So what does #SpeedInSpace entail, exactly? New Michigan football offensive coordinator Josh Gattis will be happy to tell you.
Speaking in detail with Jon Jansen on IMG’s In the Trenches podcast this week, Gattis — one week into his tenure at Michigan after spending last season as Alabama’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach — opened up about his plans for the Wolverines’ offense, including an explanation for what the 34-year-old’s Twitter hashtag #SpeedInSpace means.
“Obviously, we’re going to put answers on everything to allow our kids to be successful, but if we’ve got multiple wide receivers, we’re going to find a way – as most people have heard me – to get our speed in space,” Gattis said. “If we’ve got tight ends that step up, and those guys can create mismatches in the run game as far as also in the pass game, we’re going to be playing in 1-2 personnel. So we’re gonna have the ability to do everything.
“We’re not gonna just be single-minded and say, ‘Hey, this is what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna force our players to do one thing.’ The neat thing about our offense that I’m bringing is the flexibility among the offense. That’s one of the things that a lot of people saw this past year at the University of Alabama – how well we used our talent.”
Though the Wolverines made plenty of offensive improvements from 2017 last fall and ranked 42nd nationally in yards per play, a case could be made that Michigan didn’t maximize its offensive potential; namely, it didn’t pass enough. The Wolverines ranked 28th nationally in passing yards per attempt and 20th in passer rating thanks to Shea Patterson’s accuracy and talented pass-catchers in Donovan Peoples-Jones, Nico Collins and Zach Gentry, but were 104th in passing attempts per game (26.7).
Now, with first-team All-Big Ten running back Karan Higdon and his downhill consistency off to the NFL, Gattis wants to get creative.
That doesn’t mean throwing the ball 50 times per game, but it does mean opening up everything that could work.
“When you look at my track record over the past few years, it’s how well we spread the ball around. How much diversity we have on the offensive side,” Gattis said. “I think that’s what you mean when you say you’re balanced. It’s not so much, ‘Hey, we’re gonna be 50-50 run,’ but we’re going to be balanced and run when we need to run, we’re going to throw when we need to throw. We’re going to be balanced in the number of touches that we distribute among our playmakers. Because ultimately, if we can get our best playmakers the ball, we’re going to be in a position to be successful.”
“… The way I’ll describe it is it’s going to be our offense – it’s going to be adaptable based on our personnel. That’s what we’re gonna be: we’re gonna be personnel-driven. By the springtime, as we install the overall offense, we’re going to have the ability to be spread, we’re going to have the ability to line up and play big boy football.”
As Gattis notes, his track record suggests that he is adept at opening up passing offenses. In his final two seasons at Penn State the Nittany Lions ranked 23rd and 25th nationally, and four of his former receivers played in the NFL this season. In one season with the Crimson Tide, Gattis helped Alabama jump from 77th to third nationally in passing yards.
Having Trace McSorley, Tua Tagovailoa and a plethora of talented receivers helps, but Michigan’s personnel of Patterson, Peoples-Jones, Collins and Tarik Black isn’t too shabby either, and Gattis sees that potential.
“We’re going to do it together. This isn’t going to be about Josh Gattis’ offense, this is going to be about Michigan’s offense,” Gattis said. “The best teams that I’ve been around are all player-led teams. They’re player-driven. This is going to be a fun, exciting brand. Obviously, the fingerprint you saw at the University of Alabama and what we were able to do incorporating some of the RPOs and some of the spread system, you’re going to see a lot of that show up here at the University of Michigan.
“But it’s going to be about the buy-in of our guys. It’s going to be a total new offense. There’s going to be some carry-over as far as terminology, maybe, or concepts. Football is football. But it’s going to be our job as the offensive staff here at the University of Michigan and make sure to put our best skill players in the best position to be successful.”
Gattis is right that successful offenses only happen through successful players, but there is an element of coaches drawing success out of players, and Gattis isn’t a bad place to start. In eight years as a receivers coach at Western Michigan, Vanderbilt, Penn State and Alabama, Gattis has produced 17 pass-catchers with 700-yard seasons. By comparison, Michigan has had just three such players in four years.
It’s not automatic, and history suggests that magic coordinators are few and far between. But the Wolverines have talented receivers, quarterbacks and enough on the offensive line and in the run game to match, getting Gattis fired up for the year.
“I truly believe we have all the pieces we need to put this puzzle together,” Gattis said. “It’s going to be a group deal, it’s going to be a group effort. It’s gonna come with some hard work, some belief and some trust in this offensive coaching staff and the plan we’re going to put in place for them. But ultimately, we’re going to make sure we put these kids in the best position to be successful. If we can do that, we’re going to put Michigan in the best position to win. That’s our ultimate goal.”