“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
Saturday's game was a weird one in which virtually all of Iowa's relevant plays came on two back-to-back drives in the first half. They went three and out on their four other drives before it was 42-10.
The first of these drives was Iowa's only sustained success of the day. Iowa's second drive was a couple of chunk plays and then six straight unsuccessful ones; a terrible roughing the passer flag in the middle of that sequence got the Hawkeyes into chip-shot field goal territory.
I, like you, was a little worried about that touchdown drive and what it said about the defense; after looking at it I feel a bit better since one major reason was a bad matchup between James Ross and Mark Weisman. Ross would show up in the hole and Weisman would run him over, because he is a horsecow and Ross is a freshman.
There were a couple other subtle ways in which Ross showed his youth, like on this nine yard run. Iowa has picked up a first down and now has the ball first and ten nearing midfield. They come out in their 2TE ace set; Michigan responds with eight-ish in the box, sliding the linebackers to the field and bringing Kovacs down behind.
Iowa pops a TE up and moves one of the WRs to the line, then motions him.
Various Michigan defenders adjust in slight ways to this. Notably, two of the three linebackers step to the 2TE side; so does Kovacs. James Ross doesn't.
Each of these guys has slid essentially a person-width over, which makes sense because Iowa has moved their center of gravity a person-width over. Except Ross. Does this end up mattering?
I really need to find a better way to generate suspense in these posts.
Okay, snap. Inside zone because Iowa always always runs inside zone. I'm sure the playcalls have subtle variances; these escape me and are probably unknowable without actually being the playcaller. At our level of detail, all Iowa running plays are inside zone.
Key still explaining time:
1. Craig Roh on the backside hanging out unblocked. This is not what Michigan wants, I don't think. Earlier plays have seen Michigan split in the middle like they're doing on this play with a key difference:
There is no unblocked end as Iowa is running from a balanced formation. See Roh? Right above him is one guy moving to the second level and two LBs. Michigan has a free hitter—Ross again—and he'll hit, and Weisman will get one yard.
2. Brennen Beyer getting doubled. Ideally I think Iowa wants to seal him inside but if he goes outside too hard the back will cut inside and the interior OL will release.
3. Kovacs containing. He is the force guy, can't let anything outside of him, etc. By moving the TE over they get him blocked while still getting that double.
4 & 5. Ross and Demens running at the right spot. This time there are blockers for both, though, as long as Iowa can get Beyer effectively blocked.
They just barely do. Here Weisman is heading outside and Ross has gotten to the LOS so Iowa has run out of time to double Beyer. The outside guy pops off and Beyer is still not sealed:
Now this is where two things about James Ross combine to submarine Michigan. These are both basically "is a freshman." One is the the lack of response to the shift shown above. Take Ross in the above frame and move him a body-width to the outside. Now he's a step faster to this contact. He's outside, and his momentum is more downhill than it is here. With Beyer on the outside all he needs is a little bit of help…
Just a yard, just a hesitation, just any bit of delay. Beyer just needs one step. He doesn't get it, and then there's the other thing about being a freshman:
Sometimes you get picked up and dumped nine yards downfield.
Ross's lack of momentum when he meets the blocker is more apparent with the moving pictures.
Things And Stuff
This is something of an RPS play for Iowa. Beyer makes a nice play and may hold this down if he gets that step from Ross, but Weisman also has a cutback inside of that guy since Black goes straight upfield and Demens gets blocked. I don't think that's a problem with either of those guys since it seems like Michigan's strategy on the zone was to get aggressively upfield in gaps and let one of the two linebackers flow free:
would be a first down as Demens did not funnel back to Ross, may picture page later
On this play Michigan doesn't adjust and gets that unblocked backside guy they don't want. As a result someone has to beat a block to make a play; Beyer does and it is for naught.
Michigan still could have held it down. That one step Ross didn't take is probably the difference between two yards and nine; if he hits a little earlier, with a little more authority, Weisman slows and Beyer gets his cookie.
An older Ross could have made this mistake and still held it down. And then it's just getting carried. Of all the flaws to have this is the best one because it's obvious and not at all hard to fix; it was still a bit vexing on this drive.
Weisman was a bad matchup for Ross. Ross would show up in the right spot a lot and still get crunched back for significant YAC. On the third and five that set up Iowa's sneak, he did a great job to get to the hole on Yet Another Inside Zone and make contact with Weisman. Result:
That probably doesn't happen if Morgan's in the game. People stop when they meet Morgan. A guy like Weisman may pound out a yard or two; Iowa is still facing a fourth and three or four, and probably kicking except this is Ferentz we're talking about, the sandbagger.
Ross is still super instinctive. Once the ball is snapped Ross is almost certain to read quickly and get to the spot. While he still needs some work on zone drops, if he can put on 15-20 pounds and do that the sky is the limit for him. Of all the ways Iowa's rushing offense could have been better than expected "Weisman running over Ross" is the best one from a Michigan fan's perspective. Once Ross turns those twelve tackles into twelve tackles a yard closer to the LOS, with a yard less YAC, look out.
I came away from this game thinking that Ross was a major culprit in the admittedly limited success Iowa had on offense and that he was going to be really good possibly as soon as next year, if that makes any sense. The mistakes he makes are small, and given his high football IQ it seems certain he'll fix them by the time next fall rolls around. Add on the usual amount of mass and you've got my #1 pick for a breakout player on Michigan's 2013 D.
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
The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.
In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.
We start with the defensive line.
What we were forced to watch last year
Michigan stemmed into four man fronts occasionally but spent most of its time with a three man front featuring a traditional nose tackle who lined up directly over the center and two defensive ends. It was unclear to me if these defensive ends were intended to slant one way or the other at the snap—an aggressive "one gap" system—or if they were reading and reacting—a "two gap" system—because of the massive confusion surrounding them. It was hard to tell if Greg Banks was trying to cover two gaps unsuccessfully or just getting single blocked all the time.
They did typically line up slightly outside (lingo: "shaded outside") the tackles, indicating that it was probably the former:
You'd have to be the sort of idiot that would have Craig Roh play linebacker to play Craig Roh as a two-gap DE at 235 pounds, but… yeah.
At other times Michigan would switch to a four-man front in which their linebackers did things that made no goddamn sense at all, like on this soon-to-be 61-yard-touchdown…
…but that's another show. I bring it up to point out that in this situation you see Greg Banks as the weakside(!) defensive end, Craig Roh as the strongside guy, and Ryan Van Bergen folded inside to be the three-tech defensive tackle. This is a shifted line rather than an 'even' line, but more about that later.
What we were forced to watch the year before
Michigan ran mostly four-man lines and while they varied they usually put Brandon Graham on the weakside-ish of the formation. Here Illinois presents a balanced line with two TEs but you can see Martin lined up over the nose tackle and Graham to the bottom of the screen with a big gap between the two. Banks and Roh are to the top of the screen:
The linebacker walks down to the LOS in an effort to prevent Graham and Martin from getting double-teamed. When there is no TE on the weakside teams had a choice between singling Graham or Martin, which is why Graham got to eat the universe so often.
Sometimes they would line up differently. Here's another play on which Graham is on the weakside, well outside of the tackle as Martin lines up directly over the guard:
This is actually an "even" look where Michigan's not shifted. The DTs are over the guards, the ends line up outside the shoulder of the tackles.
They did occasionally stem into 3-3-5-ish looks, but note here that the defensive "ends" are lined up inside the tackles—this defense is designed to push runs to the outside.
Michigan ran this front most of the day against Ohio State and had success against their traditional I-form game, but struggled when the Buckeyes went to unbalanced spread sets. USC ran this quite a bit in the last few years of the Carroll regime; they called it "double eagle".
What can't possibly be quite as bad next year
My assumption is the defense is going to look a lot like the 2009 one did. That was a 4-3 under. I was going to go dig up old Michigan rosters featuring the "rush linebacker" to demonstrate that Michigan's old school defense also tended to have a guy hanging out on the edge made of menace and sacks while the other guy enjoyed fighting off tight ends but then I remembered Hoke obviated the need for circumstantial evidence:
“We’re going to be a four-three defense, either an over or under front.”
Those sound like two totally different things but they're not. This from above is an "over" front:
This is an "under" front:
And you're probably like "that's the same damn thing except Craig Roh is standing up." You're right. The difference in the pictures is the offense. In the MSU still there are more DL to the side with the TE and FB; in the Western still there are more DL away from the side of the formation with more dudes. Both have a one-technique DT and a three-technique DT. Both leave a big gap between the one-tech DT and the DT to his side. They're just mirror images of each other. A couple of helpful graphs from Shakin' The Southland to clarify. Michigan's overshifted line in the State image:
And the undershifted line against WMU:
The only player that ends up aligning differently is the strongside DE; it's really just flipping the tackles over.
That's still a useful distinction Hoke made for us, though, because a team that is under/over is going to have different requirements than a team that aligns even like Michigan did on that Iowa play above. We get to keep our terminology from two years ago when we talked about the three-tech DT and the one-tech DT.
Every team is "multiple" these days and will run under/over/even fronts as changeups. Also, the generally accepted theory is that under is better against pro-style teams that will bang your head and over is better against spread teams that will take your strongside linebacker into the slot. So when Hoke says "under/over" he probably means Michigan is going to run both depending on situation, not that they'll pick one when they figure out their personnel a bit better.
What you need at each spot
From right to left in the second graph above:
- The weakside defensive end is going to get a one-on-one matchup with the tackle most of the time and needs to turn that opportunity into plays. Think Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods, etc.
- The three-tech DT also usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the guard. He should be a penetrator that gets into the backfield with regularity. NFL DTs you've heard of (Warren Sapp is the canonical one) who aren't barely mobile piles of goo are probably three-techs.
- The one-tech DT is going to experience a ton of double teams as the offense attempts to attack the "bubble" in the front the defense leaves but not putting someone over the other guard. You know all those successful zone running plays the site has explained over the years that start with a guard blocking some DT and end with that guard plugging a linebacker as someone else slides over to finish the job on the NT? That's what you don't want your nose tackle giving up.
- The strongside DE should be Brandon Graham. Failing that, he should be a big, strong guy who's good against the run and can add some pass rush here and there.
A post from Battle Red Blog provides more detail on what your 4-3 under requires—at least on an NFL level—if you're interested.
Who goes where
Craig Roh is the weakside defensive end and will be backed up by Herron/Paskorz/Beyer/Heitzman. Attempts to move Roh elsewhere will be thwarted by a plucky band of kids and their dog ripping the Mattison mask off of a dastardly Greg Robinson.
There are two scenarios for the rest of the line. In the happy fairy dance scenario, Mattison, Hoke, and Beyonce are so much better than Bruce Tall and Greg Robinson that they transform the platoon of Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, and Richard Ash into a functional one-tech DT. Here's what happens if they don't and they move Martin:
Yeeargh. I'll believe Will Campbell can play D when I see it but Ash and Washington got some praise last year so you've got three bullets. It's possible this happens, if not probable.
If you can assemble a frankentackle in the middle then you can slide Mike Martin out to the three-tech spot he doesn't know he's been coveting for years. Imagine senior Martin getting single blocked on most plays. Tingling is normal when contemplating this scenario.
As a bonus, successfully moving Martin to the three tech allows you to leave Ryan Van Bergen at DE, where he is the kind of solid run defender you need on the strongside. He'll chip in a half-dozen sacks and be the B+ version of a strongside defensive end and that will be fine.
The realistic-thing-that-will-be-called-pessimistic-in-the-comments scenario is that Campbell/Washington/Ash produce a guy or two worth platooning but actually running those guys out as starters is asking to be smashed. This strands Mike Martin at the one-tech and essentially forces them to move Van Bergen back to the three-tech spot he occupied in 2009. Redshirt freshman Terrance Talbott is the only other three-tech on the roster until fall. Neither of these things are necessarily bad. RVB graded out decently in UFRs a couple years ago and picked up six sacks; Martin is good enough to play either spot.
What is bad is what that does to the strongside defensive end spot, where Jibreel Black would be an all-but-certain starter as a true sophomore. Black had some promising moments last year… as a pass rusher. He had many more in which his terrible run defense hurt Michigan, and while he'll get better it seems doubtful he'll get better fast enough to be an asset. The only other option at SDE is redshirt freshman Ken Wilkins.
It is possible that in this scenario they put Roh on the strongside since he'll be a junior and he's been less prone to crippling mistakes against the run. His main problem has been a lack of size that the offseason should come close to erasing. That would take a guy who's presumably going to be Michigan's best pass rusher and put him in a position to get doubled lots, though.
Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale
Depends on scenario but this shouldn't be too bad. In the happy fairy scenario Michigan's personnel fits a shifted line like a glove. You've got three battleship type NTs, two guys on the weakside who will wreak havoc, a solid guy at SDE, and a scattering of decent backups.
Even in the regular non-fairy scenario you've got good personnel at three spots. SDE would probably be an issue. Either way it's way better than trying to use Craig Roh as a LB or three-man-line DE.