A bubble screen once beat up Al Borges and took his lunch money.
Fitz did good. “That’s really what we’ve wanted to do all year. With two weeks to get ready and some careful considerations with regard to not getting our quarterback beat up, that was a huge issue. We worked hard on trying to get back to what we originally wanted to do. We wanted to be more of a combination of pro to spread offense without, of course, completely divorcing ourselves from spread concepts. We still run a lot of it, but that is closer to what we wanted in the beginning. We just weren’t executing very well. Touss did a great job, and the offensive line moved some people, not only on the line of scrimmage but also on the perimeter.”
What makes Toussaint the guy? “He’s a tough guy that makes no concessions to the defense. You’re going to have to tackle Fitz. He’s not just going to go down. He’s really improved in his ability to find the cavities in the defense. When we first got here his vision wasn’t all it needed to be but he’s gotten so much better. Some guys never get that, but Fitz has. He’s got a better feel for pressing the line of scrimmage, finding the cutback lanes … do whatever the defense dictates that you must.”
Were you surprised to see Denard take a knee during the offsides call? “No. No. He’s fine. We got a free five yards.”
Toussaint looks faster. Is it because he's finally healthy? “Yeah, he’s always been fast. Fitz has got speed. He was a track guy in high school. It’s just opportunities. That’s really it. Chances to carry the ball. That’s what I said -- we’re going to find a guy who can carry it 20+ and gain a 100 yards. He got to carry it 20+ and he did.”
You used Devin a lot. Do you worry that you use it too much and it disrupts the rhythm of your offense? “No. Not at all. As a matter of fact, we used him as much as we would like to use him. Our productivity in our two-quarterback offense in the last two weeks has been pretty good. I think it adds to our rhythm. Now if you kept him in there a few plays and Denard wasn’t lining up every single snap, I guess that could break it a little bit, but no. That’s why I don’t like series. That does break a quarterback’s rhythm. But spot him here and spot him there, and the quarterback stays in the game -- I don’t think it hurts us at all. I think it helps us.”
(Jeremy Gallon says he can dunk.)
My Irrational Gametime Borges Emotion Meter flipped from disgusted to enthralled back to disgusted on a series of three plays on Michigan's second drive. The first play was the second and twelve play action on which an unimpressed defensive end flew upfield and sacked Robinson without giving any thought to the tailback supposedly getting the ball. Running second and twelve play action from a big I-Form set makes Homer crazy.
It got better. On the next play, Borges rolled the pocket and flooded the roll side. Via BWS:
This is another way to high-low the corner, something this series has discussed in the context of curl-flat routes against UConn and Notre Dame. In this instance the flood worked for a big-time completion as Roundtree beat the safety to the corner route and the cornerback sucked up on the Hemingway deep out.
Grady at the 20. Hemingway at the 35 with the cover-two corner. Roundtree at the 45 beating the safety to the outside.
On the next play Borges did the exact same thing, but he did it completely differently. He flooded a zoning cornerback and high-lowed him for a big gain. It was the same guy. He'd just gotten beaten over the top and sank back into the deep route, leaving the intermediate guy wide open. Gardner ignored the blitheringly wide open guy, instead chucking a terrible interception. Live this flipped me back to disgusted mode, and this lasted long enough for me to complain about two-man routes on the podcast. I was wrong. Borges engaged a decided schematic advantage here only to see a freshman (-ish) quarterback derp it.
Michigan comes out in a Gardner formation with Robinson as the slot receiver.
Now for something completely the same
Before the snap they motion Hemingway tighter to the line. The cornerback's reaction and the two deep safeties imply another zone.
On the snap they fake a handoff and then fake the end around. The coverage is revealed to be Not Cover 2. Both corners are headed deep and one safety steps up into a robber zone in the middle. This is cover three:
robber in red, three-deep in blue
Gallon is running straight downfield and will take both the corner and the topmost safety with him—Hemingway cuts his route off and he has no other vertical threats and can double. The two linebackers you see have their eyes in the backfield, preparing for an end-around. By the time it's certain Gardner has the ball Hemingway is ten yards downfield, running hard, with inside position on the robber. The linebackers are done.
Now it's a little bit of a problem that Gardner took his eyes off the defense for a long time as he executed both handoff fakes, but he is literally eight yards from the nearest defender as he sets up. He has plenty of time to read the corner Michigan is trying to high-low.
doo dee doo dee doo
You can see the playside LB heading out for Robinson's wheel route, which doesn't seem like a real option but still demands attention. There's no one checking Hemingway except that robber, who is improvising in the time-honored tradition of anyone who sees something going very wrong and runs at the red button screaming "oh shiiiiiiiiii—."
Gardner loads up and fires…
…over the head of a wide open Hemingway hanging out 20 yards downfield…
…to the bracketed Gallon…
…and throws it way short to add interception to injury. Derp.
Items of Interest
This is the same passing concept out of a totally different play. Michigan goes from a three-wide stack with a rollout to that side to an ace set with a couple of play action fakes, but it's the same thing for the quarterback: three options of varying depth along the left sideline. (Depending on how real the Denard wheel is. If it's not it should be.) On both plays the depths are five yards, 20 yards, and 40 yards. On both plays the playside corner is the main dude to read.
This kind of thing is all the rage in the NFL and various places in college football: Stanford, Boise State, wherever Weis is hanging his hat ("Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations."), etc. Smart Football notes the concept is one of three main ways modern offenses beat defenses:
Use multiple formations and motions to confuse the defense or gain an advantage in numbers or leverage. This approach tries to turn the defense against itself by never giving the defense a chance to get settled or to identify what the offense may do. Moreover, sometimes the defense simply fails to adjust, and the offense gains some new advantage. The downside of this approach is it leaves little time and fewer clues for the offense to make adjustments, but the idea is that “motion causes emotion” (to use the old adage) and the offense has an advantage in that it knows where it is going. This is the method employed by Boise State.
The other two are changing the play before the snap and using good old option football to force the opponent to be wrong.
The advantage of the multiple look is that it gets complex for the defense while remaining simple for the offense, particularly the critical guy with the ball in his hands every play. On back-to-back plays a zone flood wins, getting receivers open for huge chunks. Since the flood develops differently the defense has a hard time picking up on the tendency. Here the quarterback switch mitigates the effect of having the QB get to make the same read he just successfully executed, but in a normal situation you get the advantage of familiarity while the defense does not.
This may be why it feels like Michigan increasingly has no "base." Here's Boise State's RB coach on what they do on offense:
“We run plays, we don’t have an offense. It makes it difficult to defend.” At that time he was working with the running backs. Before this project, I wondered how an offense can’t be a system. Coordinators pride themselves on establishing identities: “It’s what we do” is a common mantra among the coaching profession. Urban Meyer at Florida has his spread option, Chip Kelly at Oregon has his QB run game, Steve Sarkasian at Washington has his pro-style offense that he developed at USC. Well, apparently Boise was the Seinfeld of college football — their lack of identity is their identity.
I've described the offense as "grab-bag," "cute," and "gimmickball" at various points during the year because they don't have a core play—at least not one that works COUGH power COUGH—that forces opponents to cheat and opens up your constraint plays.
Michigan fans have never seen an offense like this. Rodriguez varied his base but there was always the zone, inside and out, or the QB iso offense. DeBord literally ran a zone stretch left on the first play 90% of the time. Before that Michigan based its offense off pro-style power running (even though they couldn't run). They always had a Thing They Did.
This year Michigan has done the following things on the ground: iso, power, pitch sweep, speed option, inside zone, outside zone, inverted veer, down G, sprint counter, jet sweep. That is damn near everything possible short of triple option and trapping, and it moves from week to week. Most people, including myself, have believed this is a transitional cost of fitting Borges into an offense he didn't build. I am beginning to doubt that conclusion.
Maybe this should have been obvious given the multiplicity of Borges's SDSU offense but there's a big difference between watching a team and living it.
Even though this should be simple for the QB Gardner biffs spectacularly. Man is this a terrible decision. This isn't the error he made against State by throwing to Hemingway instead of the free touchdown offered Hopkins. Hemingway was kind of open and a good throw is a potential touchdown.
Here he's got a hand-wavingly open guy and a double-covered one. He's reading one guy, the playside corner. He's got enough time to take tea in the backfield. The playside corner is booking it downfield with his back to the guy underneath him. And Gardner still throws to the double-covered guy. If Borges didn't throw something in the press box he's a better man than I.
Anyone calling for Gardner to start should be shown this play over and over.
Borges look likey...
How was your bye week? “Good. So far so good. Got a little bit of a jump start in the game plan, which is good. Like every bye week, we had a chance to heal up. We had some kids that could have used a little bit of time, and the bye always gives you that opportunity, so it was a good time to have it.”
Did the bye week give you an opportunity to add to the playbook or did you just work on what you already have? “Well, just to do the nuances that go with any game plan. I think one of the mistakes you make in the bye weeks and bowl games is you have too much time and sometimes you get a little zealous about wanting to do too much. You come up with all these ideas because you have all this time to practice them, and sometimes it’s not a good idea. But we’re not really doing anything more in this plan than we would do in any other one just because it’s a bye week.”
Hoke said offensive line needs to improve. What are the things you want to see out of them? “So much fundamental, you know. Good steps, good pad level, playing with leverage, and then targeting the front, some of those types of things, making sure we’re getting every play started because I think that was a problem a week ago. We had trouble getting some plays started because we didn’t target the front as well as we should have. Most of it is fundamental. It usually is.”
Have those things slipped as the year’s gone on? “They’re getting better. They have improved. Up till the last game I thought we were getting a good feel for it, and sometimes you get a rude awakening and you realize you’re not where you need to be. Sometimes it takes a game like that to realize that, so we’ve gone back and Coach Funk’s done a great job building those kids from the ground up, starting over again and making sure the steps are right and just doing all those things that are fundamental to the position.”
Is there something missing from the running backs that keeps them from being feature backs? “No. No one’s standing out, basically. It’s not something missing. It’s just no one is standing out, and until somebody does, we’re going to operate the way we’ve operated.”
(more after the jump)
File photo by Tim. Because today was a hat day.
Did you have to make significant adjustments at halftime, or was it more just settling down and refocusing? “Well, yeah, there’s some adjustments. There’s always some adjustments. But I think for the most part in the second half we kind of stuck with the plan, we just didn’t turn the ball over. That’s really the difference. When we didn’t turn the ball over, we were much better. Everybody is. That’s not news. We did a couple things differently, but I think sometimes halftime adjustments can be a little bit overrated. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re critical.”
Denard said he was just too excited on some of his throws. How much of an issue is that for him in that kind of environment? “Yeah, that can happen to any quarterback. He’s not the first guy to have that happen to him. He was fired up. He’s coming off a really good game, and he really wanted to show up and kind of pick up where he left off. Eventually he did. Early on, when he had a little bit of early trouble getting into rhythm. Once he did, he was really good. We just have to limit our mistakes to incomplete passes. Because incomplete passes -- you can recover from incomplete passes. But when you turn the ball over that hurts a bit more. He knew every time the mistake he made. We went over the tape and doggone it we beat it up one side and down the other. I think he’s getting better. He really is. Other than the turnovers, but in terms of his passing, and his fundamentals were improving. Hence his numbers were gradually going up a little bit.”
(a lot more after the jump.)
Thoughts on Denard’s improvement? “We worked on it pretty good, you know. And he took it to heart. He was stressing that he wasn’t throwing well. He’s a better passer, I’ve told you that before. Like I said, part of it is we had to get him some throws that he could make early and then he got into rhythm, and it was lights out after a while. Yeah he was feeling good. But his fundamentals were so much better other than two throws, okay -- there were two throws and both of them were pocket movements to the left where I think he didn’t get turned very well, and part of that was protection. But he got his screws in the ground pretty good and transferred through most of the throws, and he was pretty much on the money. And he touched a few balls nice, too. He dropped a couple balls in, and the key to passing is it’s a finesse art.”
How did you come up with the diamond thingy and what can we expect to see from that in the future? “Well I’m not going to tell you that. But it’s something -- Devin Gardner’s a talented kid, and we just wanted to give him a chance to feature him a little bit in a couple of deals. [With] Big Ten play, we’ll empty the drawer more as we go now. Our first four games, we’re still learning the offense. That’s still a work in progress. We’re going to have our deals. They’re not all going to work. Some are going to be good, some of them aren’t. But that was just one of them.”
Is it based off anything or did you just kind of pull it out of thin air? “Well, it goes way back. There was a series [that the] Chargers ran back in I think was the 80s or early 90s with Buford Jordan, where he was a quarterback in college and we took a piece of that and expanded it a little bit. I think Dan Fouts was playing back then. Part of that’s kind of old Ernie Zampese would have done that. The other piece is that we just kind of built some stuff off it that they didn’t do back then. The option part of it was a piece from the past.”
(more after the jump.)
One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.