News bullets and other important items:
- Kovacs did everything during practice yesterday, should be good to go. [Ed: From what I've heard from various sources, Kovacs can play and wants to play, but the final word has to come from the trainers.]
- Hoke is also hopeful that Lewan will be able play on Saturday.
- Barnum is in the worst shape of the three.
Opening remarks: “I thought we had a good practice yesterday, which is always positive. We’re playing a football team’s that a good football team. Plays well at home. I think they’re 59-12 or something over the last 10 years. We’ve got to do a good job with the environment and the communication on both sides of the ball. Play with great composure and play with poise and then play physical football.”
What do you remember about the venue that makes it so tough? “It’s just tight. The bench is tight. Probably similar to East Lansing but this even seems tighter. [The fans] are on top of you, which is good, and they’re fanatical about their team.”
Now that Carvin Johnson has left, are there other guys that will need to fill into that position? “Not really. We’ve had a number of guys -- when we started that’s probably one of the deepest slots we were at to be honest with you. I think with the progress that Blake’s made, I think that’s helped when we’re able to put Troy over there.”
(Denard says that Jeremy Gallon can dunk, too.)
Last week, I was really getting worried about what to do for this week's FFFF, as the only working Iowa torrent I could find was from their 13-3 loss to Penn State, and they were slated to play Minnesota in the week leading up to the Michigan game. There's no possible way that any game film against Minnesota would be useful, due to the inevitable bludgeoning as GopherQuest forged on, and... wait, what?
This requires further investigation. To the breakdown! (This week, breakdown sadly comes sans video, as my video converter apparently couldn't handle the end of GopherQuest and committed suicide before turning my uneditable .mkv file into a nice, iMovie-compatible .mp4—prepare for lots of screencaps. If you want to see larger versions of the photos, I've uploaded them to my Flickr account.)
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Iowa spends much of their time in one-back and I-form, and usually goes to the gun only in obvious passing situations.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MANBALL, which is pretty effective thanks to man-child running back Marcus Coker (more on him later).
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): James Vandenberg is relatively statuesque, though he has the ability—if given a fair amount of space—to escape the pocket and pick up a first down. It still takes a while. I'll give him a 3.
Dangerman: Marvin McNutt (#7) is arguably the best receiver in the conference, but I'm more worried about Coker (#34), who runs like a bigger, healthier Brandon Minor.
OVERVIEW: Iowa has a reputation for being very vanilla on defense (and they are), but that reputation easily carries over to the offense as well. Even when the Hawkeyes didn't have a great running game—while also boasting two outstanding receivers and a senior quarterback—they looked to ram the ball down your throat, and now with a first-year starter at QB, no Darrell Johnson-Koulianos, and Coker in the backfield, it's all about the run. On most first downs (and second, for that matter), they'll go under center and smash Coker up the middle, and he'll do this to great effect—Coker averages 5.3 yards per carry this year and has nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark already. You'll see him a lot, as Coker has 182 carries this season while no other Hawkeye running back has more than 18—depth is a huge issue there.
Vandenberg is your stereotypical big pocket passer—the Chad Henne comparisons are accurate in terms of style, at least—and he has a very strong arm and solid accuracy. He has issues reading defenses, however, and resorts to a surprising amount of dink-and-dunk throws unless the Hawkeyes are running play-action—most of his big throws downfield came after a run fake, and he was quick to check down when there was even a hint of pressure. In order to help Vandenberg with his pre-snap reads, Iowa will motion an H-back or wide receiver on what seemed to be around half of their snaps, and if Vandenberg doesn't like what he sees from there, he'll usually check down into a run play or short pass.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: While Iowa tends to be pretty predictable, their big plays tend to come when they break tendencies. On the play screencapped below, the Hawkeyes lined up in the gun with three wideouts and an H-back, who motioned to a spot two yards in front of Coker. While Iowa mostly runs from under center, they'd shown this look before and handed it up the gut to Coker. On this play, however, they'd fake the dive and send Marvin McNutt—lined up in the slot—right up the seam. Let's just say he found some space:
This would be a 26-yard completion once the Gopher safeties finally dragged down McNutt. The play-action made it easy for Vandenberg to set up and immediately go to his first read—he's hesitant to throw downfield if the receiver isn't McNutt and there's no play fake to suck in the defense. In another example of Iowa breaking tendency, they lined up in a one-back set with the H-back going in motion—the same look they showed on at least a dozen of Coker's carries—then faked the dive and ran a reverse to McNutt, who had a ton of space and picked up 19 yards. The key to stopping this offense, besides doing whatever possible to slow down Coker, is to not get lulled to sleep.
As stated earlier, Vandenberg does have issues with his pre-snap reads, often appearing to choose which receiver he'll throw to before the snap (he locks on to McNutt often, and though this isn't a terrible idea given his ability, there were multiple passes into double coverage against Minnesota). When he sees a blitz coming, he'll get the ball out quickly, usually on a checkdown to the running back or a quick hitch to one of his receivers. This usually keeps him out of trouble, as evidenced by his lack of turnovers—he's thrown just four interceptions and the Hawkeyes are 11th in the country with just nine total giveaways.
Vandenberg doesn't always see the blitz, however, and that's when problems arise—on the play pictured below, the corner from the top of the screen snuck down to the line just before the snap, Vandenberg didn't see him, and the corner tore off the edge as the play rolled slightly away from him. The offensive line was in no position to pick up the blitz (and while they were outnumbered and this play was doomed, they didn't do Vandenberg any favors by having two guys not block anyone), and BRACE FOR CONTACT:
Would you be surprised if I told you Vandenberg fumbled on the play? Because you shouldn't be. Expect Greg Mattison to dial up a lot of zone blitzes in the hope that he'll confuse Vandenberg and get some free hitters on the blind side. Iowa's line managed to allow three sacks to the Gophers, who had all of five on the season heading into the game, so there will be opportunities to hit the quarterback and force some turnovers.
- About that Coker guy: He ran for 252 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries, and while all the usual caveats about holy hell Minnesota is awful apply, well, he still might be the best running back Michigan has faced this year. He's an absolute wrecking ball at 6'0", 230 pounds, and he'll simply laugh and then destroy if anyone smaller than a defensive lineman tries to tackle him one-on-one in space. After one thunderous run in which he broke through several attempts to tackle, Coker was described by the BTN play-by-play guy as "a rolling ball of steak knives," which is probably the most on-point comment ever uttered by a BTN announcer. The Wolverines will need to get multiple players in a position to hit Coker when he has the ball, and he's still going to break a couple runs into the secondary—this is when we'll really find out how big a deal it is losing Kovacs.
- I think Michigan's best strategy in this game is to get very aggressive with their blitzes and force Vandenberg to throw the ball downfield. Despite getting first-round hype heading into the season, left tackle Riley Reiff looked very susceptible to the speed rush, and got beat easily on a quick inside move for a sack by one of Minnesota's DEs. Vandenberg will throw the checkdown even on third down and long, and a couple Iowa drives ended on four-yard passes on third-and-eight (bingo!). On one such play, Vandenberg actually read the blitz and checked into a play in which his first two reads both ran hitches well short of the sticks, and it failed miserably.
- Give Vandenberg time, however, and he'll pick you apart—if he can set his feet in the pocket and go through his reads, he can hit any throw on the field. He threw a gorgeous fade to McNutt for Iowa's first touchdown and had some really impressive lasers on corner routes. The only game in which he had less than 7.4 yards per attempt this season came against Penn State, who sacked him five times. This is not a coincidence.
Base Set? 4-3. Iowa stays in their base set almost exclusively, unless facing a four-receiver spread.
Man or zone coverage? Defensive coordinator Norm Parker's affinity for the cover 2 zone—on practically every play—is well documented. The Hawkeyes will play zone until you find several ways to beat it, and then they'll play zone a little more just to make sure that wasn't a fluke, and even if it wasn't they'll keep doing it anyway because, dammit, that's how it's done at Iowa.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? In other words, rush three or bring a bunch of blitzes? Iowa would make GERG proud, as they almost never brought any extra pressure outside of rushing their four defensive linemen. They also barely got any pressure, and though one could chalk that up to Iowa ensuring they kept contain on MarQueis Gray, that's not going to change against Denard Robinson.
Dangerman: DE Broderick Binns (#91) got all the preseason hype, but he's been disappointing and had no impact against the Gophers, which can't be a good sign. I liked what I saw from weakside linebacker Christian Kirksey, who's a bit undersized at 6'2", 215, but always seems to end up around the football and is also the best Iowa linebacker in coverage.
OVERVIEW: Have I mentioned that Iowa likes to run the cover 2? That's really all they do, and it's just a matter of beating it. Handy cover 2 diagram, just mentally insert "weakside linebacker" in place of "nickel back":
There are weaknesses, of course, and Minnesota managed to exploit the two major ones when they passed the ball (Gray had by far the best game of his career, completing 11-of-17 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown with no picks)—10-15 yard passes to the sideline (between the corner and the deep safety) and the seam right up the middle (splitting the two deep safeties and over the top of the middle linebacker).
Iowa also had a difficult time defending runs right up the middle—more on that later—and this was against a Minnesota team that was (a) Minnesota and (b) trying out a new starter at left guard. The Hawkeye run defense is just 69th in the country, and their pass defense, shockingly, is worse (91st in opponent passer efficiency) despite boasting a pair of well-hyped corners in Shawn Prater and Micah Hyde. Prater looks susceptible to deep passes over the top (on the rare occasion when he is in man) and also got beat to the inside on a few slants. Hyde was barely tested, though he did have a nice pass breakup on a fade in the end zone and drew what I thought was a questionable pass interference call.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: About that cover 2—if you're going to run it, you need your safeties to be very, very disciplined. Iowa was usually pretty good about not letting anything go over the top, but they had trouble with play-action passes, especially this one, as free safety Tanner Miller bit on the run fake and could not recover and get outside:
That play went for 61 yards as Minnesota both drew up the free safety (on the right in this picture) on the play-fake and occupied the strong safety by running a post with their slot receiver. I'm actually surprised they didn't also send both outside receivers on streak routes, instead of just the one, but Minnesota likely wants Gray to have a safe underneath option—with the middle linebacker also occupied by the post, the slant could've worked here if the streak wasn't so hand-wavingly wide open.
The Hawkeyes also had trouble with runs up the middle—Minnesota's second-to-last scoring drive consisted of 11 runs on 12 plays, only one of which was an outside run, and that one a scramble on a pass play by Gray—as their defensive tackles repeatedly got sealed to the outside. Here's one such example in which not one, but both DTs end up getting pushed off to the left (from the offense's POV), allowing Duane Bennett to bust a 15-yard run up the middle:
I know this one's tough to see, but #93 (the interior D-lineman with his back turned) started as the DT on the right hash, while Binns (the near-side DE) is getting sealed to the outside by the right tackle. The arrow shows you where Bennett will find a gaping hole as the linebackers were unable to fill. I was pretty unimpressed by the linebacker play of Iowa, even though MLB James Morris recorded 13 tackles—too often they were passive and allowed blockers to get right into them. Now that Al Borges has introduced the inverted veer to the offense, I'd like to see Michigan try to exploit this weakness up the middle and see if they can get Denard running full speed into the secondary. Fitz Toussaint's success last week came almost entirely off the edge, so I think Shoelace gives Michigan the best chance to break a big run up the gut.
- The player who showed the biggest weakness to me was starting defensive tackle Steve Bigach (#54), who was repeatedly blown off the ball and was the main culprit on several of Minnesota's big runs up the middle. He weighs just 282 pounds, so there's actually a good chance that the somewhat-undersized interior of Michigan's O-line can do the same—hell, Minnesota managed it.
- Iowa really couldn't generate any pressure on Gray while leaving the pass rush in the hands of their defensive line. Without Adrian Clayborn wreaking havoc across from him, Binns seems to be relatively easy to neutralize—he only has 2.5 sacks this year, which is just .5 off the team lead. The Hawkeyes are tied for 83rd in the country in sacks for a reason, or I guess two: their conservative strategy and the lack of big-time playmaker on the line.
- The key for Michigan against this cover 2 will be for Denard to not force anything underneath, where there are usually several linebackers hanging out waiting for a wayward slant or a late throw on a hitch. Denard has had his issues this season in throwing the ball late to covered receivers—see his interception on the pass to Koger last week—and he won't be able to get away with those against Iowa. The good news is that Michigan should be able to flood the sideline and get multiple options vertically—handy picture pages post here—and that should give Denard some easy reads, since he should have ample time in the pocket.
Maybe it's because THEY LOST TO FREAKIN' MINNESOTA, FERGODSAKES, or just because there seem to be several weaknesses that play right into Michigan's hands, but I have a hard time seeing the Wolverines losing this one unless Coker goes HAM and Michigan commits multiple turnovers. I'm quite confident in this one now that there's enough evidence that the defense isn't a complete mirage. Hooray for confidence in the defense.
With Barnum getting healthy and Schofield playing well any chance we see one of two scenarios: Barnum takes over left guard, Schofield moves to right tackle and slide Huyge down to left guard or Barnum takes over right guard for Omehmeh? I'm partial to the former simply because of two 6' 7" 300 pounders on the edges, yes please.
It might be too late to make that change. While Huyge has some experience at guard, that came under Rich Rodriguez, when pulling was not a major part of the offense. Putting him at G seems like an invitation to have the same issues Omameh is having with a different player.
I could see the straight Schofield-for-Huyge swap if the coaches believe Schofield is a much better pass protector. We have no evidence that's the case since he's only played guard, but if I had to bet I'd guess he is. It's tough to take a senior who's only had one bad game out, though.
Do you think Borges is leaving our base offense (and by that I mean Denard at QB, lots of RB runs interspersed with a few Denard runs and passes) too early? Against Michigan State and Purdue, our first drives worked to perfection and our run game seemed effective.
Immediately thereafter, we started running a lot of crazy reverses, reverse fakes, and Devin-centric chicanery instead of sticking with what worked. Why? it drives me crazy every week. Also, we seem to love to fake the run before we've even established our running threat. For obvious reasons, this hasn't been effective.
For coaches that talked a lot about man ball and the desire to establish a RB, we seem pretty eager to abandon Toussaint and the run game.
I addressed this topic in a picture pages yesterday and got a couple inquiries about whether or not I thought Michigan's seeming lack of a base offense was a good or bad thing.
I'm not able to answer that yet. It's a thing. Whether it's good or bad is something we won't be able to tell for a while. I am sure I like it better than DeBord's zone offense, which was predictable and seemed to save every interesting tweak for the Citrus Bowl. I'm not sure if I like it better than the style of offense Michigan was using last year when the omnipresent threat of Denard's running often led to free touchdowns, or at least long drives before Michigan would turn the ball over. (YAY LAST YEAR.)
But you need opinions, no matter how flimsily justified. So: if I never hear "they did what we expected them to do" again it will be too soon. The only time someone's tried that this year was when Dantonio said something about how Michigan will run tunnel screens when Gallon is in the game as if he's a Calvin-Bell-style designated reverse guy. That is incorrect, so, like, thumbs up. Tentatively.
Why was Borges so terse on the bubble screen question – (btw did you ask it?). I wonder if it was because he expects the QBs to check into that play and it hasn’t been happening – perhaps he was protecting the players a bit?..
The process by which questions about football—as opposed to feelingsball—are asked at press conferences is like so: Heiko goes to the pressers and sometimes asks questions that I've asked him to ask. Sometimes he just reads a bunch of blogs and asks questions the blogosphere has implied he should ask. The option responsibility Q posed to Mattison after NW was the former. The bubble screen Q was the latter. This is what happened:
Is the bubble screen ever going to be a part of your offense? “I’m not saying one thing about any bubble screens.”
Heiko is in intensive care recovering*. In lieu of flowers you can donate to the EFF.
So… why did the normally accessible Borges fire that off when asked about the lack of a bubble screen? I'm guessing he thinks the bubble screen is stupid. I'd like to find out why he thinks it's stupid since everyone from Dantonio to Rodriguez to Lloyd Carr made it a part of the offense to punish teams that tried to cheat inside or deep. His perspective on the thing would be interesting.
I doubt that it has anything to do with the players not making that check. For one, the alignments that seem to open up the bubble are usually trips formations featuring the #2 WR on the line of scrimmage. The latest BWS bubble complaint:
That makes for an awkward backwards orbit by the potential bubble guy and puts the main blocker in a less advantageous position than he would be if he was on the LOS. It seems clear that the bubble is just not installed.
As to why Borges isn't saying word one about the bubble, there seem to be two possibilities:
- He is vaguely aware of the fan zeitgeist about this and is sick of these laymen bothering him about a stupid play.
- He is going to bust it out as part of Michigan's ever-evolving baseless offense.
Meanwhile, between morphine doses I'm trying to get Heiko to ask questions that are less confrontational.
UPDATE: AA.com has a slightly longer version of the quote.
"I'm not saying one thing about any bubble screens," Borges said. "Everyone wants to ask about that play."
Door number one, then.
*[This is actually the second time Heiko's gotten acid in his face asking about something strategic. He asked Hoke whether he'd ever considered a spread punt and got this answer: "no." End of answer. It's not a surprise that coaches don't take kindly to random people implying heir decisions are not optimal, but it's kind of fun to ask anyway. As long as you're not Heiko.]
Hindsight in re: Three and Out.
I know your criticism of the Hoke hiring, and I am not trying to bait you on this. With the benefit of hindsight, however, I keep asking myself whether a Hoke hire in 2007-08 would have been all that risky given what appears to have transpired (and actually did). It now seems like it would have been the safe move -- kind of like Bo elevating Gary Moeller, despite Moeller's horrendous record as a head coach at Illinois -- i.e., you don't lose to Northwestern in the late 70s solely because Illinois doesn't recruit well.
Obviously, what's done is done. But my opinions of Bill Martin and Lloyd Carr have been altered dramatically.
Let's just hope the Notre Dame coaching carousel of fun is not in UM's future. . . .
I just don't see how you can hire a guy who is vastly under .500 in the MAC. At that point Hoke hadn't had his 12-1 season or turned around the perpetually moribund San Diego State. He was 22-36 in five years at Ball State.
I mean, envision this situation: the fanbase is even more up in arms about than they were in the brief period between Hoke's hiring and kidnapping Mattison from the Ravens. Martin does not want to shell out for Mattison. Mallett still probably leaves. The team is just as much of a tire fire in 2008. You probably get Threet to stick around the year after, but did he prove himself much better than Tate even given another year to redshirt and learn a system? Eh… not really.
Michigan still turns in a losing season its first year and is 7-5 at best in year two, at which point the coach has had one winning season, period, and has overseen the worst period in Michigan football since the 60s. Can Hoke recruit in that environment? Can anyone?
Unless you believe Hoke turns the tattered roster in 2008 and 2009 into significantly more wins than Rodriguez does—like five or six—he's doomed. I think that's a stretch. You can't cure John Ferrera flipping from DL to start at guard, can't cure the Threet/Sheridan QB combo, can't do much about the disaster zone in the secondary.
Michigan ran a guy with two BCS bowl wins out of town after three years. Were they going to keep a guy whose high water mark was a 7-5 MAC season longer? This is a fascinating hypothetical, actually. They just might have.
It has been mentioned on the front page twice that Dungy was a broadcaster in 2007. This is off by a few years. 2009 was his first season out of coaching and in the role of studio analyst.
Er. Sorry about that, Bill Martin. Your coaching desires were crazier but less easy to evaluate than I expected.
Approved by NASA.
I was on Uni-Watch this morning, and this ad popped up:
Finally, the Elvis Grbac simulator we’ve waited 20 years for!
I'm all like… is that guy wearing #45? I don't understand.
A bubble screen once beat up Al Borges and took his lunch money.
Fitz did good. “That’s really what we’ve wanted to do all year. With two weeks to get ready and some careful considerations with regard to not getting our quarterback beat up, that was a huge issue. We worked hard on trying to get back to what we originally wanted to do. We wanted to be more of a combination of pro to spread offense without, of course, completely divorcing ourselves from spread concepts. We still run a lot of it, but that is closer to what we wanted in the beginning. We just weren’t executing very well. Touss did a great job, and the offensive line moved some people, not only on the line of scrimmage but also on the perimeter.”
What makes Toussaint the guy? “He’s a tough guy that makes no concessions to the defense. You’re going to have to tackle Fitz. He’s not just going to go down. He’s really improved in his ability to find the cavities in the defense. When we first got here his vision wasn’t all it needed to be but he’s gotten so much better. Some guys never get that, but Fitz has. He’s got a better feel for pressing the line of scrimmage, finding the cutback lanes … do whatever the defense dictates that you must.”
Were you surprised to see Denard take a knee during the offsides call? “No. No. He’s fine. We got a free five yards.”
Toussaint looks faster. Is it because he's finally healthy? “Yeah, he’s always been fast. Fitz has got speed. He was a track guy in high school. It’s just opportunities. That’s really it. Chances to carry the ball. That’s what I said -- we’re going to find a guy who can carry it 20+ and gain a 100 yards. He got to carry it 20+ and he did.”
You used Devin a lot. Do you worry that you use it too much and it disrupts the rhythm of your offense? “No. Not at all. As a matter of fact, we used him as much as we would like to use him. Our productivity in our two-quarterback offense in the last two weeks has been pretty good. I think it adds to our rhythm. Now if you kept him in there a few plays and Denard wasn’t lining up every single snap, I guess that could break it a little bit, but no. That’s why I don’t like series. That does break a quarterback’s rhythm. But spot him here and spot him there, and the quarterback stays in the game -- I don’t think it hurts us at all. I think it helps us.”
(Jeremy Gallon says he can dunk.)
Johnson flirted with starting jobs at spur (last year) and safety (this year) before getting displaced by Thomas Gordon (both years). As a freshman his displacement was due to injury; once he got healthy Michigan decided that Cam Gordon was not actually a safety and threw him in at spur, because if you ain't panickin', you ain't coordinatin'. He started the year as the nickel safety but eventually lost that job to Courtney Avery.
Johnson was not a big recruit but he was one I was irrationally optimistic about, and one that found some early playing time. Not sure what the deal is with his departure.
Losing him is a shot to the secondary's depth. With Kovacs questionable for this weekend and possibly longer, the depth chart after Woolfolk and Gordon is walk-on
Andy Jared Van Slyke, Marvin Robinson, and possibly Josh Furman. Next year Michigan will get three safety recruits and loses only Woolfolk, so the pressure eases somewhat.
By my count, two obvious fifth-year nonrenewals now gets Michigan to 28 in this recruiting class; with some attrition inevitable between now and signing day they'll probably go into 2012 light. Again.
My Irrational Gametime Borges Emotion Meter flipped from disgusted to enthralled back to disgusted on a series of three plays on Michigan's second drive. The first play was the second and twelve play action on which an unimpressed defensive end flew upfield and sacked Robinson without giving any thought to the tailback supposedly getting the ball. Running second and twelve play action from a big I-Form set makes Homer crazy.
It got better. On the next play, Borges rolled the pocket and flooded the roll side. Via BWS:
This is another way to high-low the corner, something this series has discussed in the context of curl-flat routes against UConn and Notre Dame. In this instance the flood worked for a big-time completion as Roundtree beat the safety to the corner route and the cornerback sucked up on the Hemingway deep out.
Grady at the 20. Hemingway at the 35 with the cover-two corner. Roundtree at the 45 beating the safety to the outside.
On the next play Borges did the exact same thing, but he did it completely differently. He flooded a zoning cornerback and high-lowed him for a big gain. It was the same guy. He'd just gotten beaten over the top and sank back into the deep route, leaving the intermediate guy wide open. Gardner ignored the blitheringly wide open guy, instead chucking a terrible interception. Live this flipped me back to disgusted mode, and this lasted long enough for me to complain about two-man routes on the podcast. I was wrong. Borges engaged a decided schematic advantage here only to see a freshman (-ish) quarterback derp it.
Michigan comes out in a Gardner formation with Robinson as the slot receiver.
Now for something completely the same
Before the snap they motion Hemingway tighter to the line. The cornerback's reaction and the two deep safeties imply another zone.
On the snap they fake a handoff and then fake the end around. The coverage is revealed to be Not Cover 2. Both corners are headed deep and one safety steps up into a robber zone in the middle. This is cover three:
robber in red, three-deep in blue
Gallon is running straight downfield and will take both the corner and the topmost safety with him—Hemingway cuts his route off and he has no other vertical threats and can double. The two linebackers you see have their eyes in the backfield, preparing for an end-around. By the time it's certain Gardner has the ball Hemingway is ten yards downfield, running hard, with inside position on the robber. The linebackers are done.
Now it's a little bit of a problem that Gardner took his eyes off the defense for a long time as he executed both handoff fakes, but he is literally eight yards from the nearest defender as he sets up. He has plenty of time to read the corner Michigan is trying to high-low.
doo dee doo dee doo
You can see the playside LB heading out for Robinson's wheel route, which doesn't seem like a real option but still demands attention. There's no one checking Hemingway except that robber, who is improvising in the time-honored tradition of anyone who sees something going very wrong and runs at the red button screaming "oh shiiiiiiiiii—."
Gardner loads up and fires…
…over the head of a wide open Hemingway hanging out 20 yards downfield…
…to the bracketed Gallon…
…and throws it way short to add interception to injury. Derp.
Items of Interest
This is the same passing concept out of a totally different play. Michigan goes from a three-wide stack with a rollout to that side to an ace set with a couple of play action fakes, but it's the same thing for the quarterback: three options of varying depth along the left sideline. (Depending on how real the Denard wheel is. If it's not it should be.) On both plays the depths are five yards, 20 yards, and 40 yards. On both plays the playside corner is the main dude to read.
This kind of thing is all the rage in the NFL and various places in college football: Stanford, Boise State, wherever Weis is hanging his hat ("Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations."), etc. Smart Football notes the concept is one of three main ways modern offenses beat defenses:
Use multiple formations and motions to confuse the defense or gain an advantage in numbers or leverage. This approach tries to turn the defense against itself by never giving the defense a chance to get settled or to identify what the offense may do. Moreover, sometimes the defense simply fails to adjust, and the offense gains some new advantage. The downside of this approach is it leaves little time and fewer clues for the offense to make adjustments, but the idea is that “motion causes emotion” (to use the old adage) and the offense has an advantage in that it knows where it is going. This is the method employed by Boise State.
The other two are changing the play before the snap and using good old option football to force the opponent to be wrong.
The advantage of the multiple look is that it gets complex for the defense while remaining simple for the offense, particularly the critical guy with the ball in his hands every play. On back-to-back plays a zone flood wins, getting receivers open for huge chunks. Since the flood develops differently the defense has a hard time picking up on the tendency. Here the quarterback switch mitigates the effect of having the QB get to make the same read he just successfully executed, but in a normal situation you get the advantage of familiarity while the defense does not.
This may be why it feels like Michigan increasingly has no "base." Here's Boise State's RB coach on what they do on offense:
“We run plays, we don’t have an offense. It makes it difficult to defend.” At that time he was working with the running backs. Before this project, I wondered how an offense can’t be a system. Coordinators pride themselves on establishing identities: “It’s what we do” is a common mantra among the coaching profession. Urban Meyer at Florida has his spread option, Chip Kelly at Oregon has his QB run game, Steve Sarkasian at Washington has his pro-style offense that he developed at USC. Well, apparently Boise was the Seinfeld of college football — their lack of identity is their identity.
I've described the offense as "grab-bag," "cute," and "gimmickball" at various points during the year because they don't have a core play—at least not one that works COUGH power COUGH—that forces opponents to cheat and opens up your constraint plays.
Michigan fans have never seen an offense like this. Rodriguez varied his base but there was always the zone, inside and out, or the QB iso offense. DeBord literally ran a zone stretch left on the first play 90% of the time. Before that Michigan based its offense off pro-style power running (even though they couldn't run). They always had a Thing They Did.
This year Michigan has done the following things on the ground: iso, power, pitch sweep, speed option, inside zone, outside zone, inverted veer, down G, sprint counter, jet sweep. That is damn near everything possible short of triple option and trapping, and it moves from week to week. Most people, including myself, have believed this is a transitional cost of fitting Borges into an offense he didn't build. I am beginning to doubt that conclusion.
Maybe this should have been obvious given the multiplicity of Borges's SDSU offense but there's a big difference between watching a team and living it.
Even though this should be simple for the QB Gardner biffs spectacularly. Man is this a terrible decision. This isn't the error he made against State by throwing to Hemingway instead of the free touchdown offered Hopkins. Hemingway was kind of open and a good throw is a potential touchdown.
Here he's got a hand-wavingly open guy and a double-covered one. He's reading one guy, the playside corner. He's got enough time to take tea in the backfield. The playside corner is booking it downfield with his back to the guy underneath him. And Gardner still throws to the double-covered guy. If Borges didn't throw something in the press box he's a better man than I.
Anyone calling for Gardner to start should be shown this play over and over.