9/14/2013 – Michigan 28, Akron 24 – 3-0
What was the worst thing about the events that took place in Michigan Stadium on Saturday? There are dozens of candidates vying for the crown. A selection:
That moment when Taylor Lewan was down. Almost picked up the very cute small child in front of me and threw it onto the field. Hey, don't judge me. It could have popped on an Akron helmet and stopped Fitzgerald Toussaint for a one-yard loss. It would have been in no danger of anything except padding its stats.
Small children stopping Fitzgerald Toussaint for one-yard losses. Akron's line consists of a six-year-old, ten-year-old, a guy named Bob who they found walking into the game, and an actual scholarship athlete who chose Akron and is therefore so crazy he insists everyone calls him "Pope Licentiousness III." Fitzgerald Toussaint averaged under four yards a carry against them, and about 80% of his first down runs resulted in second and eleven.
That pick-six. Not digging that M starts every game in an 0-7 hole.
All of it. An obvious contender.
The ruination of an entire Saturday of college football. Don't know about you, but that sapped me so much that I could barely remain awake after it and looked at the other games dully before falling asleep just into the second half of Purdue-Notre Dame. I missed the Wisconsin-Arizona State madness as a result. Never has a win felt so much like a loss.
The severe correction in season expectations. Michigan plays Akron straight up; Notre Dame executes a stirring fourth-quarter comeback to top a team that beat Indiana State thanks to a trick kickoff return on the first play of the day. I liked it better when Michigan had solidly defeated a team obviously headed for ten wins because of its overwhelming talent, and was not the equal of one of the worst teams in college football.
The repudiation of the idea that events follow from other events and can be projected with any certainty. Just because something happened before does not mean it is likely to happen again. Devin Gardner can beat Notre Dame nearly singlehandedly and lose to Akron nearly singlehandedly. Michigan can look like the best team in the Big Ten for two weeks and play a dead-even game with a team that has gone 1-11 the past three seasons and hasn't beaten a I-A opponent since November of 2010. At any moment the laws of physics that bind our component molecules together could catastrophically alter themselves, turning us all into rapidly disintegrating collections of atoms that suddenly hate each other. (IE, how you felt in the fourth quarter.)
My adorable nine-year old niece experiencing her first Michigan game one seat away from me. Sometimes it is nice to take the pressure building inside your head and throw some of it into the atmosphere via colorful expectoration of words. In this manner, you vent dangerous levels of pressure to the atmosphere. When the best you can muster is an under-your-breath "Jesus Christ," your inner control panels look like Chernobyl instead of Fukushima, and you can hear the BEEP BLORP BEEP BLORP as you try not to fall over.
MGoNiece reports that the game was "fun" and "exciting," and not "three hours during which I learned many new words that make my mom cry and that Uncle Brian is possessed by Satan." MGoNiece remains as pure as the driven snow, at all costs.
How familiar it all felt. The first time I thought "this can't be happening" in Michigan Stadium, Michigan was losing to Northwestern. That Northwestern outfit would win en route to their first Rose Bowl in forever, but they walked in overrated pretenders to my 15-year-old self. They were not. Over the course of the game my attitude shifted from annoyance to disappointment to concern to chest-clenching-panic. Back then I kept thinking "how can this happen?"
Here we are again, following up a Notre Dame win with a severe expectations check that bodes unwell for the season. In 2010, a 42-37 win over UMass was an early indicator that Michigan had the worst defense in the history of the program. This one promises a year of quarterbacks given time to complete PhDs in the pocket and far too many "my bad" blocks.
Now our best hope is that contender a little farther up the page: that causation has failed and we're just coasting along on the universe's sufferance. Michigan will come out against UConn and turn them into gray paste, because that's what the random number generator says next Saturday. That's the ticket.
I don't think "how can this happen" anymore. Not after 10-7 over Utah or 24-21 over SDSU or that Ball State game or The Horror or Toledo. I think "not again." I thought I was done thinking "not again" for a while. Apparently not. I'll be over here, trying to keep all my molecules from fleeing into space.
This is Akron's perspective:
At 1:40 you can see that the pick intended for Gallon is just a horrible read; with the corner sinking the crossing route to Funchess is the obvious throw. The deciding play from the first row of the student section.
He's going to have to start putting some good things that happen to the other team if he can only get up to seven minutes by including Akron not executing the snap correctly.
[After THE JUMP: a first-ever for Epic Double Point, and a lot of complaining.]
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan was split close to evenly between shotgun/pistol/under center. Notre Dame, meanwhile, was in a ton of four-man fronts until late, when they went back to more of a 4-3 look. Here you can see Shembo with his hand down and a 1-3-5 technique split to the strongside of M's formation:
I know I've mentioned in the past that Notre Dame's defense is not really all that different from Michigan's, and this game was a good demonstration of that. ND prefers over fronts when they go to a four-man line since their SAM equivalent is Jaylon Smith, a fast light bugger. I guess that's kind of a big difference. The point is: ND runs a lot of four man fronts.
Here's ND's 3-4:
The DL are head up on the Michigan OL, with the SAM over the TEs and Smith is over the slot.
This is the pistol. Pew pew:
Another 4-3 over from ND.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB Gardner, RB Toussaint on almost every play. Derrick Green got in for two, I think, and M lined up Norfleet as a back once. The line was the starters the whole game, but when Lewan got poked in the eye, Michigan sent in Magnuson, not Braden. Lewan returned, so Magnuson didn't get a snap. He's your #3 tackle it appears.
Williams, Funchess, and Butt all played plenty; Williams went out with an injury, came back for a few plays, and then left permanently. At WR, Gallon (obvious) with Chesson and Jackson rotating more heavily than Reynolds, who may still be dinged. Excepting the Norfleet package early, the slot was always Dileo. Michigan never had more than two outside WRs in the game. On passing downs they filled out with Funchess and Dileo.
[After THE JUMP: slicing and dicing goes both ways.]
- Boo boo watch: AJ Williams is questionable, Courtney Avery is getting better, but still probably limited.
- It's Akron week. Yawn.
"Practice was pretty good on Tuesday. We've talked about it before, we're putting some wrinkles in, both offensively and defensively, for what you want to do and what you want to try and work on for the future. Some of it always is for that opponent. It was a pretty good practice. A lot of heat, which was good, because we were relatively, during fall camp, it really never got hot. So we got to play in the heat a little bit, and Akron is going to be a high tempo team. They like to get on the ball as quickly as they can. They like to throw the ball around, get on the perimeter of the defense some. From a defensive perspective for them, they're very aggressive. You know, they like to blitz, they like to play zero coverage, they like to play man free. So they'll stack the line of scrimmage a little bit and you have to take advantage of the shots you get."
NOTE: UFR will be later than usual today, because of Dos A Cero IV. Lo siento.
BONUS: Soon to be number one in Google for highly competitive search term "mesh goofball punish." Dolla dolla bill y'all. See you on my yacht.
Michigan had seen enough of Notre Dame's maniac linebackers by the second quarter to expose their aggression. On their drive after ND had kicked a field goal to make it 17-13, M opened with four straight runs.
The one tailback touch in there was a one-yard loss on power. A Notre Dame linebacker shot the gap, meeting Kyle Kalis two yards in the backfield, and Toussaint bounced it outside without having any hope of doing something out there. The other three plays all worked because they used Devin Gardner's legs to punish the overcommitting Notre Dame defense. Each of these plays could have been a 35-yarder.
- Michigan fakes inside zone, has Gardner run for 7.
- A false zone read keeper breaks outside for 35.
- Toussaint stuffed for loss of one on power, holding on Houma.
- Inverted veer keeper for nine, phantom holding on Miller.
One of them did go for 35. We discussed the veer keeper a bit in the last picture pages post: it sucked a Notre Dame linebacker well into the backfield and may have been a touchdown if Funchess didn't spin around.
The opener is an interesting play; it follows.
Michigan has it first and ten from their 37 and comes out in a pistol 3-wide formation. Notre Dame goes with their 3-4. (I swear ND was mostly a 4-3 team in this game.) Shembo is tight to the LOS over the tight end with Day next to him. ND has two deep safeties and Jaylon Smith in the grey area over the slot.
Michigan will show inside zone, with quickly aborted doubles on Nix and Tuitt forced by the usual hard reaction by the ND linebackers.
MGoIcebreaker: Big win. Does that mean we get to have a word of the day? [MGoContext: Al stopped doing words of the day because "It's only cute if you win.']
" 'Big win.' Two words."
Other than the big mistake, the offense seemed to execute flawlessly. Were you pleased?
"Oh I wouldn't say flawlessly. But I think I was pleased with the result. I was certainly pleased with the effort. I mean we played pretty hard from the beginning to the end, and that was nice. We had a time during the game when the football gods were kind of frowning on us a little bit. We recovered nicely. That was probably as good as anything. That one part where we turned the ball over, had a couple bad things happen, but we recovered nicely from it, and all the coaches felt good about that."
I wish I'd remembered that Bob Diaco linebackers play like they're hopped up on goofballs before the game. Here's the mesh point on Michigan's first offensive snap:
One ILB is almost to the line of scrimmage and the other is a yard back. This is way closer than almost any other team will be, and it is absolutely consistent. ND linebackers fire hard on any run action.
For the most part it's worked for them. Michigan won the Denard after Dentist game despite getting ten yards on eight tailback carries. ND's defense last year was lights out. Notre Dame's hyper-aggression at that spot has been a problem for Michigan's run game for the last couple years, as they haven't had effective counters. Their main one is the waggle, and we all know how that worked out last year.
Not much changed in this one early. Michigan's tailback running game was drips and drabs because of a lack of an effective counter trey. (You know, that play they showed against Central where Taylor Lewan pulled to the backside… ineffectively.) The longer runs they did acquire were almost entirely Fitzgerald Toussaint forcing errors out of ND safeties. For example, the UFR chart on Toussaint's early 14-yard sideline run has four minuses for bad blocks and no positives. Yikes.
Let's get a baseline in this one and see how Michigan responded later. This is a second-quarter zone stretch in which Michigan puts two tight ends to the top of the screen; ND responds with a rare three-man front (they were a 4-3 in this game that occasionally lined up in a 3-4 as a curveball) with a safety walked down:
This looks like a called blitz but in practice it's difficult to tell the difference between an actual blitz and the playside linebacker hauling ass at the first gap he sees. It's just alignment. Notre Dame got some TFLs out of this gap-shooting, and even when they didn't those linebackers forced Michigan to disengage from double-teams on Tuitt, Nix, and Schwenke early, with predictable results.
Meanwhile, the backside linebacker would ignore any cutback possibilities and flow parallel to the line of scrimmage at approximately the same rate the tailback did:
The overall effect is six guys at the line with one hovering behind for cleanup and that overhanging safety able to provide quick support. Even when Notre Dame screwed up this was mostly effective.
A moment post snap, Michigan opens up a gap as they go to double the two defensive tackles:
Note that the backside players on the ND DL are stepping away from the play, which they can do because the MLB is jetting into the gap they vacate. This also allows the backside LB to flow as he does.
Some of this is tough to see, but in this frame:
- Miller has disengaged from Nix in an attempt to cut the charging LB, which he does not do. He does knock him off balance somewhat, possibly contributing to his overrun of the play.
- Meanwhile, Glasgow and Lewan try to handle two guys who have disappeared from the frame: the playside end and charging safety.
- Both tight ends have locked on the playside LB, who is the force player.
- Schofield chases the MLB, who he has no angle on, but could still block if Toussaint cuts back.
A moment later the LB flashes into the backfield wide of Toussaint and runs by; playside end got his legs caught up in traffic and ends up falling, pancaked. Both tight ends are still on the force guy:
This is one of them gap things?
Except it's got a linebacker in it.
BONUS! Here is a super slo-mo version.
(Does this help? If this helps let me know.)
Items Of Interest
Notre Dame got away with at least a couple errors here. The playside end ends up underneath Glasgow on the ground and they spent a linebacker blowing past Toussaint to little effect. (They did get Miller down but offenses will take one for one trades.) If that can happen and Michigan picks up three yards you can tell that it's tough sledding.
Tough sledding. The goofballs approach makes life tough on offensive linemen, who have to make split second decisions to leave guy and then try to block a rampant guy with tons of momentum before they are ready. This is tough, and Michigan didn't do a good job of it.
Toussaint could put his foot in the ground here and make a cut. Schofield is chasing that linebacker and you occasionally see the blocking develop such that the tailback can make a hard cut upfield behind that OL and suddenly make him relevant. Right about here…
…if Toussaint goes hard north and south aiming for the hash he may shoot past that linebacker and into open space. That's why Schofield keeps following that guy despite not having an angle. It may not work, but you're at least giving yourself a shot. Toussaint had a good day overall; here I think he missed a cut.
The offensive line… I punt. They had a very tough first half against this line, and these linebacker gap-shots don't help. Miller just barely throws off that linebacker if he does anything, but then again that linebacker zips past the play he's moving so fast. If that guy can't make a play, can the OL make a play?
Meanwhile Glasgow gets a pancake that is probably aided by the ND lineman tripping on the blitzer's feet; Lewan ends up putting a safety on the ground. Points for them. This one was a lot better blocked than some.
Funchess is very frustrating. On this play, the linebacker to the top of the screen is obviously the force player*. Butt obviously has him kicked out. Funchess continues to block the guy the whole damn play instead of releasing downfield and getting a hat on the safety. There is no way this is right.
Meanwhile, on the single inverted veer Michigan ran, Notre Dame hyperaggression bit them as one of their linebackers roared up a gap and pursued Toussaint, as did Tuitt. Gardner pulled and got a nice gain. It could have been a lot nicer, but Funchess turned around again:
Also not right, as with Kalis headed to the outside the linebacker is the optioned guy. I know Michigan's blocked guys who are supposed to be optioned before; even if that is the nominal plan, nothing good ever comes of turning 180 degrees when you're a blocker.
That left no one to take the only guy standing between Gardner and a touchdown:
I guess it's better that the play wiped out by a nonexistent holding call was nine yards instead of a thirty-one yard touchdown?
We just saw this happen against Central Michigan; it's closing in on a pattern. Funchess remains a tight end in name only. The mental stuff is more bothersome than any lack of technique. All he has to do on some of these plays is vaguely bother a guy and Michigan can break a long one. Hopefully he makes some progress here in the next few weeks, but the relative prominence of Jake Butt in this game is not a coincidence.
*[IE, the guy who sits on the end of the line and accepts a kickout block. He positions himself such that if the back tries to bounce it outside he either gets tackled for has to take such a circuitous route that by the time he gets the corner for guys are waiting for him. Since things usually go badly—very badly—for the defense if the force player is not doing his job, he is limited in how dynamic he can be what with throwing blockers away and getting TFLs, so doubling him is useless.]
Michigan did exploit this, eventually. You may notice that I'm not complaining about how Michigan didn't adjust to this. This is a tease.