I thought that myself when I read that article that talked about a Data Scientist(tm)
FORMATION NOTES: Northwestern stuck to a 4-3 virtually the entire game, with pretty predictable rules as to how they would line up.
When Michigan aligned its strength to the short side of the field and had twins, NW would slide the LBs and play an even front. They would slide the LBs to the twins and shift their line to the strength of the formation when M aligned with their strength to the field.
When Michigan presented Ace, they would play a 4-3 under.
The primary exception to this was the redzone, where Northwestern played their safeties as extra LBs.
Five yards off the LOS and coming on the snap is why those two Derrick Green carries from around the ten ended up losing yards. The first one was actually blocked quite well.
Note that the way NW aligned consistently invited the bubble fake run game, as their corners played off and the slot LB had to respect the bubble. With a safety over the top those two guys removed three players from the box and left Michigan with seven on seven blocking opportunities without having to use the threat of Gardner's legs. It will still work if teams play Michigan like this; if they don't Michigan will have to find something else.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB, WR, and the OL were all as you would expect. Dileo seemed to return full strength in this one and this meant Jackson was removed. Paskorz got some early PT but it was Williams most of the way as inline blocky guy. The line remained Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield save for some goal line plays on which Kalis game in at RG and weird stuff happened otherwise, like wing TE Taylor Lewan.
Running back was of course an overhaul, with Derrick Green getting the bulk of the work, De'Veon Smith becoming a 30% second, and Justice Hayes acting as a third down back sometimes. Joe Kerridge also got a few snaps as a running back in the shotgun on passes.
[After THE JUMP: wherein we seem relatively happy with nine points in regulation.]
SITE NOTE: due to this taking longer than I wanted it to and triple OT, UFR will be in the evening today.
Devin Gardner threw many passes that hit Northwestern defenders on Saturday, a good number of them I CAN'T BELIEVE HE DROPPED THAT interceptions. There were moments when I was going over the game where it seemed like it wasn't really all that bad because of thing X or thing Y, and then moments where it was very, very bad. So I thought I'd pull this out of a larger UFR discussion and try to evaluate just what happened on the various passes on which Gardner's throws hit Northwestern players.
Normally I wouldn't put batted passes in here, but there were a few incidents where batted passes were the only thing separating Northwestern from yet another pass that hit them in the hands and was inexplicably dropped, so they are also added.
Category #1: Understandable Items
#1: Gardner gets a heavy rush due to a bad blitz pickup, escapes it, and tries to throw late to a covered Devin Funchess; ball gets batted down at the line.
That's probably a PBU at worst, and he's under heavy duress.
#2: Michigan botches a freeze play when Northwestern jumps but does not cross the line. Gardner thinks he's got a free play and tries a back shoulder fade to Gallon that could be farther outside; it's a nice play by a DB who seems totally bailed out to come back to the ball and a poor one by Gallon not to break this off sooner once he perceives the DB is way over the top. The DB actually reads this obvious back shoulder opportunity before he does; he should be breaking back so that he gets to the ball before the DB.
#3: Third down rollout on the next play sees no one open. Gardner tries to fit it in to Dileo anyway, and leaves it a little inside of where it should be. Gardner's about to be hammered and goes for it.
This wasn't really close to an INT and you might as well try for the first down.
Category #2: Death-Defying Really Bad Ideas
#1: The first incident of this variety happens three minutes into the second quarter. Gardner drops back, pump-fakes a slant to Funchess, and then throws it.
He does get pressure from another crappy slide protection on which Lewan ignores a DE, and unless Gallon is open deeper to the outside the best case scenario here is a sack if he does not throw the ball. That was the move.
#2: Gardner bobbles a snap on third and three and comes up firing a wheel route that NW jumps and is thinking pick six on; they blitzed and left Jake Butt screamingly wide open.
The snap bobble takes Gardner's eyes off the defense and contributes here. Still: turrible.
#3: Michigan fortunate to have a slant batted down at the line as Northwestern undercuts whatever Gardner is looking at, in fact with two guys in Butt's case.
Gardner had Gallon as an option on the other side of the field.
[After the JUMP: another category, and evaluation.]
Despite watching this approximately 457 times, I'm still in utter disbelief that this worked. Things required to have this happen:
- Jeremy Gallon immediately pitching the ball to an official.
- That official rugby-tossing the ball to the umpire.
- The umpire placing the ball down and getting the hell out of the way.
- FIRE DRILL LINE CHANGE.
- Drew Dileo, barely in the frame when the camera zooms out, realizing after a split-second hesitation that he must sprint to the right spot and slide into position.
- Jareth Glanda snapping the ball at the last possible moment so the line doesn't draw a flag.
- Brendan Gibbons marking off his steps at warp speed, then drilling a 44-yarder despite still moving backwards at the snap (which is legal, as covered in today's mailbag).
100% complete insanity, indeed.
If you're wondering about the identity of the guy in the black jacket running around like a manic behind the goalposts, that's Greg Dooley of MVictors. Livin' the dream, Greg.
[The rest of the Northwestern game in GIFS after THE JUMP, including Brady Hoke RAWKING OUT, Devin Gardner sacrificing life and rib, Derrick Green truck stick, and more angles of the miraculous field goal.]
11/16/2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT) – 7-3, 3-3 Big Ten
In the long history of clock-running fire-drill field goal attempts there has been only pain and misery. When the game's about to end and you're trying to fling six guys on the field and take six off and align your kicker such that he can calmly take two steps and boot, you're gonna die.
Everyone knows this. Pac-12 refs know it so well that they don't even bother with last second field goals anymore as long as the defense squats on the ball like a hobo over a purloined chicken. Northwestern's student section knew it and was counting the clock down to their first Big Ten victory.
That's something I missed live and had to pick up on replay because I was dumbly staring at a horde of people exiting, a horde of people entering, focused on a line that I knew for a fact would not be set. So I also missed Drew Dileo sliding into his holder spot and recovering an instant before Glanda snapped it to him, possibly tipped off to exactly when he needed to get the ball off, set or not, by the numbers ringing out from the students.
Michigan's not set, in all probability, but there's no flag and Dileo's recovered from his sprawl and Gibbons ceases moving backwards, which oh by the way he is at the snap. Moving backwards. This is just an indicator of the doom to come—catch, placement, kick, overtime, whereupon it was ordained by fate that Michigan would pull this game out of their butt. Like it was nothing. Like it was always going to happen like that.
Because This Is Michigan, and That Is Northwestern.
The time for turning up your nose at any win, no matter how alarming, is past. Michigan could beat Akron on a triple reverse Hail Mary that Akron intercepts and fumbles out of their own endzone for a safety and it would be time to wave the flag and say hurrah.
So let us duly wave the flag. It is good to see the team happy. In the aftermath, various players tweeted out "Go team," each instance more delightful than the last, and then Taylor Lewan got piled on for following the crowd. Kyle Bosch did this.
— Kyle Bosch (@Kyle_Bosch65) November 17, 2013
And this time, Gardner destroyed the jumbled heap of pointy bits and gristle he calls a rib cage for a purpose. That purpose is looking an awful lot like not being in Detroit for a bowl game—SORRY, right, waving the flag.
While unit X's shocking incompetence is a callback to the Rodriguez days, so is feeling good for the put-upon players after a narrow win against a bad team. Even if I am in a emotion deprivation chamber for the rest of the year for my safety and that of people around me, the way you get out of those is by having good things happen, and that was a good thing.
It was also an obvious thing. My game previews have always been made in a spirit that says predicting things is dumb (thus the weird scores), but damn if this wasn't easy to call:
Michigan wins! On some bulllllllllshit that causes Northwestern fans to self-immolate.
Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman has questionable taste in hats
This is what Northwestern does. Sometimes it's in the service of preventing a Big Ten championship game appearance, like it was last year; sometimes it's keeping you winless in that Big Ten. Either way, you could feel both sides of that stadium preparing to lose as Michigan embarked on the dread two minute drill. This one ended in chaos and fiasco, as they all do, but at the end Michigan managed to pull itself together and execute. Northwestern's bad mojo still trumps all.
That's not going to lead anywhere important—this season ends with an abattoir named Braxton Miller. In a landscape as bleak as the weather on Saturday, though, any ray of light is a welcome one. Let us forget about our worries and stare blankly into the butt of next week, ignoring what that hammering sound ahead might mean. It's probably meant for some other cow. Yeah. Otherwise I would not be so calm and tranquil.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. This is a tough one because while the defense held Northwestern to nine points in regulation, nobody really stood out as the single best guy on that unit. I think we will go with James Ross, though; Ross had an important sack and nine solo tackles amongst 13 total; his speed and ability to get to the right place was a major factor in Michigan suppressing Northwestern's option game.
Honorable mention: Jeremy Gallon had ten catches. Brendan Gibbons was perfect on the day. (Matt Wile missed the 51-yarder.) Wile dropped punt after punt inside the 20 and had a 50-yarder. Collectively, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith had a stat line that looked like an actual running back: 27 carries for 120 yards.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan executes the first and only successful clock-running end of game field goal fire drill in the history of football. Go team!
Honorable mention: Jibreel Black sacks Siemian to put Northwestern in a deep hole in the third OT, Jake Butt's one-hand stab gives Michigan a torchclown, Joe Reynolds flags down a punt at the one, subsequent Northwestern punt goes out at the ten, Derrick Green runs through a guy for a 20-yarder, Gardner leads with his ribs into the endzone.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
[AFTER THE JUMP: decisions, waggles, I hate Illinois rollouts, a brilliant GIF, and physics.]
TUBE NOTES: They didn't put the tubes on TV! ABC –1,000,000. WHERE ARE MY TUBES, ABC?
FORMATION NOTES: Nebraska often responded to Michigan going under center with running an under package with a safety walked down, sometimes to the line, like below…
…they blitzed a ton from this.
Michigan is occasionally having Funchess in a three-point stance but split out about a body length from the tackle. I have not given this its own name yet; we'll see if it sticks around.
You can't see the outside receiver here, but this is "shotgun trips inner stack TE". Shotgun = obvious. Trips = three WRs to one side. Inner stack: look, they're stacked. TE: there is a TE.
And there was this.
It has been discussed; Funchess is covered for reasons of sorcery.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Michigan is settling down for better or worse. Gardner the whole way, Toussaint most of the way and occasionally replaced by Green on plays that were almost all runs because Michigan is more afraid of him as a blitz pickup guy than Toussaint. WRs were Funchess and Gallon primarily with Chesson getting the bulk of the remaining snaps. Dileo had only a few snaps, most obviously the last one.
OL was the usual now: Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield. Kalis made a couple of appearances in goal line type sets as a sixth OL.
Michigan's main churn at this point is at tight end. Butt is the main guy now. Paskorz got some snaps, as did Williams, though Williams seems to be getting fewer and fewer as the season goes along. Michigan tried a couple plays with Houma as a wing TE, which didn't work too well.
[After THE JUMP: I regret to inform you that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not apply to football games and observing this left it just the same.]
Michigan couldn't get yard one with the veer against Nebraska, and most of them ended up with an unblocked Nebraska player blowing up Gardner. It is time to look at them. For some reason. Why didn't I start a blog about 1980s hairstyles? 1980s hairstyles never make you want to rub your face in gravel.
I digress. The first one comes on Michigan's first drive. A late blitz has just seen a power O slanted to and blown up for a one yard loss; it's second and eleven on the 24.
Michigan comes out with an H-back and two tailbacks in a twins formation, which necessarily means that the slot receiver is not an eligible receiver. Nebraska responds with 7.5 in the box, with the gray area defender just about splitting the difference between Funchess and the tackle.
On the snap Bosch pulls and the gray area guy sits and stares the backfield down.
Michigan shows veer action with Kerridge leading Toussaint to the outside; Michigan blocks the playside end, which would mean they're expecting to option the slot defender except 1) Kerridge is out there, so they're using one of their blockers on him anyway and 2) Gardner does not appear to be reading him but something further inside, if he's in fact reading anything. Gardner's awareness of this slot defender seems to start after the mesh point.
You can see that Gardner's helmet is not pointed at the slot defender as he starts making his decision:
What's he reading? Is he reading anything? I don't know. it doesn't seem like it. Watch the video in real time to get a feel for it. Toussaint does react like a guy who might get the ball, juking the blitzer, so I guess they're reading something. What is unclear.
Meanwhile, Kerridge is expecting the slot guy to contain upfield; instead he shoots upfield inside of him hard, too hard for him to adjust to.
Gardner pulls and seems to sense a disturbance in the force now; he goes straight upfield.
Toussaint dodges the blitzer, running into Gardner; Kerridge is prone, Gardner starts stumbling, and his momentum is taking him into the chest of an unblocked LB.
It's now third and nine, and Gardner's soul is now worn 1% more.
Items Of Interest
Optioning no one. We're back here, in year three. Michigan has a rudimentary read option game on which their QB doesn't know what to do too often and gets plays blown up, but here we're back to last year's Alabama game, where the defense made it so that Michigan's option plays didn't actually option off a defender, with similar results. No matter what happens on the edge here, the play still spends Kerridge and Toussaint on one defender and leaves an unblocked guy.
It would be one thing if I'd ever seen this fullback on the edge thing work. I have not. At best it's wasted him as he blocks a guy shooting up on the edge who is trying to contain Toussaint; at worst:
I'm about to get some comments about how this is Gardner's issue or Kerridge's issue and that Borges can't be held responsible for the results of this play. Sure. Any one play can be traced back to some execution error by the offense.
These posts are an effort to explain trends I'm seeing in the offense with particular plays, though, and this kind of half-ass option is par for the course. Michigan cannot get the fullback to be useful on these read option plays, and hasn't made him useful for three solid years.
This is the kind of stuff Denard papered over by being Denard. Even when Michigan was eviscerating Ohio State two years ago, they weren't really optioning anyone and it was left to Denard to make the magic happen against an unblocked dude at the LOS:
Michigan was fortunate that was a freshman Ryan Shazier on one leg. When you don't have Denard and you've turned your quarterback's ribs into a fine paste already, you no longer get 41 yard touchdowns and instead your unblocked dude gets a tackle for minimal gain, or more likely a loss.
They've had Kerridge for three years now and Gardner that long and Toussaint that long and they still can't get them to execute a real option. Either they're not trying or they're not coaching. And either way…
How is this supposed to work? It seems like the idea here is for the slot guy to run himself upfield outside of Kerridge to maintain a force back inside and then for Gardner to hit the gap between him and the rest of the defense. Nebraska beats that idea by using the slot guy super-aggressively.
How do you make this play work? Nebraska understood that Michigan's formation meant Funchess was not eligible; the gray area defender had no thought of a pass and ended up blowing up the play. But you can still make this work since Nebraska is sitting so deep with the safeties. Michigan has two options here: shooting Kerridge at the LOS, leaving Toussaint to his own devices, or using Kerridge to attack the slot defender and put Toussaint on the edge into acres of space.
This is the kind of thing you could come back to later with a tweak and bust a big gain. Clearly there were no big gains on this day. This design isn't necessarily bad; the inability to see what Nebraska is doing and get rock to their scissors at some point is. I mean, if you get this again and block the dude the defense has no force player, which means you get a lot of yards. This move by Nebraska violates a cardinal tenet of sound defense and works because they win on RPS, and if you probe at what they're doing here you can beat that. Instead Nebraska just kept chewing up Michigan's offense.
Hooray covered slot receiver. Hooray. I will never understand the point of that. If Michigan had some package where the ability of the H-back to get to the backside of the play meant something, okay. Instead you get nothing and if the D recognizes it, as they seem to here, you're playing 10 on 11. Temporary voluntary red card.
Again, maybe this is some sort of genius but since I've never seen it do anything productive it just seems dumb.