if you seek an image of the most Wisconsin OL ever, enter here
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.]
“Another week. How are we doing?”
What was the biggest takeaway after reviewing the film?
“Well, individual breakdowns. We had a lot of individual breakdowns that caused a lot of three-and-outs, you know? Too much 10-man football. It’s the same story. When we don’t play well, we don’t get in sync, and a lot of individual breakdowns that caused that to happen. At this point in the season, there’s just way too much of it. We’ve got to go back to work and see if we can get something fixed because we’ve got the biggest game of the season coming up.”
Brady implied that it’s a different guy every time?
So I couldn't in good conscience do a basketball or hockey or softball roundtable question the week of the Ohio State game, lest Bo leap from his grave and stab out my eyes.* On the other hand I've been around here long enough to know what it means when the otters and Big Lebowski references come out (I don't know what posting the game column at 5 a.m. means but it's probably bad).
In that "game column"-type thing Brian suggested a future that's basically 20 years of the late-Carr program. Perhaps a more detailed assessment is in order:
Play out the next four years of Michigan football (If you think Coach X is replaced by Coach Y you can incorporate that into your fantasy.)? What are some of the potential pitfalls along the way? Any reassessment on our rivals going forward?
*People were asking what happened to the Blog That Yost Built.
Mathlete: If I would have charted my optimistically realistic expectations entering the Hoke era, here is what it would look like versus achievement on a completely arbitrary scale.
One year of lucky over-achievement, then a year of par and this year. The trajectory is all wrong but the total results are about right. With the strong recruiting and a quality group coming of players moving into the upper class I still think last year could be close to expectations. After nearly three seasons here would be my grades for Hoke and the coordinators:
Brady Hoke: Incomplete
Greg Mattison: A
Al Borges: D (GERG gave up 37 points to UMass, Borges at least torched Indiana)
Hoke gets an incomplete pending how the offense turns out next year. The defense is his specialty and their solid progression is a positive sign. Whether Borges survives to next year or not and if he stays and how much things get better (it has to get better, right?) will be the major determiner of his grade. Most of the offensive failures to date aren't on Hoke in my mind, but everything going forward will be.
|The future on defense is Tacos. [Upchurch]|
That's a long preamble to the original question, what do the next four years look like?
Next year the defense will be good, probably very good. The offense who knows. At this point I think anything is possible. Borges could get fired but probably won't. He could stay and things could be marginally better, he could stay and things could click and they could be good but probably still frustrating.
Beyond 2014 the defense should be consistently good. Historically, defenses loaded with talent like Michigan is bringing have a pretty low variance. They may not always be elite, but it's pretty hard for them to be bad. I really don't know what to say about the offense. Anything is possible, they could turn into Stanford next year or they could limp through a couple more years of Borges, with enough talent and a good enough defense to keep things intact but not good enough to compete with the best teams on the schedule.
As to the rivals, the only question for Ohio State is, can Urban maintain success at one place for an extended period? He has never stayed in one place for more than six seasons. As long as he is there Ohio State should be pretty similar to what we've seen from him to date. Are they going to go undefeated every year, certainly not, their win streak hasn't exactly come against murderers row. But the schedule isn't going to get a lot tougher in the Big Ten and I would expect their regular season win total to reach double digits more often than not.
Across the state, it's a bit more complex. Does Narduzzi leave after this year? How high of a level can the defense maintain with Dantonio but no Narduzzi. If he stays or Dantonio can keep things moving without him, the Spartans aren't going anywhere. The offense will probably never be good enough to put them at a consistently elite level, but they should be a real player in the East division. If the defense can't stay elite, Michigan State's chances of staying competitive at the top year after a year probably leave too.
The Borgias. Has anyone watched this show? Is it any good?
How much of the better running game was getting Derrick some snaps, and how much of it was coming up front?
“I think it was both. We gave them a chance to go. We had several plays we pushed the line of scrimmage really well. That’s been most of our issues, is we’ve just had trouble getting our backs started, but in this game there are very few times we got the ball and got clobbered. We came off of combination blocks. Some really fundamentally good-looking football plays almost through the whole game. Our issue this game was third down conversions. If we could have gotten third down conversions, we would have had a hell of a game. But that’s part of the game. It kept us from scoring more points.”
11/16/2013 – Michigan 27, Northwestern 19 (3OT) – 7-3, 3-3 Big Ten
In the long history of clock-running fire-drill field goal attempts there has been only pain and misery. When the game's about to end and you're trying to fling six guys on the field and take six off and align your kicker such that he can calmly take two steps and boot, you're gonna die.
Everyone knows this. Pac-12 refs know it so well that they don't even bother with last second field goals anymore as long as the defense squats on the ball like a hobo over a purloined chicken. Northwestern's student section knew it and was counting the clock down to their first Big Ten victory.
That's something I missed live and had to pick up on replay because I was dumbly staring at a horde of people exiting, a horde of people entering, focused on a line that I knew for a fact would not be set. So I also missed Drew Dileo sliding into his holder spot and recovering an instant before Glanda snapped it to him, possibly tipped off to exactly when he needed to get the ball off, set or not, by the numbers ringing out from the students.
Michigan's not set, in all probability, but there's no flag and Dileo's recovered from his sprawl and Gibbons ceases moving backwards, which oh by the way he is at the snap. Moving backwards. This is just an indicator of the doom to come—catch, placement, kick, overtime, whereupon it was ordained by fate that Michigan would pull this game out of their butt. Like it was nothing. Like it was always going to happen like that.
Because This Is Michigan, and That Is Northwestern.
The time for turning up your nose at any win, no matter how alarming, is past. Michigan could beat Akron on a triple reverse Hail Mary that Akron intercepts and fumbles out of their own endzone for a safety and it would be time to wave the flag and say hurrah.
So let us duly wave the flag. It is good to see the team happy. In the aftermath, various players tweeted out "Go team," each instance more delightful than the last, and then Taylor Lewan got piled on for following the crowd. Kyle Bosch did this.
— Kyle Bosch (@Kyle_Bosch65) November 17, 2013
And this time, Gardner destroyed the jumbled heap of pointy bits and gristle he calls a rib cage for a purpose. That purpose is looking an awful lot like not being in Detroit for a bowl game—SORRY, right, waving the flag.
While unit X's shocking incompetence is a callback to the Rodriguez days, so is feeling good for the put-upon players after a narrow win against a bad team. Even if I am in a emotion deprivation chamber for the rest of the year for my safety and that of people around me, the way you get out of those is by having good things happen, and that was a good thing.
It was also an obvious thing. My game previews have always been made in a spirit that says predicting things is dumb (thus the weird scores), but damn if this wasn't easy to call:
Michigan wins! On some bulllllllllshit that causes Northwestern fans to self-immolate.
Sippin' On Purple's Rodger Sherman has questionable taste in hats
This is what Northwestern does. Sometimes it's in the service of preventing a Big Ten championship game appearance, like it was last year; sometimes it's keeping you winless in that Big Ten. Either way, you could feel both sides of that stadium preparing to lose as Michigan embarked on the dread two minute drill. This one ended in chaos and fiasco, as they all do, but at the end Michigan managed to pull itself together and execute. Northwestern's bad mojo still trumps all.
That's not going to lead anywhere important—this season ends with an abattoir named Braxton Miller. In a landscape as bleak as the weather on Saturday, though, any ray of light is a welcome one. Let us forget about our worries and stare blankly into the butt of next week, ignoring what that hammering sound ahead might mean. It's probably meant for some other cow. Yeah. Otherwise I would not be so calm and tranquil.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. This is a tough one because while the defense held Northwestern to nine points in regulation, nobody really stood out as the single best guy on that unit. I think we will go with James Ross, though; Ross had an important sack and nine solo tackles amongst 13 total; his speed and ability to get to the right place was a major factor in Michigan suppressing Northwestern's option game.
Honorable mention: Jeremy Gallon had ten catches. Brendan Gibbons was perfect on the day. (Matt Wile missed the 51-yarder.) Wile dropped punt after punt inside the 20 and had a 50-yarder. Collectively, Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith had a stat line that looked like an actual running back: 27 carries for 120 yards.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska), James Ross (Northwestern)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Michigan executes the first and only successful clock-running end of game field goal fire drill in the history of football. Go team!
Honorable mention: Jibreel Black sacks Siemian to put Northwestern in a deep hole in the third OT, Jake Butt's one-hand stab gives Michigan a torchclown, Joe Reynolds flags down a punt at the one, subsequent Northwestern punt goes out at the ten, Derrick Green runs through a guy for a 20-yarder, Gardner leads with his ribs into the endzone.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
11/16/2013: Michigan executes a clock-running last-second field goal to get the game to OT.
[AFTER THE JUMP: decisions, waggles, I hate Illinois rollouts, a brilliant GIF, and physics.]
I don't pretend to know the intricacies of football but during the Nebraska game it seemed that Toussaint, in pass protection, would wait for his blocking assignment to come to him before engaging the player. Seeing as Toussaint is significantly smaller then the LB or lineman he's been assigned to block this usually resulted in Toussaint getting pushed backwards (physics and all). Is this how RBs are typically coached to play pass protection?
I mostly stay away from the how of any particular technique failing; more of a "what" guy since I didn't play the game, etc. But to me Toussaint's blocking issues stem from three problems:
- Michigan's line has to resort to slide protections that often expose him to a pass-rushing DE. This is a bad matchup for anyone.
- He's part of that need to resort to slide protections since his recognition isn't good; when he is tasked with identifying guys to pick up he often catches them. Vincent Smith and Mike Hart would find guys and then get some momentum before making contact.
- He hits guys too high sometimes, which makes it easy for them to shed him and attack. Smith and Hart got low, or in Smith's case existed in a perpetual state of low-ness.
3 is his problem, 2 is part his and part a holistic inability to pick up blitzes, and 1 is not his fault.
What's different about this year?
Regarding the offensive line, I saw some comments that intrigued me that intrigued me the other day and I’m curious your perspective.
Borges indicated that another variable in the mix this year is that it’s “the first year in the scheme we’ve wanted to move to.” Based on your work therefore, do you conclude that:
1) There is a significant difference this year in scheme, protections, and what the offense is asking of the o’line?
2) That experienced lines would be impacted by such a scheme change?
3) That inexperienced players would unimpacted (i.e. just as inexperienced)?
4) That therefore the years experience/games experience would also be negatively impacted from a production standpoint.
So that in conclusion – there’s actually hope bc the ones that are young are young and the ones that are supposed to have experience have less experience than one would otherwise understand to be true.
And – that next year or the year after really will be better!
Keep up the good work.
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence for that rationale.
Borges's comments make no sense. This year started out with Michigan running a bunch of stretch plays, which was a departure from what they'd done the first two years… and a staple of the Rodriguez offense. If that's what he meant, he could have just, you know, kept running the stretch.
Instead Michigan was almost exclusively an inside zone and power team their first two years here, and the differences between running those things from under center versus the shotgun are minimal. There has been a more concerted effort to run plays from under center, but that shift was even more pronounced late last year after Gardner took the helm of the offense.
If anything's changed this year from last year in terms of blocking it's that Denard isn't around to bail it out. Borges trying to use him to cover his ass by claiming he somehow couldn't run the schemes he wanted to be cause the guy running behind them was also the one taking the snap is a weak excuse that throws Denard (of all people!) under the bus.
[After THE JUMP: WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER]