Josh Gattis Knows QB, Offense Have Plenty To Prove In 2021
By any measure, Michigan's 2020 offense was simply poor. Some numbers were better than others — offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will point out the 4.6 yards per carry, and some good moments for quarterback Joe Milton (now in the transfer portal) — but U-M was 44th in passing offense (250.3 yard per game) and 95th (132.5) in rushing while finishing 66th nationally at 28.3 points per game.
That led to a 2-4 season and a lot of soul searching in the offseason. Head coach Jim Harbaugh made some big changes and thought seriously about others before opting for Gattis and Sherrone Moore as co-coordinators, bringing quarterbacks coach Matt Weiss and running backs coach Mike Hart on board.
The moves look great on paper, and Gattis is happy with the way it's meshed in the early going.
"We’ve got tremendous chemistry," he said of his relationship with Moore. " ... I’m so excited for him and his career being able to coach the offensive line and ... for him being the co-offensive coordinator. He’s a bright coach. The players love him, and we see the players respond to him. Just how he coaches them and the energy he brings each and every day, and the positivity. He’s got a very, very bright career in this profession.
"People only see him as a recruiter, but he’s so much more. He’s a very, very talented coach; a great man. That’s my guy. We’ve got a great chemistry. Just being able to take some things off my plate whether it’s scripting-wise, whether it’s other things to free up some other things for me, it’s been really, really important."
There were others who had a hand in the offense in the past, but Gattis has made it clear — repeatedly — that he is running the show and has been, with limited input. Those suggesting "Jim Harbaugh has handcuffed him" ... it's simply not true.
So now it's up to Gattis to prove last year was a fluke. Many pointed to him as the reason Milton got the nod over Dylan McCaffrey last year, leading to McCaffrey's transfer, but whether or not that's true is irrelevant. And Gattis made it clear Wednesday that Milton wasn't the entire reason for U-M's failures while adding there's no looking back.
"I think it’s just the position itself," he said of the criticism Milton got last year after losing his job to redshirt frosh Cade McNamara. "Obviously, the focus is on the guys we have on our roster, but Joe did a lot of good things — a lot of good things — on the field. If anyone tries to deny that, then it’s obvious that they didn’t watch the games. There were good things that he did, good things in his career. To harp on a young man about the negatives or the negative situations, obviously when you’re not winning, it all looks bad.
"It all falls on a couple people's laps. The quarterback is one of them, just like it falls on any other coach. ... A lot of times, when things aren’t going well you look to blame it on that position from the outside eye. I think that’s where the quarterback position is so critical and it’s so sensitive for every team in the country."
Gattis was that coach last year. He will be again if the Wolverines don't improve dramatically, and they'll have to do it with a quarterback who — once again — doesn't have much experience. Though it's too early to say how well they're playing, the third-year coordinator is pleased with the leadership he's seen from the position, and especially from McNamara.
McNamara showed well in last year's Rutgers game, but as we've seen over the years, one good game against a bad team can be deceiving. Brandon Peters, John O'Korn, Joe Milton (in last year's opener) all looked like they had great potential, but they weren't close to being championship level quarterbacks.
The first step toward meeting their potential is to play within themselves, Gattis said of McNamara and frosh J.J. McCarthy.
"Don’t try to put too much on your plate. You’re on the field to be the general of the field but don’t try to overdo it," he said. "I think that’s where our guys have taken an understanding.
"The quarterback position is always the most critiqued, most critical position of any position in all of sports. I’m not sure there’s not a position in any other sport that takes the criticism that position can take ... the biggest thing is that they’re comfortable, making sure they’re understanding, making sure they’re taking practice experience and being able to relate those to game situations so they can put themselves in a position to be successful."
It's their job now to put them in positions to succeed, too, he added; to tailor the offense to their strengths. They're just getting started, but there have been positive signs.
More than anything, he's looking for consistency and better showings out of the gate. They'll start the guy who shows that in practice and go from there.
"There were rhythm spots [last year], but rhythm comes and goes," Gattis said. "Different games had different scenarios within the game. The one area I think we did not do a great job was starting the game off fast. Even in the games we had success, we didn’t have opening drive success. I think we were 0-6 on our first drive as far as being able to drive down the field first and score.
"I think we started all six games off this past year being down 7-0. That plays for overall team chemistry, team flow, team success. We’ve got to do a better job of establishing early success on the first drive."
Between that and doing a better job in short yardage situations, where they were good in 2019 but poor last year, Gattis knows there's a lot to sort out.
It's too early to know how it will play out, but he's happy with the energy and believes they're off to a good start.
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