I GET IT
I like Fitzgerald Toussaint. Think the kid has a bright future if his various limbs stay functional. Enjoy his running style. Get emails from time to time declaring "I don't know what you see in this kid." Sit and ponder these emails. Shake fist. Decide to write post about it. Fitzgerald. Toussaint.
So here's a reason I like Fitzgerald Toussaint: I think his vision and his shake are plus pitches, to borrow from another sport. Here's an example. It's first and ten on the SDSU 16 late in the fourth quarter with Michigan driving to clinch the game. On the next play Vincent Smith will jackrabbit his way into the endzone, but to set that up Michigan's going to Toussaint.
If this looks familiar, it should. This was one of the staple formations of the Rodriguez years. Here's Tate running it in the 2009 ND game:
Rodriguez would often send the TE backside to block the otherwise unblocked EMLOS as a counter to scrape exchanges. TE kicks out the guy coming down the line; WLB flies out to contain Robinson on the zone read, and viola:
[one of many examples that have been DMCAed by Thought Equity Motion.]
Michigan did this on the previous play. It was the first time they'd run it all game and it worked like a charm, opening up a huge lane for Toussaint to hit. He did so for eleven yards. When Michigan goes back to the well a second time things will be different.
SDSU's 3-3-5 was less dynamic than advertised. Instead of blitzing like mad from everywhere to mimic different fronts, it was mostly content to line up as very small 3-4s and 4-3s and run twist stunts from them. On this play they actually line up in the stack, which was rare.
On the snap the TE pulls backside as the mesh approaches.
Robinson sees the OLB headed upfield at him and hands off:
The problem is Koger is kicking out the QB contain guy:
This is very similar to problems Michigan had running this play against Illinois last year. When the scraper is hugging the backs of the OL TEs often miss him and head to the obvious guy on the outside. Once your pulling TE whacks the contain guy you've given up the advantage gained by optioning him off and are back to—horror—regular old 3.9 YPC running. When this happened against the Illini, Michigan gained a yard.
Since Huyge has released downfield there is an unblocked EMLOS tasked with the tailback on a play that usually tries to go backside. (This is a zone, but it is a zone with an idea of where it's going to end up.) Omameh is actually doing a good job on his guy since the play design nominally expects the ball to go behind him. Unfortunately, that means there's nowhere to go further playside. There is no room.
So Toussaint makes some. In the above frame you can see he's evaluated his situation and is about to take a critical step. This is what he does with it:
That's weird. It's easier to see on the video, but Toussaint takes this jab step outside and then bursts back upfield.
This little jab step… what is it? He slows for a half-beat and sticks that leg out as if he's going to veer outside, then shifts direction and heads away from the scraper. Is it just instinct, or is it a deliberate attempt to set up his block? Does Toussaint even know? This happened in a blink. This may be one of those things even the person doing it can't explain.
The result is most apparent on the guy Omameh is blocking:
In frame one the NT has already committed his momentum to the other side of Omameh's block because of the jab step; in frame two he's kindly GTFOed, giving Toussaint a lane as Schofield and Molk donkey a linebacker who blitzed into them. Toussaint set this up with the step, which convinced the NT he needed to fight to the other side of Omameh without slowing him down enough for the unblocked scraper to catch him.
Result: Toussaint runs up his OL's backs for nine yards.
Watch it twice. Watch the step, and then focus on Omameh and the guy he's blocking. See that yank that suddenly repositions the defender? That's the NT moving himself to where he thinks he needs to be.
Will this be consistent from Toussaint? This is a play SDSU RPSed that Toussaint made into nine yards almost by himself with that jab step. Is that a fair representation of his vision and his ability to make split-second decisions that get him lanes other guys don't, or was it getting lucky? I don't know, but I do know that the last couple weeks I've had occasion to use "lovely" more than once to describe a Toussaint run. Early returns are "not lucky."
Back to the well. Yeah, this wrinkle was a Rodriguez staple. It worked like you draw it up the first time. This time it worked like you don't draw it up; Smith would come in and run it a third time for a touchdown, but he'd have to weave his way through defenders to do so. I'm not sure whether running it three times in a row was a good idea—it worked but clearly SDSU adjusted to it. Against better run defenses this might end up going splat. To be fair, the third one was a second and one from the seven.
Coaching points with coach Rod. In the Illinois game Michigan adjusted to the Illinois adjustment by the end of the game, coaching that pulling TE to ID the scraper hiding behind the line and blocking him into the endzone for a touchdown. It'll be interesting to see whether Michigan makes that adjustment if necessary in future games.
Further wrinkles. So there was this, which was brought out right at the end of the game, and the speed option you've heard and read so much about, a speed option that seemed to use outside zone "basketball on grass" blocking. That's an encouraging echo of the Rodriguez ground game, when most games of import saw new features being deployed.
This pair of plays is striking only in comparison to the defense. They're both inside zone runs Michigan gets about a yard on, but one's a third and goal from the one so that's all you can get from there. The first is in the second overtime; Michigan has just executed a throwback wheel of its own for a first down at the eleven. They come out in a three-wide.
Illinois does their usual bit with a linebacker over a slot receiver, but this time he's going to walk down and blitz:
Michigan's running an inside zone. This can go anywhere but on this play the hole opens up behind everything as Illinois is slanting away from their blitz. By the mesh point something odd is happening:
The backside defensive end is headed directly upfield. Most of the time the DE will either sit and contain, shuffle down the LOS, or roar down it. Here he's getting way upfield. Two reasons for this, I think: 1) he really really has to contain because of the corner blitz and must not let the QB outside of him, and 2) by doing this he guarantees a handoff.
Meanwhile, Webb's pulling to the backside of the play to get a block on whoever the cutback guy is for Illinois. Because of the switch this is not the DE but the slot LB. Webb does not realize this:
[Update: commenters point out this is actually Koger, which it is. Apologies to Webb.]
Oops. With Webb blocking the guy who the zone read is supposed to option off Michigan's left a free hitter on the backside. He tracks…
Michigan gets two yards and eventually has to resort to a Houdini escape when Terry Hawthorne jumps a third and eight slant. The deflection miraculously bounces to Hemingway.
The second play is Michigan's second to last play of the game. It's third and goal from the one. On first down an inside zone run was stuffed when Schilling got slanted under. On second down a QB lead draw was stuffed when Forcier went airborne unnecessarily. On third down Michigan comes out in a three-wide package. From the one.
Before the snap the corner walks down again:
Illinois runs the same curve, shooting the DE directly upfield after several plays where he was tearing downhill at the RB; he made the tackle on first and goal. Webb, however, is taking a much different angle:
Huyge and Omameh are blocking downfield but not that well. Spence chucks Omameh to the ground and shows up in the hole; Webb is still headed for the slot LB:
Shaw hits it directly upfield in this useless screenshot and does get the ball over the plane, but here's Tate celebrating:
So… that's an adjustment to an Illinois adjustment. After getting fooled by this the one(!) time it came out earlier, Michigan goes to the sideline for mere moments—the offense has to come right back out. In these moments someone grabs Webb and says "if the DE goes straight upfield your assignment is the linebacker crashing in from the slot." Then Michigan seems to invite that very play by coming out in a three-wide formation on third and goal from the one. They want that DE to erase himself and for a LB to get singled up on the 260 pound Webb. His block provides the extra momentum that barely gets Shaw over the plane.
The reason I'm so down on the defense and high on the offense is that these things seem to happen on one side of the ball but not another. It should be clear that no one's on the keeper when Scheelhaase takes it for big yardage, but then he does it again on the exact same play. It should be clear that something's not right in the way you're defending the option but nothing really changes. Etc. Michigan's offense adapts in ways the defense doesn't, and I don't think it's youth when the players who can't contain a keeper are Roh and Mouton.
Chitownblue asked about an RPS plus on the final play of the game, but that's an example of what I'm talking about. Illinois runs the same play they got their earlier conversion on and Michigan runs the same defense. You've got a rub route against man coverage and a seven-man protection you're blitzing into. If Illinois had gotten to pick Michigan's defense on that final play, they would have picked a man-zero all out blitz. They got it, but Jonas Mouton saved the day by making a great play. If he gets cut or just blocked Scheelhaase rolls away from Roh and has a receiver wide open for a score.
It is in these ways that Michigan's defense is different from its offense.
Bonus: you know that corner who jumped the slant in the second OT and should have had Michigan in fourth and long but for some Notre Dame-level BS? Michigan ran a circle route (a fake slant to an out) on the two point conversion and got Hemingway wide open.
Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.
You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!
So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:
This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.
At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:
Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?
Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)
The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:
The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:
Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:
Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.
Here's the video:
I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.
The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:
At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:
At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:
This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:
MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:
There are four WVU guys in the area:
And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:
On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.
- It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
- I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
- Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
- Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
- Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
- I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.
In the offensive UFR I mentioned State's Denard containment strategy: they sat a defensive end out on the zone read and forced gives, causing Michigan to go away from the read in the second half. But in the first half they had some success with their tailbacks. Also scrape exchange link.
The setup: Michigan is on its first drive of the day. It's second and two near the 50. They come out in a trips formation:
They're going to run a zone read but here they'll do something a little different. Instead of looking to seal a guy they'll double team both defensive tackles and blast them back. The handoff:
Denard sees the DE keeping contain and hands it off.
As Smith nears the line the doubles start to take effect. Both DTs are getting shoved yards downfield:
Both linebackers suck up into the hole in the interior; Smith can bounce it out either way. He goes to the backside, where the containing defensive end cannot get back in time to tackle. The doubles have driven the DTs back so far that the linebackers cannot get outside:
By the time the backside DT does grab smith he's five yards past the LOS:
…and ends up with eight.
- In this trips formation you have a pretty good idea who the contain guy is. With the linebackers shaded to the receiver-heavy side of the field asking the WLB to scrape is a somewhat taller task. By alignment you're likely to read the DE unless a safety walks down.
- A DE containing the zone read means cutbacks are more viable; this play is designed to cut back. Michigan showed little interest in blocking the linebackers on this play because they assumed doubling the DTs would open up two large holes. One is between Lewan and the doubled DT on the frontside, the other between the two DTs. Linebackers have to fill those holes, leaving Michigan room on the backside of the play to pick up a nice chunk of yards since the only person covering the cutback lane is a otherwise-occupied defensive end. Here the driving double-team on the backside DE effectively blocks both linebackers on the cutback.
- MSU adjusted to this and blew it up a few times. Later in the game MSU would slant that backside DT around the double and blitz linebackers into the A gaps, which stuffed Michigan on a couple of third and shorts. I didn't clip any of those but I did clip this Shaw run on which MSU runs the same blitz and gets burned:
- MSU was probably okay with this. They bled a lot of yards early in the game and coulda/shoulda given up a lot of early points but the long drives gave them time to adjust. Michigan had to go away from this later, but not before they saw a couple drives end when they went to the well one too many times with the 5'6" Smith.
This is just pure aaargh right here, but how about a preview of why the Michigan defense was so terrible against UMass?
It's first and ten on the Michigan 35 on what will be UMass's second touchdown drive. UMass comes out in an ace set with two tight ends to the short side of the field:
Michigan is in a 3-3-5, basically, but the twins formation and the double TEs distort it. Roh's off the field momentarily, replaced by JB Fitzgerald. UMass is going to run it up the gut:
There's no pull on this so it's an inside zone. There's nowhere to go with RVB shoving his guy into the backfield, Kovacs beating the second TE to the inside, and Leach blitzing unmolested off the weak side. Michigan has basically killed this play as the RB has no choice but to head outside, where…
…Mouton is totally unblocked. You can also see Kovacs poking his head through at the top of the line and Van Bergen getting his shove on.
Anway, Mouton: with no one outside of him because of the alignment he's the force defender who must get the tailback inside of him, where Leach and a scraping Ezeh can deal with the tailback if he cuts back inside tackle. (For some reason, this is "keeping leverage on the football.") And he's playing against a I-AA tailback. So he runs up real fast…
…lets the tailback outside of him…
…and personally turns zero yards…
Seriously, there's nothing else here except Mouton making an enormous mistake. The good news is that if they fix that stuff the scheme of the defense is fine. It's not like they're asking the players to do anything particularly difficult or novel: make tackle. If cannot make tackle, funnel RB to help. Do not let RB outside of you. This has nothing to do with a shift to a 3-3-5. Look, here's Mouton doing the pretty much the same thing last year, albeit against a blocker:
That's the bad news: if these linebackers have been starting for three years and are still making these mistakes, why would they stop now? GERG linebacker fairy theory is about it and that took a major hit against UMass.
Maybe it was just an off day, one on which the linebackers took it easy and reverted to old, bad habits. Yeah. That, too, is the ticket.
I mentioned this earlier in one of the two instances where I brought up Chris Brown's explanation of the differences between inside and outside zone runs. Here's a play featuring the tell a couple coaches suggested I look for when I was complaining about the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.
Michigan's in a shotgun with trips to the right. Two things to note here are the two deep Iowa safeties, and the shift of the Iowa linebackers outside. Angerer, the MLB, is lined up over Odoms, sort of:
Also, Greece has destroyed Latvia in World Cup qualifying.
The thing to note in the above frame is the position of Forcier relative to Minor. Forcier is a yard or so in front of his tailback. For comparison, here's a play against Indiana that would end up a standard zone stretch:
Forcier is a yard behind the tailback. This allows the RB to come across him at speed and get to the frontside creases the stretch looks to exploit.
Back in the Iowa game, the positioning of Forcier allows Minor to take a handoff already headed upfield, which was one of the adjustments that Penn State struggled with so badly last year. Also note a great oddity:
Michigan is blocking the backside defensive end! Why are they doing this? Well, if you don't block him and he crashes down and you're running a play that's anything short of a stretch play that's running away from him there's a good chance he makes a thumping tackle in the backfield. Michigan did this a lot against Iowa because Brandon Minor's RAGE is most effective when he's heading straight upfield.
Another item to note: at the moment of the handoff, Forcier is staring at the MLB over Odoms, judging whether or not he's coming up to contain.
He isn't. And one reason for that may be that this looks like play action. Odoms isn't running a bubble. The backside defensive end is getting blocked. In the past, this has always been a pass, or an attempted one. So Angerer gets a pass drop. By our next frame he'll be hanging out at the first down line, six yards back from the frame above:
You'll note that Minor is running right next to Forcier; with five guys in the box and no support for a hypothetical bounce, Minor could have made this same run. Iowa's decision to leave two deep safeties back makes it really hard for them to stop Michigan's ground game, though it did prevent Michigan from breaking anything long: their longest run in Kinnick was twelve yards.
At the end of the play Forcier has near first down yardage after having slid to the ground untouched. The Iowa defender does give him his best Cato June, though:
Here's the glorious you-tube-o-vision, in which you can see that the receivers' half-hearted routes. That indicates this was a called run play, not an improvisation, in case you're wondering if this was play action gone awry (awright?):
- Zone runs have a bit of a tell. If your depth perception and processing is quick enough and you see the QB step forward you've got a good idea that it's not a stretch. If he stays back you've got a good idea it is. This is probably not a huge deal since the QB takes up his final position moments before the snap, preventing—or at least hindering—the ability for defenses to key on it. It's a lot to process that when you're trying to time the snap and figuring out your assignments and whatnot. It is there.
- But you, the viewer, have a great view of it. TV angles are great for picking this out, though, and it's simple enough that you can try to pick it out real-time.
- RAGE. Michigan went to a lot of interior, non-stretch runs with Minor and blocked the backside DE. This helped out on a variety of plays and should hypothetically make Forcier's job on the reads easier because the guy he's reading is a lot further away and his motion has to be less subtle if he's got contain. This also brings in some elements of Paul Johnson's flexbone, too. Johnson loves to leave a guy unblocked for much of the game, then crush him unexpectedly for a big play.
- Michigan's mixing up its routes on certain keeper plays. I'm betting that if Odoms ran a bubble route on this play that was a key for one of the linebackers to shoot up for contain against Forcier and for one of the safeties to crash down on the bubble. By just running its receivers downfield, Michigan got Iowa to go into pass drops and opened up tons of space for Forcier.
- Iowa loves them some two-deep safeties. The zone read brings in the quarterback as another runner and has essentially forced its opponents to ditch the two-deep look. In the Rodriguez coaching videos kicking around the web, the implicit assumption is that opponents will usually have a single deep safety because of the threat of the keeper. Iowa defies that, and it worked for them, albeit barely. Michigan racked up almost 200 yards on the ground without its starting center and nominal starting tailback despite seeing five drives end on turnovers. Michigan had similar success against Notre Dame last year when Corwin Brown decided to keep two deep safeties. Once Michigan emerges from its freshman quarterback purgatory I wonder if Iowa will be able to get away with this sort of thing.