Four Plays – Utah @ Michigan 2014
I’ve always respected Kyle Whittingham’s Utah program. Whenever I watched his teams play in the past, they impressed me as tough, physical squads that got the most out of their talent. The Utes took down BYU on the road last season and followed that up with a stunning upset against Stanford, so they've shown the ability to compete with anyone. Even so, I wasn’t particularly worried about this game heading into the season. The Utes ended up 5-7 the past two years and haven’t finished in the AP top-25 since 2009.
That changed a bit after I read up on ths year's Utes. Utah’s quarterback, Travis Wilson, is a 6’7” (!) dual-threat (386 rushing yards in 2013) coming back from an intra-cranial artery issue. They have talent at WR and RB, and in the off-season landed spread guru Dan Christiansen--i.e., the guy who ran Mizzou’s offense in the Chase Daniel era--as their offensive coordinator. They've already put up 115 points in their first two games, plus they have a serious playmaker on defense in DE Nate Orchard.
But while Utah looked pretty formidable on paper, I was a bit less impressed after watching some of their game against Idaho State on video. The Utes really are not stout against the run, and while they have a few outstanding playmakers I just didn’t see the usual physicality that I associate with vintage Utah teams. This game should be a good all-around challenge, and Michigan isn’t going to win with a -4 turnover margin performance--but I’m still pretty confident Michigan gets the win so long as they take care of the ball and find a way to cope with Nate Orchard.
Now, let’s look at some matchups.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. 26 Power
Somewhat ironically, Michigan’s best running play this season (not counting the jet sweeps to Norfleet) has arguably been not Inside Zone, but the play Michigan could never really get off the ground despite years of trying under Al Borges: good ol’ Power O. Maybe it has something to do with catching opponents by surprise, maybe all the years of practice are finally paying off, who knows? But the play is easier (mentally) on the running backs and Magnuson has looked good pulling this season, so hopefully the success continues.
Shown here from an offset I formation against Utah’s base 4-3 Under, Power O attacks the “6-hole” between offensive tackle and TE. Key features of the play include: (i) the RT and TE will double-team the opposing SDE at the point-of-attack; (ii) the LG pulls and leads the tailback through the hole; (iii) the tailback cuts off of the LG’s block. Note that Utah runs a 4-3 Under front and calls its strongside LB the “Stud” and the weakside LB the “Rover.”
LT Mason Cole: Down-block WDE Nate Orchard
LG Erik Magnuson: Pull and lead through hole; block first defender (likely MLB Jason Whittingham)
C Jack Miller: Down-block 3T Sese Ianu
RG Graham Glasgow: Down-block NT Clint Shepherd
RT Ben Braden: Block SDE Hunter Dimick (try to seal him inside)
TE Jake Butt: Double-team SDE Hunter Dimick; then pop-off and progress to second-level
FB Joe Kerridge: Kick-out block on “Stud” LB Uaea Masina
RB – Derrick Green: Counter step, then receive handoff and aim for 6-hole outside RT, cut off of Magnuson’s block
While Michigan’s running game remains a work in progress, Utah (i.e., Nate Orchard) has 21 TFLs and a nation-leading 11 sacks through just two games. Despite the impressive statistics, however, the Utes’ interior DL looked soft against FCS Idaho State. With Jake Butt taking another step toward a full return, Kerridge off to a strong start, Magnuson exceeding expectations, and Green starting to live up to his billing, I am cautiously optimistic here. Orchard is a beast though, and Michigan’s young line still makes too many mistakes to warrant the advantage.
2. Shallow Cross
As even the most casual football fans can tell you, there are few better ways of attacking man coverage than with crossing routes. And when it comes to crossing routes, there are few better concepts than the shallow cross—a quick-developing, safe play with an easy triangle read for the QB. So it’s no surprise that the shallow cross is among the most popular passing plays in football, and reportedly a long-time staple of Doug Nussmeier’s playbook.
Shown here from a shotgun look, the TE and flanker will cross on the right side of the formation, while the slot receiver runs a “choice” route in between them (the choice route is a fade, which the receiver converts into a comeback route if he can’t get over the top). This route combination promises to generate a massive amount of traffic in one spot on the field, which will hopefully catch up at least one defender.
XWR Amara Darboh: Run post (7) route vs. BCB Eric Rowe
RB Derrick Green: Run flat route covered by Rover LB Jared Norris (or, help Cole pass protect vs. WDE Nate Orchard, then release to flat)
LT Mason Cole: Pass protect vs. WDE Nate Orchard
LG Erik Magnuson: Pass protect vs. 3T Sese Ianu
C Jack Miller: Pass protect vs. NT Clint Shepherd
RG Graham Glasgow: Pass protect vs. NT Clint Shepherd
RT Ben Braden: Pass protect vs. SDE Hunter Dimick
UTE Jake Butt: Run flat route, covered by MLB Jason Whittingham
YWR Dennis Norfleet: Run choice route vs. NB Justin Thomas
ZWR Jehu Chesson: Run 5-yard in route vs. FCB Davion Orphey
QB Devin Gardner: 1-step drop; read “inside-out” from Z to Y to Y; if Z open, throw as back foot hits on pass drop; if covered, hitch and throw to Y if open; if covered, hitch and throw to U if open.
Utah is reportedly strong at safety, but its corners and LBs are suspect. A play like this matches Michigan’s quality receivers against that weakness. The primary reads come open under the safeties, and as a quick-developing play it limits Orchard’s chances of getting home on a pass rush.
When Utah has the ball…
3. Inside Zone Read
Still probably the quintessential play of the Chip Kelley/Urban Meyer axis of spread offense, the Inside Zone Read works just like the regular Inside Zone, but buys the offense an extra blocker by using the QB run threat to option-off the backside DE. That means covered linemen will block the defenders lined up across from them, while uncovered linemen will head to the second level.
The general rule in defending zone read plays is to make sure the ball winds up in the hands of the less-dangerous threat. In Utah’s case, the backs (Devontae Booker and Bubba Poole) are considerably better runners, so Michigan will want QB Travis Wilson to keep. The simplest way to accomplish that is to have the WDE, who is normally responsible for defending the C-gap (outside the LT), exchange gaps with the WLB, who is normally responsible for the B-gap (between the LG and LT). That way, the WDE can crash down on the running back—and when the QB pulls and attacks the C-gap, the WLB will be there waiting for him (in theory, anyway).
WDE Frank Clark: Gap-exchange with WLB Joe Bolden; backside pursuit of RB Devontae Booker
NT Ryan Glasgow: Defend backside A-gap against LG Junior Salt
DT Willie Henry: Defend playside B-gap against RG Isaac Asiata, constrict playside A-gap
SDE Brennan Beyer: Defend playside D-gap (outside TE) vs. TE Westlee Tonga; backside pursuit if QB keeps, set edge point and force run back inside if QB gives
WLB Joe Bolden: Gap-exchange with WDE Frank Clark; defend backside C-gap vs. LT Jeremiah Poutasi, set edge point and force back inside if QB keeps, backside pursuit if QB gives
MLB Jake Ryan: Defend playside A-gap vs. C Siaosi Aiono
SLB James Ross: Defend playside C-gap vs. RT J.J. Dielman
This is the first of two games that will tell us whether Michigan’s stout run defense is the real thing or just fool’s gold. Both of Utah’s featured RBs have big-play speed, and can beat you both between the tackles and on the edge, so it’s a true matchup of strength vs. strength.
4. All Curls
Different teams run All Curls different ways, but the basic concept is to attack Cover 3 by having four receivers occupy the four underneath defenders, then stress one of the flat defenders by sending a fifth receiver (i.e., the running back) into the pattern. Of course, that means the play is not particularly effective against man coverage or even against zone schemes that leave five underneath defenders (e.g., Cover 2 Zone). But Utah ran All Curls to good effect against Idaho State, using the play to stretch the Idaho State defense horizontally and create one-on-one match-ups for the Utes’ superior athletes.
As Space Coyote explained in the comments to the Miami UFR, Michigan ran Cover 4 as its base scheme against the Red Hawks. All Curls is not a particularly good call against Cover 4, because the CBs stay in man coverage on the outside WRs and the WILL picks up the RB releasing into the flat. But the only other downfield Utah pass play I was able to discern from Pac-12 Network’s broadcast looked like a version of Levels, and that play isn’t particularly effective against Cover 4 either. So, FWIW, here is Utah’s All Curls play against the Cover 3 scheme we hope to see Michigan run very little of.
Before the snap, the QB chooses one side of the field to attack (based on the defensive alignment). At the snap, each receiver runs a 5-10 yard curl, attempting to sell the vertical routes before settling into open areas. The quarterback reads outside-in, and has an outlet to the releasing RB in the flat.
BCB Jabrill Peppers: Drop to cover deep 1/3 zone (sideline to hash on weakside)
NCB Blake Countess: Cover weakside flat vs. WR Dres Anderson, RB Devontae Booker
WDE Frank Clark: Pass rush vs. LT Jeremiah Poutasi
3T Willie Henry: Pass rush vs. LG Junior Salt
NT Ryan Glasgow: Pass rush vs. C Siaosi Aiono
SDE Brennan Beyer: Pass rush vs. RT J.J. Dielman
WLB Joe Bolden: Cover hook/curl zone on weakside vs. WR Kaelin Clay
MLB Jake Ryan: Cover hook/curl zone on strongside vs. TE Westlee Tonga
FS Jerrod Wilson: Cover deep middle 1/3 zone
SS Jeremy Clark: Cover deep 1/3 zone (sideline to hash on strongside)
FCB Jourdan Lewis: Cover strong side flat vs. WR Kenneth Scott
The Michigan secondary has the talent to stick with Utah’s receivers and Travis Wilson is not an overly-impressive passer. But Michigan’s pass rush still can’t seem to get home, and that same vaunted secondary had a rough outing in South Bend and now face an at least comparable set of receivers in Dres Anderson and Kaelin Clay. Deep-down I think M really has the advantage here, but I’m calling this even until the young DBs prove they can perform up to their talent level in a big game.
I hope the Chobani flows like wine in the Big House tomorrow. That would be a WOW EXPERIENCE™.
We all saw the short-kick return fiasco last week, but that's not what worries me most.
I was at the game and paid attention to Wile and Hagerup during warmups. It seemed to me that both of them were very inconsistent. Even though Wile made his FGs during the game, IIRC they were not down the middle (seemed to pull them left somewhat).
Did anyone else notice this?
This year, the University is celebrating 100 years of the aerospace department (of which I'm a grad, yayy). Here is the flyover schedule for Saturday, it's awesome (with pictures because I'm an aviation photogrpaher):
B-17 'Yankee Lady'
B-25 'Yankee Warrior'
This here's 'Panchito' but similar color scheme to 'Yankee Warrior'
P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre, F-100 Super Sabre
Not necessarily flying together. I've heard the F-100 will do an afterburner pop over the stadium, which is really cool. Might make ya jump.
Lockheed Electra Model 12
T-34 Demo Team
There are also three helicopters listed:
And that's all I'm allowed to say ;)
EDIT: Also, don't expect these to all fly together. An F-100 can't really fly slow enough to stay in a good formation with a P-51 (see Thunder Over Michigan Airshow 2013). I've heard that they will start doing flyovers at about 3:15.
It was a good week for the Wolverines, winning by 24 points 34-10. While some questions remain for the offense, the defense seems to have assumed an identity. Week 4 rankings include 4 Big Ten teams with Nebraska ranked the lowest (24th) and the only ranked Big Ten team to remain undefeated. MSU(11) keeps the highest spot coming off a bye week.
Last week recap:
Winners: Iowa State(+12.5) @ Iowa 20-17
Nebraska(-10) @ Fresno State 55 -19
Kent @ Ohio State(-32) 0-66
UL Lafayette @ Mississippi(-27) 15-56
Losers: Houston @ BYU(-18.5) 25-33
Penn State @ Rutgers(+3.5)(for the WIN) 13-10
Georgia(-5.5) @ South Carolina 35-38
BYU is a good team but is too undisciplined to go very far this year. One of their starting def. lineman was thrown out because he tried to punch a guy. I’m just saying. Rutgers looked like they should have gotten the win last week but they seem to be afraid of success. Welcome to the BIG TEN!
SoFlaWolverine adds Washington to his win column.
Maize_in_spartyland adds TCU and Wakeforest to his win column.
For those of you who can’t wait till Saturday, here is Thursday’s most interesting matchup:
Auburn(-8.5) @ K-State:
Power Rankings: AUB 4 K-State 17
Auburn(5) moved up 3 spots in the power rankings, is 2-0 and 0-2 ATS. This will be their first challenge away from home and their first match up against a ranked opponent. K-State is 2-0 and 2-0 ATS. Both teams are 2-0-0 O/U. Last year Auburn beat K-State(20) 23-13 even though K-State outgained them 316 TOT – 291 TOT. Coates is out for Auburn this week and this could have an impact on the game as he accumulated 902 yards in receiving with 42 catches last year. Auburn is ranked 31st in def. this year but only 48th in rushing def. This is coming off opponents ranked 110th and 3rd in rushing, so it might not be that concerning but K-State is ranked 32nd in rushing off. K-State def. is ranked 23rd and had a good showing against Iowa State. I see Auburn winning this game by a field goal and a mutual offensive struggle.
K-State to Cover and the Under
A look around the Big Ten
IND @ Missouri(-13):
Power Rankings: IND 80 MIZZ 18
Indiana just lost to BGSU and struggled to beat their instate rivals, need I say more? I will anyways. Mizz comes off a strong win against UCF 38-10 and shouldn’t have any problems against Indiana. I’m guessing Vegas is concerned about the air raid that is Indiana’s only offense. I’m not, since UCF possibly has the best receiving core in the FBS. Get in on this line early to keep a 2 touchdown win.
Missouri to Cover
Utah @ Michigan(-5)
Power Rankings: MI 35 Utah 61
Michigan’s defense seems to be passing the eye test, and the numbers agree as they are ranked 7th overall and 10th and 23rd in rushing and passing. Last week UM was able to finish some drives but Utah is ranked 39th in rushing def. so far. The O/U seems low to me but I’m still not willing to bet UM puts up their share of points. Utah is ranked 14th in Off. This could be a very frustrating game to watch, or boring if you’re the type of fan than needs Michigan to put up 50 points a game. As a fan, Utah scares the hell out of me. As a real Michigan fan… I see Michigan winning this game by at least a touchdown. Utes are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 vs. Big Ten.
Over is 4-0 in Utes last 4 games following a SU win of more than 20 points.
Over is 6-1 in Utes last 7 games after accumulating more than 200 yards rushing in their previous game.
Wolverines are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in September.
Wolverines are 0-7 ATS in their last 7 vs. Pac-12.
Under is 4-0 in Wolverines last 4 games in September.
Disclaimer: I don’t bet on Michigan sports. I refuse to bet against them for one, and I am way too biased. Since I follow them so religiously, I can always find an insider reason to hype them up. So, take it for what it’s worth.
Michigan to Cover
Iowa @ Pitt(-6.5)
Power Rankings: Iowa 32 Pitt 51
SJSU @ Minnesota(-8.5)
Power Rankings: MINN 40 SJSU 116
I’m hoping the TCU game has mired anyone willing to bet on Minnesota. This line seems a little low as a result and SJSU got embarrassed by AUB. I’ll take a flyer on this one.
Minnesota to Cover
Southern Illinois @ Purdue
Power Rankings: PUR 76
No one seems interested in this game so….. No action.
Massachusetts @ Penn State(-26.5)
Power Rankings: PSU 33 UMASS 113
Miami @ Nebraska(-7)
Power Rankings: NEB 20 Miami 41
Miami has the 8th best def. but is only ranked 89th in off. so far. If Nebraska can get their offense rolling this could be a very good game. Nebraska is ranked 8th in def. and shouldn’t have any problem holding Miami to 3 touchdowns. Nebraska is ranked 43rd in redzone def. this year. That should be enough to keep Miami kicking field goals, which they seem more than willing to do this year with Goudis having 50+ yard range. I’m staying away from this line but I’ll pick up some O/U action.
I’ll take the under
Maryland(-1) @ Syracuse
Power Rankings: MD 73 SYR64
Eastern Michigan @ MSU(-45.5)
Power Rankings: EMU 122 MSU 12
Texas State @ Illinois(-14)
Power Rankings: ILL 60 TXST 86
Rutgers @ Navy(-6)
Power Rankings: RUTG 65 Navy 57
BGSU @ Wisconsin(-27)
Power Rankings: WIS 23 BGSU 116
Bowling Green is 2-1 and 2-1 ATS. Wisconsin is 1-1 and 0-2 ATS. WIS is ranked 9th in def. but an atrocious 88th in off. They are however 39th in rushing. BGSU is ranked 23rd in off. and 125th in def. There is a huge mismatch on both sides of the ball. In a game of rock, paper, scissors, Wisconsin def. beats BGSU off. Wisconsin has never lost to BGSU and is 3-0 in the series. Last week’s BGSU Indiana game really has this line screwed up. It opened at -21.5 and I don’t see it stopping till after -29. Wisconsin’s star running back only rushed for 38 yards on 17 carries against Western Illinois 2 weeks ago (they had a bye last week). He had a good showing against LSU the week before though. WIS also returns their 2 best interior def. lineman. They were injured against LSU and I really think WIS would have won that game if they hadn’t been. I wouldn’t wince at this line if Wisconsin was 2-0 and BGSU didn’t complete a game winning drive late against a pathetic Indiana team. BGSU has a very fast paced off. completing 133 plays against Indiana. Wisconsin has held opponents to an average of 59.5 plays so far. Wisconsin is poised for a lopsided victory this week but I’m not sure how lopsided. I would wait till the line moves above -28.5 and take BGSU if I wanted this action. Instead, I’ll just take the under as it’s 4-0 for the Falcons.
I’ll take the Under
Western Illinois @ Northwestern
Power Rankings: No action on this one… Yawn
This week’s top ranked matchup: happens to be on Thursday, so… I bring you… wait for it…
Clemson(24)@ Florida State(1)(-17)
Power Rankings: FSU 3 (Damn) Clemson 24
For perspective, Clemson falls directly between Nebraska and Ohio State in the power rankings. Clem is 1-1 and 1-1 ATS while FSU is 2-0 and 0-2 ATS. Clemson’s only loss is to Georgia 21-45. Clem is ranked 27th in off. and 6th in def. FSU is ranked 42nd and 43rd in off. and def. respectively. They are also coming off a close win against Oklahoma State 2 weeks ago. Clem loss in embarrassing fashion to UGA their first game of the season. The last 2 times these teams met FSU won, tying a ten game series. In the 27 times they’ve played FSU has won 19. This game looks to be FSU’s last challenge to an undefeated season. In fact, FSU has a 73% chance to win every game this year, giving them a 40% chance to go undefeated and make the playoffs. This is more than double any other team in the FBS. It’s almost enough to make you sick. This line opened at -20 and I think it is about where it should be. However, last year’s Heisman winner J. Winston has been suspended the first half of the game for using vulgar language… %*$# This was released yesterday so expect the line to drop a little. Looking at the offensive struggles against UGA, Clemson looks like they could blow the best opportunity they’ll have to get back into playoff contention. But against South Carolina State, Clem put up 737 yard in a 73-7 win. If the Seminoles can stop Clemson’s pass game they will cruise to an easy victory as no one for the Tigers has more than 82 yards rushing. This should be a great game to watch, and a chance to route for Clemson to spoil a potential repeat.
Clemson to Cover
Now, your surefire win of the week, guaranteed to make you look stupid and lose you 50 dollars in the office pool:
Texas A&M(-33.5) @SMU
Power Rankings: TAM 10 SMU 127
Coming in at a 75% consensus, this week’s sure fire win will feature the most dynamic offense in the country. TAM is 3-0 and 2-1 ATS. SMU is 0-2 and 0-2 ATS. TAM is ranked 4th in off. and 68th in def. so far. They’re coming off a season opener win against South Carolina, 52-28, where they decided on this year’s game plan, keep the opponents offensive off the field by keeping your offense in their end-zone. They also put up 73 points against Lamar, so there’s that… SMU is ranked 128th in off. and 105th in def. They are however ranked 43rd in pass defense. I expect that ranking to drop about 20 spots after this week. SMU’s starting QB is also out for the season with an injury. This game couldn’t look worse for SMU.
Aggies are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 road games vs. a team with a losing home record.
Aggies are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games on fieldturf.
Aggies are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game.
Mustangs are 0-4 ATS in their last 4 games in September.
Mustangs are 0-6 ATS in their last 6 non-conference games.
Over is 7-1 in Mustangs last 8 games following a S.U. loss.
Texas to Cover and the Over
Who you Pick’n?
Any comments and suggestions are welcome. Good luck at the races!