Can Doug Nussmeier Fix Michigan's Offense?

By Ross Fulton on May 1, 2014 at 3:00p

The 2013 Michigan offense sputtered all season long and was the root cause of a disappointing campaign.

The Wolverines suffered a variety of ailments. The Michigan offensive line was never a functional unit. For his part, offensive coordinator Al Borges could never implement his preferred West Coast system. Borges defaulted to a hodgepodge of spread and pro-style concepts, to the point that Michigan often featured completely different base run plays week to week. One week the Wolverine offense would primarily utilize stretch and bootleg action from under center. The next they would run power read and other spread concept.

It is thus perhaps no surprise that Brady Hoke replaced Al Borges  at season's end. In his place, Hoke inserted Alabama Offensive Coordinator Doug Nussmeier and tasked him with fixing the Michigan offense.

It begins with an ID

Nusmmeier's primary plan to solve the situation is to bring a coherent offensive framework to Michigan. That system is largely a reflection of Nussmeier's time at Alabama, but also his previous stops.

Nussmeier's offensis a descendent of Joe Gibbs and Dennis Erickson's original one-back offense. One of Nussmeier's role models is John L. Smith, who has long been one of the most successful one-back offensive coaches (putting aside his often strange off-the-field theatrics), particularly in utilizing three and four wide receivers and throwing the football. 

The one-back offense is the basis for most NFL offenses. Utilizing one back with either three wide receivers or two tight ends, the offense combines the downhill run game with four immediate vertical threats.

Michigan 12

The framework is well suited for a conceptual passing game, as well as play action off the run threat.

Spreading 'Em Out or Packing it In

Within this overall framework, teams can feature a spread out, drop back passing game (such as Smith) or focus upon the downhill, combo blocking run game. Alabama was certainly the latter. The Tide's bread and butter play was inside zone.

Inside zone is an aggressive, physical downhill run play. Offensive linemen determine whether they are covered or uncovered. They take an aggressive half step to the play side call and establish double teams on defensive linemen. The uncovered linemen tries to overtake the defensive linemen over his covered counterpart to the call, allowing the covered linemen to come off on the linebacker. But by blocking an area, rather than a man, the offensive line can adjust to stunts and blitzes. Ohio State fans should be familiar with inside zone by now, as it also constitutes the basis for Urban Meyer's offense.

Alabama, of course, ran the play from under center to a deep tailback, attacking the front side B gap. He presses the hole and then works back to the backside B gap.


More important to Michigan fans tired of Borges cycling through concepts, Alabama commits to inside zone The offense reps the run play every practice from day one, working against every possible front. This is critical for building the cohesiveness amongst the offensive line to recognize and work the crucial zone tandem blocks.

Early returns from Spring Practice is that Nussmeier's Michigan offense will be predicated upon inside zone, mixed with the occasional power blocking. Wolverine players asserted that Nussmeier is placing an added emphasis upon the run game. 

From there, Nussmeier's offense seeks to use play-action off those base run plays to flood one side of the field, often with routes such as shallow cross or Y-sail, which try to create a high-low vertical stretch outside the hash marks. 


The drop back passing game, by contrast is predicated upon shorter option pass plays, such as stick or spacing routes. This short/long dichotomy is reflective of Nussmeier's time at Washington, which in turn reaches back to the USC offenses under Pete Carrol.

Good in Theory...

So the upside for Michigan is that Nussmeier will likely bring a unified system. But this alone does guarantee success. Instead, Nussmeier must address perhaps the primary issue that bedeviled Borges. Michigan wants to operate an under center offense, but can Michigan establish a downhill running game without only relying on their athletic quarterbacks out of spread concepts? Borges perhaps defaulted to a hodge podge offense because Michigan's quarterbacks provided the Wolverines the only opportunity to consistently run the football.

Heading into 2014, Devin Gardner still seemingly represents Michigan's most dynamic playmaker and biggest threat. And Michigan's offensive line play this spring largely did not indicate significant improvement from last season. So Nussmeier's challenge is retaining the offense's identity while featuring Gardner in a way that permits the Wolverines to move the football.

Nussmeier's pre-Crimson Tide tenures included a greater emphasis out of the shotgun under Smith and with Keith Price at Washington. Michigan's offensive success or failure this fall may hinge upon how well Nussmeier can integrate his past experiences into a cohesive whole.  


Comments Show All Comments

THEOSUfan's picture

Can he fix them?  To the point where they are competitive and The Game gets it's luster back?  OK.  But to actually FIX them?  It's hard for me to be for that.  :)

+2 HS
D-Day0043's picture

I hope he can't fix them. I enjoy when we beat them every year, especially after how cocky they got when they won 3 years ago. After all of the smack they talked after their crappy little win, they deserve no mercy.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

+8 HS
Earle's picture

I'm not sure anyone can fix this:


Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

+16 HS
Doc's picture

Never.  Gets.  Old.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

+6 HS
GoBucks713's picture


almost as good as this

-The Aristocrats!

+5 HS
GoBucks713's picture


and this

-The Aristocrats!

+15 HS
bleedscarlet's picture

and they haven't been the same since......

Slingin' swag since 1970


+2 HS
bedheadjc's picture

Every time I watch this clip I STILL root for the guy to take it all the way.

+11 HS
BUCKSOMIES's picture

All I can say is, scum still sucks!  Always will too.

SteelBuckeye's picture

Nussmeier = Not Meyer so I am going to say no.  

+3 HS
sivaDavis's picture

Does UM have the offensive line Bama has/had? No. The running back? No. The Quarterback? Possib-hahahaha sorry. No. Taking their best playmaker, running wise, and making him a pocket QB. That's perfectly fine with me.


This ain't Bama Nuss... it sure as hell ain't Bama.

"I've had smarter people around me all my life, but I haven't run into one yet that can outwork me. And if they can't outwork you, then smarts aren't going to do them much good." - Woody Hayes

+3 HS
jaxbuckeye's picture

No. Terriblle QBs.  One can move but makes bad decisions. The other makes good decisions but can't move. Add in busts at offensive line plus an overweight, overranked tailback?  Disaster waiting to happen. Unless they put Peppers on the offensive side and get him the ball everywhere, teams like tOSU and Nebraska, with strong Dlines, are going to feast!   Not thank any of that is a BAD thing. 

+1 HS
jaxbuckeye's picture

Come on I know someone has video of that great "scramble" by Morris in HS!

BoFuquel's picture

The defense is still the problem in Whoreville. They would have beaten us had not UM known the exact play they were going to run, so he could tell TP 2.0 exactly what to do, and where to play. GO BUCKS!

I wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then.

Bamabucknut's picture

Why would an offensive coordinator leave ALABAMA for michigan ?

Humbuck's picture


Bama didn't want him to stick around because his offense wasn't getting the job done to their standards despite having elite talent all over the place.  Their OL underperformed big time last year and that is supposed to be his strength.  (Now remember, underperformed to Bama's standard is still pretty damn good.)

UM is picking up scraps.  Seniors on this team have had 3 different OC's since they arrived.  Not a great way to insure continuity. 

Now, Bama hiring Lane Kiffin might also be what they call grasping at straws but that is another topic. 

+3 HS
jonping67's picture

Doug Nussmeier will be the next HC for ttun. He wasn't hired to be a long term OC, NO NO, he'll replace Joke after this 8-5 season.

+1 HS
Shangheyed's picture

He will have to prove it on the field... without results this season from Nuss... he wouldn't make the list of candidates, but 100% agree this is make or break for HOKE... however, I believe TSUN is more likely to get a pro coach(and would agree B1G needs better coaching... at least one that knows how to use "modern" technology like a headset)


HOKE we will miss him like we are missing A-Rod... or how scUM misses Cooper.



Chief B1G Dump's picture

I was inclined to say NO he cannot fix them. However, after thinking about it, he will be in control of 50% of the team since cHoke has no idea whats happening on O and/or D so...I still think NO because he wont be stacked with a three deep full of 5 stars and also because cHoke is soon to get canned and that will be messy. I doubt the new regime will retain the guy (hes not a noteable alum/interim head ball coach).

lvccacamcrca's picture

And I would care............................why?

Colerain 2004 G.O.A.T.'s picture

Im going out on a huge ice covered limb and going on record to say their offense is going to be worse then last years. They lost their 3 most important offensive(and only competent) players in LT,RT,WR (Gallon,only legit reliable weapon). Now we are supposed to believe those overrated guards(who couldn't block inside) are supposed to be able to block outside on a island? Seen all the same flaws show up during their spring practice game. Blocking(from RBs,OL,WRs,TEs) looked horrible. Funchess's hands,If he is going to be their main weapon he needs to be hitting the jugs machine daily. Bad decisions and TO's? Gardner showed they wont be short in that department by aggressively rolling out on the first play from scrimmage and throwing a pick. Only positive I see for the scummers is their defense is going to be pretty damn solid and their secondary is "legit". I don't see a open spot for true freshman Peppers to step into so he can win his first of 3 Heismans. Nickel back maybe? haha

I speak the truth but I guess that's a foreign language to yall.~~Lil Wayne

+1 HS
PoKeY21's picture

I wonder if he really wanted to leave Bama or if he was just pushed out the door? I can't imagine him being any worse than his replacement. Lane Kiffin falls in the same category as Bert "def not bulimia" Bielema. In this situation I hope the move is a failure for all involved.

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

hit_the_couch's picture

Kiffin is an outstanding OC; he has a great offensive mind and was/ is a good recruiter. He just stinks as a HC.

And then I told her...i'm no weatherman, but tonight's forecast is calling for several inches!

Earle's picture

He's just fine as a coach. He just really stinks as a human being.

Have you tried Not Your Father's Root Beer?  It tastes just like the real thing, but it packs a punch (5.9%ABV).  It's a little sweet for me though.  Two is my limit.

+1 HS
PoKeY21's picture

Um 5-15 in the Pros and 35-21 in college. Bailed out and completely left Tennessee in the wind, and couldn't hack it at USC. Acted like a complete and total baby when he tried to "call out" Urban Meyer while at Tennessee. He called Meyer a cheater then backtracked like the complete douche bag that he is. Bad coach, even worse human being!

"It was a woman who drove me to drink, come to think of it I never did hang around to thank her for that"

buckeyedude's picture

I'm guessing if you ask Chad Lindsay, the answer is NO!



Enzo's picture

Considering how good OSU's defense has been recently against pro-style offenses, I'd say it won't matter if he fixes them. The Buck's troubles have come from spread offenses. I don't think UM has the athletes on their OL to make a difference. Bama's success starts with that massive OL. How else do you explain the mediocre running backs and QBs that have had success there, that hasn't translated to the NFL.

I could care less how UM fares against the rest of the B1G.

Hovenaut's picture

Upon my signal, unleash bubble screen hell.