At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
This was boss by James Ross. Read on to find out why it was pretty cool of Mattison too.
In football everything old tends to become new again. In last week's article on the Saban pattern-matching defense I alluded to how Alabama tried to use the same strategy Virginia Tech had against Ohio State, and got "85 Yards Through the Heart of the Southland" in their face. However Michigan had some success last year defending this same stuff from a base alignment. So I thought I'd explain how.
A quick refresher on what "3T" and "2i" etc. mean: A "technique" is the place a defensive lineman lines up relative to the offensive linemen:
When we say Willie Henry is a perfect 3-tech, it means he's good at doing things that you would do if you're usually lining up on the guard's outside shoulder.
They are numbered more or less from the inside out, but it gets confusing from having amalgamated many different coaches' terms for where a defender's hat starts. Like how a baseball diamond can comfortably accommodate all four sexual acts you knew of in 3rd grade, but once you're deep into high school extending the analogy leads to a lot of weirdness and disagreement.
Notice that there aren't names for lining up directly in a gap; you want your lineman to be "covering" (lined up in front of) someone to some goodly degree because in any scheme delaying an offensive lineman from getting downfield is a win for the defense. This will be important in a bit, but first let's talk about what OSU does.
By now I figure you know what the zone read looks like. Meyer does zone—and did so a lot more with zone guy Tom Herman at the helm than the heavy power stuff he ran at Florida—but at his heart he's still a Manballer. He manballs with the read-option…
…and he Manballs with regular old Power O from his spread sets. Here's what that looks like:
This was the same running game they used to pound defenses to death with Carlos Hyde, using the constant threat of Braxton Miller loping around the backside if you attacked that by crashing the middle, and dangerous vertical threats running downfield if you activate your safeties against it.
If Brian had UFR'd this I imagine he'd ding Glasgow –2 for getting blown five yards downfield by the double (and the refs for Mone getting held but that rarely gets called). Bolden had to watch for a backside cut but his path to the ball was blocked by Glasgow. The hold meant Mone couldn't fight off his block to stop the puller from getting into the lane, and Ryan can only pop that guy to restrict the hole.
But back up; why did such a good running offense need a hold and a good NT getting blown off the ball to gain its yards? Michigan made this hard by having two defensive tackles lined up over the guards. If Mone and Glasgow could hold their ground, Ryan and Bolden have a chance to stop this for a minimal gain. Two plays later they would, and it goes back to what Virginia Tech is doing with the old Bear.
[After the jump]
Next time you see this you'll know what's going on
In previous layman's discussions on how fancy newfangled anti-spread defenses function I've talked about how Quarters works, and how MSU used aggressive alignments with it to dominate the run game at the cost of greater risk of getting beat over the top. Each time I alluded to the fact that Saban's defense is similar in concept except where Quarters is a Cover 2/Cover 4 hybrid, Saban's is a Cover 3/Cover 1 hybrid.
We will see it this year. Every defense uses some Cover 3 and Cover 1 as a changeup, but Saban's base system, now all over the SEC, has spread into various Michigan opponents. Penn State kept it around while transitioning to Bob Shoop's version of Quarters. Maryland had it last year; not sure if their 4-3 transition includes a coverage shift. I think BYU (which is going back to 3-3-5 with Bronco Mendenhall overseeing it personally) is expected to as well. Michigan State has played with it, since it's similar to what they do normally. Anyway I thought it'd be fun to get into it now, so we'll have it to reference later.
- Rufio of Cleveland Browns SBNation blog Dawgs by Nature.
- Matthew Brophy's incomparable series on Alabama's D: part i, part ii, part iii, and his "Rip/Liz" video.
- Eleven Warriors' Kyle Jones's film study
- Ricky Muncie of Crimson Tide SBNation blog Roll Bama Roll
- Chris Brown, of course. Of course.
- Pre-emptive thanks to actual football coaches who post in the comments and point out where I got something wrong or over-simplified.
I'm Not a Coach Disclaimer
I'm not a football coach. I'm a guy on the internet who read a lot about football.
Basics of One-High Defenses
Cover 3 is probably the most basic defense in existence. It is the defense you learn on Day 1 as a high school freshman, if not before. At that level it is a "go to this spot and then find work" scheme, past that there are techniques coaches teach to cover the gaps. Here are the two basic versions that Saban uses against standard 2x2 formations:
If you picked up on the fact that "Liz" and "Rip" begin with the same letters as "left" and "right" (or you know your port and starboard colors) you have my permission to eat a cookie.
Joe Paterno used variations of this (Rip is very close to his base defense*) since the Chatelperronian, and like Neanderthal toolkits it only looks crude until you see it in the hands of a master.**
Some things to know that we'll use later:
- The receiver numbering system is the same as in Quarters: start from the sideline and work your way in until you're at the center. It's where they are at the snap, not before, in case motion messed with that.
- The path you take to your zone matters a great deal. Note how guys running toward their zones are actually going through weak points in the coverage. This is for "routing" purposes: if you're there a receiver can't be.
The latter is true for all zone defenses, but it's a stress point for Cover 3 because the holes in the zone are places the offense can attack either quickly (7-9 yards downfield in the seam) or easily (deep downfield once the free safety has committed). Cover 3 coaches teach defenders to be in the way so receivers have to re-route to covered places.
The tradeoff is natural coverage strength to the middle of the field, to the detriment of the flats—if you've ever watched an NFL defense that seems to constantly be tackling fullbacks squirting out of the backfield, that's why.
The problem with Cover 3 is the same problem with Cover 2: those frikkity vertical routes:
The problem remains with pretty much any set of routes that stem from a vertical release.
The old-fashioned answer to this is play more man defense, and certainly Cover 1 (example diagram) is a complementary coverage to any Cover 3 team. In Cov1, aka "Man Free" defense, corners stay on the receivers, the erstwhile "curl/flat" guys stay on the #2's, and the middle linebacker over the RB takes the RB.
But if you're playing man-to-man defense, you'd better have men who can win their battles 97%+ of the time against theirs. If you need to activate that free safety to double up a dangerman, now you're giving up "front"—how many defenders are participating in your run fits, and once it's not an 8-man front anymore you're weak against the run. Offenses will also use rub routes, or exploit matchups, e.g. have a quick slot receiver sprint across the formation until he loses the linebacker trying to keep up.
These were problems for Saban to a much greater degree when he was dealing with the kind of talent the Cleveland Browns drafted during his DC days. By the time he got to MSU he already had his Rip and Liz and his Cov1 amalgamated into a hybrid scheme he called "pattern matching."
[After the jump]
* The Paterno-era "Hero", and "Sam" in the linked diagram were early examples of hybrid space players, and the zone-blitzing 8-man front it spawned was the basis of Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense.
** …who discovered children were being sexually abused in his locker room and didn't tell the police because football reasons.
My biggest takeaway from last night is Michigan will need a very strong and well-coached front seven if Harbaugh is to pull a 1969 next Thanksgiving weekend.
The key to Michigan's dramatic defensive improvement in 2011 was that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison gave Michigan's defense an identity. They went to a 4-3 under, single-gap run defense that Mattison brought from the Ravens, and over the course of the year found the best fits for the guys on hand.
|Durkin knew Mattison from his Charlie Weis pants days. [photo: Joe Raymond|Freep]|
You remember, despite the relative success of this transition, that some fits were more or less awkward than others. Jake Ryan was a perfect SAM. Ryan Van Bergen worked as a 3-tech or a 5-tech. Mike Martin played nose because nobody else could, and his disruption was deployed with a lot of stunts, or weird stuff like when they came up in an Okie and Martin dropped back to essentially MLB. Roh at WDE was a solid run defender but wasn't built to take advantage of that WDE-tackle matchup that's supposed to produce natural pressure.
Last year of course they went to a 4-3 over base alignment, making Jake Ryan into an awkward MLB because the alternative was Beyer as a really awkward 5-tech. The kicker: offenses were forcing Michigan to play nickel 50% to 90% of snaps, which made Ryan into either an undersized defensive end, or a guy on the sideline.
JMFR is gone but Mattison will still be around, joined by new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. At the Cleveland event last night I suggested Mattison’s role will be as sensei to Durkin, who hasn’t really flown solo yet (Muschamp was very involved with that defense).
It adds up to a belief that Michigan won’t change its defensive style for 2015, but what is that style? Coverages are another matter; just speaking to the front seven: should they be the under that they recruited for, or the over they transitioned to?
Refresher on 4-3 philosophy
Mattison and Durkin both coached (Durkin as a graduate assistant for one year) under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, who with Jackie Sherrill developed the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defense. Jimmy Johnson (another Sherrill acolyte) took it a step further in Miami, and Pete Carroll now runs in Seattle.
You’ll note that they used different alignments. Johnson’s defenses were the genesis of the 4-3 over, and so influential that this is what people usually mean by “4-3” defense, as opposed to Tom Landry’s base version. Carroll’s been coaching the 4-3 under since he learned it directly from Monte Kiffin, who developed it at Nebraska.
The under alignment was not the base concept; the real philosophy in Kiffin's terms was to give his defensive linemen simple assignments so they could play with aggression and disruption. The benefit of one-gapping is no defensive linemen stopping to diagnose the play. Once the ball is snapped, all of these defenses want those brains thinking "go!", "put my hat in a gap," "be a factor," and "attack that block!"
Mattison used a mix in Baltimore because he had Ngata, but at Michigan he’s had an almost exclusively gap-attacking defense. The question has been what alignment to run it out of, and that’s a question of which players fit it best.
(Start at 1:17)
So which alignment is Michigan going with this year? I think again it’s a question of personnel? I make diagram.
Michigan’s short on red dudes
The above is my attempt at showing the spectrum of qualities emphasized by the front seven positions in the 4-3 over versus the 4-3 under. I also gave a small approximation of color fits for guys I know something about (Spur-like objects like Gant and Wangler left out because I ran out of colors to depict DB-ness).
It's meant to show what we mean when we talk about the why nothing's a perfect fit for the talent on hand. Suggestions for improved shading are welcome. Takeaway from this experiment: Michigan's front the next few years may be better at throwing out different looks than it will be at rotating through shark teeth.
If you trust my judgment on the shading above, the over appears to remain the best fit for the guys we have, provided they can find some backup ends (the glut of DE/DT tweeners remains). As Mattison mentioned in the video above, the half of the time you’re in nickel to counter a 3- or more-wide look, you’re in an over anyway. D.J. Durkin used a lot of smaller players and changed things up a ton at Florida, and I expect the future will be a truly multiple defense with versatile front seven players. I expect when they can’t run Ojemudia and Charlton out there at the ends, Durkin will experiment with linebacker-ish dudes out there.
Among this year's great disappointments has been the understandable, but nonetheless depressing, regression of 2013 Michigan's two best defensive players. Jake Ryan looks lost at MLB. Blake Countess is now the third or fourth best cornerback on this roster. Both appear to be a direct result of the offseason decision to switch from Michigan's 4-3 under/zone defense to a jam-man, nickel/4-3 over base.
I'm sure Brian is going to cover Jake Ryan with a picture pages, so I thought I'd zoom in on a play that's demonstrative of what's happening with Countess, and how that's hurting the defense. This is the first of Rutgers's many 3rd down conversions. Michigan had a backside blitz on with the front seven and was playing man-high pass D. Rutgers ran a pick route from the trips tight formation:
This is a standard thing you do against man coverage. The Y receiver will run his route directly in the path of the cornerback trying to guard the outside (Z) receiver. It works just a like a perimeter screen in basketball: the pick man and the defender following him create a wall between the target and his defender…
Voila: easy pass…
…which is unfortunate because a certain Rutgers lineman blew his MIKE assignment and Jake Ryan was about to turn Gary Nova into paste. Jeremy Clark then compounded matters by setting up too far inside and turned it into a big play.
To a degree you might RPS this, because Rutgers called a pick route against man coverage, and Nova pointed right at the matchups to show his guys they had what they wanted. But the way Michigan's defense is supposed to work is for man-tight to be a base play, and there is absolutely a way to defend this pass with Michigan's defensive call… [jump] [also if you're at work maybe put your headsets on because you know what's coming]
The goal of Draftageddon is to draft a TEAM of Big Ten players that seems generally more impressive than that of your competitors. Along the way, we'll learn a lot of alarming things, like maybe Maryland is good? Full details are in the first post.
PREVIOUSLY ON DRAFTAGEDDON
- Everyone not grabbing dual-threat senior QBs grabs defensive linemen
- Seth takes Venric Mark in front of just about everyone
- Nothing terribly remarkable happens
- BISB takes all the guys I want
- A ridiculous amount of time is spent discussing the merits of one particular interior lineman from Rutgers
- WILDCARD TIME as Brian takes a quarterback despite already having a quarterback.
- Peppers drafted in WILDCARD TIME II.
- Someone drafts an Illinois defender! I know!
- BISB goes Maryland crazy, reminds us all that he has Kurtis Drummond eighty-five times.
ROUND 21 - PICK 2 (Ace): Darian Hicks, CB, Michigan State
O: QB Connor Cook (MSU), RB Ameer Abdullah (NE), WR Devin Funchess (U-M), WR Levern Jacobs (MD), SLOT Dontre Wilson (OSU), TE Maxx Williams (MN), LT Brandon Scherff (IA), LG Kaleb Johnson (RU), C Chad Lindsay (OSU), RT Tyler Marz (WI)
D: WDE Shilique Calhoun (MSU), SDE Andre Monroe (MD), NT Darius Kilgo (MD), DT Adolphus Washington (OSU), OLB Chi Chi Ariguzo (NW), OLB Matt Robinson (MD), CB Desmond King (IA), CB Darian Hicks (MSU), S John Lowdermilk (IA), S Jarrod Wilson (U-M), HSP Earnest Thomas III (IL)
ST: KR/PR Ameer Adbullah (NE)
Wears 2 and eats roses; must be Woodson [james brosher]
Ace: We're reaching the point in the draft when it's time to start gambling a bit; with this pick, I'm betting my imaginary cash money on Pat Narduzzi, the East Lansing Cornerback Factory, and Darian Hicks winning the starting job across from Trae Waynes.
The first two things don't seem like much of a gamble at all. The third may not be, either. Hicks saw some action as a true freshman last season, started and ended the spring as the starting field corner despite dealing with injury, was the first corner selected after Waynes in their spring game draft, and had their 247 outlet putting him under the secondary's "reasons for optimism" category—which somehow didn't just read "NARDUZZI"—after the spring ($):
Hicks, meanwhile, passed a host of players to see action as a true freshman last season and held on to his No. 1 spot at cornerback throughout spring ball. We don’t know what this secondary will look like without Jim Thorpe Award winner Darqueze Dennard, but at least we know who will take his place entering fall camp.
With Dennard and Waynes locking down the corner spots last year, no other corner did much that wasn't on special teams, so I went back to Hicks' high school film to see how he'd fit into MSU's aggressive defense. Considering he could do this as a high school junior, I think things will work out:
Hicks earned his MSU offer over a year before NSD 2013; the Spartans identified him early as a guy they really wanted in a class that had room for just one cornerback. His scholarship offer came directly from Mark Dantonio. Pat Narduzzi was his primary recruiter. That's good enough for me.
BISB: /Starts to snark Ace's selection of a guy who has played like 50 career snaps.
/Remembers, like, everything
[after the jump: somebody goes totally bonkers for Badgers, and not who you think!]
Despite being passive, Michigan was 23rd in INTs last year [Eric Upchurch]
Since Hoke has taken over, it seems the expectation / criticism has been largely focused on the offense. Since rich rod left the defense in shambles, hoke & mattison seem to have taken a bend don't break approach and largely been given a pass while they accumulate talent and experience. With most of the experience and talent on the defensive side of the ball this year, does the pressure to get it done and carry the team to victory shift?
I balk at the idea that someone needs to be "given a pass" after turning what was literally the worst defense in Michigan history into the #17 total defense in a year and improving to 13th the next year before dipping to 41st. FWIW, in yards per play terms the Mattison defenses are 46th, 25th, and 41st—a narrative of drastic improvement in year one, another step forward in year two, and then a step back.
I wish that step back hadn't happened, too, but the defense ended up collapsing once it was putting Richard Ash and Nose Tackle Jibreel Black on the field against the top rushing team in the country and then facing Tyler Lockett in a dismal who-cares bowl game they had approximately zero chance of winning once Gardner was ruled out.
Against the rest of the schedule, the defense was good enough to win. They could have carried Michigan to victories against Penn State (1.9 yards a rush, 6.8 per pass), Nebraska (under 300 yards total O), and maybe even MSU (16 points through 3 Q) if the offense was extant. People jumping on the D are a lot like people saying SHANE MORRIS COULD START YOU GUYS: they're letting the unprecedentedly terrible running game color their perceptions of the rest of the team.
That said, yes, last year's D was frustratingly passive and with Michigan returning almost everybody of note (departures from the two deep are limited to Black, the underutilized Quinton Washington, and both Gordons) it is time to take a step forward from passable to very good or great. The offense is not going to get where it needs to be in one year, so if Michigan wants to have the kind of season that makes people think Hoke should be back it's up to the defense to hulk up.
The rivals. We must beat them. Or not.
Can you talk me into a scenario where Michigan loses to both at MSU and at OSU this year and we call the season a success?
Let's step back for a second. There was a thread on the board about the recent Angelique Chengelis article in which she predicted a 10-2 record with losses to MSU and OSU. As always, the thread was split between people going "lol more like 2-10" and people responding to folks that say "I'll be happy with 9-3" with:
Is this what we are now? A program with fans that are "pleased" with mediocrity.
YES! YES, THIS IS WHAT WE ARE NOW. I mean… Michigan had that one 11-2 year that they acquired by shooting the moon six times. Aside from that, Michigan's gone 3-9, 5-7, 7-6, 8-5, and 7-6. And that last 7-6 doesn't really encompass the true face-crippling misery that was last season.
So, yeah, there are a ton of seasons that include road losses to the two teams that met in the B10 championship game last year that seem like a success. 10-2 is obvious. 9-3… sheeeeeeit, I would take any 9-3 record any way any how right now, no questions.
Would it suck to lose yet again to OSU and MSU? Yes! Yes, it would be a kick right in the plaster of Paris. But we're not in a place where we can turn up our nose at anything resembling a fun season. Just getting to a place where I can think "hey, this offensive line might be good next season" is a success. That necessarily comes with some wins, but except in pissy fan ways I'm not sweating who they come against.
Updated minutes for basketball.
It's go time for Derrick Walton [Bryan Fuller]
Can I get a prediction on next year's starting five?
Three and a half of the spots are pretty obvious. The three:
PG: Derrick Walton
SG: Caris LeVert
SF: Zak Irvin
C: Mark Donnal/Ricky Doyle
Michigan might be able to spare some minutes for Donnal at the 4 depending on how foul prone those gentlemen are. Freshmen bigs ten to be very foul prone, so… yeah.
Even PF is not that confusing: it'll be split between Kam Chatman and DJ Wilson. Chatman will also get minutes filling in for LeVert and Irvin; Spike will get 10-15 minutes; Bielfeldt will be in the 0-15 range depending on how the other guys perform and if he can actually hit some of those threes that Beilein says are unstoppable in practice.
My guess at the minute breakdown now:
PG: Walton (30) / Spike (10)
SG: LeVert (35) / MAAR (5)
SF: Irvin (30) / Chatman (10)
PF: Chatman (15) / Wilson (25)
C: Donnal (25) / Doyle (10) / Bielfeldt (5)
MAAR over Dawkins is just a guess. I do think it'll be one or the other by crunch time since Beilein favors short rotations. It is possible that one of the two redshirts.
That's very young and skinny up front—four freshman and Bielfeldt is your frontcourt—but I'd put Michigan's backcourt up against anyone in the conference no problem.
But what about The Process?
I've seen a few stories about how young Team 135 will be. They all highlight the small senior class, but never get into The Process's impact on the class. In my opinion, the 2011 recruiting class was a mess largely because Dave Brandon waited until January to fire Rich Rod (and then spent a couple of days actually firing him). By the time Hoke was hired, there wasn't much time to put together a class. In your opinion, how big of a factor was The Process on this year's senior class?
Don't forget the song-and-dance with the planes and four or five days spent in an apparent effort to throw people off the scent of the most Michigan Man choice available.
We'll never know for sure whether or not Rodriguez was a dead man walking going into the bowl game, but I've heard from multiple people on that disastrous trip that everyone thought he was. This led to a widespread breakdown in order and the performance-type substance Michigan put out there. If there was any chance he'd be back before it, there was zero after. Brandon didn't hang the man swiftly or extinguish the idea he'd be gone, so Michigan got a month and a half of limbo during which Blake Countess inexplicably signed up and nothing else happened in recruiting. Hoke walked into the following recruiting class:
- DEFENSE: DE Chris Rock, DE Brennen Beyer, CB Delonte Holowell, CB Blake Countess, CB Greg Brown, LB Desmond Morgan, LB Kellen Jones
- OFFENSE: OL Tony Posada, OL Jack Miller, OL Chris Bryant (Bryant did commit after Hoke was hired but had been favoring Michigan for months beforehand.)
To this he added in the two or three weeks available to him:
- DEFENSE: DE Frank Clark, DE Keith Heitzman, CB Tamani Carter, CB Raymon Taylor, LB Antonio Poole
- OFFENSE: TE Chris Barnett, RB Thomas Rawls, RB Justice Hayes, QB Russell Bellomy, K Matt Wile.
Both ends of that class are equally subpar. Hoke's ten late adds produced Taylor, Clark, and Wile. There's a possibility that Hayes or Heitzman will contribute at a decent level this year; that is meh.
Given what we've seen from Hoke since, especially before Michigan's offense descended into awful unwatchability, you have to figure he would have done much better with the extra five weeks. He almost certainly would have found a tackle to replace Jake Fisher—he may have in fact held on to Jake Fisher—and found a tight end who was capable of staying on a college campus for more than three weeks. They may have found a better fit at QB than Bellomy, whose main asset was his mobility. And they would have gotten a better idea about a few guys who weren't likely to stick—I'm thinking about Posada mostly, by the time signing day rolled around some people were skeptical about his commitment level—and grabbed a guy to fill out the OL numbers.
So… it was significant. There is a reason schools don't wait until January to throw guys overboard, and Michigan is suffering through that this year.