a vitally important recap of all the dumb tweets sent during the Harbaugh coaching search
NOTE: A large part of this is motivated out of frustration, but there's a teachable moment here -- Borges called almost as many tailback runs for <3 yards (16) as the number of inane moves (18) used in the punchline of a comedy sketch. If there's a productive purpose, it's to call to attention just how stubborn the playcalling was last night. I mean, how bad does this have to get before laymen are allowed to question his judgement?
The comedy transcript is for "Black Adder IV, Episode 1: Captain Cook"
The even funnier bits are taken from ESPN's play-by-play from yesterday's game.
Melchett: Field Marshal Haig has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.
(lemme guess. . .)
2nd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
3rd and 1 at MICH 29 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 29
2nd and 1 at MICH 48 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the Mich 33
Blackadder: Now, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking slowly towards the enemy sir?
Darling: How can you possibly know that Blackadder? It's classified information.
(gee, lemme think. . .)
2nd and Goal at PSU 5 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for a loss of 2 yards to the PnSt 7
1st and 10 at PSU 16 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 16
2nd and 10 at MICH 46 Derrick Green rush for a loss of 2 yards to the Mich 44
Blackadder: It's the same plan that we used last time, and the seventeen times before that.
1st and 10 at PSU 41 Derrick Green rush for no gain to the PnSt 41
2nd and 10 at PSU 41 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 3 yards to the PnSt 38
Melchett: Exactly! And that is what so brilliant about it! We will catch the watchful Hun totally off guard! Doing precisely what we have done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time! There is however one small problem.
1st and 10 at PSU 28 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 27
2nd and 9 at PSU 27 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 27
3rd and 14 at PSU 32 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for a loss of 3 yards to the PnSt 35
Blackadder: That everyone always gets slaughtered the first ten seconds.
("you gotta give credit to the other team")
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 24
2nd and 9 at PSU 24 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 1 yard to the PnSt 23
Melchett: That's right! And Field Marshal Haig is worried that this may be depressing the men a tadge. So, he's looking to find a way to cheer them up.
(except, you know, doing what works.)
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for 3 yards to the PnSt 22
1st and 10 at PSU 25 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 25
3rd and 1 at PSU 16 Fitzgerald Toussaint rush for no gain to the PnSt 16
Blackadder: Well, his resignation and suicide would seem the obvious solution.
(I wouldn't go as far as suicide, but point taken. But then again, what would we know about field strategy? Field Marshal Haig FTW!)
There have been several threads already created, attempting to assign blame for yesterday’s debacle of a football game: the coaches, the offense, the defense, etc. While the coaches, players, playcalling, etc. do have a role in the outcome of the game, everyone seems to be shying away from the obvious primary culprit, and that is fan mojo.
Now when I was younger, I was somewhat arrogant and quite a bit arrogant, and I thought I could control the outcome of games by wearing a lucky shirt or chanting “Go Blue!” over and over again. I now know how absurd that is now. I mean it’s scientific. There is no way one fan could control the whole outcome of an entire game. Nobody’s mojo is that good and that would also ignore the influence that thousands of other fans have.
Through my years of wisdom, I’ve come to realize that mojo is a cumulative effect of many, many fans, though sometimes one person’s mojo can be responsible for an individual play or player now and again. For example, my mojo affects Gibbons’ kicking. You may scoff, but I was there helping him all along through most of his record string of successful field goals. I didn’t know I had this affect until the 2011 season. Through 2010 I almost always was leaning on a pillow watching the games. I realized I have no influence on length whatsoever, or on blocks, but I can control the side to side movement of the ball once it’s been kicked. If I sit up straight, the ball goes right down the middle; if I lean to one side, the ball moves close to that upright; if I lean too far or lean the wrong way, there is a miss.
Yesterday, during the overtime where the FG sailed outside the upright, I tried to lean to help the ball go through, but I accidently leaned the wrong way. Had I been in the bathroom or not paying attention, Gibbons probably would have made it on his own. But stupid me, I thought he needed help, and instead of helping, once I saw the kick going slightly off course, in my haste, I accidently leaned the wrong way and pushed the ball wide. I apologize to the coaches, players, fans, and especially to Brendan Gibbons.
Now that’s just one small (yes, and important) part of the game. But there was some bad mojo at work overall too. Nobody can look at that game and not think otherwise. Michigan had good chance after good chance to win, but kept coming up short. So it’s time to fess up. Who else contributed to the loss. Did you wash all the luck out of your stinky lucky socks? Deviate from your usual pregame ritual? Let’s stop this witch hunt for scapegoats among the players and coaches and admit our role in this loss. Who else is willing to step up and take responsibility? Believe me, it's better to get it all out in the open. It's cathartic.
Given the weekly "Guess the score, win a T-shirt" contest, I found myself wondering what kinds of guesses people make. Unfortunately, it is pretty challenging to just scan through the posted guesses and get a real sense (other than most people pick UM, duh). Thus, I decided to collect the scores and make a graph. The result:
Predictions: Points UM will score (x-axis) vs. Points PSU will score (y-axis)
Click here for a larger version, if you'd like.
Users fill in a score prediction: the points Michigan will score and the points PSU will score. The x-axis of the graph shows the former (Michigan's point total) and the y-axis the latter. The line (y=x) divides the guesses into two groups; those below and to the right picking Michigan to win (and colored "maize") and those above and to the left picking PSU to win (colored "Nittany blue"). Some squares have a number in them: this shows how many people picked that particular score (oops to those who picked it second or later). I also colored my own guess in, in red, and I dropped one score where the guess was something like 127-3 (it would make the graph look bad). The last bits of data were collected around 10:30am this morning; later guesses are thus not included.
The main reason I did this was to be able to field a guess that had some "space" around it; closest to the right score wins, correct? If so, you not only want to guess something realistic but also something where not every spot around you in the graph is taken. Unfortunately, this week I guessed a bit early (before the full sample of data was taken). Had I waited until now, I might rather have guessed something like 50-15, which has a lot of room around it, or perhaps something in the 25-3 range.
Some other stats: Overall, 206 people picked UM; 13 picked PSU. For those that picked UM, the average score was 32.6 to 17.8. Does this collective wisdom serve as a good prediction? We will see. For those that picked PSU, the average score was much closer: 26.5 to 21.7. Three score predictions were most popular: 38-17, 31-20, and 31-16, each picked four times.
[UPDATE: Added "AFS" - actual fucking score - above]
Overcast skies for the morning and into the afternoon. We'll see a few breaks in the clouds, but don't expect much sunshine this Saturday. 60 degrees at lunchtime, and temps are in the mid/upper 60s throughout the afternoon. Scattered drizzle is possible, but most of it looks to remain south of the university. Winds are light out of the east at about 7mph (just enough to make leaves rustle).
Peeks of the sun will be few and far between, but there'll be some moments to see your shadow. 67 degrees for the opening kick, with an east wind still at 7mph. It's a white out at Penn State today, so make sure you're cheering loudly for blue!
Halftime drops us a few degrees, with a little more sunshine. Still going to keep a lot of those clouds around though - we'll call it mostly cloudy. This is our time between systems as the coastal low moves south and the cold front is edging into the Ohio Valley. Good news for the kickers - winds are still out of the east but fall to about 3-5mph (just enough to feel it on your skin).
Close to 60 degrees leaving Beaver Stadium with mostly cloudy skies. Winds are generally out of the east, but very light. Headed out on the town to flaunt that win infront of the nittany lions? Keep that sweatshirt handy! While not extremely chilly, temps drop to 58 by 11pm, and 55 for last call. Winds stay calm to very light, generally easterly. If you're walking home after closing time, skies will be mainly overcast with the approaching cold front, and a passing shower is possible. 8am Sunday will be 54 degrees and cloudy, hitting 60 for lunch. With that weak cold front in the Ohio Valley heading east, expect that drive back to Michigan to be overcast with scattered showers.
If you're staying home... Highs this afternoon in the low 70s, with plenty of sunshine and a southerly wind about 10mph - it's a little nicer here in A2! 70 degrees for the start of the game with mostly sunny skies, 68 at the half. Winds drop throughout the evening to almost calm, remaining southerly until around last call, when we're at 59 degrees. Cloud cover will increase with the cold front passing through, and we also have a light rain shower possible. Although we'll start Sunday with scattered rain, things will clear up for the afternoon. If you're expecting to arrive back from travels, it will be windy - northwest winds at 15mph with gusts around 20mph (small trees sway, you'd see moderate waves on the water). Let's go blue!
Christina Burkhart is a meteorologist for NBC/ABC in Traverse City, MI. She grew up in Ann Arbor and associates Saturdays with Michigan football. Go Blue!!
Best part of the pic: Devin c-walking across the goalline? Minnesota defender flailing? or Minnesota coaches looking on hopelessly? (Fuller)
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
Minnesota scored 13 off of field position of 17 and Michigan scored 42 off of field position of 23. Take out the pick six and field position was even to go along with early conversions. Michigan had an edge in bonus yards but struggled in both setting up third downs and converting them. None of the six factors swung heavily to Michigan. The field position helped but didn’t make a big difference.
This is another data point to say that the Akron second half was a fluke on the defense’s part. Michigan is just pushing the bend but don’t break style big time this year. Another game with almost no bonus yards allowed, when you don’t give up big plays, the opponent keeps facing more times against the chains. Michigan has been decent at forcing third downs and not allowing a lot of short distances and they have actually been pretty bad at third down itself, but the quantity of downs they are forcing opponents into by not giving up big plays is driving their success. Sure sometimes a team is going to converting 10 third downs and take up a whole half on a drive, but most of the time things are going to flame out. Not giving up big plays on defense is going to be all that Michigan needs to be in position to win for most of the games on their schedule.
2. Individual Performances
Opponent adjustments now in effect
Devin Gardner +13.6 EV+, +37% WPA 6th best QB of the week
Fitzgerald Toussaint +1.6, +13%, 46th best RB of the week
Mitch Leidner +7.5, +17%, 26th best QB of the week
Devin Funchess +14.7, +24%, 5th best receiver of the week
A solid performance from Gardner that will almost certainly be downgraded over the course of the season as Minnesota’s adjustment begins to reflect a tougher slate.
While Toussaint’s numbers certainly aren’t amazing, if he can consistently perform at this level it should be adequate to maximize opportunities in the passing game.
Last week was loaded for pass catchers as the Funchess to WR experiment was 5th best of the week but was one of the top 15 of the season. Funchess joins Jeremy Gallon versus Notre Dame to give Michigan 2 of the top receiving games of the season. Only Mike Evans against Alabama put up as high of a score as Funchess on 7 or fewer catches.
3. Game Chart
6. +4.0% – Leidner incomplete on 3rd and 5 midway through the second quarter
5.+5.3% – Toussaint scores from 8 yards out to open the scoring
4. +5.8% – Gardner to Funchess for 21 yards setting up 1st and Goal at the 2
3. –8.1% – Minnesota gets their sole TD of the day on 3rd and 7
2. +8.6% – Michigan forces a fumble on Minnesota’s opening possession
1. +10.8% - Gardner hits Funchess for a TD on 3rd and 14 to give Michigan the lead going into halftime
Not very swingy, that game. The first two plays had a bit of a big play feel to them but man did that game lack drama or excitement. I kept double checking the numbers for #6 because it didn’t feel like a top swing play and then I realized that would have been about #25 in some games earlier in the season. Lack of big plays + lack of turnovers + lack of second half drama = boring swing plays.
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
NC State and the ghost of Tom O’Brien punted on 4th and 1 from the Wake Forest 35 yard line. The Wolfpack got their Romer Karma as the punt went for a touchback and Wake Forest went on to win. Most weeks, this would be enough to win dumb punt of the week but this week has a honoree.
Southern Miss which hasn’t won in what seems like years and at least 3 coaches, faced a 4th and 7 at the hapless FIU 40 yard line. There were less than 6 minutes down and the Golden Eagles trailed by 1. What do you have to lose at this point? You have lost a million games in a row, go for the freaking win. Southern Miss was something like a touchdown favorite despite being awful. Don’t be scared, go for the win.
Southern Miss coach to be fired is your dumb punter of the week. Special bye week honors go to Gary Andersen of Wisconsin, for punting to Ohio State down two scores late. The best case scenario happened and Wisconsin had the whole field to drive for a touchdown to force overtime with a minute left and no timeouts. You might think that sounds dire, but the Badgers own late game time management and their fans saw no fear, mostly just the bottom of the beer from the bar they bolted to after the punt.
5. State of the stats
The Six Factors are now available for all 125 FBS teams. I’ll do my best to update these on Sundays so you can check out where other teams fall in different categories.
Other notes from around college football:
- Devin Gardner is currently ranked #18 among all quarterbacks with an EV+ (opponent adjusted) of 7.1. Currently Bryce Petty of Baylor and Aaron Murray are the two players ahead of the +14 mark.
- Jeremy Gallon is at 6.4 value added for the season, putting him at #30 in the country.
- Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and his insane YPA are leading the nation among running backs with a 5.9 EV+, nearly a full point above any other back.
- Devin Gardner is currently the most valuable player in the Big Ten, if you replaced Gardner plays with the expected value from all non-Gardner plays, it would have cost Michigan nearly 60 points so far this season. On the flip side, Fitzgerald Toussaint’s plays have been an overall drag on the offense, replacing his carries with average plays would add 24 points to Michigan’s total. Only Duke Johnson of Miami has been a bigger loss to his offense as a running back.
- Baylor’s offense has been absurd. Their opponent adjusted offensive EV is +23.7, over 6.5 points ahead of second place Texas A&M nearly double third place Miami. They also have not had a single play charted in the second half. Last week against West Virginia they put 327 bonus yards, in the first half. That’s as many yards past the line of scrimmage in one half than 15 teams are averaging for a game.
- On the flip side, Missouri held Vanderbilt to just 6 bonus yards in the first half while building a 23 point lead.
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Mich O||26.8 (60)||53% (37)||154 (43)||7.3 (102)||0% (59)||6.0 (15)|
|PSU D||30.7 (107)||44% (14)||129 (50)||6.7 (41)||-8% (17)||4.3 (26)|
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Mich D||28.4 (83)||46% (23)||94 (15)||6.6 (44)||+14% (120)||3.9 (17)|
|PSU O||25.2 (80)||49% (79)||137 (62)||7.9 (112)||-3% (78)||5.0 (68)|
I’m a little nervous about this one. Some people are blowing off Penn State as a team that got blown out by Indiana, but I see them as a team that almost beat UCF, a team that killed a dangerous Akron team.
As for the numbers, when Michigan has the ball it should be a fairly even matchup. Michigan’s biggest opportunities might come from big plays as Penn State has been a very good third down defense and putting together long drives should be a challenge.
When Penn State has the ball, Michigan should have a solid advantage. Much has been made of Penn State’s third down woes but that is more a story of being bad at early downs than bad at third down. Michigan has been great at not giving up bonus yards and if they can continue that trend, Penn State will have a very tough time putting together drives. Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg is –1.6 EV+ on the year and ranked 132nd out of 169 quarterbacks on the season. As noted everywhere, if you stop Allen Robinson (#15 ranked WR, #2 in Big Ten) you stop the Penn State offense.
The Penn State defense keeps the game close, but I see this a game that goes back and forth between a 1 and 2 score Michigan lead, never put away, but never that much in doubt.
Michigan 24 Penn State 20
Four Plays – UM @ Penn State 2013 (Surprise!)
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan expects to face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment). This is the fourth installment of the series; previous: Notre Dame, Connecticut, Minnesota.
There wasn’t any way I expected I’d have time to do another of these diaries in time for the Penn State game, but a number of things came together to make it much less difficult for me this week. See, it’s usually tough to find a whole lot of good material on the specific plays I’m looking at. But I started off looking at the mesh play M ran against UConn a few weeks ago, and in studying that came across a terrific Space Coyote piece discussing not only the mesh passing concepts but also noting that Penn State’s running game basically consists of three plays: inside zone, outside zone, and the draw. That gave me an easy PSU running play to go with M’s mesh. Next, I saw that Black Shoe Diaries had gone and diagrammed every single Penn State pass play from their game against Kent State, so I had plenty to choose from in the PSU air attack. Then Michigan made the incredible Lewan-Williams flip, which resulted in two outstanding front-page items on mgoblog for me to digest (read those ASAP if you haven’t already).
All these great sources made it easy for me to put this together, plus I settled a big case this week and thus had some extra time, and admittedly I may have had a bit more motivation after that most excellent front-page bump last week (seriously—that felt awesome). So, in a way this is kind of the least I could do.
Anyway, Michigan returns to Happy Valley for the first time since the 2010 debacle. This year, they face a proud Nittany Lion team led by their indefatigable head coach, Bill O’Brien. But after a surprising 8-4 campaign a year ago, Penn State’s ship has already begun taking on serious water this season. Already Penn State has fallen to the Central Florida Knights and the Indiana Hoosiers, and Michigan looks to compound their misery this weekend.
Schematically, Penn State runs a 4-3 over base defense and a passing spread offense uncannily similar to Notre Dame’s (except with a likeable, seemingly down-to-earth guy coaching them instead of a petulant purple Nazi). But they’re short on talent and even shorter on depth and experience, so Michigan should find itself on the favorable end of many individual matchups on Saturday.
When Michigan has the ball…
Passing offenses have long used shallow crossing routes to attack man-to-man coverage because there’s no better way to shake a receiver loose than by forcing his defender to wade through traffic in the middle of the field. One of the most successful versions of this scheme is an old LaVell Edwards BYU play called “mesh,” which is designed to free the X receiver by rubbing his defender off against the Y receiver, the Y receiver’s defender, the MLB, and maybe even the umpire. Hal Mumme and Mike Leach improved mesh in their Air Raid offense, by assigning the Z receiver to read the coverage after the snap and run either a post or a corner pattern depending on whether the defense vacates the deep middle (the Z receiver always ran a post in Edwards’ design).
Shown here against a Cover 2 defense with man underneath, the X receiver will “mesh” underneath the Y receiver at a depth of 4-6 yards downfield. Meanwhile, the Z receiver will identify Cover 2 from his post-snap read; because Cover 2 has a hole in the deep middle, this means the Z receiver should run the post—a route that will likely draw the safety to him just as the X receiver emerges from the mesh point.
LT Taylor Lewan: pass protect vs. WDE Deion Barnes
LG Christian Bryant: pass protect vs. NT DaQuan Jones
C Graham Glasgow: pass protect vs. NT DaQuan Jones
RG Kyle Kalis: pass protect vs. DT Kyle Baublitz
RT Michael Schofield: pass protect vs. SDE C.J. Olaniyan
TE Devin Funchess (I know, I know): run flat route (covered by OLB Mike Hull)
YWR Drew Dileo: run crossing route at 4-6 yard depth, cross over XWR (covered by NB Stephen Obeng-Agyapong)
XWR Jeremy Gallon: run crossing route at 4-6 yard depth, cross under FL Drew Dileo (covered by CB Jordan Lucas)
ZWR Jehu Chesson: run post (8) route (covered by CB Trevor Williams)
TB Fitzgerald Toussaint: pass protect, then release to flat (covered by MLB Glenn Carson)
QB Devin Gardner: pre-snap, use motion to determine whether underneath coverage is man or zone; recognize man coverage underneath; receive snap, read deep-to-shallow on Z (post), to X (cross), to tailback (flat).
Michigan’s passing game showed definite improvement against Minnesota, with Gardner avoiding the turnover bug and Devin Funchess emerging as a dangerous outside threat. But the turnover fest isn’t quite old enough to laugh about yet, while mesh is a slow-developing play that will give Penn State’s defensive line as good a chance as they’ll ever have to get pressure. While Taylor Lewan should handle Deion Barnes, Penn State has to like their chances of getting penetration up the middle with DaQuan Jones going against new starter Christian Bryant. In the secondary, Penn State is shaky at corner but has two veteran safeties with Adrian Amos (free) and Malcolm Willis (box).
26 Power O (Unbalanced Line)
According to the UFR, Michigan ran Power O eleven times against Minnesota, all but one of them from the “tackle over” formations with Lewan lined up outside Schofield. The keys to Power O, as you’ve undoubtedly heard before, are (i) double-team at the point-of-attack, (ii) kick-out block on the EMLOS (end man on the line-of-scrimmage), and (iii) pulling backside guard who leads tailback through the hole. Swapping Lewan for the TE lets Michigan’s best blocker either participate in that double-team or make the kick-out block (while the TE has the much easier task of down-blocking and sealing the backside DE), but at the cost of practically announcing the play-call to the defense. Penn State is obviously going to prepare for this; expect to see Borges run this play in his opening script to diagnose John Butler’s adjustment.
LT* A.J Williams: down-block WDE Deion Barnes
LG Christian Bryant: pull across formation, lead through 6-hole, block first defender (likely MLB Glenn Carson)
C Graham Glasgow: down-block NT DaQuan Jones
RG Kyle Kalis: drive-block DT Kyle Baublitz (double-team with RT)
RT Michael Schofield: down-block DT Kyle Baublitz (double-team with RG)
TE* Taylor Lewan: kick-out SDE C.J. Olaniyan
FB Joe Kerridge: lead block on SLB Mike Hull
RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: execute initial counter step (toward back side), then follow LG through 6-hole, cut off LG’s block.
Advantage: Penn State
Michigan can expect consistent performance from Lewan and Schofield on this play, and Toussaint’s play has been much better over the past few weeks. But Penn State is stout in the middle with DaQuan Jones, has a veteran linebacker unit, and (unlike Minnesota) has formidable defenders at both defensive end positions. Olaniyan, a guy Michigan wanted, is an established veteran who specializes in run support, Barnes is a speedy edge defender coming off an impressive All-B1G freshman team campaign, and Anthony Zettel (another guy Michigan wanted) gives them a third quality option off the bench. Perhaps most importantly, Penn State will absolutely know this is coming and Michigan really hasn’t shown they’ve got a constraint play to keep the defense honest against it (indeed, I have my doubts as to whether Borges even subscribes to the constraint theory)—and the options may frankly be limited if Williams can’t handle Barnes in pass pro. I’ve always believed in Borges and remain optimistic—but for now I have to call this play in the Nittany Lions’ favor.
When Penn State has the ball…
Pistol Inside Zone
You know the deal: covered linemen block the guys covering them, uncovered linemen work to the second level (maybe helping chip a DL along the way), the tailback picks a hole and then cuts north.
WDE Brennen Beyer: Engage TE Kyle Carter and constrict backside C gap, backside pursuit, “fence” ballcarrier inside
3T Jibreel Black: Defeat drive-block of LG Miles Dieffenbach, penetrate through backside B-gap, hopefully drawing double from LT Donovan Smith (thus keeping Smith from reaching James Ross)
NT Quinton Washington: Defeat single-block of C Ty Howle, defend frontside A-gap, draw double-team from RG John Urschel (who Bacon says is a genius, FWIW)
SDE Keith Heitzman: engage RT Gary Gillam, keep outside arm free, defend frontside C gap
SLB Cam Gordon (or J.M.F.R.): Defeat reach block of TE Jesse James, set edge point 2 yards deep, 2 yards outside and force run back inside
MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend frontside B gap, attack ballcarrier through alley
WLB James Ross: Defendant backside A gap, pursue ballcarrier from backside, allow no cutback lane
I can’t see Penn State being any more successful at this than Notre Dame was; the Irish have at least as good a line and much more dangerous tailbacks. With Pipkins out of the lineup, I could maybe see Penn State trying to exploit Ash or another backup they think might be vulnerable, but mostly I imagine BOB is planning on throwing about 55 passes this week. Or 70.
Empty Set Go-Option Routes
If you’re like me, when you close your eyes and think of the New England Patriots, the image that comes to mind is one involving Tom Brady in shotgun with five WRs and no backs. Well, Christian Hackenberg has a long way to go if he wants to be the next Tom Brady, but BOB’s at least got him looking the part. Here’s an empty set play that Penn State ran to good effect against Kent State; go routes to either side of the formation clear out the flats, making room for the slot receivers to get open on (what I presume are) option routes underneath:
Empty formations are vulnerable to pressure, especially against non-mobile quarterbacks—and here the Kent State defense simply outnumbered the offensive line by bringing six rushers. This didn’t work for them, however, because Kent State’s sixth rusher was the DB aligned over Allen Robinson. Hackenberg simply threw back in the direction of the blitz and found Robinson (who was never going to be covered by a safety aligning on the opposite hash) on a quick out for an easy first down.
An empty formation stretches a defense horizontally to the maximum extent possible, limits the defense’s ability to disguise coverage, and can force a defense into Hobsonian personnel choices that create inevitable mismatches. Michigan faced empty formations numerous times against Notre Dame, and never brought in more than five DBs—though ND never aligned with more than four WR (always keeping at least one TE on the field). Certainly Mattison is not going to put his LBs in man-to-man coverage against WRs on the edge and he’s also unlikely to unnecessarily risk big plays over the top. So unless Michigan is prepared to roll out a dime (i.e., six DB) look this week—unlikely as either Morgan, Ross, or a DL would have to come off the field—we can expect to see Michigan primarily play zone coverage underneath.
Whereas outs or crossing patterns were effective against Kent State’s man-under coverage, the slot receivers will likely run curls against a zone—trying to find and sit down in the holes between defenders.
To defend the play, Michigan’s man-to-man underneath defenders should align inside their receivers and play a “trail technique” to force any throws to the outside or to safety help over the top (Edit: doh. S'pose to be zone. Deep as the deepest, wide as the widest, yo).
WDE Brennan Beyer: rush passer vs. LT Donovan Smith
DT Chris Wormley: rush passer vs. LG Miles Dieffenbach
DT Jibreel Black: rush passer vs. C Ty Howle and RG John Urschel
SDE Frank Clark: rush passer vs. RT Gary Gillam
WLB James Ross: cover short zone from hashes to numbers on boundary (over YWR Matt Zanellato)
MLB Desmond Morgan: cover middle short zone between hash marks
NCB Blake Countess: cover short zone from hashes to numbers on field side (align over FL1 Brandon Felder, pick up ZWR Allen Robinson)
BCB Raymon Taylor: cover short zone from numbers to sideline on boundary (over XWR Eugene Lewis)
FCB Courtney Avery: cover short zone from numbers to sideline on field side (over FL2 Alex Kenney)
SS: Thomas Gordon: play deep (>15 yards) half to field side (I think)
FS Jerod Wilson: play deep half to boundary side
Michigan goes deeper at DB than Penn State goes at WR, but Allen Robinson working the middle of the field against M’s linebackers and safeties is a definite concern. Michigan’s pass rush hasn’t been great this season, but may get a shot in the arm from the return of JMFR—and facing a true freshman QB it’s also a good bet Mattison will blitz a fair amount this week. The empty formation does limit the ability to disguise those things, and that helps give Hackenberg a chance—but until he proves he can hold his own in mind games with Mattison and consistently get the ball out, the edge must go to the D.
Based on the foregoing, Michigan will win obvs. It looks like the most votes for my next diary were for the Northwestern game, and I have some extra incentive to do that game since I’m actually going to make that one in person, so it all works out. Thanks for reading!
PS-- So, Gameday is in Seattle this weekend for the UW game against Oregon, and ESPN happens to be using the building on UW's campus where my wife works to do their interviews and stuff. I told my wife to say hi to Desmond for me if she ran into him, not really thinking she would. But then she sent me this pic of she and him from earlier today: