Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Big Uglies Of Rich Rodriguez: Offensive Line Talent and On-Field Results

You can’t really talk about the great tradition of Michigan football without touching upon things like Michigan’s rivalry games, great Michigan defenses, or outstanding Wolverine offensive lineman. As far as offensive lineman are concerned, Michigan has been truly blessed with great talent over the last 40 years with many of these players winning conference championships, receiving all-conference and all-american awards, and achieving success at the professional level. Great Michigan offensive lines over the years, in their own way, have sort of personified what Michigan Wolverine football is really all about.

A lot has already been written about Rich Rodriguez’s own brand of read spread option football, the role of offensive linemen in that methodology, and Rodriguez’s preferences for the physical form offensive lineman should assume in order for them to be most productive in this system.

I decided to take a closer look year-by-year at offensive line starting lineups and OL production under Rich Rodriguez between 2001 and 2008. I included West Virginia’s 2000 offensive line production stats for some context as WVU ran a multiple-I offense that year under the previous head coach Don Nehlen.

A good offensive line allows teams to achieve a great many things in the game of football. You can get by and even do pretty well offensively with an average quarterback and running back assuming you have a talented and productive offensive line.

But how does one measure offensive line productivity? We’d probably want to consider a combination of things that would help rate an offensive line’s productivity.

1.) First downs
2.) Yards per play
3.) Points per play
4.) Rushing Yards
5.) Scoring offense
6.) Sacks Suffered

It’s difficult to locate first down and sacks suffered statistics by season dating back to 2000. If someone knows how to get these, please let me know.

I uncovered some pretty interesting things when taking these variables into consideration. My analysis of Rich Rodriguez’s offensive lines includes:

1.) Year by Year Starting Lineups of offensive tackle, offensive guard and centers (probably not 100% accurate, as I don’t have data on injuries suffered)
2.) Height and weight and class year of starters
3.) Player star rating, if known (according to
4.) Yards per play and national rank
5.) Points per play and national rank
6.) Rushing Offense: Total yards rushing and national rank
7.) Scoring Offense: Points per game and national rank
8.) Total Sacks Suffered (I could only find stats from 2003 on)

I chose not include passing offense numbers in the analysis because:

a.) It’s a lot of indirect, extra data to consider ,
b.) No matter what offensive scheme being run, a quarterback connecting on 70 yard pass bomb versus a quick hitch or bubble screen pass that subsequently goes 70 yards cannot be correlated as well to offensive line performance. Sacks suffered by the team, however, can be more directly correlated to offensive line play.
c.) Yards per play, rushing yardage and PPP stats are much better, more direct instruments for measuring offensive line contribution team success (or failure).

This was Don Nehlen’s final year at WVU. A senior-laden offensive line led the team and sent out Mr. Nehlen a winner, beating Mississippi in the Music City Bowl in Nashville 49-38. It was not as close as the score indicates. Nehlen’s offensive line weighed in at a Gittlesonesque 300 lbs on average. The offensive line performance was what one would expect from a 7-5 football team. Not bad with .31 points per play, but nothing special either (4.94 yards per play, 75th nationally) and 28 points per game.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Don Nehlen

Off Line Coach:Billy Legg


Yards Per Play:4.9475th

Points Per Play:0.3140th

Rushing Yards1,54964th

Sacks Suffered??


OTMatt WilsonSr.6-52950
OGWes OursSr.6-12800
CRick GilliamSr.6-63250
OGJason BrooksJr.6-42900
OTTanner RussellSr.6-83100

So Rich Rodriguez comes to town and Morgantown is totally stoked with all of these “Spot the Ball and Play Like Your Hair is On Fire!” t-shirts being worn around campus. Cue the offensive team crash and burn that happens the second you place a drop back passer like Brad Lewis at the wheel of a read spread option offense for the first time ever and the other 10 players don’t really know what their supposed to be doing. The Mountaineers returned with a veteran defense that year, but it didn’t matter. The offensive line had one returning starter and two players with any significant OL experience: Brad Knell and Jason Brooks. A 3-8 season and a significant nose-dive in points per play (.20, 99th nationally) and points per game (21.4, 89th nationally) were the fruits of Rodriguez’s labor.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:4.57101st

Points Per Play:0.299th

Rushing Yards1,99236th

Sacks Suffered??


OTLance NimmoJr.6-62750
OGBrad KnellSr.6-52900
CZac DillowJr.6-22700
OGJason BrooksSr.6-32850
OTTim BrownSo.6-52750

This is the “whoa” moment that people were kind of hoping for a year earlier, and when it finally happened, no one could quite figure out why it did. A new mobile quarterback is plopped into the backfield named Rasheed Marshall and the entire 2 deep of the offensive line returned. Tailback Avon Cobourne sets the Mountaineer Field Astroturf Awn Fiyaahh with some pretty creepy stats (1,700 yards and 17 touchdowns)! Yards per play jump from 4.57 to 5.48. Points per play go from .20 to back to .31. Mountaineers rank 12th in country in number of plays run and 36th in scoring at 30 pts per game. WVU finishes 9-4 and all is made right again with the world.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:5.4840th

Points Per Play:0.3138th

Rushing Yards3,6872nd

Sacks Suffered??


OTLance NimmoSr.6-62951
OGJeff BerkSo.6-52751
CZac DillowSr.6-22900
OGKen SandorSr.6-43000
OTTim BrownJr.6-52950

The two deep offensive line players from 2002 now assume starting roles in 2003. The YPP improve from 5.48 to 5.63. WVU is still averaging over 30 points per game and the points per play also improve from .31 to .35. West Virginia finishes 16th in rushing yardage in the nation. Mountaineers suffer only 14 sacks. Rodriguez, Magee, Barwis and OL coach Rick Trickett appear to have successfully implemented the “system”.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:5.6346th

Points Per Play:0.3522nd

Rushing Yards260716th

Sacks Suffered14T-7th


OTMike WatsonJr.6-43052
OGJeff BerkJr.6-52801
CBen TimmonsSr.6-62851
OGGeoff LewisSr.6-43100
OTTim Brown Sr.6-53000

West Virginia finishes only 8-4 and loses yet another Gator Bowl, but “Dammit Jim, something’s happening in Engineering!”. “Scotty, just what the hell is going on down there!”.
Well, the offensive line is younger and smaller than the year before, but much quicker and more talented. Rasheed Marshall, Kay-Jay Harris and Jason Colson are melting the Astroturf yet again, while the offensive line continues to show more improvement. Marshall is throwing more and starts to suffer more sacks (21). But then the stupid YPP improve from 5.63 to 5.92, with .33 points per play and 31 points per game. Then the Mountaineers do something silly by finishing 8th in the land in rushing offense. Kooky.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:5.9224th

Points Per Play:0.3330th

Rushing Yards27818th

Sacks Suffered2114th


OTMike WatsonSr.6-43052
OGDan MozesSo.6-32903
CJeremy HinesSo.6-22853
OGJeff BerkSr.6-52801
OTGarin JusticeJr.6-73050

This is the year of the big bang, or maybe it was the year of the invisible hand. Either way, Rich Rodriguez’ system is now fully ingrained with all team players on offense and defense. The offensive line returns 3 starters and the two deep shows some talented freshmen arrivals. There were 3 juniors and 2 seniors in the starting OL lineup. WVU’s YPP stats worsen from 5.92 to 5.71, but it matters not as the points per play balloon from .33 to .37 and the Mountaineers score over 31 points per game. The Mountaineers suffer only 18 sacks (It’s Pat White in the open field!), 5th in the land in rushing with 2,887 yards, and an 11-1 record. A daring victory over heavily favored Georgia in Sugar Bowl makes Rodriguez a state hero.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:5.7137th

Points Per Play:0.3717th

Rushing Yards28875th

Sacks Suffered1812th


OTTravis GarrettSr6-63051
OGDan MozesJr.6-42803
CJeremy HinesJr.6-22853
OGJeremy ScheffeyJr.6-32903
OTGarin JusticeSr.6-83000

Aftershocks are usually much more damaging. In terms of rushing yards, yards per play and points per play, there were few teams better than West Virginia in 2006. The Mountaineers had 2 seniors and 3 sophomores in the starting offensive line. They finished 2nd in rushing with 3,628 yards, with a jaw-dropping 7.29 yards per play (Errr….IT’S PAT WHITE IN THE OPEN FIELD!) and .47 points per play. WVU scored 39 points per game (tied for 3rd nationally). Most shocking was perhaps that this offensive line had 3 sophomores and 2 seniors in the starting lineup. WVU finishes 11-2.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Rick Trickett


Yards Per Play:7.292nd

Points Per Play:0.473rd

Rushing Yards36282nd

Sacks Suffered15T-6th


OTJohn BradshawSo.6-62953
OGRyan StanchekSo.6-42802
CDan MozesSr.6-42903
OGJeremy ScheffeySr.6-32903
OTJake FignerSo.6-52902

Offensive line coach Rick Trickett takes off for Florida State and Greg Frey of South Florida is the new OL coach. The WVU offensive line was young, but experienced and very talented with Stanchek and Figner at tackle, Rodemoyer and Isdaner at guard and Mike Dent at center. The Mountaineers yards per play sunk from 7.29 to a still impressive 6.64 (5th nationally). The points per play remain shocking at .46 (4th nationally). West Virginia finished 4th in the land in rushing offense with 3,515 yards, and that damn scoring music simply would not stop: 39 points per game (again). WVU finishes 11-2 with big Fiesta Bowl win over heavily favored Oklahoma.

West Virginia


Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Greg Frey


Yards Per Play:6.645th

Points Per Play:0.464th

Rushing Yards35154th

Sacks Suffered13T-4th


OTRyan StanchekJr.6-43002
OGGreg IsdanerSo.6-43152
CMike DentJr.6-42850
OGEric RodemoyerFr.6-43002
OTJake FignerJr.6-53052

RR’s first year at Michigan. He takes OL coach Greg Frey with him. Wolverines return 1 starter with any game time experience in a sophomore OT named Stephen Schilling. Everyone else left over has zero game experience. The offensive line was smallish and inexperienced, weighing at 285 lbs on average. Michigan offensive performance dropped like a stone from 5.2 yards per play in 2007 under Lloyd Carr to 4.41 in 2008. The points per play, however, were not that much worse. Michigan had .28 points per play in 2007 under Carr/Debord, and had .24 points per play under Rodriguez/Magee. It’s interesting too that Michigan had 1,771 yards rushing in 2008 with a banged up crew at running back and a jostled, inexperienced OL. This was 200 yards less than RR’s first outing at WVU in 2001 when he had Avon Cobourne healthy for all eleven games and nobody with any experience on the OL. Michigan averaged 20.3 points per game in 2008, eerily similar to the 21.4 points per game of RR’s first team at West Virginia. Michigan’s third down success rate was 27% in 2008. The Wolverines finished 3-9.



Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Greg Frey


Yards Per Play:4.41111

Points Per Play:0.2493rd

Rushing Yards177161st

Sacks Suffered22T-13th


OTMark OrtmannJr.6-62943
OGDavid MoosmanJr.6-52924
CDavid MolkFr.6-22824
OGTim McAvoyJr.6-62884
OTStephen SchillingSo.6-52955

2009 Outlook
The Michigan offensive line returns all of the 2008 starters, but have major competition going on at tackle as RS freshmen Mark Huyge, a 2-star recruit, may have busted enough heads to crack the starting lineup this autumn for the Wolverines at tackle. The battles for the starting jobs at all positions will be constant and week-to-week. Michigan has 2 seniors in OG Moosman and OT Ortmann, plus junior Schilling has moved to his preferred position of guard. Michigan’s center, David Molk, is a Rimington Trophy candidate this fall. Preliminary indication is that this group is going to be better than last year, and arguably might be one of the finest in the Big Ten next to Ohio State and Iowa. Sprinkle in a mobile quarterback (see 2001) named Forcier or Robinson and some improved depth and/or durability at tailback (Brandon Minor playing all 11 games?) and all I can or *might* say is “whoa”. We'll need to monitor the OL's progress during the 2009 season.



Head Coach:Rich Rodriguez

Off Line Coach:Greg Frey


Yards Per Play:??

Points Per Play:??

Rushing Yards??

Sacks Suffered??


OTMark HugyeFr.6-62752
OGDavid MoosmanSr.6-52984
CDavid MolkSo.6-22844
OGSteve SchillingJr.6-53005
OTMark OrtmannSr.6-62983

Wonder Twin Powers…Activate! Shape of....A WINNEBAGO!!!

Judging from past historical starting lineups, Rich Rodriguez likes to see his offensive line assume the following form on average:

Offensive Tackles: 6 feet 6 inches tall and 296 lbs.

Offensive Guards: 6 feet 4 inches tall and 291 lbs

Centers: 6 feet 3 inches tall and 288 yards.

These are averages.

The idea that Rodriguez likes smaller offensive lineman is rather bunk in my opinion. History shows that Rodriguez will take them as big as they can come, from a Garin Justice at 6-8, 300 lbs to dinky Rimington Trophy winner like Dan Mozes at 6-4, 280 lbs. The only caveat is that the guy has to be able to “move somethin’” on the football field. Michigan's head coach clearly favors agility times technique over mass times technique as he considers the product outcome is much greater from the former equation.


Anonymous said...

Since you had trouble finding sacks information, perhaps you could include information on plays resulting in losses. After all, a loss is bad for the offensive line, whetehr it's a sack or a run or bubble screen that goes nowehere. Also MIGHT reconsider the passing yards thing, especially in a spread offense. The 70-yard bomb requires great pass protection, but the quick toss that gets taken to the house requires offensive linemen capable of shedding tacklers and getting to the next level. THAT is part of the reason why the spread supposedly likes those smaller, more nimble, quick guys.

Finally, someone should tlak to Jason Brooks; he was a Michigan transfer who lived through the Rodriguez transition (and by your statisticks, RR not only helped him get lighter, but he also lost an inch in heigh between junior and senior years).

Anonymous said...

Now that you've done this for the offense, I am curious about the defensive line's effectiveness of his WVU teams.

Anonymous said...

Like the article, as I do most of the ones you write. Just discovered your site about a a month ago, now it's on of my top 3 for Michigan Football info. Keep up the excellent work.

offskooring said...

great breakdown...i hope the turnaround happens...i think i smoked too much weed in highschool