Inclusions and omissions. PFF lists its top 101 players going into 2016 and Michigan's defense is well represented:
- #7 Jourdan Lewis
- #16 Jabrill Peppers
- #27 Maurice Hurst
- #31 Chris Wormley
- #72 Ryan Glasgow
We knew most of this already since Hurst was projected as a first round pick by PFF and Glasgow came in for mention as a top-20 DL a year ago. This is some more detail on Glasgow:
Another standout performer on the Michigan defensive line, Glasgow played only 332 snaps before going down to injury in Week 10. He posted a dominant +17.6 grade against the run to go with a +9.0 pass rush grade and his overall grade ranked 19th in the nation at the time of the injury.
Losing him was a crushing blow to the run D.
PFFs omissions are illuminating and one jumps out: Jake Butt. This might point to a hole in PFF's methodology. Their list doesn't have a single TE on it. IIRC when they mentioned Butt in the past they had negative grades for his blocking, which is reasonable since he was very much a finesse guy a year ago. It seems like TE blocking should probably be graded on a curve since a guy like Butt helps out the run game in other ways due to his threat as a pass catcher.
Anyway, there are three Michigan DL amongst the best in the country… and one of them probably isn't going to start. Add in Charlton, Mone, and Gary and this line is set to be an all-timer.
Speaking of Glasgow. He tells Nick Baumgardner he's almost all the way back:
Glasgow -- who posted 25 tackles (5 for a loss) -- says about 95 percent of his shoulder strength has returned. And if Michigan were to start fall camp tomorrow -- it'll begin Aug. 8 -- then Glasgow would be full-go without any limitations.
"There might be some rust with technique and stuff. But (I'd be healthy and ready)," Glasgow added. "Being out on the field is amazing. I definitely took it for granted before and I never will ever again now. That injury definitely sobers you up to the fact that football does have an end date. Which is unfortunate.
"But it makes you appreciate the game."
If Glasgow does get displaced by Mone I'll be shocked. Not lemon-eating shocked. But shocked.
Oakland is not in play. "Off to NFL in three years" futures are cratering:
“Happy, happy—10 out of 10 happy,” he says. He juggles a pair of camps and time with a number of recruits here on unofficial visits. “And then I get to walk over to the stadium and do the offensive and defensive linemen too! You’re like a pig in slop out here. That’s how I feel. Drawing the long straw today.”
Purdue 1980. Via Dr. Sap:
Better than nothing. John O'Korn hit up the Manning passing camp and came away with a prestigious award:
Southern Mississippi’s Nick Mullens and Michigan’s John O’Korn were crowned co-champions of the Air-it-Out Quarterback Challenge after neither could separate themselves after five rounds of competition at Nicholls State University's stadium. …
During the passing challenge, the quarterbacks had to hit three golf carts traveling across the field at 15 yards, 25 yards and up the sidelines. This was a change from previous years, when the first two carts traveled 10 and 20 yards. Quarterbacks needed to hit all three carts to advance.
A prestigious award based on approximately a dozen throws, so don't print up your O'HEISMAN 2016 t-shirts just yet. Like the increasingly farcical Elite 11—which had 24 QBs at it this year—the more QBs that get thrown in a passing camp bucket, the less reliable the outcomes are. Still, as the bold bit says, better than nothing.
Fulton on OSU. You won't find a better primer on the Buckeyes than that delivered by Ross Fulton. This part is especially relevant to Michigan fans because M will run the same style of front-seven defense:
Ohio State features a Mike, Will, and Sam linebacker. But what does that mean? It is helpful to think of Ohio State using two inside linebacker and one outside linebackers.
The Mike and Will are the inside linebackers. They are primarily responsible for an inside run gap to their side of the formation. The Mike plays to the field, with the Will to the boundary. There are slight differences. The Will must be rangier because he more often has boundary flat coverage responsibilities. The Mike is a more traditional downhill inside linebacker.
But the Mike and Will are more interchangeable than the Sam. The Sam – or Walkout –linebacker is a hybrid linebacker/safety. As the name suggests, the walkout linebacker often plays outside the tackle box, generally aligning over the number 2 or slot receiver. Playing in space, he is responsible for setting the edge to the field, meaning he must be able to defeat blocks and force the football inside.
Practically speaking, this means the position is responsible for limiting the horizontal screen and run game that feature prominently in spread offenses. But he must also be comfortable playing in the tackle box against pro-style formations. In short, the position requires perhaps the most versatile player in the Ohio State defense.
The SAM is obviously Peppers and the stuff he'll be asked to do isn't too much different than his job last year. Brown will incorporate a lot more blitzing and zone coverage into the Peppers role; he'll still be Michigan's screen obliterator.
Got some guys this year. NFL.com is releasing lists of the top ten players to watch at various positions. Michigan guys are popping up with frequency. Jehu Chesson is the #2(!) WR:
2. Jehu Chesson, Michigan
Some receivers just carry themselves like a natural-born WR1 and Chesson is one of those guys. There is a level of confidence and toughness that comes through when you watch him play, and he is as fearless a wide receiver when working in traffic as any you will find, taking shot after shot while securing the catch. Stat scouts won't fall in love with Chesson based on his production last season (50 catches for 764 yards and 9 TDs), but NFL scouts love his ability to adjust to throws and work all three levels of the field. He won't have many "Wow!" highlights that have you jumping out of your seat, but his size, toughness and consistency put him near the top of this list.
MSU gets a sixth year. OL Brandon Clemons got his sixth year:
Michigan State OL Brandon Clemons got his sixth year approved by the NCAA today. Expected, but needed boost of experience nonetheless.
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) June 21, 2016
Some guy on the internet went back and checked dress lists, finding that Clemons was in street clothes by the end of the year and may actually have a case. Ed Davis almost certainly does not:
He dressed in every game, including road games where the travel team is limited. There's no way he didn't take a voluntary redshirt.
Next year's NHL draft prospects. Michigan didn't have a player selected in the first round despite a banner year for NCAA hockey, especially a BU team that will be loaded when it comes to Yost this fall. That should change next year. Chris Dilks's initial rankings for 2017 feature three Wolverines-to-be: #15 Michael Pastujov, #25 Josh Norris, and #28 Luke Martin. Martin is arriving this fall, so Michigan kind of sort of maybe has a first rounder in this recruiting class.
What are you doing, MSU hockey? They just don't care.
Also on the agenda are the renewals/extensions of contracts for Athletic Director Mark Hollis through the 2020-21 school year and three of his major-sport coaches – men’s basketball coach Tom Izzo (2022-23), women’s basketball coach Suzy Merchant (2020-21) and hockey coach Tom Anastos (2019-20).
A hockey coach's buyout is chump change for a Big Ten athletic department but I'm just like… why? Why are you the way you are?
Etc.: Basketball recruiting is ridiculous.
#2 overall. That's the softball team's seed for the upcoming NCAA tournament:
Ann Arbor Regional – May 20-22 at Ann Arbor, Michigan
Notre Dame (41-11) vs. Miami (OH) (34-21)
Valparaiso (18-32) vs. No. 2 seed Michigan* (46-5)
Notre Dame should present the toughest test for Michigan. The two teams didn't play this year and there's very little in the way of common opponents; ND is ranked around 20th in the national polls and is thus a considerably tougher second-round opponent than you'd generally expect—it's the equivalent of a one-seed in the basketball tournament drawing a six-or seven-seed in round two.
MGoUser South Bend Wolverine has written excellent previews the past couple years and we pinged him; we hope to front-page it later this week.
Exit Rawak. Chrissi Rawak is leaving Michigan to become Delaware's AD. Rawak is a name those of you who have read Endzone probably remember. Rawak, Dave Brandon's second-in-command, features prominently both as a symbol of the change Brandon wrought and as a crutch increasingly forced to take on roles that she's not comfortable in. The book makes it clear that she was rather divisive, especially amongst the old hands forced out because of a lack of personal loyalty to Brandon.
I'm skeptical anyone Brandon could rely on so comprehensively was a good fit with my ideal Michigan athletic department, so the move is a win-win. Rawak gets an AD job with winged helmets to ease her transition, and a prominent Brandon apparatchik is no longer wondering what's wrong with a giant noodle ad in the Big House.
Ever aft… uh. Speaking of the Before Times, infamous Dave Brandon mansion "Ever After" is up for sale for a cool seven million dollars.
Not pictured is the other plaque by the gate, for obviou's reasons:
May its next resident be better at apostrophes and email.
I still can't get over the spectacular hubris of naming your home the thing that fairy tales say after the princess gets rescued by the dashing prince. If there was ever a better example of "be about it, don't talk about it" I can't think of one. The same hubris that caused "Ever After" is the one that caused "find a new team" and eventually resulted in the thing being put up for sale. It's nice to know that cosmic justice does strike, at least occasionally.
Relevant to our interests. Ian Boyd writes on how 4-3 defenses—that would be us—are adapting to the "smashmouth spread"—that would be OSU. MSU's defense features prominently, as they've increasingly found their safeties matched up one-on-one with receivers they cannot hang with. You may remember a number of Jake Rudock passes in last year's game that would have been touchdowns had they been accurate; Baylor and Oregon have also made a habit out of bombing it deep to slot types.
Michigan's changed so much over the past few years that it's hard to draw any conclusions from what they're doing. (Other than "don't do that against OSU again.") MSU's adapted, as teams constantly do; Boyd says that to cope with smashmouth spreads that run a lot of RPO these are the key components:
To make this style of man/zone combination work a defense has to have a few particular components. The first is a lockdown corner to play man coverage on the weakside. If the opposing team has an ace WR in that spot and love to throw him the ball on standard downs then this scheme is DOA without a corner that can match him.
The second is a pair of DEs that are fundamentally sound and good at responding to different blocks. If that DE can't consistently contain the ball inside on the weakside this scheme can get into trouble fast.
Finally, the strong safety should be a player worth featuring as a free hitter against the run game.
Michigan appears to check all these boxes, pending the resolution of the WDE spot, and looks set to be a 4-3 over team this fall.
The other thing you haven't considered. Steve Politi keeps banging the War On Rutgers drum because all of a sudden his articles are clicked when he does this. I keep banging on the War On Rutgers drum because it is deeply hilarious to me. Anyway, this episode:
Now that we have the seeds of a Rutgers-Michigan feud planted,
now that we have the New Jersey high school coaches lining up behind their state university in an eye-popping show of solidarity,
against Paramus Catholic with Rutgers as a proxy
now that we have a reason for the national college football media to pay attention to our state in early June,
we should probably point this out:
Satellite camps are a farce.
yes, but not for the reasons you think.
The rest of the article is the usual reiteration of Politi's worldview that Harbaugh is a Machiavellian manipulator of the media and "fake," whatever that means. Anyone who's laid eyes on Harbaugh knows that his personality is on full display, and at maximum volume, at all times. This insistence that the guy is anything other than genuine is the least convincing rival smack talk I have come across. Crazy, sure. Phony, no. That's the equivalent of accusing David Shaw of being excessively emotional.
One strikeout. A couple times this space has wondered why Michigan State was telling people they expected three sixth-year players back when none of them seemed to have any case. Here's the resolution to one of those cases:
Veteran defensive tackle Damon Knox will not play for the Spartans in 2016 and has decided instead to pursue a career in law enforcement, the school announced on Friday afternoon.
MSU didn't even submit paperwork for him; as of a few weeks ago they hadn't done so for either of the other two guys, LB Ed Davis and OL Brandon Clemons. This is a really weird situation: it seems like the relevant persons at MSU are unaware that a sixth year is much harder to get than a fifth year.
The spin here rankles a little. Knox didn't get a sixth year because he never had a case for one. It's not because he has a passion for The Law. but the aforementioned oddity means outlets who haven't been paying much attention write articles like this:
There’s something you don’t see every day.
Friday, Michigan State announced that defensive tackle Damon Knox will not be returning to the Spartans for a sixth season. The reason? The lineman has decided to pursue a career in the field of law enforcement.
Uh… no. That's not CFT's fault They're just aggregating a story. It is the fault of the universally credulous Spartan beat, which will get around to investigating Max Bullough's suspension any day now.
Etc.: Rutgers fans remind each other to thank Jim Delany for "the biggest gift the school had received since Colonel Rutgers donated the money to revive the college back in the 1820s," which is accurate.
People attempting to purchase Budweiser-taunting "Murica" beer disappointed to discover it doesn't exist. Hey man take a cue from InBev and just put the same beer in a different package. Just one incoming hockey recruit, Will Lockwood, mentioned amongst the top 100 prospects for the upcoming NHL draft in an extensive article. BU is cleaning up.
Again, I would like to apologize to dogs for my insensitive comments about their intelligence.
No this isn't a "3-4"; well it is a 3-man front with the nose over the center,
but not a 3-4, let me explain.
Various people reporting back from practice have noticed three (or fewer) guys with their hands down, and said "oh they're going 3-4." Soon enough people pick up on this, figure a new DC means a new defense, and whiteboards across the state get sales points erased in favor of X's and O's with arrows diving between X's.
Mattison was asked about the 3-4 look in his breakout Q&A and had this to say:
"We ran that last year. What we're doing on defense is trying to see what scheme fits the players."
I know we've hashed the 4-3 under a bunch on this site but I could never walk by a boardroom with football drawings on it (this is probably why I lost that job) so here we go again.
Everyone Runs Everything. Calling a defense a "3-4" or "4-3" or any one thing at this level is not ever going to be accurate, because defenses change up gaps and show different looks so offensive linemen won't know exactly who's got what gap every time. In the process of showing that you might be running 3-4, sometimes you actually have guys two-gapping. If you have a really special player you might do that even more. But general rule is everyone runs everything, and the best you can do to describe any single defense is what their base is. Everything else will stem from the base.
Alignment vs. Philosophy
Alignment is where you put your players before the snap; philosophy is what they're being tasked with. The two-gapping philosophy has become synonymous with the 3-4 alignment, and the one-gapping philosophy is thus tied to the 4-3. The major difference between these philosophies is understood better by using the "gap" terms.
…means you have one to three defensive linemen responsible for controlling a blocker instead of a gap between those blockers. His job is to get into that guy and be in a position to tackle if the run goes to either side. He's not left out to dry; the two-gap philosophy gives you a free hitter from the second level who watches the play then reacts. Think of it as man defense for run fits, i.e. the defenders all have a certain offensive player they're responsible for beating, the free hitter's being the ballcarrier.
You can do this if you have a super large nose tackle, the classic example being Wilfork on the Patriots. You can look at the above diagram and see the downside of two-gapping: if that left guard releases and the center holds up, you have a blocker eating your free hitter downfield. Two-gapping is a luxury you can have if the guy you have two-gapping is able to do it effectively.
A two-gapping defensive lineman needs to get that control established early, so lining up directly over the guy he's going to control is rather important. So a base 3-4, two-gapping defense will line up almost always with the nose tackle directly over the center, thus threatening the two-gap assignment, and still in position to change it up.
Remember that these are not set-in-stone gap assignments, just common ones. You change these up from play to play.
This is your basic "everyone has a gap" defense and the philosophy behind both the 4-3 even/over and 4-3 under. It is zone defense of run fits. Coaches who use this as their base, however, call it the more "aggressive," because football coaches describe the way they eat an ice cream cone "aggressive," yes, but also because the linebackers and linemen aren't diagnosing anything before taking their first steps of the play.
Instructively, one of the terms used often for the 4-3 over is the "Miami 4-3" because Jimmy Johnson used it to great effect when he had access to a lot of very athletic yet not very coachable defensive players. The concept was fast guys hitting their gaps and penetrating upfield to cause disruption.
You'll note that the 4-3 under picture is nearly identical to the 3-4, one-gapping example image above. That's pretty much what a 4-3 under is: a nose tackle and two large DL who set up in a position to take on double-teams so the LBs can attack their gaps. Philosophically everyone has one gap, but guys start taking on different roles: the NT is shaded to strongside so he'll need to be a bit more of a plugger; the SDE is further inside and has to be able to take on doubles like a DT; the other DT is further out and can be a little more end-ish; the WDE has a one-on-one battle with the OT, and can be a little more linebackerish; and the SAM has to be part-DE to compensate for the fact that he's the edge defender instead of the SDE.
Because it looks so much like the 3-4 defense it can threated to do 3-4 things. That gets us to the point of what Durkin does with his defenses, and what Michigan is expected to do this year: threaten two-gapping as a changeup.
Here's a play from Florida-FSU last year and you'll recognize the alignment as 3-4 (or would be 3-4 except weakside OLB is pulled for a nickel):
Nose tackle is right over the center. Ends are right over the tackles. You are thinking all sorts of Wilforky things. But this is still a one-gapping defense and you'll see why off the snap:
Right there is a good shot of the roles of 4-3 under defenders. The NT and 3-tech have double-teams; as long as they don't give up ground and stay engaged with those dudes they're keeping the LBs clean and keeping their holes closed. The five-tech has a guard (he'd be doubled if the run was going the other way), and the two MLB-types (the WLB and MLB) can flow into gaps (the MLB is blitzing his). The SAM has his edge. The difference here is the WDE has been pulled for a nickel, a dramatization of the fact that a 4-3 under WDE is often in coverage.
Here's how it's drawn up:
(orange arrow means player's in zone coverage and watching his gap; black=rushing).
On that play the nickelback (5'10"/206 junior Brian Poole, Florida's hybrid space player) came down inside and got blocked by the slot receiver, giving up the edge and leading to a big run since the free safety was deep in coverage. If not for that, Poole should have been in perfect position to hold this down.
You Sure Durkin is a 4-3 Guy?
Durkin likes to accomplish the base thing from a gazillion different looks; I predict defensive UFRs with regular opening shots of Brian trying to name things. Here are the formations for every play leading up to that one:
What defense is this? It's a philosophically 4-3 (one-gapping) multiple-front thing that likes to have speed on the edges, either from standup WDE/SAMs or putting hybrid space players in there with edge responsibility. IE what Michigan's been since 2011.
What About 3-3-5?
The 3-3-5 stack also uses two-gapping as a base threat, though neither Rocky Long nor Jeff Casteel have often had access to a nose tackle capable of doing it consistently. The point of the 3-3-5 is it gives up starting position for the threat of attacking from anywhere.
Remember how GERG was terrible at this? It's because he was a 4-3 coach teaching 4-3 philosophy, and that took away the unpredictability of this defense.
My biggest takeaway from last night is Michigan will need a very strong and well-coached front seven if Harbaugh is to pull a 1969 next Thanksgiving weekend.
The key to Michigan's dramatic defensive improvement in 2011 was that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison gave Michigan's defense an identity. They went to a 4-3 under, single-gap run defense that Mattison brought from the Ravens, and over the course of the year found the best fits for the guys on hand.
|Durkin knew Mattison from his Charlie Weis pants days. [photo: Joe Raymond|Freep]|
You remember, despite the relative success of this transition, that some fits were more or less awkward than others. Jake Ryan was a perfect SAM. Ryan Van Bergen worked as a 3-tech or a 5-tech. Mike Martin played nose because nobody else could, and his disruption was deployed with a lot of stunts, or weird stuff like when they came up in an Okie and Martin dropped back to essentially MLB. Roh at WDE was a solid run defender but wasn't built to take advantage of that WDE-tackle matchup that's supposed to produce natural pressure.
Last year of course they went to a 4-3 over base alignment, making Jake Ryan into an awkward MLB because the alternative was Beyer as a really awkward 5-tech. The kicker: offenses were forcing Michigan to play nickel 50% to 90% of snaps, which made Ryan into either an undersized defensive end, or a guy on the sideline.
JMFR is gone but Mattison will still be around, joined by new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. At the Cleveland event last night I suggested Mattison’s role will be as sensei to Durkin, who hasn’t really flown solo yet (Muschamp was very involved with that defense).
It adds up to a belief that Michigan won’t change its defensive style for 2015, but what is that style? Coverages are another matter; just speaking to the front seven: should they be the under that they recruited for, or the over they transitioned to?
Refresher on 4-3 philosophy
Mattison and Durkin both coached (Durkin as a graduate assistant for one year) under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, who with Jackie Sherrill developed the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defense. Jimmy Johnson (another Sherrill acolyte) took it a step further in Miami, and Pete Carroll now runs in Seattle.
You’ll note that they used different alignments. Johnson’s defenses were the genesis of the 4-3 over, and so influential that this is what people usually mean by “4-3” defense, as opposed to Tom Landry’s base version. Carroll’s been coaching the 4-3 under since he learned it directly from Monte Kiffin, who developed it at Nebraska.
The under alignment was not the base concept; the real philosophy in Kiffin's terms was to give his defensive linemen simple assignments so they could play with aggression and disruption. The benefit of one-gapping is no defensive linemen stopping to diagnose the play. Once the ball is snapped, all of these defenses want those brains thinking "go!", "put my hat in a gap," "be a factor," and "attack that block!"
Mattison used a mix in Baltimore because he had Ngata, but at Michigan he’s had an almost exclusively gap-attacking defense. The question has been what alignment to run it out of, and that’s a question of which players fit it best.
(Start at 1:17)
So which alignment is Michigan going with this year? I think again it’s a question of personnel? I make diagram.
Michigan’s short on red dudes
The above is my attempt at showing the spectrum of qualities emphasized by the front seven positions in the 4-3 over versus the 4-3 under. I also gave a small approximation of color fits for guys I know something about (Spur-like objects like Gant and Wangler left out because I ran out of colors to depict DB-ness).
It's meant to show what we mean when we talk about the why nothing's a perfect fit for the talent on hand. Suggestions for improved shading are welcome. Takeaway from this experiment: Michigan's front the next few years may be better at throwing out different looks than it will be at rotating through shark teeth.
If you trust my judgment on the shading above, the over appears to remain the best fit for the guys we have, provided they can find some backup ends (the glut of DE/DT tweeners remains). As Mattison mentioned in the video above, the half of the time you’re in nickel to counter a 3- or more-wide look, you’re in an over anyway. D.J. Durkin used a lot of smaller players and changed things up a ton at Florida, and I expect the future will be a truly multiple defense with versatile front seven players. I expect when they can’t run Ojemudia and Charlton out there at the ends, Durkin will experiment with linebacker-ish dudes out there.
Those Van Bergenian thighs. That Clarkian pass rush. That responsible chin…[Fuller]
Final reminder to settlers along Lake Erie: We're coming to your Cleveland on Monday to talk about…I dunno…basketball or kickers or something. We've now added "Big Ed" Muransky to the lineup. Here's some footage of Muransky (#72 right, sometimes left tackle) as a sophomore against MSU, courtesy of WH. The rest of "we" are Brian, John U. Bacon, [huge gap in how much you care] and myself.
We've got the area reserved behind the bar through 11, and there's about 100-120 people coming, which means when the Ohio State fans show up later to watch the national championship game there'll be this wall of Michigan fans to greet them. And a bearded blogger guy rooting loudly for Oregon…while standing behind Big Ed Muransky.
Huge thanks to this lemon-eater for setting it up.
OT don't care SVG is boss: The Pistons cut their best player then ripped off a seven-game win streak. To win #6 they had to preserve a 1-point lead from the defending champions on the road, so Van Gundy used the last rasps of his weakening voice to demand the stones "Just form a [bleep]-ing wall." So I formed an effin' t-shirt.
If you hate this one you're all fired. My "IT'S H4PPENING" shirt is gone now but we've got several other new offerings if you haven't been on the store lately:
Not this again! New coaches mean new schemes to learn and WMUKirk did an amazing job in two diaries of showing how Durkin likes to play chess. Part 1 got into the base stuff and Part 2 was about how he mixed those to stay one step ahead of Jameis Winston's reads. There's this from Part 1:
What I've noticed is he doesn't deviate from 4 basic coverages. Quarters, Cover 3 Press, Cover 1, and his favorite blitz is the Fire Blitz from the QB's blind side. He hardly ever runs Man Under, Tampa 2, or Cover 0. He values speed and isn't against running a 3-4 with 3-3-5 personnel.
Florida's 3-3-5 was lifting one of the middle linebackers for a safety/spur/hybrid space player dude, and looked thusly:
The WDE is a pass rusher type and is standing up. On 1st and 15 this is Xtreme speed.
That's a 3-3-5 but not a Casteel stack; it's more like one of Mattison's okies except the MLB is a LB, not Mike Martin.
[Cont. after the jump]
We shall have to *press* our *quarters*. Ha ha! do you smoke the pun dear Maturin?
We've been talking about how Michigan State's defense worked and how Michigan's this year and in the future could be using that as a model. I've brought up how the 4-3 over works, but the genius of Dantonio's defense is really in how he does coverage. Since it seems this is what Michigan will be doing, I thought a lay understanding of it wouldn't go amiss just now.
Coaches, you can offer corrections or tune out because this is going to be a little more basic. Spartans, try not to be too offended at the butchery I make of your wonderful defense. You are truly our state's top program and in no way does continuing to whine about a statement a 21-year-old made in 2007 make you petty.
Now let's go to the alignment above. We're looking at a 4-3 over; the defensive line is shifted to the "strong" side (technically Michigan's offense is balanced but the side with the two TEs is strong. Also that's the field side). We're also looking at a defense that is really creeping up. The safeties are 7 and 8 yards off the line of scrimmage, the linebackers are 4 yards off, and the cornerback at the bottom of your screen is in press. The variant on the 4-3 over is the defensive ends spread out (the SDE is in a wide-9 tech, the WDE completely outside the RT's shoulder), and the linebackers group in closer to compensate.
This is "aggressive." The guys apparently in charge of the deep part of the field are further off the line of scrimmage than the running back. There's a mismatch on your right, where a cornerback is matched against a tight end (Butt), but that hardly matters since any run is going right into a pile of bodies.
Cover 2 and Cover 2 Man
Getting up and bothersome to any receivers near the line of scrimmage has big benefits. The receiver will have a hard time getting into his route, throwing off the timing of the play and ensuring the offense gets nothing cheap like a quick out or in. A good press corner will prevent his receiver from getting into an easy route like a slant (the old fashioned man-coverage beating route). The danger of this is the press doesn't work all the time and then you've got a receiver accelerating downfield past a cornerback who's facing the wrong way. For this reason press teams would leave the safeties back to help. It ends up functionally not that different from Cover 2.
Of course that has a downside as well. While each receiver has 1.5 guys occupied with him, you've got the safeties and outside linebackers chasing the passing game instead of manning the run gaps. Defensive rule numero uno is don't be easy to run on.
A very popular alternative these days is Quarters. The link will explain further but simply put, with quarters coverage the cornerbacks and safeties have option routes depending on what the receivers do. They watch the inside guy (in a stack it's the back guy). If he goes vertical the safety has him; if he goes into the flat, the cornerback does and the safety plays Cover 2.
Watch this gif from the above link until you get a feel; the left side is the #2 receiver going vertical and the right side is him going into the flat.
"Going vertical" as I learned it, is the receiver going 8 or more yards downfield before making a turn. This is a strong coverage technique to cover the outside and downfield stuff the receivers will do, and leaves the linebackers available to cover short Cov 2 routes and react to the run. It's very base; the best way to beat it is to have your running game outmatch their front seven. The safeties are able to stand back and read, so like Cov 2 they're available to cut down whatever made it through. That's good enough for Virginia Tech, who's been running Quarters and been solid against the run for a decade and a half. But it wasn't good enough for Dantonio.
Very Aggressive Quarters
You may have already smoked out the difference between Michigan State's alignment against Michigan and the Cover 4 look that quarters starts out in. You've got that cornerback pressing a guy, for one. And the other thing: if the coverage is waiting until the inside guy is 8 yards downfield to be sure of their decision, and the safeties are standing 7 yards off the line of scrimmage, aren't they setting themselves up for one of those "hey maybe I oughtta be chasing this guy who just ran by me." things?
State will pack their guys in the box so linebackers and safeties are right there to stop the run. The linebackers squeeze laterally into the box, so the coverage is strongest inside (knowing this, offenses don't typically expect to find open guys there, leaving those LBs free to run Narduzzi's favorite Double-A gaps blitz).
That makes them very stout against the run, but should have a weakness tradeoff against outside passes. If the #2 receiver goes vertical the safety has to turn and go with him, meaning there's zero help for the cornerback.
State's answer to that: "So what!" This is where stretching the boundaries of pass interference comes into play, because the cornerback's job is to grab anything, pay off anybody, or sacrifice however many livestock and virgins it takes to keep that receiver from getting downfield.
Here's where Dantonio's program development comes into play, because it takes a long time for cornerbacks to get to the point where their press will work often enough that the quarterback stops expecting that guy to be open. Also they have to be ready for what coaches will do to screw with them.
It's also where finding good players comes into play. You can't get away with this if you have crappy Indiana safeties. There's tremendous strain put on the defensive backs to play up and still cover deep; if they can't handle it (and the offense has any kind of downfield passing ability) the jig is up.
In the defense's favor: in the college game, especially the game today where Tom Brady wannabes are less common than Denard Robinson wannabes (i.e. guys who are running threats but hardly devastatingly accurate deep passers), an offense that can rip you over the top is a rare cove indeed. The talent-depleted Big Ten has been short on defense-stretching receivers; a good 40% of Big Ten wideouts who'd pose a major threat to this scheme play for Maryland. Braxton Miller has a lot going for him but he tends to sail such passes over his open guys' heads. Devin Gardner, especially a beat up Devin Gardner, has a tendency to underthrow, turning open receivers into a game of Five-Hundred. Hackenberg might have success but his best targets are tight ends; Sudfeld has a similar problem now that his slot dude is the last man standing. And omigod can you just imagine what happens when this thing meets Gary Nova? "Like a Wrecking Ball" don't enter into it!
Last year Borges tried to screw with the Quarters reads by making it unclear who's the #1 or #2 receiver to that side, either with stacks or putting 3 receivers to the same side or like this (watch the WRs at the top of the screen):
Michigan ran just a two-man route, motioning the outside receiver into the inside receiver. Ultimately Funchess leapt a million feet in the air to beat Drummond to the outside, but look how seamlessly the Spartan defensive backs executed this and made it hard.
A novice might have a hard time with who's 1 or 2, but not a 5th year senior. Dantonio built his program, like Wisconsin's, on retention. He'll hold onto guys for three or four years usually before they see the field (or else the kids have to beat out the upperclassmen). It also makes those elders kind of crucial because the depth chart carries a lot of pressmen in training.
So for the first few seconds of the play, it's kind of Cov 2 man with everybody so bunched near the line of scrimmage that the run game will be right there and obvious, and thus easy to stop. Then quarters rules take over. And it can't be cracked wide open because pass interference isn't likely to be called unless you're playing at Notre Dame.
Can Michigan do this? Actually it's probably the best thing for the defensive personnel the coaches have collected, since the one thing we seem to have a glut of is really good cornerbacks, and more in development.