At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
Last time on Picture Pages we looked at a 35-yard iso on Michigan's first drive against Minnesota. A 35 yard iso means someone did something terrible on defense or your tailback did something ridiculous; Michigan was playing Minnesota so it was the former.
So Michigan scores a touchdown and gets the ball back and opens up with the same set. Minnesota again has both safeties rolled up.
On the snap the line pass blocks but the backfield executes a historical reenactment of The Battle Of Minnesota Sucks At Isos.
There's a gap in the line that Hopkins is thundering towards again and by the time it's clear Denard has the ball the three LB type substances have started moving towards the LOS:
When Hopkins hits the LOS the two guys who could hypothetically cover him are four yards from the LOS and stationary.
This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
Items of Interest
Constraint theory right here. Minnesota just got hit with a big iso and got chewed out on the sideline about it. They are hyped up to stop it, so when Michigan shows it again the LB and S suck way up and leave Hopkins open for a big gain over the top. This works not only because Minnesota overreacts to it but because of the omnipresent Denard threat posed in the shotgun. That means the Gophers are operating with essentially zero deep safeties.
This is what happens when you can force the defense to cheat. An actual opponent playing this way probably would have given up five, not 35, on the first iso, but that's enough to force them to cheat to it, whereupon bang.
This isn't unique or new. Literally every program in the country except Ohio State* tries to do this. Michigan's old-school waggle is an example. The hope with Borges is that he'll use them frequently to score lots of points instead of occasionally as part of a bler offense run by 70s thinking. Denard is a hell of a thing to try to stop without cheating, much more threatening than Michigan's four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game was in the late 90s and early aughts.
This is the stuff you get in the shotgun even when Denard is not running because the zone read demands attention at all times. Under center Denard's legs mean waggle or Incredibly Surprising QB Draw, neither of which forces safeties into the box.
We saw a bucket of constraint against the Gophers. This is in part because the Gophers are so bad they have to cheat every play in the hopes of stopping the opposition.
I think it's also in part because Borges is finding his legs in this strange environment where your quarterback is one of the most threatening rushers in the country. Michigan tried the waggle a bunch earlier this year (and in spring) and got little out of it; against the Gophers that was ditched in favor of plays that use fear of Denard's legs as a major component of their success.
Hey man, nice touch. Denard floated a nice catchable ball to Hopkins about 18 yards downfield. He could do that because there were no safeties, so I've got no problem with the throw.
Let's see if Shaw can block this. Because this is a 75 yard touchdown if a fullback isn't running it. Also Hopkins almost dropped this.
One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.
Yesterday I put up an analysis of a simple iso that cut back behind Mike Martin and picked up ten yards. In the comments Magnus mentioned he thought this must be a mistake on someone's part because when you have the DT and MLB both heading to the playside A gap your defense is no longer "gap sound"—ie does not have one guy in every place a tailback can go—and things like ten yard iso plays result.
This resulted in some discussion about how the MLB's job in the 3-3-5 is to "make the nose right", IE fill the other A gap depending on what the nose does. This is a phrase unleashed to the world by Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 DVD, and I think it's what West Virginia does with its middle linebacker. It's evidently not what Michigan is doing with Demens when he's aligned in what I've come to think of as the Gergbacker position. Demens doesn't have time to make anyone right because he's too close to the play; he picks a side of the line and goes into the guard.
Another commenter complained that I shouldn't criticize Van Bergen for getting locked out upfield on this particular play because I can't be sure what his assignment is. That's true and a frustration I often have but amongst Wisconsin's brain-melting array of second half runs there is a serendipitous iso that Michigan stops that demonstrates the trends from yesterday's post and suggests that the key guy on a cutback is indeed the backside DE.
It's first and ten on the Michigan 41 in the midst of Wisconsin's first soul-crushing ground based touchdown drive of the second half. Wisconsin comes out in the same I-form they showed on the play featured yesterday. Michigan goes with basically the same stack look as well, though they've flipped Kovacs and Avery. The backup DL (Banks, Patterson, Black) is in:
A moment after the snap we see a difference: the backside tackle is releasing downfield instead of blocking Banks out of the play. That's left to the TE. He gets slanted under:
A moment later we see that Patterson is getting playside of the center… and Demens is shooting into the same gap to take on whoever shows up. Banks is sliding down the line behind them; also note that Jibreel Black has beaten the block of the RT and is coming upfield.
At the handoff point Patterson is beating his guy and Demens is about to slam into a guard at the LOS. In doing so he halts all progress from both the G bubbled over him and the FB. Massive cutback lane would result, except Banks is right on the center's hip. Black is now through the tackle totally and converging; tailback has nowhere to go:
Wad of bodies…
…and two yards.
So. To continue the Week of Defensiveness, usually these plays are picked because they illustrate a larger trend—Kenny Demens runs at the playside guard all day and eats facemask, and I'm pretty sure the design of this defense has a backside DE assigned to an A-gap. My choice here was between criticizing Van Bergen for getting locked out so easily or Greg Robinson for putting him in a tough position. The right answer is some of both, probably.
Object lesson type objects:
- This is a slight variation on the play yesterday. Yesterday Wisconsin kept the backside T in to block Van Bergen and ended up blocking Mouton with a guard. Here the guard attempts to slide over on Patterson and the T is assigned Mouton. These seem like subtly different playcalls with the first designed to cut back and the second to go straight upfield.
- Kenny Demens really does just run to the playside A gap all game, where he enjoys a scone with the DT. Here it works, though the next play is a 12 yard Down G run, the play after a four yard power play, and the play after that a 23-yard Down G touchdown.
- So that means your options on the cutback are backside DE or no one. Here Banks gets a relatively easy task since the guy lined up over him heads downfield and he can just slide along the line; Van Bergen had that guy blocking him. Still, the results were not so good and were repeated on a number of other runs.
- I'm pretty sure this is a bad idea. And not just on general principles! Having the backside DE clean up behind the NT seems like a thing that would work in the 4-3 where the backside DE is actually a DT inside of the tackle. In this scheme he releases downfield or he's got what seems like easy work to seal out a guy who's supposed to be an A-gap player.
- How about Jibreel Black beating a block and being useful on a run play? Woo progress!
So… Greg Robinson doesn't know how to run a 3-3-5. For whatever reason, Michigan is running a 3-3-5. This results in situations like this first quarter run for the Badgers that echoes several themes from the This Is Not A Stack post: by lining up his MLB just behind his nose tackle he dooms that guy to take one step to the playside, whereupon he is eaten by a guard who has no one lined up over him. Even if Michigan successfully plugs that hole they are crazy vulnerable to cutbacks and counters.
It's second and three on Wisconsin's second drive of the day. they come out in an I-form with twins to the field side. Michigan aligns in its stack formation with Jordan Kovacs—supposedly the bandit—aligned to the strong side of the formation, with Cam Gordon hovering over the wide receiver stack to the outside:
Wisconsin's going to run a simple iso play that's designed to go off the right side of the line. You can see in shot two Demens's alignment just three yards off the LOS:
Martin's getting momentarily doubled in the shot below but the G peels off quickly to block the rolled-up Demens. On the backside Ryan Van Bergen has gotten kicked out and Mouton is staring down a free release from the backside G:
Demens is swallowed. I think the idea here is to force Wisconsin to come off their double of Martin quickly, allowing him to run free and eat people, but don't quote me on that. Ezeh is attacking the FB, and there's nothing on the frontside:
Because Martin has slanted past the center and Van Bergen has gotten kicked out there's a big cutback lane. Mouton is in a bad situation, essentially standing still as a guard comes out on him. Demens is getting blocked; the OG has his arm around his back. This never gets called holding but he's being held:
Mouton gets blasted three yards downfield and gives up the inside. Courtney Avery was filling from his overhang spot and could have maybe held this under three yards but once Mouton gets hit in that position the RB cut past him and it's up to Demens and/or Martin to spin of blocks and close it down.
They can't. Vinopal is forced to tackle ten yards downfield.
Object lesson type objects:
- Theory as to the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Demens threatens to shoot into the backfield immediately on plays like this, which seriously reduces the time Wisconsin guards have to double Mike Martin. This allows Martin to use his quickness to slant under the center, get to the playside, and close off holes.
- Problem with the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Once you're engaged with an OL he is going to grab you and delay you and let go before he gets a flag, so you can attempt to get off him and close down the massive cutback hole you've opened up by shooting both your MLB and NT to the playside but you're probably not going to make it.
- Second problem with the deployment. I imagine it has something to do with opponents' consistent ability to hit balls over the linebackers and in front of the safeties; having your linebackers five yards off the LOS gives them more time to reduce throwing windows. I've charted basically all of Tolzein's throws and three or four could have been shut down if the linebackers had been a yard or three deeper.
- WTF Van Bergen? When Michigan is aligned in this fashion the overhang guy—in this case Courtney Avery—is in great position to shut down anything that bounces all the way outside to the short side. With both Demens and Martin headed playside RVB should be flowing down the line, relying on Kovacs to bounce anything that gets behind him and Avery to clean up. Instead he gets upfield and seals himself, basically, leaving Mouton in acres of space with a guard bubbled over him.
- Mouton could do better here, too. It's never good when you're taking on an OL three yards downfield and that OL is moving while you're not.
Ironically, I think this MLB deployment would have worked out okay for Ezeh, who's a big guy with some pop but terribly indecisive. Here there's not much of a decision. Line goes one way, you pound the playside guard ASAP. It seems like a waste for Demens, who has displayed good read and react skills in his brief career as a starter.
I was looking for an adjustment here where Michigan would defense something like this by not having Demens right at the LOS but haven't found it yet. I've seen a lot of small guys getting battered and crappy pursuit angles. I'm not sure if my haziness on what the appropriate play is is my fault or the defense's fault; it seems like Michigan players are making basic errors but it could be a shifting scheme in which a guy like JB Fitzgerald's attempt to defeat a downblock sees him go from the LOS at the snap to six yards off the LOS outside the hashmarks.
More than anything this seems like another example where the scheme is either incoherent or the players don't know what they're doing. Van Bergen getting upfield is the killer here and makes no sense given the alignment of the D.
Part of an erratic series. Check the comments for potential corrections from gsimmons and others who are actual coaches.
Notre Dame didn't have a ton of success running the ball against Michigan, but their performance against Michigan State—2.0 YPC for the running backs—indicates they suck and that any amount of success is disturbing.
Notre Dame's run strategy last Saturday was to double the hell out of the defensive tackles and exploit Michigan's crappy linebacking. Time and again ND would leave Michigan linebackers totally unblocked and still pick up plenty of yards; they did this mostly by crushing Johnny Thompson with their fullback. An example follows.
It's second an nine on ND's first drive of the third quarter; they come out in an offset I and Michigan has their base set on the field.
The play is pure caveman: an iso up the gut. Will Johnson is doubled; this one of the rare times that Taylor doesn't get the double himself. Johnson's holds up decently on the initial play and Jamison isn't upfield so the hole Thompson has to deal with is manageable.
Thompson meets the fullback and makes a critical mistake: he lets the FB get outside of him, losing leverage on the ball and opening up a hole outside. There's no one outside of him: he's the outside linebacker.
Meanwhile, Johnson has slipped and is going to the ground; Ezeh has to watch a cutback lane opened up and is hesitant; he still needs to read the RB's cut faster than he does. (It wouldn't have mattered much because of Thompson's failure to get to the outside shoulder of his blocker.)
Thompson is now getting shoved backwards by the FB, and Johnson is finished getting wiped out. Note that Taylor has beaten his blocker and slid down the line; if Thompson had done his job and funneled the tailback inside there's a good chance he's making a tackle right now.
Thompson did not do his job and is now three yards downfield; Hughes takes it up into a sizable hole, gaining seven. Notre Dame would run the exact same play on second and three, gaining thirteen as Thompson repeats the performance encapsulated here.
This play highlighted a number of themes from the day: Taylor crushed single blocking whenever Notre Dame provided it, which was rarely. Johnson did okay against a wide array of double teams but not great. Thompson was owned by the fullback, and Ezeh was hesitant.