"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."
You're going to have to bear with me on the offensive UFRs this year. The last time I saw a traditional gap-blocked, regular-ol-QB offense for anything more than a one-game debacle was ten years ago. That was the first year I did UFR and most running plays of that sort were deemed "another wad of bodies" because I didn't know what I was looking at. Since then:
- Two years of Debord running almost nothing but outside zone
- Three years of Rodriguez running inside and outside zone with a little power frippery
- Two years of Hoke trying to shoehorn Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense, giving up, and running a low-rent spread offense
- Al Borges's Cheesecake Factory offense that ran everything terribly
- Doug Nussmeier's inside zone-based offense.
I've seen plenty of power plays. Most of them were constraints that could be run simply and still succeed because the offense's backbone was something else. The rest were so miserably executed that they offered no knowledge about what power is actually supposed to look like. I watched a bunch of Stanford but not in the kind of detail I get down to with the UFRs.
One thing that I am pretty sure I think is that the popular conception of power as a decision-free zone in which moving guys off the ball gets you yards is incomplete. Defenses will show you a front pre-snap. You will make blocking decisions based on that front. Then the defense will blitz and slant to foul your decisions and remove the gap you want to hit. If you do not adjust to what is happening in front of you then you run into bodies and everyone is sad.
What Stanford was great at was running power that was executed so consistently well that it was largely impervious to all the games defenses played. This requires linemen who are downblocking to think on their feet, maintain their balance, and stay attached to guys who may be going in directions they were not expected to. It requires everyone off the line of scrimmage (tailback, fullback, pulling G) to see what's in front of them and adjust accordingly.
Michigan did a bad job of this against Utah. They also got blown backwards too much, complicating decisions for the backfield. The latter was not a problem against a much weaker Oregon State outfit. The former was much better, and that's the most encouraging thing to take from this game.
Here's an example. It's a six yard run in the first quarter on which Oregon State sends a blitz that Michigan recognizes and thwarts. There's no puller on this play; I think it was intended to be a weakside iso that ends up looking not very much like iso because Michigan adjusts post-snap.
M comes out in an I-Form twins formation; Oregon state is in a 4-3 that shifts away from the run strength of Michigan's formation. They are also walking a DB to the line of scrimmage:
By the time Michigan snaps the ball this DB is hanging out in a zone with no eligible receiver while both WRs get guys who look to be in man coverage. This is not disguised well unless the highlighted player is Jabrill Peppers and can teleport places after the snap:
He's going to blitz and the DL is going to slant to the run strength of the line. Michigan will pick this up, and I wonder if they IDed the likelihood of this pre-snap. No way to tell, obviously.
On the snap both the FB and RB start to the weak side of the formation; you can see Erik Magnuson start to set up as if he is going to execute a kickout block on the defensive end:
With the blitz and slant from the Oregon DL that's not going to happen. Each Oregon State DL has popped into a gap. Kerridge is taking a flight path to the gap that would normally open between Magnuson and Kalis, the right guard, on a play without this blitz. Without the blitz the DE would be the force player tasked with keeping the play inside of him; Magnuson would have a relatively easy job as he and the DE mutually agreed on where he should go.
Here the DE threatens the play's intended gap. Magnuson can't do anything about that. The D mostly gets to choose what gap they go in, and it's up to the offense to roll with the punches.
Michigan does this:
A moment later Magnuson has changed his tack from attempted kickout to an attempt to laterally displace the DE using his own momentum. Kerridge has abandoned the idea of hitting the weakside B gap and is flaring out for the blitzer.
Now, this could be successful for Oregon State still. The slant got five Michigan OL to block four guys. Nobody got downfield; the slant got a 2 for 1. But their MLB has stood stock still for much of this play, and Magnuson ends up shoving his dude past the hash mark—+1, sir. This is a ton of space to shut down, and De'Veon Smith is the kind of back that can plow through you for YAC.
Smith fends off the linebacker with a stiffarm and starts gaining yardage outside; it could be a good deal more but Chesson misses a cut* and the DB forces it back, creating a big ol' pile:
Second and four sounds a lot better than second and eleven.
*[Drake Harris will later pick up a 15-yard penalty for a similar, but more successful cut block; the genesis of that flag is probably Gary Andersen doing some screaming at the official after this play.]
Items of interest
You don't get to pick the gap even if it's gap blocking. Defenses slant constantly, and often in a specific effort to foul the intended hole and pop the back out into a place where an unblocked guy can hit. Post-snap adaptation is a must for a well-oiled power running game.
Slants win if they suck away an extra blocker. I would be peeved at the MLB if I was Oregon State UFR guy. While Michigan adapts to the slant well enough to provide a crease for Smith, the blitz means Michigan had to spend a blocker on the defensive back and the MLB is a free hitter. He should be moving to this more quickly than he does.
Slants also tend to open up giant running gaps. Adjustments like the above will often lead to a defender running in one direction suddenly getting unwanted help from an OL. If the OL can redirect and latch on just about everyone is going for a ride here. Once Magnuson locks on and Kerridge targets the DB these are two blocks that are easy to win and Smith is going to have a truck lane.
Given how much space Smith has even a linebacker playing this aggressively who shows up in the gap might lose or get his tackle run through; Michigan's getting yards here, whether it's three or six or more if Chesson gets a good block.
In the past this site has seen arguments about whether meeting an unblocked safety at or near the line of scrimmage is a win for the offense or the defense. I have largely come down on the side of "that absolutely sucks," but when the hole is so big that the defender is attempting to make an open-field tackle it's a lot more appealing.
Michigan WRs need to be more careful with the cut blocks. You can cut a guy from the "front," by which the NCAA means the area from 10 to 2 on a clock. (Seriously, that's the way it's defined in the rulebook.) This was very close to a flag, and Michigan got one later.
I wish Michigan was running pop passes, as those are good ways to get defensive backs hesitant about running hard after plays like this. Maybe in a bit.
9/13/2015 – Michigan 35, Oregon State 7 – 1-1
AND YOU WILL KNOW HIM BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD [Eric Upchurch]
When Michigan got the ball back up 28-7 in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. Oregon State hadn't budged on offense since their first drive. If they were going to push towards making it a game it would have come after they intercepted Jake Rudock; instead they went nowhere and punted. That punt was waving the white flag, something Michigan fans have gotten used to over the last couple years.
Michigan took that flag and rammed it down Oregon State's throat. At one juncture they hit a bit of a snag and had to employ Ol' Skillet Hands Ian Bunting to get past the obstruction; afterwards it was smooth sailing. The end result was a 14-play touchdown drive featuring 13 runs and no trace of the Beavers' flag of surrender unless you want to count a palpably uncomfortable crimp in the Beavers' gait.
I used to think that was boring.
Back in the long long ago when "This Is Michigan" meant "this is an unstoppable factory of offensive linemen and tailbacks who will go too high in the NFL draft," they'd get the ball back from a reasonable team and proceed to do to the fourth quarter what time-lapse photography does to glaciers. It was a pleasant sort of boring, to be sure, but it was also a signal that the football had concluded. All that was left was to hear the muffled squeaks.
Part of the reason it was boring was that it was unsatisfying. I came of age during the Moeller era, when Michigan dropped four games a year, and except for the occasional deviation when Michigan had a killer defense(1997, 2006) games that featured boa constrictor drives like Saturday's were false positives. The most bonkers stat about the Lloyd Carr era is the one where the team was more likely to win if it entered the fourth quarter with a small deficit than a small lead, but #2 is that during Lloyd Carr's tenure Michigan finished in the top 30 in yards per carry once. You'd think a run game featuring Mo Williams, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, and Anthony Thomas would be able to crack the top 30 by accident. Not so much.
Carr's teams were consistently good and had an amazing knack for getting off the mat, but there was a persistent frustration in the fanbase. It felt like Michigan was not getting the most out of its talent. When Rich Rodriguez came in, he had three functioning offensive linemen, a freshman and a walk-on at quarterback, and freshmen everywhere else. That his 2008 team's ground game would have been one of Carr's better ones was evidence enough that the frustration was warranted.
So I was encouraged by the general splattening of a bad team; I was more encouraged by the fullback traps that saw Sione Houma thunder through the line trailing a wildfire of hair. Harbaugh's run game is diverse and weird. By the end of that game Oregon State didn't just feel physically beaten but also confused as hell.
You can't just line up and do the one thing you're good at a lot and expect to succeed anymore. Harbaugh doesn't do that. It can look like he's doing that, but his run game is closer to Paul Johnson's than Lloyd Carr's. Johnson is constantly tweaking his blocking schemes. If you stick to one pattern to defuse his flexbone option he will eventually send one of his guys in a different direction and all of a sudden there's a dude ripping down the sideline. Harbaugh uses all those tight ends because they give him the ability to add gaps where defenses don't expect them—and this goes double in an era when teams are increasingly reducing their options on the interior.
Michigan is on a long path to being both good and confusing. If the coach has a nuclear meltdown on the sidelines—because he's right about something—as an amuse bouche, all the better. Of course, it does not do to get ahead of ourselves. They're not going to be able to do this against top-end defenses right away. We saw that against Utah.
Saturday wasn't the opening credits to this year's movie. But as a preview of coming attractions it felt pretty pretty good.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Chris Wormley deployed beast mode on a sack that was a yard or two away from a safety, had two or three other TFLs depending on what mood you catch the official scorer in, and generally nosed in front of an otherwise killer defensive line.
#2 De'Veon Smith spent most of the game picking members of the Oregon State back seven out of his teeth.
#3 AJ Williams had a 20-yard catch and, more important, was one of the key guys blowing the perimeter of the Oregon State defense off the ball. Really. I am all about how AJ Williams played in this game, pending UFR review.
Honorable mention: Pick just about any defender. The offensive line in general.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Oregon State offers Michigan a free touchdown by sailing a punt snap yards over the punter's head just before halftime. That this was the culmination of a series of mishaps directed by the angry gods of probability only adds to the mirth.
Honorable mention: Michigan's 13-run, 1-pass game-sealing drive. Ol' Skillet Hands trucks a defensive back for an important first down. Rudock finds Smith for a fourth and five conversion. Any of a half-dozen runs on which you will know De'Veon Smith by the trail of dead.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Wait: let's talk about this. Epic Double Bird is pretty epic. But is Harbaugh Meltdown epic? Should we change this? Let me know. Anyway:
This week's worst thing ever.
Michigan, already down 7-0 early, busts a blitz pickup. Jake Rudock has nowhere to go with the ball and gets blown up on the sack. He fumbles, Oregon State recovers, and a certain Brady Hoke feeling descends on events.
Honorable mention: Ridiculous missed Darboh endzone PI, the roughing the punter penalty that caused Harbaugh to go nuclear, most of Oregon State's opening drive.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
[After THE JUMP: TOOT TOOT]
They had 79 yards and scored a touchdown on that opening drive. Didn’t score the rest of the game and you guys held them to I think less than 75 yards. What did you guys do differently?
Chris Wormley: “I think just the mentality you have to have as a defense. After they scored on that first drive we kind of settled in and know the tendencies that they’re doing.”
Can you comment on your offensive line and how they opened up the holes for you, and the amount of holes and yardage you got out of them that was significant?
De’Veon Smith: “You know, shout out to my offensive line. They did a great job today. They made some huge holes. Holes that buses could drive through, so they did a great job pushing and pass blocking- I mean, run blocking and pass blocking so I’m proud of them.”
DeVeon, it seemed like you got a little stronger as the game went on. How did you feel as time wore on? It seemed like you started tackles. Did you feel like you guys started to break them a little bit?
DS: “Yeah, I feel like the offense wore down the defense a lot. We started pounding it, so if you have a big back [or] more than one big back they’re going to start getting tired. They’re going to just start getting tired of tackling a big guy.”
Chris, week one defensive line had the lulls in the second half. This looked like a complete four quarters. Can you just detail what you saw out of the line, specifically what you did to shut the Beavers down?
CW: “That’s the thing, we just came in this week and decided we were going to play as hard as we can as long as we can. Guys rotated in. I think that was the biggest thing was coming together as a D-line and saying this wasn’t going to happen again, this is what we’re going to do, and that’s what we did. We stopped the run, we got pressure on the quarterback and that was all four quarters and I’m proud of the D-line for that.”
[More after THE JUMP]
News bullets and other items:
- Shane Morris is the backup quarterback. Speight took the one end-of-game snap because Harbaugh didn’t want to put Morris, a junior who’s played his first two years, in for that.
- Harbaugh wants further explanation on the roughing the kicker call. He thought the punter had established himself as a runner.
- Harbaugh called the snap over the OSU’s punter’s head a play that goes your team’s way once in a half a century.
- Rudock drew praise for his coolness under pressure, but Harbaugh didn’t like the fumble or interception, particularly because he felt Rudock locked on his receiver on the pick.
- The same play was intercepted in practice, so Harbaugh took the blame and said he’s kicking himself for calling it in the game.
- Wormley, Charlton, Smith, Bunting, and the secondary were singled out for their strong play.
- Hackett gave Harbaugh the maize watch he’s been wearing since Harbagh’s introductory presser.
Is there a game ball that went out to DeVeon or the defense? They both played well. Can you comment on that?
"Yeah, I sure can. We haven't given out any game balls yet. We'll do that Monday, but the defense – I'd say DJ Durkin and his staff did a tremendous job preparing the players. Went 3 1/2 quarters without points and tremendous on sudden change, we turned the ball over on our end of the field and coming away with getting a turnover, Joe Bolden plucks one out of the air. I thought that was a huge play in the game.
“There was- one other one was Jake Butt plucking a ball out of the air at the 10 yard line to open up the second half when we fumbled down there deep in our own end zone – end.
“So, great team win. Very pleased. I thought this was won with the week of practice. We had a tremendous practice on Monday, especially Wednesday, and especially Thursday. Everybody contributed. The look team, the scout team, was- had its best week. Guys really challenging made those practices extremely good. But yeah, there was a lot of credit to give out to a lot of people because there was a great team win, but we're going to move on from this one with humble hearts because there's a lot of work to do."
Obviously a turning point in the game – it was still close at 10 to 7 – but the punt that was blocked…or is supposed to be blocked where there was the disputed call, how huge was that given that you disputed the call on the roughing?
"Oh, the roughing? I need an explanation on that one. Their punter caught it behind the guard, bobbled it, looks to me like he took right-left-right-left and punted it. The way I understand the rule is that if he establishes himself as a runner he's afforded the same protection a quarterback is when he is running outside of the pocket, which is if a guy takes two steps, the quarterback, [and] launches into him after he throws the ball then that would be a penalty, but that was a punt-hit. I just need a better explanation as to why that was a penalty, But maybe I stand to be corrected.
“But yeah, the game was tight. It was still in doubt and then we got the very fortuitous play for us, which was them snapping the ball over the punter’s head. I mean, that happens once in a half a century for your team. So that was a heckuva good break for us, but we'll take it. But I thought it was a good, competitive game. I thought our guys got the running game established. We tackled well. Got some pressure on the quarterback; thought that was the difference between the first quarter and a long drive they made and some other drives that they had. Wormley got a big sack that backed them up to the 2 yard line and then we got good field position. Jabrilll did another fine job fielding punts and making cool-handed decisions and we were able to turn that drive into a score and put points on the board. So,…good. Just think we've got a – it's only the second game. It's a long season and we all have a lot of work to do, so that's what we're focused on."
[The rest after THE JUMP]
The English language often comes up short in describing certain difficult-to-describe feelings. To capture the collective sentiment of Michigan fans after this game, I need to reference a story about bat flips in Korea:
You probably didn't know the term shiwonhada, but you knew the feeling this afternoon, whether it came over you after the wild sequence to end the first half or when Michigan imposed their will on Oregon State in the second. Every successful De'Veon Smith power run went down easy; every three-and-out met with a content "ahhhhhh."
Early on, another adopted word came to mind: schadenfreude, as rival fans watched with glee while Oregon State ripped off 136 first-quarter yards and Michigan couldn't get much going.
Then the offensive line started ripping open holes the likes of which Michigan hasn't seen against a Power 5 opponent in years. De'Veon Smith hit those holes and then hit the back seven even harder, finishing with a punishing 126 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries while establishing himself as this team's lead back. The passing game barely needed to exist.
Asked about his thoughts during the game, Smith said, "I want the ball more. Give me the ball more." He got stronger as the game went on, as did the offensive line. While Oregon State's defensive front isn't as good as Utah's, there's no question the team got better this week, and it was most apparent in the run game.
Or, possibly, the defense, which ceded two—two!—yards in the final three quarters.
"The mindset is score points on offense, stop them on defense," said Chris Wormley, who looked unblockable on his way to three TFLs and a sack. Wormley and Co. held up their end of that simple bargain. After having trouble with dual-threat freshman Seth Collins in the first quarter, they adjusted and dominated, generating constant pressure and eventually forcing an ill-fated switch to backup QB Marcus McMaryion, who could do no better.
To add to the good feelings, the game turned on a special teams play—in favor of Michigan. The Wolverines looked all set to take a 10-7 lead into the locker room when the Beavers appeared to pin them on their own two-yard line with 1:29 left in the half; Michigan was down to a lone timeout after burning one before the play to prevent an illegal substition penalty. The officials flagged OSU for an illegal formation, however, and on the re-kick the snap cleared the punter's head and bounced all the way down to OSU's three—a 95-yard flip in field position.
Three plays later, Smith rumbled off tackle to the right, and Michigan went into the locker room up 17-7. OSU's second-half drives went for four, three, three, three, and three plays, all ending in punts. Michigan's final drive of consequence nearly matched OSU's entire second-half play count, covering 73 yards in 14 plays—all but one of them runs, culminating in a two-yard score for Derrick Green.
The concerns after this game are minor. Jake Rudock didn't have a great outing, losing a fumble when the line didn't adjust to an overload blitz and a rusher came free and throwing a pick when he stared down Jake Butt, but he was otherwise steady and had a couple potential big plays taken away by either missed calls or poor adjustments by the receivers. Jourdan Lewis left the game with an apparent head injury following a hard fall after a great pass breakup and spent the second half in street clothes. While any long-term absence for him would be hard to handle, Michigan should be able to deal if he can't go against UNLV next weekend.
"I'm glad we won the football game. The happiest thing would be that," said Jim Harbaugh after his triumphant debut coaching at Michigan Stadium.
With Harbaugh stalking the sideline in front of a packed Big House, the maize on the home jerseys back to maize, running backs powering through downfield tackles, and the defense ruthlessly battering their opponent into submission, it was impossible to take in this game and not feel that—for the moment, at least—all is well, and the future is bright.
Shiwonhada. I can get used to this.
Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.
We have managed to maintain our sponsorship relation for a day, which is progress for us. During this day we would like to reiterate that Seth and I both refinanced with Homesure, which was both easy—everything's over a secure internet dropbox, so you don't have to put on pants—and efficient—he asks all the banks which one will give you the best deal. He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Where the defense alternated between basically two setups, the offense was a smorgasbord of stuff ranging from five wide…
…to unbalanced goal line packages…
To this, which I called "offset Maryland I":
FWIW, I filed Poggi as a tight end in the table.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Rudock your QB. Line was Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson the whole way except for a few snaps on which Logan Tuley-Tillman came in to play tackle that used Mason Cole as an inline tight end (who can't go downfield).
Butt played almost every snap—maybe every single one. There was a lot of rotation aside from him. Henry Poggi got the most time as an H-back; Kerridge was your traditional fullback. Williams got the most time other than Butt as an inline TE. We saw a little bit of Hill and Bunting.
WR was mostly Darboh and Chesson on the outside, with Harris rotating in. Perry played in the slot, sometimes in twins formations in which there were two TEs.
Smith was the main back with Isaac getting maybe 20% of the snaps behind him. Green and Taylor-Douglas got a few snaps each.
[After THE JUMP: throwing guys in the wrong direction.]