"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
"I just forgot we're allowed to pitch it because that happens so rarely, you know?"
This week we have a guest responder, Craig Ross, author of The Obscene Diaries of a Michigan Fan, and The Search for the Unified Theory (Football Version), neither of which he would actually encourage you to buy—as if that's going to stop us.
Craig also has an article about the weird as hell 1925 season in this year's HTTV, now available for pre-order in the MGoStore, and which we do encourage you to buy. Because his fan memory goes back to pre-Bump I thought he'd have a unique response from history that none of us young 'uns would have remembered, then he answered with a play we'd just as soon forget.
Special thanks to Wolverine Historian for making most of these replies possible. Prepare thineself for some youtubes!
Describe the weirdest play/sequence you can remember as a Michigan fan?
BiSB: Personally, I find weirdness in the mundane. It's the draw play on 2nd and long, or the corner who allows a receiver a free inside release on 3rd and 2. Like snowflakes, even the most typical, nondescript plays demonstrates the chaos of our very existence. Each is unique, and each is OH MY GOD PITCH THE BALL TO BREASTON YOU ARE TYLER ECKER AND HE IS BLACK JESUS WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THINGS HOLY DO YOU STILL HAVE THE FOOTBALL HE'S RIIIIIIGHT THEEEEEEEEERE.
Honorable mention for the Brandon Minor touchdown catch against Michigan State in 2008, when 100,000 people we all like,"uh, I'm pretty sure that's not how a pylon works, champ..."
[Hit the jump for two blocked punts in a row and people making top fives]
The second half of Craig Ross's recap of the coaching clinic.
Borges and the Offense
Borges, unlike Mattison, obsessed over last year’s tape. This makes sense since the O was pretty effective for much of the year, and he wanted to evaluate what he had (particularly on the OL) to see what changes they might need to make. He noted (in a presser) that he felt that the zone blocking from RR’s tenure wasn’t a lot different from the style he prefers, but then said that they wouldn’t do a ton of zone. It is a part of the offense, but it sounds like it is like power was last year—a changeup. Borges has a lot more problems than Mattison even though we assume offense is going to be much better than the defense, because he actually has something that asks him to adapt.
Hoke made it clear that the “signature play” (their words, more than a couple of times) would be “power.” This is often out of a 21 package [ed: 2 RB, 1 TE—usually a standard I-form] with the FB kicking out/protecting the edge and the play being run through the A gap, with the backside guard pulling through the gap. Here’s what it looks like. The diagrams below were created by Borges when he was OC at Auburn and are found in Bill Mallory’s (and Don Nehlen’s) book Football Offenses and Plays:
[ed: Here's an excellent Smart Football primer. Also here is another diagram. Key player is the guy just to the left of the X representing the center:
That's actually a counter play that the Steelers used for a 75-yard touchdown in a Super Bowl a few years back. It's not "A-gap"—A gap would go right next to the center.
This won't be entirely unfamiliar. Michigan pulled guys last year. This Picture Pages covers a "down G" play—like power but with the playside guard pulling outside of the TE/tackle. Here's the C and frontside guard pulling against Indiana:
Here's an actual backside G pull on a power inverted read veer pickle sandwich (or something… Rodriguez's run game forced me to figure out/invent lingo every week):
Plenty of college spread teams use power. Here's seven minutes of it:
Yes, I am slightly obsessed with this. Also whenever this topic comes up I hear EA Kirk Herbstreit's disembodied head say "he used POWER… he used POWER… he used POWER." I'll stop now since this editorial aside is turning into its own post.]
Ideally, the back is reading the WILL who will be spilling over to the playside once he determines he has no gap responsibility on his side. If the Will pursues hard the back can even cut back to the weakside of the formation. Borges has said that they won't be in 21 and 22 personnel running power 14 times a game, but Hoke had a slightly varied message.
This Spring, power for the most part sucked against the #1 D, but it is clear that this is their primary running play. They run the Wildcat in a similar fashion. That has pretty much not been very good either.
The Borges article in the above book remains vital. My guess is he is still using slice plays: the slice pass, the naked boot and the wide zone. Funk says he has run the power for 25 years (he doesn’t seem that old) but he likes to run some zone also. He says, a la Landry, Bo and Lombardi, that they like to practice power more than it is used in games so that “the kids have seen everything a defense can throw at you and they are always prepared—we want to get to where they are always comfortable in blocking the play, regardless of defense.” Funk also said they will “never check to power” but they might check out of it.
On a personal level, Hoke has an extremely high regard for Funk. He implied that SDSU wasn’t very tough or fundamentally sound in 2009 but by 2010 Funk had created a different deal. Hoke says that Funk is the best OL coach in the country and, I have to admit, he is incredibly impressive.
At this point I don’t know what to think. I thought the offense was sketchy in the Saturday scrimmage. I thought offense was sketchy in the spring game. OK, Molk didn’t play a lot. Lewan didn’t play at all. These are two of our top three guys on the line. In both events the O was still working on reps as much as anything else. But I didn’t think either QB looked comfortable in this offense. Did the offense, really, look any better than the offense with Steve Threet in Year One of the Years of Complete Implosion? And, weren’t we running against the personnel that was the worst D in History last year? Well, everything has morphed. Wasn’t the D playing against a pretty damned good O from last year? Uh, yeah, except it was running a completely different system. [ed: DUCK!]
My sense/conclusion, though it is more mist than light, is that the D has truly improved. Part is experience. Part is growth by the younger guys, the natural progression. Part is Mattison and the HC’s focus on defense, not offense. Part is a scheme that gets guys in the right places. My sense/conclusion is also that the offense will decline, perhaps massively. Now, it is early. But doesn’t it feel like, as RR in Year One, that we are pounding a lot of square pegs into round holes? Doesn’t it feel like we have taken the best weapon in college football and hamstrung him? I can’t be right.
Place kicking remains a debacle. I have watched this a lot. These guys just can’t do it. If the frosh (Wile) isn’t the starter this fall we are (again) in trouble. Think four downs—not that I have any problem with that on just about any place on the field. But if you ain’t playing four downs from down 1—different deal. And, since no one but Pulaski High School is, well, we gotta get better here.
Hagerup, of course, isn’t a problem. He should be a better punter than last year and he was competent last year. He gets great hang time and doesn’t chunk them often. [Ed-M: provided whatever kept him out of the bowl is now behind him]
Punt returns: The coaches have tried a different idea re: training. Instead of hassling and bumping the returner (something I thought would have worked pretty well) the coaches are turning them around pre-punt and then forcing them to find the ball in the air, post punt. Another drill has them catching the punt with another ball tucked in one arm. Seems to be working or, at least, I didn’t see Junior, Dileo or Gallon drop one. Even when being turned around or holding another ball. Better than last spring. I will predict improvement here, for whatever reason, or only because it can’t continue.
KOs and returns I haven’t witnessed. Or, if I did, it wasn’t much and it didn’t register.
As an abstraction I could not (and still don’t) believe the offensive transition will go well in the short term. Now, Borges seems a very sharp guy. I have no concerns about his intelligence, experience or ability. His OL coach, Darrel Funk, is awesome: off the charts smart and personable. He seems less obsessed than Hoke about smashmouth football. He wants to be physical, but concedes that spreads are viable. He reminds me of Carr. Carr wasn’t a believer in zone blocking but was willing to be convinced and DeBo (plus Alex Gibbs) were able to convince him. Funk seems confident in his ability to teach any style. I am convinced he could teach anything, also.
I have zero issue with the hiring of this group. I am impressed. They stress that they never belittle or embarrass a player. Criticisms are constructive and positive. But they are more classical football guys who have inherited a lot of spread offense pieces. In this, I don’t see 2011 as much different than 2008. Lotsa round offensive pegs in square holes. In the long run, I have no doubt that Hoke will put high quality football on the field. But this might be three years away.
A guest post from Craig Ross, who took in the coaches' clinic this year, as he does most years. If you're not sure what "technique" means or the basics of cover X defenses the UFR FAQ should be of some assistance.
Greg is not impressed, GERG
On a personal level Mattison is charismatic and impressive. I can’t imagine that he won’t be a absolutely great recruiter. His enthusiasm is manifest. He isn’t a defensive personality (I don’t mean football defense) in the slightest. Media guys kept asking him about his salary (incredibly rude, I thought) and he just said he didn’t want to talk about. Not mean. Not tired. Not nasty. Just matter of fact. But after the second “no,” these reporters got it.
Unlike GERG he has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. [I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.
I don’t want to beat on GR. The media can be pretty awful and he had a right to some disinclination to talk about anything other than superficial sound bites. But even in coaching clinics he seemed loathe to talk about defensive structure, which he perceived as overrated (maybe he is right). His obsession was technique, notably tackling technique—stunning given what our defense did the last two years. But Mattison is a whole different deal. He gives smart questions their due. He gives sloppy questions more thought than they probably deserve. And, yeah, he isn’t above the ordinary sound bite to the ordinary sorta-non-question.
The Ravens were a 3-4 team until Mattison took over the defense. In 2009 he changed the Raven to a 4-3 look and there is every reason to believe he will attempt to mimic the success he had in Baltimore. Mattison’s overall philosophies are
- stop the run,
- take away the offense’s best receiver (I assume this means the D may tend to roll a bit to the best WR’s side of the field), and
- keep the defensive formations stable but mix pressures and coverages.
Mattison will run a 4-3 with some nickel as a primary defense*. He was adamant about four things.
- Martin (or any NT) will never play right over the center, zero tech, that he will be shaded into the A gap, even if slightly**.
- He always wants four guys down. Always. He said “If I have to limp in there we are playing 4 guys on the line.” (A couple of times in the spring game it looked like we had three guys down. Reviewed this. On play one he had Big WC at NT and Mike Martin standing up on the edge. Denard breaks the play for 55 yards. Of course, we did have 4 DL in the game so he didn’t violate his abstract principle. Also, as noted, against spread looks he went with three DL. [Ed: my impression was that these sorts of games were reserved for passing downs, when run soundness goes out the window and you're just trying to hassle the QB.])
- GM prefers (strongly) that the defense generally have the same look. He stated that his defense will not “stem” into different looks. That said, he wants the defense to have variations out of the singular defensive formation.
- As every coach on the planet says and means, he wants the D to pressure the QB.
Mattison stresses that he has been left with attentive kids. He talks about their seriousness, that they have behaved and been supportive of each other. Unlike Borges, who spent a lot of time looking at last year’s offense, Mattison claims he did not watch “one minute” of last year’s tape. (I wish I hadn’t.) There are two reasons for this. First, he didn’t want to bias his impressions of the players. He preferred that he and his staff make their own valuations, as opposed to those that accrued in a different system. Second, he was going to run a different system anyway. Looking to last year’s model wasn’t going to provide any information likely to have value.
This is a treacherous judgment—my understanding of the lingo may hamstring my perceptions—but it looks to me like Mattison will to use a 4-3 under as his base defense. The NT will be shaded into the A gap toward the TE, the defensive end in 5 technique but slightly shaded to the outside, and the SAM lining up near the LOS outside of the tight end, assuming there is a TE on the field. On the weak side the tackle will be in 3-tech and the rush end will shaded slightly outside of the offensive tackle***. Basically this:
I think Michigan will look like this a lot but the black “elephant”—the rush end for UM [ed: around here we called it Deathbacker when Greg Robinson was trying to use that guy as in coverage more]—might be a bit closer to the tackle. Mattison’s drawing also had the Mike (Middle LB) and Will (Weakside LB) slightly more shaded to the TE. In the diagram above the Mike has the strongside B gap and Will the weakside A gap. The Will just has to make sure his gap isn’t threatened and then can flow to the ball.
Coverage: The field (wide side) corner and safety will often play “quarters,” while the other safety will be responsible for half the field. [ed: This is also known as quarter-quarter-halves. It's a cover three that splits the field unevenly. Hit up this Smart Football post for more detail—look for the first diagram with color in it.] If there is a receiver to the boundary (short side) that corner will squat, but if there is no WR he may have a “fire” read, rushing the passer or having weakside run support.
A couple variants: A primary variation of this will be the DL all slanting to the weak side of the formation, the Mike and Will dropping into hook and curl coverage, with the corners and weakside safety splitting the field into thirds and the strong side safety having responsibility in the flat. Note that this comes out of the same 4-3 under look. I assume, on this choice, the Sam (Strongside LB) has edge integrity and the Mike and strong safety have primary run support to the play side.
Mattison didn’t mention the 4-3 over but they definitely played a bit of that in the SG. In that the NT shifts to a shade into the weakside A gap and the linebackers are more balanced. I have to look back at the tape some---pretty sure they played a bit of it, at least late in the SG.
It also looks like they will play some “Bear” defense, bringing the Will down into the gap between the End and the SAM. In such instances he said they will always be in man defense, they won’t try to zone. Mattison also stressed that “setting an edge” to the defense is always important and on their base defense that’s up to the Sam on the field side. He said this was “a huge deal.”
In terms of personnel note that Troy Woolfolk and JT Floyd were out in the spring, as was Kenny Demens. In a surprise Marrell Evans started with the ones (I didn’t know he was on the team until 10 days ago) in the Spring Game. Herron was there, too. Herron was shucked by Cox on his long run. I thought Evans played pretty well.
Tony Anderson and Avery both played pretty well at corner (or was this just the weakness in our passing game?) so with Floyd and Woolfolk healthy in the fall, there should be a lot of competition there.
In a huge surprise to me, I saw some really good play from Greg Brown—at corner—in the last Saturday scrimmage [ed: ie, the Saturday before the spring game]. This was mentioned by the coaches, so it is not a secret or my insanity. Brown did give up the TD near the end of the spring game but he was in great position and just misplayed the ball. Right now Carvin and Kovacs are running with the ones at safety, but Marvin Robinson is going to be a monster if he can learn the D. Parents of a player mentioned this to me, that Marvin had the chance to be awesome, once he steps up his understanding of the playbook. Josh Furman made a couple of plays but I didn’t focus on him so I can’t evaluate his play yet. Marvin made numerous big plays in the last weekend scrimmage.
The DL looks set with Van Bergen at DE, Roh at rush end, Big Will at the three tech and Martin at NT. However, Martin was moved around a bit in the SG so I have to look at the tape of that. Depth is thin, but I saw some good play from Black (inconsistent, but flashes), Wilkins (big plays in the SG) and the other Will (Heininger) who has been moved inside to NT.
The LBs were Jones (Will) and Cam Gordon (Sam) and I thought they did OK. Jake Ryan just stood out on the last scrimmage (with the 2s)—he made play after play—and he did the same thing in the SG. He was a way under the radar recruit but he really looks like he will be a player.
This was the worst defense in the history of the galaxy (maybe not universe, there may be a planet where some team was worse) last year so I am surprised by what I saw this spring. It was a more ordinary spring--- the UM defense making the offense struggle to get any run game going (except for Denard), though maybe two big plays were broken by the RBs. I predicted before the SG (based on the prior week’s scrimmage) that this would be an average or above average defense. I still think that. Something in the back of my head thinks it might even be an “almost good” defense but I suspect this is delusional. Now the coaches seem nervous. Mattison was unhappy after the SG but they sure seem ahead of anything I have seen for a few years.
*[Editor's note: given how much we saw Thomas Gordon in the spring game I'm guessing the nickel will be the base defense against spread looks.]
**[During the spring game it seemed like were pretty close to a zero technique at times, something he seemed to disavow. From the endzone, where I sat, there always seemed some shade. But on the Tivo of the game (from the side) of course, it seemed like we had a NT in zero tech every now and then. I reviewed it. Seems like this was when the offense was in a spread, when GM went completely odd with a 3 man front—as George Halas suggested against the single wing.]
***[Mattison is concerned that too many rush ends tend to get too wide as they attempt to speed rush the tackle. He thinks this is too easy a mark for an offensive tackle unless the end is a blur. He wants him closer to the tackle. He especially wants Craig Roh to not get too wide, allowing him to probe in either direction.]