When Mario Cristobal was hired at Miami, one of his first priorities was finding an offensive coordinator that fit philosophically. A longer-than-usual process resulted in the hire of Michigan’s offensive coordinator Josh Gattis. Gattis’ hire was a public controversy as he texted the Michigan players saying he was no longer feeling valued in the wake of Jim Harbaugh’s NFL flirtation. It’s not surprising Gattis sought what he felt were greener pastures.
There has been a lot of talk about Josh Gattis and what his play-calling will look like in 2022. Most fantasy gamers believe Gattis will look to mimic his 2021 season, where his offense had a 39% neutral game script pass rate. I think pushing against that assumption is fair.
Josh Gattis’s Offensive Experiences Since 2014
|Year||Team||Offense Pass Rate||National Avg||% +/- Avg||Rank|
Since 2014, Gattis has been a co-offensive coordinator or passing game coordinator every season. Notably, he was the wide receiver coach with James Franklin at Vanderbilt prior to coming to Penn State with Franklin. He assumed a larger role at Penn State, keeping his WR coach position but adding passing game coordinator to his resume. In his four seasons in this role, the offenses pass rate ranked 10th, 14th, 34th, and 58th. With two top 15 seasons, Gattis was part of high-flying passing games under offensive coordinator John Donovan and Joe Moorhead.
Game-planning in offenses that have an incredibly high pass rate, Gattis served as the passing game coordinator for these groups, lending to the idea he may have some tendency to lean-pass heavy given his experience. He was ultimately hired away from Penn State as a co-offensive coordinator with Alabama’s Mike Locksley. In 2018, this offense ranked 8th in neutral game script pass rate. From his start at Penn State to Alabama, the offenses he worked under averaged 25th in pass rate in their relative seasons.
Setting the Scene: Prior Personnel
Admittedly it’s hard to know exactly what to expect under Josh Gattis. At Michigan, his offenses pass at the 69th ranked rate over the last three seasons. That’s nearly average given 130 teams, and despite a dramatic dip in 2021, there are reasons to be optimistic for Tyler Van Dyke and the entire offense. His previous cast of quarterbacks has been underwhelmed compared to Van Dyke’s first season as a starter.
Since 2014, the quarterback play in Josh Gattis’ offenses has left something to be desired. Given the regression chart above, no player has had a season above the line, although Shea Patterson got close in the year prior to Gattis’ first year at Michigan. However, he struggled in Gattis’ first year, with under 0.3 EPA per play. Although Patterson is now struggling in the USFL, so I’m not sure he was really someone to build an offense through.
The point here is that as a play-caller, the combination of Shae Paterson, Joe Milton, and Cade McNamara should instill confidence in any offensive coordinator. To have a passing game that relies on these quarterbacks at an above-average passing rate in neutral situations seems counterintuitive.
Additionally, having NFL-quality running backs at every stop plays into this. At Penn State, Gattis coached generational prospect Saquon Barkley, who immediately became the focal point for the Nittany Lions, even in the passing game. At Michigan, he coached Zach Charbonnet (a likely day two pick in 2023). In 2021 he had Hassan Haskins and Blake Corum. The former who was drafted by the Titans in the fourth round in the 2022 draft. Also, in 2021, when he posted a career-low pass rate in 2022, the offense lost leading receiver Ronnie Bell to an ACL tear in Week 1. All led by Cade McNamara.
Mario Cristobal’s Range of Outcomes
As an offensive coordinator, the personnel at Michigan has been underwhelming for any offensive coordinator. Additionally, the overarching influence of Jim Harbaugh likely influenced some of the play-calling. Despite Harbaugh pulling the strings, the offense still managed an average neutral game script pass rate but projecting 2022 is more difficult because of this. Mario Cristobal has his fair share of up and down production to sort through as a head coach as well.
Mario Cristobal’s Passing Production as a Head Coach
|Year||Team||Offense Pass Rate||National Avg||% +/- Avg||Rank|
As a head coach, Mario Cristobal has been an average neutral game script pass rate with a 44.3% pass rate in his career. Over the same course of time as Josh Gattis, Cristobal has been throwing the ball at a below-average rate. It’s fair to question the personnel here as well, given Anthony Brown was the quarterback in 2021 and Tyler Shough started the year before. Neither name inspires confidence, and in most seasons, they have been far below a positive outcome based on the Campus2Canton experience adjusted regression line for QBR.
Hand up, the 2019 season featured Justin Herbert at quarterback. The 53rd-ranked neutral game script pass rate is an affront to humanity given the talent at the QB position. Cristobal taking over in 2019 with senior quarterback Justin Herbert feels difficult to make firm decisions about, but it’s no secret they didn’t throw enough. The responsibility can be shared between Cristobal and offensive coordinator Marcus Arroyo, who is a traditionally conservative coach.
Outside of the Herbert year kerfuffle, what should Mario Cristobal have done? I’ve asked this question in a handful of instances recently, contending that context is more important than the raw results we see at the end of the season. In Cristobal’s case, the quality of quarterback play set this offense back.
Like Gattis, Cristobal has also seen high-end running back play from his offenses. The combination of CJ Verdell and Travis Dye in 2019 combined for over 1,800 yards. Both also captured a massive opportunity share in 2020. In 2021 the offense ran for over 200 yards per game behind the trio of Travis Dye, freshman Byron Cardwell, and CJ Verdell.
Projecting the 2022 Miami Offense
Outside of a singular Justin Herbert season, Tyler Van Dyke’s first season as a starter is the best age-adjusted season among all quarterbacks both Josh Gattis and Mario Cristobal have coached. In 2021 Van Dyke was a revelation for the Hurricanes. His last six games of the season were all over 300 yards and his QBR finished at 80.1. An upper percentile QBR was combined with a 9.8 yards per pass attempt which is 83rd percentile for a second-year quarterback. Neither coach has had the chance to work with and mold a quarterback quite like Van Dyke.
Reviewing the prior experience of both Cristobal and Gattis is an admittedly cloudy picture. For Gattis, he has worked under the top pass-heavy minds in the nation since his career took off at Penn State. Consistently coaching in top-25 offenses and being promoted to passing game coordinator for the Nittany Lions gives credence to the idea that Gattis is more like his mentors than Jim Harbough. As referenced above, the milk-drinking, weightlifting, corny head coach of Michigan plays a more significant role in gameplans than is let on. All in, given Gattis has averaged a neutral game script pass rate despite the influence of Harbaugh, giving hope to the Miami offense.
Tyler Van Dyke dwarfs the usual suspects for both coaches, but the surrounding cast has legit question marks. In the slot, Xavier Restrepo is the likely starter, and as a veteran in the system, he’ll provide an outlet for Van Dyke. Similarly, Will Mallory and Elijah Arroyo provide one of the best tight-end duos in the nation. On the outside, there isn’t a clear weapon, but Jacolby George and transfer Frank Ladson are likely starters. Overall, this unit might be deeper than top-heavy, with Key’Shawn Smith, Romello Brinson, and Brashard Smith in the two-deep. Truthfully, the receivers have not been a strong unit in spring. Casting doubt on their overall strength as a position group, there are questions about how heavily we can rely on them in 2022.
To cut the B.S. – here’s what I expect. The 2022 Hurricanes offense is an offense that passes at an above-average rate in 2022 despite questions at starting receiver. Their ability to rotate playmakers in and having two legitimate options at TE gives Gattis more confidence in a vacuum. On top and as the true difference-maker, Tyler Van Dyke is different. He is the best quarterback Gattis has been around, and given Gattis’ experience in high-powered offenses, it’s not a huge logical jump to see not only an above-average pass rate but one that finishes in the upper percentile.