I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
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.
So yeah, I concluded yesterday that the quick fire throw to Gallon in the second quarter was a presnap read, not a true packaged play, and then about two plays into the remainder of the UFR, Michigan runs the same thing with the cornerback showing blitz presnap and M runs it after he backs out. Timing: I do not have it.
To the screenshots!
It's first and ten; Michigan's trying to respond to Indiana drawing to within one and has first and ten on their own 23. Same setup as the last play: 3 wide, Gallon alone to the boundary, IU in their nickel-ish package. This time the corner is indicating blitz.
On the snap, though, he backs out. Gardner's checking on Gallon, seeing if he's got the hitch.
When it become clear that the CB is not coming, he changes his plan. Taylor Lewan has the same idea, as his initial reaction was to pick up the corner. He's flared out to do so, and now has to frantically try to get back into the play and block someone who's trying to defend what's actually occurring.
Which is a handoff.
Now: Lewan's flare has borked a couple of things. See 98 below? He is being doubled and will end up three yards downfield, where it is ideal for him to go in the eyes of the offense.
The other DT, though, is being single blocked by Glasgow and if he chooses can decide to go upfield of him to the outside, which he does. Glasgow locks him out and pushes him past the play; Toussaint has one lane straight up the middle. Bosch deals with a DE well, but there's no one for an ILB.
That's unfortunate, since a guy dealing with him is a big gain with the other LB on a pass drop he's convinced to take by Funchess releasing into the slot LB. Even if he doesn't take this the backwards direction of the other DT would make it difficult for him to get to the hole.
Lewan tries to recover; can't quite; Toussaint makes the guy miss, which gets him a decent gain before the shuffling backside end comes down from behind to tackle.
Items of Interest
Nope, totally packaged. Gardner's first option is the hitch in the event of a CB blitz, and he decides that it's not there, so he hands off. Post snap read determining run or pass is the Smart Football-approved definition of a packaged play. Packaged.
An old bugaboo. This harkens back to some oddities Michigan had in their plays like this a couple years ago. When they ran the inverted veer in 2011, Michigan would often block the guy they were supposedly optioning with the pulling guard, leaving Denard to beat a guy if Michigan was going to pick up anything. This happened not infrequently, but it seemed pretty weird that you'd run an option and not option anyone.
This is a version of that old problem: Lewan flares out to block the corner when Michigan has a plan to deal with that. They're optioning him and they still block him, or would if he didn't back out into pass coverage. That leaves one of the ILBs free.
The rest of the line blocks it like they should if the corner blitz was coming; seems like someone on the OL made an adjustment to the blitz IU ostentatiously showed and backed out of.
A minor place. I don't want to make any grand conclusions from these two plays. A number of programs from the Okie State/WVU Hologorsen tree will build large chunks of their offense around packaged plays; Michigan has only dabbled in this department under Borges. They're still dabbling. The OL blocks this goofy because they are not on the same page as the play concept. If the guy making the line check understands that the corner is never a threat, this is a nice gain that doesn't require Toussaint to get his Hart on.
This isn't the first time they've tried these things—I remember pointing out a package to Smart Football a couple years ago. That didn't work, and it seemed like it got put on the shelf because the coaches weren't enthused with Denard's ability to read post-snap. Devin executed both of these; could they have been a test run for Michigan State?
Probably not, but here's hoping they've got something up their sleeve.
Bosch check. This was about par for Bosch's day. He got decent to good movement on his guys, probably better than Magnuson on average. Hopes were consistently tempered by the guy next to him, as when Lewan latched onto a dude he all but threw the dude into his teammates, ninjas-attacking-hero style. Indiana's terrible. He'll get a trial by fire next Saturday.
An accidental RPS. The other ILB's pass drop here is an interesting offshoot. He's reading Funchess and sees him release, and so goes to cover, as Funchess blocks (or attempts to block) IU's hybrid space player. That leaves the OL five on five in the box, which should be a profitable situation.
Every time a DE shuffles like this I want Gardner to pull, which is probably irrational. I don't think he should, but I have this visceral thing where it's like GO GIT EM, because is anyone in that position really keeping up with Gardner on the corner? I say no, especially when you've got Funchess bothering the slot LB. All DEs are shuffling and Gardner has beat them all around the edge. Sometimes there's help out there; that is the only thing that keeps these plays down.
Triple option? On this play it's asking a lot of him to read the corner and then come across the field to read the end, so the pull here is almost certainly not something that he has in the toolbox anyway. So, no, just a single option I think. The read option nature of the play does let you sort of option off two guys, though, except "optioning off" the corner is really just nerfing the corner blitz.
[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.]
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.]
- Jake Ryan will be a decision that may or may not have already been made, but you won't know about it until game time.
- Kyle Kalis was limited in practice yesterday but will be full go today.
- Dennis Norfleet may get an opportunity to return punts again at some point, but it'll have to be a home game.
“We thought we got after it pretty well. Tuesday’s always a heavy work day. Assignment-wise we were pretty good on both sides of the ball. From a fundamental side we have to keep stretching our limits to becoming the best we can fundamentally. I think the guys are really working hard at that. I thought we competed well, and I thought we’re going to have another great workday today with a focus on Penn State but also on us fundamentally getting better.”
Will Jake Ryan play?
“I knew that was going to be the first question. We have another day. We’ll see where he’s at.”
How much did he do yesterday?
“Not much as the other two [SAM linebackers] rep wise.”
Is he holding up pretty well? No soreness?
Got any big birthday plans?
“Oh come on. Daggone it. I thought that was a secret.”
Word of the day?
“Uh. Word of the day? ‘Improvement.’ How’s that?”
MGoQuestion: What kind of improvement did you see from the offensive line?
“No turnovers, number one. That’s the offense, not the offensive line. I’ve said it before, when the turnovers go away, a lot of the problems go away. They don’t all go away, but a lot of it, because you get possessions. That’s the key. You get to keep your possessions. You get to take advantage of them, because they’re precious. That’s really as much from an offensive perspective the reason we won the game as any.”