this week in unintentionally grim-sounding recruiting headlines
Remember that one run that maize Michigan had against blue Michigan? It'll come to you: it was the one when the offense gained yards by running the ball. I mean forward yards, not the sideways stretch things. You know the one on the very first snap of the Spring Game that Ace giffed:
There wasn't much else from the Spring Game to pull out so I thought it would be fun to pick this one apart as a very vanilla example of Harbaugh's Power offense, and Durkin's gap-attacking with speed defense, and where various players are in it.
I also disagree with Brian on what caused this to happen. He gave RJS credit for fighting A.J. Williams to a draw and blamed Desmond Morgan for biting the running back's initial outside cut. Those things happened, but in the context of Durkin's defense I think Jenkins-Stone is mostly at fault for not being aggressive enough. In 4-3 world a tie is a loss.
What the offense was thinking. Here's the design:
This is Power O, the most base play of Harbaughffense, from a base formation for running it. The first play of the game, there was nothing tricky about it—the offense lined up where they snapped except (off camera) Chesson went in motion. You may remember this play from such offenses as Stanford under Harbaugh, and what Borges and Hoke wanted to run with two years of eligibility left on Denard Robinson. Well-defended it ends however far down the field the offense's bodies managed to move the defense's bodies. This wasn't well defended, as we shall see after…
The program had its draft for the spring game over the weekend, right?
What kind of experience was it like for the coaches and the players seeing them all-
“Oh, it’s a great experience, yeah! It’s something that we’ve done in the past with coach Harbaugh so it’s an exciting time. You go through the roster and you pick out your strengths and weakness and you pick out your positions and you’re going through and strategizing as the draft goes on because you have to fill those positions and make sure you don’t lose out on somebody. Really as a coaching staff it makes you a better coach because you’re trying to build a team and build them to strength, so it was a fun time. Really fun.”
What was your draft strategy?
“Well, you’ll see that on Saturday.”
Is there going to be trash talk between you and DJ?
“No, we wouldn’t do that. Nah, we wouldn’t do that. DJ’s a good guy, but we’re competitive, which is fun.”
Where are you now with the offensive line, and Graham [Glasgow] is back practicing with the team?
“Yeah! Graham’s back, he’s back and glad he’s back, and the offensive line is- they’re doing good. They’ve taken another step forward, which we’ve foreseen them to do and they’re on track and I think finishing up the Thursday practice, Saturday practice, pushing into the strength and conditioning phase and then going into training camp, they’re right on track and they’re taking steps forward, which is really, really exciting.”
Did Graham missing time stunt the development there for those guys?
“No, it didn’t stunt [their growth]. If somebody’s not around somebody’s got to step in and that’s what we preach and it worked out just fine.”
Mason Cole was getting work at center-
“Yeah! We put Mason in there, which was good for Mason. He’s an athletic guy and did some really, really good things there so that’s good for Mason and it’s good for Michigan.”
[After THE JUMP: Jim Harbaugh, talent evaluator extraordinaire, and we circle back to the center]
Doug, one more game this season. The offense…was it what you expected? Are you disappointed? Can you talk about the progress of the offense and what your expectations were at the beginning of the season and now heading into Ohio State, where you guys are 13th of 14 in total offense?
“Obviously our expectations are a lot higher than where we’re at right now. As I’ve touched on throughout the season you talk about individual improvement [and it] hasn’t necessarily led to total group improvement. Do feel good about the things that we’re progressing in. You talk about the ability to run the football. I believe in the last three we’re averaging like 207 yards a game or something like that rushing in the last three games. Really feel like that line’s starting to gel together. You talk about protection and the fact that we gave up two this week; one was an assignment error and we gave up one true sack on a zero blitz. We got caught by surprise. We’ve got to have a better plan down there as far as getting the ball out of our hands, and then a week ago we didn’t give up any sacks. The week before we had one coverage sack, so you talk about protection [and] I believe we’re substantially better there in the things that we’re doing.
“Talk about individual accomplishments and the development of Amara Darboh. I think [he’s] a guy that you look at what he’s done over the course of the season. A true left tackle, Mason Cole [and] his individual growth. We lose Derrick Green and see DeVeon step up and Drake step and what they’ve been able to [do]. Jake Butt coming off the injury has been limited a little bit in what he can and can’t do, but you go across the board you see a lot of individual accomplishments. Guys that are getting better, groups that are getting better. We still need to bring it all together and get to a complete game. We haven’t had that yet.”
What about point production, because it’s been a couple weeks since Devin’s had a touchdown pass?
“Well, I wouldn’t look at you’ve got to have a touchdown pass to say you’re successful. That, to me, is not defining success. Obviously throwing touchdown passes is a part of the game but if we’re going to run it we’re going to run it. You look at- like you said, we’d like to score more points. We need to score more points.”
What are the toughest venues in which you’ve ever taken a team to run an offense, because most would say Ohio State sees Michigan coming in and that’s going to be one of them?
“Well, obviously to go to the Horseshow to play in this football game is something special. Any time you play on the road and in situations where it’s going to be loud, where you know it’s going to be a hostile environment you’ve got to be prepared very well and you’ve got to be focused in and you’ve got to execute, and everybody’s got to be on the same page. There’s no margin for error.”
After the game Brady Hoke mentioned it was the first time Devin’s been healthy in more than a month. At this point is he still getting healthier, or in what ways can you use him differently now that you can run?
“You get to this point in the season and I don’t know that anybody gets healthier at this point in the season, and that’s one of the hardest things about playing this sport is that when you play at this level and type of conference we have here in the Big Ten and week in and week out have to go out and do it every week against the physical style of play we see it’s challenging mentally. And then like coach said Devin from the standpoint of his physical health had some ailments there, and we’ve gotten him relatively healthy. Obviously I don’t think anybody’s as fresh as they are week 1 of the season.”
[More after THE JUMP]
FORMATION NOTES: Rutgers did some weird stuff. On a number of snaps they'd start off looking like an over, then move a LB down into a three-tech like spot while flaring a DE out. I called those under fronts, and since Rutgers is pretty small all over it was just a way to sow confusion. An example; Rutgers shifted from this:
There's a standup 3-tech and an "ILB" who is actually a cornerback. It's a bit weird.
They also ran some more conventional under looks.
For its part Michigan went back to a heavy dose of gun. Removing three goal line plays, Michigan had 42 shotgun snaps to 13 under center. (A couple of those were goal to go runs from the 5 and 2, respectively, FWIW). This was not a panacea but did happen to coincide with Michigan's best rushing output against a Power 5 team not named Indiana in a long time.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line was Cole/Glasgow/Miller/Kalis/Braden the whole way. Green got the bulk of the RB snaps until he was knocked out; Smith and Hayes got the rest. WRs and TEs as usual, though Butt is working his way into considerably more playing time as the season progresses.
[After THE JUMP: torchclowns, multiple torchclowns]
FORMATION NOTES: Hello tiny TEs. Michigan used a lot of formations where they would bring a wide receiver tight to the line to act as a blocker. Here's Chesson in what I called "pistol biggish," because it's only big-ish.
For its part, Miami ran an under front whenever presented with seven blockers for the opposition, and about 90% of the time brought a safety down late or just lined him up in the box.
This press look was not common.
Miami would roll that safety down before this snap, FWIW.
Michigan used a lot more under center stuff in this game. Under center stuff was approximately 55% of the offense after being maybe 20% against ND, and there were a lot of tight ends. Only about 40% of Michigan's snaps had 3 WRs, again way down from ND.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line static: Cole/Magnuson/Miller/Glasgow/Braden. I saw Kalis in for the last drive, and I thought I saw him earlier in the game live but either I missed it in the film review or my mind was playing tricks on me. 61/67 are not easy to distinguish. Burzynski got in at the tail end at left guard.
Gardner QB; RB mostly Green, with less Smith and Hayes relegated to third down duties and some late stuff. Johnson did not appear. Mo Hurst(!) got a goal line FB snap. Showy, but a dollar says Kerridge is more effective. At TE, Butt got a little bit more time but it was still mostly Williams and Hill, with Heitzman again appearing sporadically.
Without Funchess, Darboh and Chesson were the main guys at WR, with Norfleet marginalized with a ton of 2TE sets. Damario Jones got about as much playing time than Canteen, making the first catch of the game.
[After THE JUMP: yards, eventually, and yet more infinite RB discussion.]
Michigan's run game started out with a thud, with a series of short gains and even the occasional Dread Pirate TFL rearing its ugly head. As with the Notre Dame game, the problems due to were a mélange of errors from lots of people. And as you might expect against Miami, most of them were mental issues.
People have asserted that Miami was dropping an eighth guy in the box and that guy was blowing up the Michigan run game. That's simplistic; these days spread-oriented offenses are looking at one or zero deep safeties on every play. The eight man box is something you have to deal with as a coach, and anyway when you're playing Miami it shouldn't matter.
Michigan's issues were largely assignment-based, with the occasional bad block thrown in; the tailbacks were better but still had issues. The nice thing is that as the game went along we saw Michigan correct some of those those problems and start moving forward. Mason Cole in particular was evolving right on the field, hampering two plays with errors and then executing in near-identical situations just a few minutes later. One was mostly executing a block; this one was about IDing the guy he needs to address.
Which Guy Needs Help? Not That One.
This is actually the first play of the game. It comes from the 50 after the least interesting successful Dennis Norfleet kick return ever (run to the right until the kicker stops you), and Michigan comes out in an ace set. Miami has a 4-3 under on the field (sort of; their SAM is 190-pound Lo Wood) and will roll a safety down for guy #8.
Michigan's going to run inside zone and things are going to go pretty well all over the field with the exception of Mason Cole and AJ Williams trying to handle the backside DE.
This is your presnap setup:
There's a one-technique NT and a five-tech SDE. The SDE is splitting Cole and Williams down the middle, and the play is going to the top of the screen. It is very hard for backside blockers to do anything with a guy who is 1) lined up playside of him when 2) they get no help. This is about to happen to Williams.
I'm not entirely sure why this guy is free to fly down the line and blow this play up. The other DL are handled by Michigan's OL driving guys lined up a half-step to the playside of them. It seems like he figures that the OLB is going to be there to clean up anything that breaks behind him, so gap integrity is for suckers. (Michigan will get a bunch of waggles off this tendency, as Miami isn't using that OLB to contain hard upfield.)
On the snap Magnuson hops over a half-gap to get the nose; Cole goes to his zone a gap over without touching anyone and then starts helping on Magnuson's block. Williams is going for this DE:
Williams does not get the DE even a little bit, and with Miami DL set up to the outside on the frontside of the play Green is correctly going right up the gut, something that looks promising as Michigan gets movement on the DL.
Williams was put in a tough spot here; even so this feels substandard. Annoying the guy, pushing him so that he's on the correct side of the LOS, maybe cutting him: all of these things are better than escorting him to the RB.
A yard later it's clear that Michigan has cleaned out the DL; one linebacker shot a gap and is going to help tackle here but without the space constriction provided by the Williams block-type substance shooting that gap is a dangerous game to play that is 50/50 to put the tailback one on one with the safety for all the yards.
Green falls forward for two as Magnuson finishes pancaking the NT. Cole ended up not really doing much of anything on the play.
And the slow version:
[After THE JUMP: something that goes better]