to play football, not to play trumpet
Four Plays – Michigan State @ Michigan 2015
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan expects to face against particular 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).
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done a Four Plays and my, how things have changed. Last time around, Michigan was sitting at 2-1 and we confident about an upcoming visit from BYU. Maybe not that confident; the two wins were against Oregon State (one of the worst teams in the Pac-12) and UNLV (one of the worst teams in FBS), while the loss, though on the road, was to a fringe top-25 team—like BYU. But Michigan’s team had shown improvement, the game was at the Big House, and a couple key injuries had softened the Cougars up for us, so we had good reason to think this week would be different—with “different” meaning maybe we complete that big 4th quarter drive this time, or maybe it’s our defense that gets the critical late takeaway to ice the W. One thing was for sure though—it was going to be a good game.
And then Michigan won the game 31-0, with the victory well in-hand before halftime.
With Michigan having followed that up by punking Maryland on the road for another shutout, and then blowing the doors off #13-ranked Northwestern last weekend, the narrative surrounding the Wolverines has gone from “eh, I think we can take BYU now that their quarterback is injured” to “wow—this team could actually make the college football playoffs.” So now my 9-3 prediction, which had cast me as a foolish homer at the outset of the season, actually looks pessimistic.
This Michigan State game was one of the losses I’d anticipated, with the Spartans ranked #2 to start the year on the strength of a fine offensive line, a potential first-round draft pick at QB, and a typically fierce Spartan defense. But I don’t feel that way anymore; Harbaugh has delivered on his promise to build an army, while injuries, poor, and entropy have plagued MSU. If anything, my feeling on this game is probably about what I imagine Ohio State fans would have felt heading into The Game in the mid 90s. That’s not very comforting, however, so let’s look at some matchups.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. 32 Belly Lead
One of the oldest forms of ritualized expression, the Raqs Sharqi or “Dance of the Orient” is believed to have originated as a fertility rite among early tribal peoples in Egypt, Mesopotamia and the Indian subcontinent. The art from was later called the “danse du ventre” by the French, meaning “dance of the stomach”—and loosely translated by American observers at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair into the term Americans all recognize today: “belly dance.”
Like the belly dance, the fullback belly concept also has ancient, yet uncertain, origins. Some trace the belly back to Walter Camp, the famous Yale coach responsible for such innovations as the “line-of-scrimmage,” reducing teams from 15 to 11 men per side, and—most importantly for our purpose—inventing the “T formation.” The T would come to dominate football for more than two decades, but quickly fell out of favor when the forward pass was introduced in 1906.
Camp’s T-formation underwent a renaissance of sorts after the 1940 NFL Championship Game, in which the Chicago Bears used the T to annihilate its opponent (the football-team-from-Washington-DC-that-shall-not-otherwise-be-named) by a 73-0 score—still the greatest margin in NFL history (and also notable as the last pro football game to feature a helmetless player). One of the most successful coaches in this second wave of T formation offense was Georgia Tech’s Bobby Dodd, who rode the T to an 11-0-1 finish in 1951 and a perfect 12-0 in 1952.
In 1954, Dodd published a book, On Football, which detailed a so-called “90 series” of quick-hitting fullback runs that incorporated a “belly fake.” The belly fake, Dodd explained, was a technique in which the quarterback would place the ball into the fullback’s belly and then either hand off to the FB on the dive—i.e., a quick-hitting run that attacks the B-gap (between the offensive guard and tackle), or pull the ball back out and toss it to a trailing runner, drop back to pass, run option (in a pitch relationship with the tailback), or roll to the backside of the formation (a.k.a. “bootleg”). Importantly, even if the quarterback does hand the ball off to the fullback, the quarterback and tailback still need to carry through their post-handoff actions so as to freeze second-level defenders.
Whether as the belly’s original creator (which seems highly doubtful) or for his consolidated refinements (which seems much more likely), Dodd is mainly credited as the father of the football belly. And in later years, the belly fake would later go on to form the basis of countless great offensive schemes, such as the wishbone, flexbone, I-form, and other option offenses that washed through college football in the sixty years or so since Dodd’s book came out—all the way through to the modern spread & shred (where the belly fake involves a quarterback and speedy running back). But Coach Dodd up in football heaven certainly beamed a little smile in the direction of Schembechler Hall on Monday, when Jim Harbaugh mentioned in his press conference that it was “heartwarming to see the fullback dive be successful.” A follow-up question asked what had made the play successful, and on cue Harbaugh replied: “Everybody who doesn’t have the ball is essential. In terms of blocking and carrying out fakes, everybody becomes a blocker who’s not carrying the ball.”
Harbaugh’s fullback runs are not true belly plays—just straight handoffs to the fullback, not reads with the QB having the option to pull the ball out. This may change at some point. But Harbaugh still utilizes the post-handoff fakes to freeze linebackers and safeties and while his beastly fullbacks thunder through piles. Maybe it ain’t no Raqs Sharqi, but it’s still some beauty in motion.
When Harbaugh debuted this particular fullback run against BYU, the H-back (Poggi) lined up right behind the right guard (Kalis); at the snap, Kalis went straight for the WLB and Poggi stepped up to kick out the DT. And wouldn’t you know it—here comes the left guard to lead the ballcarrier through the hole and hit the MLB, just like Power O. I kind of struggled with what to call this play; I might have done better just calling it “Inside Power.”
SE Amara Darboh: Block CB Darian Hicks (or Jermaine Edmondson)
H-Back Henry Poggi: Kick out block on 3-tech DT Joel Heath
LT Mason Cole: Down block WDE Lawrence Thomas
LG Ben Braden: Pull around Center and lead the fullback through the 2-hole; block first green jersey (likely MLB Riley Bullough)
C Graham Glasgow: Down bock NT Malik McDowell
RG Kyle Kalis: Fire out to second level immediately, kick-out block on WLB John Reschke
RT Erik Magnuson: Kick-out block on SDE Shilique Calhoun
TE Jake Butt: Kick-out block on EMLOS (SLB Darian Harris)
FB Sione Houma: Mesh with QB Jake Rudock; whether or not ball is given, proceed through 2-hole (right-side A-gap), read and cut off of LB Ben Braden’s block
QB Jake Rudock: Reverse out of center at 45° angle; mesh with FB Sione Houma, complete handoff; then proceed to backside in pitch relationship with TB Deveon Smith—sell option fake
TB Deveon Smith: Run to backside in pitch relationship with QB Jack Rudock—sell option fake
Advantage: Michigan State
The Spartans’ typical stout defensive front features quality DTs and preseason all-B1G defensive end Shilique Calhoun. Michigan’s running game is much improved this season, and Rudock and Harbaugh’s offensive playcalling team have shown an especially good feel for when to call fullback runs, but I still think State has to get the nod here.
One of the few frustrating moments Michigan has endured outside of the Utah game was an ill-fated fourth down conversion attempt against Maryland on which Rudock passed up two open receivers for a futile scramble attempt and wound up fumbling. The playcall, a smash-wheel play from a trips formation, sprang receivers open deep and shallow, but Rudock was late on his reads and couldn’t get the ball out. We’ll see this again, however—and hopefully this time for a big gain or a critical third- or fourth-down conversion.
After a fair amount of searching, I found numerous plays run from a twins formation, with the two outside receivers running a curl & wheel combination while an inside receiver (usually a releasing back) would head to the flat on an arrow route. Harbaugh’s version, run from a trips alignment, had the outermost receiver break underneath to the inside, rather than send a back from the inside-out. In both cases, the play design gives the QB a triangle read on one half of the field and stresses underneath zone defenders (who must simultaneously cover the smash and the flat route) as well as man defenders (who must navigate traffic resulting from the multiple intersecting route patterns, and potentially switch on receivers).
XWR Amara Darboh: Run shallow (two yards deep) cross behind Y and Z receivers, covered by WLB John Reschke
LT Mason Cole: Pass protect vs. WDE Lawrence Thomas
LG Ben Braden: Pass protect vs. NT Malik McDowell
C Graham Glasgow: Pass protect vs. NT Malik McDowell
RG Kyle Kalis: Pass protect vs. DT Joel Heath
RT Erik Magnuson: Pass protect vs. SDE Shilique Calhoun
TE Jake Butt: Pass protect vs. SDE Shilique Calhoun
YWR Jehu Chesson: Run smash route (release five yards, then turn and work to open area) behind ZWR Drake Harris, covered by Nickel CB Andrew Dowell
ZWR Drake Harris: Run wheel route (release to outside at 45° angle, then turn vertically), covered by FCB Darian Hicks (or Jermaine Edmondson)
TB Deveon Smith: Pass protection
QB Jake Rudock: Receive shotgun snap, 1-step drop; read cross (1) to smash (2) to wheel (3); if nothing comes open then run
The secondary has been an uncharacteristic weak spot for State through the first half of 2015 and covering trips formations is one of the trickier duties to pull, while Michigan’s receivers have been strong in the short game this season. But MSU still features a wicked pass rush and though Rudock was on target against Nothwestern last weekend, he has not been consistently accurate over the course of the season. I, for one, believe we’ll start seeing Rudock round into the 70%+ DSR form he showed at Iowa as the season grinds into the later stages. But that might not happen, and the possibility that accurate Rudock was a one-game blip is too high to call the advantage for Michigan here.
When Michigan State has the ball…
3. Tackle Trap
As you might have heard, the Michigan defensive line has been killing people this season, mainly due to the unit’s outstanding defensive tackles crushing pockets or quickly penetrating past centers and guards. Michigan State, with several offensive linemen playing hurt or out of action altogether, cannot realistically hope to counter Michigan’s pressure physically—but they may be well-suited to counter it schematically. Through the use of trap blocking, such as this play that Space Coyote excerpted from the MSU spring game, the Spartans can potentially exploit holes in the defense that may occur through over-penetration, or slow down rushers leery of blind-side trap blocks.
Buck LB Royce Jenkins-Stone: Defend back side C-gap vs. RT Donavon Clark; backside pursuit
NT Ryan Glasgow: Defend back side A-gap, alert for trap block from LT Kodi Kieler
3-tech DT Chris Wormley: Defend play side B-gap vs. LG David Beedle
SDE Willie Henry: Defend front side C-gap vs. TE Josiah Price
WLB Joe Bolden: Defend back side B-gap vs. RG Benny McGowan; backside pursuit
MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend play side A-gap vs. C Brian Allen
SLB Ben Gedeon (?) James Ross (second half only): Defend D-gap (outside TE) vs. FB Trevon Pendleton; constrict C-gap and contain run inside
With James Ross on the bench for the first half due to a targeting ejection last weekend, State might look to profit with heavy formations early to test Michigan’s unproven backup OLBs. But Michigan’s defensive line has been so disruptive this season that it’s hard to see the Spartan running game finding much daylight, especially with an OL of walking wounded.
4. Switch Verticals
The three verticals and four verticals plays attack two-deep and three-deep coverages, respectively, by “flooding” the deep zones—i.e., by sending three receivers to outnumber two deep defenders, or four receivers to outnumber three deep defenders. Theoretically, the defender with two receivers in his zone will have to leave one of them open, and making for an easy completion.
In their shootout against Rutgers last weekend, MSU scored a critical second-half touchdown on a three verticals concept—but with the added wrinkle of switch route to complicate the coverage and facilitate easier releases for their receivers. The play I mentioned above got DeAnthony Arnett open against a single defender, and Cook didn’t miss him. MSU appears to have picked up the switch concept last season, after Oregon used it used to beat Sparty in Eugene; Space Coyote just posted a link to his post on MSU’s switch vertical technique, where he covers it in extensive detail. (I read both the James Light post and Space Coyote’s very carefully and bother were extremely helpful in preparing this diary, so thanks to both of them).
FCB Jourdan Lewis: Press coverage (“Man everywhere he goes”) vs. WXR Aaron Burbridge
SDE Willie Henry: Pass Rush vs. LT Kodi Kieler
NT Ryan Glasgow: Pass Rush vs. LG David Beedle
3T Chris Wormley: Pass Rush vs. RG Benny McGowan
Buck LB Royce Jenkins-Stone: Pass rush vs. RT Donavon Clark
MLB Desmond Morgan: Man coverage on TE Josiah Price
WLB Joe Bolden: Man coverage vs. RB L.J. Scott
Nickel CB Jabrill Peppers: “Banjo” technique with BCB Channing Stribling; play man coverage on first receiver to release inside (ZWR McGarrett Kings)
BCB Chnning Stribling: Banjo technique with NCB Jabrill Peppers; play man coverage on first receiver to release outside (YWR RJ Shelton)
FS Jerrod Wilson: Play deep half to twins side
SS Delano Hill: Play deep half to TE side
I think Connor Cook is a pretty good quarterback and I’ve always been impressed with Burbridge’s talent, plus MSU’s usually mediocre receivers always show up to play against Michigan. So if this was just a comparison between those guys and Michigan’s lights-out secondary, I might call this even. But with an injury-depleted line against Michigan’s fearsome pass rush, no chance.
Homecoming 2015. Northwestern 0, Michigan 38. The third shutout in a row! And, as we would be reminded, the first since 1980, my super-senior year (5th year). Do I remember those shutouts? In a word, no.
Mr. Peabody, set the Way Back Machine.
My first Michigan game was as a freshman in 1976. I attended most home games through my undergraduate years. In 1976, there were 5 shutouts, including a 22-0 beat down on OSU. 1 shutout in 1977. 4 shutouts in 1978. 1 shutout in 1979. Then the 3 in a row shutouts of 1980. Obviously, shutouts were not unusual. Crushing opponents was the norm. In 1976, Michigan outscored opponents 432-95; 1977, 353-124; 1978, 372-105; 1979, 312-151; 1980, 322-129.
During those years, I was one of the quietest 100,000. The loud, screaming, annoying little kid sitting behind me was encouraged to shut the hell up (turned out it was a fraternity brother's still-in-junior-high little brother - but that is another story). During my undergrad years, we came to watch a game. Audience participation was not required. Why? Because it was not the norm of the day and, more importantly, the team did not need it.
Over the intervening years, things changed and eventually I moved out west. Throughout the football landscape, audience participation became a means to impact the game. I mean, we had always heard of the Texas A&M 12th man, but that was them, not us and what did it really mean? I had no idea.
I've heard Autzen Stadium was loud. I'd heard Ryan Field was loud. Turns out, both schools had been using the noise as an offensive weapon to interrupt the opponent. I live north of Seattle and the Seahawks' 12th man has been around for nearly 30 years. But it wasn't until 2004, with a new stadium and the noise-reflecting, angled roof, that the impact of the 12th man really hit home to me. The fan's noise is deafening, to the point where it physically hurts to be in the stadium. I liken it to standing between an EA-6B Prowler's exhaust nozzle and a jet blast deflector on an aircraft carrier: It will literally liquefy and shake the snot out of your sinuses (a great cold remedy). The QWest Field noise and its impact is well documented. Washington Huskies used QWest Field well while their stadium was remodeled. At QWest and Husky Stadium, the fans are making noise whenever the opponent has the ball. Not just when they are approaching the line of scrimmage, but in the huddle and during time outs: Whenever communication needs to be interrupted. I'm learning.
Fast forward to 2012, Michigan is playing Northwestern and my frat bro and I get tickets. He lives south of Seattle and has also learned the impact of fan noise. During this Northwestern game, like always, most people are viewers and not participants. My bro and I try to get the folks near us to make noise. We are mostly ignored. A few people bring out keys to shake...WTF? That is not noise.
Late in the 4th with 30 seconds left, Devin hits Roy setting up a TD to tie the game. I'm screaming like a little girl. Up until that moment, the Big House contained the quietest 100,000 on the planet. But worse, throughout the entire gamethere was a feeling of trepidation, of despondency. The entire game! This was not my Michigan. I'd not experienced any trepidation during a Michigan game since 1989 when, during the last 5 minutes of the UM vs UCLA game, it looked like Michigan was going to lose. Michigan made a comeback to win it 24-23 and the place exploded.
Fast forward again to the 2015 Utah game. My frat bro and I make the drive. Wandering around before the game, we hit a couple pubs. In one, a local asks if we brought our ear plugs. His buddy said, "They've got 110,000 in their stadium, they KNOW what noise is." I did not dissuade them.
The Ute fans were very congenial: Hand shakes and thanking us for coming. Most asked, "No matter what happens tonight, please kick BYU's ass." Apparently they hate that school in Provo. I did not bring ear plugs and found myself sticking fingers in my ears. Polite people yes...but extremely loud. Excepting the outcome, a great experience. There was a lessen learned though: Doing 88 in an 80 zone in Idaho is frowned upon!
Fast forward to the afore mentioned homecoming 2015. Two organizations my bro and I belonged to were having 35th reunions. We got tickets and had a great time getting together and swapping lies with everyone. I am amazed though, at the change in the atmosphere inside the Big House. Upbeat, loud, confident. Whenever Northwestern had the ball, the crowd was making real noise. Another frat bro, a member of the alumni band, was on the field. He said it was loud on the field, not as loud as some stadiums, but loud.
Late in the 4th, up 38-zip, from the south end zone seats starts the defense chant. Brian interpreted it as encouraging the D to finish the shutout. It could have been. My buddies and I participated, but our interpretation was it was a tribute to the team, to include the fans. The atmosphere was fantastic!
On that note, I conclude with a request for the MSU game: MAKE NOISE. Do not let MSU go into a huddle without it. Do not let MSU get to the line without it. If MSU is our toughest opponent to date, noise is required. Every false start, every delay of game, every misalignment, every busted play can be directly attributed to miscommunication. Those in the stands are the disruptors. MAKE NOISE.
PS, sorry about your sore throats on Sunday. A win will make the pain worthwhile!
As these days slowly tick by (CMON hurry) I thought I'd do an interesting thought experiment.
Going into the year some MSU friends and commentators had comments about how how many UM players would even start for MSU. The # was miniscule.
It came off of the 2014 game experience where maybe Jake ryan, Frank Clark and Jake Butt would be the only 3 UM guys who could start for 2014 MSU. And I had a tough time really refuting it. So a 19 to 3 advantage is pretty vast.
Fast forward a year. NOT SO FAST STAEE FANS.
Let's see how it stacks up below. I put UM in traditional 4-3 although we have been doing 4-2-5 so the 2 teams parallel better. I also assumed all the "or" guys for MSU will play i.e. a healthy Jack Allen vs a healthy Graham Glasgow. Of course that won't be the exact case Saturday.
And yes I know the offenses dont play the offenses etc but it's fun to see the change in 12 months.
Trying to not be a homer (I think Price is a damn good TE in fact) I still see MSU having the advantages on offense esp at receiver and QB. Chesson if he could actually get passes thrown to him might be a Kings equivalent but right now is a receiver we mostly get the ball to via non receiver things.
MSU has 2 clear outliers if Conklin and Jack Allen are healthy even if Glasgow is our best OL; Allen is a 2x All American. I admit I don't know that much about the other 3 linemen in terms of game to game play so I put them as washes with our guys.
Both teams have good FBs who can be dangerous and both have been hurt this year on and off. Price has been hurt but when healthy I see these both as good pass receiving TEs who are not great blockers.
I think of the current crop of running backs on both teams LJ Scott has the most upside in terms of power/speed profile (not a speed back per se but for 230 lbs he is fast) I'd have loved to see that sort of back in a UM uniform. Scott seems a lot like Smith but with more speed.
So I still have Butt as the only clear winner (and MSU has a very good player at TE) and then quite a few washes on the OL and FB. UM is still a year or two behind at skill positions and we know that.
This is where the magic happens and yes I'll acknowledge MSU lost a very good OLB.
The 2 DLs are a battle royale. I was a bit surprised at Henry's UFr this week as it was below what I expected but on the year thus far I did think he'd be better but I think the position change hurts him a bit as he is more of an inside guy. Calhoun is a clear 2nd round pick and has been for 2 years. Heath is a good DT but Wormley has more ceiling. McDowell is going to be in the NFL but outside of Anthony Zettel of PSU I dont see another DT in the conf I'd take over Glasgow at current play level; and even with Zettel I'd have to flip a coin! LT is also going to be in the NFL just based on physical prowess alone and rjs has been a 1 game starter - I would have given the nod on LT over Mario as well and like Henry I think LT is a better interior player than end. Overall I grade this 2 to 2.
Again we usually only play 2 LBs so MSU gets an advantage here as Darien Harris is a good LB esp in the pass game covering TEs and the such. Bullough is another Bulloughh in the long line of them and QB of their D....Morgan has been stout as heck and a bigger homer would say Morgan but I think its a wash. Bolden is the least productive UM defender but still solid and Davis has been replaced by Reschke at a decent level. So 2 washes and 1 MSU here. (If Davis was healthy this would be a MSU advantage)
Secondary is where MSU has fallen apart due to graduations and injury. I'd take Lewis over anyone not named Vernon Hargreaves right now. Stribling and Clark have been the revelations of 2015 on the D and Colquhoun is a starter by default. Wilson is difficult to judge because so few plays have gotten to him; Cox is prob the best DB left for MSU. Peppers is a run destroyer who has some coverage issues but athletic as hell. Montae looked like the breakout star for that D in preseason but has a massive sophomore slump going on. So 3 wins for UM and a wash.
So on defense, what a difference a year makes. Outside of DEs there is not a position group you say MSU clearly has an advantage. Last year you'd be pressed to find 2 UM players that would be starting on MSU's D was decent.
I'll skip the special teams because it's just sad for MSU....
Here is the updated mini-program for this weekend vs MSU. Once again, please post any changes direcly on here...
Now that I've achieved the magical 100-pt. threshhold for my account, I can actually create a new post instead of merely replying to prior content. Woohoo!
So without further adieu, here's a table I first ginned up after week 3 (before the BYU game) that gives a comparison of the advanced stats discussed above (the root sources coming from Football Outsiders). In addition to S&P+, FEI, GE and F+, I've included FPI, which is ESPN's Monte Carlo analysis. The basic idea for this comparison I got from SaxonRBR on CFBSH, who does something similar for the upcoming SEC games each week.
This table summarizes the actual values and national rankings for M and all its opponents this season (both past & future games), and also applies a pseudo-color scale to the values relative to M's values, to make differentials more visually apparent. The color-coding goes along the lines of a threat-level:
Red => DangerTeam
Grey => sort of rhymes with "meh" ... statistical equivalence
Blue => as cool and inviting as the other side of the pillow
Some interesting things to note from the results:
- The statistical basis for unbridled hype and hysterical smack-talk is now complete. UM is favored in all of its remaining games in both the S&P+ and FPI indices, although clearly the difference between the associated spreads is significant.
- As of this writing, the only game UM is not favored in (including it's prior games), is Utah, and only based on the FPI spread.
- As has already been mentioned in other posts, but bears repeating here: the most difficult remaining game per S&P+ is Penn State, followed closely by Minny.
- Lastly, shameless jumping to conclusions compels me to also mention that UM winning out would also include an additional victory over most-expected West division champion Iowa to earn its first outright Big Ten Championship since 2003. Yup. It's been 12 long years...
So, can anyone recommend any good hotels in Indianapolis? I think I might go ahead and at least reserve a room! BTW, my SO & I prefer non-chain, more boutique-type accommodations.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I went into this wallpaper week with two main ideas (one to come later if I can get it done tonight). This one is pretty obvious - Michigan State loves them some "chip on the shoulder." Grumpy Mark always seems to find a way to feel disrespected and this wallpaper celebrates the Spartans' favorite snack. As always, I welcome constructive criticism and/or wallpaper ideas. Let me know what you think. I hope you all like this one. I'll finish the mobile version tonight and edit the post. Go Blue! Beat State!
EDIT: Fixed to EDT from EST, added iPhone/Mobile version.
EDIT II: This was my second idea. It's so perfectly set up. With the official "future" date only 4 days removed from the game, I went with this. Additionally, Oct. 12, 1985 was a 31 - 0 shutout of MSU with Harbaugh at the helm. Those dates are reflected in the time-circuits details. I'm happy with how it turned out. I first had this idea a while back and made the following:
That was just the beginning...I knew I wanted to do more. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. PLEASE LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED CLEANED UP FILES FOR GAMEDAY POSTERS. I WILL OBLIGE.
Chips Desktop (16:9) 1920x1080
Chips Mobile (750x1334) iPhone 6s
BTTF Desktop (16:9) 1920x1080