I'm going to apologize in advance for this edition of FFFF—I had three Illinois games lined up to watch, then the PSU scandal happened and two of the games wouldn't import into iMovie, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell was going on and less time actually getting to the film. Luckily, I've already watched two Illinois games—against Northwestern and Purdue—for previous FFFFs, so I've got some previous knowledge to go on.
The bad news: The one video that worked was the Illinois-Penn State offensive debacle from a couple weeks ago. Lucky for you, I get to extract the few successful plays from that game, but let's just say there wasn't much to choose from.
A.J. Jenkins, lone receiving threat. Unfortunately, lone and very good.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? A very run-heavy spread, featuring a lot of zone read and some triple option, though Illinois will also switch it up and go I-form with big starting running back Jason Ford.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Though the Illini run all the freakin' time, they're actually more basketball on grass due to the large percentage of zone running plays. They will pull a guard every once in a while, but zone running is the bread and butter of this offense.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is the Illini's leading rusher with 501 yards, but those have come on 137 carries (just 3.7 ypc). If you take out all the sacks Illinois has allowed this season—they also randomly insert freshman Reilly O'Toole at times, so this may be generous to Scheelhaase—that average jumps to 5.9 yards per carry. He's a powerful runner for a quarterback and can make guys miss or run them over, but doesn't have breakaway speed. I'll give him a 7.
Dangerman: WR A.J. Jenkins (#9) has 68 receptions—46 more than any other Illini player—for 1,030 yards and seven touchdowns. He's their lone big-play threat, but he's also really good, and Illinois runs the ball so much that things often open up for him in the secondary.
OVERVIEW: Illinois is going to run the ball. A lot. Their run/pass split on the season (sacks included as passes) is 383/262, meaning they run the ball right around 60% of the time. They'll mostly go out of the shotgun and their early downs are almost always run plays, rarely passing on first or second down except off play-action, when they'll often take a deep strike to Jenkins to see if they can generate more than five yards on a single play. Both Scheelhaase and running back Jason Ford (6'0", 235 pounds) are downhill runners who are at their best when they find a crease and go until they hit something.
The Illini will also mix in some triple option, often out of this look, which didn't show up in the Penn State game so I'll give you a screencap—the fullback lined up next to Scheelhaase gets the dive (or dive fake), and then the option play goes towards the strong side:
[image removed because it broke the feed]
The option attack hasn't been particularly effective for Illinois, and they abandoned it entirely against Penn State, but we could see it again as the Illini test out the edge of Michigan's defense. However, most of Scheelhaase's runs against Penn State came on designed QB draws, which I think is actually the best way to use him considering his size and lack of breakaway speed—get him going upfield and he has success. It'll be up to Michigan's interior line to stop Scheelhaase and Ford, and they'll be tested frequently.
Illinois also eschews the normal way of assigning linemen (you know, left tackle, right guard, etc.), instead having strongside and weakside tackles and guards who will flip sides depending on the formation. They put their better linemen—tackle Jeff Allen and guard Hugh Thornton—on the strongside and tend to have more success running behind them.
This breakdown will be rather short, as Illinois doesn't exactly have a ton of tricks up their sleeve. Here's what they want to do to your defense—open up a crease in the middle of the line, let Scheelhaase or Ford (in this case, Ford) get going downhill, and pick up big chunks on the ground:
That's a typical Jason Ford run right there—straight north-south, not a lot of wiggle, slam into the guys attempting to tackle. If he gets into the secondary, Woolfolk/Gordon will be tested.
Illinois uses their frequent running to set up the pass, and while it's usually to A.J. Jenkins, here's a PA tight end seam that went for their lone touchdown against Penn State:
The safeties must make sure to stay sharp and disciplined, because it's easy to get lulled to sleep against this offense. All it takes is a couple big plays to turn the tide of a game, and Illinois gets their big plays out of the play-action passing game. Otherwise, Scheelhaase tends to go underneath or, quite often, hold onto the ball too long and either scramble outside for minimal yardage or take a sack. Keep contain, Jake Ryan and Craig Roh. Please keep contain.
- Yes, Illinois's backup QB really is named Reilly O'Toole—Brian said the name reminded him of a Bond girl, though I'm inclined to go with porn star (not that the names are markedly different)—and we'll probably see him come in for a series or two. I'm not exactly sure why. O'Toole doesn't really run (four carries for 12 yards this year), and while he's completed 22 of 29 passes this year (72.4%), he's averaging a paltry 5.1 yards per attempt and has tossed two interceptions. He doesn't have a very strong arm and he's very much a dink-and-dunk QB. Why Illinois regularly lifts Scheelhaase for him is anybody's guess. Maybe Ron Zook just loves the name.
- Michigan could see two different Illinois backup running backs. One is 5'8", 190-pound senior Troy Pollard, who has put up great numbers (48 carries for 390 yards) but almost entirely against terrible competition—his best game against a remotely viable opponent was when he amassed 24 yards on five carries against Ohio State, and he was held to two yards on five carries against the Nittany Lions. Donovonn Young—a 6'0", 215-pound freshman—has 63 carries for 363 yards this year, but again much of his production has come against awful teams (the lion's share of his yards have come against South Dakota State, Western Michigan, and Indiana). He does flash some decent speed, however, and is a decent change-of-pace option to complement Ford.
For the defensive breakdown, hit the jump.
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell had his redshirt burned two weeks ago.
- There will be some rotation between Thomas Gordon and Troy Woolfolk vs. Illinois regardless of which one wins the spot in practice.
- Ricky Barnum still limited in practice. Hoke says he "will play," however.
Opening remarks: “I’m going to make a brief statement just regarding everything up at Penn State. One thing I can tell you, we have an utmost respect for what coach Paterno’s done on the field. It’s really a situation that’s obviously unfortunate, but it’s one that doesn’t affect us. We’ve got to worry about Michigan and the decision that we make in getting ready for this week and going to Illinois and winning a football game.
“Now practice yesterday was good. I like it. I liked how they competed. I liked how they came out, had a lot of energy, and they fought like heck.”
(more after the jump)
This is a mild complaint on another "ten guys" play. Michigan got Iowa fairly well blocked thanks to their alignment, but one mistake far away from everything ends up submarining a winning playcall.
It's Michigan's second play of the game. Robinson has just slipped while cutting, turning a decent gain into a single yard. On second and nine Michigan comes out in a tight ace set with both TEs in a two-point stance. Nominally this is a passing formation what with the TEs all standing up, but formations like this often result in outside runs this year.
On the snap Roundtree, Koger, and Lewan block down, with Schofield and Molk pulling. Patrick Omameh is going to cut the backside tackle… or at least he's going to try. His failure to creates a CHAIN REACTION that DESTROYS THE REACTOR:
Hmm. This isn't good. The backside DT isn't delayed at all. A TFL is possible here. TFLs are not nice.
Meanwhile, there is good work being done on the playside. Koger and Lewan have gotten movement on their guys and Roundtree is cracking down on the playside LB with a great angle.
Molk perceives the threat and removes the threat of the DT with his back. That takes the TFL off the table. Unfortunately, Koger and Lewan have now lost their guys playside. Roundtree does get the linebacker:
At the moment of truth Toussaint does have a crease because Roundtree's block cuts off Koger's guy and Molk slowing has prevented that DT from making the play; Schofield has kicked out the corner.
Unfortunately, there is no lead block, and there is a safety. With the playside DT flowing down the line there's nowhere to go.
On third and five Robinson gets quick pressure and has no one open, so he chucks it well past everyone.
Items of Interest
Ten angry men. So… yeah. Borges basically got Iowa here. Look at the alignment of the linebackers:
They're shifted well to the wide side, assuming that the outside run will come behind Hemingway's block. That gives Michigan a numbers advantage to the playside and gives Roundtree a super easy block on the most dangerous linebacker.
That's enough to get Toussaint a crease on the sideline. If Molk is hanging out being all blocky chances are this sets Michigan up in a third and short. But because of whiff by Omameh so total it threatens to allow a guy on the backside of the play to tackle on a pitch sweep Molk has to bail and unblocked safety is unblocked.
Receivers tight to the line == outside run. Not all the time, of course, but frequently.
These defensive ends are not Purdue defensive ends. Remember Purdue, when a defensive end was a gnome on ice skates?
Good times. Michigan was not playing Purdue in this game. (This is why it was in Iowa.) Koger loses his guy to the outside, and as you can see in the left frame above #79 is threatening enough to remove any hope of a cutback behind Lewan. He's not making the play, but he's doing enough to let some other guys do it. This was a theme.
I don't think Michigan's going to have much better luck with the rest of the defenses on the schedule. Koger's monster day against Purdue looks like an outlier based on the opposition, not a sudden renaissance. NFL scouting of him is middling overall and negative on his blocking:
Isn’t a real balance blocker. Struggles to keep feet under him, lunges into contact and doesn’t create much power as an in-line guy. Possesses a naturally strong frame, but his inability to gain leverage and maintain balance kills him at the point. Possesses long arms and strong hands that allow him to stick initially when he gets his hands on you, but is still learning the nuances of being a consistent run blocker.
That was pre-season; NFP's Wes Bunting re-iterated that recently in a post I can't find.
This is going to be ugly next year when the only options are Brandon Moore, Ricardo Miller, and freshmen. People are talking up AJ Williams as a potential tackle but I think Michigan would love to keep him at tight end if this is at all possible. Having an edge blocker like Williams is a critical piece of a manball offense. Even if Williams is a tackle long term I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't redshirt and Borges uses him as an extra OL. Preseason he talked about wanting to install an extra tackle package but couldn't because he didn't actually have any extra tackles.
Molk == SMRT. The reason this is a modest gain instead of a TFL is Molk's awareness. He catches a glimpse of an Iowa player in his peripheral vision and immediately knows this is trouble. If he had continued on his pull no one would have blamed him—or at least no one would have blamed him much.
He's adapted fairly well to the new system. Not every center can pull effectively. He certainly can, and while he's not an in-line mauler he is generating push more consistently than either of the guards. I predict Michigan misses him badly next year.
This week in spread zealotry we've got an example of something you can't do against the spread without getting a face full of Denard: crash. It's second and three early in the third quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint has just taken an iso seven yards thanks to Molk and Hopkins making quick work of the NT and MLB.
Michigan will run an inside zone from an ace set. I'm pretty sure that Michigan screwed this up because I've never seen an inside zone play on which a guy who is not the end man on the line scrimmage is let go unless he's getting read. Here the backside DE is let go while Watson flares out to block a guy with a longer path to the ballcarrier.
Get used to both halves of this. Iowa is in a 4-3 under. The key guy is the DE at the top of the screen—the guy in a two point stance next to the standing SLB.
Michigan runs an inside zone. They double the NT and the SDE (at the bottom of the screen) as the linebackers flow to the LOS.
By the handoff point a couple things have happened. Both linebackers are at the LOS and engaged; the MLB is actually doubled by Lewan and Schofield. Sometimes a doubled LB means you've blocked a play so well that there's no one else to get. Not so much here.
I don't want to make too much of this because this is clearly a bust by the line (in all likelihood Lewan), but when I saw this I immediately wished Michigan was in the shotgun and Denard was reading the guy they let go. He'd have two choices: remain responsible on Denard and open that cutback up (he'd likely recover in time to tackle but not at the LOS) or do what he's doing now and put Denard one on one with the safety.
Similarly, with the linebackers one and two yards off the LOS, a pass like the one that started off their second hurry-up drive would be open. These things are all possible if you're reading the guy you've let go.
When you're not he just tackles you.
Toussaint does make the guy miss, but only by redirecting into a pile of bodies. He gets a yard. On the next play Michigan runs a QB power with Denard that Iowa is all over until two guys fall down after beating their blockers to the spot. Twenty two yards later they've got a first down. A field goal results.
Items of Interest
This seems strictly less effective than the same thing run from the gun. I'm not sure what the advantage of operating from under center on this can be. You hear a lot about getting downhill quickly as an advantage of playing from under center, but pistol sets and even Michigan's old belly setup where the QB is a yard in front of the tailback get guys going downhill pretty damn fast without giving up the mesh read.
The other advantage suggested by commenters when I tried to answer some guy's question about the advantages of the I-Form over the spread was an ability to keep your eyes on the coverage downfield instead of catching a shotgun snap*. Here Robinson turns his back to the defense and has no idea what's going on behind him until he turns around.
So… yeah. Living in a world without post-snap reads is giving up something when your quarterback is mobile.
This is an example of the "ten man football" Borges was talking about. Even so, the play should still work for a few yards. The blocking's decidedly mediocre—in the last few frames you see a DT chucking Omameh, forcing the cutback—but the nice thing about the zone is it's hard for the defense to be right when you've got an effective cutback runner. Toussaint is that.
If the backside end actually gets blocked, Toussaint looks like he has the cutback for decent yardage. While that safety is probably going to come down and hold it to a modest gain, the first down is well within reach. Lewan busts and Michigan gets zilch. That was a theme on the day: one guy doing something wrong on these run plays and Michigan getting stuffed.
I wonder if spread stuff has a greater failure tolerance. You'd think it would because you are optioning off a potential defender and therefore get a double on someone. The alternative is forcing a safety into the box, which isn't bad.
*[Something that didn't seem particularly convincing since the shotgun is the preferred passing formation for long-yardage situations and hurry-up even in the NFL.]
Opening remarks: “The first thing I’d say starting out is that was a tough loss for us on defense especially because when you’re a great defense, you find a way to win the ball game. When we looked at the tape afterwards, you saw a lot of really good things and things that we hadn’t done all year. Just made a couple crucial mistakes that we could have really done something. That’s what we talk about all the time with these defenses. Let’s take it to the next level where whatever has to happen, the defense has to win the game. We really felt like there was some times when we could have done it.”
Is there a good explanation for why Thomas Gordon didn’t see the field? “He and Troy have been in a battle for who’s going to be that safety. Troy had a better week of practice, and that’s how it’ll always be at Michigan. The guys who have the best week of practice are going to play. As the game went on, you felt like the guy wasn’t tired, the guy wasn’t hurt, so keep going with what you have out there. He has been a part of some turnovers, but there’s other things on film also that you may not see that we as coaches have to make a decision on who plays, and that was our decision.”
Is it hard to pull a guy who’s been so productive? “Getting turnovers is a big part of the defense, but 60 plays of how you do is what we as coaches do. And we watch it and evaluate, and our job is to decide who has the best chance to help you win in a certain offense in a certain scheme. And that’s the decision that we make.”
How is that competition going this week? “Good. Good. There’s a lot of competition. In fact, there’s a number of other guys who had really good practices today, so that’s how it’ll always be here. It’s always going to be that Tuesday, that Wednesday, that Thursday. That’s when you’re going to make the team. There’s a lot of guys that are real close.”
So is it Troy’s spot and Gordon has to win it back? “Everybody has to hold their spot every week in practice. Nobody is given a spot and says, ‘This is your spot, it’s yours.’ And that’s the way it is with every player on that defense.”
When Countess took the job from Troy, was it kind of the same situation? “That’s what we do. That’s what we do until 12 o’clock at night. That’s what we do after we’re done here. We go up there and we’ll watch every play of this practice. As a coach, your job is to make a decision who’s going to help you win that football game against this opponent. Some opponents are different than others. That’s what we do. Mike doesn’t have that position locked. Ryan Van Bergen doesn’t have that position locked. Craig Roh doesn’t have it locked. It’s what you do every day in practice.”
(more after the jump)
We're splitting the coordinators now, so Greg Mattison's transcript will be up after I eat something.
On the last four plays, do you wish you would have been able to call a run or a roll-out? “Yeah, you were going to struggle rolling out. They were in full blitz. Guys coming outside. I mean, you could roll out but your odds were not very good. Your best -- in four straight full blitzes, your best case scenario was the single coverage matchups. We got our hands on three out of four balls, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. But not a lot of reservation about that. Like I said, rolling out conceptually sounds good, but when the edge isn’t clean, it doesn’t look as good as it sounds.”
Any thoughts of running on first down? “No. Absolutely not. 16 seconds with no timeouts? What’re you going to do? If you run the football inside of 18 seconds, your odds, if you fail, of getting back lined up to run another play are very very slim, not to mention you eliminate probably two calls. So that would be bad playcalling. Bad strategy.”
What about the last play, with two seconds left? “That’s a possibility. That’s a possibility, and it was a couple different options we could have used there. We chose the one we chose and it didn’t work out. I wish it would have. But that’s viable, but at three yards, again, if you don’t make it, you’re going to look silly. When you have a seven-man pressure staring at you in the eyes, superman’s going to struggle running through that.”
Has Denard gotten tentative running the ball? He looks slower. “I don’t think so. I haven’t timed him, but he doesn’t look any slower to me. So my answer to that is I don’t think he has. No. Not really.”
MGoInterjection: I did notice that on the outside runs, he constantly looks for the cutback … “Well, what’s happening on those is he’s got to start cutting off his outside foot. We talked about that. That’s happened twice now, maybe three times when we’re cutting off our inside foot and he slipped. So we’re getting that corrected.”
(more after the jump)