The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
What is the difference between this run:
…and this run:
If you guessed "the one Harbaugh/Drevno were coaching got yards and the one from Hoke/Borges didn't" you win a running theme of the 2015 offseason. The results are certainly stark; why that's true is what we're interested in.
The Power Play
These are both the same play by the offense, and the same play Brady Hoke promised to make into Michigan's base because it is the manliest of plays. It is Power-O, the one where you pull the backside guard and try to run between the tackles.
You can click for biggers
The play is relatively simple to draw up and complex to execute because it uses a lot of the things zone blocking does, including having the blocking and back react to what the defense does. For all the "manball" talk this isn't ISO, where you slam into each other quickly. Depending on how the coach wants to play it and what defensive alignment you see, the basic gist is to get a double or scoop of the playside DT and kick out the playside DE, then have an avalanche of bodies pour into that hole—if the defense is leaping into that gap you adjust by trying a different hole further outside. Leaving two blockers to seal off the backside, one blocker, usually the backside guard, pulls and becomes the lead blocker—it's up to him to adjust to what he sees when he arrives.
You can run this out of different formations with different personnel, and the one immediately apparent difference in the above diagrams is Michigan was more spread—a flanker (Z) is out on the opposite numbers and the strongside is to the boundary; after the motion this is an "Ace Twins". Stanford ran this with a heavy "22-I" formation, meaning two backs (RB and FB) and two tight ends (Y and H) in an I-form. The benefit Michigan gets from its formation is the guy Stanford would have to block with its fullback Michigan has removed from the play entirely by forcing him to cover the opposite sideline.
What Stanford gets in return for its fullback is matchup problems: the open side of the field is going to be two tight ends and a fullback versus two safeties and a cornerback. Run or pass that can go badly for the defense as these size mismatches turn into lithe safeties eating low-centered fullbacks, and dainty corners on manbeast TEs.
In War of 1812 terms, Michigan is the Americans, sending the fast-sailing frigate Essex in the Pacific so the enemy has to move ships to the Galapagos instead of harassing the Carolinas. Stanford is the British, parking 74-guns ships of the line where engaging them cannot be avoided and trusting the outcome of any forced engagement should turn in their favor. The point is both work to the advantages and disadvantages of the talent on hand. (In this analogy Borges is a guy trying to use Horatio Nelson tactics with a Navy of sloops and brigs).
That being said, it still works as well as anything—people did in fact score points before the spread, and those who scored a lot of them could do so by keeping defenses off balance and with good execution. As we'll see both of those factors played a big role.
[after the jump]
I don't pretend to know the intricacies of football but during the Nebraska game it seemed that Toussaint, in pass protection, would wait for his blocking assignment to come to him before engaging the player. Seeing as Toussaint is significantly smaller then the LB or lineman he's been assigned to block this usually resulted in Toussaint getting pushed backwards (physics and all). Is this how RBs are typically coached to play pass protection?
I mostly stay away from the how of any particular technique failing; more of a "what" guy since I didn't play the game, etc. But to me Toussaint's blocking issues stem from three problems:
- Michigan's line has to resort to slide protections that often expose him to a pass-rushing DE. This is a bad matchup for anyone.
- He's part of that need to resort to slide protections since his recognition isn't good; when he is tasked with identifying guys to pick up he often catches them. Vincent Smith and Mike Hart would find guys and then get some momentum before making contact.
- He hits guys too high sometimes, which makes it easy for them to shed him and attack. Smith and Hart got low, or in Smith's case existed in a perpetual state of low-ness.
3 is his problem, 2 is part his and part a holistic inability to pick up blitzes, and 1 is not his fault.
What's different about this year?
Regarding the offensive line, I saw some comments that intrigued me that intrigued me the other day and I’m curious your perspective.
Borges indicated that another variable in the mix this year is that it’s “the first year in the scheme we’ve wanted to move to.” Based on your work therefore, do you conclude that:
1) There is a significant difference this year in scheme, protections, and what the offense is asking of the o’line?
2) That experienced lines would be impacted by such a scheme change?
3) That inexperienced players would unimpacted (i.e. just as inexperienced)?
4) That therefore the years experience/games experience would also be negatively impacted from a production standpoint.
So that in conclusion – there’s actually hope bc the ones that are young are young and the ones that are supposed to have experience have less experience than one would otherwise understand to be true.
And – that next year or the year after really will be better!
Keep up the good work.
Unfortunately, I'm not seeing a whole lot of evidence for that rationale.
Borges's comments make no sense. This year started out with Michigan running a bunch of stretch plays, which was a departure from what they'd done the first two years… and a staple of the Rodriguez offense. If that's what he meant, he could have just, you know, kept running the stretch.
Instead Michigan was almost exclusively an inside zone and power team their first two years here, and the differences between running those things from under center versus the shotgun are minimal. There has been a more concerted effort to run plays from under center, but that shift was even more pronounced late last year after Gardner took the helm of the offense.
If anything's changed this year from last year in terms of blocking it's that Denard isn't around to bail it out. Borges trying to use him to cover his ass by claiming he somehow couldn't run the schemes he wanted to be cause the guy running behind them was also the one taking the snap is a weak excuse that throws Denard (of all people!) under the bus.
[After THE JUMP: WHY WOULD YOU THINK THAT MAKES ME FEEL BETTER]
TUBE NOTES: They didn't put the tubes on TV! ABC –1,000,000. WHERE ARE MY TUBES, ABC?
FORMATION NOTES: Nebraska often responded to Michigan going under center with running an under package with a safety walked down, sometimes to the line, like below…
…they blitzed a ton from this.
Michigan is occasionally having Funchess in a three-point stance but split out about a body length from the tackle. I have not given this its own name yet; we'll see if it sticks around.
You can't see the outside receiver here, but this is "shotgun trips inner stack TE". Shotgun = obvious. Trips = three WRs to one side. Inner stack: look, they're stacked. TE: there is a TE.
And there was this.
It has been discussed; Funchess is covered for reasons of sorcery.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Michigan is settling down for better or worse. Gardner the whole way, Toussaint most of the way and occasionally replaced by Green on plays that were almost all runs because Michigan is more afraid of him as a blitz pickup guy than Toussaint. WRs were Funchess and Gallon primarily with Chesson getting the bulk of the remaining snaps. Dileo had only a few snaps, most obviously the last one.
OL was the usual now: Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield. Kalis made a couple of appearances in goal line type sets as a sixth OL.
Michigan's main churn at this point is at tight end. Butt is the main guy now. Paskorz got some snaps, as did Williams, though Williams seems to be getting fewer and fewer as the season goes along. Michigan tried a couple plays with Houma as a wing TE, which didn't work too well.
[After THE JUMP: I regret to inform you that the Heisenberg uncertainty principle does not apply to football games and observing this left it just the same.]
11/9/2013 – Michigan 13, Nebraska 17 – 6-3, 2-3 Big Ten
The Passion of the Gardner [Bryan Fuller]
I've turned off. This is my default reaction in moments of extreme stress, because when I was a kid I tended to hit things and scream like a banshee and there was counseling and whatnot, counseling that essentially boiled down to "you have to be a human. If you are a rabid badger your whole life it will go poorly for you." Still, it is a daily trial. I've made up a word for people whose incompetence is making me angry, and I think it in trivial situations, like when someone can't get a credit card to swipe or dares to drive the speed limit. Yobs. Yobs everywhere. The way I'm built, I am presented with a stark choice when the bile comes up: on or off.
I am off. The Nebraska game was a fugue state. When Michigan scored the thing with the kicking after that is worth six-ish points—torchclown or something—people around me stood and cheered, as they are wont to do. I sat down and tried to check twitter. The event had no impact on me at all. Turning that emotion on meant turning the rest of them on, and that could not be allowed to happen.
I'm familiar with this after the last half-decade of Michigan football, of course, and even more recently last year's hockey team. I've gotten quite good at sleepwalking through sporting events without being mentally present.
But all men have breaking points. Last year I had one when the hockey team lost to BGSU 5-1, had its first shot of the third period 15 minutes in, and watched an alternate captain get injured on a dirty hit without doing anything. That was banshee time.
Nebraska muffs a punt and Michigan gets it on the Cornhusker 26. They have not picked up one goddamn yard on the ground in weeks. First down: run from under center that Nebraska puts eight in the box in and blitzes. Second down: the same goddamn thing. Too much. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! WHY DO YOU THINK THAT HAS ANY CHANCE OF WORKING," I yelled at someone who could not hear me. "HAVE YOU WATCHED THIS TEAM PLAY YET?"
I hope he has, because if I have to watch this crap he should too. The evidence suggests otherwise.
It was one thing to get run off the field by what may be the best defense in the country. Michigan's offense sucks this year and when you suck that is the kind of thing that happens. It was complete agony, but everyone with two functioning eyes had already braced for impact.
It is another thing, a different thing, to get run off the field by a collection of country yokels higher on 'shine than Mary Sue Coleman who couldn't spell "run fit" if you spotted them "run fi" and exist in mortal terror that their coach will machine-gun cats at them if—when—they explode into little smithereens that once resembled a run defense.
"But coach, we're already spread across most of a three-state area," the yokels said. "YAHHHH EAT NINE HUNDRED MILE PER HOUR CAT," Bo Pelini said, cranking his catling gun. "Dawwww," the yokels said moments before their faces were obliterated by cats moving so fast air friction had caused them to burst into flame, "we probably shouldn't have given up two hundred yards rushing to Illinois. Or everyone else on the schedule not named Southern Miss or Purdue."
Two hundred yards. By every-damn-body. Nebraska could not stop a nine year old from going eighty yards in their spring game, and as the season progressed it became clear they were trying to. We can't call Nebraska's defense a "unit," since that would imply concerted collective action. So let's go with eleven gas molecules in the cold vacuum of Pelini.
Against eleven gas molecules in the cold vacuum of Pelini, Michigan farted out production worse than that which caused a mini civil war in the Michigan fanbase after Penn State (which at least featured Devin Gardner picking up bushels of yards). It was worse than Michigan's recent debacle against Michigan State, the top defense in the country. Hack out the sacks and snaps that a battered Devin Gardner can't deal with and Michigan ran for 22 yards on 29 attempts. Oh, for the halcyon days when Michigan could pick up one yard per attempt.
After the game, Nebraska informed the world of how this was possible when even Purdue acquired four yards a carry.
"Whatever formation they came out in, we knew what they were going to throw at us." -Randy Gregory
“We knew what they were going to do right before they did it." -Jason Ankrah
The last time Michigan fans heard this, they were duly livid. They'd just watched their team lose to
Texas in the Rose Bowl 38-37 EDIT: USC in the Rose Bowl 28-14. That is one thing. This is another thing, a different thing.
This was the game where Michigan's Cheesecake Factory offense—they do everything terribly, but by God there's a lot of it—hit rock bottom. Michigan couldn't get one damn yard per carry because of many reasons, but #1 was unblocked Nebraska defenders plowing into Gardner and Toussaint in the backfield. Gardner was hit for TFLs on three separate inverted veers on which a Nebraska defender tore through unblocked, because there was no one to block him.
Michigan would go under center and run play action that did not cause a Nebraska player to step forward one single time; Gardner looked downfield and found his receivers bracketed. Once there was only one guy in the pattern, because Al Borges is smart. He was Devin Funchess, and he had three guys surrounding him.
This is comprehensive failure that goes beyond the limited talent at Michigan's disposal after Rich Rodriguez regarded offensive line recruiting as optional in his final two years at Michigan. There are dozens of teams around the country with less to work with than Michigan. Some of them have played Nebraska, and ripped them for 200 yards rushing. Even poor damn Purdue, currently chasing Big Ten futility records, acquired 82 yards on its 20 actual rushes. Purdue is more than four times as good at running the ball against Brownian motion as Michigan is.
In this game the idea that Al Borges was waving flags literally telling the opposition defense what they were running went from highly likely to explicitly certain.
Despite this, in his post game presser Brady Hoke once again sighed "we just didn't execute." That is not an answer. There is nothing to execute when half the time a 'shine-addled yahoo has put his helmet through your neck without being acknowledged by anyone on your team.
"I have to do a better job coaching," which Hoke said seven times in 12 minutes, is also not an answer. It's clear that right now no one in Ann Arbor has any of those. Can we interest you in a tackle for loss?
Nebraska's official site has an embedding-disabled item.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. We will go with… uh… Matt Wile. Yes. It is only right. Wile pounded a 69-yard punt that flipped field position and helped Michigan enter the half down only 10-3 to a clownshow team. He averaged nearly 50 yards an attempt for the game. He also used Zoltan Mesko trademark eye laserz to force Jordan Westerkamp to fumble his last punt. A truly inspiring performance from the most important player on this year's team.
Honorable mention: All of Jibreel Black's tackles were behind the LOS. Cam Gordon finished a sack and forced a fumble that Michigan recovered. Devin Funchess still seems like a good player. James Ross was one of the main guys holding Armstrong to 1.1 YPC and Abdullah under 4 and had a thumping hit to prevent a big play.
Epic Double Point Standings.
2.0: Jeremy Gallon (ND, Indiana)
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota), Frank Clark(PSU), Matt Wile (Nebraska)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Nebraska muffs a punt, giving Michigan the field position they cannot possibly acquire themselves.
Honorable mention: Funchess scores a torchclown. That one time Toussaint got four yards. Matt Wile pounds a 69-yard punt.
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?)
10/19/2013: Thomas Gordon picks off an Indiana pass to end the Hoosiers' last drive that could have taken the lead.
11/2/2013: Clock expires.
11/9/2013: Nebraska muffs a punt through no action of Michigan's.
[AFTER THE JUMP: stations of the cross.]
As I'm going over the film here something is resonating that I read from Ace's VEQ last week.
I cannot tell you how many times in the last three years I've watched an opposing offense go for 50, 60, 70 yards on their first drive, kick a field goal, score a touchdown, flip field position, whatever, and then absolutely get downloaded by this defense. It happened just this last weekend at Illinois. Sometimes it takes more than one drive, some days it takes a half of football or so. But I, for example, watched Purdue experience some early success throwing little 12-15 yard out patterns beneath MSU's retreating zone cornerback on two third downs in quick succession to keep drives alive, and then the third time Purdue tried it, not only was the corner right there in man coverage, but there too was safety Isaiah Lewis flashing in front of the receiver and nearly collecting a pick-six. Stuff like that is a joy to watch.
That was the story of this game, as well. Michigan found snatches of success early, whereupon MSU adjusted and that was all she wrote. A play that finds success has been followed by a nothing play that MSU crushes with a creepy consistency so far. Without the context of MSU's stats this year it feels like Pat Narduzzi is the luckiest guy in the world for a while, and then it's like he's Doyle Brunson.
In one instance, it seems like it took MSU one play to assimilate something Michigan was doing. M debuted a run play that is basically power from the playside guard gussied up to look like inverted veer. The first instance of this sort of worked. The second did not. The yards were basically the same, but that's because Toussaint managed to evade a TFL on the second.
It's Michigan's first drive; they've hit a couple passes to Gallon to open up with 46 yards on their first two plays. They come out in a 2TE set featuring Paskorz and Butt with Funchess in the slot. Unusually for MSU, they flip a corner over Funchess. Both safeties are hanging out where they usually do: rolled up tight.
Butt will release. Lewan will block down on the playside end; Bosch will pull around. Since the end doesn't get an initial block and Michigan makes its mesh point look like an inverted veer, he reads that and hangs outside, creating a wide crease for Toussaint to explore.
The design basically works. Lewan turns his guy inside and the veer appearance means Bosch isn't seriously challenged by the DE, who is trying to maintain outside contain.
Meanwhile, Butt and Glasgow release immediately into the playside LBs. This gives Magnuson an impossible task on the other DL, but I think they figure that guy's not going to make a play on this play and that a significant percentage of the time he will get hung up on the other DL getting smoked. Either that or it's just another assignment screwup; in UFR I thought Bullough was more dangerous than the DT and passed on a minus.
By the time Toussaint gets the handoff there's a nice gap that is unfortunately being rapidly filled by that DT, but there's so much space that he can run away from it. Meanwhile, Funchess has come down and blocks… uh… Butt, kind of. He eventually does shove the corner on him back but that looks bizarre to me; seems like he should be carrying to the safety. In any case, gap is extant.
This is looking rather promising.
But MSU holds the damage down, as Calhoun comes off the Bosch block easily and spins Toussaint around, allowing the safety to come down and tackle after a modest gain.
Three yards is a win, I guess?
Items Of Interest
It's new, and shiny, and created a hole. Hoorah. This play uses Lewan's strength to bash open a hole and while it doesn't actually option a guy off it uses the threat of a veer to make Bosch's job considerably easier.
I still don't understand M centers shooting to the second level immediately despite guys basically over them. It happens with such consistency that it might actually be the plan, but it drives me nuts every time it happens. Here Michigan issues Magnuson a blocking assignment that is flatly impossible and sends Glasgow out immediately; meanwhile on the back side of the play Schofield and Paskorz do combo the end, getting him sealed away. You can see the cost in the linebacker blocks: Glasgow gets into Bullough and gets him moving hard, providing a nice cutback lane… that the back cannot take because there's a DL flowing down the line. Meanwhile Allen gets playside of Schofield and is filling that hole.
To me it seems like you'd want to reverse this: shoot Schofield out immediately and say damn the backside end while getting that DT sealed away. It seems like whenever a M C or G ignores a nose tackle and gives someone else on the line a difficult task it results in doom, but it's happening almost all the time, and this doesn't seem like rocket science. The guy is in alignment X against you, you chip him so your partner can get around.
Michigan isn't doing this with a regularity that makes me think it's intentional, and the results are underwhelming. FMK: goofy assignments or guys who can't execute rule one of zone running.
Tight end blocking again an issue. Butt's block here gets hardly any motion and does allow the LB to slide off, or would if Funchess didn't add himself into the equation. Funchess, meanwhile, brings his corner into the fray and since the general rule of running when you suck at it (and probably even when you don't) is that most blocks are just opportunities to screw up a play, that is a negative.
I know what Funchess is thinking here, because Michigan would run this again against a more typical MSU D:
His job is to go get that slot LB. Here his job is to… run the corner off or something, go bash the safety, but he screws it up, probably because Michigan was prepping him to run it against a gray area LB instead of a press corner.
MSU's alignment throws this off. Compare the screenshot right above with the presnap setup here:
Note the relation of the LB Butt is going for relative to himself. On this play, he's even; on the other play he's a player and a half inside of him. Much easier angle for Butt, more likely there's a gap away from the DE and a nice gain. That's why the linebacker blocks here don't really get Fitz a hole he clearly expects to be outside. (And maybe why Michigan's okay with leaving the DT: they expected a different D.)
The download. The next time Michigan ran this they got the above formation. Aaaaand:
Slot LB rips down, Funchess has no shot, Toussaint does well to bounce around it and gets eaten by a safety after a similar gain. Is this sheer luck? On some level, sure. But the creepy mind-reading tendencies of the MSU defense are so consistent that it seems like something more. Could Narduzzi have executed this inference chain?
- Michigan has a new run play on which Funchess accidentally doubled a LB in a defense we don't run much.
- He's probably supposed to block the slot LB in our usual stuff.
- It's first and ten from the nine, probably a run.
- If it's the new toy, blitz slot LB.
I wouldn't put it past him. Seems hard given the chaos of football but if you're a DC with tons of experience and have a feel for this live, well, you might be quite good at your job.
HELLO! HI! I AM BLUE! I AM A TUBE! I HOPE AT LEAST TEN OTHER STUDENTS MAKE BLUE TUBES! HELLO! ISN'T LIFE EXICTING!
THING NOTES: Torrent had no audio this week, so neither do the clips. Good news for people who get creeped out by the walrus lovemaking noises in the slow ones.
FORMATION NOTES: A note on nomenclature here: Indiana had a kind of weird system where they had a linebacker/safety type (6'1", 225) out over the slot.
That in itself isn't too weird against spread formations, but he still hung out over the slot when there was one in I-form twins packages and the like, and Indiana brought down a safety.
I designated IU formations with that guy in the gray area (and no safety down) "nickel" since the defensive formation thing is more about what the O is looking at than personnel packages the opponent has in and I felt their slot LB was a Hybrid Space Player, but I understand if you think IU was just in a 4-3 all game.
As for Michigan, they did not do much exotic in terms of formations. A lot of shotgun 3-wide stuff, some ace, some I-Form, etc. A couple things: I've changed Funchess to a WR in my personnel set tracking, so if you see "shotgun 3-wide" with four WRs that's because Funchess is the TE-type-substance. Also, when there are only four skill position players that's because Michigan has brought in an extra offensive lineman. Tackle over was still employed but rather rare.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Hoo boy. First: QB and RB were pretty obvious, with Green getting more run than he has in some other games in the past. FB was about split between Kerridge and Houma.
WR was a ton of Gallon and Funchess. Dileo went out early with an injury, leaving Jeremy Jackson to pick up most of the slot snaps. Chesson got in a bit but has clearly ceded a lot of PT to Funchess; Reynolds got a few snaps.
TE was mostly Butt and Williams; Williams ceded snaps to a sixth OL and also Jordan Paskorz, who got in some good blocks in the middle of the game. Funchess also lined up at TE from time to time.
And the OL. Burzynski started, tore his ACL, was replaced by Bosch. Glasgow was the C. Lewan was the LT, Magnuson the RG, Schofield the RT, except when guys were flipping all over the place. This game's version of tackle over was almost always a 6 OL with Kalis reclaiming his RG spot and Lewan flanking someone else: Schofield on the left and Magnuson on the right. Much less likely to get your QB murdered.
I noted OL changes in the notes below. Anyone not mentioned is playing their usual position. Apologies for cutesy name shortenings, but you try writing "Burzynski" and "Magnuson" for 80 plays. (Schofield defies shortening.)
[After the JUMP: nuclear samba Gallon.]