On Saturday, Michigan faced third and three and, for probably the first time in 20 or so years, called a designed quarterback run. Here it is:
Okay, empty backfield and wide splits on the defensive line. Seems like a pretty good setup, but there is one issue: this play is designed to go between the DT to the right of your screen and the DE to the same side. Without a lead blocker one of those linebackers will nail the slow-ish Threet before the marker.
To allay this, Michigan is going to try a reach block by Molk on the DT, which will allow Moosman to head downfield on the linebacker.
What's a reach block? Uh… well…
Using the left guard again, to “reach” would be to get around the defensive tackle, and use his right shoulder to pin him to the inside, so that a ball carrier can go around you to the left. Again, it is about getting the face mask in “front” or beyond the defender to get the shoulder pad in position. Seriously, line up with a friend sometime and try to reach block to your outside, you will appreciate linemen athleticism much more.
The idea is to get Molk around the defensive tackle so he can seal him, creasing the two defenders, as Moosman heads downfield to take out a linebacker. If this sounds hard, it is. I lost this in the ether, but at one point during my research for Hail To The Victors 2007 I came across one coach's description of a bunch of different blocks, ordered by difficulty. "Reach block by the center" was #1.
Real UFR diehards may remember a common bitch from the last couple years that usually went something like "Kraus attempts to block a DT lined up playside of him, but he shoots into the backfield/flows down the line to tackle/eats a baby." These were all attempted reach blocks gone bad.
(A "scoop" block, as I understand it, is basically an assisted reach block. Moosman banged the DT back and helped Molk get over, that would be a scoop.)
And all this stuff is supposed to be hard when the DT is lined up to your outside shoulder. Here the DT is lined up slightly outside of the guard(!). How is this going to work?
You can see the line shifting to the left here, and you can see that the DT is now between the two OL. The wide splits were a pass rush gambit—tougher to block outside that way—and the first step of the DT is upfield, not down the line.
Molk makes contact and he's in decent position here given the relative momentum here, but he's still got to get his helmet across the player, then anchor as well as he can to preserve the crease between the two OL. Chris Spielman, by the way, is currently doodling on the DE, who is still in pass rush mode.
Molk is now full of win, playside of a guy who lined up a yard outside of him at the snap. Moosman is in great position to block the MLB, but doesn't have to because he's getting cut to the ground. Minor is about to block the safety-type object.
Woop! Open spaces, first and goal, and a one-yard Minor touchdown follow.
Object lessons. I picked this play out of all the various things for a variety of reasons. To wit:
I think Molk might be pretty good once he is enormous-er. I brought this up earlier in the year, but Molk was a fringe top-100 guy who was the only real OL recruit brought in after the shift to zone blocking. He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.
The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.
(This is the long way of saying I think GS was unduly harsh on Molk this week in the Run Chart; he should get more credit for these reach blocks.)
You can only make a reach block if the defense lets you. I'm not a coach or an expert or anything but over the last three years I've watched a ton of stretch plays and have come to the conclusion that if the DL steps the right way and you have been tasked with a reach block, you lose.
And the thing is, either way can be the right way. Last year Penn State's Ollie Ogbu had three TFLs and a half-dozen more plays he forced into unblocked defenders because he was shooting behind the attempted reach block. Penn State slanted their DL all day, and if they got a zone left they strung it out and if they got a zone right they came under it and did even more damage.
Diversity. The reason Michigan's run game was so successful against Penn State was because of its diversity. For much of the first half, Michigan had Penn State defenders expecting stretch and getting something else.
The results are, for the first time, encouraging. The rushing game against Penn State this year and last, sacks excised:
|Year||Carries||Yards||Avg.||Opp Rush D|
Some of that improvement is the decline in Penn State's defense, but raise your hand if you think the Penn State defense declined more than the Michigan offense.
Right, no takers.
How? Well, I found a three-play sequence on Michigan's first touchdown drive interesting. Michigan had been moving the ball and found itself in fourth and one. Penn State slanted into the backfield and should have had Minor(+2!) dead; Minor squirmed out and got the first. On the next two plays, Penn State went back to the slant—back to the successful gameplan from a year ago—and got cut for a total of 14 yards and a first down because Michigan ran the same play you see above and that backside veer play. Michigan had Penn State guessing in a way that Carr never did, IMO, and that's a large reason why WVU's ground game was near the national best in YPC.
Of course, all that died in the second half, but there's only so much diversity Michigan has at this point. If they had a reliable passing game (read: Threet with elbows) or a better offensive line or some rocket quarterback they'd be able to punish Penn State's adjustments to their run game; as it was they just ran out of things to do.
Carr says things here; the captains say things here. Full audio here. There wasn't a lot from the captains that can be used as tea leaves for the position battles ongoing, but Jake Long did drop a couple names on the offensive line:
â€¢ On sophomore offensive lineman Stephen Schilling ... "He's had a great camp so far. He got a lot stronger in the off-season, and he's got quick feet. I think he's really impressed the coaches. He's been pushing guys around and his footwork has gotten better. He's only been here two weeks and he's been able to pick things up right away. He's a smart guy. He's powerful. I'm really impressed with how smart he is. He's picking everything up real well and improving the offense."
On the younger players on the offensive line ... "They've really stepped up. You can really tell that Stephen (Schilling) worked hard in the off-season. You can tell he got a lot stronger; his footwork and technique has gotten a lot better. He has a great work ethic, and you can tell he really wants the job. David (Molk), for being here just over two weeks, he's really picked up the offense. He's a smart guy, and he's so strong and powerful. He's really been impressive in his blocking and picking up everything he needs to."
Molk's push has been made possible by injury to Alex Mitchell and Jeremy Cuilla, who was one of many guys missing a week here or there. He moved over from center. Impression: wary. I liked Molk as a recruit, but he's pretty undersized and is a true freshman. Seeing him on the field against anyone other than Appalachian State would be uncomfortable. Schilling, OTOH, has a death grip on right tackle and looks on his way to a Jake Long-level career.
Carr had a lot more to parse. More on Schilling:
At right tackle, Steve Schilling has had an excellent fall. He's an extremely talented guy, with great size and athletic ability. He's a guy that is smart and that loves to play. He will be a great player here someday.
"Mark Ortmann has done a very good job and has competed well. Perry Dorrestein ... it's just too close to call at this point."
I call BS on the "too close to call" given the nonstop Schillingfest going on -- Carr was responding to a general question about all of the position battles going on and went right to him. He's the man.
We have a kickoff guy: Bryan Wright. We do not have an actual kicker. Frowns. Alarm. Etc. I do like that Wright has a big leg and has locked down the kickoff job. With kicks from the 30, an excellent kickoff guy is worth his weight in gold. And it can't be Brabbs/Neinberg/Finley bad, right? Right?
"The fullback competition is very intense. Mark Moundros has had a very good fall. Vince Helmuth is competing well. I think that will go right down to the wire, as far as the fullback position."
Probably not a huge deal either way.
Middle linebacker is down to two:
At the Mike linebacker position, John Thompson and Obi Ezeh -- those two guys are really in a spirited competition. I think it's safe to say both of them are going to play a very important role.
This answer is more notable for the absence of JUCO transfer Austin Panter than anything else. A redshirt is now a serious possibility. Carr said the competition would extend into the fall.
On the weakside, Jonas Mouton is one of a parade of ankle sprains/twists; Chris Graham has "really improved as a pass defender." Graham retains the starting job going into the fall.
Cornerback, 2007's Position of Dread:
Johnny Sears has had an outstanding fall. He's a guy who when we recruited him ... he really played a significant role a year ago on special teams. He made some great plays on the kickoff. He's a guy that plays without any fear. He's a very tough, hard-nosed player, and I think he's really matured at the corner. He's had a very good fall.
That's the second shout-out from the coaches after English raved about him on WTKA. I and anyone who saw him last year remain skeptical, but Sears is a guy whose potential might take a bit longer to reach given his lack of high school experience. Brandon Harrison also got the "excellent fall"; "Vance was very pleased" with Morgan Trent. I dunno how well this meshes with both Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk seeing the field as freshmen.
Free safety is not necessarily Stevie Brown's job:
Stevie Brown is really a physical player. He's still a young player, has a lot of things to learn. Charles Stewart has made the move in there. I like both those guys; I think they are both going to play. I think they are both guys that are going to make a real contribution in a lot of areas on this team. That position right now is probably up for grabs, so we'll see what happens there.
A classic glass half-empty or -full situation. Is Brown not worthy of the hype? Is Stewart proving himself a useful safety? Dunno.
Johnny Sears has done an excellent job returning punts. We practiced yesterday morning in the stadium in a torrential rain. It was a very valuable practice from the standpoint of learning how you have to play different when the ball is wet. That's particularly true in the return game, as a receiver, as a quarterback and center ... I think we learned some things yesterday. ... Greg Mathews is really a reliable guy in terms of handling the football, and that's what a return guy has to prove.
I like this answer. No offense to Mathews, but when his name is plugged as a potential punt returner images of Diallo Johnson dance in my head. Sears has speed to burn and it appears he's the leader at the moment. Also called out as potential guys here: James Rogers and Donovan Warren. I would still expect a Rogers redshirt.
Kick returners mentioned: Brandon Minor(!) and freshman tailback Avery Horn. Carr mentioned some tailback depth concerns with using Minor, which was my initial thought too.
Right tackle is Schilling's; the line is set assuming a reasonable return for Mitchell. Panter is not the starting middle linebacker; Sears, Harrison, and Trent are all getting unreasonable amounts of praise that could be highly dubious. Stewart and Brown are locked in a battle for the free safety position; someone will return kicks and punts.