Eleven months ago I used this space to discuss Michigan's crazy success in defensive short situations. That was brought on by a staggering performance against Illinois, at which point Michigan had stopped 15 of 27 3rd- or 4th-and-one situations, and 13 of 19 against real competition. This was up from stopping less than a quarter of such plays the previous two years, and almost as far above the going rate for all defenses.
This was huge. Getting one yard for any offense is far easier that stopping it for any defense—one good block can usually do it. Forcing a 4th down situation from 3rd and 1 or a turnover on downs on 4th and 1 is worth half a turnover or more. Jamie Mac addressed this further in his HTTV article, showing that the stoppage situation was affecting the happy margin between our yards-ceded defense and scoring defense as much as having a ridiculous year in turnover luck.
Michigan last year was really good at stopping the short stuff, but folks chalked it up to Martin and Van Bergen playing to their strengths and figured it was a blip. Except it wasn't just those guys. Here's last year's chart for short situations, through OSU:
|Ryan Van Bergen||6.5||0|
|Craig Roh (right/Heiko)||6||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne & Heinigner||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan, and Woolfolk||1||0|
|Herron and Beyer||0||-1|
Two thirds of Michigan's short-down production from last year returned (as did bad refs). Demens, Roh, Ryan, Kovacs, and Campbell were all key role players in that ridiculous shutdown rate, and if the UFR can be trusted, they weren't getting it just because of things the Team 132 seniors were doing.
This doesn't even count things like stopping Ohio State on 3rd and goal from the 2. Actually it doesn't count goal line situations at all, though 1st and goal from the 1 is as hard to stop as 3rd and 1 from the 40. So I revisited when updating the UFR database. Get ready to be happy (through MSU):
|Year||--FCS and MAC removed--||--All Opponents--|
|Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %||Stopped!||They got it :(||Stop %|
It's still happening. It's happening more. We replaced Martin and RVB with Washington and Campbell, and if anything got better! And like last year Michigan's short defense seems to be getting tougher as the season goes on. Since Big Ten play started, the non-stops have read thusly: Purdue converting with 16 seconds left in the half while down 18, Illinois benefiting from a terrible spot, two plays where Bell was forced to cut back into the pile and just managed to squeak through, and one bust.
[After the jump, what's causing it, and the plays vs. State]
“ ’Sup? What are you shaking your head about?”
I’m laughing at your “Giants and Tigers, it’s on” thing.
“It’s on. I’m fired up.”
Are you a baseball fan?
“Yeah, but not as much now as normal. Just a little more focused on other things, but I’m like anybody else. I like watching Sportscenter.”
What’s the word of the day?
“The word of the day? God. Good question. What’s the word of the day … Hmm. ‘Ear confection.’ Yeah. ‘Ear confection.’ It’s two words, actually. She has an ear confection. That’s what she said. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to correct her. It’s too cute listening to her say it.”
What did you see from the Michigan State film that you liked?
“Oh, certainly wasn’t flashy. But there were some good plays. We played a very close-to-the-vest football game offensively. It was by my own admission conservative. The nice thing about it, as much as we failed inside the red area -- or we could have been better because there were some chances there -- but our quarterback took care of the ball. Other than when it was in essence a meaningless interception at the end of the half. He did play pretty smart. It kept us in the game although it wasn’t flashy. That part I liked, which has shown, the last three weeks particularly, is his growth. About being conscious of taking care of the football, making plays where there are plays, and not trying to create something that’s not there. That was good, and that will help us in the future I think.”
Basketball season starts in nine days, which is wonderful news until I realize how far behind I am in the basketball preview (I'm beginning to understand how Brian feels in August, just on a far smaller scale). So far, we've covered the guards/wings; today, it's time to look at the bigs, plus freshman Glenn Robinson III, who will likely play both the three and the four.
Fans of Michigan basketball may be shocked to hear this after the last, oh, decade-plus, but the Wolverines have a little something called 'depth' in the frontcourt this year. While the loss of Zack Novak leaves a hole in the leadership/grit/shooting department and the transfer of Evan Smotrycz hurts depth and shooting, the two highest-touted of Michigan's highly-touted freshman class can replace those minutes at the four. Jordan Morgan returns in the middle. Jon Horford is back from a foot injury that kept him out for most of last season. That's a legitimate four-man rotation up front, and guys like Blake McLimans and even Matt Vogrich—as the Zack Novak Memorial Hilariously Undersized Power Forward—could get minutes up front as well.
Without further ado, your returners, departures, and newcomers:
Returners: PF/C Jordan Morgan, PF/C Jon Horford, PF Blake McLimans, PF Max Bielfeldt
Departures: PF(!) Zack Novak (graduation), PF Evan Smotrycz (transfer)
Newcomers: PF/C Mitch McGary, SF/PF Glenn Robinson III
[Hit THE JUMP for the full breakdown]
oh good this again
The great unresolved question we batted around Monday on the podcast was the perpetual great unresolved question of the last year and a half: "quien es mas falto, Denard o Borges?"
I'm not done with things yet but am I leaning Borges, except since Michigan went into a shell against a good defense and won the game instead of throwing five interceptions and losing it, by "blame" I might actually mean "credit." Michigan won, and outgained the other offense by about 50 yards, and was only about 50 yards short of the output spread genius Urban Meyer managed against the MSU D. In terms of the OH MY GOD TOTAL DEBACLES that have speckled the Borges/Denard partnership, this ranks much lower than having under 200 yards of offense before you're forced to chuck the ball all over the field. See: Iowa, ND 2011, etc.
That said, a quarter into the game, Spartan safeties have made tackles at the line of scrimmage twice, Chris Norman is regularly meeting lead blockers two yards in the backfield, and the only significant gains Michigan has acquired are on a Gallon throwback screen on which it looks like Norman busts hard and the ten-yard Kwiatkowski out. Here's an example of the first two phenomena:
This is a super-aggressive quarters defense that Indiana exploited against both MSU and Ohio State—which is attempting to run the same scheme—with various cover-4 beaters. Michigan elected for the shell, and won.
Even so, man. Michigan has spent weeks setting things up as they played Bye, Virtual Bye One, and Virtual Bye Two; Michigan State is coming off three consecutive hard-fought games. I'm not sure if Spartan Overpreparation is a real thing or not—I hope so. Otherwise we're putting all our chips on the idea that Borges really doesn't have the faintest clue how to run a spread offense and that things will get better once a Real Quarterback™ is in place*.
*[If you've ever made this assertion I hate you.]
Okay. So here's Michigan's end-around version of the veer that they've been putting on the field for a few weeks now. It looks different; it's really just the same thing as the veer, though.
[Please forgive the crappier than normal image quality—the BTN was taking wide shots, which is generally good for this sort of thing, but this week's torrent is bleah for whatever reason.]
Anyway: Gallon in the slot, Michigan in a Borges-standard three-wide pack. The alignment of Gallon hints at the end around motion, BTW. MSU is in their standard 4-3 even. The guys at the top of the screen are going to be the relevant ones. Gholston is the DE, Denicos Allen the LB.
As Gallon goes in motion, Allen—and only Allen—moves to the LOS outside of Gholston. Live this gave me a sense of disquiet. That's not sliding some linebackers over. That's an awfully specific thing to do.
A couple of moments later, the snap has been made and Denard is in a quasi-mesh point with Gallon. I say "quasi" because the action here is so fast that it's hard to believe there's any real read component.
Anyway. Four MSU players are relevant here.
- The boundary corner blitzes. He is the contain guy if Gallon gets the ball.
- Allen is now the End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage—EMLOS(!). His goal is to get the two-for-one that allows Bullough to be the free hitter, or at least foul the hole and thus rob whoever gets to Bullough of his burst of impetus.
- Gholston is the main cutback defender. Once Allen is the primary hole he's got to prevent anything from cutting behind it.
- Bullough is the guy MSU would like to be the free hitter a la Demens. Bullough's ridiculously good at football and sheds blocks like whoah; having him as a free hitter is a luxury few teams have.
On the Michigan side of things, Lewan is adapting to the play as it develops and pulls out some of the old zone playbook. When Gholston dives inside of him he goes with it, using his momentum to take him past the point where he wants to go. Toussaint also reads the funny business going on and heads straight for Allen. Omameh is pulling; his eventual destination should be Bullough.
This is hard to see in the next still, so watch for it in the video: the legs you see poking out here like the Wicked Witch of the West with a house on her…
…are in fact the remnants of a killer cut block on Allen by Toussaint. But Allen has still gotten his two for one:
Omameh is literally hopping outside that block. A moment past this and the two players will be even, which means Denard can't follow him, which means he's not blocking anyone, which means two for one, which means Max Freaking Bullough is a free hitter.
Michigan's one saving grace on this play is the Lewan-Gholston matchup. Denard gets a cutback lane because Lewan has blasted Gholston to a point on the field even with the playside and backside DTs. Bullough is surprised by Denard's attack angle, as is Norman, and both have a tough time cutting back as fast as Denard can.
They're unblocked, though, and there are many of them. Denard can only squeeze out four yards…
…as Gholston lies pancaked underneath Lewan yards from the play.
On separate run-throughs check out:
- Toussaint chopping Allen
- Lewan dominating Gholston
- Denard picking through traffic
- Michigan getting four yards off of two great blocks.
Things And Stuff
UNLEASH THE EPIC RABBLING COMMENT THREAD. Guys, I'm totally sorry, but sheeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is happening all the damn time. The play above is MSU knowing what's coming as soon as Gallon goes in motion and having a plan to combat it. The plan works—pretty much, anyway—despite the playside defensive end ending up on his stomach eight yards away from the play.
Michigan's not getting anything of the sort in kind, and the first play on which Joe Reynolds makes an appearance features this defensive formation:
filed under "lol 100% run" in the MSU playbook
That wasn't a fakeout, man, those jakeryans came at the snap, leaving one corner anywhere near a simple curl/flat or smash combo with the twinned receivers.
This was a run. A –3 yard run. Yeah, sure, opposing defensive coordinators don't know about Michigan's substitution patterns. Probably just a coincidence.
That cannot happen. You cannot allow the opposing defense to align like that. Michigan allows it all the time.
Okay, okay, is going away from all run all the time a danger that makes Denard chuck interceptions? Possibly. I watched Denard make those curl/flat throws as a clueless sophomore, though, and you just can't let the above happen. I'm finding lots of wins for MSU based on their prep for this game, and few for Michigan. The throwback screen that worked was more Norman busting hard than anything schematic working.
I know they got some stuff later, so I'll probably be less peeved about this when the UFRs come out. I am pretty disappointed that M spent the first quarter running absolutely nothing new against Michigan State of all teams.
Lewan vs Gholston is no contest. It was no contest a year ago, it's no contest this year. He made a couple plays that didn't show up on the scoresheet when he was well-schooled on Michigan's sweep play and used his athleticism to shoot a gap—and Funchess took out Schofield in the process—but once he gets locked up, game over man. He did himself a disservice by not playing for a 3-4 team. He'd be a terror in ND's scheme. As a 4-3-even DE, he's the third-best player on his own defensive line.
Toussaint got a win here. This went a lot worse for him when he was trying to lead Denard into iso runs and Chris Norman was tearing ass at him. The lack of Rawls was pretty weird given the context.
Players don't really matter here except at the margins. Gholston got annihilated and Michigan got four yards. That was MSU's worst case scenario on this play.
Michigan's counterpunches to this sort of thing are not even really the Dileo completions. Dileo catches his first two balls on second and eleven and third and six; the last one was clearly not a play action situation, so all you've got to show for this is the single catch and run from the second quarter.
You should be able to punish the level of aggression shown by the MSU defense in some way. Michigan could not last year and could not this year—at least not in the structure of the offense. Last year, Roy Roundtree broke a tackle to turn a slant into a touchdown. This year, Denard juked and juked and juked to get his 44-yard run towards the end on a QB draw that had absolutely nothing to do with the base rushing offense.
The most alarming thing so far: Michigan's first pass on first down is three drives in. It has a play action mesh point of the sort MSU has been tearing after all game, and no MSU linebacker takes a step to the line of scrimmage. Why? The line sets up to pass block immediately, without anyone pulling. Michigan has not had a run play yet without a pulling lineman.
Denard doesn't have anyone open and ends up throwing his worst pass of the day, a near-INT that was so bad two MSU players had a better shot at it than any Michigan guys. Clearly he has not gotten through all his bad decision mojo, but I'm mystified that Michigan would not even try to draw those linebackers up by running plays that look like the ones they've already put on the field.
[1:02 in length]
THEY WANT BOLLMAN. Srs.
ACE ALMOST EXPLODED. I do not find any ROI in protecting other media members from this.
WHAT IS UP WITH THE OFFENSE? We have no idea how well Denard did or did not play.
WHERE IS THE FUNCHESS GOAL LINE STUFF? Heiko asks. Nobody knows.
DEFENSE IS ALL RIGHT I GUESS, SAYS HEIKO. Heiko demands excellence.
SPECIAL TEAMS AND TALKING GAME THEORY BIT. Everything was pretty much okay; weekly punt coverage bitching. Brunettes.
TALKIN' BIG TEN WITH JAMIEMAC. Fear the McGloin. The other division is a pointless waste of time. This division will be as well if Michigan can take out Nebraska this weekend.
The usual links:
- Raymon Taylor should be good to go Saturday against Nebraska.
- Hoke is being super coy about putting Denard on the kickoff return team.
- Spread punts! I asked. Hoke answered. And ... he's just more comfortable with the traditional punt, it seems.
“You know, we had a good practice last night. Good energy. We have an opponent that’s an awfully good football team when you look at they’ve won 18 of 20 at home. They’re 4-0 this year. I think Taylor Martinez is playing his best football. You look defensively or offensively, they’re leading the league in scoring. Very good football team. They’re physical up front. Defensively you look at tackles for a loss and you look at negative plays that they create. They’re leading in sacks, I think they’re leading in TFLs. Very physical group. Playing in Lincoln a neat place to play because of their tradition and their passion that they have as a fan base about Nebraska football. It’s really a neat place to play. It’ll be loud. We’ll have to play our best football that we’ve played this year.”