"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Formation notes: We've already talked about Michigan's 3-3-5 at the end of the game, which was really blue for some reason:
filmed in post-apocalyptic-Denzel-Washington-vehicle-o-vision
The rest of it was as per usual. Michigan goes with an even front against spread packages and flares the LBs out to deal. This results in things like this…
…and is a declaration of immense faith in the DTs. Here's Ryan over the slot again:
Michigan used some super wide splits once, when they were sick of getting edged by the option:
This was a FB dive that looked dangerous before Pipkins spatted the ballcarrier for two yards.
Finally, here's something. What? I'm not sure. THANKS DIRECTOR GUY
I swear these guys who come in and think they're Football Tarantino.
Substitution notes: Secondary as it always is. The front seven saw the same rotation they have in the last couple games, with CGordon/Bolden/Ross backing up Ryan/Demens/Morgan at LB and Heitzman/Black/Pipkins/Clark backing up Roh/Campbell/Washington/Beyer. Heitzman's increased PT continued; Bolden got relatively few snaps. Ross got more, including the last drive, but maybe not as many as I expected he did going in.
[AFTER THE JUMP: getting gashed, responding, Kovacs in your grill]
So. Michigan got a nice play from Will Campbell to turn second and three into third and one despite kind of conceding the first down, then saw Kenny Demens blow upfield as soon as he saw Venric Mark block a blitzing James Ross. He hewed down a Colter scramble in the backfield. Now it's fourth and two, and all the timeouts have been taken.
Michigan comes out in… this. I guess. Whatever this is. Weird is what it is.
Please note that Northwestern has also brought their share of weird to the party. They're in a two back set with all three WRs to the field, which means one of those slots is covered up. Michigan is seven on eight in the box, with a safety—Gordon—hanging out deep. If Northwestern can get guys blocked they should have a guy running free. As we'll see, they don't.
This has been mentioned before, but Michigan came out in this weird formation on fourth and two in an attempt to bait Northwestern into a handoff up the middle, which they successfully did.
As a bonus, the bait here is compounded by Northwestern confusion. It does not matter what Colter does here. They're dead.
Part The First: Black Surge
Jibreel Black is shaded playside of the center above and immediately shoots upfield of said center.
This is easy for him. Just go straight upfield. It does two things:
- Invites Colter to hand off. That looks dangerous to him because if he's forced to pitch early by a Black surge then Roh is likely to contain the back.
- Forces the dive back to the backside of the play, where there are two Northwestern OL and three Michigan defenders.
In the wider view you can see three Northwestern OL releasing, with the fourth dealing with Clark.
Part The Second: Handoff Away From Strength
That looks un-promising. But here's what they'll do:
The option provides blocking strength to the front side of the play because you're letting the end go to option him; on the backside you're blocking him. Here Northwestern burns that strength as two confused guys go after Ross. A third has to cut Ryan, and there's no one for three separate Michigan defenders.
At the mesh point Colter is looking at Roh on the edge and Black surging through, which seemingly puts acres of space between the NT and backside DE. There are acres, in fact.
Part The Third: Free Train With Purchase Of Handoff
ACRES OF PAIN WOO
Everyone run around and do things! Be happy! And then play the dog groomers song and kill everyone's buzz. But those first 5 seconds were rad.
Things And Stuff
This was dead in every way. If Colter decides to keep he is probably going to get pushed wide by Black, maybe even have a pitched forced by him a la Mike Martin last year. If he does not…
…it's Mike Trumpy in space against Jordan Kovacs with Roh pursuing from the inside-out. We've seen how that story ends, against this team even.
That was forth and inches, this is fourth and two. I'll take my chances there.
This play seems specifically designed to defeat the option. The Black surge is going to do one of two things. One option is what it did. The other is for the playside G to block Black, likely with help from the center, and leave one guy for Ross. If those guys can combo Black a keep meets the same fate you see in the frame on the last bullet. If those guys can combo Black and the C manages a release to the second level, then you are possibly in business as you hypothetically have enough guys to block the LBs.
I don't see how that happens though given what Black does here. No one is coming off that guy fast enough to be useful. The only option that gets yards is a check.
Nothing else? Just a check? The only other way in which this might eke out the first down is by letting the backside end go, too, and having that tackle hit Demens. This may or may not work and exposes the back to Clark coming down the line; at least if he's hit by Clark it's from behind. Really, though, there's nothing.
Demens! This isn't the hardest play in the world for a linebacker but even so you can't do it any better. There's no drama after this:
No spinning out or grinding forward or sliding off. The guy just goes down, backwards, game over. That's one of them form tackles.
Cat and mouse. This play followed a series of timeouts. Michigan showed the formation they ran before the first one:
Northwestern called TO, and came out with their covered slot formation. Michigan again showed the 3-3-5 alignment…
…until everyone in the front seven yelled at Ryan to get on the LOS…
Roh had to do a ton of pointing and talking to get this to happen
…and then Michigan called timeout before a false start. As a bonus, unless the slot receiver moved after the camera took him out of the picture, Northwestern only had six on the line of scrimmage and would have been hit with an illegal formation.
So they went to it, got a TO, showed it, got rid of it, called a TO, and then ran it. The dance of doom.
A gimmick defense for gimmick times. Yeah this could get gashed by stuff other than what Northwestern ran; Michigan knew their comfort zone and had a plan to blow it up. They had plenty of problems in this game, and I think Mattison is going to have to make some adjustments to slow the Wildcats down in future years, but at the end it was Michigan who got the last stab in after a knock-down, drag-out fight.
“Hi guys. What’s up. Heiko, what’s going on?”
MGo: Not much. Just hangin' out.
“It’s really good to see you.”
MGo: It’s good to see you, too.
“I’m not just saying that.”
MGoBeaming: Really? Aw.
“Yeah, I kind of am.”
What’s the word of the day?
“What’s the word of the day? I had one. If you wouldn’t have asked me, I would have come up with it.”
“No. That was coming up somewhere, but … let me think. I’ll get back to you on that, okay?”
Can you define Denard?
“Can I define Denard? Fast. That’s the first word that comes into my mind. Like those word associations that you do ... Denard Robinson, fast!”
“Devin Gardner? Funny. Pretty funny guy.”
In all seriousness, Denard’s legacy? Can you discuss?
“Well, I can honestly say he is the most electric player that I have ever coached. That would be the first thing that comes to mind. And a joy to coach, I might add. Comes with energy every day. Wants to learn. Tough. Competitive. All those things. His demeanor might lead you to believe that’s not true, but he’s highly competitive.”
Last time on keeping Michigan's overtime record sterling, Will Campbell played both sides of a guy and turned second and three into third and one. Venric Mark gets dinged on that play, Mike Trumpy comes in, and it's time for third and short.
Northwestern comes out in a goal-line version of the pistol they just ran. They again flip the FB:
Michigan sets up in an over front, which was unusually prevalent for the second straight week. It won't matter much because this is going to be a pass, which third and one with Kain Colter and you throw—Michigan's defense puts the fear of God into you on short yardage.
Michigan sends James Ross; Gordon and Floyd back out into coverage. Both NW players are taken care of, leaving only the tight end on the backside, who is running a slant to the interior.
This is not Demens's guy, it's Taylor's. Michigan is in man, which you can tell because of this:
The instant Mark lowers his head to block Ross, Demens starts flying at the LOS. He's got the RB out of the backfield, and once that RB commits to a blitzer he is now in QB attack mode.
Here's a wider shot:
Demens is moving before Colter even completes his drop. By the time Colter has taken a single step, Demens is across the LOS and closing:
It's now fourth and the game.
Things And Stuff
Colter had the third guy in the pattern but did not have the patience. He decides to take off after seeing the first two reads covered. Demens's presence may dissuade him from trying the route, but that TE is well inside Taylor and Ryan if Colter waits another beat or two for Demens to fly up at him.
Those guys were pointing at each other before the snap, confused; I am not sure if it's on Ryan or Taylor. Either way those guys are going to have a little trouble covering this since they're both lined up outside of him.
Can't really blame Colter for going one-two-go in this situation, but it looks like Michigan was banking on that being the default reaction here given how aggressively Demens plays this. He was likely told that if the back stays in go get the QB. If it's third and five, maybe he waits for Colter to take off.
Ross and Washington give Demens the space. Washington's playing this like he would a goal line carry, submarining the OL with no other thought than moving the LOS backwards. Look at that still above: mission accomplished. Ross meanwhile has bashed the OL he blitzed into into that mess and is taking the Mark cut block. Colter is looking at two guys against one blocker, who is Venric Mark, and knows those odds—another reason he was all GTFO.
Michigan punched in a touchdown on their only possession of overtime against Northwestern and took the field needing to get a fourth-down stop at some point to win. They got it right away. On first down, Will Campbell(+2, pressure +2) swims through a guard to get instant pressure; Colter finds a running lane because Washington is out of position and picks up seven yards.
Three plays later, Northwestern was still at the eighteen, out of downs. WHA HAPPEN? In three parts, what happened.
Second And Three: Campbell Two-Gap
Northwestern comes out in the pistol, with Michigan in an even front with Ryan shaded over the slot. They keep two safeties 13 yards off the LOS—they are essentially playing a man down in the front seven because Colter demands to be contained.
The FB started on the other side of Colter and motioned just before the snap; Michigan's linebackers shuffle a little in response, but not much. Northwestern is going to run a plain old zone play.
There is a mesh point here. Colter is reading Roh. Roh does two things once the tackle lets him go:
- He forms up at the LOS
- He shuffles inside a bit to remain tight with the hip of the tackle.
give + no cutback == job done
#1 makes Colter give. #2 prevents Mark from heading all the way backside, which is important. If my spread 'n' shred analysis skillz are now basically irrelevant at least they're useful for parsing Northwestern. I've seen this before:
It's the vertical zone read play RR termed "belly." Under RR Michigan wouldn't go so far as to move into the pistol, but they would slide the QB up a foot or two and make this same handoff. It looks a lot like inside zone to the defense, and usually by the time they find out it's not the guy going backside has picked up a nice chunk.
Belly is about doubling the DTs, and driving them back; failing that you go at the spot the backside DE vacated when he went to contain the QB.
Here there's nothing. This is the mesh point. The line is a solid mass of humanity from Roh to Campbell, with the only gap on the frontside as Clark contains. The DTs have held up at the LOS. Mark has nowhere to go save that frontside gap.
That's a problem because neither LB is hitting that gap. Meanwhile the fullback shoots downfield, looking for Kovacs. Mark has to redirect—this is not what the play was supposed to create—and this takes time, which is a saving grace.
Campbell is here, and then he's obscured because he's flung himself to the other side of his blocker and tackled.
Mark squeezes out a couple before most of the players on the field converge on top of him.
Now Michigan has third and short. They like third and short.
Things And Stuff
It looks like Michigan is conceding the first down. Second and three and Michigan puts a full two-deep coverage on, leaving just six guys in the box against seven players. It's almost like Michigan is playing TD prevent and living to fight again on first and ten from the 13.
This is all defensive line. Collectively the two DTs take on four blockers and while those blockers release, Washington is in a spot where he closes off a gap at the LOS. Roh has taken the cutback away. And when Mark redirects outside, Campbell fills the gap outside Washington.
This is a cost of cutting off screens. Remember last year when Michigan got burned by bubble after bubble in this game? Mattison responded by flaring Ryan over the slot. That was the first we had seen of that; it's now a standard thing. Bubbles have all but evaporated. So that's good, but it also leaves Michigan in some vulnerable positions. Here their best defensive player is irrelevant to the play. It would be nice to have some better run support on the edges.
I'm not sure about the LB play here. Both guys end up catching blocks. They do this because the NW OL does not extend their doubles. Since the doubles are not extended, the DL can make the play they make. I am still kind of nervous about it. There's no slant here so they just have to play it straight, and as a result neither gets anywhere near the play. I'm guessing that's the way they have to play it. Gives me hives. Help, anyone?
Will Campbell woo. He vexed the pants off of a couple of guys in this game. This play in particular reminded me of watching Hoke talk about DL technique at that coaching clinic. Campbell may get a little high, but he takes one step inside and then fires upwards, rocking the G backwards. At that point his hands are on the interior of the OL. He controls the block, and can go from one gap to the other when Mark does. If you watch it enough you'll be like oh right the sleds DL hit.
Campbell made the Northwestern G look like an inanimate object designed to be hit to teach technique. Heininger Certainty Principle +1.
SIDE NOTE: DL DID NOT USE SLEDS UNDER RR /dies
“Well are we on game 18 or what? It seems like, hoo boy. Every week. This next one is as big as any of them or bigger because one, you’re in the title hunt. You’re still playing for a championship. And two, these seniors deserve to play a great game, deserve to have things be like they should be when you’re a senior at Michigan and you play your last game there.”
What do you take from surviving Northwestern?
“Well the thing that we saw in that game -- people wouldn’t have seen it -- that defense played unbelievably hard. There’s a play in the fourth quarter when there are 11 helmets truly hitting the ball on our sideline, and ironically the next play Craig Roh got a sack and it held them to a field goal rather than a touchdown. And you never know when that’s going to happen. I’m not a stat guy. Never have been. The only stat that matters to me is whether we win or lose. I don’t like it when teams run the football, but the thing that you also saw on that tape, one, that quarterback is a tremendous football player and a tremendous athlete. I think there were four or five legitimate sacks that we had them -- any other quarterback you probably would have had a sack -- that he changed from being a third or a second and long to a first down.
"And that’s where the perception is that you’ve got to get off the field. We’re not talented enough, and there aren’t many [teams] that are good enough, to be able to say, ‘We could have gotten off here, but we’re going to let you play three more plays.’ That happened too many times where you had just what you wanted and he made a play. And I won’t say that our guys didn’t, even though they could have, that young man Colter is -- he’s got my respect, I’ll tell you that. That guy is a football player. And their running back was a very good football player also. The greatest thing is that there are some mistakes again that we have to have corrected on some blitzes and things like that, but they played hard and they stuck together and gave us an opportunity, and our offense did a great job at the very end there and we came out with the win, and that’s all that matters.”