this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
"Every football team eventually arrives at a lead play: a "Number 1" play, a "bread and butter" play. It is the play that the team knows it must make go, and the one its opponents know they must stop. Continued success with it, of course, makes your Number 1 play, because from that success stems your own team's confidence." –Vince Lombardi
As we discuss coaching candidates we'll invariably get into the same old discussions on what kind of base offense said candidate might want to run. There was some discussion on the board this week and I wanted to expand that discussion into some basic "Rock" plays of various offensive schemes.
It is incorrect to identify any one play (and even more incorrect to identify a specific formation or personnel group) as a complete offense. You always need counters to keep doing the thing you do, and the counters will often borrow directly from some other offensive concept's rock. All offenses will borrow from each other so no breakdown is going to describe more than 60% of any given offense. Most zone blocking offenses throw in man-blocked things (example: inverted veer) to screw with the defense. You can run most of these out of lots of different formations. You can package counters into almost all of them (example: The Borges's Manbubble added a bubble screen to inside manball).
Really what you're describing when you talk about any offense is the thing they do so well that they can do it for 5 or 6 YPP all day long unless defenses do something unsound to stop it (like play man-to-man, or blitz guys out of coverage, etc.). Some examples of offenses and their formation needs (where a need isn't specified, figure they can use any set or formation: spread, tight, 23, ace whatever). I've given the rock plays, and left out the counters and counters to the counters because that gets into way too many variants.
Finally, the terms "pro style" and "spread" are meaningless distinctions. NFL offenses have the luxury of getting super complex: they have passing game coordinators who teach the QBs and WRs Air Raid things then run zone or power blocked things. The spread refers to formations and personnel—it doesn't say anything about whether the QB runs, if it's an option offense, or what tempo it runs at, or even what kind of blocking it uses. What I've done here is break up the offenses into "QB as Run Threat" and "QB Doesn't Have to Run" since the construction of these base plays usually stems from that. Remember, however, that QB running offenses can (and often do) still use blocking right out of Vince Lombardi's favorite play.
QB as Run Threat Offenses:
The FB dive will hit too quickly for anyone but the DE to stop; once the DE bites, the RG moves down to the second level while the QB keeps and heads outside, with the RB in a pitch relationship to defeat the unblocked defender there.
Concept: QB makes a hand-off read then a pitch read.
Makes life especially hard on: Edge defenders who have to string out plays against multiple blockers and maintain discipline.
Formation needs: Two backs.
Helpful skills: QB who can consistently make multiple reads and won't fumble, highly experienced, agile OL, backs who can both run and bock.
Mortal enemy: The Steel Curtain. Stopping the triple option is a team effort; if everybody is capable of defeating blocks, challenging ball-carriers, and swarming to the pitch man there's nowhere to attack.
Examples: Air Force, Nevada, Georgia Tech, Bo's Michigan
[Hit the jump for ZR, QB power, Air Raid, West Coast, Manball, Inside Zone, and the Power Sweep].
FORMATION NOTES: Not a whole lot that was unusual. Michigan has changed the alignment of their backs in some shotgun sets:
I called this "shotgun deep" since the QB is still at 5 yards but the back is behind instead of parallel. I imagine they did this for the same reason the pistol exists: to give the back downhill momentum when he takes a handoff.
Conventional shotgun sets were frequent as well, as were split TEs. This is the first snap of the game and features Hill motioning from an H-back spot to the slot; he'll block for Funchess on a successful flanker screen.
Michigan would occasionally scrape up an I-Form out of whatever was laying around, like when Chesson motioned in here. This actually cut behind Chesson's force block to pick up 15.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL was Cole-Magnuson-Miller-Burzynski/Kalis-Braden the whole way. Gardner obviously QB until garbage time; he got pulled a couple drives before Michigan did much non-WR substitution.
Feature backs were Green and Smith with Hayes apparently a third down option; Drake Johnson only saw garbage carries and should no longer be considered a playing time contender going forward.
At WR it was Funchess, Chesson, Darboh, and Norfleet rotating approximately equally; Canteen did not get on until late. Bo Dever is your backup slot, apparently. Tight end was mostly Hill and Williams with a bit less Heitzman sprinkled in.
[After THE JUMP: all things discussed.]
Not Just A Gimmick™, we hope. [Adam Glanzman/Special to MGoBlog]
For a player with a meager 113 yards from scrimmage in two years, Dennis Norfleet is the topic of discussion around these parts a whole lot, and that topic is usually "can we please get this guy the ball more?" This seems like an odd request to endlessly put forth regarding a player with 12 career offensive touches and zero touchdowns, but there's Norfleet atop the depth chart at slot receiver, and beyond that there's good reason to think he'll be a much bigger part of the offense this season.
Norfleet came to Michigan as the in-state recruit too talented not to offer late, even though he didn't fit the coaching staff's idea of... anything, really. He certainly didn't fit the MANBALL running back mold, nor the desire to head in the direction of fielding a receiving corps in which being 6'2" makes one a slot receiver. It felt like he was offered as an afterthought, and his usage in the years since reflected that; Norfleet would occasionally come into the game at the slot, get a totally surprising jet sweep, and head back to the bench to await his next special teams opportunity.
The problem with this wasn't so much the plays Norfleet was asked to run—getting a player that shifty in space is a good idea, and jet sweeps should accomplish that—but the obviousness of what he was going to do, and the fact that these plays often didn't fit into the larger scheme of the offense. This blog has extensively covered the constraint theory of offense—in essence, that an offense has a core set of plays, then "constraint" plays that take advantage of defenses overplaying those core plays—and that Al Borges went for more of a grab-bag approach.
Norfleet's longest career carry works as a great example of both the constraint theory and how he was misused, oddly enough. He broke a 38-yard run in last season's opener against Central Michigan when Michigan ran an end-around to him off a counter trap run; the counter action—especially the pulling right guard—drew the CMU defense to their right, and by the time the ball was pitched U-M's blockers had a very easy time sealing their men off from the real direction of the play:
This worked because Central hadn't yet learned that Michigan didn't ever really run the counter trap and that Norfleet's presence on the field almost certainly indicated he'd get the ball; it also helped that they were a 6-6 MAC team. Norfleet's runs after the opener weren't remotely as successful due to a couple factors: Michigan couldn't establish a base running game, and when Norfleet was on the field it was incredibly obvious what he'd do.
[Hit THE JUMP for the whole point of this post: how Doug Nussmeier can use Norfleet to boost Michigan's running game.]
The best reason I've been able to come up with for how this Michigan team could put up that kind of yardage against Ohio State is that Ohio State's defensive players are—man, how do I say this without being a total jackass homer rival?—more prone to mental errors than your average Big Ten starters.
|I hereby dedicate this post In memory of the too-short MGoCareer of Heiko "Bubble Screen" Yang. Who needs doctor money anyway?|
Another way to say it: the best and most representative player on that unit is Ryan Shazier, who is basically Jonas Mouton with five years of good coaching. Another way to say it: they're exactly as dumb as they are talented, and that's why a group of 5-stars are just an average defense. I am a total jackass homer rival.
The second-best reason, and the best you can say without coming off like a TJHR, is that which Borges himself apparently gave in the pre-game interview with Musberger: "We emptied the drawer." In other words, they finally ran all of those counters to the things they'd been doing all year.
There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to wonder why it took this long to throw paper, especially when that gamble came up just short (and the last play was a rock that OSU allegedly* RPS'ed) of paying off. For the moment, let's look at one of the "third" things they brought out for this game and what that did for the offense.
* Ohio State's players threw out one of those heartbreaking quotes about being uber-prepared for what was coming, but the play also had Gallon about to break open.
|It's hard to argue Funchess isn't an "ideal" slot ninja, isn't it? [Upchurch]|
The Bubble Package
Yards per attempt; attempts in parentheses:
|MSU||2.0 (1)||8.0 (1)||5.0|
|Northwestern||5.3 (7)||5.7 (3)||5.4|
|Iowa||3.0 (5)||1.0 (2)||2.4|
|Ohio State||4.5 (4)||7.7 (3)||18.0 (1)||7.4|
|TOTALS||4.2 (17)||5.6 (9)||18.0 (1)||5.2|
Michigan does the bubble differently than Rich Rod—he made it an automatic check against the slot defender getting too close to his running game—but both work under the same principle: keep your grubby SAM's hands away from my interior running game!
The Borges Bubble game debuted against Michigan State as a bubble screen(!) that got a remarkable-for-that-day eight yards, followed by a fake bubble (out of the shotgun) to inside zone that got unfortunately blown up by a double-a gap blitz. It really came out in the Northwestern game: ten plays for 5.4 YPP. Of those, three were the bubble screen, four were a fake to an inside zone, and three to an iso. Once it was on film, Iowa adapted but Michigan ran the same (basically) two things they had against the Wildcats. The result was 2.4 YPP on seven tries: 2 bubbles and 5 inside zones.
They run it out of different formations, usually with two tight ends opposite the bubble twins (20/27 plays I have charted were from the Ace twins twin TE or I-form twins). They do run other stuff from these formations but twins (two receivers to one side) with Gallon on the line and Funchess in the slot is a good sign the bubble game is in play.
It's a good fit for this team since it: A) de-emphasizes interior blocking by holding the SAM outside and letting his OL play 5-on-5; B) Utilizes the surprising multi-threats of Gallon (as a blocker) and Funchess (as a slot receiver), and C) Lets them get Derrick Green running downhill.
I don't have Iowa video but I can show you how they adapted. The first time Michigan ran it they threatened blitz with the SAM:
Then had that guy back out and attack Funchess. The idea was to lure Michigan into a screen if this was a check, and then blow it all to hell. Like I said, it's on tape. Fortunately Michigan doesn't run checks; they called run:
Iowa got to play their base defense against that basic zone run, and the result was 5-ish yards. That is rock on rock: it's blockers versus the blocked until safeties arrive, however the SAM was kept away from the running game by the threat of Funchess. The thing is, up to then Michigan only had a rock and a scissors, so Iowa could spend all day in this defense, ceding 3-5 yards when Michigan ran it, and blowing up the bubble constraint.
Here's what this looked like when OSU defended it:
Same playcall as Iowa except since they knew it wasn't a check they didn't bother with fake SAM ("Star" in Buckeye terminology) blitz—just lined him up against Funchess. A screen is dead.
But watch Joey Bosa (#97 on the bottom of OSU's line) get way too upfield and try to knock down the screen pass that isn't coming, thus taking himself completely out of the play. He's matched against Lewan instead of Butt, though, so Michigan was probably going to get something out of that block anyway; you still don't want to make it so easy.
The middle linebacker (#14 Curtis Grant) compounded matters by Obi Ezeh-ing his way to the hole, which gave Kerridge enough time to arrive and pop in an advantageous position. Finally, the safety (#3 Corey "City in Pennsylvania" Brown) took a long time to read the play, backing out a few steps before setting up at the 1st down line. He might have been run through if the other safety (#4 C.J. Barnett) hadn't made his way over, got depth with a neat little athletic step, and helped stop it.
So rock on rock nets a big hole and big yards, because Ohio State's defenders are something-something box of rocks. But they're not the only talent-deficient guys on the field. Michigan's OL screwed up rock on the third bubble package play of the game:
That's inside zone. With the Star taken out by the bubble fake, everyone is blocked except the safety coming down (#3 Corey "a Jewish suburb west of Pittsburgh" Brown). And he was set up outside so if Mags and Glasgow can hold their downfield blocks this could bust huge. However Glasgow and Kalis didn't do a very good job on their exchange—or else the DT (#63 Michael Bennett) just did a great job fighting through it—and the Buckeye DT ends the play with a mouthful. Bennett was bent back when Glasgow released so my inclination here is to point at Kalis and call it ten-man football.
In the Iowa play I wish I had video of, that DE threw off Butt, and the middle linebacker, despite drawing Lewan, managed to attack quick enough to cut off escape until everyone else arrived, which didn't take long since Iowa's safeties were playing with their ears back. However Green's momentum vs the size of those guys got an extra two yards. Here his 240 lbs. are irrelevant against a wall like Bennett.
[After the jump: other things you can make your fist into]
900. The video from the boards:
Can we start calling the team Hokemen, Daily?
We have fewer lame-o wins than anyone! Except Georgia! Pat Forde scours the ten winningest programs in college football history to find the out how many of those wins have been run up against East York Veterinary School. Michigan's docket:
Michigan (19). Total wins: 900. Junk wins: 57 (at least). Percentage of all-time wins that are junk: 6.3. Persistent pigeon: Case Institute of Technology (Ohio), 26-0-1 record. Scheduled junk win that turned into a bad loss: Cleveland AA 8, Michigan 4. What, you were expecting Appalachian State? (Since the game was played in 1891, the AA is not believed to be Alcoholics Anonymous.)
That's actually fewer than anyone in the top ten save Georgia, though Georgia did lose to an empty patch of grass in 1943. The worst offender is USC, with 102 Doris Beautician School beatdowns.
Meanwhile… 8-4, huh? Sounds preview-licious. If only I had known about this Cleveland AA game before Michigan played State.
Is that an axe between your legs or are you just happy to see me? Oh, it's actually an axe.
Via Heiko and his insatiable appetite for panoramic photos. Larger version.
Get there. All weeks are championship weeks:
"Probably just as much as you guys are thinking in your heads," Mealer said. "As much as you guys have been hearing it, we hear it even more. And for you guys, it's probably overbearing and redundant and things like that -- I'm sure, because I can see all the smiles when I brought it up -- but for us, that's why you come to Michigan.
"For us players, it's not redundant, it's not, 'OK we get it.' It's, 'Remember last year? We lost a game here, we lost a game there, and we kept ourselves out of that game.' So we accept the constant reminder of it."
Mealer said there's a picture of the Big Ten championship trophy in the team's Schembechler Hall meeting room. There are roses painted on the walls, a not-so-subtle reminder of the bowl that awaits the league's champion.
This one maybe a little more than most.
I'm not sure I can do this any longer, @umichcompliance. I started following Michigan's compliance feed for some reason. Maybe I needed more dry statements of things I can't do and have never even thought of doing in my life.
It's been a passionate affair so far, but I'm not sure if I can deal with the mindboggle on the regular. To wit:
The NCAA prohibits the sale of any item with the name, picture or autograph of a currently enrolled student-athlete.
That seems like a pretty reasonable restrict—
Let's not forget, Dude—that keeping pictures… uh… items with the name, picture, or autograph of a currently enrolled student-athlete… on, uh, your official, you know, website… that ain't legal.
Burkhead may not play. Sounds like Nebraska tailback Rex Burkhead may sit out Saturday after tweaking an ACL sprain last weekend:
Huskers coach Bo Pelini said this aggravation isn't as bad as the one in the Ohio State game, but the repeated issues have him inclined to rest Burkhead for a week. Pelini said Burkhead is day to day and has improved since Saturday.
"He felt really good going into the [Northwestern] game, didn't have any issues in practice," Pelini said. "He's frustrated and obviously disappointed he's had to deal with it. It's been too bad."
Backup/co-starter Ameer Abdullah hasn't ben much of a drop-off: he's averaging almost 6 yards a carry on 86 attempts, with impressive output in the three Big Ten games he's played in—5.5 YPC. He's faster than Burkhead, albeit slighter. Former top 100 recruit Braylon Heard should also get some carries.
Also in Nebraska, reviews of their latest game.
Pitch perfect. The MZone is actually written by Stephen Colbert.
"Nation, I've always been a big fan of Michigan State football coach and scowling man most likely to tell kids to get the hell off his lawn, Mark Dantonio. His enduring sportsmanship, like getting into public feuds with 21 year old college kids by mocking their height, along with always looking out for the health and best interests of his players, evidenced by holding them out at least two plays when they get an on-field concussion, have made him a role model Spartan fans can be proud of before, during and after the burning of their couches."
Fourth line FTW. The top takeaway from Friday's one-off hockey game against Bentley was the fantastic play of what was nominally the fourth line of Andrew Copp, Zach Hyman, and Justin Selman. They scored twice, dominated play when on the ice, and must have locked themselves into additional playing time as Michigan kicks off their final CCHA campaign against Miami:
The line of Hyman, Copp and Selman has “really given our team a life,” according to Michigan coach Red Berenson.
“He told us what we needed to do to have a good week in practice,” Selman said. “He was making sure every day we were going as hard as we could. We kind of worked off what he was doing and followed in his footsteps.
Copp came from the same lineage as Danny Fardig—the guy on the USA NTDP roster who bounces from the U17s to U18s to fill in on the fourth line and never score—but has shown some soft hands early. Hyman played with a high energy level, as well. I haven't seen Selman enough to really get a read on him yet, but the line's performance speaks for itself.
Siberia also FTW. Preds winger Sergei Kostitsyn is spending the lockout playing in Siberia. This is what Siberia looks like. In May.
Kostitsyn, 25, who joined the Predators from the Montreal Canadiens in June 2010, also said he hated life in North America and labelled Columbus "the gloomiest" city in the States.
Unfortunately, he could not continue ripping on Columbus because Omsk was invaded by thousands of red plastic figures at that very moment.
I think the only deep ball in this game was out of an I-Form to a double-covered Jeremy Jackson. Gotta loosen those guys up—yeah, you might turn the ball over if you bomb it deep but if you're just punting in three plays anyway…
How Purdoed it. Doesn't work as well as "Purdon't," I guess, and is equally dumb. Anyway, Ross Fulton's latest breakdown of the Ohio State offense is even more interesting than normal since it deals with topics often found here in the aftermath of OSU's extensive struggles against the Purdue defense. Purdue loaded up to stop Miller, won a lot of battles on the line of scrimmage, and OSU could not punish Purdue cheating off the slot receivers. This sounds awfully familiar:
The Buckeye passing game was perhaps most successful when OSU could get their hurry-up offense going and catch Purdue in uncertainty. This led to the second Buckeye touchdown. But all too often Ohio State missed available opportunities. For instance, Devin Smith several times had man coverage beat. If Braxton simply leads him to the corner and lets him run under it, it was a potential touchdown.
More acutely, Ohio State was not able to punish Purdue for cheating off their slot receivers. It was not simply for a lack of trying. Miller sailed one bubble screen over Corey Brown's head. On the clip above, he held the ball a second too long, allowing the Purdue corner to make a nice play. But other times it appeared clear opportunities were available that OSU did not take advantage of. Traditionally, this has been an automatic check with Meyer and Herman. The offense will continue running the pre-called play but the QB will simply pull and throw the football. Perhaps Meyer & Co have not yet given Miller the ability to do so. But by allowing alley players to cheat into the box, a spread offense quickly loses the numbers advantage it gains from the QB run threat.
That's how you end up with 100 yards at halftime against Purdue. OSU started bashing straight ahead A-gap power from the pistol and running their veer a gap inside the crashing LBs, but Miller's exit cut their response short.
OSU must find more consistent ways to punish a defense that cheats alley defenders. Whether it is with wide receiver screens or bootlegs, OSU cannot allow a defense that much free rein. OSU must not also let opposing defenses dissuade them from sticking to what they do well. Though this is somewhat counter to the previous point, I believe they work together. The Buckeyes must continue to work to establish their base run game and then use play-action to exploit an opposing defense.
This mindmeld thing is creeping me out.
Etc.: Hero police robot back on duty after 'unstable man' blasts it with shotgun. You will be surprised to know this happened in Nebraska, not Detroit, home of police robots. [HT: Corn Nation.] RAWK HELICOPTER FLYOVER. Mmmmm… Dwayne Bacon. Hundred Level video released. O'Bannon lawsuit update. [HT: Get the Picture.] Getting our mean on at MNB. Nebraska equals points. OSU adds an Oregon home and home to their far future.
Shouldn't Spock be in this?
Hi. Me. Back. So before that much-appreciated vacation, I used this space to talk about constraint theory of offense and provide a rock-paper-scissors matrix for offensive/defensive play calling in various offenses. Today I'm on to Part III, the one where I tell you that Rock-Paper-Scissors is only a fraction of the football head game, because the actual decision trees are far too complicated for even a coach to play all of the interactions, let alone teach them. Moreover, unlike in RPS, or super-advanced-nuclear-capable-canid RPS, there are levels to things: scissors cuts paper better than it cuts (but still cuts) woven kevlar.
Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game you learn to play on the bus ride to school in 2nd grade or thereabouts. It is a very simple, 2-dimensional, triangular matrix:
…meaning every point interacts with every other. It's one dimension past a coin flip but you still only need to remember three interactions (yellow lines). Based on your personal capacity for testing the limits of social institutions, you either very quickly or eventually tried to insert an additional dimension to the triangular matrix, and realized that you were exponentially increasing the amount of interactions you had to remember.
Your 2nd grade mind didn't draw this; it just exploded the same way it might if you interlaced Grbac to Howard, Wangler to Carter and Robinson to Roundtree into the same video. Then it came up with a brilliant way to add a point without adding dimensions:
Bazooka!!! Bazooka blows up rock. Bazooka turns scissors into mangled slag. Bazooka leaves only scant streaks of carbon where once was paper. This idea is not totally silly, since defensive coordinators call bazooka like all. the. time.
Bazooka = Vanilla
Just as the offense wants to get really good at one basic thing and then do that thing all the time, many defenses are deploying the same concept. It's a bit harder for them because they have to react to various offenses on the schedule and various plays, but the concept's the same: the defense wants to stay in a scheme that is basically sound, and will mix in blitzes and different coverages as constraints, so that they can keep running their well-practiced, mostly sound blanket defense. Bazooka is a jack of all trades, solid against the run, solid against the pass, solid against tomfoolery, and vulnerable only to great offensive play and their own physical/mental limitations.
Defenses are a bit more varied than offenses but the most popular vanilla D these days, as I mentioned in the earlier discussions, is a Cover-2 zone (above-left) against run-first teams, or the Tampa 2 against pass-ier teams (above-right).
The difference between those two is in the MLB's coverage duties—in a Tampa he has the deep middle, in a regular Cover 2 he has the short middle and can be more involved in the run game. Everybody, including the cornerbacks, are hovering around close enough to gang-attack running plays like a pincer; and soft spots in the zone (everyone has them) are relatively small and difficult for non-accurate quarterbacks.
If these guys are all reacting correctly and aggressively to the run, if the cover guys are fast enough to close their zones, and the four rushers can generate pressure with regularity, this defense can bazooka anybody's rock, paper, scissors, candle, Vulcan, or whatever. Of course that is way easier said than done—remember offenses are recruiting, training, practicing, and designed for attacking this scheme.
Offensive rock is made to beat defensive bazooka. I want you to look at the above and imagine various offenses succeeding against them. ISO running forces the linebackers to read run, read the hole, and get there in time to take out a lead blocker and lead runner who by design are getting there ASAP. West Coast passing lives in those soft spots under and between the coverage. Air Raids attempt to warp the zones into providing bigger holes by flooding and stretching them. Option running makes a balanced coverage into an effective numbers advantage for the offense at the point of attack. Vanilla defense is made to stop whatever's thrown their way, and offenses gain success by making Mr. Jack-of-All die a consistent bleeding death.
To see vanilla defense in action throw a dart at any recording of Iowa in the last 12 years; their M.O. is to stick to this maniacally. The converse in-conference would be Michigan State. On the way home from Europe this weekend I randomly sat next to MSU LB Chris Norman. Other than "Wisconsin's offense was way tougher than any of the SEC teams," and "lol Michigan's uniforms last year," Norman happily admitted "YAARRGGH SPARTY SMASH!!" is the coaches' favorite blitz, and that they'll run it or something like it more than any other play. Some teams like paper.
So there are exceptions but the exceptions can be beat with your properly executed scissors. The point remains that all matrices aside, much about football comes down to defeating your opponent's bazooka, or vanilla thing, or "rock" defense with your rock. If you recognize this particular bit of wisdom from DeBordian philosophy, well yes in this DeBord is absolutely right. But if you don't properly mix in your constraints, and you always run rock to the same spot/guy out of the same formation, and you shuffle your fullba…uh let's not go there.
Next time (last one? I think it is but I keep stretching these): What's Our Rock?