Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
fee fi foe film
Isaiah Taylor almost exclusively shoots floaters. Related: he's a 40% shooter.
A real opponent in the NCAA Tournament means it's time for a special hoops edition of FFFF. In addition to catching most of last night's Arizona State game, I watched film of Texas against a common opponent—Iowa State—to get a better read on their strengths and weaknesses. After seeing how little resistance they provided defensively against the Sun Devils and how poor their offense looked against the Cyclones, I'm pretty optimistic about Michigan's chances.
Texas's first offensive possession sums up Texas's offense.
The Longhorns's statistical profile—terrible shooting, great offensive rebounding—showed up right away against ISU. Texas went 0/5 with four offensive rebounds on their first possession, despite playing five-on-four for most of it after DeAndre Kane got a stinger and stopped playing defense. Their general offensive philosophy also shows up in that video: play from the inside out. When they're not on the run, Texas looks to post up a big on just about every trip.
That big is usually Cameron Ridley, a behemoth who dominated ASU (17 points on 15 shot equivalents, five offensive rebounds) and struggled against ISU (4 points, 0/4 FG, 3 OR). He's a monster on the boards; he doesn't have great touch, however, and relies a lot on drawing contact. Ridley also gets gassed—he's 285 pounds, after all—which keeps him from sustaining a high effort on both ends for long stretches. While his overall turnover numbers are good, I think that's largely due to the number of quick putback chances he gets; Iowa State brought a hard double team on him when he posted up, producing three turnovers:
Backup center Prince Ibeh is another strong offensive rebounder, but he's otherwise not much of a factor on that end. Also crashing the boards with aplomb is starting four Jonathon Holmes, a good post scorer who can also stretch the floor. His matchup against Glenn Robinson III is the most worrisome to me because of his size—6'8" with long arms—and rebounding ability.
Isaiah Taylor gets the highest usage on the team, and he's liable to go off or be an offensive anchor due to his unusual style. Taylor is very quick, able to blow by most guards with ease, but instead of taking pull-up jumpers or layups he almost exclusively shoots right-handed floaters, especially from the right baseline. It took him 26 shot equivalents to score 26 points against Iowa State; he had 11 on 14 against the Sun Devils.
Brian suggested in the preview that the 1-3-1 could be a nice curveball to throw in this game, and I agree. Not only does that defense take advantage of Texas's lack of outside shooting, it puts Derrick Walton on the baseline, where he can cut off Taylor's favorite shot—he'll take it regardless, but that's why he's shooting just 40% from two.
About the shooting thing: they're awful. Texas generates a lot of three-pointers for Javan Felix (33% 3-pt) that are as likely to miss the rim completely as they are to go in—he really tests the integrity of the backboard—and they also take a ton of two-point jumpers. Against Iowa State, they airballed five(!) two-pointers, four in the first half alone. Of course, jump shot chaos is part of what allows them to rebound well; they rebounded three of those, with two leading to immediate putbacks.
While Felix jacks up by far the most threes on the team, the sweetest shooting stroke belongs to stretch four Connor Lammert, a backup who plays over half the team's minutes. He drilled 2/3 triples against ISU; when he's open, he's dangerous, and his misses are far less wild than Felix's.
[Hit THE JUMP to see how Iowa State took advantage of Texas's bigs on defense, and how Michigan can do the same.]
Tyler Lockett is a rather frustrating assignment (via)
We're back! I'm here to tell you, after watching Kansas State's 41-31 loss to Oklahoma, that Michigan's upcoming bowl opponent is very bad at defending mobile quarterbacks, which is a great sign for... wait, say that again?
Well, the Sooners pulled away in the second half of this game on the strength of a 200-yard rushing performance from RB Brennan Clay and another 82 yards on the ground from backup quarterback Trevor Knight, who filled in admirably for injured starter Blake Bell and is quite a bit faster than Shane Morris. The Wildcats, on the other hand, couldn't establish anything on the ground, tallying 66 yards on 19 carries (sacks removed) while playing from behind for most of the contest. Is any of this relevant to Michigan? I have no idea! Let's talk about it anyway.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. It's possible that KSU is closer to a hybrid, as they did show some I-form looks and utilize a fullback even in some shotgun formations, but in this game they were almost exclusively in the gun and utilized plenty of spread concepts.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? This game didn't provide a great look at KSU's run game; when they did, they mixed in a healthy amount of zone read with more traditional power runs, a couple end-arounds, and far less of the misdirection-type stuff Brian pointed out in his early look at the Wildcats—likely due to circumstance more than a change in philosophy.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Grind it out. The home crowd at Kansas State spent much of the game counting down the final ticks of the play clock to help out their quarterbacks; they take their sweet time between plays, and given how Michigan has fared against high-tempo offenses this year that's fine by me.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Bill Snyder has utilized a two-quarterback system for much of the season; like Northwestern's Colter/Siemian duo, the Wildcats feature a pocket passer, Jake Waters, and a run-first threat, Daniel Sams. Waters is more mobile than Siemian and is utilized in the read-option game, though mostly as a means to keep the defense honest—he's not particularly fast or elusive, so I'll give him a 4. Sams, on the other hand, rushed 148 times at 5.2 ypc against just 52 pass attempts; he gets a strong 8, with the caveat that he barely featured in this particular game.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Previously: Iowa Offense
Because I was just reminded that this picture exists, and it sums up the feelings about Michigan/Iowa for anyone without a serious rooting interest.
Now that Michigan is suddenly basing their running game on the inside zone with the overhanging threat of a bubble screen, my choice to break down Iowa's game against Northwestern has become oddly relevant to Saturday's matchup against the Hawkeye defense. In this one, the Wildcats were able to move the ball consistently on the ground (13 first downs rushing, 5.1 ypc with sacks removed) and struggled with any passes that weren't quick, short throws (six first downs, mostly on underneath throws, 4.1 ypa when accounting for sacks).
The Hawkeyes did what they do best: play bend-but-don't-break defense that keeps big plays to a minimum, and they got just enough from their offense to pull out a 17-10 overtime win. On to the breakdown...
Base Set? 4-3 over, though the Hawkeyes spent much of this game with five DBs on the field, lifting SLB Anthony Hitchens, to counter Northwestern's spread attack.
Man or zone coverage? Almost exclusively zone, with the notable exception of playing man the first few times Northwestern showed a 3x1 trips set. The Wildcats would motion the lone back outside of the three receivers. The man coverage worked well when Kain Colter targeted the man covered by outstanding cornerback B.J. Lowery:
There was significant confusion, however, when Northwestern went to the other side of the field, as the Hawkeyes flat-out failed to guard the slant thanks to some nice route design and poor recognition by freshman CB Desmond King (#14):
After this happened a couple times for first downs, Iowa adjusted to playing their usual Cover 2 against this look and Northwestern stopped utilizing it after a couple incompletions.
Pressure: GERG or Greg? Extremely GERG-ian. Iowa rushed more than four players on a passing down once, by my count, and often brought just three pass-rushers from a nebulous front while using MIKE James Morris as a spy with the option of coming on a delayed blitz. This specific wrinkle will be covered further in the play breakdown section.
When Iowa wasn't utilizing that particular look, they tended to rush four linemen with an obvious emphasis on maintaining their lane over getting to the quarterback against a mobile guy like Colter. The Hawkeyes had six sacks on the game; they netted just nine lost yards for Northwestern, as five of the six were coverage sacks in which Colter moved up in the pocket and tried to escape, only to get buried right around the LOS.
Dangerman: I was going to give this to WLB Anthony Hitchens, who tallied nine tackles (2 TFL), a sack, and a forced fumble while making several very impactful hits, including one that blew up a screen in Ryan-esque fashion, but then he bit hard on a play-action and subsequently gave up a wide-open touchdown in a critical situation.
Since I was torn between these two anyway, I'm going with Lowery, who recorded the PBU above and did an excellent job of tackling on the perimeter—that's very critical given Iowa's tendency to play soft zone coverage and rely on their corners to not leak yardage after short completions. He's far and away the team leader in pass breakups with 13 and also tops the Hawkeyes in forced fumbles with three. Northwestern didn't test him a whole lot—they only threw 14 passes all game and mostly stayed away from him—but when they did he made them pay, either by knocking the ball down or tackling receivers for minimal gains.
It's hard to emphasize enough how vanilla this Iowa defense is; they're going to sit back in zone coverage and dare opponents to beat them over the top for big plays. Northwestern only took a couple deep shots and their one long pass completion, a wheel route to H-back Dan Vitale, came on an inch-perfect throw that barely eluded Lowery's fingertips—and that still required Vitale to make a difficult over-the-shoulder catch on the run. Michigan has skill position players better suited to test Iowa deep. That doesn't mean it's going to be easy.
Starting up front, I thought the defensive line was the weak point of this Iowa defense. Though partly by design, they never got much push in the pass rush, nor did they hold up particularly well against the run—Iowa's linebackers rack up a ton of tackles in part because they're almost always the first guys to get decent contact on running backs. Out of curiosity, I tracked Northwestern's success on inside zone runs, and what I found supported this: the Wildcats amassed 69 yards on 14 inside zone runs (4.9 ypc) and gained at least three yards on all but one of them.
Of course, that also speaks to the sure tackling of their linebackers and safeties; the longest of those runs netted seven yards, and a three-yard gain ended with a lost fumble after a huge hit by Hitchens. The trio of Hitchens, Morris, and Kirksey at linebacker impressed; they rarely got out of their zones in pass coverage, while any run that got to them stopped upon contact. The best gains Northwestern got on the ground came on Kolter scrambles—usually up the middle as the DTs couldn't disengage; the DEs contained well—or quick-hitting runs to the edge, which included two speed sweeps by a motioning Vitale.
"A lot faster than you would think" is still not as fast as James White.
Safeties Tanner Miller and John Lowdermilk both did very well in run support and weren't tested at all in coverage; they flow downhill quickly and don't miss many tackles. The BTN play-by-play guy noted that Lowdermilk is "a lot faster than you would think," because he closes quickly and is white.
Lowery is obviously the standout corner; King, the true freshman starter across from him, did an impressive job of tackling for such a young player and didn't make any noticeable mistakes aside from the error in man coverage I pointed out above. Northwestern had inconsistent success getting first downs on hitches and crossing routes over the middle against Iowa's zone coverage; when those routes weren't open, Kolter was running around and usually taking a sack.
Michigan is going to have to find a way to consistently churn out yards in the running game, get receivers open underneath, and avoid turnovers at all costs; the difference between a solid offensive output and a poor one is going to come down to a few big plays going in one direction or the other, especially since the Wolverines haven't shown an ability to sustain drives via short-to-medium gains over the course of a full game. I don't think Iowa's defense is as good as the raw numbers suggest (#9 nationally in yardage allowed); their FEI rating of #46 passes the sanity test for me—they're decent, not great, and like Michigan under Mattison are able to cover up for a lack of playmakers on the line by executing basic schemes and getting solid, mistake-free play from the back seven.
Iowa showed this nebulous front on several third-and-longs in which they'd have just three linemen on the field, nobody would get set, and the front 4-6 players (including linebackers) would move around a lot before the snap:
The Hawkeyes almost always dropped eight men into coverage out of this formation; sometimes Morris would come on a delayed blitz, sometimes he'd rush right away, and in one instance they brought five rushers—on that play, Colter escaped the pocket and picked up a first down. That caused Iowa to mostly abandon this tactic in the latter stages of the game; early on, however, it got them a sack when Morris blitzed late and nobody on the Northwestern line picked him up:
While Northwestern didn't have too much trouble picking these rushes up otherwise, the concern here is that Michigan's offensive line ... well, you've seen enough missed assignments and blitz pickups to know the concern here. I wouldn't be surprised to see Iowa utilize this look often early in the game until the Wolverines prove that they can consistently identify and pick up rushers when they're moving around that much before the snap.
Greg Davis totally-not-a-photoshop via BHGP, obviously
Due to the nature of available video, the lack of teams that are remotely comparable to Michigan either in style or skill, and the strange ways of the universe, I once again am here to do an opponent breakdown using a game involving Northwestern. Yes, Northwestern lost. Yes, it happened in overtime. It's not your fault, Northwestern fans. It's not your fault.
Anyway, Iowa drove for a touchdown on their first drive, scored just three points in the rest of regulation, missed a potential game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter, threw an interception with a chance to get into field goal range at the very end of regulation, and then scored the eventual game-winning touchdown on their first possession of overtime. This is a team that leans on its stellar defense to carry most of the load while their offense attempts to bash its way downfield; that said, this isn't last year's Iowa offense, which is a good thing for Iowa.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style. Iowa utilizes a ton of two-TE sets, runs most of their offense from under center, and goes into the shotgun almost exclusively for obvious passing downs.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Iowa ran almost entirely zone blocking concepts in this game, with the exception of a couple I-form power plays that weren't effective beyond getting two or three yards. Their linemen are very well suited to zone blocking, as you'll see below.
Hurry it up or grind it out? I don't mean to alarm you, but Iowa has gone to a no-huddle offense. I repeat: IOWA HAS GONE TO A NO-HUDDLE OFFENSE. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
Yes, that is the Hawkeye offense full-blown tempo-ing Northwestern for a critical fourth-down conversion despite the umpire inexplicably standing on top of the ball and allowing the Wildcats to get set. This was the key sequence in a drive featuring Iowa playing at a pace resembling Penn State's up-tempo stuff until they hit the red zone, when they got more deliberate and scored a touchdown. They maintained the no-huddle throughout the game, though the pace slowed as the game wore on, in part because Iowa held a lead for much of the game.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Jake Rudock is by no means a burner; he's nimble enough to escape the pocket and do some damage with his legs (like in the video above), however, and Iowa even ran a couple zone reads with him. I'll give him a 6; he's rushed for 220 yards on 40 carries (5.6 ypc) with five touchdowns once sacks are removed.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Previously: Northwestern Offense
WLB Chi Chi Ariguzo is asked to make a lot of plays in space, and make plays he does.
I'll be perfectly honest—I couldn't bring myself to get through this whole game for the second time, for a few reasons:
- BTN's refusal to show the defensive backfield during plays or provide anything but a pore-o-vision replay made this endeavor unnecessarily difficult/fruitless.
- Nebraska's offense and Michigan's offense function very differently in that one has a running game and the other just pretends to.
- Related to (2), just about every weakness I noticed in Northwestern's defense is something that Michigan has shown zero ability to exploit.
- Did I do a bunch of research and write a lot of words over the last 24 hours for a post that will never see the light of day? Yes.
Fun times ahead. Here goes nothin'.
Base Set? 4-3 over. When Nebraska spread the field, Northwestern usually lifted their strongside linebacker for backup safety Jimmy Hall, who'd play over the slot, often shaded a bit to the inside to help against the run.
Man or zone coverage? Mostly zone. Northwestern runs a lot of Cover 3 and some Cover 2; in this game, they utilzied a ton of soft zone coverage in order to help mask the fact that—after starting corner Nick VanHoose exited the game with an injury—they were playing two freshmen on the corners. Man coverage was mostly reserved for the red zone, which was also their strategy against Ohio State.
Yes, Nebraska took advantage of this.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
In an effort to makes these posts easier to digest in one read, FFFFs will be broken into separate offense and defense posts from now on. Once again, I find myself watching Nebraska-Northwestern, which is really the only useful game film I can find of the Wildcats given the considerable number of injuries they've suffered. The short summary: Northwestern ran the ball well, couldn't throw or convert a third down to save their life, failed to fully capitalize on four Nebraska interceptions, and lost on a hail mary.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread. Even in goal-line situations, Northwestern is either in the shotgun or the pistol. They didn't take a snap from under center in this game.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone blocking concepts, though Northwestern pulled their backside guard—and on a couple occasions, also their backside tackle—on some read option plays that will be covered in more detail later in the post.
Hurry it up or grind it out? No-huddle all the way; Northwestern doesn't play at Indiana's tempo, especially when they're swapping QBs mid-drive, but they keep the pace pretty high.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Once again, Michigan faces a team that will alternate quarterbacks. Kain Colter is the starter and will get the majority of the snaps; he's a very impressive runner:
I be like dang. He gets a strong 8.
Trevor Siemian, meanwhile, is your classic pocket-passing statue; Northwestern did run a read option with him on a third and very long and he shocked the Nebraska defense by keeping it—with lots of space in front of him, he... tripped and fell on his face. He did have one successful—albeit lumbering—scramble in this game, so he merits a 3, I guess.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]