chance of bowl: 13.6%
Question; can a game that unfolds almost exactly the way you thought it would unfold be considered "weird?"
Chappell looked like a great pocket passer. Willis did his damage in limited oportunities. Denard was Denard (except when he wasn't).
But here's the weird thing. That game made me feel a whole lot better about the years to come, but it also made me feel a whole lot worse about the rest of this season. That is to say that I've come back down from the ND high of WOOOOOO dENARD!!!! WHOOOOHHHOOOO! Back down to 7-5 or 8-4 reasonable expectations. (Yes it is entirely possible we go 2-5 from here on out, and I'm steeling myself against that scenario. Still hoping for 12-0 of course!)
I know the mathlete just put up some good predictions that has us at 9 or so wins. Unfortunately our defense has a couple of things that just aren't going to be fixable for this season. Those two things are named 'inexperience' and 'James Rodgers'. It's never nice to get on a kid's case and call him out by name, but...yeah.
HOWEVAH! In the near ironic board meltdown following the close win, I had to take a stand against some of the negativity and offer up some silver lining for the maligned defense. After breaking down the tape, I'm even more convinced that Robinson knows what he's doing, and that we've got brighter days ahead next season and beyond.
We are soooo close to having a good defense. I mean it is litterally just a matter of inches, a few fractions of a second. A defense needs to be consistent to force punts and end drives. We actually managed quite a few of these in the second half. The 2nd half drives read Punt, TD, TO on downs, TO on downs, Punt, TD, Game. That's not that bad.
Right now we're getting a mediocre play, a good play, and then a breakdown that extends a drive or gives up a TD. If we could just get to mediocre, mediocre, mediocre, good, we'd be stopping teams left and right. But like a chain, we're only as good as our weakest link, and right now we've got lots of young babby links out there that need to get battle hardened.
The good thing is that it looks like some of them have very high ceilings. Talbott, for one, looked half decent in man coverage. Floyd is impressive, even though he still makes lots of mistakes. At least he's making them at full speed. To be as good as he is, as young as he is, is a very good sign. (Of course if JT is reading this, just know that you're no Chuck Woodson, sorry can't let you get a big head)
No it wasn't perfect, no it wasn't good, no it wasn't even satisfactory in any way other than that we got the W. But if you're looking for positive signs, there are plenty to be had. Against 90-some odd plays, the defense only really had 3-4 really bad schematic clusterf*CKs. And it's only fair, (and in fact constructive) to point these out.
Constructive criticism is specifically pointing out mistakes in particular situations. It's not being a chicken little crying for someone to be fired and whining "WHY DID WE ONLY RUSH THR3333??!" If you want to be like that, please do us all a favor and take it somewhere else *cough*mlive*cough*.
When I look at this defense, I'm reminded of watching our offense from 2 years ago. You can see how the scheme is supposed to work. But we've just got too many mental errors or people that can't quite get to where they need to be fast enough. As they get more reps and things become reflexive, this defense will get better. (A few stud bluechips at DB and LB would help a lot too).
So Let's do this.
The 2nd play from scrimmage!
The line gets good movement (as they should against the Hoosiers)
There's an unblocked safety.
But Denard makes him miss.
AND! He gets downfield blocks that send him on his way.
Every week he provides more evidence that he's the real deal. Have you ever seen a cooler customer on the final drive? It's 2nd and 2 with :47 seconds to go.
The clock is running, he just picked up 8 yards on a rush. TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK. Get the damn play called! But Denard is completely zen. He even drops his mouth piece after calling the play, scoops it up,
and calmly rushes the ball to midfield.
Receivers are MAKING PLAYS!
Roundtree, Stonum, and Hemingway are all threats with the ball in their hands. The national media is of course focusing on Denard! (WOOO!) But when receivers are catching the ball, making people miss, and then running 70 yards to the house, they deserve some major props.
This is a base zone read bubble pass:
Both defenders on the end get taken in by the fake.
The hoosiers are actually in great position to either blow up this play or stop it for a moderate gain. There's only one blocker for two defenders.
But because the ball is put perfectly in front of Roundtree, he's got upfield momentum and gets past the first man who had beaten his block.
Then he just runs around the unblocked safety to take it to the distance. Even tho' it is only Indiana, this is still awesome.
Hemingway had his best performance that I can remember.
This is a play Brian gave RPS +4 on, I might argue for more. BOTH safeties and both linebackers are selling out to stop the run.
The man covering the slot is concerned with the bubble pass, leaving an empty mid-zone, i.e. no one between Hemingway and the ball.
And then he displays a nice stiff arm to free him on his jog to the endzone.
And I will never get tired of this play.
Denard takes one step towards the line and the defense craps its pants.
It's just wide open. Make that "Oh, WIDE OPEN."
Griese to Tuman or some other TE on a rollout was my favorite play for a long time, but this has replaced it.
When you're facing 4 or 5 WR, a 3-man rush is not a bad idea because it allows you to run combo coverage behind it.
2-Deep, looks like man coverage underneath, but really it's zone. The man on the slot has good position for run support. The near cornerback is in bump 'n run with the tall and dangerous, but not necessarily quick, Belcher.
Everyone is covered. Rodgers even manages to stay close enough to his man to dissuade a throw against the confusing look, and the 3-man rush gets pressure because Martin beats a double team. Plus we've got 4 extra men in coverage that are just waiting for Chappell to misread it as man coverage and try to force a ball in, so they can get an interception.
Chappell cooly throws it away.
How the D is supposed to work.
Everyone hates the "Bend but don't break" philosophy especially when you end up being broken on half the drives. But in some situations, it is the right call.
It's 3rd and 10 near midfield. If you get a stop, they probably have to punt. Both corners are playing soft. Rogers is playing a bit more soft to compensate for his lack of speed (and reflexes, and acceleration...)
This 2-deep coverage is meant to give the impression of man-to-man (and it would have if Rodgers was in the same time zone as his receiver...)
We've got 4 guys along the first down marker, the only man open is the short crossing route, which we gladly give up because we've got two men in position to make the tackle. Result is a punt.
Mike Martin continues his path of destruction
Sometimes it's nice to have a good scheme.
Sometimes it's nice just to have a player who's been around the block and is a man beast that can lift small cars with one hand.
This is a really well-executed screen by Indiana's linemen.
They get 4 (FOUR!) linemen out in front of the play. But something clicks in Martin's head and he diagnoses what's up.
How many nosetackles can run down a running back from behind? WOW. Mike Martin; Killing ragdolls and savin' our bacon. This would have been an easy TD for them.
Going to the Chappell
In retrospect, we gave this guy way too much time to pick us apart, and he delivered. His decision making was excellent, and he was very quick with most of his reads. The interception was both a bad throw and a bad read, but when a guy throws for 480 on you, there's not much to criticize.
Quit Dossing around
I was impressed with how many ways Indiana was trying to get the ball to Doss. They did an excellent job of taking what we were giving, and taking it all day long. But they had a lot of wrinkles prepared.
On the 1st drive they put him in motion to get an unexpected bubble screen.
Floyd rolls back into a deep cover responsibility. The problem is Rodgers who is probably supposed to move up into more of a run support role. Of course, he's so untalented that the coaches are probably not trusting him to play close to the line, so he stays back.
It looks like a run to the right, and our end man is completely sucked in and roh doesn't go with Doss, leaving him wide open for the bubble screen.
With Rodgers playing so far off his receiver we have what looks like a three deep.
This play picked up huge yards as both of their blockers are holding, which wasn't called.
Later when we faced this motion, we made good adjustments to it schematically.
Because of his offensive line, I think he's going to be an underrated back all year long. He reminds me of a slower version of Evan Royster.
On this play he's got enough burst to split the partially blocked linebackers.
And he nearly runs through Floyd's arm tackle to go the distance, but looks like Floyd put some stickum on and he gets dragged for a lot of yards before finally bringing Willis down.
Here he is releasing to the flat:
We've got the bunch formation well covered, but the OLB to the bunch side is showing a blitz.
It's a disguised coverage meant to get Roh an interception.
Unfortunately, Kovacs is too far beyond the sticks. Chappell sees this and takes advantage.
We're so close to stopping this drive. But the walkon safety doesn't have the speed, so he's playing too far back, and can't come up quick enough.
But we adjusted to it later.
On this play, Floyd reacts to Willis going into the flat.
T-Gord on the other side has the bubblescreen covered. And since it's zone, Floyd is free to pass his man to the LB.
What blows up this play for a TFL is Floyd's aggressiveness coming up and a nice job by the D-linemen to track down the ball.
Talbott had a pretty quiet day, which is a good thing for a DB. He spent most of his day locked onto Belcher in man to man. This is one of the reasons Doss got so many balls thrown to him.
Here they are at the bottom of the screen.
Belcher is bigger and phsyical, but Talbott is fighting nicely.
The combo slant and outcut was just too finely executed on this play to stop. But if you can force the receiver to make a great diving catch to beat you, that's not something to be too broken up about. It's way better than the automatic 7 yards that was being given up wherever Rodgers lines up.
Wait what? Yeah, this is here just to be nitpicky coaching pursuit of perfection stuff. After Denard tweeked his knee, we had a bunch of bad drives in a row. He missed a wide open Hemingway on a pump-and-go:
Had three overthrows in total.
This should have been 6 pts.
And he needs to throw the damn bubble screen more!
Not every play needs to be a 70 yard TD. (MWAHAHAHA, I love that I can even type that sentence). There's 3 defenders for two blockers, but the OLB is flat-footed. Denard needs to read that and take the 5-yard minimum gain. When you've got WRs like ours that can MAKE PLAYS!! you need to give them the ball and not take unnecessary hits to your bruised knee.
Here's another one, This time it's 2 defenders for 1 blocker. But with the corner that far off, it's an automatic 5 yards. Denard, your mission from now until OSU is to win games and DON'T GET HURT!
FWIW, Tate's only pass of the day was a bad screen flare where he put the ball on the wrong shoulder and that killed his only drive.
Inexperience on D
It's really difficult for young players who are seeing funky formations and plays for the first time.
Indiana has 5WR and puts one in motion all the way to the far sideline. We've got 4 deep, (IN THE REDZONE!!?!?) And there's mass confusion.
Nobody goes with the motion man, and we're so far off the ball, we're inviting a 7 yard hitch on either side.
Both OLB's blitz leaving Avery? to cover three men in space. Lucky for us that Chappell decided to take the easy seven yards. Had he thrown to either short man on the right, this would have been an easy TD for them. You have to say this was a bad scheme on this play.
But Indiana tried to come right back to it.
This time, we're locked into tighter man coverage. Maybe that's only because we're on the goaline, but at least this alignment doesn't look completely insane like the previous one did.
I'm a big advocate for this kind of combo package coverage where you've got some men in zone coverage, but the others 'look' like they're in man. The whole point is to make it difficult on the opposing QB. And only rushing 3 allows us to do that.
And when Mike Martin is busting through the line, it makes you think you can get away with a 3-man rush.
But Chappell is a cool customer and sidesteps the rush just enough to buy some time and find the open man, who gets behind a flat-footed Mouton.
A lesser QB could not have made this play against this D. We've got good coverage all over the field and a man about to run him over. But he still finds the right receiver and delivers a good ball under pressure.
Good call: Mouton is just a step slow to react. Chappell makes a great read and throw under pressure.
Sometimes, we've got guys in position, but they're just not quite aware of the sticks or reacting quick enough to what's in front of them.
On this play, #5 is in position to make the tackle, he's just too far behind the sticks.
So Doss muscles forward for the 1st down. It would have helped if Roh had taken a better angle.
Does the "J" in J.T. stand for Journeyman?
Floyd spent his second week in a row being moved all over the place. I can understand why they're doing this (he's probably our best DB and we need to get our best athletes on the field.) But with all this moving around, you expect him to get confused occassionally.
On this play he gets caught looking at the underneath crossing route when what he needs to be doing is getting depth in his zone to squeeze off the seam route. The cross will be picked up by Mouton, so his false step here was not going to help anyone. And of course Rodgers was in his usual position.
Floyd leaps for the ball, but between his mistake, and the safety playing way too soft, there's a ton of room for Chappell to lob the ball into. If only Floyd could jump as high as the linebackers in NCAA05, it would have been an automatic interception...
C-Gord does lay a nice lick on the TE who does a good job of holding onto the ball. Gordon had lots of good hits, he just needs to not be giving up so much room underneath.
Here's another play where the safety is back way too far against the bunch formation.
I mean, he's not even in the picture. Literally.
We've got 2 out of 4 receivers decently covered.
But Gordon is way too far off to make a play on this deep out.
Roh in space
So the big controversy on defense this week centers around whether Roh is better utilized as a pass rusher or can he be a true OLB? I tend to lean towards the camp that says he should rush more often than drop, but his athleticism makes it tempting to try more things with him.
Here he is in pass coverage:
He takes one false step going wide instead of getting depth.
And that gives Chappell just enough room to hit the slant.
Schematically he's in the right position. But he's just slow to recognize the play. You need lightning-quick reactions on defense and that comes from experience, film study, and repetitions. Like Alvin Mack, you need to know who to kill and where to go against a huge number of plays.
But for anyone who wants to pick on GERG, just look at this later play when Roh gets it right:
Against the bunch formation, Roh gets depthin because Rodgers (who again isn't in the same area code as his receiver) has outside flat responsibilities.
This was one of the few poor decisions Chappell made (the other was the interception). He has the flat for the 1st down, but gets greedy and goes back to the seam route. This time, Roh is in position to make it a more difficult throw.
Chappell has to get it over his tall reach and overthrows the receiver.
On this play Roh is in a more traditional stack look.
But he doesn't see Doss coming in motion.
And because he doesn't go with Doss, it makes for an easy blocking assignment for the bubble screen.
You can tell that it's a mistake by Roh because the DE is already upfield making Roh's instinctive rush redundant.
But later in the game, he sees it and makes the play:
From virtually the same alignment, this time he picks up Doss and slides outside of the DE.
Kovacs (who is by far our smartest player, if I could put his mind and heart into Mouton's body, and then clone them, we'd be just fine on Defense) is not letting the TE get a free release, something I think we should do more of. One of the LBs is going with Willis.
Everyone is in pretty good coverage, except the comeback route is open for a 1 yard gain. I don't mind giving that up.
The Gordons and Talbot look fairly talented and will get better with more PT; they just need to tighten up to the receivers and react a hair quicker, but they look like they'll be solid next year.
Denard's fumbled snap.
He also put it on the ground on another run. This needs to be fixed. When WVU was really clicking, the only time they lost was when they had oodles of turnovers. With our defense we cannot afford to not score on drives.
James "Serta" Rodgers.
I've probably covered this enough already, but just to summarize, he is the weakest link. No, that's not surprising given what's happened to the depth chart at corner.
It's so bad that it's hard to tell who he's covering and whether he's supposed to be in zone or man. He's just kind of over there on one side. By the 2nd half, Indiana was actively targeting him on a large percentage of plays. He's giving up the 7-yard out:
ALL THE FREAKING TIME.
It's like he has no idea what the down and distance are. Either that, or he's just not capable of doing anything about it.
This was a 3rd and very long, and he gives up an easy first down.
At this point he needs to be taken off the field on some plays. With opposing offenses looking for him, maybe his absence will cause them a moment of confusion. There's a great story about how QBs were so focused on finding Lawrence Taylor before the snap that one time when he was on the bench, the QB was so confused he had to take a time out.
Seriously, if Cullen Christian or any converted WR can pull a Talbott and just give the impression of being able to cover someone, it'll be a step up from what we've got now. It certainly can't be any worse.
Clusterf*ck against the unbalanced line.
This was probably the single worst defensive play from a schematic standpoint. Give credit to Indiana for coming up with a good play, but we were completely out of position on this and we played it bad on top of that:
Indiana comes out in an unbalanced line. Unfortunately NO ONE sees it. Or at least no one adjusts to it. Doss goes in motion and Floyd floats back as if that was a short corner with no WR over there.
Patterson? is in the wrong gap. It's up to one of the safeties or Ezeh to see the formation and get the nose tackle to slide over. Instead, we've got 4 guys covering two linemen. Just days after I ripped Indiana for doing the same thing against one of their cupcakes, -- guess what -- we did the same thing:
C-Gordon reacts to Doss's end-around fake, and the O-line takes a hard first step to their right. So now, not only are we not lined up right against the unbalanced, they've put us essentially two men down on that side by their at-the-snap movement.
Mouton and Ezeh get sucked in by the fullback heading to the left, and we've got three guys covering air. Meanwhile, since the center has no one to block, he's free to release onto Ezeh.
Floyd takes himself out of the play by following Doss (which is not a terrible thing if he gets the end-around, but it's entirely unnecessary against this unbalanced look. Roh has got it in his mind that he's pass rushing, and that makes for an easy kickout block. Carvin Johnson (#13) is about to be destroyed by someone who weighs about 150 lbs more than him. And C-Gord is so far out of position that there's nothing he can do. But hey, we've got 4 guys who could stop the end-around...
And so Willis gets to run through a hole you could drive a truck through, and laughed his way to the endzone completely untouched.
Not sure what happened with Taylor on the last TD because the cameras cut away. But it might have had something to do with the awesome DOUBLE pancake block he got after Denard had leapt through the hole.
Denard is still TEH AWESOEM! But he has things he needs to work on.
WR, major props.
GERG is not the problem. (Rodgers is)
And Roh has the capability to get better as a LB in space.
Quietly, the Cats are 5-0. Granted, they've achieved that record in unimpressive fashion, but Northwestern always seems to play to the level of its competition. They don't blow teams out, but rarely get blown out themselves. They have a very good QB in Dan Persa, and as we've seen, when you have great quarterbacking, that just makes life a lot easier. Persa is leading them in rushing and has completed 79 percent (!) of his pass attempts.
Here's NU's remaining schedule:
Oct. 9 PURDUE
Oct. 16 Bye
Oct. 23 MICHIGAN STATE
Oct. 30 at Indiana
Nov. 6 at Penn State
Nov. 13 IOWA
Nov. 20 ILLINOIS
Nov. 27 at Wisconsin
Yep, no Michigan or OSU. (How is it that one team always dodges both of us?) They get Iowa and MSU at home, and that trip to PSU doesn't look nearly as tough anymore. Wisconsin on the road might be the toughest game, but UW has not lived up to preseason expectations thus far. I don't expect them to run the table, but if the conference champ has one or two losses, they could be in that picture.
For all the talk about UM not facing a "real" defense this year does anyone think DRob can run for 200 and pass for 200 yards again this weekend?? At this point I think he can but I'm not ready to put any money down on it.
Tom also said it was not from East Lansing
Todd McShay says that Greg Jones lacks the athelticism and range to cover Denard. All I hear is that Greg Jones is going to spy Denard. I'm ready for another 40+ offensive output.
We lose Patterson, Sagesse, and Banks. If Will Campbell is able to make a jump and Jibreel Black develops well, we will have a potential 4 man D-line of RVB, Campbell, Martin, Black. And if we have Craig Roh blitzing on that, it could really be a terror for the opponents O-line.