THERE IS A SAID in boxing that styles make fights. If so, said Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, then expect the Capital One Orange Bowl to be a “heavyweight game” of “smashmouth” football teams – offensive no. ° 18 against defense n ° 2.
Michigan makes no secret of the fact that they want to be physical up front and carry defenses throughout the running game, led by Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum, who have 2,227 rushing yards this season. Georgia, behind 340-pound All-American nose tackle Jordan Davis, looks to eliminate the run and then chase the quarterback.
“It’s going to be a train wreck inside,” Gattis said of the Orange Bowl (7:30 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN / ESPN App).
When Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh contacted Gattis after the end of the 2018 season, he made an offer to the Alabama receivers coach and then offensive coordinator: come here, he said, and “you are going to execute your offense.”
Oddly, however, the product on the court today doesn’t look much like what many Michigan fans envisioned when Gattis was hired. The offense appears to be built more around Harbaugh’s conservative bully bullet mark than Gattis’ modern spread concepts.
But Gattis does not make holes. It’s still his offense, just … different. It went on for three long years in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as her hiring was questioned at first, maligned in the middle and now, finally, celebrated. It was a year of vindication – Gattis won this season’s Broyles Award, awarded to the best assistant coach in college football, while the school made its maiden trip to the college football playoffs.
So don’t expect Michigan to change their game plan much to counter Georgia.
If there was any doubt, a week ago Harbaugh was pictured in a bold print shirt that might as well have broadcast his strategy ahead of time: “RUN THE DAMN BALL”.
GATTIS WAS ASSUMED being the one to bring to life what had been a stagnant Michigan offense in Harbaugh’s first four seasons as a head coach. Good but not great – Wolverines averaged 9.5 wins but couldn’t beat rival Ohio State – Michigan needed someone to step in and lead old school Harbaugh into the 21st century .
Instead of trying to make time for the possession battle, under Gattis, the Wolverines have vowed not to regroup and push the tempo. Instead of relying solely on pro-style lineups with one or two receivers and the quarterback below center, they would move the quarterback into the shotgun and use sets of three and four receivers.
The changing of the guard was going to be exciting. He even came up with a clever slogan: “Speed in space.
The slogan, invented by Gattis, appeared everywhere. The Michigan Graphics Department created a phone wallpaper that fans could download featuring an astronaut wearing a blue and yellow winged helmet hovering above the moon. The school print shirts, which Gattis fired from a t-shirt cannon during a basketball game in February 2019.
Gattis leaned in, tweeting the hashtag “#SpeedInSpace” 33 times in 2019, including once alongside a video he shot from a boat in the waters of Cape Town, South Africa.
But after a first season in which Michigan’s offense was OK but never really took off, the hashtag disappeared from Gattis’ tweets.
Then, in 2020, everything that could go wrong for Michigan football happened. Going 2-4 was bad but the record didn’t tell the whole story as the offense ranked 66th in points per game, Joe Milton III struggled at quarterback and had to be benched in favor of Cade McNamara, and the team’s last three games have all been called off due to COVID-19.
There wasn’t much optimism going into 2021. The Wolverines weren’t ranked in the AP preseason’s Top 25, Milton left through the transfer portal, and there was more buzz about the replacement. from McNamara, freshman JJ McCarthy, than McNamara himself.
Offensive lineman Andrew Vastardis would later revel in how one punter predicted the team’s odds of winning the Big Ten Championship at 2%.
“But, you know,” Vastardis said, “we believe each other.”
Michigan won the season opener against Western Michigan hands down, but that wasn’t exactly promising as McNamara only attempted 11 assists and the team’s most experienced receiver, Ronnie Bell, had been lost for the year due to a knee injury.
The first month of the season seemed like a mirage. Yes, Michigan went 4-0, but they had only beaten western Michigan, Washington, northern Illinois and Rutgers, and McNamara hadn’t attempted 20 passes in a game.
But then came victories over Wisconsin, Nebraska and Northwestern. After losing to Michigan State, the Wolverines did not fold. They beat Indiana and Penn State.
With each passing week it was starting to set in: this defensive-minded, race-focused team could be the real deal even without McNamara and the passing game in the driver’s seat at all times.
Never mind that McNamara only threw 159 yards and no touchdowns against the no. 2 State of Ohio? Michigan ran really well for 297 yards and six touchdowns, and won at home by 15 points.
It wasn’t #SpeedInSpace, not even close. Michigan doesn’t have a single top 100 player nationally for receiving yards or top 200 for receiving. The offense isn’t particularly fast, going a full 7 seconds per game slower than Tennessee, and she still snuggles 40.9 percent of the time.
It was more like picking a fight in a phone booth and winning. Powered by Haskins and Corum, Michigan is third among all Power 5 teams in rush attempts. Last week he won the Joe Moore Award, which recognizes the country’s best offensive line.
After beating Iowa and winning the school’s first Big Ten Championship since 2004, Corum recalled an interview from a year earlier in which Gattis seemed to indicate he was not focused on the racing game. Corum said that hadn’t been a problem this season as Gattis agreed to throw the ball early and didn’t look back.
Michigan wide receiver Mike Sainristil shed light on another team motto: PSP
“Which is physical, smart, precise,” he said. “And as you see, the first word is physical. That’s exactly how we play football here. That’s what we want to do. That’s what we instill in our guys, and that’s how it’s gonna be. “
GATTIS APPEARS THE on the verge of tears by accepting the Broyles Award.
Appearing at the awards luncheon in Little Rock, Arkansas earlier this month, Gattis recalled how Harbaugh took the risk of hiring him. Not only would he become one of the few black offensive coordinators in the Power 5, he would do so without ever having been a main player before.
During his acceptance speech, Gattis acknowledged the patience shown by sporting director Warde Manuel and chief of staff Doug Gnodtke. When Michigan went 2-4 last season, they could have chosen to clean the house and didn’t.
Gattis thanked them for “giving us a chance to ride this wave”.
“We really believed we could,” he said.
But the biggest thank you belonged to Harbaugh. After last season, Harbaugh chose not to bring back six of his assistants and stayed with Gattis.
“They didn’t believe we belonged there,” Gattis said. “They didn’t think I belonged there. They didn’t think I was the right person to lead our program offensively, and I’m eternally grateful to Coach Harbaugh because he believed in me.”
This belief seems to be creeping into the preparations for the playoffs.
Speaking to reporters in Miami, Gattis did not hint at a sudden return to a broader attack to counter Georgia’s size and strength along the defensive line.
It doesn’t matter that Alabama did just that, throwing the ball 44 times and beating Georgia 41.24 in the SEC Championship game. Gattis said it was difficult to call it a success plan as it was Georgia’s only loss this season.
Corum echoed his coach, telling reporters: “You know, there’s no need to change anything.”
“We have had a wonderful year,” he said. “The offensive line has worked really well, our tight ends have worked well, our receivers and everyone have done well. So we’re going to continue to prepare and watch a movie about them and keep going.”
Despite losing Bell for the season, Gattis has managed to craft some big plays in the passing game when he needs them. Shorthanded at the receiver, he made the most of tight ends Erick All and Luke Schoonmaker, who combined 51 receptions and five touchdowns.
McNamara might not be the most talented quarterback in the playoffs, but he’s an efficient passer with 2,470 yards, 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions.
McCarthy even offers a nice change of pace every now and then, with 23 runs for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning said Harbaugh and Gattis deserve credit for the offense they’ve built.
“They run hard, play smashing football,” he said. “They require a bit of physics up front, which I know we’re excited to see, and then they have the ability to attack you downstream. I just think they show a terrific balance in the way. how they prepare, in the way they play the game. “
Gattis also seems looking forward to this heavyweight game.
After three years, instead of changing Michigan, it looks like Michigan has changed it.
“I mean, it’s two smashmouth teams going against each other,” he said. “And endurance is going to play a big chunk of that – who’s able to win the fourth quarter, who’s able to win on the line of scrimmage late in the game is going to be key to who wins.”