"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.
I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.
We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:
You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are
Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.
A moment after the snap:
The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."
Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.
A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.
Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?
RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…
…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…
…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.
That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.
Video, with annotation!
I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.
Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.
Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.
Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.
Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.
Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.
Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.
Promised last week but Wife Day occupied the designated space.
This week's great linebacker debate is about how I'm sitting in a tree with Kenny Demens, finding reasons to posbang him that would not be reasons to posbang Ezeh or Mouton. That's not really how UFR works on defense. A three-yard run is a usually a +1 for the D, a zero-yarder +2, and a TFL +3—though it's context dependent—and I try to assign credit and blame to get to those numbers. There is wobble when the other team makes an error or there's a rock paper scissors play. If I was going to give Demens positive he didn't deserve they'd be coming off his teammates in the front seven and the only guys to suffer relative to expectations were Rotating Ineffective Nose Tackle and the Banks/Black combo.
Mouton also come in for a big minus and clucking, but I thought that was easily justified by the clips provided. If it's not here's another one. It's late in the third quarter and Iowa has third and three from the Michigan eleven. They come out in an unbalanced formation with a covered TE; Michigan responds with a 4-4:
Iowa will run off the right tackle. At the snap Kovacs blitzes. Banks, the DE to the bottom of the screen, takes on a double team from Iowa's LG and RG; Renaldo Sagesse is getting single blocked by the center:
A moment later Banks and Patterson have both gotten in bad situations. Sagesse is a yard downfield and sealed to the inside. Banks has managed to stick at the LOS but he's about to be effectively comboed and sealed to the inside:
Kovacs gets picked off by the fullback. Roh's gotten a cut on the backside but Gordon is flowing behind him; RVB has gotten down the line to cut off a hole; Sagesse is getting buried by a double downfield. Mouton has set up on the Iowa RT as Banks just kind of sits there at the LOS:
Here's an endzone angle of the last moment:
That's a lot of grass to Mouton's right there. I wonder what he's going to do about that:
Dios ffuuuu, man. This will be clearer on the video but this was not some crazy block by the right tackle here—Mouton fought inside of the guy, sealing himself. The sad thing is that Kenny Demens has cleared the trash from the Sagesse double and is showing up in the hole:
If Mouton is outside the guy he's almost certain to tackle short of the first down…
…but he's not:
Another third-down touchdown from the ten given up by a combo of players but especially one in particular; another four points on the board because of a basic mental error from a Michigan defender. This one is ten times more frustrating than Courtney Avery's because Mouton is a fifth year senior who's been doing this his entire career, including earlier this year against UMass on another egregious play that was picture-paged.
- Either Mouton has suffered the worst kind of coaching malpractice during his career or he's just not all there. Or both, I guess. He should not be making this mistake. He has made this kind of mistake dozens of times. Maybe there's something in the scheme that makes it confusing as to when he's supposed to be the contain guy, but I don't think so. WLBs should know this as part of their DNA. There's a theory floating around that Mouton has gotten used to playing next to Ezeh and now assumes he has to do everything himself and may get all clueful now that he's playing with a linebacker that usually shows up in the right spot at the right time, but I don't think so. It doesn't matter who you're playing next to since hopping inside that tackle is guaranteed doom.
- The defensive line didn't do the linebackers any favors… Other than some sporadic help from RVB and Roh this was par for the course. Here the NT is Sagesse instead of Patterson but the end result is similar to what happened all day: effective combo on Banks gets him passively single-blocked and gives Mouton a tackle to deal with. Combo on whoever the NT is crumples and/or seals the guy.
- …but could this actually be something resembling okay from Sagesse? It's not good by any stretch of the imagination but the reason Demens is flowing into the gap unblocked is because the C could not pop off of Sagesse after shoving him downfield. That mess falls in a heap, meaning that the nose has taken out two blockers. I didn't plus the guy because I thought it was more luck than anything and ending a play on your knees two yards downfield doesn't seem like a strategy sustainable in the long term. I didn't minus him either because he kinda sorta just managed to do his job.
- More good Demens play. He doesn't get blocked but because Sagesse is blown off the LOS this isn't the world's easiest scrape. He makes it and should have an opportunity to tackle if everyone else does their job. It's impossible to say whether or not Ezeh would have made the same scrape, but we've seen enough of him to know that he doesn't do it consistently. He might be standing right where he was at the snap, or he might not have the agility and recognition Demens does to get around the garbage. (FTR, Demens did not get a plus here; Mouton was –2, Banks –1.)
We don't know whether or not Demens does execute this consistently, or whether his run-fill gusto is exploitable with misdirection or play action. His Iowa game was promising, though. I'm sure he'll have some wobbly games during the second half—Iowa was not one. I repeat my stat of wonder and alarm: when Demens was on the field runs that did not pop outside contain because of mistakes by Mouton, Black, and Banks averaged under 2.5 YPC. This happened essentially without Mike Martin. Whatever problems existed with the run D had nothing to do with him.
Mouton, meanwhile, is incredibly frustrating. This year he's turned "big positive, bigger negative" into "big negative, bigger positive" but I'm not going to spend 2011 pining for him. Michigan can't and shouldn't pull him since he makes a lot of good plays; I don't think Michigan's run defense is going to suffer greatly without him.