In honor of our annual right there -----> which I expect will get Kickstarted a third year in a row today, I thought I'd share a little sneak peak from it. Brian asked me to create these for the linebackers page:
Click to big. Right-click to open in a separate window so you can reference it as you go.
That's a side by side comparison of Michigan's prohibitive starters this year before and after the "shift" to a 4-3 over and accompanying position changes were announced. Seeing it you can start to appreciate how all of those announcements make sense.
For the lay, what you're looking at are alignments of the front seven. The "under" shifts the defensive line away from the strength of the defense and the linebackers swing the opposite way to compensate. The result is very much like a 3-4 (picture the WDE in the photo above as yellow) and plays like it. In this alignment the strong side is the left because there's a TE there. Michigan would often align this to the hash rather than the offense, shifting the DL toward the sideline.
The "over" shifts the line the opposite way, but not to such an extreme. The linebackers wind up centered over the ball, and the DL spread across the formation. There is nothing 3-4 about it except the nose tackle.
Let's run through the positions to appreciate what's changed and what will be expected of them.
Weakside Defensive End (Frank Clark/Mario Ojemudia)
Ojemudia lined up as a 7-tech in the under [Fuller]
In the Under: The WDE is the leading pass rusher. He lines up so far outside of the backside offensive tackle that he'll wind up getting a 1-on-1 battle with that guy all day. The tradeoff was being further from the point of a attack in the run game. The WDE is further from the run game but in position to drop into coverage, a thing he was tasked to do quite often as the DE-like linebacker opposite him charged into the backfield. Much of the good done by the over shift is it creates double teams elsewhere to preserve the WDE's ability to attack upfield.
In the Over: The weakside end is still outside the offensive tackle, but shaded in a "5 technique," i.e. over the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle.
If you remember your 5-techs from 4-3 under school, you'll get the difference, though unlike your Ryan Van Bergens the weakside end usually doesn't have a tight end lined up to his side (ace even, H-backs and the like do happen) so he needn't be a double-team-eating anchor. The new WDE's biggest change is he's not dropping into coverage all the time. He has to control that OT in the run game, and often he has to cover the B gap. The linebackerity of the position has been removed; this man is a defensive lineman, and not necessarily a flashy one—Michigan State's been plugging their workhorse DE Marcus Rush in this spot for four years while various SDEs make the highlight reels.
The fit: Clark showed signs of being a pretty good player by the latter half of last season and now up near 260 he is large enough to not get kicked by OTs. As a pass rusher he's only like fifth or sixth in the conference, partly because the interior DL couldn't push the pocket very often, and partly because he wasn't great at closing when he beat his guy. Ojemudia and true freshman Lawrence Marshall aren't large men in your memory, but both claim to be up to 250 now. They're all better full-time defensive ends than 3-4 OLBs.
[Jump for the rest of the DL—LBs coming up in Part II]
Brennen Beyer won't forget that moment. Long after Al Borges is just a name from a past that may or may not haunt us as fans, the Canton native who stayed close to home will delight in telling his family and friends about the time he—a defensive end—scored a touchdown; he'll have the football to prove it, and the final score of the game will be largely irrelevant.
These moments have been frustratingly few and far between this season, especially this month; even in the shadow of defeat, however, they provide fleeting flashes of joy, even when we're doing our best to detach emotionally.
When Devin Gardner rolled out, couldn't reach the corner, then threw aside Tanner Miller like a defective Weeble-Wobble before hitting A.J. Williams for his first career reception—in the end zone, no less—my reaction wasn't to slump back onto the couch, muttering something about Al Borges's doomed waggles; it was "F*** YEAH, DEVIN." Maybe not so profound or eloquent, but damn if it didn't feel good.
Then Michigan lost, miserably, and I drove home in a funk. But they had their moments, and so did I.
[After THE JUMP, basketball moments.]
FORMATION NOTES: On passing downs Michigan sometimes went with this 3-3-5-ish look with the line in a wide three-man front and the SAM hanging out next to one of the ends;
They also went with a weird wide even line against Ace, once:
M rolled down Gordon in their under early:
And occasionally split their nickel package, leaving just one LB. I called this 5-1.
Oh and on the final drive MSU pulled out an unbalanced formation with two inline TEs to the same side of the line.
Deliberately trolling Borges's unbalanced lines? Probably not, but I hope so.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Taylor, Countess, and Gordon went the whole way. When Michigan went to a nickel it was always Jourdan Lewis; Michigan also brought in Avery from time to time to spot Wilson, with iffy success.
Linebacker was the usual, except Brennen Beyer was moved to SDE, leaving SAM mostly Ryan with Cam Gordon backing; the three-man ILB rotation was still in place. Gedeon was sent to the bench again.
On the line Michigan did some weird stuff. Black(!) played nose tackle to open the game and would end up there periodically. Henry flipped between nose and three-tech; when it was Washington and Henry Michigan seemed to regard them as interchangeable. Clark went almost the whole way at WDE; very little Ojemudia. At SDE it was Beyer and some Wormley; no or very little Heitzman. Glasgow made a cameo or two.
[After THE JUMP: I mean, what did you expect?]
FORMATION NOTES: This is nothing out of the ordinary for Michigan, but who's up for a perfect overhead view of Michigan aligning in a 4-3 under?
There are your 6, 3, 1, and five techniques left to right across the front with Gordon hanging out in what I guess is an 8 or 9.
Michigan also showed over fronts, which they have to from time to time because Minnesota loves to flip its strength.
This did not result in a discernible uptick in effectiveness.
This is the Maryland I:
This is Michgian in old friend Okie Zero.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: A lot more nose tackle in this one; Washington got more time than he did in any game to date this year with Pipkins rotating in regularly; once Pipkins went down Ash did get a few snaps late. Rest of the DL was generally Clark/Heitzman/Black with Ojemudia/Wormley/Henry backing up. Glasgow got a couple snaps before the end as well.
Usual rotation at LB was halted after Bolden made some errors, and then it was just the starters. Secondary was the usual except that Avery was the starter at CB and Taylor only came in for nickel packages.
[After THE JUMP: this is the drive that never ends.]
Say AAAAAAHHH! [Fuller]
Guess who's back? Back again. Jake is back. We hope he's back. Hope he's back. Hope he's back, hope he's back hope he's back hope he's back…
|Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself, if they were brown, Shady lose, Shady sits on the shelf, but Shady's cute, Shady knew, Shady's dimple's would help.
Slim Shady: Ace Anbender
The Real Slim Shady: Coach Brown
Almost Famous: Brian Cook
Big Weenie: Seth Fisher
Bad Meets Evil: Blue in South Bend
The Most Shady: Heiko Yang
Let's talk the return of Jake M.F. Ryan. Does it get us a pass rush? Do we give him a few weeks to regain his edge? What happens to the not-Ryans?
Mathlete: I think when JMFR comes back, we should play him both ways, solves the pass rush and the interior line issues at the same time. He doesn't even have to be a freakish hybrid. This coaching stuff is easy.
The key question for his return is whether or not we are getting the old Jake Ryan back. It seems like there are fewer and fewer cases every year of players who are coming back at less than their previous player. If he comes back at or near his previous level, there is no doubt he will be a big boost for the defense. Right now the defense is really good at one thing, not allowing plays down field. Michigan is allowing an average of 95 yards beyond the sticks a game, which is 15th best in the country. What the defense has lacked to date is much of a legitimate play making threat, and that is exactly what made Jake Ryan into JMFR. If Ryan can even generate a portion of the game changing activity he previously did, it would be a huge surge to a defense that could use a little jolt.
This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.
A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.
I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.
I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.
The Good Part
First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.
That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.
On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.
One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.
Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.
[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]