"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
Formation notes: MSU's defense is very simple, with few substitutions or wacky formations. They spent most of the game in a 4-3 even with linebackers shaded to the slot. Like so:
Shotgun 2TE twins for M
They would go into an okie package with two deep safeties on passing downs:
Shotgun 3-wide for M
When Michigan split their WRs this was the preferred look:
Also shotgun 3-wide
MSU screwed their corners down into press man and walked their safeties up to about nine yards deep, ready to roar downhill at any run action. You won't get any bubble complaints from me in this game—it wasn't there.
This is "Ace Triple Stack" as a reminder:
Yes, throwback screen obvs.
Substitution notes: Few surprises here. Line all starters; TE rotation about as it has been. No RBs other than Toussaint and Smith made appearances; Gardner was not announced as a starter and got a lot fewer snaps than he has previously. Speculation is he's carrying some sort of injury. Joe Reynolds got his first snaps in a heated situation—all were runs. More about that later.
[……IS BEHIND THE JUMP! There are lot of embeds this week and I've gotten some complaints that UFRs bog people's browsers down—hmmm wonder why—so taking most of the junk off the front page should help in that regard.]
“ ’Sup? What are you shaking your head about?”
I’m laughing at your “Giants and Tigers, it’s on” thing.
“It’s on. I’m fired up.”
Are you a baseball fan?
“Yeah, but not as much now as normal. Just a little more focused on other things, but I’m like anybody else. I like watching Sportscenter.”
What’s the word of the day?
“The word of the day? God. Good question. What’s the word of the day … Hmm. ‘Ear confection.’ Yeah. ‘Ear confection.’ It’s two words, actually. She has an ear confection. That’s what she said. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to correct her. It’s too cute listening to her say it.”
What did you see from the Michigan State film that you liked?
“Oh, certainly wasn’t flashy. But there were some good plays. We played a very close-to-the-vest football game offensively. It was by my own admission conservative. The nice thing about it, as much as we failed inside the red area -- or we could have been better because there were some chances there -- but our quarterback took care of the ball. Other than when it was in essence a meaningless interception at the end of the half. He did play pretty smart. It kept us in the game although it wasn’t flashy. That part I liked, which has shown, the last three weeks particularly, is his growth. About being conscious of taking care of the football, making plays where there are plays, and not trying to create something that’s not there. That was good, and that will help us in the future I think.”
oh good this again
The great unresolved question we batted around Monday on the podcast was the perpetual great unresolved question of the last year and a half: "quien es mas falto, Denard o Borges?"
I'm not done with things yet but am I leaning Borges, except since Michigan went into a shell against a good defense and won the game instead of throwing five interceptions and losing it, by "blame" I might actually mean "credit." Michigan won, and outgained the other offense by about 50 yards, and was only about 50 yards short of the output spread genius Urban Meyer managed against the MSU D. In terms of the OH MY GOD TOTAL DEBACLES that have speckled the Borges/Denard partnership, this ranks much lower than having under 200 yards of offense before you're forced to chuck the ball all over the field. See: Iowa, ND 2011, etc.
That said, a quarter into the game, Spartan safeties have made tackles at the line of scrimmage twice, Chris Norman is regularly meeting lead blockers two yards in the backfield, and the only significant gains Michigan has acquired are on a Gallon throwback screen on which it looks like Norman busts hard and the ten-yard Kwiatkowski out. Here's an example of the first two phenomena:
This is a super-aggressive quarters defense that Indiana exploited against both MSU and Ohio State—which is attempting to run the same scheme—with various cover-4 beaters. Michigan elected for the shell, and won.
Even so, man. Michigan has spent weeks setting things up as they played Bye, Virtual Bye One, and Virtual Bye Two; Michigan State is coming off three consecutive hard-fought games. I'm not sure if Spartan Overpreparation is a real thing or not—I hope so. Otherwise we're putting all our chips on the idea that Borges really doesn't have the faintest clue how to run a spread offense and that things will get better once a Real Quarterback™ is in place*.
*[If you've ever made this assertion I hate you.]
Okay. So here's Michigan's end-around version of the veer that they've been putting on the field for a few weeks now. It looks different; it's really just the same thing as the veer, though.
[Please forgive the crappier than normal image quality—the BTN was taking wide shots, which is generally good for this sort of thing, but this week's torrent is bleah for whatever reason.]
Anyway: Gallon in the slot, Michigan in a Borges-standard three-wide pack. The alignment of Gallon hints at the end around motion, BTW. MSU is in their standard 4-3 even. The guys at the top of the screen are going to be the relevant ones. Gholston is the DE, Denicos Allen the LB.
As Gallon goes in motion, Allen—and only Allen—moves to the LOS outside of Gholston. Live this gave me a sense of disquiet. That's not sliding some linebackers over. That's an awfully specific thing to do.
A couple of moments later, the snap has been made and Denard is in a quasi-mesh point with Gallon. I say "quasi" because the action here is so fast that it's hard to believe there's any real read component.
Anyway. Four MSU players are relevant here.
- The boundary corner blitzes. He is the contain guy if Gallon gets the ball.
- Allen is now the End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage—EMLOS(!). His goal is to get the two-for-one that allows Bullough to be the free hitter, or at least foul the hole and thus rob whoever gets to Bullough of his burst of impetus.
- Gholston is the main cutback defender. Once Allen is the primary hole he's got to prevent anything from cutting behind it.
- Bullough is the guy MSU would like to be the free hitter a la Demens. Bullough's ridiculously good at football and sheds blocks like whoah; having him as a free hitter is a luxury few teams have.
On the Michigan side of things, Lewan is adapting to the play as it develops and pulls out some of the old zone playbook. When Gholston dives inside of him he goes with it, using his momentum to take him past the point where he wants to go. Toussaint also reads the funny business going on and heads straight for Allen. Omameh is pulling; his eventual destination should be Bullough.
This is hard to see in the next still, so watch for it in the video: the legs you see poking out here like the Wicked Witch of the West with a house on her…
…are in fact the remnants of a killer cut block on Allen by Toussaint. But Allen has still gotten his two for one:
Omameh is literally hopping outside that block. A moment past this and the two players will be even, which means Denard can't follow him, which means he's not blocking anyone, which means two for one, which means Max Freaking Bullough is a free hitter.
Michigan's one saving grace on this play is the Lewan-Gholston matchup. Denard gets a cutback lane because Lewan has blasted Gholston to a point on the field even with the playside and backside DTs. Bullough is surprised by Denard's attack angle, as is Norman, and both have a tough time cutting back as fast as Denard can.
They're unblocked, though, and there are many of them. Denard can only squeeze out four yards…
…as Gholston lies pancaked underneath Lewan yards from the play.
On separate run-throughs check out:
- Toussaint chopping Allen
- Lewan dominating Gholston
- Denard picking through traffic
- Michigan getting four yards off of two great blocks.
Things And Stuff
UNLEASH THE EPIC RABBLING COMMENT THREAD. Guys, I'm totally sorry, but sheeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is happening all the damn time. The play above is MSU knowing what's coming as soon as Gallon goes in motion and having a plan to combat it. The plan works—pretty much, anyway—despite the playside defensive end ending up on his stomach eight yards away from the play.
Michigan's not getting anything of the sort in kind, and the first play on which Joe Reynolds makes an appearance features this defensive formation:
filed under "lol 100% run" in the MSU playbook
That wasn't a fakeout, man, those jakeryans came at the snap, leaving one corner anywhere near a simple curl/flat or smash combo with the twinned receivers.
This was a run. A –3 yard run. Yeah, sure, opposing defensive coordinators don't know about Michigan's substitution patterns. Probably just a coincidence.
That cannot happen. You cannot allow the opposing defense to align like that. Michigan allows it all the time.
Okay, okay, is going away from all run all the time a danger that makes Denard chuck interceptions? Possibly. I watched Denard make those curl/flat throws as a clueless sophomore, though, and you just can't let the above happen. I'm finding lots of wins for MSU based on their prep for this game, and few for Michigan. The throwback screen that worked was more Norman busting hard than anything schematic working.
I know they got some stuff later, so I'll probably be less peeved about this when the UFRs come out. I am pretty disappointed that M spent the first quarter running absolutely nothing new against Michigan State of all teams.
Lewan vs Gholston is no contest. It was no contest a year ago, it's no contest this year. He made a couple plays that didn't show up on the scoresheet when he was well-schooled on Michigan's sweep play and used his athleticism to shoot a gap—and Funchess took out Schofield in the process—but once he gets locked up, game over man. He did himself a disservice by not playing for a 3-4 team. He'd be a terror in ND's scheme. As a 4-3-even DE, he's the third-best player on his own defensive line.
Toussaint got a win here. This went a lot worse for him when he was trying to lead Denard into iso runs and Chris Norman was tearing ass at him. The lack of Rawls was pretty weird given the context.
Players don't really matter here except at the margins. Gholston got annihilated and Michigan got four yards. That was MSU's worst case scenario on this play.
Michigan's counterpunches to this sort of thing are not even really the Dileo completions. Dileo catches his first two balls on second and eleven and third and six; the last one was clearly not a play action situation, so all you've got to show for this is the single catch and run from the second quarter.
You should be able to punish the level of aggression shown by the MSU defense in some way. Michigan could not last year and could not this year—at least not in the structure of the offense. Last year, Roy Roundtree broke a tackle to turn a slant into a touchdown. This year, Denard juked and juked and juked to get his 44-yard run towards the end on a QB draw that had absolutely nothing to do with the base rushing offense.
The most alarming thing so far: Michigan's first pass on first down is three drives in. It has a play action mesh point of the sort MSU has been tearing after all game, and no MSU linebacker takes a step to the line of scrimmage. Why? The line sets up to pass block immediately, without anyone pulling. Michigan has not had a run play yet without a pulling lineman.
Denard doesn't have anyone open and ends up throwing his worst pass of the day, a near-INT that was so bad two MSU players had a better shot at it than any Michigan guys. Clearly he has not gotten through all his bad decision mojo, but I'm mystified that Michigan would not even try to draw those linebackers up by running plays that look like the ones they've already put on the field.
MGo: Not much.
MGoActually: I have a technical question.
MGoAwComeOn: Would you rather me ask it now or later.
“You’re going to ask it one way or another, so ... shoot the moon.”
MGoQuestion: That play where the tight end blocks down and the two linemen pull and go outside of him. What’s that play called?
“… Oh. It’s just a horn scheme. Down and around type deal.”
MGoFollowup: Is there an advantage to doing that vs. running a zone stretch?
“Um, yeah, it’s just two different looks to give the defense based on how they’re playing, you know. They could be playing one style, and that’s a better way to block it. A lot of it is personnel, too. How well does your tight end handle the down blocks? If they’re playing another scheme you’re better off zoning. You really -- I’ve learned over the years you kind of have to have both. We have both. We have the ability ability to do both. In certain games one’s more prominent than the other.”
MGoThankYouThatWasAGreatAnswerBrianWillBePleasedButHereIsOneMore: Who would you say is your best blocker at tight end?
“I think they’re all pretty good at this point. I think Devin Funchess has improved the most. I don’t have any reservations about doing it with any of them. Now to be honest with you, that was a concern at the beginning, but I don’t know if I’d favor one over the other at this point.”
“How’s it goin’?”
“How we doin’?”
“Where’s your glasses?”
I don’t wear them every day. Yours look good though.
“You’re losing the effect. I’ve gone to all glasses. People started to think I was dumb. Now they just think I’m dumb with glasses.
"All right, you guys. Let’s have it.”
Were you surprised by how Purdue defended you?
“They played a little more 3-4 than I thought. They had -- it’s not like we didn’t prepare for it, but there was a little more 30 front than we thought, but the back end was kind of as we anticipated. There’s always a little nuance to handle Denard, the kind that guys borrow from other teams they watch on tape they think they might have had some success playing Denard, so they take pieces of that, and if they think it fits their team.”
Did you feel like they were trying to take away Fitz?
“Oh no doubt. If you watch the tape, they were following Fitz all over the field. Fitz had very good running opportunities on 17 carries. I went over the whole tape. It was the good news and the bad news though. We pulled a couple zone reads when they were all over Fitz, and Denard was wide open down field. It wasn’t like it was bad. It just didn’t make Fitz’s numbers look very good, but he helped us win the game, you know, kind of like a guy that has a sacrifice bunt. Helps you win the game. That was kind of the way they decided to defend us.”
MGo: Not much. How are you?
MGo: How’s kindergarten?
“Kindergarten is wonderful. Every day is just a new experience. It’s awesome.”
Think you’re going to pass?
“I already passed.”
Word of the day?
“I don’t know. I didn’t get one. I’ve been kind of -- no I didn’t get one. I’ll get you one next week.”
Not an easy loss to sit on for two weeks. Did you work on rebuilding Denard’s confidence over the bye?
“Yeah. I think to a degree. I don’t think his confidence is waning too much, though. The biggest thing about that situation is getting back to some of the basics of reading the defense and making good decisions and things like that. I think that’s really the biggest factor. A couple footwork issues that hadn’t shown up until that game too much. … The good thing about two weeks is you get a chance to really evaluate everything you’re doing, and that’s what we’ve kind of done is look at how we’ve played, you know, on the road particularly because we haven’t played well on the road, but overall just see what the structure of the offense is and get back to sending a message and knowing that we’ve got to play better in those scenarios.”
Is there a common thread with the road games and offensive inefficiency?
“I don’t know. Not any more than any place else I’ve been, I guess. It’s harder to play on the road. It’s always an issue, but you can’t always use that as an excuse because good teams win on the road. I mean the biggest issue, we had some breakdowns, but we just can’t turn the ball over. That’s the biggest -- you hear it every week and it sounds like coach speak but it’s so true. When you turn the ball over as many times we turned the ball over you have no chance. We were fortunate it was as close as it was.”