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Monday, March 06, 2006

Reader Interaction Day did not fall into the "let us never speak of this again" category. Thus this: a wrap. First, the Debord discussion, as it was more thoroughly... er... discussed.

On Debord

The lasting memory I have of Mike Debord's previous tenure as Michigan's offensive coordinator is screaming "throw it to Terrell" approximately 25 times per minute during the first half of the Orange Bowl. I am not alone. Commenter Matt went right to the well:
the first 22 minutes, David Terrell was getting about a 15 yard cushion on every play, yet we never threw a quick pass to him. Meanwhile, I was about 40 rows up from Debord/Carr, etc... yelling "Throw the quick hitch to Terrell" over and over again. Either he finally heard me, or he finally made the adjustment, because we started throwing that pass for big gains over and over again.
At that point we had plowed our way to a fourteen point deficit. Michigan's bullheaded stupidity was breathtaking.

Earlier in the year this memory was thrust unbidden into my mind when I read Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, Warren St. John's opus about that particular year's Alabama team. It's more a book about fandom than football, but St. John repeatedly mentions that the 'Bama secondary was by far the weak point of the team. This was common knowledge anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. Also obvious to anyone who watched Alabama: running was futile business. Despite the obvious invitation to fling the ball willy-nilly about the pitch, we did not do so until we absolutely had to. I find that disturbing.

There's some disagreement on exactly what DeBord's offense entailed. Witness the divergent accounts from commenter Dave...
I recall his tenure as OC with fondness, and am excited that we might (gasp! shock!) utilize the middle of the field again in the passing game. And maybe run a little more effectively. And maybe run the bootleg to the TE play that used to be such a staple and that we never use anymore. (I really liked that play.)
... and heismann007...
I am amazed at how people have forgotten the DeBord era on offense. I think 1999 is the greatest example of what DeBord offense was all about. That year Michigan featured the following talent:

QBs Tom Brady and Drew Henson
RBs Future NFL Rookie of the Year Anthony Thomas and Aaron Shea
WRs Terrell, Knight and Walker
OLs Hutchingson [sic], Brandt, Backus

Despite this extremely high level of talent, Michigan finished 8th in the conference in total offense. More importantly, as we are all concerned about the running game, U of M averaged 128 yards a game rushing, our lowest total since 1962. Our running game under DeBord was a disaster.
The offense that year struggled the whole season, they could not score touchdowns against ND, scored only 18 points (2 were a safety) against Syracuse, struggled terribly the whole game against the worst Ohio State team in the last 15 years, and fell nearly hopelessly behing against Penn State and Alabama before finally playing desperate catch-up.
Chris echoed those sentiments in a follow-up and brought up a good point:
The previous post covered most everything I could point to as evidence that DeBord did exactly the opposite of utilizing the offensive talent effectively. To be fair, Carr's influence probably added greatly to the conservatism of DeBord's OC tenure here, though his disastrous stint at Central featured some really poor offenses in a conference not exactly known for lights out defense.
Several commenters mentioned that DeBord's three years featured only five losses between them ...
The 5 losses from 97-99 were, in order: @ND, Syracuse, @OSU, @MSU, and Illinois. In the 5 losses, Michigan averaged 24.8 ppg, and only scored less than 20 once. Meanwhile, the defense allowed a whopping 174 points in those 5 games (34.8 avg.), and never fewer than 31. My point? You can pin all 5 of those losses on Herrmann's defense.
... but Chris's post has an awfully good NSFMF in response:
I'm envious of those who apparently have erased from their memory the worst stretch of Michigan football I've ever witnessed, against some truly awful teams:

10-03-1998: Michigan 12 Iowa 9
10-17-1998: Michigan 12 Northwestern 6
10-24-1998: Michigan 21 Indiana 10
10-31-1998: Michigan 15 Minnesota 10

The game against the Gophers featured something like -40 yards rushing.
Aye, that it did. QED, MFers. DeBord's offenses were also cited as being clutch, but grngoblue blew that up:
I don't think DeBord had a knack for getting the team out of trouble, I think his weak running game and ... unenthusiastic ... play-calling had a knack for getting us into trouble. The only reason the era was even moderately successful is because we happened to have outstanding quarterbacks (especially, of course, Brady).

What would've happened if DeBord didn't have calm and precise Griese, Brady and Henson dealing with lead, Clint Eastwood-style, at the end of all those games when the plan failed and it was time to scrap everything, go four wide, and ask him to sling it?

The team can't expect to always have a QB to be able to pull out those wild finishes. It's not practical. I'd like to see the team execute a strategy in the first three quarters and not just trust, over and over again, that the QB has balls of steel and will make it happen in the end.
The general tenor of the conversation was skeptical, to be kind. I'm with the skeptics. There are three unresolved questions in my mind:
  • How much of the crap offense was DeBord's fault? It's not like he was trying to rein in Lloyd Carr's tendency to call a flea-flicker on every other play. Carr has been inching away from Bo and Woody ball--is Debord going to accelerate that process or hinder it?
  • How much was actually a good idea? A great defense can justify extraordinary conservatism on offense. Michigan had one of college football's all-time Ds in '97; they won a national championship and all those legendarily ugly games. Debord walks into a vastly different situation. Michigan has an erratic defense that is liable to give up thirty on any particular day. College football is slanting more towards offense these days. DeBord is no doubt aware of this and may not repeat the same mistakes again.
  • He can't seriously call games like that now, right? Seriously.
In sum: On the surface, DeBord is a ridiculous choice for offensive coordinator. He was unimpressive during his first three years; he failed at CMU; he is not particularly exciting. But there are extenuating circumstances that provide hope that the second time will be better. Loeffler is more heavily involved with the game planning ever year. Lloyd Carr is adapting to college football's offensive renaissance -- with painful slowness at times, granted. The defense is not a rock to fall back upon. DeBord's made some noises in interviews the echo these sentiments, but we won't have a clear idea how meaningful those noises are until the Notre Dame game.