The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
al borges devin gardner prostyle cuisine
What is the difference between this run:
…and this run:
If you guessed "the one Harbaugh/Drevno were coaching got yards and the one from Hoke/Borges didn't" you win a running theme of the 2015 offseason. The results are certainly stark; why that's true is what we're interested in.
The Power Play
These are both the same play by the offense, and the same play Brady Hoke promised to make into Michigan's base because it is the manliest of plays. It is Power-O, the one where you pull the backside guard and try to run between the tackles.
You can click for biggers
The play is relatively simple to draw up and complex to execute because it uses a lot of the things zone blocking does, including having the blocking and back react to what the defense does. For all the "manball" talk this isn't ISO, where you slam into each other quickly. Depending on how the coach wants to play it and what defensive alignment you see, the basic gist is to get a double or scoop of the playside DT and kick out the playside DE, then have an avalanche of bodies pour into that hole—if the defense is leaping into that gap you adjust by trying a different hole further outside. Leaving two blockers to seal off the backside, one blocker, usually the backside guard, pulls and becomes the lead blocker—it's up to him to adjust to what he sees when he arrives.
You can run this out of different formations with different personnel, and the one immediately apparent difference in the above diagrams is Michigan was more spread—a flanker (Z) is out on the opposite numbers and the strongside is to the boundary; after the motion this is an "Ace Twins". Stanford ran this with a heavy "22-I" formation, meaning two backs (RB and FB) and two tight ends (Y and H) in an I-form. The benefit Michigan gets from its formation is the guy Stanford would have to block with its fullback Michigan has removed from the play entirely by forcing him to cover the opposite sideline.
What Stanford gets in return for its fullback is matchup problems: the open side of the field is going to be two tight ends and a fullback versus two safeties and a cornerback. Run or pass that can go badly for the defense as these size mismatches turn into lithe safeties eating low-centered fullbacks, and dainty corners on manbeast TEs.
In War of 1812 terms, Michigan is the Americans, sending the fast-sailing frigate Essex in the Pacific so the enemy has to move ships to the Galapagos instead of harassing the Carolinas. Stanford is the British, parking 74-guns ships of the line where engaging them cannot be avoided and trusting the outcome of any forced engagement should turn in their favor. The point is both work to the advantages and disadvantages of the talent on hand. (In this analogy Borges is a guy trying to use Horatio Nelson tactics with a Navy of sloops and brigs).
That being said, it still works as well as anything—people did in fact score points before the spread, and those who scored a lot of them could do so by keeping defenses off balance and with good execution. As we'll see both of those factors played a big role.
[after the jump]
“Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude, in Los Angeles… But sometimes there's a man, sometimes, there's a man. Aw. I lost my train of thought here. But... aw, hell. I've done introduced him enough.” –The Stranger, The Big Lebowski
In mid-2010 I got hired by a bank to be a
Customer Service Representative teller. This put me on the front lines of the never-ending war between people’s money and the financial organizations that hold it. I learned very quickly that there were two things that could turn a mild-mannered citizen into a venom-spewing troglodyte: bank fees and Rich Rodriguez.
I loved when people came into the bank wearing college gear because it meant I’d be able to easily strike up a conversation about football, and people are a little less likely to verbally assault you when you’re able to find some common ground. The operative word in that last sentence is “little,” but I digress. By the fall of 2010 people were so fixated on the abject disaster that was Michigan’s defense that they willfully ignored how incredible the offense was. This was the fuel they needed to turn the “RichRod isn’t a ‘Michigan Man’” fire into a raging inferno, and it got so out of control that I talked to people who were even criticizing Rodriguez’s wife for not being Michigan-y or Michigan-ish or something crazy like that. At one point someone complained to me about her having blonde hair.
The Microscope of Public Scrutiny was so zoomed in on Rodriguez and everything surrounding him that Dave Brandon was able to make the Free Press look stupid and then lie in wait. At some point in 2010 Brandon’s opinion aligned with the bank’s clients; to them, the Rodriguez experiment had failed. Enter: Brady Hoke.
Hoke represented everything that the anti-Rodriguez movement wanted: familiarity with the program, a defensive background, and the mixture of self-oriented humility manifest in his claim that he’d walk across the country for the job and the program-oriented bravado in the interminable fergodsakes claim.
The honeymoon phase lasted a full season, but by the end of Hoke’s fourth year the program was in a place similar to where he found it, a place all too familiar to Michigan’s fanbase. One side of the ball was above average, but the other side was in such shambles that the team collapsed under the dead weight.
"Once we get the power play down, then we'll go to the next phase. You know, because we're gonna run the power play."
Brady Hoke, 3/23/2011
The transition from Rich Rodriguez to Brady Hoke was like switching from cold brewed coffee to run-of-the-mill drip coffee; a move away from the newer, higher-octane movement and toward what felt more traditional, the tried and true. The fallout from this was immediately apparent in the speculation that one of the most dynamic players to every don the winged helmet might transfer to a school with an offense better suited to his talents (i.e. a school that wouldn’t put him under center and have him hand the ball off).
In what may be one of the most significant events in program history (more on that later), Denard stayed. Al Borges still tried to put Denard under center and Michigan did rep power, but there were enough zone reads incorporated to allow Denard to continue waking up opposing defensive coordinators in cold sweats. You know all of this. You watched it unfold. That also means you watched crimes perpetrated against manpanda and an offense hell-bent on skinning its forehead running against a brick wall before finally, mercifully, abandoning their MANBALL-big-boy-football-noises ideals and exploding out of the shotgun.
This piece is intended to be the counterpoint to the memory’s emphasis on the spectacular. The intent isn’t to accuse, but to take a more calculated look at what exactly happened to Michigan’s offense over the last four years and see where things went well, as well as where and how things stopped functioning.
[After THE JUMP: charts and tables]
Tom always MIKEs before he hikes.
We here at MGoheadquarters recently received some disturbing news about today's youth:
Devin Gardner on SiriusXM: "Before coach Nuss got here, I never had to identify a MIKE ... now I know where pressure's coming from."
— Nick Baumgardner (@nickbaumgardner) August 20, 2014
Kids these days are running around playing three or four years of Division I FBS major conference Block-M-Michigan football without ever identifying the MIKE. !. This sudden revelation has caused widespread histeria. Al Borges has been fired 180 times in the last several hours, and right now Dave Brandon and key personnel are closed off with Rich Rodriguez, deciding whether he needs to get a superfluous extra axe as well. This is calamitous. Catastrophic. Grievous. Pernicious. Regrettable. And avoidable.
What in the name of Double-Pointing Brady Hoke are you people talking about?
MIKE (v.): The act of identifying the middle defender inside the box on the 2nd level for purposes of establishing protection assignments.
It's basically calling out the defense's alignment, using a very simple mechanism: declare one linebacker—the one in the middle of the defense—to be a fifth guy that the five linemen are responsible for blocking.
|Chad always MIKEs before he hikes.|
This is often, but by no means always, the middle linebacker, which many defenses call a "Mike," which is where the term comes from. This is important: the [guy playing the defensive position called] Mike doesn't get to be all-time MIKE. In fact the very reason we MIKE is because Mike the Mike might not be the MIKE, and not knowing this might get your quarterback very badded.
Why is MIKEing important to my children?
Because if the MIKE blitzes there's no way for outside protection to pick him up, so the offensive line has to assign everybody's blocking with that guy accounted for somehow. Defenses LOOOOOOOOVE to screw with this because that's how you get unblocked blitzers, and unblocked blitzers right through the heart of the OL are the best!
When the defense screws with you, you don't have time to point at everybody and say "you block him; you block him." So ONE guy calls out the MIKE and everyone else in the blocking scheme already knows what that means. Usually they call out what sounds like a playcall—it's just a blocking call. "Tango!" "Lightning!" "Red!" "Green!" "Taupe Carpet!"*
|Brian always MIKEs before he hikes. [James Squire|Getty]|
Like in running, pass pro can be man or zone (slide protection). Man makes sure every defender who could be blitzing has a guy assigned to block him (or as is often the case, a man who checks one guy then looks to another). In zone they're blocking gaps: A gap, B gap, C gap, etc. Whatever protection scheme, they have to "declare the MIKE." What they do from there depends on the scheme.
* My dad used colors/nonsense words for playcalls: Blue Jumbo, Yellow Turbo, Purple Eskimo etc. Since he didn't like to use the same "play" twice he got pretty deep into the crayola box before parents' complaints in re: his Lombardi cigar ended his coaching career.
[After the jump, Y U NO MIKE, DG?, and you learn to MIKE]
happier times with Heiko
Al Borges is gone from Michigan after three years. And I'm… relieved. Yes. I think that's right.
Not exactly happy, of course. A dude just got fired. This site had a bizarre frenemies relationship (see: all the tags on this post) with Borges that started with prodding about constraint plays from Heiko by my request. This developed into a press conference Odd Couple thing where Heiko would get crap from Borges and give a little bit of it back, all the while trying to gently ask about the latest debacle. The results were the most entertaining transcripts not involving Steve Spurrier ever.
Then last winter Heiko started agitating me about getting an interview with him. I thought it was a cockamamie idea that would never get past the gatekeepers. This take would have been accurate except for one thing: Borges wanted to do it. So Heiko eventually crept his way past the border guards, was promised 15 minutes, and got 45. The resulting interview ran on the site last summer and was a fantastic glimpse into the day to day experience of being Michigan's offensive coordinator.
Why is nobody else in mourning right now?
— Heiko Yang (@Heiko25) January 9, 2014
I also know that friend of the site Craig Ross did what he always does with Michigan coaches, which is badger them with paper until they are forced to respond. I don't know how he does this, but he does, and he dumped articles and questions on Borges until he eventually got a phone call one morning with Borges on the other end. A debate/harangue sort of thing occurred until Craig—Craig!—had to say goodbye because he had a mediation to oversee (the conversation made it into last year's book).
Personally, I took in Borges's session at the Glazier Clinic in Detroit a couple years ago and came away impressed by his command of the material and ability to communicate concepts.
Al Borges was not a bad guy, and helped us out. That he did so seemingly because Heiko's badgering amused him is the mark of a guy who can take some heat.
It's just that his goddamned offense didn't work.
THINGS STARTED INAUSPICIOUSLY, as Michigan found itself down 24-7 to Notre Dame three quarters into the first night game at Michigan Stadium. Michigan had 141 yards of offense nearing the end of the third quarter when the delirium kicked in. Robinson threw off his back foot just before getting sacked, Junior Hemingway skied for balls between two defenders, Gary Gray refused to acknowledge the existence of footballs, Jeremy Gallon engaged his cloaking device, and when the dust cleared Michigan had squeezed out one of the most bonkers wins in their history.
In the aftermath, things felt ramshackle, and I said as much. Michigan returned nine starters from Rich Rodriguez's final offense, the one that had seen Robinson set records, and this was not that:
This isn't to blame anyone—it seems that coaches are who they are and as much as I want to, you can't hire a guy based on the two years left you've got with Denard. But I hope I'm not the only one who felt a sense of foreboding in the midst of the joy and relief. We've seen this script the last two years, and never has it been as rickety.
Michigan has to fix some stuff—lots of stuff—by the Big Ten season. The stakes are only Denard's career, everyone's faith in the Ethical Les Miles theory of Hoke's success, and the very survival of pandas in the wild. I'll take the escape. I wonder what happens when the drugs wear off and real life reasserts itself.
The drugs did not really wear off for a while as the horseshoe stuck in Brady Hoke's posterior saw them through some rough spots.
Things only came to a screeching halt when Borges unleashed the first of his incredibly terrible gameplans at Michigan State. Faced with a howling maelstrom of trash and in possession of Denard Robinson, Borges featured a gameplan consisting mostly of deep throws as he alternated between Robinson and Devin Gardner. After a stirring opening drive, Michigan went nowhere. They did eat double A gap blitz after double A gap blitz thanks to the fact that their center was telling the entire world the exact moment he'd snap the ball, which he'd done the year before to similar effect. Had any of Michigan's new staff even watched the previous year's game?
Actually, here's a better question: were any of them watching this one?
For the game Michigan tried to pass at least 41 times*, averaging 2.8 yards per attempt and giving up a defensive touchdown.
TWO POINT EIGHT YARDS
RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!
Michigan tried to run the ball 26 times and averaged… oh, Jesus… 5.2 yards per carry. Fitzgerald Toussaint got two carries, Denard twelve.
That was and is flabbergastingly stupid, but Borges managed to top that just a few weeks later when he ditched the spread entirely against Iowa, running a "pro-style" offense because that's what he wanted to do. This was tantamount to forfeiting.
When Iowa punched in their final touchdown on Saturday the clock read 10:42 and Michigan had acquired 166 yards of offense. Forced into a hurry-up shotgun on their final three drives, Michigan matched their production from the first 50 minutes in the last ten.
A chastened Borges went back to the spread for the duration of the season as Michigan scored 31, 45, and 40 to finish the regular season. The 40, against Ohio State, was amongst the best performances Michigan's ever had against the Buckeyes, with Robinson ripping off inverted veer runs for big gains, including the iconic touchdown run to open things.
Michigan had just gutted Ohio State for 300 rushing yards while throwing 17 times. They did this despite running the veer wrong, blocking the guy who teams that actually know how to run the spread would option. It didn't matter. All they had to do was put Robinson in space against the guy they should be blocking, and magic resulted. That, and only that, concealed the rapid erosion of Michigan's ability to run the football. And when the bowl game rolled around, Virginia Tech knew how to defend a half-ass spread. Michigan managed to win that game thanks to the horseshoe; the offense played no part, acquiring under 200 yards of offense for the first time in the Borges era.
It would not be the last time.
ROBINSON HAD SHED THE MANTLE OF INVINCIBILITY acquired over the course of 2010, when he crushed records as a still-raw true sophomore. His interception rate skyrocketed, he lost a half-yard per passing attempt and a whopping 1.3 yards per rushing attempt. That was nothing compared to what awaited the next year.
Setting aside the Alabama debacle as a game Michigan entered with no intention of winning, Borges again reverted to 1990s-style offense completely unsuited for his personnel on the infamous series of plays on which Robinson threw interception after interception.
This is where I deviate from old school hardliners who foist the blame for Robinson's panicked throws on the quarterback who'd been brilliant and efficient two years ago in that very stadium, running the stuff he was good at running. Borges had him run waggles on which not one but two Notre Dame defenders came roaring up at the 5'11" Robinson. He made the results as bad as possible; Borges created a range of results that went only from interception to second and twenty. By that point watching Borges try to utilize Denard Robinson was like watching an otter try to bash open a clam with a shoe.
Michigan did not throw a pass before third down on their two grinding second-half drives before the hurry-up was called for. Do that for the next eight games and run play action off plays you actually run and then Denard might get back to the things he was doing in an offense that was not trying to jam him into a hole he clearly does not fit. I thought maybe we'd learned that lesson after Iowa, but apparently not.
When stressed, people making decisions find it very hard to move away from habit. Everyone reverts to their comfort zone unless they are making a concerted effort to get away from it. Even then, you fall back into old patterns. Lloyd punted. Rodriguez installed a 3-3-5 defense. Borges starts calling plays from a long-ago offense helmed by a guy who was a better passer than runner. Denard throws the ball somewhere, anywhere.
Robinson would go down with his elbow injury midseason, paving the way for Devin Gardner's insertion. This went better than anyone expected—including the coaches who had privately all but given up on him as a quarterback—and eventually Denard returned to the lineup as a slash player, which worked really well for about a game and a half until Ohio State figured out that Robinson at QB always meant run and played like it.
If you've poked around the flaming wreckage of the Michigan internet in the aftermath of Saturday, you have undoubtedly heard the wailing and gnashing of teeth because of that. But the thing is so stark it has to be marveled at again: when Denard Robinson entered the game against Ohio State, every play but one was Denard Robinson doing something. Once it was fail to chip Ryan Shazier and try to get out for a screen; all other times it was run the ball, sometimes with a pitch included. The fakeout was a six-yard completion to Mike Kwiatkowski in the first quarter, and there ended any attempt at deception.
Devin Gardner was at quarterback for three of these plays. Michigan held up a sign that said RUN or PASS, and didn't even try the token fakeout where Robinson goes over the top when the safeties suck up. Gardner ran three times. Denard passed zero. Ohio State figured it out. Surprise!
Most of the time the two quarterbacks weren't even on the field together.
Have I mentioned that Michigan's non-Denard running game was so bad we assumed it couldn't possibly be worse this year?
four DTs and an SDE
two turntables and a microphone
And then, this year. While the unacceptably stupid gameplans based around distaste for the only thing you can get your team to do right evaporated, that was only because Michigan could no longer do anything right at all. After the de rigueur exciting offensive performance against a Notre Dame team that got everyone's hopes high enough to crush Michigan settled into a pattern of ineptitude so vast as to be unbelievable.
Personnel issues contributed, but when the reaction to those issues was the looney-tunes decision to put Michigan's two best offensive linemen next to each other even if they both happened to be tackles, it was over. Michigan put it on film against Minnesota, wasted their bye week repping the never-before-seen tackle over offense, and proceeded to have their tailback rush for 27 yards on 27 carries. The tackle over was quickly dumped, but only after wasting three critical weeks of in-season development for a painfully young offensive line.
That that offensive line had been asked to run first the stretch and then a bunch of power before finally seeming to settle on inside zone—ie, run the full gamut of modern blocking schemes—compounded matters immensely. Borges treated a collection of pups barely out of high school like they were the 1998 Denver Broncos and reaped the whirlwind.
Except the Broncos did one thing and did it very well. Michigan did everything and in the in the end, Michigan did nothing. Two years after a broken version of the inverted veer performed well enough to put 40 points on Ohio State, Michigan had been forced away from it because the only play they could pair with it was a moderately successful QB counter. Not once in Borges's final two years could he run play action off that look, and teams eventually boa constrictored it out of the Michigan playbook.
That was emblematic of the offense as a whole: tiny unconnected packages unrelated to each other, all of which could have worked if Michigan would just execute that one thing they practiced three times last month. When things worked they worked briefly and then were held on to long after the opponent had adjusted, because Michigan never had enough in its arsenal to sustain a full game of production without its quarterback playing out of his mind.
As the tackles for loss mounted and the press conferences got shorter, "we didn't execute" became Borges's self-damning mantra. Michigan could not expect to execute. There is your firing in a sentence.
I hope you're all familiar with Ross Fulton of Eleven Warriors, who does an excellent job of breaking down the X's and O's for Ohio State and their opponents week in and week out. Ross was kind enough to answer a few scheme-centric questions about The Game, and he did so in more detail than I could've possibly asked for—his take on Michigan's offense alone is well worth your time.
Michigan's defense was surprisingly successful against OSU last year, give or take some pounding runs by Carlos Hyde and the bomb to Devin Smith. How do you see the Buckeyes attacking Michigan on Saturday, and do you expect to see any new wrinkles in the offense that we didn't see last year?
First, thanks for the opportunity to collaborate with MGoBlog, a site I have long read and enjoyed.
As to your question, Ohio State was able to gain yards against Michigan last season (the Buckeyes had nearly 400) but Michigan did a really nice job holding the Buckeyes to field goals in the red zone.
The new “wrinkles” you will see Saturday are the primary difference between the Ohio State offense of 2012 and 2013. Last season Braxton Miller was inconsistent as a passer and a decision maker on read/packaged games. As a result, the offense would devolve at times to the Miller and Carlos Hyde run show, even when defenses were cheating slot defenders or safeties against the run.
Fast forward to this year. Miller and Hyde are still Urban Meyer and Tom Herman’s primary weapons. But Ohio State is far more effective at constraining the defense with the screen and pass game. This reflects Miller’s development, as well as the improvement in the wide receiver corps, led by Corey Brown.
Meyer and Herman’s preferred method of operating is coming out in the First Quarter and hitting the edge with screens and packaged hitches to Devin Smith (above), and then taking downfield shots off play action. For instance, one play I expect to see Saturday (and one that will probably get under Michigan fans’ craw) is a deep crossing route off inverted veer. It is very difficult for the play side safety to stay home when they see a pulling guard and the possibility of Miller or Hyde running the football. Also look for Ohio State to use Dontre Wilson as a decoy in the flat to open vertical routes.
Then, once they establish a lead Meyer and Herman like to return to the base run game. Assuming the weather cooperates, I would expect some variation of that formula Saturday.
Are there any personnel matchups when OSU is on offense that particularly delight/concern you?
To me, there is one schematic and one personnel matchup that will be interesting to watch. The first is between Meyer and Greg Mattison in the wide side flat. Against spread teams, Mattison generally walks his Sam linebacker out to the field and plays him in the gray area inside the slot receiver.
Meyer and Herman love attacking the wide side field when a team does this. They will do so not only with wide receiver screens, but also the outside run game. For instance, one method they use is to run jet sweep away from the play side blocking. Miller will read that backside linebacker and if he bites down, Miller gives on the jet sweep. The Buckeyes’ slot receiver simply has to seal the linebacker inside and the Buckeyes can get easy yards, either with Hyde or Wilson.
As a result, playing that role is a lot to ask of any defender, but I was very impressed with how Jake Ryan handled it last fall. But this is a chess match I will be watching.
In terms of personnel, I think that Ohio State has an advantage inside against Michigan’s undersized interior. The strongest part of the Buckeyes as a team is their offensive line. Look for Ohio State to run inside zone and power at the 3-technique bubble.
[Hit THE JUMP to read how Ross thinks OSU will attack Michigan defensively, his thoughts on what plagues the Michigan offense, and his prediction for The Game.]
Peter Frampton:Michigan's offense::Let's stop this analogy right now.
It's nearing Thanksgiving; which means it's time to make pie! Who likes pie? Everyone likes pie! Unless it's a "why our offense sucks so much" pie. Alas, you have all been sampling lots of "Why our offense sucks so much" pie these last few weeks, and we've identified most of the ingredients in this suck pie. What we haven't done yet is say how much any one ingredient is contributing relative to any other. This seems important.
So, I'm going to give you a list of identified ingredients in this suck pie, and you're going to tell me--pie chart like (i.e. adds up to 100%)--how much each suck factor, in your estimated opinion, has gone into our pie:
Fans demand Michigan Manliness. Thus putting the previous regime on not-firm ground and necessitating another transition and talk of MANBALL for stupid political reasons. Rosenberg/Snyder go here.
- Rich Rod! One OL in 2010 and his own suck pie of defense that necessitated another transition. GERG goes here. Zero RS juniors goes here.
- The Process. Which helped doom the 2011 offensive line class. "Just two OL, both of them fliers, in two classes!" goes here. "None of our tight ends are old enough to buy beer!" goes here. "We're stuck running high school blocking schemes because interior OL are too young!" goes here.
If you believe this is a result of Nebraska's defense having a sudden aneurism of competence (hence all the blood), please answer #10 "Universe" on your cards. [Fuller]
- Hoke demands MANBALL! Only if you think there's an executive order from Hoke that forced Borges to use more "big"--ie TEs and FBs instead of WRs--formations and man-blocking.
- Borges can't cook fusion cuisine. Incoherent playcalling and gameplanning, players constantly put in bad positions and asked to do more than their skills suggest they're good at. RPS minuses go here.
- Dithered on MANBALL transition for Denard. Spent 2011 and 2012 trying to be all things; decision not to sacrifice those years to transition is costing us in 2013. "Older guys can't MANBALL" goes here.
- Dithering in 2013. Personnel switches, gimmick offenses, acts of desperation burned practice time, retarded player development, and contributed to snowballing effect. "Tackle over" goes here.
- Funk/OL and execution. Offensive linemen not doing the things that should reasonably be expected of them given their talent/experience levels. "Schofield is missing slide protections" goes here.
- Ferrigno/Jackson and execution. Backs and tight ends who can't block or run routes (if you think this is just on them being too young, that goes elsewhere; if you think Funchess ought to be able to crack down and Toussaint get under a guy by now it goes here)
- Bloodymindedness of Universe. IE anything else: Spain, Monkey Rodeo, MSU broke Devin, opponents are just that good, etc.
[After the jump, the lede, buried]