"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
You're going to have to bear with me on the offensive UFRs this year. The last time I saw a traditional gap-blocked, regular-ol-QB offense for anything more than a one-game debacle was ten years ago. That was the first year I did UFR and most running plays of that sort were deemed "another wad of bodies" because I didn't know what I was looking at. Since then:
- Two years of Debord running almost nothing but outside zone
- Three years of Rodriguez running inside and outside zone with a little power frippery
- Two years of Hoke trying to shoehorn Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense, giving up, and running a low-rent spread offense
- Al Borges's Cheesecake Factory offense that ran everything terribly
- Doug Nussmeier's inside zone-based offense.
I've seen plenty of power plays. Most of them were constraints that could be run simply and still succeed because the offense's backbone was something else. The rest were so miserably executed that they offered no knowledge about what power is actually supposed to look like. I watched a bunch of Stanford but not in the kind of detail I get down to with the UFRs.
One thing that I am pretty sure I think is that the popular conception of power as a decision-free zone in which moving guys off the ball gets you yards is incomplete. Defenses will show you a front pre-snap. You will make blocking decisions based on that front. Then the defense will blitz and slant to foul your decisions and remove the gap you want to hit. If you do not adjust to what is happening in front of you then you run into bodies and everyone is sad.
What Stanford was great at was running power that was executed so consistently well that it was largely impervious to all the games defenses played. This requires linemen who are downblocking to think on their feet, maintain their balance, and stay attached to guys who may be going in directions they were not expected to. It requires everyone off the line of scrimmage (tailback, fullback, pulling G) to see what's in front of them and adjust accordingly.
Michigan did a bad job of this against Utah. They also got blown backwards too much, complicating decisions for the backfield. The latter was not a problem against a much weaker Oregon State outfit. The former was much better, and that's the most encouraging thing to take from this game.
Here's an example. It's a six yard run in the first quarter on which Oregon State sends a blitz that Michigan recognizes and thwarts. There's no puller on this play; I think it was intended to be a weakside iso that ends up looking not very much like iso because Michigan adjusts post-snap.
M comes out in an I-Form twins formation; Oregon state is in a 4-3 that shifts away from the run strength of Michigan's formation. They are also walking a DB to the line of scrimmage:
By the time Michigan snaps the ball this DB is hanging out in a zone with no eligible receiver while both WRs get guys who look to be in man coverage. This is not disguised well unless the highlighted player is Jabrill Peppers and can teleport places after the snap:
He's going to blitz and the DL is going to slant to the run strength of the line. Michigan will pick this up, and I wonder if they IDed the likelihood of this pre-snap. No way to tell, obviously.
On the snap both the FB and RB start to the weak side of the formation; you can see Erik Magnuson start to set up as if he is going to execute a kickout block on the defensive end:
With the blitz and slant from the Oregon DL that's not going to happen. Each Oregon State DL has popped into a gap. Kerridge is taking a flight path to the gap that would normally open between Magnuson and Kalis, the right guard, on a play without this blitz. Without the blitz the DE would be the force player tasked with keeping the play inside of him; Magnuson would have a relatively easy job as he and the DE mutually agreed on where he should go.
Here the DE threatens the play's intended gap. Magnuson can't do anything about that. The D mostly gets to choose what gap they go in, and it's up to the offense to roll with the punches.
Michigan does this:
A moment later Magnuson has changed his tack from attempted kickout to an attempt to laterally displace the DE using his own momentum. Kerridge has abandoned the idea of hitting the weakside B gap and is flaring out for the blitzer.
Now, this could be successful for Oregon State still. The slant got five Michigan OL to block four guys. Nobody got downfield; the slant got a 2 for 1. But their MLB has stood stock still for much of this play, and Magnuson ends up shoving his dude past the hash mark—+1, sir. This is a ton of space to shut down, and De'Veon Smith is the kind of back that can plow through you for YAC.
Smith fends off the linebacker with a stiffarm and starts gaining yardage outside; it could be a good deal more but Chesson misses a cut* and the DB forces it back, creating a big ol' pile:
Second and four sounds a lot better than second and eleven.
*[Drake Harris will later pick up a 15-yard penalty for a similar, but more successful cut block; the genesis of that flag is probably Gary Andersen doing some screaming at the official after this play.]
Items of interest
You don't get to pick the gap even if it's gap blocking. Defenses slant constantly, and often in a specific effort to foul the intended hole and pop the back out into a place where an unblocked guy can hit. Post-snap adaptation is a must for a well-oiled power running game.
Slants win if they suck away an extra blocker. I would be peeved at the MLB if I was Oregon State UFR guy. While Michigan adapts to the slant well enough to provide a crease for Smith, the blitz means Michigan had to spend a blocker on the defensive back and the MLB is a free hitter. He should be moving to this more quickly than he does.
Slants also tend to open up giant running gaps. Adjustments like the above will often lead to a defender running in one direction suddenly getting unwanted help from an OL. If the OL can redirect and latch on just about everyone is going for a ride here. Once Magnuson locks on and Kerridge targets the DB these are two blocks that are easy to win and Smith is going to have a truck lane.
Given how much space Smith has even a linebacker playing this aggressively who shows up in the gap might lose or get his tackle run through; Michigan's getting yards here, whether it's three or six or more if Chesson gets a good block.
In the past this site has seen arguments about whether meeting an unblocked safety at or near the line of scrimmage is a win for the offense or the defense. I have largely come down on the side of "that absolutely sucks," but when the hole is so big that the defender is attempting to make an open-field tackle it's a lot more appealing.
Michigan WRs need to be more careful with the cut blocks. You can cut a guy from the "front," by which the NCAA means the area from 10 to 2 on a clock. (Seriously, that's the way it's defined in the rulebook.) This was very close to a flag, and Michigan got one later.
I wish Michigan was running pop passes, as those are good ways to get defensive backs hesitant about running hard after plays like this. Maybe in a bit.
News bullets and other items:
There’s no timetable for Jourdan Lewis’s return (though he was listed as a starter on the depth chart provided to the media today)
Chase Winovich, Ty Wheatley Jr., Mike McCray, and Wyatt Shallman are all injured, though three of those four could return to practice today.
Joe Kerridge was injured Saturday. Harbaugh said they’ll get more information on the injury today.
Redshirting Shane Morris is “a consideration.”
Tom Strobel switched to TE in the spring, then back to defense, then back to offense about a week ago. Harbaugh thinks he’ll stay on offense, but considers him a two-way player.
Jourdan [Lewis] exited the game with what was diagnosed as a concussion. Do you have an update on him, and how long do you think he’ll be out?
“I don’t know. Uh…never really gotten into the business of predicting, especially when it comes to concussions. He’ll be evaluated by the doctors.”
There’s been a lot of talk about progression from game one to game two. After you watched the film, what jumped out the most to you as far as steps taken between those two games?
“It was a positive step in a lot of areas. Biggest one was got the satisfaction of a win. Lot of hard work put in, and that will continue this week.”
Do you expect to have Jourdan on Saturday?
“Again, I’m just not in the…uh…predicting of that. Not my area.”
You mentioned Chris Wormley on Saturday as a guy you wanted to single out. He’s had kind of a breakout first couple games of the year. What’s been the big difference for him flipping the switch or whatever to get him where he is now?
“I think he’s a very talented player that’s, you know, improving and getting better every day. Very graphic on Saturday. Thought he played a tremendous game. Probably our best defensive performance was Chris Wormley.”
[After THE JUMP: The nervous system wages war on the body]
|Joe Kerridge||Sr.*||Khalid Hill||So.*||AJ Williams||Sr.||Jake Butt||Jr.|
|Sione Houma||Sr.||Chase Winovich||So.*||Henry Poggi||So.*||Ian Bunting||Fr.*|
|Nick Volk||Fr.*||Ty Isaac||So.*||TJ Wheatley||Fr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
"Tight End and Friends" debuted as a separate post in the preview a couple years ago when Al Borges started packing his roster with tons of slightly different blocky/catchy types; last year I went with it despite the OC changeover because there were a lot of dudes here anyway, and hooooo boy did that bet pay off when Harbaugh came into town.
Here is your now-annual reminder of what I mean by these various positions. (I've replaced the Borges-specific "U-back" terminology with the standard "H-back," FWIW.)
- FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
- H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
- TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker, Kevin Koger.
- FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Devin Funchess if he could block.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
Not only did Jim Harbaugh bring out a Ross-Perot-sized chart that said "BUTT == ERTZ == FLEENER," he talked the like the gotdanged queen of England while doing so. And then emphasized that if you, kid, if you are not Ertz/Fleener Voltron that the whole gotdanged enterprise is liable to collapse 'pon itself.
JAKE BUTT is like… okay.
Butt recovered from an ACL tear suffered in 2014 spring practice to play in ten games and make 21 catches as a true sophomore. Now fully healthy in an offense without Devin Funchess and with Jim Harbaugh, every Michigan fan expects him to blow up.
This preview concurs. Butt is the kind of player Harbaugh has used to befuddle opposing defenses for years: the flex tight end. Michigan hasn't really had one since I've been paying attention. They tried to make Funchess one but gave up and made him a receiver. Michigan fans will be most familiar with the endless parade of Notre Dame flex TEs who were equally comfortable lining up in-line, outside, or in the slot. They were all named "Tyler" or "Chad" or "Austin" or something and they posed tough questions for cornerbacks they dwarfed and safeties and linebackers they could outrun.
That's Butt. He is a huge-radius target with a number of one-handed stabs to his credit already and the athleticism to blaze for 70 yards on a screen against Ohio State as a freshman. After his freshman year, Mike Spath got this quote from an anonymous opponent:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands. There weren't a lot of great tight ends in our league last year, so he could be the best this season."
Sometimes he just hangs out on the ground catching footballs one handed and oh hey there ma'am I did not see you why yes I have been working out how nice of you to notice
A little work from today.. pic.twitter.com/jOmzgujgmg
— jake butt (@JBooty_88) July 9, 2015
Perhaps we could get some gelato.
[After THE JUMP: High expectations, lower expectations, and an endless parade of blocky/catchy.]
Yea, and we shall block things
Ace: Which returning player do you expect to have the biggest breakout season under Jim Harbaugh? Who benefits the most from the coaching change? To keep us from all answering the same thing, first responder gets to take Butt/Bunting.
Adam Schnepp: Butt/Bunting or whoever lines up at Y/TE are obvious (and very merited) choices, but I think that the returning player most likely to have a breakout season under Harbaugh is the guy who ends up being the starting quarterback. That may seem like a strange pick considering that there isn't actually a specific player whom I can definitely name here, but there's pretty solid circumstantial evidence to back up my prediction.
|Beeeeeee goooooooooood. [Fuller]|
Harbaugh's long had a reputation as a quarterback guru, and for good reason: he developed Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick while helping resuscitate Alex Smith's career. Smith had a career completion percentage of 57.1% and threw for 6.2 yards per attempt in the five seasons before Harbaugh arrived. In two years under his tutelage, Harbaugh simplified the offense and Smith's stats benefited for it; his completion percentage in those two years rose to 64.3% while his yards per attempt rose to 7.4.
After years of suffering through Brady Hoke and his offensive staff trying to slam a round peg into a square hole over (Denard) and over (Devin) and over (Shane) again, it's going to be a breath of fresh air to watch Harbaugh implement an offense that's supposed to work to a quarterback's advantage. In the Smart Football article linked above Chris Brown discusses how Harbaugh erased sight adjustments from his offense so that the quarterback didn't have to hesitate when the defense presented coverages that shifted post snap. Instead there were built-in hot routes in every play that didn't require the quarterback to hope the receiver reacted the same way to the coverage they were presented with.
If the past is any indication of the future then whoever wins the quarterback battle is going to have a firm grasp of progressions as well, because Harbaugh tries to make this as simple for the quarterback to rapidly work through as he can (more on that here and here). I expect Harbaugh to implement similar concepts at Michigan, where the power running game should open up options for the quarterback to create the type of big plays that we didn't see last season.
[After the jump: someone will take Butt/Bunting. Eventually.]
News bullets and other items
Delano Hill served a one-game suspension against Maryland and will return against OSU
The vulnerability to a fake punt was something the coaches spotted on film, and Joe Kerridge had the ability to call it off if necessary
The problems with the passing game are “multiple”
Hoke used one timeout in the third quarter to avoid having 12 men on the field and another to try and slow the game down for the defense
"Obviously we're really, really disappointed and disappointed in the – cuz our seniors, the 12 guys we're graduating, the 12 guys who played their last game [at Michigan Stadium]. We always talk about playing for them and coaching for them and we just couldn't execute at times [when] we had opportunities and at times we did [execute]. I also think that we had some mistakes in the kicking game that obviously hurt us as a football team, and some of those are very aggressive mistakes and you appreciate that kind of effort and that kind of aggression but at the same point we've got to be a little smarter, if that's the right word for it. The one thing is in our locker room there's a lot of disappointment and there's also a lot of pride that these guys have in how they've practiced and how they've done things all year and obviously we've got the greatest rivalry game in college football, in my opinion, coming up and that's what we're going to focus on."
You alluded to it but this hasn't been a very penalized team this year. Can you talk about the punt return and the play on the field goal with the field-goal kicker?
"Yeah, some of this is all subjective and what do you think it is and not. Not seeing the whole thing from the angles that you all get I'll have to look and see, especially on the block in the back. On the field goal, the guy was trying to make a play and he was a guy who was supposed to be coming hard off the edge and I guess he hit him hard enough for a 15-yard personal foul."
Can you take us through the time out and the decision to go for it on fourth down instead of just kick?
"Yeah, on fourth and seven?"
"Number one, it was going to be a long field goal and I believe there was some wind coming out of the south. Matt… could have kicked the opportunity. Punting it, thought pooch it there. Little worried about Will getting too much on it. Thought our defense was playing very well at that time. Was playing very well. Believed in the call, believed in what the kids could do. Still."
Did you take the timeout to make the decision?
"Yeah, in my mind I wanted to be sure. I wanted to make sure I talked to Doug also and how he felt about it also and having the right play, and I felt very good about it."
A big punt [fake] to start the game, a couple fourth downs; did you call this game a little more aggressively?
"You know, I don't know if it was more aggressively. We had seen on film that we could take advantage of the fake. We were- we go for it on fourth-and-one and we had the penalty, so that knocks it back. When you look at different punt teams and you look at different zone of the field, what they like to do, or punt return teams and what they like to do and what they like to be in and we got exactly what we wanted. Joe has the ability, Joe Kerridge, to call it off. He's a really intelligent guy football-wise and so it was there and we went with it."
The difficulty stopping the run in the third and fourth quarters; what did you see there?
"I think they got a little bit up-tempo. I think we lost some of our discipline a little bit in some of those things. I thought we missed a couple tackles in there that we needed to- I think we tackle better than that. I think that as much as anything hurt us a little bit. And I'll give them credit too. I want to give- CJ Brown I think he's one of those quarterbacks who's a little but of a gunslinger and does a nice job with running that football team and he's a good athlete."
[After THE JUMP: more words that are strung together into mostly complete sentences]
Frank Clark, Jake Ryan, and Joe Kerridge
Joe, you’re obviously part of the offensive group. Did you notice anything different about Shane in the huddles after he took that hit and through the rest of the game when you talked to him?
JK: “With Shane, I was on the sideline. I was focused in trying to pay attention to the game. I really didn’t have any communication with Shane throughout that part of the end of the game, so I wasn’t aware of any of the symptoms or anything like that.”
Have you noticed anything, seeing him around the building the last two days, that’s been unusual?
JK: “No. I haven’t seen him in the building, but that’s a question for coach Hoke.”
This is a question for Frank and Jake. Does the team get together after a loss like that and the fallout from it and has there been a team meeting? Does there need to be? Do you guys talk about it, and what do you do going forward?
JR: “I think just us as leaders need to bring guys up and get people’s heads up. After a loss like that that’s what you need to do, and we came in and we did what we needed to do. We got our film in, we got our practice in, and it’s just about keeping guys up and keeping guys focused.”
This is for any one of you. I’m wondering how much communication there is between yourself and maybe coach Hoke on the sideline when you see someone get injured or if you see something happen; if you can go up to him and say something or what that’s like on the sideline.
FC: “I feel like really that’s out of our power. If someone gets injured or things aren’t going in our favor, that’s our coach’s power. He controls everything at the end of the day, [and] we just follow the rules.”
Then if you have an injury, say, on the field, how much of a say do you have in getting back on the field? Are you able to simply tell them, ‘I’m fine’?
FC: “We play football. It’s a difference between being injured and being hurt. Anybody can play hurt, but not many people can play injured. But if you want to play football, if you want to go back on that field as a player he’s going to allow you to go back on that field if it’s not too bad.”
[More after THE JUMP]