I did not make this headline up
greg mattison must break you
My biggest takeaway from last night is Michigan will need a very strong and well-coached front seven if Harbaugh is to pull a 1969 next Thanksgiving weekend.
The key to Michigan's dramatic defensive improvement in 2011 was that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison gave Michigan's defense an identity. They went to a 4-3 under, single-gap run defense that Mattison brought from the Ravens, and over the course of the year found the best fits for the guys on hand.
|Durkin knew Mattison from his Charlie Weis pants days. [photo: Joe Raymond|Freep]|
You remember, despite the relative success of this transition, that some fits were more or less awkward than others. Jake Ryan was a perfect SAM. Ryan Van Bergen worked as a 3-tech or a 5-tech. Mike Martin played nose because nobody else could, and his disruption was deployed with a lot of stunts, or weird stuff like when they came up in an Okie and Martin dropped back to essentially MLB. Roh at WDE was a solid run defender but wasn't built to take advantage of that WDE-tackle matchup that's supposed to produce natural pressure.
Last year of course they went to a 4-3 over base alignment, making Jake Ryan into an awkward MLB because the alternative was Beyer as a really awkward 5-tech. The kicker: offenses were forcing Michigan to play nickel 50% to 90% of snaps, which made Ryan into either an undersized defensive end, or a guy on the sideline.
JMFR is gone but Mattison will still be around, joined by new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. At the Cleveland event last night I suggested Mattison’s role will be as sensei to Durkin, who hasn’t really flown solo yet (Muschamp was very involved with that defense).
It adds up to a belief that Michigan won’t change its defensive style for 2015, but what is that style? Coverages are another matter; just speaking to the front seven: should they be the under that they recruited for, or the over they transitioned to?
Refresher on 4-3 philosophy
Mattison and Durkin both coached (Durkin as a graduate assistant for one year) under Bob Davie at Notre Dame, who with Jackie Sherrill developed the Texas A&M "Wrecking Crew" defense. Jimmy Johnson (another Sherrill acolyte) took it a step further in Miami, and Pete Carroll now runs in Seattle.
You’ll note that they used different alignments. Johnson’s defenses were the genesis of the 4-3 over, and so influential that this is what people usually mean by “4-3” defense, as opposed to Tom Landry’s base version. Carroll’s been coaching the 4-3 under since he learned it directly from Monte Kiffin, who developed it at Nebraska.
The under alignment was not the base concept; the real philosophy in Kiffin's terms was to give his defensive linemen simple assignments so they could play with aggression and disruption. The benefit of one-gapping is no defensive linemen stopping to diagnose the play. Once the ball is snapped, all of these defenses want those brains thinking "go!", "put my hat in a gap," "be a factor," and "attack that block!"
Mattison used a mix in Baltimore because he had Ngata, but at Michigan he’s had an almost exclusively gap-attacking defense. The question has been what alignment to run it out of, and that’s a question of which players fit it best.
(Start at 1:17)
So which alignment is Michigan going with this year? I think again it’s a question of personnel? I make diagram.
Michigan’s short on red dudes
The above is my attempt at showing the spectrum of qualities emphasized by the front seven positions in the 4-3 over versus the 4-3 under. I also gave a small approximation of color fits for guys I know something about (Spur-like objects like Gant and Wangler left out because I ran out of colors to depict DB-ness).
It's meant to show what we mean when we talk about the why nothing's a perfect fit for the talent on hand. Suggestions for improved shading are welcome. Takeaway from this experiment: Michigan's front the next few years may be better at throwing out different looks than it will be at rotating through shark teeth.
If you trust my judgment on the shading above, the over appears to remain the best fit for the guys we have, provided they can find some backup ends (the glut of DE/DT tweeners remains). As Mattison mentioned in the video above, the half of the time you’re in nickel to counter a 3- or more-wide look, you’re in an over anyway. D.J. Durkin used a lot of smaller players and changed things up a ton at Florida, and I expect the future will be a truly multiple defense with versatile front seven players. I expect when they can’t run Ojemudia and Charlton out there at the ends, Durkin will experiment with linebacker-ish dudes out there.
Among this year's great disappointments has been the understandable, but nonetheless depressing, regression of 2013 Michigan's two best defensive players. Jake Ryan looks lost at MLB. Blake Countess is now the third or fourth best cornerback on this roster. Both appear to be a direct result of the offseason decision to switch from Michigan's 4-3 under/zone defense to a jam-man, nickel/4-3 over base.
I'm sure Brian is going to cover Jake Ryan with a picture pages, so I thought I'd zoom in on a play that's demonstrative of what's happening with Countess, and how that's hurting the defense. This is the first of Rutgers's many 3rd down conversions. Michigan had a backside blitz on with the front seven and was playing man-high pass D. Rutgers ran a pick route from the trips tight formation:
This is a standard thing you do against man coverage. The Y receiver will run his route directly in the path of the cornerback trying to guard the outside (Z) receiver. It works just a like a perimeter screen in basketball: the pick man and the defender following him create a wall between the target and his defender…
Voila: easy pass…
…which is unfortunate because a certain Rutgers lineman blew his MIKE assignment and Jake Ryan was about to turn Gary Nova into paste. Jeremy Clark then compounded matters by setting up too far inside and turned it into a big play.
To a degree you might RPS this, because Rutgers called a pick route against man coverage, and Nova pointed right at the matchups to show his guys they had what they wanted. But the way Michigan's defense is supposed to work is for man-tight to be a base play, and there is absolutely a way to defend this pass with Michigan's defensive call… [jump] [also if you're at work maybe put your headsets on because you know what's coming]
TUBE NOTES: These are not tubes, but it's pretty much tubes.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan defended spread stuff exactly like Northwestern did, leaving in a 4-3 and sliding their linebackers to the slot receiver. Since Northwestern was in a spread all the time, this was what they did all the time.
Cam Gordon over the first slot receiver, Morgan in the gray area over #3, Ross in the box.
When Northwestern went with two WRs to one side instead of three two LBs were in the box.
Michigan only went to 4-3 stuff when Northwestern went into goal line business.
Michigan kept two deep safeties most of the day, which was a change from Nebraska.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary was Countess and Taylor at corner with Stribling the third guy when Michigan went to the nickel, which was a lot less frequent. Gordon and Avery got most of the snaps at safety, with Wilson rotating in on occasion and Furman getting one drive, IIRC. He did not chart.
Linebacker the usual. Morgan/Ross/Bolden rotation at ILB, Ryan and Cam Gordon at SAM.
On the line, Beyer and Wormley rotated at SDE, Ojemudia and Clark at WDE. Black, Washington, and Henry got almost all of the DT snaps, with Black again mostly at NT. Glasgow got a few snaps, and Charlton got DT snaps in the nickel package.
[After THE JUMP: infinite clips of Mike Trumpy running for two yards.]
FORMATION NOTES: A very passive, bend-but-don't break outing. Michigan started in their 4-3, eventually transitioning to a nickel package basically full-time in the second half. Almost the entire game Michigan maintained a two-deep shell. Canonical example:
Michigan walked Jarrod Wilson into the box for about two plays in the second half, after Notre Dame had gotten some nice runs.
ND passed once, ran for two yards the second time (an offsides call that wasn't relevant to the play wiped that out) and then started passing again.
Late, Michigan started sending the house against Rees in high leverage situations. This is pure cover zero on which Michigan sent seven guys against six blockers. These are denoted as "Okie."
That one was actually in the first half; their frequency increased as Michigan got deeper into the game.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: The secondary was Wilson/TGordon/Countess/Taylor the almost the whole way with Hollowell getting all of the nickelback snaps (he was on the outside with Countess at nickel). Stribling got a little bit of time replacing Taylor in the third quarter and Avery got a few snaps instead of Wilson.
The ILB rotation was the usual three way split between Morgan, Bolden, and Ross. It seemed about equal to the CMU breakdown, with Bolden in on 50% of snaps and the other two around 75%. Beyer got a lot more playing time than Gordon because he was a nickel DE; Gordon got a significant amount of run only before the nickel switch.
On the line, Clark and Ojemudia split the WDE snaps, no Charlton. Black was out there for just about every snap, first as the three-tech and then as the nose as Michigan went almost the entire second half without playing a true nose tackle. Wormley and Glasgow rotated in at the other DT spot, with Beyer and occasionally Gordon on the other DE. Washington and Pipkins played somewhat in the first half, and then barely at all in the second. I actually thought Pipkins was getting a good bull rush and that removing him was weird; we believe that Washington was playing through injury.
[After THE JUMP: run at us! Please! We're begging you!]
left: Monumental's* iPad app. right: Swag Mattison. *yes the wallpaper guy.
Brian forwarded a mailbag question I hoped to answer with the UFR database:
I recently re-watched the 2011 vs. Nebraska game, which was quite a defensive performance on Michigan's part. Several times Mattison employed the always-entertaining Okie Package, often times with very good results (sack, QB hurry, etc.). Anecdotally it seemed like we used that a lot less in 2012, in spite of the fact that we still had no natural four-man pass rush. Any ideas as to why we went away from this? It seemed like easy money to generate a pass rush and potential for turnovers. If anything I would have thought we would have been more prepared to use exotic blitz packages as our guys were 1 year more advanced in Mattison's system. The only explanations I can think of are either we expected teams to be used to seeing it and adjust, or we did use it a lot last year and for some reason I didn't notice.
Was it Used Less?
For our purposes I also categorized "Nickel eff it" from the Notre Dame 2011 UFR (picture-paged) as an Okie, since it was clearly the forerunner to Mattison's particular way of using the package.
Yeah, Shafer's defense is in there; GERG ran an Okie just once in '09-'10. Unfortunately I don't have data from Ohio State and the bowl game for 2012 because when Michigan loses those somebody (not saying who) can't bring himself to UFR them. Anyway I don't see a difference in Okie deployment last year. The tables agree:
|Def Formation||2008||2009||2010||2011||2012||Mattison Avg|
|4-4, 5-3, Bear, etc.||2.1%||18.4%||9.8%||6.4%||13.0%||9.7%|
Big shifts: Mattison deployed the nickel less often last year and built even fronts into the defense. I thought the former was a result of fewer spread teams charted in 2012 but my data say Michigan faced MORE receivers in the formation (2.87 per play, 2.78 on 1st downs in 2012, versus 2.74 per play and 2.65 on 1st downs in 2011). The latter is an interesting wrinkle. Anyhoo the Okie he didn't seem to touch.
Since it's a situational package, we can see if it's being used less in those situations. By down:
The big difference seems to be 4th down but that's small sample: I charted 12 attempts on 4th down against Michigan in 2011, and 14 in 2012, so there were just two 4th down deployments: one against SDSU and one versus Ohio State. It's meant to be a surprise. What about by distance?
|| Total attempts||| % Okie Deployed|
So a little less often on 3rd and long.
Maybe it wasn't as effective last year minus Martin/RVB? Well I tracked its deployment on long situations (6 or more yards), and called it a "success" if it prevented the 1st down on 3rd or 4th down, or prevented 1/2 of the yards necessary to move the chains on 1st or 2nd down. Success?
|1st||100% (3/3)||83.3% (5/6)|
|2nd||83.3% (10/12)||100% (13/13)|
|3rd||96.7% (29/30)||100% (21/21)|
|All downs||93.5% (43/46)||97.5% (39/40)|
Success! Even with a tiny window for improvement, they found it.
ALL THE SWAG MATTISONS
Why Not Use it More?
The Okie package became a favored topic of discussion after it did mean things in the Illinois game:
Here's that play as drawn up on MonuMental's app, which is my new favorite toy:
Red=LB, green=DB, black=DL
Brian would come to call this "Okie one" for the number of safeties back in the formation. Michigan showed seven guys on the line of scrimmage but rushed just four. The right tackle and right guard were basically left alone while the rushers stunted around the guys on the left side and Illinois ended up blocking almost nobody.
Here a variation from 2012 used on 2nd and 12 on Minnesota's first drive:
Mattison senses this is an opportunity to kill the Gophers' opening drive. Here it's the 6th play of the drive and Michigan has already begun rotating the DL: the 5-tech is Heitzman, having come in for Roh on the 4th play of the drive, and Pipkins has just come in for Black. Michigan comes out in an Okie two, rushes five and drops to a Cover 2.
It turned out to be a run; Ryan managed to change course and hinder the RB in time for the Will (Desmond Morgan) to shut it down for a short gain, setting up a 3rd and 9. On the ensuing play Mattison dialed up another Okie:
Not 100% on the coverage. I think it's Cover 4 but the corners may be in man; Floyd is definitely giving his guy a tough release but Taylor is playing a Cov4. Crowd?
That's Avery (at nickel) playing back at the 1st down marker, and Thomas Gordon is also deep and went with that tight end when he motioned to the left side. Roh's back in for Heitzman and Black has come in for Washington (ALL THE pass rush!). In the diabolical world of Mattison's Okie package this is a Balrog with wings. Michigan lines up all over the tackles, and this time comes from the (offense's) left side. The two LBs on the weakside drop into short zones, as does the "nose" Black. Roh shoots past both the LG and LT to get into the center, and Morgan and Kovacs attack outside. The result:
Black seems to be in the wrong zone (he winds up all up in Demens's stuff), and that means the TE in the flat will be wide open on the sideline as soon as Taylor carries the X receiver's deep route:
That never happens; the QB has just enough time to see the slot's in-route has been disemboweled by Jake Ryan before the left side of his line not blocking anybody becomes his primary concern. The running back gets a delaying chip on Morgan and Kovacs gets a free shot and a forced fumble (which Minnesota recovered). You see there's weakness: Mattison's asking his nominal nose tackle to cover a deep zone when the receiver started 8 yards outside of him. But because the offensive line couldn't figure out who to block that never has time to develop. That's why the Okie is a changeup: the more Michigan uses it the more opposing coaches are going to prepare for it and the less valuable it can be as a situational ace in the hole.
One more from 2012. This is on 3rd and 8 from Michigan's 34 early in the 4th quarter and the Wolverines are down 9-16. Nebraska's kicker is Brett Maher, so every yard is a big deal for preventing the Huskers from going up by two scores.
Again, excuse me if I screwed up the coverage; here I'm guessing Gordon and Taylor were playing a read: they're both watching the inside receiver and break when he does. Nebraska's linemen mostly did their jobs here, though the guard (All-B1G Spencer Long) let himself get pushed really far backwards and that made room for Ryan to get into the center. Morgan took a few steps into a pass rush before backing into his zone but the RG and RT are not confused by this and do fine fending Heitzman off. The nickel blitz is unexpected but the left tackle did a good job adjusting and riding Avery behind the pocket. But for reasons passing understanding the tight end let Roh (playing WDE) past him and right into the RB. Ameer Abdullah can be little more than a piece of flotsam in the pile of mass about to descend on Martinez. It is beautiful.
You get a glimpse of Demens's coverage too as he got from the line to his zone in time to have pretty decent coverage on that slot receiver, not an easy thing. Anyway you can see how the Okie uses confusion to create a lot of places where things can go wrong for the offense, and if just one does you're out of FG range and punting in a one-score game. Of course the offense was Denardless that day and couldn't capitalize.
Still, as fun as these things are to watch you see each time Mattison was attacking from different angles and by the end of last year there were only one or two blocks the offense didn't pick up. If that diminishes to zero blocks, you give up six. Conclusion: the Okie was used just as often and incrementally more effectively last year as it was in 2011. However it's meant to be a changeup package; if opponents are sitting on it you'll get knocked out of the park. As something to pull out 7 percent of plays you're forcing opposing coaches to prepare for eight different attacks of which they're likely to see one or two, or giving yourself a situational out pitch when you're in a jam.
The great coach smackdown of 2013. Sound Mind, Sound Body—an offseason camp that is set up such that college coaches can go—is too good to be true and will flame out in the near future when sixty other camps imitate it and the NCAA closes the loophole. But for now, we get things like Michigan coaches doing drills right next to Ohio State coaches that can be bothered to show up.
This is the setup for an uncomfortably hilarious moment. Mike Vrabel gets done with his drill segment early, badgers Mattison about finishing his bit when there's still time on the clock before the next rotation, and Mattison Is Not Having That. Via Sam Webb($):
“How about you coach them as hard as you can for as long as you have them?” Mattison yelled back tersely. “YOU GIVE THEM EVERYTHING YOU’VE GOT!!”
Mattison then donned his swag glasses and told Lawrence Marshall "that's why you don't go to Ohio State, Lawrence."
There's a great Greg Robinson story behind that paywall still.
Run, don't walk. Outside of paywall is a terrific article by Mike Rothstein on the basketball program's unique approach to recruiting, in which Michigan offers only after June 15th of a prospect's junior year and maintains a sedulous respect for the process of getting to know kids.
“I’ll throw this at people,” Jordan said. “‘What’s your mom’s name?’ Because there’s a curiosity of why haven’t you offered. ‘How many brothers? How many sisters? What’s your family like? Have you considered the fact that we don’t really know each other, but there is a desire for a scholarship offer?’
“So now it’s like, ‘OK.’ It’s the education.”
It does seem like the Michigan offer is now something that means something, unlike a number of other schools.
There’s another, almost unintentional, byproduct. By having prospects wait for an offer and go through myriad steps, Michigan has created more perceived value around an offer from the school. Instead of just another scholarship offer on a list, it is one the player had to work for.
“To see that they still wanted to offer me, it meant a lot after recruiting me for a year and seeing how well I developed and saw how much potential I had,” Irvin said. “That was really special to me.”
Rothstein noticed that Beilein often goes after kids who are young for their grade—Caris LeVert is a recent prominent example—and got shot down when he asked the coaches about it. So he's on to something there.
Brady Hoke problems. ESPN gives Maurice Ways a fourth star, which means the list of current commits eligible for this site's Sleeper of the Year designation reads:
- Michigan State commits
If I have to I'll open it up to kids who got just one four-star ranking, which opens the door to a whopping three guys at the moment: Ways, Chase Winovich, and Wilton Speight.
ESPN also moved Drake Harris up 25 spots to 71st; the rest of Michigan's commits had insignificant drops of a spot or two.
Sense. And sensibility. And zombies. This bowl news is trickling out so gradually it begins to remind me of the Big Ten's realignment, which was announced weekly for two months. But I think one of the priorities fans had was being able to you know, watch the Big Ten's bowl lineup and Delany has confirmed that is something on the docket:
"I think what you'll see is a truly national slate of bowls," Delany said. "I think you'll see us probably stronger on the West Coast than we've been. You'll see us as strong in Florida as we've been, but probably not as much on New Year's [Day]. I think you'll see us in Texas, and you'll see us with some games in our region, some games on the East Coast. I think it's going to be a great slate. We've made a lot of progress."
Also, the league is about to force bowls to take at least five different teams over the next six years, so no Yet Another Orlando Trip. I'm a little leery of that. The impulse behind the idea is a good one but that threatens to screw with bowl matchups.
Finally, a chorus of angels sounds from above!
"We've been trying to create a model that's more realistic," Delany said. "We'll take fewer, better tickets. If that means the payouts have to come down some, that's OK. Because it makes no sense to overpay on tickets, over-commit and find out you're really subsidizing the bowls, financing your own game."
I'm going on six years of bitching about this. No more. Freedom! (Have I told you how terrible the scholarship model is?).
Could make the West more… nahhh. Tim Beckman picks up Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt, who started six games as a true freshman for the Cowboys. Michigan won't see him unless Illinois rotates onto the schedule in 2016, but the addition of a quality quarterback could make the Illini the scariest 4-8 team in college football.
The one time when a coach really could claim to block a player's transfer for their own good, and Gundy doesn't. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ –edsbs
Just once, Illinois, you could try looking at a photograph of the guy you're hiring before doing so. Then you would not hire the people you hire. I challenge anyone to find a picture of Tim Beckmann that does not beg to be captioned "derp" or "hurrrr durrrr" or "is what how can do?"
NOPE NOPE NOPE
Okay guy. It must be brutal to write something for a newspaper in June, but uh.
Freep Guest Column: Alternate jerseys and helmets continue to impress recruits
I don't think it's working. Next time put actual fireworks in the helmets?
Gant move confirmed. Brady Hoke confirmed that Allen Gant was now at SAM, stating thusly:
"He's a rangy guy and he's got length to him," Hoke said last week. "His body has the opportunity to put weight on, the structure and the genetics of the body.
"I think that's the biggest part of it."
If he tops out at 230, think Stevie Brown rather than Jake Ryan.
We missed this, but it's a little explosion-y so let's just do it now. Sam Webb puts out a Da'Shawn Hand article about two seconds after I do a final scan through my RSS feed for the recruiting roundup. Well played.
Most of it is stuff you've heard before about Professor Needs A Raise and how the Michigan staff is his favorite staff. But while I think a version of this quote was in a video somewhere this is the first time it's in text:
"My goal is try to make a decision before December,” Hand reported. “At first I was going to stretch it out, but then after talking with my pop -- we kind of had a heart to heart -- I kind of have to make up my mind. It’s a big decision, but at the same time I kind of have a gist of knowing where I’m going, but I ain’t gonna say that.”
GO LITTLE GUY GO. RUN IN CIRCLES. YES. GO.