I did not make this headline up
This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.
A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.
I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.
I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.
The Good Part
First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.
That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.
On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.
One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.
Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.
[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]
Indeed. Plaque up at Crisler.
Michigan's started preseason practice, looking less skinny or more skinny as appropriate. Stauskas in particular looks a lot more likely to power through contact this year:
YOU ARE DOING A BAD JOB AT DEFENSE, FOREGROUND
Unfortunately, Mitch McGary's got a lower back thing that's limiting him. A big guy getting a nagging old person injury is a thing that turns out to be chronic unfortunately often, but the noises from Beilein about it are encouraging:
"It's been day-to-day, pretty much all fall, and we're moving forward from there," Michigan coach John Beilein said. "I'm very hopeful it'll be gone before too long.
"He's done some on-and-off things this fall."
McGary blew up various skills camps this summer, so whatever it is it's a recent thing.
Soldier on. Michigan does not change its depth chart on the OL. That probably means nothing; FWIW.
Bo's phone call. Mason relates what happened after the 38-35 Buffalo Stampede game in which Minnesota ran rampant on Michigan:
“We ended up basically being able to run the ball against anybody,” Mason said. “When we blew that game against Michigan in ’03, after we had a 21-point lead, my secretary took a call on Monday and said, ‘[Former Michigan coach] Bo Schembechler’s on the phone.’
“I picked up and Bo said, ‘Mason, I never thought I’d see the day when Notre Dame or Ohio State rushed for 424 yards against Michigan, much less Minnesota,’ and then he hung up.”
Bo probably threw in some other words that Mason left out.
Also, Glen Mason's take on what Minnesota's doing is relevant to our current interests:
“There are less moving parts with the read option"
Brace for impact. Michigan is currently a whopping 21 point favorite over Minnesota after opening at 16.5. It is unclear whether that projects turnover margin or final score.
Minnesota did look completely terrible against Iowa, losing 23-7 and barely getting across the line of scrimmage on its 27 rushing attempts. For the game they had 27 yards rushing, 135 passing, and threw two picks. The jury's still out on Iowa's defense, which seems improved but ceded 30 to NIU and 21 to Iowa State; Minnesota looks like a product of its schedule.
Yes, even more so than Michigan does, sheesh. Thus the line cited above.
Meanwhile, across the triangle of hate Iowa fans are feeling rather chipper after matching last year's win total in week 5. Highlights:
Iowa's athletic department has figured out how to use the "upload" button on YouTube
Rudock has some decent wheels; Mike Patrick can be boring about a 74-yard touchdown; Michigan's nose tackles watched this game and said "FINALLY WE WILL BE ON THE FIELD" to themselves.
Jacobi points out that Iowa is actually a slight favorite(!) for this weekend's matchup against Michigan State. Projected final score: 1.
You kickstarted this. Martavious Odoms's thing bears fruit (HA!):
We have brought you low. Michigan instrumental in midseason firing of Paul Pasqualoni. Yes. That is the ticket. Ignore the 41-12 loss to Buffalo behind the curtain. Also in expectation-dampening sad things: Akron loses by lots, Notre Dame loses by lots, Central Michigan loses by lots. I liked this season better three weeks ago.
Why fire Pasqualoni now?
It's all happening.
60 minutes of unnecessarily rough pass interference somewhere else. Actually, various folks are chattering about Michigan State DC Pat Narduzzi taking the UConn job:
Spoke w some coaches re: UConn. Strong feeling among group I spoke w that Pat Narduzzi will get good look.
This tweet gets a hilarious set of responses that are exactly what you'd expect: MSU fans painting the UConn program as a deathtrap and saying things like…
Unless he gets offered a place like Texas I honestly don't see it happening. His kids love it hear and he is very close
The opposite of Indiana. In a not good way. Via Chantel Jennings, the dichotomy of Michigan State in stark relief:
Indiana | Oct. 19
Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 1
Total defense: No. 11
Michigan State | Nov. 2
Big Ten rank:
Total offense: No. 11
Total defense: No. 1
Who is State ahead of? Purdue, obviously. Obviously Purdue. Indiana is ahead of Nebraska. Think about that when you consider the depths to which Bo Pelini's defense has sunk. #Kiffin4Nebraska
Etc.: Details of the Harmon exhibit at the Bentley. Boy, do I not care about Michigan's spot in the polls right now. Illinois pounds Miami (Not That Miami). I don't understand this thing about a dog named Jake Butt. The history of Michigan decals.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan alternated between their 4-3 with guys often split over the slots like so:
And their nickel package.
They also had some weird snaps where they would take their WDE and line him up like a SAM:
This was always a drop into man coverage on the TE by Clark. I did not call this out as a new formation. I probably will in the future.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary saw Avery replace the youngsters as the third corner when Michigan was in nickel, which was quite frequently. The rest was Taylor/Countess/Gordon/Wilson as per usual.
At linebacker the usual rotation of Ross, Morgan, and Bolden. Beyer went the whole way at SAM, I think.
On the line, another light day for nose tackles. Both got some run but it was a lot of three-techs out there. Clark got the most run at WDE with Ojemudia backing up. Black was out there almost all the time; Henry and Wormley got more snaps than any other SDE/3T type with Heitzman also participating quite a bit. Glasgow and Godin appeared rarely, if at all.
[After THE JUMP! Points! Yards! None of those!]
FORMATION NOTES: UConn did some weird stuff. My lingo on these is probably bad but this was "5-1 nickel split" with a 3-4 front that has two OLBs flanking the line:
And I just gave up when this happened, calling it "5-4 30 front":
There was also a 5-3 30 front that had a deep safety.
This is "shotgun 4-wide tight" for M. You may note the weird tilt of Funchess:
As a rule I count a TE in a two point stance as a WR for purposes of naming a formation.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: The usual basically everywhere. Save one snap for Derrick Green when Toussaint was momentarily injured, Toussaint got every tailback snap. Butt was preferred to Funchess late when Michigan was running the ball. And it seems like Chesson is slowly absorbing snaps from Reynolds and Jackson.
All else was as before.
[After THE JUMP: points! yards! (none of those things)]
SITE NOTE: as is traditional during a bye week, the UFRs will be delayed a day, allowing us to ruminate in some more detail on a couple more plays that seem to be representative of larger trends.
Today in Michigan's running issues: an example of how all it takes is one breakdown for an otherwise promising play to end in the backfield. Offense and defense are opposite creatures in this regard. On defense, if you make a mistake it may or may not be punished, because someone can beat a guy and clean up for you, or the offense may not see the open receiver or cutback lane. On offense, an error is going to leave someone free and he will end your play more often than not.
A lot of Michigan's struggles so far have been one-guy breakdowns. This sounds like a promising, easy fix, but it's an unfriendly math problem. When you've got seven guys trying to execute, even if everyone has a 90% hit rate 0.9^7 is a 52% shot at someone not executing. At 95%—each guy doing their job 19 of 20 times—you still have a 30% failure rate.
That's obviously oversimplified; there are different mistakes that can make the difference between an unsuccessful run of three yards and an unsuccessful one of negative two yards. But I've been saying things like "it's just one block away from a big play" for a while now without actually seeing a lot of improvement in that category, and the previous paragraph is one of the reasons why.
Our exemplar is a zone stretch midway through the third quarter. It's first and ten after Drew Dileo extended an out route into the short seam and Gardner hit him. Michigan's in the I; UConn responds with a 3-4 look that has an extra guy hanging off the tight end side on the hash.
UConn did a lot of blitzing from the outside in this game, and this will be no exception. They'll shoot the guy on the hash upfield to be the force player and slant the other two inside, way inside in the OLB's case:
On the snap, nothing much is revealed as no one's made contact yet except Miller, who's underneath the nose tackle already:
That nose tackle is going to end up a long way downfield. I know we're all trying to take Miller's job, but he made a couple of nice blocks on these plays in the second half.
In the above shot, you can see the first steps of the defenders highlighted in the arrow picture coming inside. a half step later Michigan has both adjusted excellently and not adjusted excellently:
Both Glasgow and Lewan have adjusted their flight paths to intersect with the slanting defenders and have successfully made contact that will allow them to shove them past the play and open up a huge hole on the outside of the line, but Joe Kerridge is now trying to hit a gap that is not open.
When he does, he gets whacked.
Now off balance and a gap away from the actual hole, he's unable to block anyone. That's the one guy. When Michigan does this on defense I mention they got a two-for-one and usually good things happen afterwards.
Here bad things happen because Yawin Smallwood is now hanging out in the hole unblocked.
Fitz compounds matters by seeing this, considering a bounce, and then deciding against it, which gives up a couple yards.
Second and twelve blues.
Items Of Interest
Well, poop. Michigan blocks this really well on the line, getting both slanters sealed inside and driving the nose tackle back into a linebacker. But once Kerridge gets picked off, this play has a maximum reasonable expectation of about one yard. It only takes one error.
This would take some pretty fast recognition to fix. A lot of zone teams either eschew lead backs or place them in positions such that they, too, have a long path to the hole (think about "superbacks" in spread offenses that start lined up next to the QB). Kerridge is lined up to the playside about three yards in front of Toussaint and his first steps are upfield as he tries to build momentum for a bone-rattling LB block. Toussaint, in contrast, kind of waits and runs lateral to the LOS for a bit, so he has time to see the slant develop and find the hole that is unfortunately filled with one Yawin Smallwood.
Kerridge doesn't have that time. If he's going to make that read presnap he's probably guessing that the OLB is going to attack the gap outside of Lewan, and when that turns out to be wrong he's already committed. I'm not sure he can be any other way when he's lined up so close to the point of attack.
If you're going to do this it almost seems like you'd have to consider Kerridge another lineman and that Lewan should release downfield into Smallwood once the OLB crosses his face, but holy hell is that complicated. Michigan should be trying to make everything as dead simple as possible so they can have uninspiring runs that do pick up some yards.*
So this is a rock paper scissors minus. I don't think Kerridge has time to change his gap, and that gap gets filled by a slant. Even if Kerridge 1) has the option to pick his hole, 2) made a presnap read of the blitzer, and 3) assumed the OLB would slant inside, the OLB is outside of Williams so a one-gap slant takes him outside of Lewan. This puts Kerridge in the right hole. When the OLB goes two gaps over that's when the problems happen.
Toussaint bounce attempt again. Like that Nix play discussed earlier, here Toussaint has grim prospects that he makes a little grimmer by trying to escape. Despite all your rage, Fitz, you're still just a rat in a cage. Here it seems like he has been told that he needs to go N/S and remembers that after his natural inclination. Or he just thinks he can't get outside Williams. Whichever.
It is not an easy decision to bench Jack Miller. The entire world has already benched the guy for the Minnesota game; I'm 50-50 on that. I'm frustrated with him sometimes as well, but here's another loss on which the offensive line appears to be working just fine. He got dumped into the backfield once earlier in this game and struggled in a couple of pass protections (a couple of other pressures that came up the middle were not on him), but I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan soldiers on with their current five guys. Even if they don't, how long is Chris Bryant going to be able to stay on the field?
Also, folks speculating that Michigan might move Michael Schofield back to guard and insert Braden or Magnuson should stop. Miller is not bad enough that switching three spots on the OL and sending a good right tackle back to guard so you can insert a freshman is anywhere near an upgrade. That's a midseason switch worthy of a Rodriguez defense.
*[This is iso's role in the world. It is the DURRR SMASH of run plays, requiring almost nothing other than brute strength and rarely picking up more than three yards, but rarely losing any.]
Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.
Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.
This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:
Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.
Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.
Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.
Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:
(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)
Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.
At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.
Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.
That's a loss of two yards.
Items Of Interest
Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.
Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…
Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.
Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.
This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.
Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.
Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.
Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.
In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:
And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?
Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.
None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.
Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.