[SITE NOTE: Due to a confluence of things including a long drive home, four overtimes, thrilling CONCACAF qualifier business, the Tigers, this post, and a desire to stab my eyeballs whenever I look at the tape, UFR is not quite done and will go up tomorrow.]
Fitzgerald Toussaint set a Michigan record for sustained futility on Saturday by running for 27 yards on 27 carries. Since 1949, no other back has gotten as many carries without gaining at least twice as many yards. Posterity demands that someone detail what happened.
A note: blame is apportioned. When things are designated playcall it's because I don't believe it's reasonable to expect Michigan to block player X, either because he's an extra guy in the box or he's tearing towards the line of scrimmage on the snap because he has no fear of a pass. You can adjust your personal indignation levels on this based on how reasonable you thought running into stacked boxes was vis a vis Devin Gardner's 13 YPA and constant turnover threat; I'm just trying to figure out how much of the run splat was preordained by playcalls.
Ready? No. I know you're not. But here we go anyway.
Play: Power O
Formation: Tackle over I Form H
Why it didn't work:
- Graham Glasgow ignored the NT.
- Predictable playcall sees PSU linebackers flow hard with effectively nine in the box.
- Jake Butt gets beat badly by a PSU LB in the hole.
Blame: 80% OL, 10% playcall, %10 TE/FB
Play: Zone stretch.
Formation: Tackle over I Form big
Why it didn't work:
- PSU has straight up nine in the box.
- Michigan tries to be clever by running at Williams and Bryant, both of whom get destroyed.
- Schofield leaves immediately, so Lewan has no shot at the backside tackle.
Blame: 30% TE/FB, 30% OL, 40% playcall
Play: Power O
Formation: Tackle over Ace H
Why it didn't work:
- Actually it did work.
- It works because Schofield gets nice push, giving Toussaint a crease. Glasgow gets movement on a DT and the eighth guy in the box for PSU tries to get over to the frontside when he should probably stack this up near the LOS.
Blame: Everyone is happy!
Formation: Tackle over trips TE
Why it didn't work:
- Seven guys in the box against six blockers; extra guy makes the stop.
- PSU WLB doesn't get suckered by the counter, gives Glasgow no shot to block him.
- Kalis gets shed, falling to the ground.
Blame: 80% playcall, 20% OL.
[After THE JUMP: just don't click through. I'm sorry I even did this.]
I don't think I'm exaggerating. It's second and eight after one of Michigan's most successful RB runs of the night. Michigan trails 21-10 with six minutes left in the second quarter. They put some dudes on the field and move them around. When we come back from Matt Millen saying something about something, this process has already started.
Houma and Chesson are switching spots. What this is supposed to do to the defense remains unknown, because it did not happen. Now… there's something odd about this play. Since we don't ever see the outside WR, I don't remember if that's Funchess or Williams or whoever, but Michigan puts him off the screen to the field. Also…
They have no left tackle. They have put their left tackle at super right tackle.
I think this is a run.
Penn State thinks this is a run. They have eight guys in the box against six blockers.
ESPN's camera man thinks this is a run, zooming almost to the box before they even snap the ball.
It's a run. Specifically, it is a zone stretch to the boundary. Because this is the only run it could possibly be, Penn State is prepared for this. Kalis gets driven back. Bryant and Glasgow don't scoop the backside tackle (not that it really matters since there is an unblocked guy in the cutback lane and another unblocked guy checking Gardner).
This looks familiar.
Kalis finally finishes losing his guy, who pushes Toussaint to the edge of the field, where a ninth Penn State defender—a safety lined up over a formation that cannot have a tight end emerge from it to threaten downfield—comes up to tackle for loss…
…if Kalis's guy doesn't do it first.
Third and ten.
Items of Interest
This is the stupidest play in the history of plays. You can't pass because you don't have a right tackle and refuse to throw perimeter screens no matter how blitheringly open they are…
all of these occurred in the first 20 minutes of the game
…and Penn State knows this, so they put eight in the box against six blockers and have a safety overhanging who knows 100% that he has no immediate pass threat to deal with.
I mean, you can see the entire PSU D on the field here:
There is a wide receiver outside of Gallon. Only the dumbest playcall in history could allow a D to align like this and be successful.
You really confused them, though. Having Chesson and Houma switch places is the cherry on top here. Yeah, you fooled 'em up real good right there. Now Penn State's eight in the box against 5 OL and a WR is eight in the box against 5 OL and a FB. Green fields ahead, boys.
They're setting them up for something! If you don't have an automatic check to whatever your clever business is when you see two DBs on 3 WRs, you fail.
Line didn't do well, but whatever. Kalis gets blown up here, but since Michigan just told Penn State the play they were running it's not really the focus.
The bigger picture. This was insane and far from isolated. Michigan kept running tackle over stuff against a defense that was stuffing it even after Taylor Lewan went out. They asked AJ Williams to play left tackle, and because of Borges's increasingly legendary stubbornness they allowed Penn State to align in formations that doomed their crammed-together paleolithic run game without either testing PSU's young and not very quick corners or taking the buckets of free yards these alignments provided.
The bubble screen stuff took on a life of its own over the course of the last year, and it's come up again—a screenshot of Michigan's first snap of the first overtime screaming for a bubble has made the rounds of every message board. To reiterate, the bubble is a constraint: it prevents the defense from lining up in certain ways and thus simplifies your life as an offense since defenses can't pack the box as much without getting free yards on their face. Borges's allergy to getting the ball to guys in a ton of space went from annoying to crippling in this game.
How can anyone have faith in a guy who looks at this when he needs a field goal to win…
…and doesn't throw a bubble because it's not what Vince Lombardi would do? It boggles the mind. A lot of things lost this game for Michigan. Al Borges is high up on that list.
10/12/2013 – Michigan 40, Penn State 43 (4OT) – 5-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Mace triptych, by Eric Upchurch
Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. He had two guys in the route, both of them headed to the endzone from the 40 yard line. Two seconds later he ate a blindside sack, because Taylor Lewan was pretending he was a tight end and AJ Williams was pretending he was a left tackle.
Last year in Notre Dame Stadium, Denard Robinson faked a handoff and turned around to find Stephon Tuitt in his face. He reacted badly, because he always reacted badly in that situation.
This fall, Michigan told the offensive line they should do that stretch blocking thing the coaches had run maybe six times the previous two years.
Drew Dileo watched most of these things from the bench and Dennis Norfleet all of them because Michigan would rather play underclass tight ends who couldn't shove a toddler into a ball pit in three tries.
Any individual play can be blamed on a player. Any structural issue in the first couple years can be attached to the previous coach. But there's a breaking point at which it becomes clear that something is deeply wrong with the guys in charge, and this Penn State game was the offensive equivalent of watching Matt McGloin shred a clueless JT Floyd and company in 2010.
I went back into Michigan's statistics archive, which goes back to 1949, and pulled out the top 200 running back games in that database in terms of carries (the max allowed). The sample ranges from 51 to 23, and here's the bottom of it in YPC:
|Don Moorhead||25||57||2.3||0||1969||Michigan State|
|Anthony Thomas||29||60||2.1||0||8||2000||Ohio State|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||27||27||1||0||12||2013||Penn State|
We're talking about the worst game from a tailback in the history of the program here, and nothing about it was actually Toussaint's fault. This is Greg Robinson level output. The only faith you can have in the offensive coaching is that two to four times a year they will come out with a gameplan so clueless that you spend four quarters telling yourself that you won't send that BORGERG tweet out. It's time to break the seal.
There are ways to work around the personnel limitations Michigan has, but they are not the ones Michigan wants to run. They want to be a rough and tumble Stanford offense; they spend large chunks of games with one wide receiver and three guys vaguely inclined towards blocking, and they've spent almost a month of precious practice time installing an unbalanced formation that resulted in the above table as soon as an opponent saw it on tape. This has been a miscalculation as bad as believing Russell Bellomy was ready to back up the oft-injured Denard Robinson, with results exactly like the second half of last year's Nebraska game.
This is nothing like what Rodriguez did on offense because there was no offense in which Stephen Threet, Nick Sheridan, seven scholarship OL, and a parade of freshmen at wide receiver would be effective. It is instead exactly like what he did on defense: faithlessly pretend to fit personnel to scheme early, ditch that at the first sign of trouble, shoehorn players into roles they are not fit for, make alarmingly large mid-season changes, and get the minimum possible out of available talent. Michigan is 117th in tackles for loss allowed, giving up eight per game.
No offensive line is bad enough to pave the way for 27 yards on 27 carries, because teams running for one god damn yard an attempt stop doing it.
There are problems up and down the team that I can list if you like. Devin Gardner has Miley Cyrus-level ball security. Taylor Lewan went out. Rich Rodriguez didn't recruit any offensive linemen. Brendan Gibbons should be able to make a 33-yard field goal in the dead center of the field. Yes, all of these things. Granted. At some point, though, you zoom out from the micro issues that can be explained away and you get this:
Michigan 14, MSU 28: 250 yards of offense
Michigan 16, Iowa 24: 323 yards of offense, 166 50 minutes into the game when M went into hurry-up shotgun throwing
Michigan 23, Virginia Tech 20 (OT): 184 yards of offense
Michigan 6, ND 13: 299 yards of offense and 5 INTs
Michigan 9, Nebraska 23: 188 yards of offense and 3 INTs
Michigan 21, Ohio State 26: 279 yards of offense and 4 TOs
Michigan 28, UConn 24: 284 yards of offense and 3 TOs
Penn State 43, Michigan 40 (4OT): 389 yards of offense in 19 opportunities, zero OT TDs, 3 TO, worst rushing performance ever by a Michigan tailback
If you are so inclined you can add games against Alabama and MSU last year plus the 2011 Notre Dame game to the pile; I certainly don't think anything about UTL was to Borges's credit.
There have been some brilliant games over the last three years, but we're one upcoming debacle away from having a third straight year in which a quarter of Michigan's games feature offensive performances that are (almost) impossible to win with. Some of those could be explained away by injury or bad luck or a flood of turnovers from the quarterback, except that the offensive coordinator is also the quarterbacks coach.
After his year three at Michigan found high expectations dashed, John Beilein overhauled his program. Now he's coming off a national title game appearance, on the verge of making Michigan into a top-ten program. Unless there's a major turnaround, Brady Hoke's going to have some hard decisions this offseason.
Unless they're easy ones.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Frank Clark was in the right place at the right time to scoop a ball off the turf and score when Michigan opened the second half down eleven and added two sacks besides as part of the best damn 43-point performance college football's ever seen, so let's give it to him.
Honorable mention: Raymon Taylor had a pick and was generally avoided otherwise; Devin Funchess had another 100 yard game as a "tight end"; Jeremy Gallon remains an excellent safety blanket and all-around player.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Should I even do this after that? I probably shouldn't. I will anyway: Funchess's second touchdown displayed his incredible potential, as he shot through the center of the defense to get over the top. This one wins because Penn State was actually trying to cover him this time.
Honorable mention: Gallon's shake gets him wide open for a touchdown; Chris Wormley rips through to sack Hack, as does Jibreel Black, as does Frank Clark a couple times; Fitzgerald Toussaint gets past the line of scrimmage that one time.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
10/12/2013: Devin Funchess shoots up the middle of the field to catch a 40 yard touchdown, staking Michigan to a ten-point lead they wouldn't relinquish. (Right?)
[After the JUMP: decisions, and the rest of things.]
FORMATION NOTES: Hello "tackle over":
Since these were standard formations that happened to have Lewan and Schofield next to each other I just named them as standard formations and noted them as "tackle over" before hand. I've also started noting the TO goal line formations.
As a reminder, TEs flitting in from the side to show up behind a guard are now designated with an H. This is "tackle over Ace Big H." I still consider these guys TEs.
Also Michigan's been using this enough (and Seth asked me about it) that I dubbed the shotgun formation where there are three WR to one side of the field with two guys tight to the line stacked "shotgun trips inner stack."
Chesson is motioning to line up outside of Funchess and Dileo.
Not to be confused with "shotgun trips stack," where all three WR are lined up over each other on the hash. Or "shotgun double stack," where there are, uh, double stacks.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Offensive line was as before save for the tackle over stuff, on which AJ Williams was always the tight-end type substance on the other end of the line. When Kalis got dinged, Joey Burzynski got three or four snaps.
Butt played a ton as the H-back TE. Funchess was mostly a wide receiver; when he did line up at tight end it wasn't a run. Paskorz got some playing time in the second half as another inline TE when Michigan went to three TE sets.
With Funchess consuming more WR snaps and a ton of looks with just one WR on the field, Reynolds and Jackson saw their playing time decrease substantially. Green got in frequently, picking up ten carries, and Justice Hayes got one snap in a two-back shotgun set on third and long.
[After THE JUMP: manball.]
Last time, Michigan grinds out six yards on their first snap by using POWER.
Michigan's second snap against Minnesota was more of the same, but a little lighter. Chesson replaced Butt, and Minnesota responded by covering him. They also shifted their line towards Lewan instead of away. The end result was much the same except Michigan didn't have an opportunity to block the last guy because Minnesota didn't have a linebacker bail.
Yes, Michigan can go nuts in the passing game against this kind of alignment, and would later; this drive—this game—is about establishing something even if it's not the most efficient way to go about doing things. After Akron and UConn you can understand this line of thinking.
With the line shifted to Lewan, he's going to kick the guy outside of him, leaving Schofield and Kalis to double the playside DT; Bryant and Kerridge will again lead through the hole.
On the snap, Bryant pulls out and heads around as the double is initiated; Bryant is out so quick that he's almost running into Devin Gardner:
This is a notable improvement from last year. Between the above frame in the next, Schofield blasts the playside DT such that he starts falling inside of Kalis. He'll end up moving to the second level, and picking up the WLB since that guy is not shooting a gap. Unfortunately, someone is shooting a gap: Hageman.
Hageman just about beats Glasgow clean. There is a little bit of delay here that prevents him from swallowing the play in the backfield; this is still pretty bad. But the gap is even more enormous this time at the handoff point. It stretches almost from the hashes to the numbers as Michigan pounds the two playside DL away from each other:
This time Minnesota has sufficient bodies in the hole to deal with it as all three linebackers demand a body. Hageman is threatening enough from behind to force Toussaint to alter his path a bit, but with Kerridge latched onto one linebacker, Bryant about to pop a second, and a cavern to operate in he doesn't slow down the fatal step.
That safety is unaccounted for, though, and waiting two yards downfield.
Toussaint pounds out some YAC.
Items Of Interest
Sometimes you can do everything right and get five yards. At the end of the day there's always one more defender than you have blockers. Here every block save Glasgow's gets executed and contact is still made two yards downfield.
This is both a reason not to get too worried about YPC in this game and wonder about the long-term viability of the tackle over buddy cop movie. When you can execute every block just right and get five yards the opponents is overplaying you like whoah and you are either so confident you are able to get these five yards on every play or locked in a 12-10 death struggle kind of game. Here it turns out to be the former, as Michigan scores touchdowns on 5 of 8 drives, albeit with a lot of help from third and long conversions to Funchess after their grind game clunked out.
However: as mentioned in the last post, tackle over was literally 90% run in this one and when they ran it was 83% run to the tackle side. Is this configuration powerful enough to grind these yards out against actual defenses? Can Michigan get enough play action off of this to keep defenses honest and get the big chunk plays they'll have to if a ton of their offense is grinding out four yards against a stacked front? Is this anything more than a get-healthy gimmick effective against a terrible defense?
I don't know.
This is what Bryant expected to see on the last play. He pulls around and whacks the MLB, like he did on the last play; this time the MLB is not already being blocked because a differently-aligned Minnesota defense scrapes the MLB past Schofield releasing downfield. This is one of those things that may come with experience: the ability to improvise profitably.
Meanwhile, Bryant gets there, hits a guy, woot. This is night and day from last year's guards.
Glasgow did get smoked. Hageman's pretty good, though, and he was very quiet in this one. Hageman's play didn't end up making a tackle but I think it did impact the outcome of this play because…
Toussaint puts his head down and takes what he can get. With all this room Toussaint can threaten both sides of Kerridge's block, and we've seen him dip inside to pop out before. This would be an excellent time to do that if he was not being chased by an angry 300 pound man. As it is he just runs directly upfield into the safety and runs him over for near first down yardage. That's the when-in-doubt solution, and it's the one Toussaint took consistently in this game.
Speaking of which. The bye week seems like it was spent telling Toussaint that if he does not go hard north and south he will be dipped in uncomfortably warm pudding for hours at a time. This is the kind of run where bounce-it hesitation gets you clubbed and there is a guy waiting that he can see; previously he might have tried the thing I mentioned above and gotten tackled at the line. Instead we're talking about the yards he gained after contact instead of trying to calculate how many he lost by trying to avoid it. Thumbs up.
This is now Lewan's day. This is play two. The rest of the game is basically this for Lewan, whether it's pass or run: hello, overmatched donkey about 60 pounds lighter than me. It is time to go out to the numbers. I gave him a ton of half-points that maybe should have been full ones.
"He just used POWER"
–Kirk Herbstreit, every play, every edition of NCAA Football since 2003
Michigan spent half its day with Michael Schofield tucked just inside of a tight-end-ish Taylor Lewan, and ran ran ran ran ran ran ran out of this. Your "tackle over" breakdown:
- PASSES: 2, one incomplete to Chesson, one 30 yard post to Gallon.
- POWER: 11, one each for Green and Gardner, nine for Toussaint. 54 yards acquired, all but one on Toussaint's carries. [Includes playside G pulls.]
- ISO: 3, two for Toussaint, one for Green. Five yards total.
- STRETCH: 4, for 28 yards. Green picks up basically all of his yards on two of these.
- [Excluded are four goal line plays that were all runs; those were a pair of two-yard touchdowns, one successful play that got M from the 4 to the 2, and a zero-yard iso.]
- All told, when Michigan lined up Lewan next to Schofield they acquired 4.8 yards a carry. One the one hand, woo-hoo BFD Minnesota is terrible and that's a mediocre YPC once sacks are put somewhere sensible. On the other hand, woo-hoo, only two TFLs and a screw-you performance against a team dropping eight or nine guys in the box. When Michigan did deign to pass from this, Gallon and Funchess were both open on deep posts and Gallon picked up 30 yards only because Gardner threw the ball behind him; an on target pass may have been a 60-yard touchdown.
- Let's delve. We'll cover three plays eventually, all of them relatively successful but not that successful: Michigan's first two snaps and the 12-yard touchdown that was like "oh, I guess that was easy."
- Michigan's first snap comes from the opponent 35 after a fumble. Michigan comes out in what I dubbed "tackle over I-Form Big H," a set with one WR, two TEs, and two RBs; Butt motions to the usual H-back spot:
Minnesota responds by singling up Gallon and putting everyone else within seven yards of the LOS. Could Michigan have bludgeoned this repeatedly with easy Gardner/Gallon hookups? Yes. They were intent on establishing the run, though.
Power rules, like zone rules, depend on how the defense lines up. Minnesota was mostly an over team in this game, so Lewan would kick and the hole would be between the two OTs. Here they're shifted under, so Lewan will block down, Butt will kick, and Michigan will shoot the pulling G and fullback into that gap between the two.
This all goes just fine. By the next frame you can see that both Schofield and Lewan have easy control of their end, Bryant is coming down the line, and a gap will develop.
By the time Toussaint gets the handoff, the gap is truly massive. The playside end has been clubbed inside to the hash, with Lewan popping off on a linebacker. Meanwhile the SAM is three yards upfield, 2/3rds of the way to the numbers.
Part of this is bad play. Ace pointed out in the Minnesota FFFF that Minnesota's ends tended to get way upfield, and that was the case in this one. (It's a SAM, but same thing. End man on the LOS.) The gaps the Gophers were trying to shut down were difficult for them to do so.
Also bad play: Minnesota's #9, who should be reading power all the way and attempts to shoot a gap upfield and to the inside of the POA. If it's third and one, okay maybe you make a play and boot the opponent off the field. On first and ten this is asking to get a huge play on your face.
So now Michigan has two guys plunging through a large gap with one linebacker showing because #9 is exiting the play on his own recognizance. That leaves an extra guy for the overhanging safety, right?
Note gap even larger now.
Uh… no. Bryant hits the guy Lewan has already blocked.
That guy tackles, but not before Toussaint picks up six yards.
Items of Interest
He used power just like he would have in any other situation. Over the last few days I've scoured the internet for anything it has to tell me about unbalanced lines, and found that when it's in use it's either 1) a package designed to futz with alignment keys as teams try to find a tight end and locate him in an unexpected position, or 2) Stanford HAM.
Naming your 7 OL package after notorious steroid case: Stanford football.
Stanford's stuff endeavors to screw with your brain by putting four guys to one side of the center, which conventional defenses don't have a great answer for. It's something you have to prepare for. There's not much to prepare for here, at least in terms of "we haven't seen this before."
Here Michigan was confronted with…
FACT: our tight ends can't block
FACT: our tackles are the only upperclass OL we have and they're both pretty sweet
FACT: especially after inserting Chris Bryant
…so they just swapped Lewan and AJ Williams and ran normal power out of normal power sets. There is absolutely nothing about this play that would be any different if Michigan ran it from a normal line, except that AJ Williams is a lot less likely to execute his assignment with this authority.
Michael Schofield was a revelation in this game. Traditionally he has been the least-involved Michigan OL in the run game charting because that stuff doesn't bother with "hinge" blocks on the backside of power, which are executed literally 99% of the time by anyone—say, nice place to stash a TE—or blocks on the backside of stretch plays that are tough to evaluate without a cutback and often patently unfair to expect the backside T to execute. Schofield's gotten a lot of those because Michigan runs towards Lewan, a lot. Surprise.
That said, Schofield has always been regarded as more of a finesse player by everyone including his offensive line coach. He has never consistently moved guys off the ball. In this game, he did. Minnesota isn't good, sure. It's still going to be a record positive day for him.
The art of the kickout. Kickout blocks get relatively short shrift from me in UFR charting because they are by their nature a compromise between offense and defense. The defense says "I'll stay out here so the play turns back inside," and the offense says "I will push you a bit and make sure you stay out there."
Here Butt and the SAM compromise in a way very detrimental to Minnesota's chances, but that's mostly on the SAM. If he sets up better, Butt walls him off and the hole is narrower. He rarely has to actually deal with the guy trying to beat him, because if that guy succeeds he may have just given up the corner.
Minnesota saw this and was like NOOOOPE. This is almost the only under front the Gophers ran all game. After this play, Minnesota shifted their line towards Lewan, which meant that Lewan would kick the DE. This started a parade of plus-half-points for him as he shoved guys to create large holes, but did remove him from the kind of facecrushing blocks he executed on this play. This under front gives Lewan a hard-ish job he does really well; the over gives Lewan an easy job he does really well, shifting the hard-ish bits to other players.
Identifying guys to block: issue. Neither Kalis nor Bryant was particularly good at figuring out what they're supposed to do when they reach the hole. (This is at least better than the situation last year, which was "OL cannot reach hole.") Here Michigan has an opportunity to bust a big play because one of the Minnesota linebackers goes under a block and eliminates himself; Bryant can go all the way to the safety, whereupon Toussaint probably scores a touchdown. Instead he doubles a guy that Lewan is blocking, which… cumong man. Of all the people to block a second time you pick the one Taylor Lewan has.
As discussed previously, that's one error that costs Michigan 30 yards.