no wonder we hired Hunter Lochmann
Last time on Picture Pages we looked at a 35-yard iso on Michigan's first drive against Minnesota. A 35 yard iso means someone did something terrible on defense or your tailback did something ridiculous; Michigan was playing Minnesota so it was the former.
So Michigan scores a touchdown and gets the ball back and opens up with the same set. Minnesota again has both safeties rolled up.
On the snap the line pass blocks but the backfield executes a historical reenactment of The Battle Of Minnesota Sucks At Isos.
There's a gap in the line that Hopkins is thundering towards again and by the time it's clear Denard has the ball the three LB type substances have started moving towards the LOS:
When Hopkins hits the LOS the two guys who could hypothetically cover him are four yards from the LOS and stationary.
This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
Items of Interest
Constraint theory right here. Minnesota just got hit with a big iso and got chewed out on the sideline about it. They are hyped up to stop it, so when Michigan shows it again the LB and S suck way up and leave Hopkins open for a big gain over the top. This works not only because Minnesota overreacts to it but because of the omnipresent Denard threat posed in the shotgun. That means the Gophers are operating with essentially zero deep safeties.
This is what happens when you can force the defense to cheat. An actual opponent playing this way probably would have given up five, not 35, on the first iso, but that's enough to force them to cheat to it, whereupon bang.
This isn't unique or new. Literally every program in the country except Ohio State* tries to do this. Michigan's old-school waggle is an example. The hope with Borges is that he'll use them frequently to score lots of points instead of occasionally as part of a bler offense run by 70s thinking. Denard is a hell of a thing to try to stop without cheating, much more threatening than Michigan's four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game was in the late 90s and early aughts.
This is the stuff you get in the shotgun even when Denard is not running because the zone read demands attention at all times. Under center Denard's legs mean waggle or Incredibly Surprising QB Draw, neither of which forces safeties into the box.
We saw a bucket of constraint against the Gophers. This is in part because the Gophers are so bad they have to cheat every play in the hopes of stopping the opposition.
I think it's also in part because Borges is finding his legs in this strange environment where your quarterback is one of the most threatening rushers in the country. Michigan tried the waggle a bunch earlier this year (and in spring) and got little out of it; against the Gophers that was ditched in favor of plays that use fear of Denard's legs as a major component of their success.
Hey man, nice touch. Denard floated a nice catchable ball to Hopkins about 18 yards downfield. He could do that because there were no safeties, so I've got no problem with the throw.
Let's see if Shaw can block this. Because this is a 75 yard touchdown if a fullback isn't running it. Also Hopkins almost dropped this.
One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.
Dymonte Thomas tallied four touchdowns and 193 total yards this week.
This week on Weekday Warriors, Dymonte Thomas goes off, Harrison continues to roll, Anthony Standifer has a pair of picks, and Matt Godin piles up more impressive numbers.
TN OL Blake Bars
Montgomery Bell improved to 3-4 with a 17-14 win over Father Ryan.
This week: The Big Red (2-4) host Ensworth on Friday.
OH LB Joe Bolden
Bolden led a Colerain defensive attack that held Fairfield to just 73 yards of offense in a 53-0 Cardinal victory.
This week: The Cardinals (5-1) travel to Lakota West on Friday at 7:30.
MI OL Ben Braden
Braden was a big factor in the Rockford rushing attack that tallied over 200 yards in three quarters as they ripped off 41 unanswered points in an eventual 41-6 win over East Kentwood. The game was the subject of this week's CVO, and here are the highlights:
This week: Rockford hosts Grandville on Friday at 7.
OH DE Pharaoh Brown
Brown recovered an onside kick late to give Brush a chance, but they fell 10-7 to Mayfield. No defensive stats were available.
This week: The Arcs play at Twinsburg on Thursday at 6.
MI TE Devin Funchess
Funchess returned from a toe injury that held him out last week and recorded touchdown catches of 28 and 6 yards to help Harrison improve to 6-0 with a 48-35 victory over Oak Park.
This week: The Hawks head to Rochester Adams on Thursday at 7.
OH S Allen Gant
Gant helped Southview hold Perrysburg to 210 total yards—and just 50 in the second half, most coming on a meaningless final drive—as the Cougars won 29-7 after trailing by one at halftime.
This week: Sylvania (5-1) play at Bowling Green on Friday at 7.
MI DT Matt Godin
According to Godin himself, he had 11 tackles and three QB hurries as Detroit Catholic Central took down U-D Jesuit, 20-13, to improve to 6-0 this season.
This week: The Shamrocks look to stay undefeated in a home-field showdown against Brother Rice on Saturday at 7.
UT FB Sione Houma
Houma rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries as Highland held on for a 44-37 victory over Woods Cross.
This week: The Rams take on Cyprus at home on Friday at 7.
MI LB Royce Jenkins-Stone
Cass Tech managed a strong defensive effort, but their offense was held off the board in a 7-0 shutout loss to Detroit Crockett.
This week: The Technicians (4-2) host Mumford on Friday at 4 in their regular-season finale.
OH OL Kyle Kalis
Top-ranked St. Edward defeated Ursuline, 20-7, to remain unblemished at 6-0 in 2011.
This week: The Eagles host Don Bosco Prep (NJ), home of Yuri Wright and several other D-I recruits, on Saturday at 7.
CA OL Erik Magnuson
La Costa Canyon dominated the trenches en route to a 33-7 win over Fallbrook:
The Mavericks posted six unanswered scores and dominated the second half in a 33-7 nonleague win over Fallbrook (1-3). The Mavericks (3-2) controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, outgaining the Warriors, 222 yards to 83 on the ground en route to winning their second straight game.
"It wasn't a real surprise to see how we came out in the second half," Mavericks coach Sean Sovacool said. "With the guys we have up front, and as tough as our runners are, we can grind it out. That was kind of the aim going into the second half, was to take control back, and our guys did a good job of that."
With a massive offensive line anchored by tackles Eric Magnuson (6-foot-6, 280 pounds) and Scott Quessenberry (6-4, 260), the Mavericks have taken advantage of their ability to run the ball this year. Isaac Maquet led the way Friday with 21 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown, and Deon Dickey kept Fallbrook's defense honest with 11 carries for 71 yards and a score.
"We did the same thing last week at Redlands -- we came out and ran the ball really well after halftime, and it seems to work," Maquet said. "The linemen responded well and opened some big holes.
"They do a great job."
This week: The Mavericks have a bye this week.
MI DE Mario Ojemudia
Ojemudia had a critical late fourth-down stop for no gain as Harrison held off Oak Park, 48-35. Harrison, the top-ranked team in the state, improved to 6-0 with the victory.
This week: The Hawks head to Rochester Adams on Thursday at 7.
MO DT Ondre Pipkins
Park Hill came away with an emphatic victory over North Kansas City, 42-14, to improve to 4-2 on the season.
This week: The Trojans host Lee's Summit West on Friday at 7.
MI CB Terry Richardson
No stats were available for Richardson from Cass Tech's 7-0 loss to Crockett. The Technicians (4-2, 4-1 PSL) are now in a three-way tie for first place with Crockett and King.
This week: The Technicians host Mumford on Friday at 4 in their regular-season finale.
OH LB Kaleb Ringer
Northmont's offense was stymied by an "unusual zone defense" in a 15-7 loss at Beavercreek.
This week: The Thunderbolts (2-4) host Fairmont on Friday at 7:30.
MI LB James Ross
OLSM came away with a dramatic 10-9 overtime win over Brother Rice to improve to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Catholic League Central Division, and Ross played a huge role in the victory:
Most of the rainy game was marked by defensive stops and muddy running plays. St. Mary's defense was led by senior linebacker James Ross.
"We tried to let him go a little bit there," [St. Mary's coach George] Porritt said. "James is a special player, you could see his instincts take over."
Witness those instincts in the first clip of this Fox 2 highlight reel:
This week: St. Mary's has a huge conference game at home against Shane Morris's Warren De La Salle squad on Friday at 7.
OH OL Caleb Stacey
Oak Hills fell in a heartbreaker after failing an all-or-nothing two-point conversion with three seconds left, giving Hamilton a 47-46 win in an offensive shootout.
This week: The Highlanders play at Sycamore, featuring Michigan commit A.J. Williams, on Friday at 7:30.
IL CB Anthony Standifer
Standifer came away with two interceptions as Crete-Monee blew out Bloom Township, 32-7. Here's a quote from Standifer from after the game:
"We knew (the Blazing Trojans) were going to come out and play their best, because every team tries to play their best against us in conference," said Warriors defensive back Anthony Standifer, who intercepted two passes. "We had never faced adversity before, because we had been blowing everybody out, but in the second half we had to pick it up."
The Blazing Trojans? Towelie approves.
This week: The Warriors plays at Rich Central on Friday at 6.
OH DE Tom Strobel
Strobel recorded two sacks and wreaked havoc in the Brunswick backfield as Mentor got the victory, 38-14, as the Cardinals moved to 6-0.
Strobel, a Michigan recruit, had a pair of sacks and was seemingly in the face of Yohman on almost every throw. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound senior said the Blue Devils were effective on offense early, but the interception by Coustillac settled things down for the Cardinals quickly.
"Brunswick got some drives early and we were a little shaky to start, but Regis got the pick that got us back into the game and back to the level we feel we should be playing at," Strobel said. "I put all my trust in Mitch. He is going to make the right decisions and the receivers are going to catch the ball and our offense is pretty dangerous."
Here's a post-game interview with Strobel:
This week: The Cardinals travel to Solon on Thursday at 7.
OH TE A.J. Williams
Williams one again paved the way in the trenches as Sycamore dominated on the ground in a 32-13 victory over Princeton.
This week: The Aviators host Caleb Stacey and Oak Hills on Friday night at 7:30.
OH S Jarrod Wilson
Wilson came away with an interception on Ellet's final drive to preserve a 20-13 win for Buchtel, who moved to 3-3 on the season.
This week: The Griffins play at North in a noon game on Saturday.
OH DE Chris Wormley:
No stats are available for Wormley from Whitmer's 54-7 blowout win over Clay.
[UPDATE: Coming through in the clutch is Mason Lowry, Whitmer's play-by-play man:
Whitmer's D gave up a touchdown on the very last play of the first quarter to tie it at 7-7, but really buckled down and didn't allow anything further after that. Clay runs a funky kind of spread/triple option with shades of the Wing-T, and for the most part, it wasn't very effective. Chris was his usual disruptive self, and we didn't see a whole lot of him on defense in the second half.
One interesting thing to note: Whitmer's tight end left the game after what looked like a fairly serious lower leg injury, and Chris did step in some on offense to block. Depending on how long he's out, we may get to see a little more of him blocking in the coming weeks, which could give us a little bit of an indication as to whether or not he has a future on the offensive side of the ball at the next level.
This week, the Panthers have a big one against Findlay, who is the only other undefeated team in the conference, and the only area team that sits ahead of them in the computer rankings. Pregame starts at 6:30 on Friday with kickoff at 7:00 on WRSCsports.com.
Thanks, as always, to Mason for the update.]
This week: The Panthers travel to Findlay on Friday at 7.
KY S Jeremy Clark
North Hopkins had a bye this week.
This week: The Maroons (5-1) host Hopkins County Central on Friday at 7.
MI QB Shane Morris
Morris led the way with 104 yards and four touchdown passes as De La Salle bounced back from last week's loss to DCC to take down Inkster, 46-12.
This week: The Pilots (5-1) face off against OLSM and James Ross on Friday at 7.
OH RB/S Dymonte Thomas
Thomas had a huge game, posting 102 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards while finding the end zone on runs of 3, 10, and 5 yards and a catch traveling 60 yards to lead Marlington to a 55-28 victory over Carrollton. His coach, after the game, simply said of Thomas, "He's a special player."
This week: The Dukes play at Minerva on Friday at 7.
Several months ago Brian left a few whacky meatball surgeons in charge of the B.L.O.G. 4077th unit while he did the wedding/honeymoon thing. In need of good filler we duly turned over content control to the enlisted, then didn't use any of their ideas. Then TrapperVH and Major Tim Burns left the show and we forgot 'em, but this query from a non emu:
… When Hoke was hired, Brandon alluded to some research that he had done on correlation between the background of a new head coach and his winning percentage. He basically said that coaches who had previously coached in the conference, played, or recruited in the catchment area of a B10 school was much more likely to be successful than a complete outsider, and this was one of the reasons that made Hoke a more compelling candidate. …
…resulted in an excel spreadsheet (Google doc) that I've been tinkering with ever since.
We may call this the Gary Moeller effect since he is the epitome of a guy with longstanding Big Ten experience before he took his marquee Big Ten head coaching job. Mo started working for Bo at Miami (NTM) and after '69 the only years he wasn't coordinating something for Michigan were three spent as the head coach of Illinois. But he's also the antithesis for the Illini years, when Moeller went 3-18-3 in the Big Ten, way worse than before him.
At Michigan, Moeller became the most successful Big Ten coach in the last 40 years (ties counted for 0.5 each, records through 2010):
|Rk||Coach||School||Yrs||B10 Wins||B10 Losses||B10 W%|
(Penn State is excised because when JoePa took over every team was in the Pangaea Conference. Bo Pelini too, for the same reason: not with the conference when they became HC).
Defining success isn't that straightforward. John Cooper* and Earl Bruce won a lot of Big Ten games at OSU but both were -9.5% in conf. winning % versus the 10 years preceding them while Hayden Fry (+32%), Joe Tiller (+25%), and Gary Barnett (+21%) dramatically improved moribund programs. When I compared every coach over the last 40 years to the 10 years before he arrived, I got this for best and worst:**
|Coach||School||Yrs||B10 W%||10 Years before him||Change|
But then the W% method is really unfair to coaches who took over great teams. Lloyd Carr is a hall of fame coach who won around 78% of his Big Ten games over 13 years in a tough conference environment, but versus '85 to '94 he's –2.36%, good for about average. John Pont made the Top 10 for getting Indiana from 18% to 37%. Pont later reappears just outside the loser's bracket for taking over a 40% Northwestern team and winning just 25% of his conf. games. Using both metrics however can give us a list of dudes worth discussing from the last 20 years:
(after the jump):
News bullets and other important things:
- Barnum is still day to day.
- Woolfolk is fine, even though he may or may not have been limping at the end of the game.
- Cam Gordon will practice more. Sounds like he has to fight for his job back.
- McColgan should be back for Northwestern.
- Hoke voted for Michigan to be in top 25.
Opening remarks: “It was good to start the Big Ten season winning the football game on Saturday. It was good to keep the Brown Jug. I think the score got painted on this morning at eleven. It’s good to have the Jug here in Ann Arbor.
"Everything gets tougher. Northwestern, they’re 2-2 as you all know. They lost a heartbreaker down in Champaign last week, but they have a football team that’s very well coached. Pat’s probably as good a coach as there is in the league and a guy that feels strongly about that program, being an alumnus of Northwestern and being a tremendous player there. I also think when you look at them from an offensive and defensive standpoint, they’re a team that’s going to play physical. They’re going to play 60 minutes of football. Defensively, they run very well to the ball. Offensively, Persa was back, played most of the game, was pretty productive. But Coulter is also a guy who’s moved them offensively and done a nice job. So when you look at it and playing away, we haven’t been away. It’ll be a little bit different for us because we’ve been fortunate enough to play five games in Michigan Stadium.”
Does being tied for second in the country in ppg allowed mean anything to you? Also, can you point to any tangible improvements in the defense between the spring and now? “Well, it’s like anything else. It doesn’t mean anything right now. I mean, none of those things matter. We’re 1-0 right now. I think when you look at our front the last two weeks, we’ve been a little more disruptive. That’s enabled the linebackers to do their job. I think we put a little bit more pressure at times on the quarterback. We still don’t blitz worth a dog, period. And that’s got to improve. Guys are playing together. I think they’re understanding the roles. I think the defensive staff has done a good job in preparation, and the guys are doing a good job preparing themselves.”
How did Denard look in the passing game on film? “I think mechanically he was better. I think the routes were better. I think the timing of the offense was better. There was a good tempo and good flow when you look at him and his footwork and all those things that are part of the mechanics of throwing. I think it was better. I thought it wasn’t bad versus Notre Dame, either. I think he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy … He wants to be good for his teammates.”
How do you work on timing in practice? “Well it’s just the routes and the timing, and if it’s five-step or three-step drop, from the gun or under center. Just the mechanics of that and when the ball should be thrown, on what step.”
(more after the jump around.)
NOTE: I am looking to purchase a pair of tickets to Northwestern. If you've got a couple extras email me to discharge built-up beveled guilt.
Power vs zone read. A couple weeks ago I wondered if running a bunch of power had opened up the zone read again or if it was just an effect of playing Bob Diaco and Ron English. Frequent correspondent Tyler Sellhorn provides some insight:
WLBs are the bugaboo defender for the power play (double team frontside = WLB difficult to block/unblocked). They are coached to hit the window created by the inside OL stepping to the double. Playside combos of inside zone are difficult to distinguish from straight doubles.
The best defense vs. ZR is to exchange gaps between the DE and WLB (you already know this). Therefore, these two plays in concert screw with the WLB assignment-wise from a gameplan standpoint. Gap-exchange weakside means that the free defender versus power is no longer paying any attention to the RB running said power. Leaving the DE to defend the ZR by his lonesome, though, against DR...hell to pay.
Hope that enlightens.
Since then we've seen San Diego State defend the zone read (and nothing else) ably and Minnesota defend nothing (and nothing else). A test of this theory will come against Northwestern, which may have given up 38 to Illinois but held the Illini rushing game to just 82 yards. Sacks factor in but even without those Scheelhaase and company managed just 3.1 YPC.
They also gave up 400 yards passing, so don't get too frightened.
Stretches versus outside zone. I've been using the two terms interchangeably, which Tyler suggests is mistaking rectangles for squares:
…the zone stretch, the various sweeps (including QB sweeps), pin/pull, and when the G tries to "log" the end/OLB on Down G, the Dash (frontside zone read) all try to accomplish the same thing: circle the defense and (usually) carry the ball between the numbers and the sideline.
What I am getting at is that you have made the statement that there have been zero stretches and it feels like you are implying that M is not trying to get outside when you make that statement. There are lots of ways to get the same thing as "stretch" conceptually, and Borges is trying to fit the concept into what he already has experience calling and know what to call when. For example, QB sweep was the first call against WMU.
So yeah, you keep harping on "zero stretches" when there have been plenty of attempts to get the ball outside, but M is using different blocking schemes to do the same thing. You just need to be clearer about what you are trying to say in regards to this: we should be running outside more or we should be using stretch to run outside. That is the distinction I am encouraging you to make.
Right, then: I'd like to see more outside zone blocking from Michigan because they're pretty good at it and don't seem particularly good at getting outside with pin and pull stuff or toss sweeps.
Saw your picture pages on Michigan DBs playing the fade and having success playing the man versus the ball. Thought you might find this of interest from Saban.
Basically if you are even with the WR, you play the ball. If the receiver looks over his inside shoulder you look back that way; if the WR turns his outside shoulder back you turn into the WR (toward the sideline) to play the back shoulder fade.
But if you're out of phase with the guy, ie trailing him, you don't turn back to find the ball because you never will and they'll catch it; you play the man and his hands and eyes. (I get the impression that this wasn't the case last year.)
From the photos I saw on your site the Michigan DBs are doing a good job playing the man, but that's because they aren't "in-phase" with the WRs. If the throw was better they'd probably be completing the fades. But you're closer to this stuff than I am; mostly wanted to pass along the Saban points.
So Michigan's trail technique seems born of necessity. Since they don't have Charles Woodson or Leon Hall back there the best they can do is go for the PBU. We've seen Blake Countess look for the ball because he's in better position a few times.
If Countess proves to be the real deal and Michigan can get a second corner at that level we may see more DBs look back for the ball. As it is the current technique is at least an excellent stopgap.
A little outdated. This came in before the Minnesota game:
Do you think Denard would be as effective a runner from the RB position as he is from the QB position? My gut says he would not be but can't explain why. I bring this up given his continued poor passing performance with some people clamoring for him to change positions.
Denard wouldn't be as effective a runner because he excels in the space allowed by a spread formation. In a pro-style offense he would probably be too slight to be a tailback, at least full-time. He'd end up in the slot.
The main tactical innovation allowed by having your QB as a runner is it allows you to spread the field horizontally by adding more WRs without giving up the extra blocker. With the defense locked in on those slots—something the threat of the bubble screen enforces—a guy like Denard can pick and choose from big gaps that open up because the defense is stretched.
Handing it to a tailback without using the QB as a threat invites an unblocked guy through since there are fewer blockers in the area. Think of this like a power play: a 4-on-3 power play is more dangerous than a 5-on-4 because it's easier to find the open guy and there's more space. The shotgun provides the extra man by using the QB as a runner. That extra space means Denard can make yards by accelerating past tackles instead of breaking them.
Denard's still pretty good when things get tight, but the pounding would be worse if that was all he was doing.
Play action problems.
Brian, would like your view/analysis of Denard's play action fakes and the importance of these in the offense. It does not appear to me that Denard really sells the hand off as much as other QB's. I'll spare the comparison to Peyton Manning. A good play fake can open up zones in the secondary and give Denard more time to make his reads as the defense should be crashing on the running back. Or, is this less of an issue in a zone read offense since there is basically a play fake on the majority of plays.
It appears to me Borges likes to throw off play action and if the QB is not selling it, that might account for some of the pressured throws we have seen from Denard so far. (disclaimer about adjustment to learning a new offense a given)
There are two entirely different playfakes Denard is executing. There's one from under center and one from the shotgun. It is possible that Denard's fakes from under center are not convincing, but I think the bigger problem is that the run game is not threatening. When you're averaging three yards a carry, safeties don't have to worry about your run game because it's not getting to them. I'll keep an eye out if we get more play action from the I-form later in the year. It's possible he's a problem there since he hasn't really practiced that skill.
The shotgun is a different matter. When Michigan goes play action from the shot gun it's either Denard stepping to the line or a zone read fake. Both are inherently convincing. In the first Denard is moving towards the LOS as the offense run blocks. In the second they are executing the mesh point exactly as they would on a running play. Unless the line is doing things that tip off the opponent there's no difference. The sheer number of hand-wavingly wide open dudes on shotgun PA should be sufficient evidence that Denard's doing just fine with his fakes there.
I'm reading the SDSU preview and you say that Demens and Hawthorne have to get better at diagnosing plays quickly. This appears to be a consistent theme with M linebackers over the last few years. I would assume that this "skill" is probably the easiest to evaluate when recruiting high school players as HS offenses are pretty run heavy. Did our coaches completely drop the ball in recruiting these guys or did they believe diagnosing plays is something that can be taught and, thus, focused more on the recruit's physical traits/potential?
I'm not sure that skill is easy to evaluate because a lot of high school kids don't get much coaching and what they get is of debatable value. You might be able to detect a kid who just Gets It, but plenty of college-level athletes who look clueless early develop into excellent players with college coaching. Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable are two examples in recent Michigan history.
In the case of Michigan's current starters, the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice is probably more at fault than recruiting. The current LB crew has been coached by Jay Hopson, Greg Robinson, and Adam Braithwaite. Braithwaite has the best resume of all of those guys by virtue of not having one. They've also swung from one system to another and, in the case of Herron, Hawthorne, and Cam Gordon, from one position to another. If these guys weren't having trouble diagnosing plays that would warrant creating a golden idol resembling Mark Smith.
As it is I think they're doing as well as can be expected. Hopefully we'll see the improvement we never got under the GRDCM as the season progresses.