The way we were
Drew Hallett has a series on MNB called "Film Focus" that's a lot like the stuff Space Coyote used to diary here, i.e. screenshots with the play drawn on them. A few weeks ago Drew called for Michigan to add a packaged bubble screen to the zone read running game that briefly resurfaced in the 1st quarter on Saturday. Then he called this a "pop pass" and referred to the QB OH NOES play from 2010.
I started a long reply to make it clear that those are really two different things from two different offensive play groups, though both are predicated on the same spread concept of using the QB to add another player to the running game. Then I made drawings. Then I had video. Then I had a Hokepoints to save for OSU week.
Interesting things people do on offense are so far from topical right now at Michigan, but between interesting offense and Michigan's offense, which do you really want to read about this moment? Exactly.
Spread offense has been around several decades now, and has therefore had time to branch out and expand. A truly great offense will be great at all aspects: zone read running, WR screens, option routes, pre-snap reads, and packaged post-snap reads. But you don't really get that much time in college football to practice them all, so spread offenses become specialized.
Zone Read and Bubble
Drew showed that the bubble screen could be incorporated as a packaged play with the zone read, and yes teams do this. In fact it's so common now that last adapter in the world Al Borges deployed a packaged run-bubble last year.
The zone read/bubble was the base of Rodriguez's offense at West Virginia, and the genesis of the Rodriguezian slot smurf who could best take advantage of that space, but there's a key difference between RR's West Virginia offense and the "packaged play": when that bubble read is made. At WVU it was a pre-snap read, based on the position of that nickel/SAM/Spur/HSP guy. If he tiptoed into the box: bubble. If he stayed spread out like a good boy Rodriguez could continue running his zone read game.
Packaging makes that read after the snap:
The problem is you now have two reads, i.e. a triple option. Asking a QB to read more than one thing on a play takes a big commitment to that offense, and a quarterback who can/will put the time into it. Denard was an amazing player, but Michigan didn't get very far running the zone read offense with him because for reasons of time (he didn't get to redshirt and was a sophomore when he became a starter) and the level of commitment he could put into film, etc., when dude was constantly rehabbing injuries and trying to be a student.
Keep in mind defenses have seen the zone read for two decades now. They run scrape exchanges, and CB blitzes at it, and deploy dudes like MSU's Marcus Rush (the best I've ever seen at this) who can shut down an entire option game by delaying, delaying, delaying that first read until the rest of the defense arrives to bottle it up. By that point the field corner and safety have beaten those outside blocks, and the harassed QB throwing the bubble is an invitation to a pick six, a slotback blown up in the backfield, or even a backwards pass fumble. The defense has some other schematic things it can throw against it to take advantage of a QB who's too green at reading the package, but the point is they're already trained to blow this up in more ways than walking the HSP down.
[Jump for more fun things that Michigan doesn't do for religious reasons].
FORMATION NOTES: Not a whole lot that was unusual. Michigan has changed the alignment of their backs in some shotgun sets:
I called this "shotgun deep" since the QB is still at 5 yards but the back is behind instead of parallel. I imagine they did this for the same reason the pistol exists: to give the back downhill momentum when he takes a handoff.
Conventional shotgun sets were frequent as well, as were split TEs. This is the first snap of the game and features Hill motioning from an H-back spot to the slot; he'll block for Funchess on a successful flanker screen.
Michigan would occasionally scrape up an I-Form out of whatever was laying around, like when Chesson motioned in here. This actually cut behind Chesson's force block to pick up 15.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL was Cole-Magnuson-Miller-Burzynski/Kalis-Braden the whole way. Gardner obviously QB until garbage time; he got pulled a couple drives before Michigan did much non-WR substitution.
Feature backs were Green and Smith with Hayes apparently a third down option; Drake Johnson only saw garbage carries and should no longer be considered a playing time contender going forward.
At WR it was Funchess, Chesson, Darboh, and Norfleet rotating approximately equally; Canteen did not get on until late. Bo Dever is your backup slot, apparently. Tight end was mostly Hill and Williams with a bit less Heitzman sprinkled in.
[After THE JUMP: all things discussed.]
YES DO IT YES. Oversigning for the win:
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) March 23, 2014
Knows Nussmeier, started four games for them a year ago, immediately eligible, Michigan has the room, just do it.
Are we sure he's not actually coffee dad? From John Beilein's favorited tweets:
Coffee dad. Also he favorited some random dude talking about his teams' rebounding derogatorily. John Beilein!
Thx to Mich fans for the support this week! Sweet 16 and on to Indy.Thinking about getting a nice Sub tonight. It could get crazy! Go Blue!
— John Beilein (@JohnBeilein) March 23, 2014
…is self-aware. So it's good he's not Skynet.
OH REALLY. Lost in the sea of March Madness last week was one statement from Brady Hoke that will hopefully prevent me from typing yet more spittle-flecked all-caps rants about how fifth year senior starting quarterbacks don't get benched except in the event of catastrophic injury, and sometimes not even then:
He's doing okay, (but) he's not ready to be the starter at Michigan," Hoke said Thursday. "Devin's got the most experience at that job. … But if we were starting today, (Morris) wouldn't be the guy out there."
All right then. That's settled.
"Two weeks from now? We'll see."
And the Crimson sea parted. It's that time of year again, where players either flee or are pushed from the Indiana basketball program. This time it seems more like a mutual flee/push, as two struggling players Indiana probably needs anyway are exiting. Jeremy Hollowell, one of the two large athletic Hoosiers who can't play basketball, is out the door. Austin Etherington is the other departure. Noah Vonleh already announced he's entering the draft.
With Luke Fischer's departure for Marquette in the middle of the season, Indiana has lost every player over 6'8" who saw time except for Hanner Mosquera-Perea. Meanwhile the biggest guy in their recruiting class is a 6'7" small forward.
Is it too late for James Blackmon to decommit again? Asking for a friend.
And then the other red sea parted. OSU takes a major hit with LaQuinton Ross's NBA draft declaration. They've got a terrific recruiting class coming in, and now they're really going to need it. They've lost Ross, who was 30% of their shots, Amedeo Della Valle, Aaron Craft, and Lenzelle Smith from a six seed and first-round exit.
And then everybody in the Big Ten laid out the red carpet. West Virginia shooting guard Eron Harris is transferring closer to home. Home is Indianapolis. Harris averaged 17 points a game as a sophomore, shooting 42% from two and 86% from the line. Scout's Brian Snow says Michigan will be involved($), and lord knows everyone in and around shooting-challenged Indiana will also make a run. Michigan's hoping that "closer to home" really means "away from West Virginia" since 250 versus 350 miles isn't much of a functional difference.
I'm in favor of Michigan trying to grab him. Think of him as a 2015 recruit who only gets two years before he has to go to the NBA, and oh right that just makes him like anyone else who ends up shooting the ball a lot under John Beilein.
Michigan has an open scholarship this year and it would be nice to have a couple of upperclass years to fill in those vacated by Michigan's NBA draft departure. After Harris sits out a year he would be competing on the wing with a senior Caris LeVert—maybe—and a junior Zak Irvin—maybe, along with Kam Chatman and any class of 2015 freshmen. Harris is a proven high-level player who will make a decision well before the 2015 kids will. And he'll have a year to get better under Beilein before he gets back on the court. If you can get him, get him.
Open to a return. Glenn Robinson was as noncommital as everyone is when asked about entering a professional draft, but this is something good to hear:
"There have been times this year when I thought about it and heard a lot of talk and everything," Robinson said. "I just want to make the best decision, the best decision for me, because I want to play this game for a long time. So if I'm not ready, I'm not ready."
While you can't begrudge someone their desire to get paid lots of money for their skill, it does grind my gears a tiny bit when guys leave early without the prospect of a first-round pick waiting. Robinson might have fallen into that boat; it would be really easy to ignore the stuff they're saying about you this year because you were supposed to be a first rounder last year. Hopefully one of these two things happens:
- Robinson annihilates Tokyo as he drags Michigan to a national title
- Robinson plays pretty well and follows the Tim Hardaway Jr model.
Open to stay. Please hold your nose at a reference to a Michael Rosenberg-gathered quote, but it's kind of a big deal:
Jordan is so admired within the program that Alexander, another rising coach, endorses him to be the next head coach at Michigan.
"In my mind, I think he would be a great progression, when and if the time comes, when coach Beilein decides to transition on," Alexander says.
Alexander is 37, and he set a goal for himself to be a head coach by age 40. But he looks at Jordan and thinks of the Michigan football team's defensive coordinator. Says Alexander: "I would be more than willing to be (Jordan's) Greg Mattison. We want to continue to work together. I just think the world of him."
If Jordan and Alexander are both around when Beilein hangs it up, I don't know how you don't give Jordan the job after his work with Morris and Burke and Stauskas and LeVert, plus the recruiting bonafides and possible huge long-term upside. (Beilein is 61, so if he goes another five years you'd be hiring a 39-year old guy who could be around for the next 25 years.) Especially if that would mean Alexander sticks with him.
They've really got to do something about this. Urban Meyer on the packaged play trend and its acceleration:
The second-level zone read has his attention. In the traditional zone read, the quarterback reads the defensive end to dictate whether he'll hand off or run. In this version, the quarterback is reading the linebacker.
“That's going to not disappear,” Meyer says. “It's even in the NFL now. The NFL doesn't give you three yards.”
College does -- as in, officials allow linemen to get up to three yards downfield before a throw. After following up with other coaches on this concept, one popular play is to throw a slant to the open space if the linebacker goes inside to cover the run, knowing linemen are already headed downfield to block.
This has started to become comical. Last year in the Michigan-Air Force game, two Air Force OL had in fact engaged defenders six yards downfield on a pass play without a call. Either get rid of the illegal man downfield rule or enforce it. But pick one.
Etc.: Glasgow's issue was a "driving-related offense," which seems pretty likely to be one particular driving-related offense unless they've got some really strict new rules about using your turn signal.
Derrick Green getting slimmer. Jim Tressel's CV doesn't include anything about sweatervests. Bo bracket. Pistons to chase Izzo because owner is MSU grad. No idea why MSU NBA owners want to wreck their alma mater's program but fine by me.
So yeah, I concluded yesterday that the quick fire throw to Gallon in the second quarter was a presnap read, not a true packaged play, and then about two plays into the remainder of the UFR, Michigan runs the same thing with the cornerback showing blitz presnap and M runs it after he backs out. Timing: I do not have it.
To the screenshots!
It's first and ten; Michigan's trying to respond to Indiana drawing to within one and has first and ten on their own 23. Same setup as the last play: 3 wide, Gallon alone to the boundary, IU in their nickel-ish package. This time the corner is indicating blitz.
On the snap, though, he backs out. Gardner's checking on Gallon, seeing if he's got the hitch.
When it become clear that the CB is not coming, he changes his plan. Taylor Lewan has the same idea, as his initial reaction was to pick up the corner. He's flared out to do so, and now has to frantically try to get back into the play and block someone who's trying to defend what's actually occurring.
Which is a handoff.
Now: Lewan's flare has borked a couple of things. See 98 below? He is being doubled and will end up three yards downfield, where it is ideal for him to go in the eyes of the offense.
The other DT, though, is being single blocked by Glasgow and if he chooses can decide to go upfield of him to the outside, which he does. Glasgow locks him out and pushes him past the play; Toussaint has one lane straight up the middle. Bosch deals with a DE well, but there's no one for an ILB.
That's unfortunate, since a guy dealing with him is a big gain with the other LB on a pass drop he's convinced to take by Funchess releasing into the slot LB. Even if he doesn't take this the backwards direction of the other DT would make it difficult for him to get to the hole.
Lewan tries to recover; can't quite; Toussaint makes the guy miss, which gets him a decent gain before the shuffling backside end comes down from behind to tackle.
Items of Interest
Nope, totally packaged. Gardner's first option is the hitch in the event of a CB blitz, and he decides that it's not there, so he hands off. Post snap read determining run or pass is the Smart Football-approved definition of a packaged play. Packaged.
An old bugaboo. This harkens back to some oddities Michigan had in their plays like this a couple years ago. When they ran the inverted veer in 2011, Michigan would often block the guy they were supposedly optioning with the pulling guard, leaving Denard to beat a guy if Michigan was going to pick up anything. This happened not infrequently, but it seemed pretty weird that you'd run an option and not option anyone.
This is a version of that old problem: Lewan flares out to block the corner when Michigan has a plan to deal with that. They're optioning him and they still block him, or would if he didn't back out into pass coverage. That leaves one of the ILBs free.
The rest of the line blocks it like they should if the corner blitz was coming; seems like someone on the OL made an adjustment to the blitz IU ostentatiously showed and backed out of.
A minor place. I don't want to make any grand conclusions from these two plays. A number of programs from the Okie State/WVU Hologorsen tree will build large chunks of their offense around packaged plays; Michigan has only dabbled in this department under Borges. They're still dabbling. The OL blocks this goofy because they are not on the same page as the play concept. If the guy making the line check understands that the corner is never a threat, this is a nice gain that doesn't require Toussaint to get his Hart on.
This isn't the first time they've tried these things—I remember pointing out a package to Smart Football a couple years ago. That didn't work, and it seemed like it got put on the shelf because the coaches weren't enthused with Denard's ability to read post-snap. Devin executed both of these; could they have been a test run for Michigan State?
Probably not, but here's hoping they've got something up their sleeve.
Bosch check. This was about par for Bosch's day. He got decent to good movement on his guys, probably better than Magnuson on average. Hopes were consistently tempered by the guy next to him, as when Lewan latched onto a dude he all but threw the dude into his teammates, ninjas-attacking-hero style. Indiana's terrible. He'll get a trial by fire next Saturday.
An accidental RPS. The other ILB's pass drop here is an interesting offshoot. He's reading Funchess and sees him release, and so goes to cover, as Funchess blocks (or attempts to block) IU's hybrid space player. That leaves the OL five on five in the box, which should be a profitable situation.
Every time a DE shuffles like this I want Gardner to pull, which is probably irrational. I don't think he should, but I have this visceral thing where it's like GO GIT EM, because is anyone in that position really keeping up with Gardner on the corner? I say no, especially when you've got Funchess bothering the slot LB. All DEs are shuffling and Gardner has beat them all around the edge. Sometimes there's help out there; that is the only thing that keeps these plays down.
Triple option? On this play it's asking a lot of him to read the corner and then come across the field to read the end, so the pull here is almost certainly not something that he has in the toolbox anyway. So, no, just a single option I think. The read option nature of the play does let you sort of option off two guys, though, except "optioning off" the corner is really just nerfing the corner blitz.
[ed: sent after PSU game. Eric Upchurch photo @ right.]
Something that has been gnawing at me for a while is what we have really reached Hoke’s ceiling in terms of coaching? I wonder if only a generational player like Robinson was able to change that the past two years. I don’t doubt Hoke is a terrific person that will be able to recruit due to his personality, I just don’t know that there is depth regarding football strategy as well which is required to be elite. I otherwise just can’t explain such a discombobulated state going into a third year of a coaching staff even with a younger o-line.
I don't agree with that premise. It looks like Hoke is bringing in a large number of NFL talents on both sides of the ball and if those guys do work out, the philosophy of the staff will be in line with what Michigan can do. Hoke is working with a decimated senior/redshirt junior class that provided his team Gardner, Ryan, Black, and zero other starters. The class after that one was constructed during the chaotic final days of the Rodriguez administration and suffered further when Hoke was given only three weeks to add ten guys.
There is no comparison between those two classes—which should be the heart of the team—and what Michigan will begin to have when the 2012 and 2013 classes, which have lost one of their 52 members so far.
This is not the ceiling. Michigan loses Quinton Washington, Courtney Avery, and Thomas Gordon after the year, and no one else from their two deep (if Cam Gordon is now the third-string SAM.) They bring in Jabrill Peppers and probably DaShawn Hand, either or both of whom could be generational players. They can go from a good defense to an elite one. On offense… I don't know, man. I'm on the Art Briles side of the fence…
"We do not try to go to the body to set up the knockout shot," Briles said at a recent coaching clinic. "We try to score on every snap."
…and some of the stuff they've tried to do with personnel ill-suited to do it sets your teeth on edge. Once they have those guys in place, though, things should be smoother, if somewhat old fashioned.
This 8-4 lookin' Gator Bowl outfit is not the ceiling. The minimum reasonable expectation for that is "not able to beat Urban Meyer much."
[After THE JUMP: maybe the D wasn't that bad? (It was.) And linemen running amok.]
Oh man, not again. Last week in this space, Akron's offense was represented by a tire fire, their defense a dumpster fire. Assumptions were made about the past having some bearing on the future, the Zips were dismissed as cannon fodder, and ... well, you saw how that turned out.
This week's opponent is UConn, which lost to Towson at home by 15 points in their first game, outgained by over 100 yards by an FCS opponent. After an oddly-timed bye week, the Huskies hosted Maryland last Saturday; once again, they lost the yardage battle by over 100 yards, and only a meaningless 75-yard TD pass with 22 seconds to play kept the score semi-respectable at 32-21. It could've been much, much worse:
- Maryland went for it on fourth-and-short twice in first quarter. Instead of spreading the field and either running to the outside or hitting a quick pass—both of which worked very well all game—they tried to attack the strength of UConn's defense and were stuffed on interior runs, failing both conversion attempts.
- The Terps drove all the way from their 17 down to UConn's 22 in the first quarter, only for an open screen pass to bounce off the hands of their running back and get intercepted by UConn's Taylor Mack. Maryland's three previous plays had gone for 26, 21, and 14 yards.
- By the end of the third quarter, Maryland would lose two fumbles by their running backs, one of which came after an easy ten-yard gain. The second led directly to a UConn field goal that would bring the Huskies within seven points.
When not shooting themselves in the foot, Maryland completely controlled the game, averaging 5.2 yards per rush and 9.9 yards per pass attempt. Take out the irrelevant late touchdown pass and UConn averaged 2.7 YPC (with five sacks removed!) and 6.1 YPA.
I promise to mock the Huskies as little as possible, however, after what went down last week. That said, I can only work with what I'm given, and for the second straight week what I'm given is, by all appearances, a really bad football team that lost to a I-AA squad.
Quarterback Chandler Whitmer (via The UConn Blog)
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Spread, mostly. UConn operated either from the gun or an ace set; no fullback got a snap that I saw (I charted until Maryland took a 19-point lead midway through the fourth quarter). They had one snap from what Madden/NCAA deem the "pro" set—the QB under center with two backs split behind him.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Basketball on grass. UConn ran a lot of inside zone and showed some zone read looks; none of this was very effective.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]