alternate headline: man does job
So today I complete the series on Don Brown's defense. After two the gist of that defense is plainly gotten: he runs the same defense Michigan does. I was really hoping to find BC doing something schematic to bottle up Clemson's spread offense; instead it seems their successes came from just fundamentally executing things that Michigan didn't against Ohio State from the same Cover 1 that we both ran.
But I did find something pretty cool on the next drive: Clemson trying to mess with that, and how it responded. The first play's a good example:
Play 1: Jet Motion Triple Option vs. Cover 1—After a three-and-out and an interception that led to BC taking a 7-0 lead, Clemson is ready to bring out the fancy stuff. This looks fancy:
That's a lot of lines in the backfield—and a formation trick that Michigan saw against Ohio State several times—so let me unpack it.
[After we hit THE JUMP]
If you’ve been reading the site for a long time you’ll remember Seth’s “Decimated Defense” series, an excellent set of posts that painstakingly detailed why Michigan’s defense was so awful circa 2009. If you’ve been watching hockey the past few seasons, something similar may have crossed your mind.
David Nasternak is our jack-of-all-trades behind the scenes, and he’s also a huge hockey fan. He asked if I’d be interested in some data he was pulling together on power play goals against, odd-man rushes, and turnovers that led directly to goals. Naturally I was; Michigan’s defense isn’t quite Decimated Defense-level bad, but I could probably write a series of posts about the past four years and no one would bat an eye if I titled them “Disappointing Defense.”
The eye test, beloved by scouts for generations, tells us that Michigan’s defense has again been lacking in 2015-16. Thanks to the data David has compiled and some additional team-level stats from College Hockey Inc. we can try and see where the breakdowns are coming from on an otherwise solid team.
[After THE JUMP: it wouldn’t be MGoBlog without charts]
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They're coming. They're wearing gorilla suits and transformer heads.
You can also check out this guy's Oreos review.
YOU DON'T SAY. The infinite anger machine can take slight at anything, including "people looking at football":
Connor Cook on being underdogs to Michigan: "It doesn't take much to put a chip on our shoulders."
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) October 13, 2015
We'll see how much that chip helps against Jim Harbaugh.
Breaking down the beast. PFF takes a look at Michigan's "terrifying" defense:
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this defensive run isn’t the results, but the grading at the heart of it. Of 26 players that Michigan has used on defense this year just two of them have a below-average grade, and none is worse than a -1.8, which is still closer to average than disastrous.
16 of those 26 have strong positive grades and of the players that are left, five of them have played fewer than 20 snaps. In fact, the Wolverines have just one player on defense that has played 100 or more snaps and doesn’t have a significantly positive grade.
They include a number of illustrative graphics as well:
They are happy to leave defenders in man coverage and attack with overload blitzes up front, and that too happens with speed, but watching any time Northwestern tried to gain the edge against this team was an incredible display of hustle by the Wolverines.
Take the play above, which was not in any way held up or delayed. A simple option trying to stretch the defense and the running back ends up facing five separate defenders all converging on him behind the line of scrimmage. That should not happen, and does not happen with most defenses. There wasn’t even a catastrophic breakdown in blocking assignments to create it. The Wolverines just read, diagnose and attack the football like a pack of hungry dogs chasing after a wayward ribeye steak.
There is much more; strongly recommend you read the whole thing.
A slight difference. Brian Fremeau's stats site has game-by-game breakdowns in which he assigns point values to all three phases of the game. For example, against Utah the offense was –6.2, the defense –1.8 and the ST +1.0. These aren't schedule adjusted, they're just trying to explain where the final margin came from.
I particularly like Fremeau's special teams numbers in this department because he takes field position into account for field goals and punts and the like—his stats are going to understand that a 32-yard punt that ends at the 3 is a good thing. Also, SOS isn't a huge factor on special teams.
Shall we review this year versus last year?
Much of Michigan's positive value last year came on a blocked punt that Gedeon returned for a TD against Appalachian State. I'm not actually sure what Michigan did to get solidly above zero midway through the season other than blocking a Northwestern field goal. Best guess is that the punting was good and they didn't give up big returns for that section of the season.
Anyway: things are different now.
Goodbye to The Head Ball Coach. Steve Spurrier was and is a living avatar of college football and why it's so awesome. He ran up the score, he bombed people in press conferences after, he talked like a human. He simultaneously had all and no chill. He was college football's Roger Sterling. In the aftermath of his departure people collect his best lines…
7. On a fire at the Auburn library that destroyed 20 books: “The real tragedy was that 15 hadn’t been colored yet.”
…and even those who hated him admit that he was pretty awesome. Spencer on Spurrier is required reading:
Another coach Spurrier liked to tweak later in his career was Nick Saban, someone Spurrier would point out had taken the Alabama and LSU jobs.
"If he wants to be the greatest coach or one of the greatest coaches in college football, to me, he has to go somewhere besides Alabama and win, because they've always won there at Alabama."
You could take favorable jobs as a bad coach and look okay, or take great jobs as a good coach and look orders of magnitude better than you might actually be.
Spurrier, in contrast, took the Duke, Florida and South Carolina jobs, jobs that were garbage scows before he arrived. He won at all three, in biblical fashion — the Old Testament Bible, where locusts ate your crops, lightning blew up your houses, and your village was flattened by a tidal wave before your rescue boat was swallowed by a whale. He drew the ire of illiterate nanny-take pissmerchants like New York columnist Mike Lupica, who accused Spurrier of running up the score, whatever that means.
Hard to imagine the HBC existing in any other sport. I plan on sleeping well past Gameday but if you want to do me and college football a favor, it would be pretty awesome to see a Hatin' Ass Spurrier sign.
What are you even doing? BC Interruption breaks down the ludicrous ending of their 3-0 loss against Wake Forest. After recovering a fumble on the Wake Forest 11 with 56 seconds left. BC ends up with first and goal, 29 seconds left on the Wake Forest 1:
0:29 left, 1st and goal from the Wake Forest 2. 108 seconds after the possession began.
Because the play wasn't communicated to the team, BC huddles and as Chris Berman would say "tick..tick.tick". The Eagles break the huddle and with everyone in the building screaming at them to hurry up snap the ball some 11 seconds after the ball was marked ready for play at the 18 second mark. The game was essentially down to one play.
Result: Rouse runs the ball into the A gap on the right side. The play is blown up and Rouse does not even quite make it back to the original line of scrimmage. The whistle is blown with 12 seconds remaining on the clock.
From 29 seconds with a stopped clock for a first down, BC gets one play off. That reminds me of you know who. At worst BC should have been able to spike the clock and then take two shots on pass plays before a do-or-die fourth down (or, knowing Addazio, a chip shot field goal).
Just brutal. Everyone needs a Madden 14 Year Old Assistant.
On joking about problems that turn out to be serious. I am frequently bothered by the rush to condemn people on twitter with egg avatars who have terrible opinions. (Exception: "Denard Robinson is not a QB" eggs during his tenure at Michigan. You people can go straight to hell.)
When something like CC Sabathia entering rehab transpires there is inevitably a flood of righteous tweets that seem directed at Mike Lupica columns from 1980 that do not in fact exist. These are designed to acquire twitter status, which is the worst status to have. I do not give twitter points to people for not having awful opinions, or pointing out that other people should not have awful opinions. You get none of my points. You are wasting everyone's time.
This just came up in college football when Steve Sarkisian's alcohol issues went from an odd but isolated incident to a scary pattern, and I think Ryan Nanni hit exactly the right tone in response:
I think we make these jokes because we see these as isolated ncidents of failure, like laughing at a friend who busts his ass on an icy sidewalk or has a soda explode when he opens it. Steve Sarkisian getting drunk at a booster dinner is funny, in isolation, because it's wildly unexpected. Placed in the larger context of what appears to be fairly serious alcohol problem? Now I just feel like an asshole for that throwaway tweet, laughing and pointing at someone who's grappling with a disease that sent over a million American adults (and another 73,000 adolescents) to treatment in 2013.
This isn't me putting on my Joke Police badge; one of the fundamental aspects of EDSBS is that we write what we think is funny, even if other people don't, and that's fine. Declarations that something is or is not humorous are as tiring as they are useless. It's like claiming shrimp is poison because you have a shellfish allergy. You can still think Steve Sarkisian coaching the Arizona State game under the influence is really funny, and I'll disagree with you.
Back when the Brendan Gibbons thing was going down there were a number of commenters who yelled at me because I didn't make the prescribed statements about how rape is awful. I don't do that because it's obvious and I don't need to polish my wand in public. If you demand someone else do it it's probably because you're not as great of a dude as you want to make everyone think you are.
Injuries. Injuries will be a major story for the game. Michigan has a banged-up running back corps, with De'Veon Smith missing the Maryland game and both Smith and Johnson limited against the Wildcats. Joe Kerridge missed the two games before Northwestern but seems fine now. Channing Stribling has missed the last two games but should be ready to go against the Spartans:
"It was longer than a one week (injury)," coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. "He was very, very close this past weekend. He could've played, but we thought it was more prudent to not play him.
"I do (expect he'll play Saturday)."
Michigan is also down Bryan Mone and Mario Ojemudia for the year. They will also be without James Ross for the first half—and in MSU Michigan finally plays a team they want to run a bunch of 4-3 against.
MSU has a slightly longer list of the wounded, most importantly on the offensive line. Backup LT Dennis Finley is done for the year. Jack Conklin hasn't played in two weeks; he was available in an "emergency" against Rutgers but it's kind of hard to imagine what that emergency could have been that didn't see him on the field late. That's because Kody Kieler tried to give it a go but had to leave, and very late center Jack Allen took a nasty hit from the side that knocked him out of the game.
Anywhere from zero to three of those guys will be available; I'm guessing that both tackles suit up and at least try to play. Allen is a much murkier proposition. Some dubious twitter rumors held that he was done for the year but in that case you'd probably have confirmation from the program, and from students on campus who spot the guy in a cast or something. I wouldn't lend those much credence.
Changing some minds. Inside NU's podcast covers the Michigan game this week, and they kick it off by talking about how the atmosphere inside the stadium greatly exceeded its reputation:
There's a lot of interest to M fans until about the 25 minute mark, when they turn the page to Iowa.
They also have an article up from a former Northwestern linebacker detailing the various things that went wrong. I'll address it in more detail in UFR; you can read it now.
Surprise. The only difference between Laremy Tunsil and the other guys Ole Miss has pirated away from bigger programs is that Tunsil had a stepfather sell him out. He has been reinstated after it was revealed had acquired a raft of illicit benefits:
Ole Miss is lucky to get Laremy Tunsil back at all.
That was my first thought reading the full list of charges brought by the NCAA against Tunsil, and after letting it digest for a little while it still holds. The list of impermissible benefits Tunsil has received in Oxford is lengthy and more than just the one loaner car which had been previously reported. It was about three of them, over a six-month period without payment. A four-month interest-free promissory note on a $3,000 down payment for purchasing a used vehicle, two nights of lodging at a local home, an airline ticket purchased by a friend of a teammate and one day use of a rental vehicle were also among the impermissible benefits Tunsil has received in Oxford. Tunsil was also apparently less than truthful with the NCAA when first asked about all these things, and the NCAA is a lot like a mother in this regard: lying only makes it worse.
That is just the tip of the iceberg, no doubt. In addition to being the right thing to do, paying people legitimately will help reduce the impact of side benefits like Tunsil's. I think the NCAA needs to give up the ghost here and focus exclusively on making guys get actual educations, but I remain annoyed at programs that are flagrantly breaking every rule they can think of before that happens.
Etc.: Carr to the M Athletics HOF.Weather for MSU tentatively expected to be chilly but dry. Dude who exposed the Volkswagen fraud was a Michigan alum. Mama said knock you out: Michigan is killin' em early. Weztel on the game. Warning: autoplaying audio.
Hinton on the aftermath at USC. Excellent data-laden Kirk Goldsberry article on how unassisted two point jumpers are the devil. Mr. Harbaughchav, build up this wall. Inside the basketball offense. Holdin' The Rope.
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.