[Coordinator transcripts will be up shortly after I figure out how to turn .wma files into Quicktime compatible files.]
News bullets and other important things (forgot this earlier, sorry, FML):
- Barnum and Lewan have been practicing, should be healthy.
- Justice Hayes is getting a redshirt.
- Coaches are working on getting Marell Evans a sixth year of eligibility.
Opening remarks: “I thought we had a good day yesterday. Thought we had a lot of spirit to us, a little chippiness to us that I always enjoy. I think we competed really hard. I thought we played fast on both sides of the ball.”
Will Heininger said he’s been focused on playing lower. How much has he improved? “Well anytime you play with good pad level, and I think Will played his [best] football game two weeks ago to this point in the season. That has to translate to him playing better this week and better next week. I think he’s playing with a little more authority, which you like to see out of a guy who’s a senior, but I was pleased with his performance.”
Would you like to see Will and Mike not just push the pocket but also get past their guys more? “Well yeah, I mean the name of the game is football. That’s the object. You always want to be able to -- not just your block, your initial protection if you want to call it that ... the ability to ragdoll off and get to the football or get to the quarterback is a critical issue … We want more pressure from them, no doubt about it.”
What does chippiness at practice tell you about your team’s mentality? “Usually, and I’m sure you’ve all done the same thing, when you have a little bit of edge to you, no matter what your’e doing, it seems there’s a little bit of energy in there, a little bit of focus, and a little bit of wanting to get back out there on the field or do it again.”
Is it fair to say that your running backs are never going to be as productive as you want because of what Denard’s able to do? “I don’t know about that. I think that there’s enough in the system -- either it’s out of the two backs or split backs, I-backs, one back -- I think there’s enough diversity to it. [What] we all know is this thing gets a little harder as you go because you’re playing better football teams. The defenses you’re going to play against in the Big Ten, they’re obviously well-coached and the athletes are out there.” But does it change things at all because your best runner is your quarterback? “I don’t think so. Not for where we need to get to.”
*What are the keys to improving linebacker hesitancy problems? “I think the biggest key is your focus on that key. I was an A-gap linebacker years ago, now I’m a nose tackle. I think the initial reaction, the play recognition, the aiming points when you’re going downhill, there’s a lot of things. Playing with the speed that you need to play with. If you’re hesitant at all, that half a step that you’re behind can cost you as a defense.”
*Is that something you emphasized this week in practice? “Yeah, I think, in fact after watching all the tape last night as a defensive staff, we played faster. We played more downhill. That’s going to be something that constantly we have to do a good job of coaching and focusing on.”
Is Ricky Barnum healthy enough to take his job back? “Yeah. Well, we’ll find out. It’s competition. But he’s healthy. Lewan’s healthy. They all practiced.”
How confident is this group? “You know, the way they practiced yesterday, I think there was a confidence that they have. I think that part of it was one thing you wanted to see as a coach. And they were good on Sunday. Sunday they came out and flew around, but there was even more physicalness to how we practiced yesterday.”
Any update on Marell Evans? “No. I tell you what, he busts his butt out there though as a scout team linebacker. On the scout team, with the kicking game, and everything else. He’s been a great teammate.” Does he have a chance of getting another year of eligibility? “There’s a lot of hoops to go through and it’s pretty daggone complicated trying to obtain a sixth year and all those things.” Is that what you’re trying to do? “That’s what we’re trying to work towards.”
Do you feel like you need to give the running backs a certain number of carries in order to establish them? “I think you do have a get a number of carries. We’ve talked about that as a staff, that carries are important, and that probably sounds really dumb, but it’s important to get a number of carries that you can get with them. That’s one thing that we all felt that we maybe should have had a little more touches for them two weeks ago.”
Is there a number of carries you try to hit every week? “At the end of the day, you want to win the football game, so whatever you can do or whatever you’re going to do, that’s going to help you offensively … in saying that, I would love to have between the two of them maybe 20-25 touches a game. Now every situation changes. You get down, you think you can exploit something else maybe, and you don’t execute it as well as you should have -- those things happen in the course of the game plan. One thing, we talked about this, I thought Al and Greg both have done a great job of adjusting game plans in the course of games. They’re both really good football coaches. I don’t know if I answered your question. I think I did. I just think, we’d like to run them, but we’ve got to be able to run them.”
Are Fitz Toussaint and Vince Smith the two running backs at this point, or is Shaw included? “Michael can be in there, too. You see who gets a little bit of the hot hand, to some degree. Vince is very multiple in what he can do. Not saying Fitz won’t be, but Fitz, he’s a young guy still.”
Could Thomas Rawls get more carries? “He could. We’re trying to get him some work on some of the kick game and all that, but he could.” What about Justice Hayes? At this point are you redshirting him? “Oh yeah. Yeah.”
Anyone else (Ed: I think this person means freshmen) who hasn’t played yet that might play, barring injury? “Barring injury, I don’t think so. I think what we’ve done so far, we’re at our limit.”
Re: Perimeter defense … How do you think Purdue’s going to attack you? “Well, I would attack our perimeter. The stretch play they run and all those things are ready made for it.” Similar to what Michigan State did? “Similar. Not quite the same. They’ll TGO (Ed: ?) pull it, or do some different things depending on if the tight end’s on the line, in location or not in location, depends if it’s weak back, strong backs -- there’s a lot of different ways you can get to it. They throw the bubble. They throw the rocket. They run the outside zone, the stretch play. Yeah, that’s where I would start.”
How are you doing in terms of containment? “Obviously it’s been something we’ve done a very good job of emphasizing. Our attacking the blocks, getting off blockers, all those things that go along with it, our inside-out pursuit, all those things.”
What do you see out of Caleb TerBush? “Well I think he’s been very active in a lot of different areas, but I think he’s been accurate. I think he’s got a good arm, throws the ball well. He’s taking care of the ball pretty well for them. You don’t see him panic. He’s elusive enough to get out of some problems. They’re going to look at what you’re doing a little bit defensively, and they’re going to check. He’s done a good job of getting them in and out of plays. I think he’s a pretty daggone good quarterback.”
*asked by yours truly
I'm impressed with the large numbers of people who seem to have already blazed their way through Three and Out. It took me a while. I stopped for a few days after "Honeymoon from Hell" because it was too depressing; every chapter featuring a game I knew they'd lose spectacularly required a little bit of willpower to start.
But I'm done and a large number of you are done. It is time to talk the turkey.
We've got this document. What does it say about major players in the saga? I was planning one part here but this got long, so today we'll cover Carr, Rodriguez, and Bill Martin, with various players with less prominent roles in the story covered in a post tomorrow.
It says a few things about Lloyd Carr that are not nice, and implies more. Bacon's said he left a lot of things out that he could not get multiple sources on, which is both his responsibility as an actual journalist and horribly frustrating.
The main strikes:
- Informing his former players he would sign any transfer papers they wanted at his meeting with them after their bowl game, a marked contrast from the Bo-Bump transition.
- Telling Mallett he "needed to leave".
- Having zero control over his former players, or—worse—tacitly endorsing their behavior by not jumping down their throats.
- Offering something short of the fiery defense Bo would have launched once the program started taking fire.
That's aside from the state of the roster when Rodriguez took over, which wasn't specifically directed at the new man.
Those seem like major strikes. Screw it: those are major strikes, particularly #3. I find it inconceivable that Eric Mayes would made it thirty seconds into the embarrassing "we own this program" speech before Bo burst from his chest like a Xenomorph. Carr does nothing. Multiple former players trash Rodriguez in public. Carr does nothing. The 2009 golf outing that even guys like Chris Balas* come back from disgusted at, naming specific names of players (Marlin Jackson, Dhani Jones) who embarrassed themselves with their behavior. Is Carr even at it? It's worse if he is.
So, like, whatever. Carr doesn't owe anyone anything except the 400k a year he was pulling down as associate AD. But he's no program patriarch. He's just a guy who used to coach here. His loyalty is to an incredibly specific version of Michigan only. The difference between the Bo guys and the Carr guys is obvious. Bo guys organize a weird counterproductive rally for RR; Carr guys go on MNF and state they're from "Lloyd Carr's Michigan" or storm the AD's office to demand RR's firing after every loss**. There are exceptions, obviously. The trend is clear.
I have no sympathy for arguments the guy is being painted unfairly when he was offered the opportunity to tell his side a dozen times. If history is written by the losers here it's because the winners don't care what the public thinks. They can't be surprised when the public thinks they're not Bo.
Carr did a lot of things for the program but his legacy is significantly tarnished by the pit it found itself in immediately after his departure. It was his lack of a coaching tree, lack of serious coordinators, and lack of tolerance for Les Miles that caused Michigan to hire Rodriguez in the first place. It was his lack of a roster—seven scholarship OL!—and lack of support that provided Rodriguez with two strikes before he even coached a game. We can argue about how much is Carr's fault and how much is Rodriguez's, but figuring out the latter is pointless since RR is gone and everyone hates him. The former is "far too much."
*[By this I mean guys who work for publications for whom access is lifeblood. They're naturally more circumspect. The reaction on premium sites to this golf outing was unprecedented, with people moved to call actual former players out by name after years of dark mutterings.]
**[Not in the book; something I got from a good source.]
If you left a goat in the locker room after a Michigan loss and then locked Rodriguez in it for five minutes, you would return to find the walls smeared with blood and feta. There would be no trace of the goat.
Rich Rodriguez was obviously not a stoic guy. His sideline tantrums proved that. The extent of his leg-gashing, table-throwing, goat-cheese-making post-loss hissies is probably the thing that Rodriguez is pissed about. They don't make him look like a stable dude. Neither does his descent into J. Edgar Hoover-esque paranoia, no matter how intent the university was on making that paranoia seems reasonable.
By the time I got through it, my reaction to Rodriguez's portrayal was different than that of the media reviewing the book. It doesn't paint Rodriguez as a guy I would want in charge of my football program. I can deal with one goat-annihilating postgame tantrum a year. Rodriguez seemed to have one after every loss.
So why do most neutral accounts play up the Rodriguez sympathy angle? They do not take the truth that the local media is dominated by agenda-laden twits to be self-evident. When Mike Rosenberg—who comes off as a real winner—bombed Rodriguez with a bunch of half-truths and misrepresentations I bombed back, stating that it was obvious the buyout kerfuffle was university-directed. Surprise: it was university-directed as they tried to get out of their 2.5 million dollar hook. Similarly, Free Press Jihad is re-exposed as a bunch of half-truths at best run by a couple of guys who "had countable hours in there at some point" but had it edited out, no doubt because that's not at all important in a discussion about whether Michigan was more than doubling their allotted time on Sundays.
If you go into the book knowing Rosenberg and Snyder published an embarrassing hack-job and that a large part of the media firestorm surrounding Rodriguez was a combination of University incompetence and the tiny lizard brains of certain folk in the local media*, the main takeaway from the book in re: RR is the sheer height of the plumes his emotional volcano shoots up. I mean, Bacon spends pages and pages on Rodriguez playing up the traditions of Michigan to his players. That's an obvious reaction to the Michigan Man business. I assumed Rodriguez was not an idiot when it came to firing up his troops, I guess, and that stuff shot by me. Beating a bleating ungulate against the wall of the Notre Dame locker room until it bursts into a kaleidoscope of viscera… that stays with you.
I feel bad for the guy. I'm glad he's gone.
*[The rest a combo of Rodriguez never winning any games and his remarkable ability to stick his leg into the press conference bear trap.]
Good Lord, man. I find it hard to believe that a guy who dragged Michigan kicking and screaming into massive financial success and smoothly hired John Beilein (admittedly after making a questionable hire in Tommy Amaker) was really as incompetent as… uh… I believed he was after the sailboat incident. That's Yogi Berra right there but it's also true.
Here's the the story of the post-Carr coaching search from the perspective of this site:
- Kirk Ferentz is reached out to and either is or is not offered; if offered he may have been given an offer that was a paycut. Ferentz fades but it seems like there was truth to the rumors.
- Flailing. Miles heavily discussed. ESPN reports Michigan contacts him after Ferentz falls through. They agree to wait until the SEC championship game is over. LSU boards buzz that Les has told his team he's out. I would be "surprised if it was not" Miles.
- Infamous ESPN report.
- Sailboat. "Have a great day." Sailboat.
- Conclusion reached in the aftermath is that M "essentially passed on Miles."
- Tedford and Schiano now start getting thrown around along with odder names like Grobe and Pinkel. Also some guy named Hoke. So much Hoke.
- Kirk Ferentz momentarily back. Then gone.
- Schiano talked to, offered, accepts, changes mind, offered again, says no.
- Sean Payton!
- Miles again! Seriously!
- Miles out again.
- Jim Grobe. Jim Grobe does not get an exclamation point.
- KC Keeler! Lane Kiffin! Seriously!
- Rodriguez out of nowhere.
- Sigh… Peanut Butter Jelly Time.
It seemed like a clown show, and behind the scenes… clown show. Martin wants Dungy, has no idea if Dungy—who is a broadcaster and can be contacted by anyone at any time for any reason—will take the job. Wants Ferentz, has no idea that the president of the university will stab him if he hires Ferentz. Wants Miles, has no idea that Lloyd Carr will stab him if he hires Miles. Somehow misses on Schiano, then has Rodriguez fall into his lap and grabs him before anyone can think about it, which sets up the whole buyout fiasco the media will spin for six months. The sailboat incident is even worse since Bacon asserts one of the main problems was Martin had a new cell phone and didn't know how to use it.
Martin himself drops out of the story shortly thereafter, which is another indictment of the guy because what enters is a vast institutional incompetence that starts the Rodriguez media cockroach katamari rolling. Everything from the buyout to the Dorsey situation is mishandled not only by Rodriguez (sometimes not even by Rodriguez, as with the buyout) but by the people who should be telling him what is and is not possible. When Rodriguez went to bat for Dorsey with a guy in admissions the guy in admissions should have looked at the guy's transcript before saying yes, and then when he did look at the transcript he should have said no.
Instead we actually sign the guy—opening us up to the most cynical and loathsome of all the lizard-brain media attacks—only to find out he is nowhere near eligible. And don't get me started on the CARA forms, which was a special brand of idiocy all on its own. Martin did a lot of big picture stuff very well, but he was totally unprepared to fix a department that had started downhill long before he arrived.
For all the crap I give Brandon about his failure on big picture stuff, he cleaned out the deadwood with alacrity.
TOMORROW: Players, reporters, me/us(!?).
The bye week is (mercifully) over, and it's time to break down Purdue so I can set my internal "fear level" gauge to the appropriate level of paranoia. Of course, two weeks ago I was feeling mighty confident about Michigan's ability to match up with MSU, and then, you know, trash tornado, but I'm putting myself out there again in the hopes that this week's breakdown doesn't make me want to tear out what little hair I have left come Saturday. This week, I watched the important, non-blowout parts of the Boilermakers's loss to Notre Dame and victory over Illinois. On to the breakdown...
What happens when Purdue doesn't roll out their quarterback.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, with the occasional dash of relatively-ineffective I-form (why, no, that doesn't sound familiar at all).
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Pretty much 100% basketball on grass—Purdue runs a ton of zone read, inside zone, and outside zone, and the rest of their running game is based on handing off to speedy wideout Antavian Edison from various spots on the field.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Caleb TerBush has established himself as the starter and went the whole way against Illinois. He's nimble enough that you have to account for him, but not exactly an athletic marvel—I'll give him a 6.
Dangerman: I guess RB Ralph Bolden (#23), though Justin Siller still haunts my dreams despite being a pretty mediocre second wideout and occasional wildcat QB.
OVERVIEW: Notre Dame got out ahead of Purdue early—thanks to a terrible interception by TerBush—and forced the Boilers to pass a lot more than I think they'd prefer, and it showed—TerBush and the now-benched Robert Marve combined for 5.1 YPA on 38 throws. When Purdue was able to get a lead against Illinois, their offensive philosophy altered dramatically, as they were able to run the ball 42 times (despite only averaging 3.0 YPC) while throwing just 25 passes, mostly on rollouts and play-action. The key for Michigan here is simple: Don't allow a mediocre rushing attack to get an early lead, and force TerBush to try to throw the ball downfield to keep Purdue in the game—he's relatively accurate on short passes, but appears uncomfortable with any throw beyond ten yards that isn't going to a wide-open receiver.
The Irish were able to shut Purdue down completely, holding them to just 276 yards on 4.2 yards per play and not allowing a touchdown until the outcome was long decided. The Illini—despite allowing touchdown drives of 91 and 88 yards—held the Boilermakers to 304 yards on 4.5 ypp (Purdue's third, and ultimately winning, touchdown came after the Illini punter muffed a snap at his own 14). This is not an explosive offense, but instead one that hopes to somehow obtain a lead and then grind out the game on the ground, whether or not the rushing attack is actually effective (this is the spread version of "three yards and a cloud of dust").
For the rest of this week's FFFF, hit the jump.
A reader was kind enough to forward along some artists renditions of what Crisler Arena looks like now and what it will look like once it gets the future created on it*. Virtually all of this is supposed to be done by the beginning of the 2012 basketball season, which, like, whoah.
Commence the envisioning!
First I was like…
…but then I was like:
And then I was like…
…but then I was like…
And then I was like…
…but then I was like:
Further shots of Crisler all gussied up and ready for serious, national-relevance-type basketball have been stored after the jump.
Jump with me, my pretties.
"There are three stages in an actor's career: Who is John Amos? Get me John Amos. Get me a young John Amos." –John Amos | Photo: John T. Greilick, Detroit News
He's listed at 6'4" and 205 lbs. In his career so far – about 50 snaps – he's thrown 24 passes and completed 14 (58.3%) for 186 yards and 1 TD. He's also rushed for 56 yards (96 forward, 40 backwards) and 2 scores. He kinda looks like a young version of that guy who played Admiral Fitzwallace on the West Wing.*
For the last three games Hoke has been working Devin Gardner into the offense more often, either with the "Fritz" formation, the Denard Jet, or in some practiced Gardner-specific packages. How much of a 'rotation' this is can be overstated. Before Marcus Rush's flagrant roughing the passer knocked out Denard on Michigan's last drive I counted 67 snaps, of which 5 were Gardner's alone, 6 used both QBs, and 56 were just Denard. That's about a 90-10 split.
This is an attempt to discuss some prevailing theories as to why Devin is taking away a tenth of snaps from a Davey O'Brien award semifinalist.
* DYK: John Amos played ball for Colorado State back in the day.
THEORY 1: RUNNING QUARTERBACKS ARE FOR SOCIALISTS
The inevitable result of Denard's 2011 regression has been leagues of old blues who see Devin Gardner's hype and strapping physique and decide that anyone who looks more like a Scot Loeffler acolyte must be able to complete more than 30 percent of his passes in a trash tornado. They would be correct on the last bit; 3 for 7 is 43 percent. He also had a play so freshman-y against MSU it got through the entire first stanza of Yakety Sax:
The old men say things like "he's a better fit for Borges' offense," because the columnists they read break down all offenses into Manballicans and Spreadocrats, Borges being of the former (never mind that he's run a different offense at every stop). Their ranks are swelled by the same "Put in Henson" effect that has made 2nd string QBs and goalies so beloved wherever starters are struggling.
But there is evidence that Gardner is a more accurate passer than Robinson, not from the games but because his coaches say that. Hoke at the post-MSU presser:
Can you talk about philosophy of alternating Devin and Denard? “Yeah, we thought we may do some of that, and part of what pushed it over a little more was that it was a windy day, and I think Devin at times can throw the ball a little more accurately.”
So if we take the politics out and pare this theory down to "Gardner is more accurate," that accounts for two plays last week. One was when Denard overthrew Hemingway down the sideline in the 2nd quarter and was yanked for Gardner. Gardner immediately missed a wide open Hopkins for a 50-yard score. Later on they brought in Devin for an important 3rd and 11 early in the 4th quarter; Gardner fumbled the snap.
THEORY 2: THE MOST TALENTED GUYS ON THE FIELD
By recruiting metrics, Gardner is the most talented offensive player on Michigan's team. He was the No. 1 ranked dual-threat QB in 2010 to everybody but ESPN (Bolden), a 5-star to Scout, and the 5th ranked QB to pretty much everyone. Everyone who has a believable opinion about scouting says Devin has every type of it. After a year and change in the program, is there any way we can get some of that it on the field without giving up the rainbows and love and liquid happy of Denards?
Borges after debuting the Fritz:
We talked about it a little bit and after spring football it became apparent Devin was a skilled kid, we just tried to figure out a way we could use him. It’s hard, without literally giving quarterbacks series, and I know they did that here in the past, I’m just not a fan of breaking the starting quarterback’s rhythm by taking him out for another guy.
Game theorists and bloggers love this explanation. Technically they're replacing a receiver so the talent tradeoff is Roundtree for Devin. But if you're already overreacting to Denard and then you have to deal with Devin's legs on the other side, and Devin's arm, and oh yeah there's a running back who can go up the middle or option or (Gotchya!) pass it, you can see how opposing DC's can end up with disorders.
Last week this was very effective. The Denard Jet play netted two first downs that were both a shoestring tackle away from breaking big, and two well-defended fake jets that Gardner dumped off for 4 yards on 1st down, and a ran for 3 yards that should have been 8 if Devin hadn't missed his hole.
THEORY 3: THE LAW OF DIMINISHING DENARDS
Molk(+.5) and Schofield block down, Robinson(+1) finds a small hole and squirts into the secondary for 7 yards, where two linebackers and a safety converge. Denard gets up holding his hand.
The thinking goes, the more you play Denard, the more banged up he gets and thus the worse his performance. Talk during the offseason was all about limiting Robinson's carries. One way to reduce wear is to have him pass more, but his passing this year—scheme is part of it, inaccuracy is most of it—makes that untenable as his 2009-y performance against MSU shows:
This is rushing and passing together, with baby seals and EMUs excised. I was looking for some evidence that Denard's effectiveness goes down the deeper into a year you get but it doesn't show that. What it does show is Denard is less effective against better defenses (duh moment) and that he was very much Freshman Denard against MSU. It was also his passing-iest game yet.
Another way to keep miles off the Robinsonmobile is to drive the Gardner more. The tradeoff is that the best part of this offense is Denard's legs and that defenses have to overreact to that whenever Denard's legs are in the game.
Thus the Fritz and Denard Jet packages, which so far have gotten Denard hit about a third of the time but have Denard's legs as a threat 100% of the time.
THEORY 4: THE TATE FORCIER EFFECT
One of the reasons advanced stats loved Michigan's offense last year is we put up way above average yards against Illinois and Iowa, two statistically good defenses. Those also happen to be Tate Forcier's two extended appearances not in garbage time.
Tate had 597 yards on 84 passing attempts last year, all but 13 of those passes against real Big Ten defenses when filling in for a dinged Denard. With him gone and most of the Big Ten season ahead, this job falls to Devin Gardner. It might be a good idea to come up with a few plays he can do well and get those snaps logged. We've got that. In the Monday presser Hoke elaborated a little bit on the just-Devin package:
When you put Devin in the game, is there a purpose to that? “There’s three plays that we like Devin to run. One was the touchdown that he had against Northwestern -- that boot. And there’s another boot in there that we really wanted him to be a part of besides the combination of them both in there.”
More of this after NW from Borges:
Does it help to have Devin play a couple snaps when Denard was out from a coaching standpoint and from his standpoint? “Oh yeah, absolutely. Because Devin’s a highly skilled kid. He is. When he can go in the game and score a touchdown, really not make any tactical or technical errors, he gains confidence, and we gain confidence in his ability to do it.
Experience is needed. We had a preview of Devin in relief at the end of the MSU game and Gardner twice tried to throw the ball past the L.O.S. (the one above and the TD pass called back). That is an experience problem, and highlights the main reason, in my opinion, for getting Devin snaps: having a backup ready if/when Denard gets his dings. The experience thing is a double edged sword since it seems Robinson needs the experience snaps in this offense just as much as his backup.
In a perfect world Michigan would have an extra 15 snaps per game per quarterback we can throw away to learning. As it is that opportunity has come once this year, against Minnesota. The rest of the way, I figure the coaches will be looking for opportunities to give Devin a few more looks here and there. If he's replacing Denard more than 1 play in 10, it's because the dings have already come.
Picture Pages on a bye week? Sure. I generally take more snapshots than I can reasonably cram into one week of posting what with all the other whatnot that goes on in this space, so this is a perfect spot for some reheated leftovers.
Yesterday I tagged Whoever at WLB as one of the main trouble spots on the defense; last week I criticized the linebackers for a particular Edwin Baker run that popped big despite Michigan seemingly having it covered. I caught some criticism myself for not being harsh enough with Mike Martin on that particular play that I'm still not sure about.
In any case, I pick the individual plays after the game (or season) has developed enough for me to identify a trend, and I grabbed that specifically because of the WTF behavior of the linebackers. Here's a play from earlier in the season that got in my thought processes and may have compelled me to pull that baby out of the bathwater. Metaphors not guaranteed.
It's late against Eastern. The starters are still mostly in; the Eagles have been driving a bit. It's first and ten. They'll run a power play to the strong side of their formation*. Michigan is in their usual under.
*[People have told me this is a "Down G", not a Power O, because the guard blocks down—I see what you did there—and it's actually a frontside tackle pulling, along with the center.]
USUAL UNDER IS USUAL
Ryan to bottom of screen, Frank Clark to top.
The key guy to watch is Hawthorne, who is the topmost of the MLBs.
On the snap everything happens!
By this I mean three things.
- the center pulls
- the frontside tackle pulls
- Michigan slants away from the play
You can see the entire line headed inside away from the playside. Brink, Ryan, Martin: all are oblivious to the idea of containment. This is fine.
wsg Slanty, the football-playing, jean-vested gecko who is inexplicably the first hit in Google images for "line slant football."
Why do it? To get a free hitter. Your slant should make life difficult for anything run to its side. The downblocks are key in the power. They're the easy bit for the offense. If one gets beat your play is going to not work very well. In all likelihood your pullers are going to take defensive linemen in the backfield, leaving linebackers free to run up and smash face.
If the opponent runs away from your slant it should be okay because the linebackers know there's a slant on and can chase playside as soon as the offense gives any indication there is a playside. This gets the backside tackle/guard/whoever—the guy assigned to the WLB—blocking air. The WLB gets to scrape down the line to tackle.
This gets the backside tackle… guard… whoever…
…awww, come on, Hawthorne.
In the wider view you can see huge numbers of players on the backside:
Cutback == doom. Hawthorne has no responsibility but to get down the line to the POA. Note the difference in the disposition of the linebackers. Demens is hauling for the frontside; Hawthorne is in full block-catching mode.
Now, Michigan's D can bottle this up without needing a WLB if Ryan gets a two for one on these pullers. He's the guy currently inside of #68. The other puller is running right by him. He's already given up the bounce because of the slant; if he gets into the other blocker Demens has a free run.
Ryan doesn't. He gets knocked to the inside and pancaked, which erases backside help. The other puller gets out on Demens:
Demens has maintained outside leverage, forcing it back to his help, which is three yards downfield and getting farther away.
First down on a basic power run.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Hesitation is a killer here and it does not seem explicable. Hawthorne does not quite know what he's doing yet, especially earlier in the season. The hesitation gets a little more explicable when you look at the previous play, when one Brandin Hawthorne got burned on a counter:
Even so, with the line slanting in front of him he should know to take off playside at any hint of a pull or any hint of a guy releasing to block him. Slanting should make LB decision processes easy.
This play is one of the archetypical examples of why the WLB is hard to block and can get away with being a slight fast guy… so don't get blocked.
This is especially bad for a player like Hawthorne. Hawthorne looks like Leo Messi out there. He has a hard time getting off blocks and has basically no chance if he's not thundering at whoever is coming out to block him. At least in that situation his momentum can pop the guy back and he can come off to tackle. He's done if he pulls the [REDACTED] Memorial Block Catching Dance.
Ryan missed an opportunity to MAKE PLAYS. The other thing a slant like this can do is take the playside DE/LB and make two guys block him. You see Ryan dive inside the first puller. This means the RB is going to bounce, which means Ryan's basically done. Also done is Ryan's blocker.
Ryan has one way to impact the play left: try to pick off that other puller, leaving Demens unimpeded on the edge. Here he takes the block and appears to try to fight back outside, which ends with him in a heap. This isn't the worst thing in the world but great defenses that swarm these kinds of plays with two guys get both the 2-for-1 and the WLB in the hole.
This is one of the reasons I'm looking owlishly at the WLB whenever something goes wrong. Picture Pages are attempts to thematically summarize trends I see as I'm UFRing, so when I pull a play to illustrate something it is a complaint/credit I've seen quite a bit of. That may mean I focus on the linebackers on a particular play that may or may not be Mike Martin's fault for not shedding his guy and tackling for loss.
Google images can be weird sometimes.