[This is a work-in-progress glossary of football concepts we tend to talk about in these pages. Previously:
Special Teams: Spread punt vs NFL-style]
Depending who you ask there are either two or three or sixteen thousand different blocking schemes offenses use to puncture run lanes into a defense. If we cut out a few exceptions, and a lot of variants, you can boil them down to two basic philosophic schools: Zone and Gap.
(And man, and hybrid, and zone can be split between outside/inside but shut up).
Harbaugh, as you might have heard, is one of if not the ur gap coach in football, as is his top lieutenant Tim Drevno. New tackles/tight ends coach Greg Frey, as we’ve mentioned twice this week, is not just in the zone camp but is one of the chief practitioners of its outside zone wing.
What’s the difference, and why does it matter? I’ll show.
HOW GAP BLOCKING WORKS
“When badly outnumbered he managed, by swift marching and maneuvering, to throw the mass of his army against portion of the enemy's, thus being stronger at the decisive point.” –description of Napoleon battle tactic
This is the football’s fastball: I’m coming towards the plate so fast and so hard that by the time you know where it’s going you can’t catch up. To use a war metaphor, gap philosophy is about picking a spot in your opponent’s defenses, puncturing a hole, and sending as much material into it as possible as quickly as possible before the defenders can match it.
The above formation is unbalanced, which did its job in getting the defense to leave a cornerback and safety to a side with zero receiving threats (Mags is ineligible by number). The fullback has a kickout block on the SAM linebacker. Kalis pulls, Asiasi picks off a linebacker, and Deveon Smith gets a 300-pound escort through the gap between Wheatley and the back of Khalid Hill. That gap is the gap they planned to attack, and the most likely one to become available.
That it won’t always be available is what makes gap blocking go from very simple to highly complicated. The great power teams know how to adjust on the fly to defenders diving into the important gap, for example on this play if the SAM is coming inside hard Hill might arc outside on the fly, seal the SAM inside, and hope Smith and Kalis adjust to earn a big run. Or what if that Mike linebacker blitzes the gap inside of Wheatley? Or the whole dang defensive line slants playside? In general the OL will do their best to not let that happen and adjust (e.g. Asiasi might have to assist Wheatley, or the puller might kick out an unblocked end discovered at the point of attack).
I think you get the gist. Gap blocking has everybody working to widen the chosen gap and get bodies attacking that gap as soon as possible. Emphasis is on overpowering—as you see here this play works mostly because Ty Wheatley Jr. latched onto the playside defensive end, and rode him downfield.
[Hit THE JUMP for Zone]
Once upon a time, there was a little girl with hair wings the color of goldish yellow, kind of like corn, or maize, or maybe the 14th most populous city in Texas if that makes sense. (She also had a phase where she dyed it neon. A lot of people bitched about what color this was, actually).
Anyway, one day she went for a walk in the forest. Pretty soon, she came upon the house where lived three bears. She knocked and, when no one answered, she walked right in.
Earlier this week I went over what a reach block is. There's actually a play where they're trying to reach block all three relevant linemen. It's called a zone stretch, also known as outside zone. And no, it doesn't actually rely on everyone getting reached; in fact all sorts of things are expected to go wrong, with guys getting help and offensive players coached to react to defensive reactions.
Those links cover what the offense does, but how should the defense play it? Indiana ran a lot of zone stretch against Michigan in 2015 and on one in particular I thought we got a nice example of the actions and reactions that go into these plays.
Zone blocking asks the OL to get the best block they can based on what the defense does, and as you might have guessed a reach block is the best block you can pull off. On a stretch play the OL will ID the defender they need to get playside of by how the D aligns, and the way they play the block is determined by how the guy getting block reacts. The RB then picks whatever hole materializes.
There are three different reach attempts going on here:
- The LT (Jason Spriggs) will reach/cut Godin (top)
- The LG (Jacob Bailey) will try to reach Willie Henry (middle) with a minor assist from the C (Jake Reed) as he releases.
- The RG (Dan Feeney) and RT will try to scoop Chris Wormley.
A scoop is a combination block where the OL lined up outside blocks the defensive player until the guy doing the reaching can get in position. Once they've got another guy around, the outside man releases to block someone else. Teams that run a lot of zone will get good at combo-ing with each other, and it's rare that any reach block is purely the work of one man. Even in our last example Braden lent Mason Cole an arm.
[After THE JUMP, too soft, too hard, and just right]
After getting stretched time and again by Indiana, one of Penn State's first plays sprung excellent freshman RB Saquon Barkley for a 56-yard gain. Terror struck. Michigan then proceeded to hold the Nits (shout-out to RoUMel) backs to just 17 yards on 15 carries. What happened on that one run? Did it happen again? Did we learn to stop this all of a sudden, or maybe Franklin shelved it the rest of the game because it wasn't sporting? Let's find out.
What were they doing?
he can cut into any gap
And to zoom in on the important part:
Zone stretch or outside zone is a basic part of any zone running offense. Teams that use it most effectively are those with nimble offensive linemen. Where inside things are about blowing the defense back to make holes, stretch plays try to flank the defense.
For the OL it starts with the same rules as inside zone: if you're "covered" by a defensive lineman you block that guy, if you're not you release to block a linebacker, and if you're lined up playside of a DL you combo then release. Then you block depending on what those defenders are trying to do: if they shoot inside you seal, if they slant away you shove and make them over-slant—they'll really have no choice but to try to ride you and stay playside. Then the RB picks his hole based on whichever block went the best.
[After the jump: Michigan had a solution, which had a problem.]
My eccentric Oregon financial advisor doppelganger. Smart Football points to a fellow who goes by FishDuck and is all about zone reads, feeding his dog, the violent-yet-genteel devouring of Mike Patrick, and more zone reads:
An interesting point picked up from Chip Kelly's presentations: Oregon has tipped inside/outside zone for six years without ill effect because declaring the play causes people to overreact to it, which opens up constraint plays. More than that, the zone often acts as its own constraint as over-aggressive players flow playside or bunch up inside, opening cutbacks and bounces.
He's also got a video on Oregon's deployment of power, which it uses as a counter to their usual inside zone stuff. We haven't seen this out of Borges yet, but I'm hoping. My desire to see Michigan pair an opposite-side-of-the-line speed option with the inside zone borders on lust. And by "borders on lust" I mean "invades Poland with sexy tanks."
When he was hired in January, Hoke's mission was explicitly to roll back the Rodriguez era, to restore whatever it was that made Michigan feel like Michigan again. To that end, even Wolverine fans seemed to find the sudden proliferation of countdown clocks, macho posturing and various Buckeye-related eccentricities laying it on a little thick. But six weeks in, the Wolverines are right on schedule in the national polls, the Big Ten standings and the weekly stat sheets. If they clear the midseason hurdle Rodriguez's teams never could at Michigan State, they can claim one more phase of the mission accomplished.
Kind of a big deal, this game.
Point: Tim. Reportorial ex-girlfriend Tim, who now goes by the bizarrely long moniker "Tim Sullivan" over at Rivals, was a committed skeptic about Rob Bolden since he was one of a trio of touted in-state quarterbacks in the 2009 recruiting class.
Despite the rankings, Tim said the guy didn't know how to play football. It seems like his scouting prowess has been borne out:
Game Over, Man. Game Over. This quarterback contest is done. Urban Meyer remarked toward the end of Penn State's first offensive drive that at Thursday practice, he did not see Bolden complete a single pass over five yards. This makes sense, as Bolden did not throw a single decent pass on the entire first drive. …
Rob looks completely shattered at this point, and it's time for the coaches, players, and fans to embrace the crazy train that is McGloin Moxie Mania.
It's McGloin o'clock in Bolden's Penn State career. Beaten out by a walk-on, does a transfer again beckon? /NYT headline writer imitation
Point: Hoke. Shudder at the awful puntasaur display in the Iowa-Penn State game:
…Iowa got to the PSU 33, faced 4th and 8... and punted. That Guthrie was able to pin PSU on their own 10-yard line (a solid accomplishment) is irrelevant. Punting from the other team's 33-yard line is A F---ING STUPID AND TERRIBLE IDEA. I don't even need statistics to back me up on that one (although they would). Even if Ferentz didn't want to try to convert on fourth down (4th and 8 isn't easy, obviously), why not give Mike Meyer a crack at a field goal? It was a beautiful day, the ball was lined up near the middle of the field, and Meyer has made 50+ yard field goals in the past (this year, in fact). But no. Ferentz gave a vote of "no confidence" to both Meyer and his offense on that play. Iowa probably deserved to lose the game for that decision alone.
Of course, JoePa was determined to out-conservative -- or out-dumb -- Ferentz; he punted three times from the Iowa side of the field, including late in the game on 4th and 2 from the Iowa 36. If he really didn't think his offense could rip off a two-yard gain against a gassed and reeling Iowa defense, I... I just have no words for the level of neanderthal football thinking on display in this game.
Of course, that coaching blunder on Ferentz's part might be narrowly eclipsed by the decision to eschew running a two-minute offense upon getting the ball at the Iowa 20 with two timeouts and 1:42 to go before halftime. God forbid we try to score there. It's not like we don't have a no huddle offense that's been effective this year or a kicker with decent range. Nope.
Even if trying the field goal with Gibbons is a mistake, it pales in comparison to that business. I cannot express how much I love the Mathlete's new Dumb Punt of the Week feature. The inaugural winner is Ohio State's Frank Solich, who punted on fourth and one from the Buffalo 36. Buffalo has the #91 rushing defense. After an 11 yard punt, Buffalo drove for a touchdown. Ohio State lost by a point. The game theory gods do not take kindly to being spited so grandiosely. (See also: Kirk Ferentz.)
I missed another Hoke game theory bit: he got the ball at the 22 with about two minutes left and did not pull the Ferentz. Robinson rushed for a loss of one on first down, then five straight passes got Michigan to the Northwestern 44 before Robinson's third awful interception set up a Northwestern field goal drive. While we've seen Hoke eschew half-ending drives a couple times this year, those were with a minute or less on the clock, not two.
Now… it didn't work out that time, but these things are never 100%. Did it make sense at the time to try to score with a couple minutes left against Northwestern's defense? Yeah.
Glarb glarb glarb. So when Michigan shuffled its fullback on third and one and got owned I had a conniption fit. This was the result of DeBord Doom re-emergence:
That's the corpse of Steve Watson you see getting annihilated at the LOS. Glarb.
BWS picture-pages this and points out that the shuffling fullback opened up the Gardner rollout TD on which he had either the run or pass; I'm not so sure showing the first play is worth the cost to get a yard when your redzone offense seems to be able to get a yard whenever it wants. I like diabolical machinations better when they're like the above Oregon stuff—plenty diabolical in their own right without the counter.
Mitchbreaks. Mitch McGary's impending Michigan decision now seems far less certain:
Recently, reports came out that Mitch was nearing or had made a decision. However, Tim refutes that notion “He hasn’t made a decision. I just talked to him tonight (Monday night) and we talked about it a little bit. He’s coming home Wednesday night and we’re going to sit down and talk about it. They get a four or five day break this weekend so he’s flying in to O’hare and my older son will pick him up. We’ll be able to sit down and sort things out.”
Likely rumor vector: AAU coach to national guy, national guy tizzy checks in with coach a few more times, everyone wants to back off. Confidence level: reduced, but still high.
Etc.: Denard Robinson is healthier this year because he is homeopathic or something. Mark Huyge has had a tough year. Holdin' the Rope doesn't like "smug, pompous buffoon" Mark Dantoinio. Jon Merrill suspension 50/50 to end his career. Sad face.