addressed. Loafing at the receiver position in a blowout loss at Wisconsin, com- ing up short on a fourth-quarter third down against Ohio State when fighting for a first down would have kept a drive alive … don't ex- pect similar results from this year's corps. Gattis might not carry the yard- stick to smack a guy on the back of his calves like Schembechler would have, but he has identified what his offense needs to take the next step. "The details and executing of the fundamentals are things we're miss- ing," he said. "Our kids know what to do; it's about how to do it. Plays win games, but fundamentals win plays." An area he has already addressed in virtual meetings and can't wait to work on when they return to the field. ❑ Chris Balas has been with The Wolver- ine since 1997. Contact him at cbalas@ and follow him on Twitter @Balas_Wolverine. INSIDE MICHIGAN   CHRIS BALAS The Little Things Offensive coordinator Josh Gattis has placed an emphasis on his unit "controlling the controllables" by paying greater attention to detail and executing the fundamentals. PHOTO BY PER KJELDSEN

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