I did not make this headline up
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.]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan alternated between their 4-3 with guys often split over the slots like so:
And their nickel package.
They also had some weird snaps where they would take their WDE and line him up like a SAM:
This was always a drop into man coverage on the TE by Clark. I did not call this out as a new formation. I probably will in the future.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary saw Avery replace the youngsters as the third corner when Michigan was in nickel, which was quite frequently. The rest was Taylor/Countess/Gordon/Wilson as per usual.
At linebacker the usual rotation of Ross, Morgan, and Bolden. Beyer went the whole way at SAM, I think.
On the line, another light day for nose tackles. Both got some run but it was a lot of three-techs out there. Clark got the most run at WDE with Ojemudia backing up. Black was out there almost all the time; Henry and Wormley got more snaps than any other SDE/3T type with Heitzman also participating quite a bit. Glasgow and Godin appeared rarely, if at all.
[After THE JUMP! Points! Yards! None of those!]
FORMATION NOTES: Nothing weird. This one has pinched DTs, but they only did this once. This was in the first quarter, so you can see the three linebackers on the field:
In the second half they ditched a linebacker in favor of nickel packages (and probably tipped a stunt):
This is what I mean when I say pistol diamond: four guys in the backfield, hanging out and stuff.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary was almost entirely Wilson/Gordon/Taylor/Countess with the nickelback usually Jourdan Lewis and occasionally Delonte Hollowell. I don't think I saw Stribling except on special teams.
At LB, it was the usual Bolden/Ross/Morgan rotation. Bolden had some issues and late it was just Ross/Morgan. SAM mostly didn't exist, but Beyer got the vast majority of those snaps if you include the nickel DE looks.
On the line, much rotation.Clark and Ojemudia rotated with a little bit of Charlton. Black was almost omnipresent. Wormley, Godin, and Heitzman all got significant amounts of playing time; Glasgow was marginalized in this game to make way for Willie Henry. The nose tackles played a bit but they were largely lifted in the nickel.
[After THE JUMP: it's fine, it's fine, it's fine… erp.]
"Well, here we are again. I might as well answer it before you ask. What about the pass rush? You're going to ask that question and the answer I'm going to give you is one, they kept backs in a little bit more in passing situations than we expected. And the other thing I’m going to tell you is I have to coach it better. Our guys are working hard at it, and I’ll put that on me. We just have to get better at it. And we know that. We started working on it on Sunday already but we will be able to rush, and we’re going to do that.”
MGoQuestion: We haven't seen a lot of the nose tackles the last couple weeks. What's the reasoning behind that?
"Well we were in sub a lot. Some guys are better at playing the run and some guys are maybe better at playing able to play the run as well as rush the passer. We feel like those two guys are 300-and-some pound guys that might not give us quite the movement we’re looking for in pass rush.”
Taylor Lewan and Devin Gardner
As leaders of this team, what was your message to your teammates after this game?
Lewan: "It was embarrassing. Gotta give it to Akron. They played a hard-fought game. We didn't prepare. This is on the seniors, this is on the leadership of this team, and extremely poor, poor leadership. Especially on my side. Being the one offensive captain on this team, I put that offensive performance on myself. Devin [Gardner] didn't have enough time to throw. Our running backs didn't have enough holes, and that's my fault. That's my fault."
Gardner: "I mean, he pretty much said it all. I talked to Tom Brady and he talked about being the best quarterback for the team, every time out in practice and in the game. I was not the best quarterback for the team today. Like [Lewan] said, it's embarrassing, and we're going to respond. We won the football game, and we're going to respond, I can guarantee you that."
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan played this one vanilla, opting for either their traditional 4-3 under…
…or a 4-2-5 nickel package…
Furman is offscreen on the right hash.
…with the occasional insertion of a 3-3-5 on passing downs. There was no okie stuff with seven guys at the line of scrimmage, and it was very rare to see a safety walk down. With the line ripping through Central's pass protection there was little need to do anything else. If Michigan could manage that against a tough opponent that would be nice.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: ALL OF THE SUBSTITUTIONS
Right. Seth has already covered this in exacting detail. In brief: the secondary was consistent, with Furman and Wilson at safety and Taylor and Countess the starting corners. When Michigan went to the nickel, Stribling and Hollowell were about even, with Stribling getting the first at-bats.
Inside linebacker was split almost evenly between Morgan, Ross, and Bolden, with Gedeon getting some reps later and RJS right at the end. SAM was about 50/50 Beyer/Gordon, except that a lot of that was at DE in nickel packages.
Okay. The line. Okay. Your nominal starters were Heitzman, Washington, Black, and Clark, except there was so much nickel that the nose was lifted half the time. Wormley, Pipkins, Glasgow, and Ojemudia got a large amount of time backing up the starters. Godin, Ash, Henry, and Charlton got in later. Godin actually split snaps almost equally with the other two SDEs; at the other three spots the third guy was definitively third.
[After THE JUMP: rotation, rotation, rotation. Pass rush! Safety assessments!]