...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
On the heels of BBrown's massive 2015 Prospect Post I thought it might be good to see how the available scholarship slots will be distributed.
2015 Scholarships Available: 11 - 19
Every class should have a QB and 2015 is no different. With decent depth now at the position I doubt Michigan will sign a lower rated 2nd prospect. The only way I see 2 commits is the 2nd prospect is a dual-threat type who could transition to another position.
Depth at the position is fairly thin with 3 true RBs and 2 RB/Slot hybrid types. I would defintely say 2 here but there is a chance that Houma or Shallman become full time RBs and are good enough to stick.
This is a spot that can be filled by a walk-on. Also likely to be marganlized by the new offensive system.
One of the best position groups with regards to depth with 8-11 options (counting Funchess). This is a position where the coaches can be very selective and take elite prospects or sit tight with what they have.
With only 4 players here at least 1 TE is guaranteed . I would say that a 2nd commit is possible but the number crunch probably limits that. Possible position group for attrition could jump this up to 2.
I wanted to seperate this out by position group but its hard to tell right now where the current players will fit in. There is a need for at least 2 OTs and a C. With J. Runyan Jr. already committed I see them taking 3 more OLs with an eye towards OTs. Also a possible position group for attrition.
Depth at NT is fairly thin so I would expect that we'll defintely see 1 NT. Another DT is possible but I don't see how there would be room.
Depth here is fairly thin as well but potential position switches from DT and TE could help fill out this position group.
Depth here is pretty good so the coaches can hopefully reel in an elite level prospect at this position.
This is a young position group and with 2 seniors graduating the staff will take at least 1 prospect here.
Depth here is pretty good for these fairly interchangeable position groups and with limited scholarships I see the coaches holding out for an elite propsect here. Also a possible position group for attrition.
Fairly stacked position group with freshman who have already played and highly regarded incoming recruits. With S.Crawford already in the fold I don't see how the coaches will go after another pure CB. Likely a position group for attrition which could bump this up.
Defintely a position group in need of players even with T. Kinnel already committed. Only 4 players here and possibly 1-2 more moving over from CB.
Kicker is taken care of with A.David and so is LS. Punter is the only open position which may be filled by a walk-on.
Projected Commits: 13 - 19
Defintely had to fiddle around with my original numbers to make this work but I think the final result is fairly accurate. This exercise has taught my why 85 scholarships seems like such a hinderance. Certain positions like OL and CB seem stacked but we all watched the OL this year...and we all remember the "Never Forget" banner.
My best guess is 15 Member Recrutiing Class after attrition, graduation, and early entrants.
Unlike in football, where you have a game a week and, thus, all carry a pretty high significance, basketball has far more games with varying levels of import. Last year I basically started this column with the tourney run, and so far the season has been just disjointed enough that it was hard to get a bead on what this team was capable of. So it wasn’t until this week’s games against Wiscy, Iowa, and MSU did I feel like I could do justice to a full-fledged Best and Worst on a series of games. Note that while I can at least impersonate someone who knows a couple of things about football, I am an avowed fanboy of basketball who begged his mom for a Charlotte Hornets Starter jacket and Bobby Hurley’s ITZ so that I could ball in the Michigan winters all day long.
Also, there might be wrestling references in here. To paraphrase Mel Gibson to Joaquin Phoenix, “Neg away.”
Best: Wrecking Ball
Even the most optimistic fan looked at this slate of games and said “2-1 would be fantastic, but just get 1 win and survive.” Then came the signature win at the Trohl Center, and everyone rejoiced for a day until the Ent Globtetrotters were seen emerging from a fertile Plains state. Then UM felled it’s second top-10 team of the week and the mood turned pure Lloyd Christmas with the possibility of a sweep at the Breslin, but for most that fantasy was quickly snuffed out by the realties of playing against a third top-10 team, on the road, before a rabid crowd that could easily sway the officials in ways both great and small. And it’s not like MSU is a pushover; led by the lilliputian Tom Izzo, one of the nation’s top coaches and 18-time winner of the Frances Pomeroy Van Gundy award for coaching, he’s the reason Cedar Village’s Google Image Search is virtually indistinguishable from that of London’s during World War 2.
(Click to enlarge. The black & white ones are London)
And yet, it was hard to shake the feeling at halftime that UM was going to sweep the week, or at the very least come damn close. Yes, the shooting has been unsustainably hot, but they were also able to weather some horrible officiating and Gary Harris’s amazing performance to keep the game close, and at some point a short-handed MSU team* wasn’t going to be able to hang with this squad, even if they weren’t at full-strength themselves. And so, like the other two games, UM won a bit going away, hitting their foul shots and playing stout enough defense to salt it. Basically, they followed the same formula MSU and UW have used for years to choke the life out of teams.
So now, midway through a season that started with much uncertainty, pocked with consternation and some despair, UM sits atop the best conference in the country, 7-0 for the first time since before anyone on this team was born. Though this is certainly not the last tough stretch for the team, and you have to expect some type of letdown in the coming weeks, these guys went from safe-if-unspectacular tourney team to one of the most dangerous outs in the country, a designation that seems perfectly appropriate for a Beilein squad. Speaking of which…
* This has been discussed elsewhere, but losing Payne to injury was tough. Losing Dawson to a “Fist Punch of Leadership” is just having an idiot on your team. Everyone loses players throughout the season, and sore wrists and bum shoulders weren’t the reasons UM has won 5 of the last 7 against MSU.
Best: The Beilein Hypothesis…
I’ve always believed that there are two types of successful college coaches: guys who thrive in chaos of new players and transition, and guys who thrive at installing players into a system. The archetypes of the prior are the one-and-done maestros like Calipari, while the patron saint of the latter are guys like Tom Izzo and Bo Ryan. Obviously, most coaches fall somewhere in this spectrum, with guys like Pitino, Krzyzewski, Boeheim, Self, and Williams making do with varying mixtures of near-pros and matriculating talent. But in general, their greatest successes fall into one of these two camps.
John Beilein has always been a system guy. Now, when I hear that term as it relates to college basketball, I think of your defensive taskmasters; your Ryans and Izzos who recruit annoyingly-good offensive rebounders and defense-first guards who want to leave teams looking like Zach Novak and muttering “Jon-a-than!” as they board their bus.
But with Beilein, the focus has always been about his offense, and he’s recruited those players with a very specific set of skills with aplomb since he arrived in Ann Arbor. Sure, he made do with imperfect lineups featuring guys like Morris, Harris, and Sims, talented players who helped carry UM back to respectability even when they weren’t great fits for the system. But you always saw him tinkering at the edges, trying to create the type of team that, well, he’s had for the past 2-3 years (though perhaps still a bit too guard-heavy, with McGary’s injury being a major factor).
Still, it has gotten to the point with Beilein’s team that they can lose one of the best players in the country and another first-round NBA player and really not miss a beat. Sure, Stauskas and Caris have made strides and the Morgan/Horford combo has impressed, but this team is still down 3/5ths of the starting lineup that took them to the championship game last year. And yet, after a couple of early stumbles as the pieces settled into place, the offensive productivity remains elite while the defense remains in line with last year’s acceptable rate. And unlike defense-heavy teams, which seem to be better able to plug in, how do I say this charitably, “high energy” guys with limited offensive games and still come out on top, Beilein’s system requires players to be able to actually score with some consistency, a skill that (I presume) is far less abundant.
It seems that it has gotten to the point with Beilein (and more importantly this team) that players have become largely interchangeable provided they possess certain basic skillsets and a decent level of athleticism. And in some ways, perhaps his best teams are going to be those bereft of a great many “stars” from an NBA perspective. This isn’t meant to invoke the Ewing Theory because losing in the championship game could never be construed as “underachieving”, but I do think that the Burke-Hardaway squad was hurt at times by having two NBA-ready players sometimes vying for the same shots and space; you heard various people complain gently that the “hero ball” at the end of games by Burke and Hardaway felt forced at times. Obviously it didn’t cost them in the end, but his WVU teams weren’t overflowing with NBA talent and yet they held serve in a remarkably tough Big East for years. That doesn’t mean you don’t want to recruit the best kids, but his team seems capable of holding serve without the superstars guys like Calipari need to replenish year-in/year-out.
My only nagging concern is that the defense, perhaps by design or due to the players best suited for this offense, seems to have settled at about average, which puts pressure on the offense to be significantly more efficient than other teams to compensate. It is a relatively minor concern and one that should further shrink as more talent arrives, but it should be noted when discussing Beilein’s successes.
So while I’m not yet ready to consider that any future Beilein team at UM can be penciled in for a certain number of wins and a tourney run, it is safe to say that the era of “fretting” about the state of the program is at an end. Given a reasonable number of healthy bodies and at least some talented offensive players, Beilein’s squads will be highly competitive in the toughest conference in the land, always in the running for conference banners and capable of beating anyone on a given night. That is the best mark of a good system, and given the past two decades of UM basketball, a welcome sign.
[He isn't even close to done with Bests yet. Jump!]
We’re well into basketball season and football season is officially in the books, King KenPom has you covered on the basketball stats so before signing day hits, I wanted to take a quick look into the numbers behind the most watched teams of college football from 2013.
Sports Media Watch published a handy guide the ratings for the last football season. Unfortunately there isn’t good data for the Big Ten Network, The Pac 12 Network and CBS Sports Network, but all of the other major players are there. With nearly 400 games televised I dug into the viewer totals to see which teams had the most eyeballs on them, which weekends had the most viewers and other interesting tidbits.
The 2013 Most Watched Team Was…
Alabama. Not a big surprise. I looked at the numbers three different ways and Alabama came out on top in all three measurements.
11 of Alabama’s 13 games made it to a network or an ESPN. Overall, nearly 81 MM people watched those 11 games. On a per game basis, Alabama’s 7.4 MM viewers topped the country, as well.
|Total Viewers||Average Viewers||Included Games|
|#3||Ohio State||77.1||Ohio State||6.4||12|
|#5||Texas A&M||60.8||Michigan State||5.7||10|
Iron Bowl champion Auburn was a close second in both measures, with Ohio State rounding out the top three. Florida State just missed the top five average, as did Texas A&M. Michigan State cracked the top five with a strong finish. The Big Ten Championship was the fifth most watched game overall and the Rose Bowl was second only to the Title game. The most surprising entry in the list turns out to be our very own Michigan Wolverines. There were 37 other teams that were on the included channels more than Michigan, but with 6 million viewers per showing, a lackluster season didn’t affect the interest in the team.
As anyone who has followed TV ratings knows, when and where you’re on can be as important as who is on. Here is a look at the average viewers by time and channel type:
*Games on Holidays (Sun/Mon of Labor day, Th/Fr of Thanksgiving), Bowl Games and Conference Championship games excluded.
**Mirrored games are the combined totals between ABC and ESPN2
Unsurprisingly the networks draw better crowds, whether it is the networks or the games themselves is tough to parse out, but there is a clear pecking order as you move down the ladder.
So with a slot average, you can begin to look at which teams do well versus their time slot.
|Team||Variance vs Slot|
|#1||Alabama||+2.8 MM viewers per game|
Michigan jumps even higher on the list once you factor in the real estate it was given. Michigan did a full 50% higher than an average matchup for the six non-BTN slots it was given (Minnesota was excluded as a mirrored game and no Bowl games were included). Despite a lackluster season, Michigan’s ratings continued to be some of the best in the country.
Looking at the worst performers there are surprising names. No one was interested in the Kiffin drama as USC was over half a million viewers below their slot expectation. Notre Dame was burdened by high expectations, falling 750,000 viewers per game below their slot average. Notre Dame had the best real estate in the country, with 12 games broadcast and a sky-high 4.7 MM viewers per game expected.
The Most Popular Weeks of College Football
With weekly peeks and valleys, the numbers of people watching college football on Saturdays increased as the season progressed in 2013.
Total Saturday viewers increases by about 250,000 viewers per week until Thanksgiving and conference championship weekend when the ratings jump 35%
The bowls continue to be huge draws, with nearly 3.8 million viewers per non-BCS bowls, which is roughly equal to an ESPN night game but with twice as many instances (30 versus 14 regular season). The bowls aren’t going away, folks.
The BCS bowls and the national title game drew an average of 17 MM viewers.
Oklahoma versus Alabama and the Rose Bowl were both right around the average while UCF/Baylor and OSU/Clemson balanced out the national title game. Based on this, I would estimate a national semi-final could draw somewhere close to 20 million viewers.
Dave Brandon Must Be Proud
The brand is strong. Despite a disappointing season on the field, viewers turned out to watch Michigan games at level on par with national title contenders and controversial Heisman trophy winners. If the data continues to be readily available, it will be interesting to see how a more successful season (hopefully 2014) impacts Michigan’s overall ratings.
FIVE GAMES DOWN, SOME HARD GAMES TO GO
We’ve experienced just short of a third of the conference schedule now, and in a trend that I know we would love to see extended, so far we’ve come out unscathed. The highlight so far, at least in my opinion, is a very nice win against Palpatine and his Badgers in a place where we have not won since the days of Brian Ellerbe coaching and LaVell Blanchard MVP-ing, if you will.
Here are the summary averages for the last five games:
Field Goal %
Three Point %
Free Throw %
Off. Rebound %
Def. Rebound %
Assist / Turnover Ratio
True Shooting %
Free Throw Rate
Points / Possession
There are only so many conclusions you can draw based on five conference games, but the trend in a lot of areas so far has been up or steady against the conference when compared to non-conference average.
For example, we are actually shooting better in the conference so far, averaging 60.71% for an effective field goal percentage, up almost 6% from what we were averaging in the first 12 games of the season. We’re also getting more efficient in conference play, it seems. We maintain a 1.22 points per possession average for the conference games and for the non-conference, but we’re maintaining it with fewer possessions in conference play so far (averaging about 60, as you see above, down from 65 in the non-conference schedule). To date, you will also note that we’ve gotten by on some nice ball handling as well with the assist-to-turnover ratio for Michigan average nearly double that of our conference opponents so far.
I would expect all these numbers to moderate going into the next five or six games too, but so far what we have seen has been pretty good, I would think.
This time, we’ll focus on the so-called Four Factors, or stats which have been shown to be pretty indicative of winning (or losing) in basketball. Here they are in convenient graph form - as with the last diary, blue is us, red is not:
If these tell a story of conference play so far, then what they tell us is that we’re getting by on being a very accurate shooting team. We’ve also been very disciplined with the ball, only exceeding our opponent’s turnover percentage once (Wisconsin), and we’ve gotten to the line a little more than our opponents as well, only losing this battle once as well (Nebraska). Offensive rebounding has been a little more inconsistent, and I suspect it is a battle we will definitely need to win in some of the upcoming games.
SOME OTHER DATA:
Here are a few other metrics (again, we're in blue, of course) –
Here again, disciplined ball handling, accurate shooting and as you can see simply being efficient have been the main drivers behind the success so far, and hopefully the momentum continues.
Also: sorry, but this Nuss-at-Washington post is going to have to be delayed since the video conversion failed the first time I tried it.]
If you’re a frequent visitor of this site then you’re familiar with the 2014 meme. Unfortunately it seems that the gilded griffin who’s been sprinkling magic dust on all of the arenas and administrative buildings across the athletic campus couldn’t make the road trip to Wisconsin. I heard it was icy, maybe that was an issue for the griffin. I’m not sure. What I am sure of is how frustrating this weekend was to watch. Even Michigan’s human embodiment of the 2014 meme, Andrew Copp, couldn’t turn this series around.
#8 Michigan v. #14 Wisconsin
Friday, January 10, 2014
Wisconsin 1 UM 0 4:16 EV
Mersch from Schulze & Dahl
Wisconsin dances around Michigan in the neutral zone to gain the offensive zone with little pushback from the Wolverines. Instead of driving the net Schulze leaves a drop pass for Mersch, who has no one defending him. You’ve heard of gap control? Here’s an example of what not to do.
Mersch takes what appears to be a harmless shot. Nagelvoort has a good read on the puck and isn’t screened, but the puck hits the outside of his glove and deflects in. Nagelvoort was phenomenal most of the night, and this is just a tough break for the freshman netminder.
YOU MAY REMEMBER ME FROM SUCH FILMS AS:
Wisconsin 2 UM 0 11:47 EV
Besse from Schulze & LaBate
Wisconsin shoots the puck from near the blueline into a crowd, where it hits someone and deflects to the side of the net. There just so happens to be a Wisconsin player in the vicinity, who grabs the puck and heads behind the net.
Besse skates out from behind the net and centers the puck to the slot. It hits the back of De Jong’s skate (who actually has his man well defended in front of the net) and deflects in between Nagelvoort’s legs. Two flukes, two times the puck finds the back of the net for Wisconsin. At this point it appears that Michigan’s just not going to have fortune smile upon them. Rarely does one bizarre goal happen in a game, but to have two happen in the same period puts a team so far behind the eight ball that they aren’t even playing pool anymore.
Wisconsin 3 UM 0 11:47 EV
Dahl from Mersch & McCabe
How does a shot get through from the blueline to the front of the net? One way is for there to be a big defensive miscue, such as sticking with the wrong man when the other team is moving laterally. That’s exactly what happens here. This is especially unfortunate because Motte played an otherwise good game defensively
To his credit, Motte closes the gap fairly well even though the shot gets through. Nagelvoort stops the initial shot but gives up a juicy, grade-A rebound.
Dahl is right in front but can’t get his stick on the puck. The puck actually bounces in off of his skate, going through Nagelvoort’s legs in the process. Credit to Dahl for not kicking the puck.
[AFTER THE JUMP: Michigan's response, and sad happenings the next night.]
I’m back with more zone blocking zealotry (see: last week). I’ve decided to make this into a series until all my zealotry for zone blocking has been adequately expressed to all of you. Last week’s diary is thereby retroactively labeled Episode 1.
This week’s episode expands upon some of the arguments made last week about Inside Zone, examining in more detail the various ways teams can use Inside Zone from under center to wreak havok on opposing defenses. To that end, I’ll concentrate on assignments, reads and what options an offense has once Inside Zone has been called.
(Later episodes will tackle, in unspecified order, Inside Zone vs. Power O; Inside Zone from the shotgun and pistol; how to build a coherent offense around Inside Zone; how to defend Inside Zone; how to run Outside Zone better than we did in 2013; and the intricacies of zone blocking technique.)
So without further ado, let’s start with a few elements of Inside Zone that help explain why it is so effective, and why I think it’s the way forward for us (as our base run play).
Inside Zone…isn’t that just another straight-ahead run?
Yes and no. Sure it goes straight ahead, but operates from a different logic and set of priorities from, say, Power O. Power O, as you’ll recall, starts with the mindset that your OL can get at least some push against their DL and, moreover, that everyone is disciplined enough to get to their man and not leave the wrong person unblocked in the process. It’s kind of awesome when it all works as planned, but when that doesn’t happen, you can end up with a TFL (see: 2013).
Inside Zone, by contrast, is specifically designed to reduce the frequency and severity of negative plays. It does this in part by getting the RB to the LOS very quickly, and in part by aiming everyone at the point(s) of attack more or less forward (i.e. no pulling). Even if we don’t end up running Inside Zone as well as Alabama or Wisconsin (and it’s unlikely we will in 2014), eliminating TFLs would itself constitute a net win. I mean, think about how much easier it is to consistently convert 3rd and 4-7 than 3rd and 9-12.
Inside Zone is also incredibly flexible. Though not a true read-option play, Inside Zone also isn’t a scripted play with one basic outcome unless you audible into something else. Rather, it is something in-between the two, and may result in several outcomes without an audible. Under center the primary options are: RB inside, RB cutback and QB bootleg (from the shotgun or pistol these are: RB inside, RB cutback and QB outside).
The decision to alternate from the default (RB inside) is based on three reads. Pre-snap, the OC or QB reads whether to hand off or keep on a bootleg. The second read—whether the RB runs “playside” (i.e. the direction the play is designed to head) or performs a cut to the “backside”—can come pre-snap (by the OC/QB) or post-snap (by the RB), but lot of offenses just leave it up to the RB to make that decision post-snap.
Since the blocking assignments are attuned to the playside, though, the RB has to avoid the temptation to cut backside too frequently. Like the QB bootleg, cutting backside is a constraint or counter play—a way to punish defenses for keying in on the inside run. As such, it works best when the defense is overly fixated on the inside run.
Assuming there’s no cut backside, success on the inside run now relies on the RBs ability to hit the gap at full-speed. The RB is allowed one cut (and one cut only) based on the position of the block on the first defender outside center, relative to his own position. Additional cuts and bounces are viewed, philosophically, as disruptive to timing, generative of negative plays and potentially leading to a breakdown of blocking assignments. As a consequence, your RB must be very decisive—you do not want someone who takes their time getting to the LoS, or someone who never saw a juke or bounce they didn’t like.
But that's not all! Here's a small selection of what you can run out of Inside Zone:
Once you master the techniques of teaching the zone scheme, it really gets fun as a coach. Off the inside zone action, you have the zone read principle (the QB reads the C gap defender), the orbit reverse principle (slot comes in motion to get reverse or hold C gap defender), the split zone or slice principle (FB or backside motion player seals the C gap defender), the lead zone principle (two back concept, in which the FB lead blocks the front side linebacker) and the bootleg or screen off it. You end up with five plays by teaching one scheme.
How do you block for that?
Without getting into too much detail on technique, here’s a primer on blocking assignments for Inside Zone. If you are lined up right across a down lineman, you block as if it were a man assignment. The rest block in zone, with assignments determined by the position of the OL on the man block. In zone blocking jargon:
Almost all zone blocking follows the "Covered/Uncovered" rule. If a defensive lineman is "covering" an offensive lineman (lined up directly across from him or slightly shaded to the playside), that defensive lineman is the offensive lineman's responsibility. No ifs ands or buts. If all five offensive linemen are directly covered by defensive lineman, the scheme essentially turns into five "drive" (for Inside Zone) or "reach" (for Outside Zone) blocks across the line of scrimmage.
Other than goalline situations, though, it's rare for every offensive lineman to be directly covered. An uncovered offensive lineman is referred to as a "bubble" in the defensive front and those "bubbles" determine who helps double/combo block to the second level…These combination blocks/double teams that occur at the bubbles essentially turn into a game of two-on-two between the offensive linemen and a defensive lineman and linebacker.
To illustrate, consider the following question. If playside is to the left, and your C puts a block on the opposing NG, while your LT puts a block on the opposing DT—where does the LG go? The read is based on where the LG perceives the greatest need for extra protection and/or where he sees the most unblocked shoulder visible. Since the play is going left, but is run inside, the blocks are going to angle ever-slightly to the left. So if the C has that the left half of the NG covered well enough, the LG can double the DT. But if the C doesn’t really have a good angle on the NG, then the LG can double the NG, thus creating space for the RB to run through. If they are both blocked well, he can release to the second level and take on the nearest LB. If they are both blocked poorly, he picks up the one who appears the most imminent threat to the play.
The next question is: which of the OL on the double releases to the second-level defender? In some cases, this will be determined by the nature of the double—if one of the OL has a bad position on the defender, he will release. But if it’s a good double, where either OL could sustain the block, the releasing OL will be determined by the danger posed by the nearest second-level defender. Take this example from the Jaguars link:
As you can see, zone blocking introduces a degree of uncertainty into the play that you don’t really get with more scripted inside runs. This uncertainty can manifest either as flexibility or chaos, depending on how well you run the play. But generally speaking the gap is something of a moving target—and that’s fine, according to Inside Zone’s internal logic. But it also isn’t completely fluid .
Consider the following (illustrated!) scenario of an offense running Inside Zone from under Center, with 2 TEs and no FB, up against a 4-3 Over/Under. The advantage of this 2TE set, of course, is that it doesn’t project a strongside and weakside, and thus doesn’t give the defense any information about which side is playside—a useful mechanism for dealing with 4-3 Over/Under. But you’re also wasting a TE and lose the opportunity to goad the defense into over-committing (a perfect setup for the RB cut backside or a called Counter Trey). But anyhoo, the defense doesn’t know where playside will be, guesses left and thus Inside Zone goes right. The target gap is between the RG and RT; the cutback lane is probably going to be between the C and LG, though it may also be between the LG and LT. A bounce outside is possible but not advisable, given the unblocked FS and C lurking in the area.
As you can see, the blocking assignments are:
- U-TE blocks DE
- LT blocks DT
- LG blocks DT
- C blocks NG
- RG blocks NG
- RT blocks DE
- Y-TE blocks DE
Note that, because playside is to the right, the WLB on the left edge is left unblocked. Meanwhile, three of the defensive linemen are double-teamed. Depending on the position of the blockers relative to the doubled linemen (that all important shoulder thing again) and the RB, one of the OL on each block can release and move to the second level defender. In the illustration, LG moves on to the MLB and C moves on the SLB (though RG could just as easily release to take on the SLB).
The intended gap emerges between the RG and RT, and with both SLB and MLB held up, the only defenders left between the RB and the end zone are the safeties. The RB can now choose whether to cut left or right—right if the YTE releases and arrives in time to help; left if not (given more space for the SS to make up).
Ross Fulton of 11W explains the significance of this:
By making an offensive lineman responsible for an area rather than a man and having the linemen work in tandem, zone runs allows an offense to better account for the myriad of blitzes and stunts used by modern defenses. Zone run plays are thus ubiquitous for both pro-style and spread teams.
Formations and Wrinkles
As I mentioned in the last diary, one of the advantages of Inside Zone is that you can run it out of almost any formation without changing much about the OL blocking scheme (though of course a speed/spread team like Oregon will emphasize somewhat different things than a power/pro-style team like Wisconsin). That said, the traditional I-Form does pose specific problems for Inside Zone, which may explain why we never ran it all that well (or often) under Borges.
The primary reasons for lining up in the I-Form are: A) to send the FB to the LoS in advance of the RB; and B) or to pick up an unblocked defender before he trashes whatever play you're trying to run. In a zone blocking scheme, the FB would either double one of the down linemen (allowing an OL to release to the second level), pick up an unblocked man (either a DE/edge crasher or interior gap crasher) or simply move forward to the second level himself, thus theoretically giving the RB an extra block to work with.
In practice, though, sending the FB to the LoS can create “clutter,” reducing the number of gaps for the RB to choose from and thereby simplifying the decision-making process for opposing LBs. Plus with Inside Zone, as with the Zone Read and Inverted Veer, you really don't really care what the backside edge rusher does--so why waste offensive personnel blocking him? After all, if you run the play as it's supposed to be run, there's little way for him to get to your RB in time to affect the play.
Also remember that Inside Zone depends on the RB getting to the LoS with a head of steam, and trying to do that when there’s a bigger, slower FB in front of you isn’t easy. The result is a play that develops too slowly to do the things it’s designed to do. The RB gets to the line without much momentum, with fewer holes to choose from, and facing LBs more likely to be crashing the one gap left for the RB to run through. It can still work if the OL does its job and gets to the LBs, but the brilliant thing about Inside Zone is that it can still work really well even if they don’t.
Consider this video of Eddie Lacy running Inside Zone for Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame, which Ross Fulton featured in his primer on Alabama’s offense for 11W:
Alabama has six on the line, with a U-TE on the left edge and an H-back lined up behind him. Notre Dame is, I believe, in a 4-3 Over with a cornerback aligned close to the LoS. Alabama runs the play and scores on a 20-yard scamper. But pause the video at 0:08 and notice the gaping hole outside—which Lacy ignores. Also notice that the blocking isn’t actually all that good: the RT gets a terrible angle on the DE he’s assigned to block, the RG falls down en route to the nearest LB and there are 3 defenders unblocked and in position to make a tackle--and then remember that Alabama fielded an OL of n00Bs just like we did.
Meanwhile, back at 0:08, the LBs have not committed yet and are holding their zones. If Lacy dithers, they can close the gap. If he chooses to bounce outside, the MLB can probably catch him before he turns the corner, as well as expect support from the cornerback (who is out of our view). So Lacy just flies through a gap that’s near imperceptible from the viewing angle, but which goes right between the C and LT—and also just in front of the LG, who is now occupying the MLB. That gives Lacy one LB (WLB) to beat by the first down marker and the SS in space, neither of who have much of an angle on him, given the kinetic energy he has accumulated by this point. The free safety is too far back to help much.
I remember Bob Diaco’s defenses being hyper-aggro gap shooters, which begs the question: why don’t they shoot the A-gap from the snap, as happened to us so often this year? The answer: because of a few things made possible by Inside Zone and the specific formation Alabama uses. Recall that gaping hole outside that Lacy does not run through, the one between the Y-TE and LG/LT. If the MLBs does shoot the gap, Lacy can perform a cutback. The WLB, meanwhile, is constrained by the H-back, who looks as if he will (and does) run into the flat. If it’s a bootleg or playaction pass, and the WLB shoots the gap, the H-back will be wide open. This isn’t even taking into account the threat that Alabama will call a screen—that whole “constraint theory of offense” thing again—or an Al Borges-style playaction pass, rendered more frightening by the fact that this is Alabama 2012 and not Michigan 2013.
The H-back is also worth lingering on, as I assume Nussmeier will import this position to our 2014 offense. Rather than anticipate the RB to the line, the H-back runs across the LoS to playside, where he either picks up a block or releases as a receiver. This opens up the possibility of a QB run off the bootleg, or a Bo-approved Waggle.
You can think of the H-back as a converted TE or FB—basically a blocky/catchy type. And that’s pretty much what he was under Nussmeier at Alabama. But I like the idea of using a little speedy guy who can block like a mountain goat—someone who can get lost in there, and even take a handoff or two. Think Vincent Smith (but fast!) or Dennis Norfleet (but blocks like Vincent Smith!).
If you add the threat of a handoff to the H-back, then Inside Zone starts to take on characteristics of the Triple Option. (Note: you can do with with a WR as well, a la our paltry attempts to get a running game going against KSU with Funchess, or Texas at 0:48 in this video.)
Does that sound tempting, Brady Hoke? I bet it does! After all, you get that whole flexibility and constraints thing that differentiates the modern from the paleolithic offense, but you still get to push people around at the LoS like big, bad Alabama does. Come to think of it, that's probably the exact thing you had in mind with this whole Nussmeier hire...
Next Time on Zone Blocking Zealot…
That’s probably enough for this week. Next week I’ll compare Inside Zone to that other base inside play: Power O. I will elaborate on the distinctions between these two staple plays, both in theory and practice, while expounding on the case for Inside Zone as the most functional approach for Michigan 2014. See you next time!