fee fi foe film
This Fee Fi Foe Film is brought to you by the word 'derp'. No, not because of any particular derp-worthy Michigan State moments, but because I spent much of the day yesterday breaking down the MSU-OSU game (in which it was near-impossible to learn anything about the Spartan defense against such a pathetic offense), then found a far-more-relevant torrent of the Notre Dame game right as I was about to go to bed. I tried to include as many relevant bits from the ND game as possible, but I mostly just had time to look at Notre Dame scoring plays and didn't get too much context.
Okay, and this post is also brought to you by the word 'derp' because it largely consists of "highlights" from the MSU-OSU game. You got me there. Moving on...
Will do, Clint. Here's the...offense?
Oh, good, I was right (and totally stealing Brian's schtick).
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MANBALL. Shorthanded offensive line or no, MSU tries to run it down your throat with gap blocking. Yes, there is power, though they seem to run it with about the same effectiveness as Michigan.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Kirk Cousins is semi-mobile but doesn't utilize his legs very often. I'll give him a 3.5.
Dangerman: B.J. Cunningham (WR #3)
OVERVIEW: Against Ohio State, the Spartans tended to play from under center on first and second down before moving to the shotgun in third-down or obvious passing situations. A couple drives were run almost exclusively from the shotgun, but these mostly came in two-minute situations. State stayed relatively vanilla when it came to playcalling—from under center, you could expect mostly runs, while out of the shotgun they didn't muster a successful run play (and only called two, both draws that were stuffed at the line).
I have seen the argument put out there that MSU's offensive line isn't getting enough credit and they actually ran the ball decently against Ohio State. Sorry, but I just don't see it. State's running backs combined to average just 3.1 yards per carry on 27 attempts, mostly due to the fact that the O-line missed several assignments and couldn't open up a crease in the defensive line—it's not like Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker suddenly got terrible. Against Notre Dame, the backs averaged—oh, hey—3.1 yards per carry. I see a trend, and that trend is a crappy running game.
The passing game is more efficient, in large part due to the exploits of Cunningham. At first glance, it seems like State does a solid job of protecting Cousins, allowing just one sack per game this season, but that is somewhat deceptive—MSU rolls their pocket on nearly every passing play to keep Cousins out of danger, and the line still manages to allow pressure. Their offensive line just isn't very good, you guys.
For the rest of the offensive breakdown plus a long look at the defense, hit the jump.
Bear with me this week as I test out some format tweaks to FFFF—please let me know what you think of the new format/features in the post, as I got some good feedback last week about needing more structure for these. This week, I'm breaking down film from the Northwestern/Illinois game from last weekend, which ended in a 38-35 comeback victory for the Illini. The show? It's on...
First, the newest feature, in which I give a very brief overview of the general structure of a team on each side of the ball. For the offense, there are a few basic questions:
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Also known as zone or gap blocking—in Northwestern's case, they run almost exclusively zone.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Dan Persa, without speculating on injury status, is about a six. Kain Colter, his backup and part-time slot receiver, is a seven.
OVERVIEW: Northwestern utilizes a run-heavy spread offense with a strong emphasis on zone read and inside zone plays. Their passing attack is mostly limited to short, quick passes to Jeremy Ebert or running back screens, in large part due to the fact that their offensive line is terrible in pass protection. While Persa, at least before he left the game after feeling discomfort in his injured ankle/foot, looked relatively mobile, he wasn't able to establish himself as a real threat on the ground.
When they scored points, it was on long, drawn-out possessions or after getting the ball with a short field—it doesn't appear that the Wildcats have much quick-strike ability. The running game, especially without injured tailback Mike Trumphy, is pretty ineffective—even after sacks are removed, NW averaged just 3.2 yards per carry on 47 attempts against Illinois. This team needs to be able to chew up yards on the ground to be a big threat, but with a less-than-100% Persa and no deep passing game, their efforts to power their way down the field were mostly fruitless, with the team averaging just 4.9 yards per play.
PLAY BREAKDOWN: This first clip was one of Northwestern's best runs of the day, a simple inside zone in which their left guard and center combine to get a great block to seal off the middle and open up a gaping hole:
This is Northwestern at their most effective, as their zone read game is still hampered by the injury to Persa—who gained just 14 yards on five carries with sacks removed—and Colter doesn't provide enough of a passing threat to keep defenses from keying on the run. The Wildcats were most successful running the ball on the inside zone, despite the fact that their offensive line wasn't opening up many holes—instead, they did a solid job of holding their ground and not letting defenders through, giving the running back time to find a crease inside or bounce the play outside if the defense didn't keep contain. The key for Michigan will be to get penetration in the middle—Mike Martin, I'm looking at you—while maintaining leverage on the outside.
Hit the jump for the rest, including offensive formations, defense and a brief note on the special teams.
Yes, Fee Fi Foe Film lives on until Brian pries it from my cold, dead hands or, well, threatens to withhold my paycheck (my staunch moral stances are only so staunch, people). This week, I'm insane enough to take in not just the entire Minnesota/USC game from week one, but also a decent chunk of last week's Gopher loss to North Dakota State—if you want to test your love for football, try watching multiple Gopher games in the same day.
Despite the fact that Michigan is going to annihilate Minnesota, barring a catastrophe of Horror-level proportions, it's still worth looking at what the Gophers could potentially do on offense to put up some points. Here are a couple plays that stood out to me from the USC game, which was conveniently uploaded to YouTube (first half, second half). No torrent/YouTube video exists for the NDSU game, mercifully, so you'll just have to take my word when I go over that game later. On with the show...
ZONE READ... WITH A TWIST: A lot of what Minnesota runs with MarQueis Gray at quarterback resembles Rich Rodriguez's offense, but the Gophers sometimes have a few extra bells and whistles on their zone read plays. One of their most successful plays of the game came when they brought the slot receiver in motion and ran a sort of triple option zone read. Confusing screencap, ho!
The Gophers use an H-back as well as a tight end on most plays, and like to run either from the pistol or in the shotgun with the halfback offset and a yard or two behind the QB. As the above picture so clearly illustrates, on this play the slot receiver comes in motion and is the first read on this play, forcing the defense to stretch out to the sideline to protect against a potential jet sweep. After that, it's your basic inside zone read, and in this instance the jet sweep fake does enough to open up a seam for the running back inside his left tackle:
As you can see, the rush linebacker (#4) gets too far upfield and loses the edge—if this was a Michigan game, Brian would surely be screaming "RYYYYAANNNNN" and confusing all the blue-hairs—creating enough of a gap for the running back to pick up the first down. The most glaring weakness on Michigan's defense this year has been their inability to consistently keep contain, so expect the Gophers to try this one out, though they surprisingly didn't motion the slot man on any of their other zone reads despite this play's success.
DEFENDING THAT ONE GOOD THING MARQUISE GRAY DOES: Minnesota likes to utilize a lot of pre-snap motion with their H-back and tight end, and often follow that up by also motioning the slot receiver. They'll often load up one side of the formation, as you can see here (the arrow indicates that the H-back went in motion):
From this look, they can either run a QB power to the strong side or, in this case, a QB draw to the weak side, taking advantage of the defense shifting to the overloaded side of the field:
A note on Gray: he seems very iffy on the zone read, and—much like Denard at times last year—usually hands the ball off even if that isn't the correct read. This resulted in multiple plays in which Gray handed the ball to a RB who had just enough time to give his QB a "WTF man?" look then get crushed by three defenders. Most of Gray's rushing yards came from designed runs in which he didn't have to make a read, like the play above, or (most often) on passing plays in which he looked for his first read and then, if it wasn't open, took off. This is when he's at his most dangerous, although it also severely limits the effectiveness of the Gopher passing game and also sometimes results in Gray running right into sacks.
With a severe lack of depth at wide receiver only adding to the passing issues, this makes it easy for defenses to load up against the run and dare Gray to throw—the key is making sure the defensive line maintains lane responsibility and doesn't allow Gray to escape into open space. In this game, with Gray's scattershot arm and shaky receiving corps, the Wolverines should focus more on bottling him up in the pocket than going all-out for the sack, at least when it comes to the front four.
OH HEY, I TOTALLY RECOGNIZE THAT PLAY: Remember that motioning H-back? Remember what Michigan did with Kevin Koger last year to keep defenses honest against the zone read? Tell me this play doesn't look like it was ripped directly out of the 2010 Michigan playbook:
Like the Wolverines last year, Minnesota likes to have their H-back seal off the backside of the play on the zone read, setting up the play-action fake with him leaking out into the flat. This is another play where the Wolverine outside linebackers will have to be on full alert, which honestly makes me kinda nervous. Again, however, the Gophers had success with this play and inexplicably ran it just once all game—their playcalling is questionable, IMHO.
A few quick bullet points on the offense:
- Because of Gray's poor passing, Minnesota consistently runs on first and second down, hoping to get close enough on third down to make Gray's legs at least a threat. Their early-down passing was non-existent, and this was against a USC secondary that was absolutely terrible last year and—even with the game against Minnesota—is only 64th in the country in pass efficiency defense this season. Mattison should be able to get very aggressive with his blitzes this week.
- Not helping Gray's deficiencies throwing the ball is his offensive line, which allowed consistent pressure even against simple four-man rushes. Their depth chart at the two tackle spots consists of one sophomore—starter Ed Olson—and four freshmen. Redshirt freshman right tackle Jimmy Gjere simply stood still and blocked nobody on one passing play despite having a defensive end line up right over him, and he would have given up an embarrassing sack had Gray not broken the tackle in the backfield and thrown the ball away. Craig Roh and Jake Ryan should have success coming off the edge as long as they keep contain on Gray and can haul the 240-pound quarterback to the ground.
- Minnesota's non-Da'Jon McKnight receivers aren't very good at catching the ball even when Gray actually can find them, and that goes for the tight ends as well.
- The one bright spot beyond Gray's running ability is the speed of the Gophers' running backs, especially Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood. They found little-to-no success between the tackles in the games I watched, but could spring a big gain if they found room on the edge. So, yeah, please continue improving on that, Jake Ryan.
On defense, the Gophers stay in their base 4-3 on most every play, in large part due to a very inexperienced secondary that includes not one, but two position-switch starters. Ignore ESPN's inability to spell "former" and Shady Salamon's incredible name and look at that starting secondary: