Mason NEEDS this, Pistons, after all you've put him through
Extremely tentative starters/base alignment
Michigan's spring game happened. As per usual, there were things to generate text about, e.g. Gardner going 2/8 with two interceptions was tailor-made for lazy columnists hoping to get some play from a false QB controversy. Actual information-like-substance is somewhat less available, and even the things that are trackable are not to be trusted.
But this is Spring(!), when we take the selective, incomplete microcosm that they deign to show us and extrapolate from it the meaning of the universe. So I decided to go one step further, choosing a single play to make sweeping judgments about Michigan's new offense, the 2014 defense, and the future of human civilization that hangs in the balance.
The screencap above was from the first play that was broadcast, following Gardner's interception, a play with Morris and the twos, and a run with the 3rd stringers. Let's pick it apart.
Offense: Houma lined up as a U-back and then motioned into an offset fullback or H-back position on the strongside, strongly suggesting a run to that side. They instead ran a quick curl to Funchess. The line pass-blocked, with just Deveon Smith staying in to help them.
Defense: The good ol' 4-3 under. When the U-back went in motion, Clark spread out a bit to give him better leverage for a supposed one-on-one battle with the RT—if Houma hadn't gone in motion Clark was going to be responsible for him. The play is zone blitz; Ryan is coming, Wilson comes down to a robber zone, and Clark dropped into a zone on the backside. The corners and FS are playing a Cover 3. This is "aggressive" defense only because the DL's gaps are not in front of them, and there's five guys coming. The frontside "C" gap will have Jarrod Wilson, and all other gaps are covered. Or should be…
What happened: You'll note that Glasgow and Ryan ended up in the same "A" gap. That wasn't by design; Jack Miller was looking for the 3-tech or a WLB blitz, even after it was clear Godin was stunting and Bolden wasn't coming. With the OL pass-blocking, Glasgow abandoned his gap and ran unblocked to the quarterback.
This means Miller was right where Glasgow was supposed to go, but blocking nobody. Since that is Glasgow it was enough time to get a quick pass off, but if that was Mike Martin (or Willie Henry) it would have been a spectacular sack. Cole handled Beyer, and Bosch actually got a good sideways kick at Ryan that knocked him into Glasgow, giving Garner just enough time to get rid of the football. Since the CBs were in cov 3, Funchess was open underneath.
Also: RJS was playing SAM right, setting up to take on a fullback block in case of a run, then attacking when Houma didn't seem interested in contact. De'Veon Smith was set up to block him, but the play was over before we got to see how that went.
Offensive line: As expected, just as frustrating as it was last year. Miller didn't adjust to what was in front of him and that gave the nose tackle (of all people) a clear path to the quarterback despite good blocks. This play is a good example of how a good offensive line's communication and experience could bail them out against weird things, and vice versa. The more snaps Miller and Bosch see together, the better they'll be able to wordlessly shift their pass blocking assignments when they see a blitz is coming at the gap between them.
Routes: The frontside was a triangle with Canteen squatting between zones, Heitzman running the seam, and Houma leaking into the flat. The backside curl was an outlet pass. The frontside guys ran good routes—notice how Houma broke a bit more to the sideline when he saw Raymon Taylor had his zone. That widened Taylor and provided a spot between his zone and Wilson's for Canteen to settle into. Funchess's route was an outlet
How'd they get the 1st down: Experienced senior quarterback Devin Gardner recognized he needed to get the ball off, saw his outlet open underneath, and got it to Funchess with time to turn; big Funchess versus a cornerback means there's gonna be YAC.
How Borges is this? If that personnel seems not very different than what Michigan did a lot of last year, that's because it isn't a very big departure from it. Having guys like Houma and Heitzman in there as opposed to NORFLEET!, or just about any receiver, was a constant complaint with Borges. It's more defendable given that Darboh (and Drake Harris) were unavailable, so after Chesson you're getting into the Jones/Dukes/York/Dever receivers who aren't any more of a matchup problem than the catchy-blocky dudes.
This Ace 2TE thing was the base formation. Often both TEs would have their hands down to make a truly balanced formation. Heitzman and A.J. Williams traded off first team duties, and your second-team catchy-runny-blocky guys were Khalid Hill at Y-tight end and Joe Kerridge at U-back. Almost every running play was zone blocked. If Nussmeier's plan is to go back to his Washington offense it wasn't evident here; this was the same offense Bama ran in its bowl game (my UFR of that).
A run look to a side with Heitzman/Cole/Bosch is going to be even less scary than it was last year with at least Lewan in there, but I was still encouraged by the show. For one, these guys are all doing something their skill set suggests they should, with the exceptions of Heitzman's unknown quality as a receiver and De'Veon Smith's as a blocker. And for once they decided to do something catchy-blocky with Houma. Putting him in motion effectively changed his matchup from the WDE to the SAM, which isn't much of a change against Michigan's 4-3, but could be a mismatch if the SAM, as is often the case these days, was more of a safety-like object. And it also changed a balanced Ace formation into an offset I-form, which screams a run in that direction.
DOOM DOOM DOOM
it gets better
This whole Center situation has put me in a funk [ed: I see what you did there] and all I can see in the future is doom and gloom. Aren't we going to be in the exact same position next year? I was wondering if you could address on your site the future prospects of this position going forward. Miller is not cutting it at the moment (or at least that's the popular opinion). But is this a problem that he's still too young and needs to learn? Or is it that he's just too undersized for the position? I've heard zilch about the other Centers on the roster, Burzynski and Kugler. So what is to happen next year? Should I just blindfold myself and box my ears for the next year or two?
Sometimes guys just have it, and sometimes they get it eventually, and sometimes they never do. David Molk had no problem popping into a starting lineup as a redshirt freshman and being good immediately. Miller's been done few favors by Michigan's renewed emphasis on the stretch after barely running in the last two years and should become more consistent as he acquires experience with it, but Glasgow seems to be making fewer mistakes than he did at the same level of experience.
The good news is that this year and last should be the nadir for options on the Michigan line. Last year, Miller was literally the only scholarship option other than true freshmen Michigan could turn to if they wanted to make a switch. This year they're in a similar situation except the (formerly) backup option is the oft-injured Chris Bryant; Blake Bars is also an option but looked far from ready this fall.
Next year it's a whole different story. Michigan loses their two tackles and must find a left tackle from Magnuson or Braden; right tackle will be a battle between one of those two guys and any of a fleet of 6'5" guys who can play both tackle and guard. On the interior they'll suddenly be spoilt for choice with count-'em nine options give or take a guy who might be sucked out to tackle. That is worlds away from what Michigan's got now.
They will be young. Michigan will have no seniors on next year's offensive line save Burzynski. They should be able to paper over some concerns with depth in their options.
Wither Washington against spread to run?
In light of our defensive approach to use Black/Wormley as nominal DTs against passing spreads like ND and Akron, should we be concerned against the Buckeyes? Watching how they call their plays at the line, I would think Urban would have Hyde pound it up the middle anytime we showed that alignment. Do you see this meaning we will see more Washington than we would typically against a spread team? Or is sacrificing some beef in the middle with Black worth the lateral speed we gain against their skill players?
The challenge posed by OSU is dealing with not only lateral speed from Miller and their little slot buggers but holding up against Carlos Hyde, who's more manball than any back Michigan has at its disposal. If the defensive line can't hold up against OSU double teams… well, you saw the Northwestern game. It's not pretty for a defense.
I'll be shocked if Michigan has a nickel package on the field against Ohio State on anything other than third and long. Washington is going to a be a key piece against all the spread-to-run teams on the docket, and there are plenty: OSU, Northwestern, and Nebraska plus certain packages Indiana might run with Tre Roberson. With the rest of the schedule filled out by PSU, MSU, and Iowa, we've seen the last of games where Washington is largely a spectator as opponents fling the ball about willy-nilly.
Why bother returning punts anyway?
this massively blocked punt was the difference in NW-OSU (via Eleven Warriors)
This question was prompted by watching Michigan try (and fail) to set up a return when Minnesota was punting from inside their 10 yard line today.
Why not always go for the block? How is running 20 yards backwards, then trying to find and block someone better than making someone block you in their own backfield? Best case, you block the punt; worst case, coverage team suffers from having to defend against punt block before focusing on coverage. If the point of setting up a punt return is to keep would-be tacklers away from the returner, why not make those would-be tacklers deal with would-be punt blockers 40+ yards away from where the punt lands? I really just don’t get it.
Going for a block is a high variance strategy that rarely brings any reward at all and often results in flags for hitting the punter; used too consistently it's asking to eat fake punts more often than you actually get to the punter. So you've got to set up returns at least some of the time: fourth and five or less, any punt safe situation, times when you don't care to risk roughing the punter because you're up, and enough other times to keep teams from planning a fake punt you'll get strafed by.
Meanwhile, with modern punting formations the only guys who have to dedicate themselves full time to blocking you are the three gentlemen in the shield. For the other seven players, a momentary delay on a guy at the line is good enough. If you're sending guys after the punter all the time that's not going to change the behavior of the punting team enough to help you on returns.
The only thing that will do that is blocking enough punts to force guys back into NFL-style punting, and dozens of coaches working over the course of a decade haven't been able to make shield punting seem more vulnerable than the NFL stuff. I'm with you somewhat, in that so few punts get returned effectively these days that you should slant your prep towards blocking them and go after punters more often* but never bothering with setting up a return is too far in the other direction.
*[especially since it's relatively easy to not get a roughing the kicker call: just avoid the guy's plant foot.]
LIKE "THE FLY" EXCEPT GOOD
Hello Brian, Brian's Hair, Ace, Seth and Heiko,
I was watching the network broadcast of the game yesterday and near the end, right around Countess' interception, the broadcast cut to a shot of Jon Falk preparing to open the mail bin that held the Jug. Taylor Lewan was standing next to the bin and I believe one of the announcers called him "Jake Lewan."
Alas, it was a misstatement. But could you imagine if this player existed? Huge. Crazy. Two-way. He pancake blocks linebackers and hurls chipping running backs to the ground. He both protects QBs and turns them into small smears on the ground. I would love to see a .gif of this being in action (destroying the skyline of Columbus Godzilla-style, consuming raw sides of beef lobbed at it by an approving Coach Mattison, charging into the interview room and ripping Heiko's head off after he asks Borges about bubble screens etc. ). I would love to see the Mathlete whip up some sophisticated simulation in R or Stata to project this mythical player's stats. How many stars would he have gotten on the recruiting trail? (six?) What would his fake forty time be? Could he eat more than Charlie Weiss? What sort of tattoos would he have? What pet would he own? The possibilities are both endless and fascinating.
Just thought I'd mention it.
The Mathlete started simulating this but desisted when he started noticing small glitches in reality. He swears that carbonation of beverages was rare until he started working on your question, Patrick. The initial results are a little rough, but your answers:
- COULD YOU IMAGINE IF THIS PLAYER EXISTED? No longer do I imagine or dream, as the act of doing so now brings things into reality. While I could use this for good, eventually the wrong thing would be thought about and Michigan would have two wins over Ohio State since OH GOD I DID IT DO YOU SEE PATRICK, DO YOU SEE?
- HOW MANY STARS WOULD JAKE LEWAN HAVE. Blue. Div by zero.
- WHAT WOULD HIS FAKE 40 TIME BE? Zero point two seconds, to account for human stopwatch vagaries. This would be real, and thus break the concepts of fake 40 times and reality.
- COULD HE EAT MORE THAN CHARLIE WEIS(S)? If you are referring to the temporary head of the Kansas Jayhawks, he's had bariatric surgery so most nine-year-olds could do this. If you are referring to some random dude who has to keep correcting everyone who lols at him about decided schematic advantage, yes. This is a large man who is physically active. Charlie Weiss lifts a little bit but cannot compare.
- WHAT SORT OF TATTOOS WOULD HE HAVE? Animated ones depicting the rise and fall of Atlantis, both of which were his doing.
- WHAT PET WOULD HE OWN? His Excellency The Most Exalted Velocironald The Third The Fourth The Second, Jr.
I may have accidentally typed "Christ Bryant" when attempting to tag this post.
Per all of everyone on twitter but here's Tim because we go back:
Brady Hoke confirms Chris Bryant and Graham Glasgow are the LG and C, respectively.
That was couched in "as of today"-type rhetoric, but you can stop with the rumblings and bumblings now. It's all but official that Michigan's going to debut Chris Bryant on Saturday. Heiko mentions that Hoke also brought up Kyle Bosch and Joey Burzynski as guys "in the mix," along with Miller.
FWIW, I'd heard that Michigan was going to start Bryant against UConn but for a shoulder injury that week in practice. Parsing out how much confidence this gives you about Bryant's ability versus how much terror it gives you about Bryant's ability to remain on the field is left as an exercise to the reader.
BONUS. HEY YOU I REMEMBER YOU
Hoke said Jake Ryan has been doing some full contact work "but we're smart with it," in term of letting him do too much.
No return date set, so not this week. Indiana still seems reasonable.
Molk/Definitely Not Molk [Heiko]
We waited to pass judgment on this offensive line until they weren't freshmen or true freshmen. We waited for the end of spring and and the end of fall and until we saw them play actual football, and do so against actual NFL-bound defensive linemen. We waited after Akron because everybody was getting a mulligan. We waited until after the UConn game was UFR'd. While nobody among the struggling is so old that their careers are discountable, the evidence is clear that Michigan, so far, hasn't had five guys who can credibly block at a collegiate level.
So…depth chart today:
LT: Brian Cook—turned down NFL to write about college
LG: Ace Anbender—Good find, should be multi-year starter, moonlighted at first as a…
C: Coach Brown—Recipient of much internet scorn lately. A good sport about it.
RG: Blue in South Bend—Top young prospect, struggles with moderation.
RT: Seth Fisher—Been here forever, appreciated but consensus is he's not a star like Brian
|First rule of position group panic: anyone on the depth chart with a plausible excuse for not playing yet is a god. [Upchurch]|
And the question:
The OL complaints have had a few weeks now to percolate through reality and drip a little possibility of personnel changes into our cups. How do we feel about this? How much improvement would you expect out of an assumed Bryant->LG, Glasgow->Center, Miller->Bench plan, and what's the catch? Any other moves you'd consider?
Brian: There are two catches with the proposed Bryant insertion:
Bryant is liable to catch on fire at any moment. He's injury-prone. This is often an overblown thing better attributable to bad luck than anything else, but with very large offensive linemen it's a real thing, especially ones coming off a leg injury who end up getting their knee drained just before the season.
A position switch for Glagsow may limit his effectiveness. Can he snap? Can he get the line calls right? Will he have the requisite agility? That move seems like a recipe for more of the same when it comes to mental errors unless Glasgow is even more of a player than I think he is after four games.
Those issues are not enough to keep Miller on the field after consecutive rough outings against low-level competition against both pass and run. If they're going to continue with the stretch, the center is probably the single most important guy on your OL and Miller is busting too often both mentally and physically not to attempt a change. How effective your stretch is going to be when Chris Bryant is trying to move laterally remains unknown. Add that to the pile of issues, I guess. Here:
Does a Bryant/Kalis guard pairing throw away your offseason prep? Michigan wants to run the stretch for some reason. Their guards don't seem like good fits. Can you run inside zone now? Power?
I feel not good about midseason switches; I still feel that there will be improvement; there is no other move to consider except prepping Bosch or Kugler to enter the lineup in the event Bryant gets hurt or doesn't perform.
[More responses after the jump.]
FORMATION NOTES: UConn did some weird stuff. My lingo on these is probably bad but this was "5-1 nickel split" with a 3-4 front that has two OLBs flanking the line:
And I just gave up when this happened, calling it "5-4 30 front":
There was also a 5-3 30 front that had a deep safety.
This is "shotgun 4-wide tight" for M. You may note the weird tilt of Funchess:
As a rule I count a TE in a two point stance as a WR for purposes of naming a formation.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: The usual basically everywhere. Save one snap for Derrick Green when Toussaint was momentarily injured, Toussaint got every tailback snap. Butt was preferred to Funchess late when Michigan was running the ball. And it seems like Chesson is slowly absorbing snaps from Reynolds and Jackson.
All else was as before.
[After THE JUMP: points! yards! (none of those things)]
SITE NOTE: as is traditional during a bye week, the UFRs will be delayed a day, allowing us to ruminate in some more detail on a couple more plays that seem to be representative of larger trends.
Today in Michigan's running issues: an example of how all it takes is one breakdown for an otherwise promising play to end in the backfield. Offense and defense are opposite creatures in this regard. On defense, if you make a mistake it may or may not be punished, because someone can beat a guy and clean up for you, or the offense may not see the open receiver or cutback lane. On offense, an error is going to leave someone free and he will end your play more often than not.
A lot of Michigan's struggles so far have been one-guy breakdowns. This sounds like a promising, easy fix, but it's an unfriendly math problem. When you've got seven guys trying to execute, even if everyone has a 90% hit rate 0.9^7 is a 52% shot at someone not executing. At 95%—each guy doing their job 19 of 20 times—you still have a 30% failure rate.
That's obviously oversimplified; there are different mistakes that can make the difference between an unsuccessful run of three yards and an unsuccessful one of negative two yards. But I've been saying things like "it's just one block away from a big play" for a while now without actually seeing a lot of improvement in that category, and the previous paragraph is one of the reasons why.
Our exemplar is a zone stretch midway through the third quarter. It's first and ten after Drew Dileo extended an out route into the short seam and Gardner hit him. Michigan's in the I; UConn responds with a 3-4 look that has an extra guy hanging off the tight end side on the hash.
UConn did a lot of blitzing from the outside in this game, and this will be no exception. They'll shoot the guy on the hash upfield to be the force player and slant the other two inside, way inside in the OLB's case:
On the snap, nothing much is revealed as no one's made contact yet except Miller, who's underneath the nose tackle already:
That nose tackle is going to end up a long way downfield. I know we're all trying to take Miller's job, but he made a couple of nice blocks on these plays in the second half.
In the above shot, you can see the first steps of the defenders highlighted in the arrow picture coming inside. a half step later Michigan has both adjusted excellently and not adjusted excellently:
Both Glasgow and Lewan have adjusted their flight paths to intersect with the slanting defenders and have successfully made contact that will allow them to shove them past the play and open up a huge hole on the outside of the line, but Joe Kerridge is now trying to hit a gap that is not open.
When he does, he gets whacked.
Now off balance and a gap away from the actual hole, he's unable to block anyone. That's the one guy. When Michigan does this on defense I mention they got a two-for-one and usually good things happen afterwards.
Here bad things happen because Yawin Smallwood is now hanging out in the hole unblocked.
Fitz compounds matters by seeing this, considering a bounce, and then deciding against it, which gives up a couple yards.
Second and twelve blues.
Items Of Interest
Well, poop. Michigan blocks this really well on the line, getting both slanters sealed inside and driving the nose tackle back into a linebacker. But once Kerridge gets picked off, this play has a maximum reasonable expectation of about one yard. It only takes one error.
This would take some pretty fast recognition to fix. A lot of zone teams either eschew lead backs or place them in positions such that they, too, have a long path to the hole (think about "superbacks" in spread offenses that start lined up next to the QB). Kerridge is lined up to the playside about three yards in front of Toussaint and his first steps are upfield as he tries to build momentum for a bone-rattling LB block. Toussaint, in contrast, kind of waits and runs lateral to the LOS for a bit, so he has time to see the slant develop and find the hole that is unfortunately filled with one Yawin Smallwood.
Kerridge doesn't have that time. If he's going to make that read presnap he's probably guessing that the OLB is going to attack the gap outside of Lewan, and when that turns out to be wrong he's already committed. I'm not sure he can be any other way when he's lined up so close to the point of attack.
If you're going to do this it almost seems like you'd have to consider Kerridge another lineman and that Lewan should release downfield into Smallwood once the OLB crosses his face, but holy hell is that complicated. Michigan should be trying to make everything as dead simple as possible so they can have uninspiring runs that do pick up some yards.*
So this is a rock paper scissors minus. I don't think Kerridge has time to change his gap, and that gap gets filled by a slant. Even if Kerridge 1) has the option to pick his hole, 2) made a presnap read of the blitzer, and 3) assumed the OLB would slant inside, the OLB is outside of Williams so a one-gap slant takes him outside of Lewan. This puts Kerridge in the right hole. When the OLB goes two gaps over that's when the problems happen.
Toussaint bounce attempt again. Like that Nix play discussed earlier, here Toussaint has grim prospects that he makes a little grimmer by trying to escape. Despite all your rage, Fitz, you're still just a rat in a cage. Here it seems like he has been told that he needs to go N/S and remembers that after his natural inclination. Or he just thinks he can't get outside Williams. Whichever.
It is not an easy decision to bench Jack Miller. The entire world has already benched the guy for the Minnesota game; I'm 50-50 on that. I'm frustrated with him sometimes as well, but here's another loss on which the offensive line appears to be working just fine. He got dumped into the backfield once earlier in this game and struggled in a couple of pass protections (a couple of other pressures that came up the middle were not on him), but I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan soldiers on with their current five guys. Even if they don't, how long is Chris Bryant going to be able to stay on the field?
Also, folks speculating that Michigan might move Michael Schofield back to guard and insert Braden or Magnuson should stop. Miller is not bad enough that switching three spots on the OL and sending a good right tackle back to guard so you can insert a freshman is anywhere near an upgrade. That's a midseason switch worthy of a Rodriguez defense.
*[This is iso's role in the world. It is the DURRR SMASH of run plays, requiring almost nothing other than brute strength and rarely picking up more than three yards, but rarely losing any.]