mesmerism! presidential assassinations! circuses on fire!
Tom always MIKEs before he hikes.
We here at MGoheadquarters recently received some disturbing news about today's youth:
Devin Gardner on SiriusXM: "Before coach Nuss got here, I never had to identify a MIKE ... now I know where pressure's coming from."
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 20, 2014
Kids these days are running around playing three or four years of Division I FBS major conference Block-M-Michigan football without ever identifying the MIKE. !. This sudden revelation has caused widespread histeria. Al Borges has been fired 180 times in the last several hours, and right now Dave Brandon and key personnel are closed off with Rich Rodriguez, deciding whether he needs to get a superfluous extra axe as well. This is calamitous. Catastrophic. Grievous. Pernicious. Regrettable. And avoidable.
What in the name of Double-Pointing Brady Hoke are you people talking about?
MIKE (v.): The act of identifying the middle defender inside the box on the 2nd level for purposes of establishing protection assignments.
It's basically calling out the defense's alignment, using a very simple mechanism: declare one linebacker—the one in the middle of the defense—to be a fifth guy that the five linemen are responsible for blocking.
|Chad always MIKEs before he hikes.|
This is often, but by no means always, the middle linebacker, which many defenses call a "Mike," which is where the term comes from. This is important: the [guy playing the defensive position called] Mike doesn't get to be all-time MIKE. In fact the very reason we MIKE is because Mike the Mike might not be the MIKE, and not knowing this might get your quarterback very badded.
Why is MIKEing important to my children?
Because if the MIKE blitzes there's no way for outside protection to pick him up, so the offensive line has to assign everybody's blocking with that guy accounted for somehow. Defenses LOOOOOOOOVE to screw with this because that's how you get unblocked blitzers, and unblocked blitzers right through the heart of the OL are the best!
When the defense screws with you, you don't have time to point at everybody and say "you block him; you block him." So ONE guy calls out the MIKE and everyone else in the blocking scheme already knows what that means. Usually they call out what sounds like a playcall—it's just a blocking call. "Tango!" "Lightning!" "Red!" "Green!" "Taupe Carpet!"*
|Brian always MIKEs before he hikes. [James Squire|Getty]|
Like in running, pass pro can be man or zone (slide protection). Man makes sure every defender who could be blitzing has a guy assigned to block him (or as is often the case, a man who checks one guy then looks to another). In zone they're blocking gaps: A gap, B gap, C gap, etc. Whatever protection scheme, they have to "declare the MIKE." What they do from there depends on the scheme.
* My dad used colors/nonsense words for playcalls: Blue Jumbo, Yellow Turbo, Purple Eskimo etc. Since he didn't like to use the same "play" twice he got pretty deep into the crayola box before parents' complaints in re: his Lombardi cigar ended his coaching career.
[After the jump, Y U NO MIKE, DG?, and you learn to MIKE]
why u no push [Bryan Fuller]
Might as well get it out of the way. The offensive line was pretty depressing. For big chunks of the scrimmage it was ones versus twos, which helps resolve the classic intrasquad "is this event good or bad" dilemma: when your second-team defense is stoning your first team offense, it is bad. And they did stone the offense:
The rotation Saturday was more stable in comparison with last season, but the three running backs gained just 33 yards on 20 carries with the first team, and the blocking issues haven’t gone away.
In this case it is maybe less bad than otherwise because there's little separation between Michigan's first- and second-team front sevens. But it is still bad.
One disturbing echo of last year: when Glasgow got dinged up and went out, it was Joey Burzynski who drew into the lineup at right guard on the first team. No offense to Burzynski, but the guy is a 6'1" gentleman coming off of ACL surgery. Surely one of the touted 6'5" guys should be ahead of him on the depth chart by now.
Kalis was out and I imagine he has managed to pass Burzynski, but his presence indicates that Samuelson and Dawson and Bars and so forth and so on are not yet viable options. And where's Bosch? On the second team, yes, but why isn't he pushing for a spot?
I can't tell you too much about any particular lineman without tape, unfortunately… Cole held his own in pass protection, so there's that.
in yo face [Fuller]
Aggression. If you needed further confirmation it is real, well, it's real. Michigan ran piles and piles of man-to-man—all the better to unleash Peppers on opponents with—and took a number of PI flags ranging from obvious to silly to questionable. They must clean those up, but with Michigan going hell-for-leather in your face this year the QB has to get it on target for it to count.
Encouragingly there weren't many biffs that led to wide open guys in the flat. Wyatt Shallman had one flare-and-run that broke for a bunch of yards when his man got picked off by the route. That will be a danger: if Michigan doesn't have a reasonable amount of zone those plays will be there.
Hello Mr. Hurts. I just misspelled "Hurst" but I'm leavin' it. Mo Hurst burst into the backfield three or four times, once getting a thunderous safety TFL. As a recruit he was reputed to be a first step that happened to be attached to a human body, and that looks on point. No doubt he will have issues holding up to double-teams as a 282-pound redshirt freshman; from here it looks like a promising debut season and considerable excitement going into next year are waiting in the wings.
Who is where at DT? And will they stay there? Your nominal starters were, unexpectedly, Matt Godin and Ryan Glasgow at three-tech and nose, respectively. There was a ton of rotation at those spots, so much so that determining a Real Starter seems not only futile but pointless, but if those two guys are actually viable that's interesting. Because it's not like Willie Henry is going away:
Willie Henry is looking really good out there. Pancaked Chris Fox on that play.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) August 17, 2014
He will start; Godin's existence is a nice bonus. I'm a little less enthused about the prospect of Glasgow as a candidate to start at nose because there isn't a groundswell of buzz behind a couple of established players like there is at three-tech. Pipkins has gotten some approving mentions but nothing like that accompanying Henry, and while Mone is set to be a contributor he is a true freshman.
Undeserved lemon? Bolden was first choice at WLB but Morgan rotated in so frequently at both positions it seems like they just have three starters for two spots. Like DT it is at times pointless to think one guy is a starter while the other is not. This bodes well.
Bolden did just annihilate one screen, laying the hardest hit he has on anyone since his arrival. Hesitancy has been the main issue with his game since his arrival. If it has truly clicked for him, that's exciting. He is not beating out a scrub here.
Youth movement at corner. Also in "not beating out a scrub here": Lewis and Peppers are definitely your leaders there; rotation will be frequent. Countess did have an excellent INT on a Gardner throw destined for Funchess, but even so it seems like two returning starters on a decent pass defense have been booted from the starting lineup.
Darboh and Gardner have chemistry. [Fuller]
Wideout depth is quality. Michigan has their big 5 (Funchess, Darboh, Canteen, Chesson, Norfleet) and then some: Moe Ways brought in four or five catches that were reminiscent of Junior Hemingway, and while he was working on a walk-on wearing 49 for some of those the way he found the ball in the air and brought it in was impressive.
Walk-on Bo Dever showed some promise as a Dileo-type in the slot; he was Speight's favorite target; fellow walk-on Jack Wangler was also reliable. No idea if either has the athletcism or route chops to get real playing time. They've got a chance. FWIW, Stribling had a nice interception on a Dever wheel route that he had blanketed. That is not his jam.
On the negative side, Da'Mario Jones had a bad night, dropping several balls that should have been catches. Jaron Dukes didn't do much.
Oh, and the top end is rather top end.
— Richard Blasey (@sockrrich) August 17, 2014
The first downfield pass was Funchess making a spectacular stab while well covered. Yes, please. In general, the WR/CB matchup looked top-notch all around. Michigan receivers found very few open opportunities and still made some great catches. Freddy Canteen once again reminded Jourdan Lewis that the gypsy he offended needs an apology. And Amara Darboh looked very, very Avant-like on a series of slants and digs that promise to be reliable chain-movers this fall.
If Michigan can pass protect there is the potential for a passing-oriented offense to work here. If.
All the zone reps. Every OL drill in the warmup portion was zone-oriented, and about 90% was inside zone. They worked in pairs against one opponent, reacting to his movements to execute combination blocks, and then worked on IDing and reacting appropriately to stunts. As the scrimmage showed, it is a work in progress. It's going to be a work in progress all year, and all next year, and the year after that. Inside zone is hard and competence is built up over years.
Another safety solution. Hill was held out; in his stead the first team safety combination was Clark and Wilson. The twist: it was Wilson frequently creeping to the line as the strong safety with Clark playing center field.
Gardner looked good. He's fast!. He's still a little wobbly with the decisions. He looked very accurate when given time, and stepped up through pressure more than once. His only flip-around-and-chuck was a ball he was throwing away; he did have one aimless bomb downfield that should have been out of bounds but was instead up for grabs that Nussmeier did not like.
Morris looked a lot more plausible than he did in the spring, more comfortable in the pocket and less prone to throwing directly at defenders.
Injuries. Butt and Hill were in no-contact jerseys; Reon Dawson had an arm in a sling; Delonte Hollowell had a hard cast on one hand for what looked like a thumb issue. Hollowell participated as normal. Drake Harris dressed normally but didn't even take the full warmup reps with his bros. Ty Isaac was held out with something minor, and Kalis had his back issue. He should be back today.
Meanwhile, any and all optimism about Butt's return seems reasonable. He went through warmup drills with everyone else and looked just fine. If he's at the stage where he can plant and cut at full speed with a month before ND he should be ready to go by then.
Return reversal. In a bit of an oddity, it looks like Peppers is more likely to get time as a punt returner than at kick returner, where Raymon Taylor was Norfleet's backup. Usually kickoffs are where you blood new guys because a muff just means you got a touchback or some bad field position instead of disaster.
Hagerup! Booted a 70 yarder, drawing the first applause of the night. #B1G.
The thing that is hilarious. Dennis Norfleet stacked behind Devin Funchess. We do not have a photo of this yet, but when we do… oh, when we do.
Phil Collins count: 0.
I think we killed it. I didn't mention this all last year because I didn't want to jinx it but after not only the nonstop music from the spring game but also this scrimmage, I think I can finally poke my head out and say: "In The Big House" is dead. Deaaaaaaaaad.
I swear to God, Special K, if you bring it back after I mention this I will find you. That's the best thing about making up a fictional bete noire DJ: you can threaten it all you want.
Formations. Michigan at least showed a lot of stuff, mixing under center snaps with the pistol and shotgun. The formations featured a lot of 2TE looks, and what seemed like a decreased emphasis on the FB. Nussmeier really likes motioning FB/RB/TE types out wide to trips formations, which gives the defense a dilemma: do I run a linebacker out there and tell 'em it's man coverage (and spread the box) or do I live with the potential mismatch that comes when one of my corners is dealing with AJ Williams?
This will get more interesting when Butt is on the field. Right now a 2TE lineup of Williams and Heitzman or Hill is emphatically 2TEs; with Butt you can really put a defense in a bind.
Corner blitz hot reads. Two or three times Gardner IDed a corner blitz and just threw a hot stop route to the vacated corner for nice gains.
FLEET house KO. High five!
Practice video. From Maize and Blue News:
Jane previews Michigan! Oh man this is just so dead on:
We long for a past that we hated while it was happening, in which Michigan would go 9-3 or 10-2 and people would complain like Michigan was a waiter who we couldn't find when we just wanted the goddamn check. If a Michigan fan tells you that they liked Tom Brady when he was playing at Michigan, they are lying because no Michigan fan ever liked whomever was starting at quarterback until Denard Robinson. We hated Elvis Grbac. We hated Brian Griese. We hated John Navarre. We hated Drew Henson. We hated - HATED - sad robot Chad Henne*.
I tended to like Michigan's quarterbacks who were not underclassman Drew Henson, and I knew the one guy who really really liked John Navarre. Like, he was super-enthused about John Navarre. And eventually correct!
More insider business. A gentleman who is probably too identifiable for his own good comes back with a very legit-seeming practice report that he's posted on a couple of different boards. The 247 version, all errors sic:
DL looked great, really great. all the hype is backed up. Pipkins looks the part, even coming off the injury. on friday he was easily the most impressive NT that they had, that by no means is discounting mone, hurst, or henry. Their depth and talent at the position although young, is very, very good. Even pallante looked good!! yes, he is small, but ive spoken to a few players who say he is as strong as a senior and one of the quickest most technically sound players there.
I imagine that if that's true we'll see at least one of those four guys (Pipkins, Mone, Hurst, Henry) at three-tech, which currently has Wormley and no one else who's gotten much hype.
That's not good. Nebraska lost three defenders for the season a couple days back, including two starters: Michael Rose and LeRoy Alexander. That'll help when Michigan… uh… we don't play them this year, or until all those guys graduate. CARRY ON.
That's not… uh… relevant. Reporting from media day!
“The job that he does and the job that he’s done since the day he got here, has been unbelievable,” Mattison said with a sweaty upper lip. “Me personally, there is no way I would have come here if it wasn’t for Brady Hoke.”
That typed itself, I bet. I bet Brendan F Quinn was mesmerized by the lip and when it came time to write the article that phrase slipped itself in there and if you ask Brendan F Quinn about that passage he will be shocked that it exists. You see, I've been there, down on ol' Lip Mesmerization Farm. It's a strange, sweaty place, but you get used to it.
No age gap now. Another article on how the offensive line is going to be better because they all like each other:
"There was an age gap last year, and it was just there," Bosch said. "It was just something that was obviously noticeable. You could tell 'these were the seniors, you were a freshmen.' That's how it was."
No chance of that this year, because there are no seniors. For the record I think the line will be better this year because they will be trying to do one thing instead of all things and not necessarily because they are more together. Or that they are Galvanized By Criticism:
Those stats and the barrage of negative press regarding Michigan’s offensive line have helped galvanize the linemen. Jack Miller, a redshirt junior who started the first four games at center last season, said they are more than aware of the doubters.
No doubt they will Shock The World and Not Listen To The Haters. I mean, Miller's following quote is twisted pretty hard to get into that narrative:
“Between last year and this offseason, you’d be hard-pressed to miss that if you pay attention to anything,” Miller said. “You run into fans who say stuff — ‘What’s going on with that offensive line?’ But that’s the way it goes with any program of this caliber. We know that. We know that’s part of the gig here, and that’s OK. Some of it is rightly so. We need to live up the expectations that people have here.”
A good rule of thumb: when someone cites chemistry as a reason for something it's because they don't know. Chalking it up to the undefinable cannot be disproved or really even argued.
Getting on the the WJC team. College Hockey News profiles Downing and Motte as they try to avoid being late cuts this time around. USA coach mark Osiecki on Downing:
“We’re still trying to identify what (Downing’s) strengths and weaknesses will be,” Osiecki said. “He has a bomb from the blue line, that’s for sure, there’s no doubt about that. His awareness from the red line back has continued to show improvement. It’s hard for a defenseman to jump into summer hockey. You haven’t done much defending at all, and he likes to get into the offense when he can, but he’s getting back to it on the defensive side of things.”
Downing says he's put on 25 pounds; hopefully he'll be more of a physical presence than he was last year, when he was more lanky than intimidating. Motte dumped in a hat trick in the USA's 9-1 thumping of Finland, playing with uber-prospect Jack Eichel.
For his part, JT Compher is not so much fighting to make the team as fighting to be named king:
While a few players have stepped up, it's obvious Compher has emerged as the frontrunner to be captain of the team.
"He's done a really nice job," Osiecki said. "There's a group of those kids that are similar, but you talk to any of the support staff, the trainers, the equipment personnel, and they say he's very vocal and takes charge of the group. We have to start that now and develop that relationship between him and the coaching staff."
I am looking forward to the Copp/Compher axis truly owning the team this year. Jack Eichel:
"He does everything on the ice so well," Eichel, a teammate on the USNTDP U-18 team in 2012-13. "He's a guy that you can just try to model your game after. He just so good wherever he is, in the faceoff circle, in the [defensive] zone, he's great killing penalties, great on the power play. He's a role model to me and I really look up to him. He's a great kid and a great leader. He works so hard everywhere. Everyone else tries to match him. A guy like that on your team, it's really good. Everyone tries to work as hard as him, and if everyone works as hard as J.T., you know you have a good team."
How do two stars get drafted? By adding half a person.
Ra'Shede Hageman, No. 35 overall, gained 60 pounds
Hageman was a well-regarded but raw tight end recruit who grew from a listed 6'6, 250 to 310 pounds while at Minnesota, moving to defensive tackle. He's expected to make an instant impact for the Atlanta Falcons.
Jimmy Staten, No. 172 overall, gained 86
Staten was a 6'3, 217-pound two-star defensive end in high school when he signed with Middle Tennessee State. The Seahawks drafted him at 6'4, 303.
At least nine other drafted two-stars increased their body weight by 20 percent between high school and the Combine.
You really shouldn't criticize recruiting services for missing on guys like Staten or Buffalo first-rounder Khalil Mack—everyone else did. There are always going to be guys who blow up in college.
Etc.: In news that you take for granted these days, all of Michigan's freshmen are enrolled and full go. A look at what Loeffler wants to do at VT. Autonomy details. Annual Michigan drill thingy. Gasaway on the O'Bannon ruling.
News bullets and other important items:
- Delonte Hollowell has a cast on his hand and Ondre Pipkins was held out of two-a-days as a precaution.
- Shane Morris is the backup QB. They like the progress he’s made, but he’s the backup.
- Wilton Speight is competing with Russell Bellomy for the third-string QB job. Decision on whether Speight should redshirt will be made in a couple of weeks.
- The first team offensive line should be determined over the next week.
- May use by-committee approach to running backs, but they would like to have a featured back.
- Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith are 1 and 1a on the RB depth chart, with Derrick Green at 2.
- Team is still searching for an identity, though Hoke wants it to be one that can run the ball and have toughness on both sides of the ball. Toughness was mentioned a lot today.
- Brian is probably going to have to eat a lemon.
“Good morning. I’m glad you’re here. Overall, we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made from spring. I think in the practices that we’ve had, we went two yesterday-- really good effort and good competition, which is what we’re striving for at every position but also offense versus defense, the kicking game versus the kicking game, all those things, we’ve come out and competed hard. Now we are not, as far as being a good football team yet. But the way they’ve come to work every day and what they’ve done, I think the identity of this team is still one that we’re developing and trying to develop. I think the team has invested themselves in a lot of ways in each other and in what we’re trying to get done. This next week is a grind and should be because you’ve got some double-day practices in there. We’ll scrimmage sometime during that time, during that week, trying to get reps and see what matchups we like as an offense and defense. Really looking into the situational football standpoint of it, how we match up and how we will match up during the course of the year. Excited about where we’re at knowing that we’ve got a lot of hard work that we’ve got to put into it. Staff-wise, player-wise, trainer-wise, manager-wise, everybody that’s involved. So from that standpoint there’s a lot of positives. From the standpoint of where we want to be, we’re not near that yet.
Can you say anything particular about any injuries that have occurred?
“You know,there are some guys who are banged up. Delonte Hollowell, he’s got a cast on his hand. As far as anything real major besides a couple guys we held out, Ondre Pipkins in two-a-day days, trying not to overwork him. We’re doing a lot with some of the GPS tracking that we’re into. I think the first time around doing all that stuff you’re trying to get some baselines and some data and all that and I think that’s helping us when we go out to practice.”
What can you tell me about your thought process through the kicking game this year? Special teams particularly, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of new faces. So what can you tell me, from long snapper to holder to PK…
“Yeah. Matt Wile has done a nice job in his career so far in the kicking part of it. Will Hagerup, it’s great to have Will back. He’s had a good camp so far. Kenny Allen is a young man who’s walked on here who’s worked really hard and is developing a little bit on kickoffs. He’s a very good punter. Snapper, Scott Sypniewski and Danny Liesman are two guys that are really competing there. Scott we brought in a year ago and were able to redshirt him, but losing Jareth Glanda, that’s a big loss but Scott’s done a nice job in that part of it. When you look at the return game there’s a lot of different guys. Norfleet’s really taken most of them but a guy like Freddy Canteen, a guy like Jabrill Peppers, some of those guys have a skillset that we think is pretty good. And the other part of that is having Drake Johnson back is a real plus.”
I’m curious to know how is the development of your wide receiver group going and the transition to a new offensive system?
“The wide receivers, I think, are learning every day. I think the pressure and the stress that we put on them and how we practice as a whole team but for those guys when you’re talking about formationally getting lined up and the different personnel groups and depending on what the quarterback sees and what he’s pointing and all that, I think they’re learning a lot there. I think with Devin [Funchess] and Jehu [Chesson], Amara [Darboh] coming back is a real plus for us. He’s had a real good camp so far. Again, it’s not like we’re in three weeks of it but he’s done a nice job. Freddy Canteen, I think all those guys, Bo Dever, Da’Mario Jones, all of them have improved. They fit what we’re doing. We’ve recruited them to fit what we’re doing offensively.”
[After THE JUMP: Jake Ryan, leadership, Gardner, and more.]
By the end of this article you should be able to make an educated guess
as to what Braden is saying to A.J. Williams [Fuller]
You may have heard Michigan has a new offensive identity, by which of course we mean Michigan now has an offensive identity. We think. We're told. Evidence for this is Michigan hired a new OC who runs inside zone, and he has even Brady Hoke talking about it being our base thing. This thing is totally happening. I mean if they hadn't sworn up and down for three years that Power was going to be their thi...
Let's just not go into that and focus on inside zone and how to watch inside zone, and how to be correctly disappointed with the correct person when inside zone isn't run very well. Since this is a new thing, and the offensive line are all relatively new things themselves, and the recent history of Michigan football has given you no reason to believe otherwise, and there are some really good defensive linemen Michigan has to go against this year, let's concede right now that Michigan isn't going to be running inside zone very well this season, especially early. Let's pretend like the coaches are going to stick it out anyway and let it play out.
IZ Resources: As well as the above-linked articles, I drew from Chris Brown at Smart Football, and this article that quotes Chris Brown on a Philly Eagles website. And Space Coyote wrote an entire article on IZ and some plays that stem from it in this year's HTTV; I'm sure he'll pipe in as soon as I mess something up here.
|Every blocker is responsible for whatever defender appears in the "zone" he's responsible for blocking.|
A Temperate Zone
What's inside zone? Maybe it's best to start with what it's not: man. In MANBALL, most linemen have an assigned guy to block; a lead blocker (sometimes a puller) is the only dude who has to make a tough, mid-play decision, and the running back just has to follow that guy.
Inside zone is a base running play where all the blockers are reacting to the defense, not just a lead guy, and the running back has to choose from among various holes that could open up. It takes a different set of skills, mastery of a different set of blocks, and most of all: reps reps and more reps so that everybody can make split-second decisions and those decisions will be correct.
That's not to say all decisions are made after the snap. In fact most blocking assignments are determined by how the defense is lined up. In many cases it won't be all that discernible from man-blocking.
yellow is uncovered. click bigginates.
The read OL have to make is whether they're "covered" or not. Covered means there's a DL lined up across from you. If there isn't, you are "uncovered" and most likely you'll get to go hunting linebackers. But first you look next to you and see if there's a defender shaded to the playside of your buddy; he may need help with that lineman before you release downfield. If that defender is a beast your buddy may need all the help he can get. You deal with the first level defenders before you worry about stopping linebackers.
Almost always, more than one defender will arrive in a blocker's zone. So zone blocking means lots of shared blocking. Ultimately the blocking ends up being 2-on-2 instead of 1-on-1. For example in captioned illustration above-right, the center and right guard are together responsible for blocking the nose tackle and the middle linebacker.
Offensive linemen in high school seldom get the right footwork down. Zone-blocking footwork isn't the same as pile-driving some dude, for one; and two it's not something many high school coaches know how to teach; and three if you're a 6'6"/300 future Big Ten OL and your job is to block a 6'0"/180 future Big Ten economics major, your greatest motivation to pay attention to your feet is probably the preservation of your prom date's.
In this moment it matters greatly. You need to get off the snap, get playside of your defender, get downfield, and get your feet set beneath you, your hands inside, and your pads beneath his so you can ride him out of the play, stonewall him, or shove him downfield; you let him dictate his fate.
On inside zone, an uncovered guy's first step is always to the play-side, not directly toward the guy you're going to block (the OL taking this step is a good indicator it's a zone-blocked rather than man-blocked play). This is because the DL don't always come straight upfield; you don't want them running by you.
Your job is to block the guy trying to cross you. If someone lined up inside you and ran further inside you, he's not yours. Your head stays downfield until you lock on a target, and any object that attempts to cross your field of vision must be stopped.
That Rabbit's Dynamite
Interesting example of a 1) a cutback and 2) the U starting on the strongside of the formation then executing his backside block almost like a lead blocker
Mastering the combo blocks and footwork to respond to all the things defenses throw at you takes a bazillion reps. The upside: inside zone, like option offenses, is a multi-attack threat that can go where the defense doesn't. A called IZ play could end up going outside, or inside, or cut to the backside depending on how your opponent defends it. A well-run IZ offense doesn't let defensive fronts play aggressively; if they want to stop you they'll have to activate the safeties in the run game, opening up the pass. It's not wimpy; it's smashmouth football that—as you'll see—relies mostly on crushing blocks to break things big.
[After the jump I'll show some sample executions versus various defensive alignments so you can get a sense of how it attacks and what factors lead to its success.]
As it turns out, taking this kind of beating has a long-lasting effect. [Fuller]
We all know that a well-timed hit on a passing quarterback, whether or not it results in a sack, makes it far less likely that pass will be completed, not to mention more likely to fall into the hands of a defender. It stands to reason, as well, that the cumulative effect of multiple hits on a quarterback will eventually affect his performance even when he's not taking hits.
Devin Gardner's 2013 season stands as a testament to this hypothesis. After the MSU seven-sack breaking point, there were several occasions when it seemed like he simply didn't have the juice to make certain throws that he didn't have any trouble making before his body was demolished piece by piece.
A recent article from the excellent site Pro Football Focus helpfully quantifies the effect of such punishment on a quarterback's accuracy and interception rate, using a data sample of every NFL throw from the past six years. As a quarterback takes more hits over the course of a game, their accuracy predictably plummets—on every throw, not just the ones when they're eating a defender:
After every sack or hit the quarterback takes, their Accuracy Percentage decreases by an average of a half of a percent. While that might not seem like much, there also isn’t much difference between the best and worst quarterbacks in the league. Based on the graph, an above average quarterback after five hits or sacks performs as well as an average quarterback with no hits or sacks. Once that above average quarterback has been sacked or hit 10 times, they play as well as a below average quarterback who hasn’t been sacked or hit.
The article also shows that interception rates increase substantially as the hits pile up, and more experienced quarterbacks are much better at mitigating these effects than rookie signal-callers—something to keep in mind when considering the relative merits of Gardner and Shane Morris.
When looking at Michigan's 2013 season, there's no question Gardner was a victim of this phenomenon. There's also evidence that he's better than most at handling the heat:
|2 sacks or fewer||152||94||61.8||10.1||7.9||3.9|
The heroic Ohio State (3 sacks) performance skews the numbers, though in fairness, so did Indiana's defense on the other. Even so, Gardner performed markedly better when not under constant pressure, especially when it came to producing yards and points.
The oddball interception rates can be chalked up to the concerted effort by Gardner to make fewer risky plays as the season went along. The desperation throwaways that resulted in stuff like the Stephon Tuitt pick-six turned into sacks intelligently taken as the season wore on, to the benefit of the turnover margin and serious detriment to Gardner's health and ability to make big plays on the ground or through the air.
So here's the hopeful part. Imagine a world in which Michigan has a running game that can move the ball forwards, forcing defenses to respect the run instead of pinning their ears back and going full-bore for Gardner's chest. Imagine a coherent Michigan offense that finds a way to counter the constant opponent blitzes. Imagine a full season of an offense directed by an NFL-level talent who doesn't end half his games resembling a coal miner.
This could very well be Michigan's reality in 2014. If it is, expect Devin Gardner to do big things.