“On the offense last year, they had great spacing. That’s what I remember. Great spacing, great shooters, like Nik Stauskas, who’s not there right now. But they always have someone to fill the roles. They have a cutting offense, kind of hard to guard.”
MANBALL is +EV
Manball? Manball. Please review the Liveblog Chaos Mitigation Post. Then Manball.
11/17/2012 – Michigan 42, Iowa 17 – 8-3, 6-1 Big Ten
M. Ward – Helicopter
A couple years ago Carl Hagelin lasered a wrist shot off the post and in directly in front of my seats at Yost. It was senior day; there was a second left in overtime. I saw the puck rise all the way and knew its path was true. In the aftermath I wrote about a kind of envy I have for old-timers who have only their burned-in memories of these titanic events:
…while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
I feel aftershocks of this when I'm on the radio with Craig Ross and the topics get twisted around to 1970s basketball refereeing and Craig gets a little frothy and a guy calls in to froth a bit with him. I love this. You don't even know. I have no idea how much of it is accurate but I've double-checked my brain with Youtube enough by now to know that the things we have in our head are a lot further from the untrammeled gospel than it seems.
When you have this presented to you directly, it's unsettling. You think you remember everything about these blazing moments in your sports fandom and it turns out not to be so, and you wonder about all the other things you may not have right. Before anyone could check their brains, the tower in your head could go unchallenged.
A part of me wishes that Denard turning Tanner Miller into a chasing ghost was gone, extant only in all of us who saw it, slightly different but equally validating and valedictory and satisfying in all of our heads. I mean obviously not, this would be terrible, I can recite Keith Jackson's call of Charles Woodson's OSU punt return (Woodson's got one block… he's got another block… one more and he's gone!) from memory and hear the three separate roars from the crowd without even cuing it up. Obviously not. Despite the memorization I just watched Charles Woodson return that punt eight times. This site is dedicated to archiving the events and the feelings behind the events. Obviously not.
But… maybe a little. If that was just there and gone, well, seeing that would be something. Like watching Tom Harmon. Like experiencing the rage of playing Indiana in a dusky, mustachioed 70s basketball arena where television was just a rumor and your brain the only repository of a precious thing—the life you lived.
Midweek, Michigan fans were facing down the prospect of ceremonial snaps. Walter Smith was exhumed to reassure us that life goes on even after you lose what should be the culmination of your career to a busted limb:
"It still haunts me today to not play your senior year," said Smith… "To work that hard at something and have that happen is devastating. It could have led me the wrong way."
It was not particularly reassuring. At some point I thought I realized I'd seen the last of it, and I started thinking one of the things stuck in my head that calls itself forth at times: "And I sat down on the grass, on the burnt grass, on the black, burnt, dirt and grass, and I can admit this now: I wept. I cried big, old, giant tears."
Because memory is unreliable I had to plug it into Google and got two hits and realized that this was the Robert Earl Keen story I'd warped into a column about Michigan hockey losing the national title game two years ago after staying up all night editing my now-wife, then-fiancée's dissertation. I did this just now, and read it, and yeah. This is what I felt when I thought about the black burnt dirt and grass:
At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.
Except the stunned part, because obviously not stunned more like openly dreading forever.
Denard got a ceremonial snap, and ran for three yards, and then got another, and ran for four yards. Collectively they are the Michigan fanbase's favorite first-quarter plays to set up third and three ever. It became clear that we had been granted a reprieve from the future.
The sun was out, shining on Michigan's present and future as each senior took a bow. Vincent Smith hacked down men much larger than him and scored on a throwback screen. Jordan Kovacs took a quarterback escaping into space and turned it into a tackle for loss. Roy Roundtree was Worst Waldo open for a touchdown.
And on another option play, Denard eschewed a pitch that was there, accelerating outside of Thomas Rawls to the corner, where he faced down an Iowa safety. One juke later, he was tearing down the sideline. A hundred ten thousand took it and put it in their memory. I was there. I saw it. I can tell you about it, but it's something you have to experience for yourself.
As the day descended into a blissful victory lap, Denard audaciously reversed field for another big gain en route to exceeding 100 total yards on 15 touches. On each play, you could feel the stadium burst with anticipation. Please give me one last thing to have here. He did, twice, and the cloud that dogged Walter Smith evaporated.
After, I walked down to the tunnel and watched him go, young and old alike reaching down for one last moment.
Maize and Blue Nation
I was there. I saw it. Let me tell you about it.
Eric's gallery is on the front page a few posts back.
Photos from MVictors pregame:
JT Floyd's daughter
Brock Mealer looking pretty dang ambulatory
Maize and Blue Nation's gallery includes a great shot of the captains walking off the field after the game:
And Robinson looking on at Gardner being interviewed:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. You can no longer be denied, Devin Gardner: 18/23, 314 yards, six total TDs. I be like dang. More about Iowa being the worst thing ever a bit later; setting that aside, it's remarkable that Gardner throws an out and you're just like "this is extremely likely to be on target and moving fast when the WR catches it." His accuracy and comfort with the offense grows weekly, and when he needs to have his legs bail him out those are still around.
Honorable Mention. Jeremy Gallon (133 yards receiving without getting a gift long TD, let's not think about the punt), Roy Roundtree (gift long TD but hey 83 more yards), Denard Robinson (8.1 yards a touch), GERG Davis (your QB completed 19 of 26 passes for 7 YPA), Jordan Kovacs (I just like Jordan Kovacs), Will Hagerup (did not wander off to Ypsilanti at halftime, wondering if he should transfer to a school at which he would see the field).
Epic Double Point Standings.
3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois)
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1.3: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama, 1/3 Minnesota), Drew Dileo (Michigan State, 1/3 Minnesota), Roy Roundtree (1/3 Minnesota, Northwestern)
1: Craig Roh(Nebraska), Devin Gardner(Iowa)
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. It must be Denard Robinson juking Tanner Miller to the ground. Yes. All of the that.
And then he felt he was being unfair so he ran out of bounds.
Honorable mention: Denard reverses field on dinky flare pass, Gardner to Gallon for a juggling 50 yard catch, Roundtree goes Worst Waldo on third and seventeen, Vincent Smith throwback screen for old times.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
11/10/2012: Mattison baits Fitz, Kenny Demens decleats Northwestern, game over.
11/17/2012: Denard WOOPS Tanner Miller in Big House finale.
Iowa caveats apply. Large Iowa caveats apply. Several plays were comically wide open as Iowa's secondary was ruthlessly exposed for the clown college it is. Only the incompetence of Big Ten passing attacks obscured it previously. Meanwhile, Devin Gardner is now eligible for social security after one particular goal-line passing play.
Late in the game, Iowa quit. Caveats apply. Large ones.
Let's ignore all caveats! Holy pants. The combination of the Devin Gardner-oriented slick passing game with spicy deep bombs combined with Denard Robinson carrying the ball to annihilate Iowa's defense utterly. Michigan scored touchdowns on their first six drives and were going in for another when Micah Hyde made a pretty badass interception on what would otherwise have been first and goal for Michigan.
Gardner's accuracy is getting creepy—a couple of underthrown deep balls were short only because their targets were so vastly wide open that the only way to not score a touchdown was to miss them, and the corner routes he's throwing are consistently on the money. This was the third straight game he hit Gallon in the numbers on a deep bomb—on this one Gallon had a guy draped all over him and still brought it in.
More than that it seems like Gardner just has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. The scrambles are a big part of this. There's more to it, though. In this game just having the patience to sit and wait a million years on that play where he could was an asset, and then he had that brilliant improvisation fling at Roundtree…
…that caused Dave Pasch to manically exclaim he was "JUST TOYING WITH THE DEFENSE!!!" He was.
As we go along here I'm moving away from thinking things like the yakety sex touchdown against Minnesota are not sustainable items you can count on to keep your offense going game in, game out. Gardner has kept a ton of drives alive with his scrambles and his ability to adjust on the fly—neither of which are Denard assets.
Horrible defenses all, yes. Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved, yes. Still.
Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved. …looked like it might be going away as Toussaint popped a couple nice gains—one of them on a real live successful option pitch from Denard—but then Toussaint sustained extreme damage and it was back to the salt mines. Rawls, Hayes, and Smith combined to acquire 35 yards on 13 carries, 2.7 per. Yeah, a number of those were short yardage. Still, a long of eight yards was acquired, and that was when the entire Iowa defense freaked out about Denard only to get the counter pitch in their face. Runs on which offensive line blocking was relevant topped out at six yards.
This is just something that must be accepted. Michigan is not going to get much of anything up the middle against Ohio State, and must be able to throw effectively. It'll be interesting to see if Ohio State tries to match John Simon up against Michael Schofield or lets the Lewan/Simon throwdown go down. Either way, Whoever Versus John Simon is the single most important positional matchup in the game.
Rawls hype level descending. Not very far from a low baseline since the Purdue blip up was only a couple carries, but descending. To me he seems very Kevin Grady so far and it's hard to see him getting anything against that DL and OSU's speed to the outside. I don't know what they can do about it, though. Smith is the same thing, more likely to make a man miss and far less likely to grind out YAC.
Hayes and Norfleet clearly don't have the coaches' trust, which is unfortunate because the role Michigan needs to fill when they go to that Fritz package is the darting outside guy who can tightrope the sidelines no problem when he gets that counter pitch or juke a defensive back when he gets the option. I have the feeling that sometime next year one or the other will get an extended run, do well, and leave us all wondering why they couldn't get on the field in 2012 (probably because they can't block).
Meanwhile, while I'm not writing off Rawls the trendline there is not heading towards anything more than a short-yardage guy. A short yardage guy that bounces it way too much.
Nefarious Ohio State plans. Michigan has not called more than a couple runs for Devin Gardner yet aside from short-yardage run/pass rollouts that have turned into half-scramble/half-intentional-run touchdowns. The reason has been obvious: if Gardner goes down Michigan is rolling with a one-armed Denard and Russell Bellomy. This has been a logical thing to do.
I think they have to break the seal on that in the Game.
I'm not suggesting Gardner takes off 20 times or anything, but some dose of Gardner/Denard inverted veer action seems like a big opportunity to hit something big. The problem with working Denard into the gameplan as a not-quarterback is that he basically can't block for reasons of inexperience and elbow, so how do you work around that limitation? To date, Michigan has given him the ball and used him as a decoy.
They'll continue doing that, but it's time for the Denard/Devin Mesh Point. By making Denard the tailback and running the veer, they either get Denard on the edge without contain or option someone off, thus blocking someone with Denard without actually blocking someone with Denard. Add in the potential for play action off that look and you've got my #1 must have thing for OSU.
Toussaint damage. I am probably not informing you of anything you do not know when I say he has broken bones in his legs and is done for the year. A reader pointed out this study done on 31 soccer athletes that saw the subjects with twin fractures return to competition an average of 40 weeks after their injury, which would be just before next season.
If he can't get back in time for 2013, he should be able to apply for a sixth year. His first redshirt was due to a shoulder injury.
Citizens for Dileo. If a ball is thrown at Drew Dileo and hits the ground, it is pass interference and should be an automatic flag. Now please let the man return punts.
Could have gone better. Iowa's touchdown drive was pretty alarming. And even if Vandenberg was making all the three yard passes, it's a little disappointing when the opposing QB goes 19 of 26. Some of that was inexperience, some of it scheme—on a late third and four Michigan moved Gordon down late and used him as a man defender on a TE out successfully; previously they were using linebackers making tougher run/pass reads.
HOWEVA, I don't think I'm as down as Hoke was after the game. Guy seemed downright dispirited by a team that barely scraped over the 300 yard mark thanks to a jerky onside kick and 22 meaningless yards before halftime. Iowa went three-and-out on four of their first six drives. If the ref doesn't throw a terrible roughing the passer flag on Jordan Kovacs, they would have been facing fourth and eleven at the 32 on their field goal drive. By the time they put together the 81-yard-drive that rescued their yardage from the abyss it was 42-10 and Kovacs and others were cooling their heels on the sideline. Iowa is bad and having them do anything is bad; I'm not really sure they did much of anything other than throw it at their tight end.
Weisman coming back was a big help for them. The difference in quality between that guy and Garmon was obvious, and he still only managed 3.9 YPC.
The game in a nutshell. Michigan third down conversions: 9/12 with two of those failures subsequently converted on fourth down by Devin Gardner. Iowa: 6 of 14 and 1 of 3 on subsequent fourth downs.
worst roughing the passer ever (Upchurch)
Godspeed, Kovacs. I may get all blubbery about Denard but if Devin's going to do the things he seems like he is doing, Kovacs might actually be the guy I miss more next year in on-field terms. Do you people remember that Michigan used to give up huge long touchdowns all the time? Like, weekly.
Kovacs's utter reliability has turned Michigan into a defense that essentially never gives up anything without a chance to redzone you to death. He is literally the best safety I have experienced as a Michigan player, walk-on be damned, status be damned. All hail Kovacs.
Iowa tight end cloaking device. I like it much better when Greg Davis is operating it because the end results are decidedly non-Moeaki. Mattison likely has something to do with it.
Weekly Devin Gardner lookalike photo. Not necessarily a thing, but after Hipster Devin last week it's a thing this week because…
…because it's a thing.
Brady Hoke FTW. Moments that make you think "boy I'm glad that guy isn't Michigan's coach" are flying fast and furious these days, what with Minnesota's leading receiver bombing Jerry Kill in a 4000-word tumblr post by way of announcing a transfer and Bret Bielema punting from the Ohio State 30 and Mark Dantonio punting on fourth and medium down three with three minutes left—a decision that slashed his team's chances by a third.
It is impossible to conceive of the first thing happening under Brady Hoke. Jerry Kill seems like a decent guy and doesn't have the opportunity to tell his side of the story, but it's hard to picture anyone on Michigan's team even having a side of the story. I mean, Hagerup interaction post-OSU-atrocity. QED.
And while I wouldn't put it past Hoke to freeze up in the heat of the moment (everyone does sometimes) his game theory decisions are near-perfect in two years at Michigan. Saturday, Michigan faced fourth and goal at the one, sent the kicking team out… and called timeout because Hoke was like "wait I am Brady Hoke." While the ensuing touchdown turned out to be unnecessary, it was the right move and it paid off.
Usual statement of preferred policy: all freshmen get to buy tickets; after that you have to show up by kickoff at half of the games to renew.
Iowa: home of the hyphen. Iowa's moved from Inexplicably Great White Wide Receiver—who now makes his home in Minneapolis when he's not bombing Jerry Kill and leaving—to Somewhat Good Hyphenated Name Guy. They're multiplying now: Iowa iced Kevonte Martin-Manley, Henry Krieger-Coble, and Louis Trinca-Pasat this weekend.
Ace instant recap:
In a way, it was fitting.
Denard Robinson's Michigan Stadium career did not begin according to script. It started with a fumbled snap, then became something magnificent.
It ended with him unable to throw a football, but still very able to take the Big House's collective breath away.
Steve Bigach had 3 tackles. I bring this up because his name is a perfect metaphor for the BIGGG TENNNNN this year. BIG ACK! (Hey, bonus points for me for working in a cat photo.)
Best: Those Who Came and Stayed Will Always Be Champions
I know that everyone has talked up last year’s seniors as epitomizing Bo’s “Stay and Be Champions” motto, but I’ve always felt this Senior class has been given a short shrift considering the environment that existed when they decided to come to UM. The 2011 class came to UM with a fair bit of uncertainty, what with a coaching change and a shift in offensive and defensive systems, but they all arrived on campus in a world where UM hadn’t missed a bowl game since Nixon was in office and had only one .500 record over that span. Like everyone, they figured UM would, at worst, suffer through a “down” season of 8 wins before challenging for more titles.
But we all know how that played out. And not only did the team struggle on the field, but off it players questioned Rich Rodriguez’s leadership and allegations of improprieties bubbled up before the season. Their reality was a program coming off the worst season in their history, with an embattled coach and a media ready to burn him at the stake. Few offensive and defensive stars could be found on the roster, highlighted by the fact that UM had two players taken in the 2009 draft and 3 in 2010, with one of them being a punting Space Emperor.
[AFTER THE JUMP: all of the links all of the links]
A good idea. / Also a good idea. / Not a good idea. (Upchurch)
Before we begin, since this is a Denard/Gardner comparison post, let's get this part out of the way:
Is Gardner a palatable Big Ten QB?
Is Gardner a good QB?
Yes, I really think so.
So even if Denard is 100 percent…
NO!!! Two good starts from our 2013 starting signalcaller, albeit against two of the conference's worst pass defenses, are good things. Let's not ruin them by allowing the kind of people who see the world in Tall-Passer-Lloydball Pearl and Small-Scrambly-Spreadrod Onyx to, you know, start all that again.
But I am interested in knowing just how good Gardner has played. I'm also interested in how everything else about our offense changed when Gardner went in for Denard, and how defenses reacted to it. What did it do to the receiver corps to lose him, and what to the formations and personnel? 2012 is nice and all but I want to know what 2013 is going to look like now! Since this week was a better test and a better performance to the eye than what he did against Minnesota after one week of not being a receiver, I think we need Northwestern data. In fact I was so impatient I decided to not wait for Brian to UFR the offense this week and did it myself…in a mini version.
|5 plays, 13 yards, 13 mins left in the 1st quarter. Score: 0-0|
We establish a few things, like Michigan is going under center, and Northwestern is going to defend that with the 4-3 over, and even 6'4 quarterbacks get batted sometimes. Easy out to Gallon that was still open all day, one batted, one perfect downfield throw on a blitz that was dropped by Jerald Robinson. Northwestern gives up on blitzing for the rest of the day. Michigan gives up on receivers.
Drive 2: Borges makes it rain RPS…
10 plays, 78 yards, 2:30 left in the 1st quarter. Score: 7-0 Michigan.
This is the drive when Michigan started inserting superfluous apostrophes into the snap count (Wilcat's HATE that!). Note the CA on the 32-yard pass to Roundtree. That's close to "MA" since it's behind the receiver, but not so much that it changed Roundtree's momentum when he reached back to get it. Also note that NW's cornerback is awful.
[The rest of the drives, and how this and the other Gardner game compare to the Denard ones, after THE JUMP]
MANBALL: BEATING the opponent with POWER running and repetitive CONTACT and MANLY CAPITALIZED WORDS.
West Coast: A symphony of route design and timing that puts defenses into a progression of impossible choices
Option: Isolate an unblocked defender so that he's forced into a Catch 22 decision.
Justin Verlander: A metaphor.
After reading Parts I, II and III of this series you might think a college offense must only be one of these things. That is a very effective thought, as the best offenses in college football according to people who can extricate offense from defense, special teams, winning, fairy dust, and these days seem to center around doing one of these things very well.
But doing one thing well and building around that isn't the only way to build an offense. In fact if you only do your one thing well and can't execute other things, the other team will adjust quickly and now you won't do your one thing well anymore. These were the points made in the previous articles, the first (Doctor Rocklove) to explain the terminology, the second (Rock, Paper, Scissors) to describe constraint theory and demonstrate a Rock/Paper/Scissors for four different philosophies. The third (Pulls Bazooka!) got into the concept of vanilla defense. This last asks the question: what's Michigan's rock?
The Verlander Effect: Doing Multiple Things Well is Good
I'd like to first hone in on how "Rock" is used in this context, since it's not just another cell in an equal triangle matrix.
In honor of Opening Day today I'll use a baseball metaphor. Pitchers, like offenses, usually build a strategy out of a maximizing the effectiveness of one thing they are exceptional at. A 95+ mph 4-seam (ie straight-up) fastball is a common "rock" pitch that will, to a typical batter looking for any kind of pitch, give the most trouble. To keep hitters from sitting on the fastball, the pitchers use slow-speed secondary pitches, for example a curveball and/or changeup. This is the constraint theory at play. But when you break down the pitch selection of a typical Fastball-Curveball-Changeup starting pitcher, you'll notice quickly that the fastball is between 40% and 50% of his pitches. Football offenses function on the same principle: throw the fastball, and mix in curveballs and changeups to keep the hitters/defense from overreacting to, and thus killing the effectiveness of your heater.
Now to relate this to Michigan's offense. You see, not everyone has the same suite of pitches. Among Tiger starters Doug Fister is the normal fastball-curve-changeup guy, but Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello both use a 2-seam fastball, ie a breaking fastball, as "rock." This pitch will dive downwards and (righty on righty) inwards. The downward motion gets a hitter aiming for the meat of the baseball to hit the top of the ball instead, the spin absorbs some of the power of the stroke, and the result is a lightly hit ground ball. To keep hitters from simply adjusting their aim, the 2-seamer's constraints are a 4-seamer (leading to a pop-up), and a slider, which has a lateral motion opposite that of a 2-seamer.
This brings us to Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in (and MVP of) the American League last year. Justin's "rock" is a killer 4-seam fastball – it has lots of lateral movement and lots of velocity and is a total bitch to hit. In a season between half and two thirds of his pitches will be the fastball. However any MLB hitter who is looking for any fastball will be able to hit it, just as Northwestern defenders can stop a Wisconsin rushing attack if they're looking for it or a I-AA team can...let's not go there. Justin also has a devastating curveball and changeup, both of which will F you up if you're looking for his fastball. Verlander's curveball is like Cam Newton's arm: the constraint is good enough in its own right that you can't beat it unless you're overreacting to it, in which case you're now going to be eaten alive by the fastball and changeup.
In 2010 and 2011, Verlander leapt from being a great young pitcher to undeniably elite. What happened is he developed a 2-seamer game. The two-seamer and the slider arrived in 2010 and now account for about 15% of Justin's pitches.
This is all strategy; the other 90% is execution.
What Does Michigan Do Very Well?
The offense of 2011 at its apex was versus Ohio State. Since the Sugar Bowl strategy became "dear God stay away from the middle" on account of Molk playing gimpy, last year's Game is also the best representative we have so far (other than practice video zoomed into Toussaint's nostril hairs) of the 2012 offense. So let's re-live that game from the perspective of formation, personnel, philosophy, and RPS to get a feel for the current Borgesian ideal.
Remember, personnel is the number of RBs and number of TEs, so 22 is two of each. Subtract the total RBs and TEs from 5 to know the number of receivers. I defined "Value" on this scale: 1: Fail. 2: Got some yards, not what it was supposed to. 3: Did what it was drawn up to do. 4: Did better than it was drawn up to do. 5: Broke open for big yardage/score.
|M31||2||5||Shotgun||12||Zone read belly||Option||Rock||1||0|
|O47||1||10||Split Backs||21||Flare screen||West Coast||Scissors||4||6|
|O41||2||4||Shotgun||20||Inverted veer keeper||Option||Rock||5||41|
|M48||1||10||Denard Jet||12||Jet sweep||MANBALL||Rock||3||5|
|O40||1||10||Denard Jet||12||Counter pitch||MANBALL||Rock||2||3|
|M7||1||10||Shotgun||11||Zone read dive||Option||Rock||2||2|
|M9||2||8||Shotgun||11||Inverted veer keeper||Option||Rock||1||2|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun||10||Zone read dive||Option||Rock||2||3|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun||11||Zone read keeper||Option||Rock||1||1|
|M22||2||9||Shotgun||11||PA TE flat||Option||Paper||3||7|
|O16||1||10||Shotgun||11||Inverted veer give||Option||Rock||2||2|
|O14||2||8||Ace||12||Waggle TE flat||MANBALL||Paper||2||3|
|O6||1||G||Shotgun||12||Zone read dive||Option||Rock||1||0|
|O6||2||G||Shotgun||20||Inverted veer keeper||Option||Rock||5||6|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun||11||Inverted veer give||Option||Rock||4||8|
|M39||2||2||Shotgun||20||Inverted veer give||Option||Rock||3||4|
|M43||1||10||Shotgun||20||Triple option dive||Option||Rock||3||4|
|M47||2||6||Shotgun||12||Triple option keeper||Option||Rock||3||5|
|O45||1||10||Shotgun||21||PA TE seam||Option||Paper||5||26|
|O13||2||4||Shotgun||12||Triple option pitch||Option||Rock||1||-7|
|M10||2||9||Shotgun||11||QB draw||West Coast||Scissors||4||10|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun||20||Inverted veer keeper||Option||Rock||5||22|
|M42||1||10||Shotgun||20||Triple option dive||Option||Rock||2||3|
|M45||2||7||Shotgun||11||PA rollout out||MANBALL||Paper||3||4|
|M28||2||7||I-form||21||Waggle deep out||MANBALL||Paper||5||20|
|O31||2||In||I-form||21||Power off tackle||MANBALL||Rock||3||5 + 13 Pen|
|M13||1||10||Shotgun||11||Zone read keeper||Option||Rock||2||3|
|M10||2||7||Shotgun||11||Inverted veer keeper||Option||Rock||3||6|
|M4||3||1||Goal Line||23||Waggle TE corner||MANBALL||Paper||3||4|
|50||1||10||Shotgun||11||Zone read dive||Option||Rock||1||-1|
|M49||2||11||Shotgun||10||QB draw||West Coast||Scissors||5||16|
|O37||1||10||I-form||21||Power off tackle||MANBALL||Rock||5||20|
|O17||1||10||I-form||21||Power off tackle||MANBALL||Rock||2||2|
|O5||2||G||Goal Line||23||Power off tackle||MANBALL||Rock||3||5|
|O1||3||G||Goal Line||23||Bootleg||MANBALL||Paper||1||1 (pen -25!)|
Non-bullets with charts:
Counting "Denard Jet" as another Ace formation, here's the breakdown:
|Philosophy||Shotgun||Ace||I-form||Split Backs||Goal Line||Total|
And the breakdown by RPS %:
As you can see the RPS rolls look more like a Verlander pitch-type tracker than a triangle matrix of equal things. You can also see Borges working in his West Coast game like a 2-seamer/slider tandem. If there was a base play in there it's probably the zone read from a Shotgun 1-back, 1-TE formation, with the blocking switched up (read: "veer"). Borges threw a lot of fastballs, but it worked:
Remember 3.0 on my value scale means the offense was getting that 3rd down conversion, that 5 yards on 1st down, or setting up that 3rd and short every time. Manball accounted for about 72% of plays, and its effectiveness was strong, including many plays that broke big. The corollary of rock's effectiveness was that the constraints all performed better. This offense was working. About the only complaint here is that the Option game was totally missing a constraint. There was one play where Michigan actually faked this constraint—you know what that constraint is—and it was wiiiiide open, but then the play went rock and got stuffed. This is a minor complaint.
* Y U NO BUBBLE SCREENS?
What the hell was this offense?
It was Fastball-Curveball, with some West Coast sprinkled in. Even Rich Rodriguez's Pat White teams would sprinkle in that much pass-first philosophy, because that's another type of changeup you can throw. What we see here though is that the Option-from-Shotgun philosophy and MANBALL-from-mostly-shotgun philosophies are working in tandem. If you recognize this, it's really not all that different than Michigan's offense in 2010. If you have Denard, you run POWER with him, or you use him in a zone read option.
So after all that you're saying Al Borges is running the same offense Rich Rodriguez ran?
Wait, you were the subheads a second ago; when did you become a bolded alter-ego?
Answer the question!
Well no because it was just 75% shotgun versus like 85%, but other than that, yeah, kind of. But it's not Rich Rod's offense (the Zone Read) from West Virginia; it's what RR did when he got Denard. And I might point out that this was against Ohio State, so while I'm using it as a stand-in for the 2012 offense, that's not quite right because Borges has said and shown in other games that he's not going to have Denard run this often. This was Ohio State; this was balls to the wall.
The lesson of the 2011 offense is that Borges believes in all of this stuff, and despite earlier reticence, is happy to take the best of different philosophies and best use his personnel. And he can identify what that is.
The other thing is how he uses things other than the normal constraint plays as his changeups. Michigan is pitching with a plus-fastball and plus-curveball out of the same "motion," in this case formation. The personnel change on virtually every play, and the changeups are rare and (sometimes) devastatingly effective.
As a 2011 strategy it was frustrating during Iowa to see Michigan come out in an I-form on 1st and 10 in the 1st quarter, and then to hear Borges in the press conference treat questions about that as if we were asking about I-form on 2nd and 2 in the 4th quarter when Michigan's in clock-kill mode. This he learned, as he learned the best way to use Denard is to keep the threat of his legs involved in everything.
So why all the "Power" in the press conferences?
We learned this isn't actually philosophic zeal so much as the fact that one of the key benefits of running power for coaches is getting to say the word "Power" in press conferences. One of the nice things about Power is using the rhetoric, and until the massive incoming linemen and rocket-armed QB and pounding tailbacks and stable of tight ends and tall receivers are on hand to make a Wisconsin offense a reality, these coaches will be happy to take the best of all philosophies and run with them.
Next time in this series (last time?), I'll tackle why recruiting for the Wisconsin offense is perhaps a good idea for the future.
Shouldn't Spock be in this?
Hi. Me. Back. So before that much-appreciated vacation, I used this space to talk about constraint theory of offense and provide a rock-paper-scissors matrix for offensive/defensive play calling in various offenses. Today I'm on to Part III, the one where I tell you that Rock-Paper-Scissors is only a fraction of the football head game, because the actual decision trees are far too complicated for even a coach to play all of the interactions, let alone teach them. Moreover, unlike in RPS, or super-advanced-nuclear-capable-canid RPS, there are levels to things: scissors cuts paper better than it cuts (but still cuts) woven kevlar.
Rock-Paper-Scissors is a game you learn to play on the bus ride to school in 2nd grade or thereabouts. It is a very simple, 2-dimensional, triangular matrix:
…meaning every point interacts with every other. It's one dimension past a coin flip but you still only need to remember three interactions (yellow lines). Based on your personal capacity for testing the limits of social institutions, you either very quickly or eventually tried to insert an additional dimension to the triangular matrix, and realized that you were exponentially increasing the amount of interactions you had to remember.
Your 2nd grade mind didn't draw this; it just exploded the same way it might if you interlaced Grbac to Howard, Wangler to Carter and Robinson to Roundtree into the same video. Then it came up with a brilliant way to add a point without adding dimensions:
Bazooka!!! Bazooka blows up rock. Bazooka turns scissors into mangled slag. Bazooka leaves only scant streaks of carbon where once was paper. This idea is not totally silly, since defensive coordinators call bazooka like all. the. time.
Bazooka = Vanilla
Just as the offense wants to get really good at one basic thing and then do that thing all the time, many defenses are deploying the same concept. It's a bit harder for them because they have to react to various offenses on the schedule and various plays, but the concept's the same: the defense wants to stay in a scheme that is basically sound, and will mix in blitzes and different coverages as constraints, so that they can keep running their well-practiced, mostly sound blanket defense. Bazooka is a jack of all trades, solid against the run, solid against the pass, solid against tomfoolery, and vulnerable only to great offensive play and their own physical/mental limitations.
Defenses are a bit more varied than offenses but the most popular vanilla D these days, as I mentioned in the earlier discussions, is a Cover-2 zone (above-left) against run-first teams, or the Tampa 2 against pass-ier teams (above-right).
The difference between those two is in the MLB's coverage duties—in a Tampa he has the deep middle, in a regular Cover 2 he has the short middle and can be more involved in the run game. Everybody, including the cornerbacks, are hovering around close enough to gang-attack running plays like a pincer; and soft spots in the zone (everyone has them) are relatively small and difficult for non-accurate quarterbacks.
If these guys are all reacting correctly and aggressively to the run, if the cover guys are fast enough to close their zones, and the four rushers can generate pressure with regularity, this defense can bazooka anybody's rock, paper, scissors, candle, Vulcan, or whatever. Of course that is way easier said than done—remember offenses are recruiting, training, practicing, and designed for attacking this scheme.
Offensive rock is made to beat defensive bazooka. I want you to look at the above and imagine various offenses succeeding against them. ISO running forces the linebackers to read run, read the hole, and get there in time to take out a lead blocker and lead runner who by design are getting there ASAP. West Coast passing lives in those soft spots under and between the coverage. Air Raids attempt to warp the zones into providing bigger holes by flooding and stretching them. Option running makes a balanced coverage into an effective numbers advantage for the offense at the point of attack. Vanilla defense is made to stop whatever's thrown their way, and offenses gain success by making Mr. Jack-of-All die a consistent bleeding death.
To see vanilla defense in action throw a dart at any recording of Iowa in the last 12 years; their M.O. is to stick to this maniacally. The converse in-conference would be Michigan State. On the way home from Europe this weekend I randomly sat next to MSU LB Chris Norman. Other than "Wisconsin's offense was way tougher than any of the SEC teams," and "lol Michigan's uniforms last year," Norman happily admitted "YAARRGGH SPARTY SMASH!!" is the coaches' favorite blitz, and that they'll run it or something like it more than any other play. Some teams like paper.
So there are exceptions but the exceptions can be beat with your properly executed scissors. The point remains that all matrices aside, much about football comes down to defeating your opponent's bazooka, or vanilla thing, or "rock" defense with your rock. If you recognize this particular bit of wisdom from DeBordian philosophy, well yes in this DeBord is absolutely right. But if you don't properly mix in your constraints, and you always run rock to the same spot/guy out of the same formation, and you shuffle your fullba…uh let's not go there.
Next time (last one? I think it is but I keep stretching these): What's Our Rock?
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the I
Things of offense: Manliness, shotgun, impeccable timing, and options
Over the last few seasons we've talked a lot in this space about how shotgun formations and the spread are awesome, while anything else will steal your children. This is a myth—all offenses that score points are equal—but you could almost be forgiven for thinking that we are spread zealots when we have a tag called "i am a spread zealot no foolies." Most of the time we were saying "this is what Michigan should run right now," but to say most of the authors here haven't been partial to Oregonian offenses is an insult to your bias sensors.
Part of this is because I haven't always used the most correct terminology, or used sets and formation and personnel and philosophies as interchangeable when they're not. What we haven't said very much is talk about other offensive philosophies and why they are awesome too. What I'd like to do then is rectify some of that.
HUUUGE thank you to Tyler Sellhorn and Steve Sharik for looking over this stuff, then saying "omigod this is only like 10% of what offense is." Everything below that is correct came from them, but as you read I ask you only think of them as exasperated professors watching their theories butchered by a student presentation.
I. What's the Point of Offense?
Scoring is the point. How you get there is what we're talking about, and that's strategy. Offensive strategy comes down to a fairly simple concept: find a thing that you can beat a base defense with most of the time, then build in things around it to force the defense to defend you with a base defense. Anything can be adjusted to, but adjustments are usually unsound and thus make some other aspect easier than it should be. Where coaches disagree is on what that thing is, and whether to get so good at that as to be nigh unbeatable at it, or to get good at other things that beat base defenses too. What follows is a layman's oversimplification of offensive formations, and how they relate to offensive philosophies by a layman who needs to oversimplify it to get it.
* That link is to Chris Brown's "Why Every Team Should Apply the Constraint Theory of Offense" and you should read that.
When I started trying to make formations and philosophies into the same thing, two coaches I asked about it said don't do that because personnel groups matter more. A formation is two things: personnel (how many RBs and TEs vs. receivers are there) and set (how they line up). Common backfield sets are the words you're probably most familiar with: a. I-Form, b. Split-backs, c. Ace, and d. Shotgun.
But these words are only part of the set nomenclature. "I-Form" means the RB, FB, and HB are more or less in a line (though the FB is often shifted one way or another). "Split-Backs" refers to where the RBs are lined up, whereas "Shotgun" just means where the quarterback is lined up. What you know as "Ace" is actually referring to personnel, i.e. there is just 1 RB in the backfield. In the above examples both (c.) and (d.) could be called "Ace."
"Pro Set" is a specific alignment of the wide receivers, where one side has a receiver (the "flanker") plus a tight end, and the other side has just one receiver, the "split end."
The part defensive coaches are most concerned about when they're matching is not the set but the personnel. Football coaches express personnel in numeric terms you may have heard them yell at their wards but never understood: Twelve! Twenty! Twenty-One!, i.e. 12, 20, 21. These numbers, like "43" for a 4-3 defensive alignment, are combo digits where the first refers to the number of running backs out there, and the second to how many tight ends. So "12" means there's one running back and two TEs, "21" is two RBs and a TE, "11" is one RB and one TE. A third digit in the representation is the receiver count, e.g. 104 personnel means 1 RB, 0TE, 4 WRs.
So the four examples above are a.) I-form 21 Pro, b.) Split-backs 21 Pro, c.) Ace 11, and d.) Shotgun 11.
III. Why Set Matters
There are tradeoffs to how you line up your backfield, especially in the running game. A running back who starts the play behind the quarterback (a., b., or c.) will get the handoff a few yards behind the line of scrimmage with a running start in the direction you want the ball to go, but if the QB's getting a shotgun snap that handoff occurs six feet behind the line of scrimmage, and if the RB is moving it's not forward. This is a considerable disadvantage—one second after the snap a ball carrier about to hit his hole at full speed is far preferable to one at a dead stop far behind the line of scrimmage.
"Spread" has virtually lost its meaning but it's basically the opposite of bunching, the idea being to trade off some of the "I can put lots of guys at any point of attack on the line really really fast" for a measure "I can make your defenders pull apart to open up more space for my athletes to beat yours in space." I couldn't find a coach to back me up on this but I see horizontal spreading as a sliding scale between how much of the line of scrimmage in the box can you attack quickly with lots of guys (less spread) or how much of the line of scrimmage outside of the tackles can you attack quickly with one guy in space (more spread). Again, this is a tradeoff between things that are (specific talents nonwithstanding) equal.
Three of the four formations above are made to threaten this quick-strike downhill runner. Having the QB under center gives the RB in an Ace formation that head start. With multiple backs you threaten such quick attacks at multiple gaps in the line (think of two chess bishops next to each other), though when you go to 20-something personnel the defense will likely match.
I-form gets the added bonus of a fullback hitting that same hole even faster, either as a lead blocker or the main attraction. This is the key to such favorite I-form plays as SLAM! and WHAM! and BUHBUHBLAM!!! So long as the O-line can do its job the speed and power with which such an attack hits a base defense can make it good for 3 or 4 yards consistently. I've just described part of the base premise of Manball philosophy.
There are plenty more than this, but the four concepts that seem to cover most offenses you need to know are:
- Manball: My bigger- and stronger- and faster-than-you-are running back and his lead blocker are going to attack any spot between the tackles so fast your defenders won't get there until we're already in your backfield. Requires: Talent across the board. An OL who can't block 1-on-1 can screw up the play; an RB who loses all momentum at the moment of impact is giving up an extra YPP.
- Timed Passing: aka "West Coast:" A symphony of route design and timing that puts defenses into a progression of impossible choices, living and exploiting those precious seconds when your zone defender can't be in two places at once. Requires: Quick-thinking, –seeing quarterback with strong arm and laser accuracy, WRs with great hands for catching under duress, pass-pro OLs.
- Mesh/Read Passing: Spread, mesh, read, and gun, so on any given play, at any spot on the field, we can put it where you ain't by having QBs and receivers read your coverage and go right to the holes. Requires: Smart QB and receivers who can quickly read a defense, receivers with speed to open up those holes, incessant drilling so that QB and WRs are "in sync" or "on the same page."
- Option: Isolate an unblocked defender so that he's forced into a Catch 22; when he makes his decision, take the option he didn't. Requires: QB with running back skills, quicker OL, WRs who can sustain blocks.
All of these are unbeatable strategies if executed properly against a base defense. And it's important to note that none are restricted to any one formation. What was so cool about the Zone Read, which uses an option philosophy, is that it does so from the same formations NFL offenses normally use for their Timed/Read passing games, preserving all of those passing advantages for the constraint plays. At Michigan Rich Rodriguez ran a ton of QB Iso out of a shotgun spread, sending a lead blocker (at times the RB, an H-back, or a pulling guard) into the intended gap and having Denard Robinson (and Feagin before him), act as his own I-back. It's also key to remember that most offenses use many concepts, in fact most NFL offenses today, though they call themselves West Coast, all use concepts that are very Air Raid.
However the formations do have some relationship to the above philosophies. To way oversimplify, here's a matrix of base effectiveness for each common formation and the four above philosophies ("1" being "Most Effective, and "4" being "Least Effective"). Also I'm comparing the formations to each other; West Coast still works quite well out of the I-form I'll have you know.
|Shotgun Spread (11, 12)||I-Form (21, 20, 22, 23)||Split Back (20, 21, 22)||Ace (12, 13)|
|MANBALL||4. Can work as a changeup (e.g. the delay) against defenses keying on ZR or pass, or with a great rushing QB.||1. Multiple RBs and blockers quickly hit many points of attack with forward momentum.||2. Two RBs mean either can get the handoff and get outside the tackles quickly, but any lead-blocking plays are slow to develop.||3. Single RB hits the hole with momentum, but no lead blocker. Power is mostly a check against passing.|
|Timed Passing (West Coast)||3. RB can stays to help with protection and QB should have time to survey, room to step up into the pocket. But because it's a pass-heavy set the defense will be keying on it, meaning less time to throw.||4. Relies a lot on play-action, rollouts, and the running game being good enough to make opponents cheat on it. Works if D must respect PA.||2. RBs and OL are already set in pocket formation. Great formation for a good Pro-style QB/WR combo to let routes develop. Usually frees a TE or RB in the flat as an outlet. Lack of spread hurts.||1. Horiz. spreading helps, drop-back is timed with routes. PA, threat of screens, end-arounds, and pre-snap motion force D to play it honest.|
|Mesh/Read Passing||1. QB is immediately in position to see and throw, receivers are spread horiz and vert. However lack of running threat lets D tee off with 9-techs, etc. Most NFL offenses today are this.||4. RBs are mostly limited to flat routes that you can high-low and TE is only inside receiver, but D overplaying run should get WRs good space for curls and slants.||3. Two receiver options are RBs starting far behind the line so meshing routes is difficult. Threat of run establishes pass options.||2. Receivers can be arranged to spread horizontally or bunched to flood a zone, RB acts as center threat.|
|Option||3. Spread 'n Shred. It gives up ground and is slower to develop. Options btw dive and QB off-tackle; Option 3 is a pre-snap read (bubble screen). Speed option gives up the dive for Options 2 or 3.||2. Nebraska under Osborne. The triple-option is often run from this set since Option 1 (the FB dive) can happen super-quick.||1. The triple-option ("Houston Veer") was born from this set. The playside RB is the dive, and you can option off of multiple front 7 players.||4. One of your "backs" is a receiver so the way to run Triple-O is to put that guy in motion (think Denard Jet), which basically means you're converting to an I-form.|
No the formations are not created equal. Some are better at running, others passing. But the thing to remember here is the rule of constraints: if you can do something well from a formation that doesn't do it well, the things that formation does do well are now available to you. Oregon's offense works so well because running so effectively from the spread means defenses have to cheat against the run against an essentially passing formation. Meanwhile MANBALL offenses are best if filled with great passing pieces, e.g. Henne and Braylon/Avant, because if the safeties are backpedaling away from a 21 I-formation, well yipee.
When Brian complains about DeBord it's often because his playcalling was so predictable. The crime here wasn't anything to do with Manball as a Philosophy, but in not using the pass as a constraint, and in telegraphing which side the play was going—more often than not behind Long/Kraus because the other side was Mitchell/ Ciulla/ Schilling/ Ortman/ McAvoy/ Riley/ Whatever—by shifting the fullback to that side. Defenses would do the unsound thing, and there would be zero constraint. Conversely, when I was making yards-per-attempt cases from the UFRs earlier this year it again wasn't anything wrong with Manball the Philosophy, but because the offensive personnel's strengths were the wrong strengths for that philosophy. By 2015 I'm guessing that will have reversed.
Next Museday: a grossly oversimplified matrix of Rock, Paper, Scissors for each philosophy, and the RPS counters by defenses for each, then a long discussion of which philosophy I think Borges really believes in.