Tennessee is not recruiting well just because they got 18 dudes
I don't think I'm exaggerating. It's second and eight after one of Michigan's most successful RB runs of the night. Michigan trails 21-10 with six minutes left in the second quarter. They put some dudes on the field and move them around. When we come back from Matt Millen saying something about something, this process has already started.
Houma and Chesson are switching spots. What this is supposed to do to the defense remains unknown, because it did not happen. Now… there's something odd about this play. Since we don't ever see the outside WR, I don't remember if that's Funchess or Williams or whoever, but Michigan puts him off the screen to the field. Also…
They have no left tackle. They have put their left tackle at super right tackle.
I think this is a run.
Penn State thinks this is a run. They have eight guys in the box against six blockers.
ESPN's camera man thinks this is a run, zooming almost to the box before they even snap the ball.
It's a run. Specifically, it is a zone stretch to the boundary. Because this is the only run it could possibly be, Penn State is prepared for this. Kalis gets driven back. Bryant and Glasgow don't scoop the backside tackle (not that it really matters since there is an unblocked guy in the cutback lane and another unblocked guy checking Gardner).
This looks familiar.
Kalis finally finishes losing his guy, who pushes Toussaint to the edge of the field, where a ninth Penn State defender—a safety lined up over a formation that cannot have a tight end emerge from it to threaten downfield—comes up to tackle for loss…
…if Kalis's guy doesn't do it first.
Third and ten.
Items of Interest
This is the stupidest play in the history of plays. You can't pass because you don't have a right tackle and refuse to throw perimeter screens no matter how blitheringly open they are…
all of these occurred in the first 20 minutes of the game
…and Penn State knows this, so they put eight in the box against six blockers and have a safety overhanging who knows 100% that he has no immediate pass threat to deal with.
I mean, you can see the entire PSU D on the field here:
There is a wide receiver outside of Gallon. Only the dumbest playcall in history could allow a D to align like this and be successful.
You really confused them, though. Having Chesson and Houma switch places is the cherry on top here. Yeah, you fooled 'em up real good right there. Now Penn State's eight in the box against 5 OL and a WR is eight in the box against 5 OL and a FB. Green fields ahead, boys.
They're setting them up for something! If you don't have an automatic check to whatever your clever business is when you see two DBs on 3 WRs, you fail.
Line didn't do well, but whatever. Kalis gets blown up here, but since Michigan just told Penn State the play they were running it's not really the focus.
The bigger picture. This was insane and far from isolated. Michigan kept running tackle over stuff against a defense that was stuffing it even after Taylor Lewan went out. They asked AJ Williams to play left tackle, and because of Borges's increasingly legendary stubbornness they allowed Penn State to align in formations that doomed their crammed-together paleolithic run game without either testing PSU's young and not very quick corners or taking the buckets of free yards these alignments provided.
The bubble screen stuff took on a life of its own over the course of the last year, and it's come up again—a screenshot of Michigan's first snap of the first overtime screaming for a bubble has made the rounds of every message board. To reiterate, the bubble is a constraint: it prevents the defense from lining up in certain ways and thus simplifies your life as an offense since defenses can't pack the box as much without getting free yards on their face. Borges's allergy to getting the ball to guys in a ton of space went from annoying to crippling in this game.
How can anyone have faith in a guy who looks at this when he needs a field goal to win…
…and doesn't throw a bubble because it's not what Vince Lombardi would do? It boggles the mind. A lot of things lost this game for Michigan. Al Borges is high up on that list.
Last time, Michigan grinds out six yards on their first snap by using POWER.
Michigan's second snap against Minnesota was more of the same, but a little lighter. Chesson replaced Butt, and Minnesota responded by covering him. They also shifted their line towards Lewan instead of away. The end result was much the same except Michigan didn't have an opportunity to block the last guy because Minnesota didn't have a linebacker bail.
Yes, Michigan can go nuts in the passing game against this kind of alignment, and would later; this drive—this game—is about establishing something even if it's not the most efficient way to go about doing things. After Akron and UConn you can understand this line of thinking.
With the line shifted to Lewan, he's going to kick the guy outside of him, leaving Schofield and Kalis to double the playside DT; Bryant and Kerridge will again lead through the hole.
On the snap, Bryant pulls out and heads around as the double is initiated; Bryant is out so quick that he's almost running into Devin Gardner:
This is a notable improvement from last year. Between the above frame in the next, Schofield blasts the playside DT such that he starts falling inside of Kalis. He'll end up moving to the second level, and picking up the WLB since that guy is not shooting a gap. Unfortunately, someone is shooting a gap: Hageman.
Hageman just about beats Glasgow clean. There is a little bit of delay here that prevents him from swallowing the play in the backfield; this is still pretty bad. But the gap is even more enormous this time at the handoff point. It stretches almost from the hashes to the numbers as Michigan pounds the two playside DL away from each other:
This time Minnesota has sufficient bodies in the hole to deal with it as all three linebackers demand a body. Hageman is threatening enough from behind to force Toussaint to alter his path a bit, but with Kerridge latched onto one linebacker, Bryant about to pop a second, and a cavern to operate in he doesn't slow down the fatal step.
That safety is unaccounted for, though, and waiting two yards downfield.
Toussaint pounds out some YAC.
Items Of Interest
Sometimes you can do everything right and get five yards. At the end of the day there's always one more defender than you have blockers. Here every block save Glasgow's gets executed and contact is still made two yards downfield.
This is both a reason not to get too worried about YPC in this game and wonder about the long-term viability of the tackle over buddy cop movie. When you can execute every block just right and get five yards the opponents is overplaying you like whoah and you are either so confident you are able to get these five yards on every play or locked in a 12-10 death struggle kind of game. Here it turns out to be the former, as Michigan scores touchdowns on 5 of 8 drives, albeit with a lot of help from third and long conversions to Funchess after their grind game clunked out.
However: as mentioned in the last post, tackle over was literally 90% run in this one and when they ran it was 83% run to the tackle side. Is this configuration powerful enough to grind these yards out against actual defenses? Can Michigan get enough play action off of this to keep defenses honest and get the big chunk plays they'll have to if a ton of their offense is grinding out four yards against a stacked front? Is this anything more than a get-healthy gimmick effective against a terrible defense?
I don't know.
This is what Bryant expected to see on the last play. He pulls around and whacks the MLB, like he did on the last play; this time the MLB is not already being blocked because a differently-aligned Minnesota defense scrapes the MLB past Schofield releasing downfield. This is one of those things that may come with experience: the ability to improvise profitably.
Meanwhile, Bryant gets there, hits a guy, woot. This is night and day from last year's guards.
Glasgow did get smoked. Hageman's pretty good, though, and he was very quiet in this one. Hageman's play didn't end up making a tackle but I think it did impact the outcome of this play because…
Toussaint puts his head down and takes what he can get. With all this room Toussaint can threaten both sides of Kerridge's block, and we've seen him dip inside to pop out before. This would be an excellent time to do that if he was not being chased by an angry 300 pound man. As it is he just runs directly upfield into the safety and runs him over for near first down yardage. That's the when-in-doubt solution, and it's the one Toussaint took consistently in this game.
Speaking of which. The bye week seems like it was spent telling Toussaint that if he does not go hard north and south he will be dipped in uncomfortably warm pudding for hours at a time. This is the kind of run where bounce-it hesitation gets you clubbed and there is a guy waiting that he can see; previously he might have tried the thing I mentioned above and gotten tackled at the line. Instead we're talking about the yards he gained after contact instead of trying to calculate how many he lost by trying to avoid it. Thumbs up.
This is now Lewan's day. This is play two. The rest of the game is basically this for Lewan, whether it's pass or run: hello, overmatched donkey about 60 pounds lighter than me. It is time to go out to the numbers. I gave him a ton of half-points that maybe should have been full ones.
"He just used POWER"
–Kirk Herbstreit, every play, every edition of NCAA Football since 2003
Michigan spent half its day with Michael Schofield tucked just inside of a tight-end-ish Taylor Lewan, and ran ran ran ran ran ran ran out of this. Your "tackle over" breakdown:
- PASSES: 2, one incomplete to Chesson, one 30 yard post to Gallon.
- POWER: 11, one each for Green and Gardner, nine for Toussaint. 54 yards acquired, all but one on Toussaint's carries. [Includes playside G pulls.]
- ISO: 3, two for Toussaint, one for Green. Five yards total.
- STRETCH: 4, for 28 yards. Green picks up basically all of his yards on two of these.
- [Excluded are four goal line plays that were all runs; those were a pair of two-yard touchdowns, one successful play that got M from the 4 to the 2, and a zero-yard iso.]
- All told, when Michigan lined up Lewan next to Schofield they acquired 4.8 yards a carry. One the one hand, woo-hoo BFD Minnesota is terrible and that's a mediocre YPC once sacks are put somewhere sensible. On the other hand, woo-hoo, only two TFLs and a screw-you performance against a team dropping eight or nine guys in the box. When Michigan did deign to pass from this, Gallon and Funchess were both open on deep posts and Gallon picked up 30 yards only because Gardner threw the ball behind him; an on target pass may have been a 60-yard touchdown.
- Let's delve. We'll cover three plays eventually, all of them relatively successful but not that successful: Michigan's first two snaps and the 12-yard touchdown that was like "oh, I guess that was easy."
- Michigan's first snap comes from the opponent 35 after a fumble. Michigan comes out in what I dubbed "tackle over I-Form Big H," a set with one WR, two TEs, and two RBs; Butt motions to the usual H-back spot:
Minnesota responds by singling up Gallon and putting everyone else within seven yards of the LOS. Could Michigan have bludgeoned this repeatedly with easy Gardner/Gallon hookups? Yes. They were intent on establishing the run, though.
Power rules, like zone rules, depend on how the defense lines up. Minnesota was mostly an over team in this game, so Lewan would kick and the hole would be between the two OTs. Here they're shifted under, so Lewan will block down, Butt will kick, and Michigan will shoot the pulling G and fullback into that gap between the two.
This all goes just fine. By the next frame you can see that both Schofield and Lewan have easy control of their end, Bryant is coming down the line, and a gap will develop.
By the time Toussaint gets the handoff, the gap is truly massive. The playside end has been clubbed inside to the hash, with Lewan popping off on a linebacker. Meanwhile the SAM is three yards upfield, 2/3rds of the way to the numbers.
Part of this is bad play. Ace pointed out in the Minnesota FFFF that Minnesota's ends tended to get way upfield, and that was the case in this one. (It's a SAM, but same thing. End man on the LOS.) The gaps the Gophers were trying to shut down were difficult for them to do so.
Also bad play: Minnesota's #9, who should be reading power all the way and attempts to shoot a gap upfield and to the inside of the POA. If it's third and one, okay maybe you make a play and boot the opponent off the field. On first and ten this is asking to get a huge play on your face.
So now Michigan has two guys plunging through a large gap with one linebacker showing because #9 is exiting the play on his own recognizance. That leaves an extra guy for the overhanging safety, right?
Note gap even larger now.
Uh… no. Bryant hits the guy Lewan has already blocked.
That guy tackles, but not before Toussaint picks up six yards.
Items of Interest
He used power just like he would have in any other situation. Over the last few days I've scoured the internet for anything it has to tell me about unbalanced lines, and found that when it's in use it's either 1) a package designed to futz with alignment keys as teams try to find a tight end and locate him in an unexpected position, or 2) Stanford HAM.
Naming your 7 OL package after notorious steroid case: Stanford football.
Stanford's stuff endeavors to screw with your brain by putting four guys to one side of the center, which conventional defenses don't have a great answer for. It's something you have to prepare for. There's not much to prepare for here, at least in terms of "we haven't seen this before."
Here Michigan was confronted with…
FACT: our tight ends can't block
FACT: our tackles are the only upperclass OL we have and they're both pretty sweet
FACT: especially after inserting Chris Bryant
…so they just swapped Lewan and AJ Williams and ran normal power out of normal power sets. There is absolutely nothing about this play that would be any different if Michigan ran it from a normal line, except that AJ Williams is a lot less likely to execute his assignment with this authority.
Michael Schofield was a revelation in this game. Traditionally he has been the least-involved Michigan OL in the run game charting because that stuff doesn't bother with "hinge" blocks on the backside of power, which are executed literally 99% of the time by anyone—say, nice place to stash a TE—or blocks on the backside of stretch plays that are tough to evaluate without a cutback and often patently unfair to expect the backside T to execute. Schofield's gotten a lot of those because Michigan runs towards Lewan, a lot. Surprise.
That said, Schofield has always been regarded as more of a finesse player by everyone including his offensive line coach. He has never consistently moved guys off the ball. In this game, he did. Minnesota isn't good, sure. It's still going to be a record positive day for him.
The art of the kickout. Kickout blocks get relatively short shrift from me in UFR charting because they are by their nature a compromise between offense and defense. The defense says "I'll stay out here so the play turns back inside," and the offense says "I will push you a bit and make sure you stay out there."
Here Butt and the SAM compromise in a way very detrimental to Minnesota's chances, but that's mostly on the SAM. If he sets up better, Butt walls him off and the hole is narrower. He rarely has to actually deal with the guy trying to beat him, because if that guy succeeds he may have just given up the corner.
Minnesota saw this and was like NOOOOPE. This is almost the only under front the Gophers ran all game. After this play, Minnesota shifted their line towards Lewan, which meant that Lewan would kick the DE. This started a parade of plus-half-points for him as he shoved guys to create large holes, but did remove him from the kind of facecrushing blocks he executed on this play. This under front gives Lewan a hard-ish job he does really well; the over gives Lewan an easy job he does really well, shifting the hard-ish bits to other players.
Identifying guys to block: issue. Neither Kalis nor Bryant was particularly good at figuring out what they're supposed to do when they reach the hole. (This is at least better than the situation last year, which was "OL cannot reach hole.") Here Michigan has an opportunity to bust a big play because one of the Minnesota linebackers goes under a block and eliminates himself; Bryant can go all the way to the safety, whereupon Toussaint probably scores a touchdown. Instead he doubles a guy that Lewan is blocking, which… cumong man. Of all the people to block a second time you pick the one Taylor Lewan has.
As discussed previously, that's one error that costs Michigan 30 yards.
A few weeks ago, Devin Gardner was the king of turnovers, baseball existed, and no one other than Jeremy Gallon was the target of passes. None of these things are true anymore—NONE—thanks in large part to Michigan exploring the idea of using Devin Funchess as a large and generally in charge wide receiver. Michigan's second touchdown was an excellent example of what happens when you focus too much one one guy and how Funchess can be effective even if he's not as fast as a really fast guy.
It's third and fourteen after Chris Bryant got smoked for a sack on second and five; Michigan comes out with a trips formation with Gallon the lone receiver to the bottom of the screen. Jake Butt, Drew Dileo, and Devin Funchess are bunched to the top of the screen. Minnesota responds with a 3-3-5 stack look and one deep safety:
Minnesota's coverage is going to end up super inane. They'll rush three, leave all three linebackers in no-mans land neither pressuring Gardner or covering anyone, and bracket Jeremy Gallon, leaving one on one coverage on all three guys to the trips side.
Below here is an approximation of what they do. Linebackers have been designated "blorp" in an attempt to get the reader thinking about the walrus defensive coordinator accidentally blowing bubbles with his own spit instead of whether he should have called this defense on third and fourteen.
Now, two of these guys seem to have obvious tasks. One is in man coverage on Toussaint. The other is spying Gardner. The third, the top-most blorp, seems to be in a robber zone type thing to the trips side of the field.
A moment after the snap, Michigan's plan is revealed:
Butt runs an out at the LOS; Dileo tries to get up the seam. He'll be held and thrown to the ground, drawing a flag. Funchess releases upfield, well past the blorp zone, and is one on one with Martez Shabazz, a senior JUCO transfer who hasn't started for Minnesota in his career.
Shabazz has already turned to run with Funchess at this point, when Funchess is five yards off of him:
That's because Funchess is angling for the corner of the endzone, selling fade.
This evaporates from the screen shortly after, but on replay you can see Funchess flip the defensive back entirely around as he breaks to the post.
You may remember "defensive back turns 360 degrees" from such things as the 2010 defense. More likely you made sure you do not remember that by liberal application of whiskey. Either way, your result is separation.
Gardner's throw is high and a little behind, but Funchess don't care, and the defensive back is trying to get a PBU on a guy who's 1) a half foot taller than him, 2) leaping, and 3) made of solid material.
GET ORF ME
It is now 14-7.
Slow not really necessary here. Here's a couple of replay angles, the first of which does a good job of showing Funchess selling fade and his quick transition to the post. That's a quality route even with the stumble.
Items Of Interest
This defensive call is ridiculous. It's third and fourteen and you don't give your crappy backup corner any help against Devin Funchess. I get bracketing Gallon, sure. But going straight man against three WRs without any help at all is asking for a facepunching. Here is a facepunching.
I also get spying Gardner, and covering Toussaint out of the backfield once you've scouted Michigan's wheel route predilection. It's that third linebacker hanging out nine yards downfield that really gets me.
Devin Funchess can turn around Minnesota defensive backs. This was far from an isolated occurrence. Here it seems like the CB is thinking "oh crap oh crap oh crap this giant robot thing is going to put a fade on my face," bails super early to the corner, and then gets turned around easy on the post. At that point it's all over even if Gardner's throw is less than perfect, as it is, because anything up high requires the DB to go through Funchess's butt (not that Butt) to even get a finger on his arms.
Can Funchess do this to better opposition? That's the question. It was interesting to watch Michigan State go up against 6'5" Admiral-spawn Corey Robinson in the Notre Dame game, as he presented a lot of the same issues. State had those safety things in the middle of the field, though, which limited Robinson to sideline routes on which he was fairly successful, catching 3 balls for 54 yards and drawing a couple of pass interference calls. Funchess is pretty much the same guy.
He'll have to prove it down the stretch here. I think his route running skills are quality enough to make him an option, and even when guys get over the top, the Hemingway Option always remains on the table.
Better behind and high than on target. What is the nature of "on target"? This not-perfect throw works out perfectly because of the nature of Devin Funchess. If it hits him in the hands in stride there are defensive backs other than this one who will be there to break it up. If you lay it up and let the guy get the rebound, nobody's defending this.
The nature of on target varies with the target. Gardner seemed a bit off with his timing in this one, resulting in a number of balls that forced receivers to reach behind them. Funchess has proven very good at this in his career, and his general enormousness moves throws that are definite incompletions to Gallon into big chunks of yards:
That's why Michigan's receiving corps is about to be land of the giants.
With Funchess threatening, it will be a struggle for defenses to cover everything. Minnesota tries to play it safe by rushing three, which gives Gardner time. Despite the fact that they have eight guys in coverage their fear of Gardner's scrambling ability pulls guys out of relevant coverage, and while they could still put one of those safety guys back there, Dileo's route up the seam will give hypothetical safety a choice between those two folks and Gardner should have an option either way.
SITE NOTE: as is traditional during a bye week, the UFRs will be delayed a day, allowing us to ruminate in some more detail on a couple more plays that seem to be representative of larger trends.
Today in Michigan's running issues: an example of how all it takes is one breakdown for an otherwise promising play to end in the backfield. Offense and defense are opposite creatures in this regard. On defense, if you make a mistake it may or may not be punished, because someone can beat a guy and clean up for you, or the offense may not see the open receiver or cutback lane. On offense, an error is going to leave someone free and he will end your play more often than not.
A lot of Michigan's struggles so far have been one-guy breakdowns. This sounds like a promising, easy fix, but it's an unfriendly math problem. When you've got seven guys trying to execute, even if everyone has a 90% hit rate 0.9^7 is a 52% shot at someone not executing. At 95%—each guy doing their job 19 of 20 times—you still have a 30% failure rate.
That's obviously oversimplified; there are different mistakes that can make the difference between an unsuccessful run of three yards and an unsuccessful one of negative two yards. But I've been saying things like "it's just one block away from a big play" for a while now without actually seeing a lot of improvement in that category, and the previous paragraph is one of the reasons why.
Our exemplar is a zone stretch midway through the third quarter. It's first and ten after Drew Dileo extended an out route into the short seam and Gardner hit him. Michigan's in the I; UConn responds with a 3-4 look that has an extra guy hanging off the tight end side on the hash.
UConn did a lot of blitzing from the outside in this game, and this will be no exception. They'll shoot the guy on the hash upfield to be the force player and slant the other two inside, way inside in the OLB's case:
On the snap, nothing much is revealed as no one's made contact yet except Miller, who's underneath the nose tackle already:
That nose tackle is going to end up a long way downfield. I know we're all trying to take Miller's job, but he made a couple of nice blocks on these plays in the second half.
In the above shot, you can see the first steps of the defenders highlighted in the arrow picture coming inside. a half step later Michigan has both adjusted excellently and not adjusted excellently:
Both Glasgow and Lewan have adjusted their flight paths to intersect with the slanting defenders and have successfully made contact that will allow them to shove them past the play and open up a huge hole on the outside of the line, but Joe Kerridge is now trying to hit a gap that is not open.
When he does, he gets whacked.
Now off balance and a gap away from the actual hole, he's unable to block anyone. That's the one guy. When Michigan does this on defense I mention they got a two-for-one and usually good things happen afterwards.
Here bad things happen because Yawin Smallwood is now hanging out in the hole unblocked.
Fitz compounds matters by seeing this, considering a bounce, and then deciding against it, which gives up a couple yards.
Second and twelve blues.
Items Of Interest
Well, poop. Michigan blocks this really well on the line, getting both slanters sealed inside and driving the nose tackle back into a linebacker. But once Kerridge gets picked off, this play has a maximum reasonable expectation of about one yard. It only takes one error.
This would take some pretty fast recognition to fix. A lot of zone teams either eschew lead backs or place them in positions such that they, too, have a long path to the hole (think about "superbacks" in spread offenses that start lined up next to the QB). Kerridge is lined up to the playside about three yards in front of Toussaint and his first steps are upfield as he tries to build momentum for a bone-rattling LB block. Toussaint, in contrast, kind of waits and runs lateral to the LOS for a bit, so he has time to see the slant develop and find the hole that is unfortunately filled with one Yawin Smallwood.
Kerridge doesn't have that time. If he's going to make that read presnap he's probably guessing that the OLB is going to attack the gap outside of Lewan, and when that turns out to be wrong he's already committed. I'm not sure he can be any other way when he's lined up so close to the point of attack.
If you're going to do this it almost seems like you'd have to consider Kerridge another lineman and that Lewan should release downfield into Smallwood once the OLB crosses his face, but holy hell is that complicated. Michigan should be trying to make everything as dead simple as possible so they can have uninspiring runs that do pick up some yards.*
So this is a rock paper scissors minus. I don't think Kerridge has time to change his gap, and that gap gets filled by a slant. Even if Kerridge 1) has the option to pick his hole, 2) made a presnap read of the blitzer, and 3) assumed the OLB would slant inside, the OLB is outside of Williams so a one-gap slant takes him outside of Lewan. This puts Kerridge in the right hole. When the OLB goes two gaps over that's when the problems happen.
Toussaint bounce attempt again. Like that Nix play discussed earlier, here Toussaint has grim prospects that he makes a little grimmer by trying to escape. Despite all your rage, Fitz, you're still just a rat in a cage. Here it seems like he has been told that he needs to go N/S and remembers that after his natural inclination. Or he just thinks he can't get outside Williams. Whichever.
It is not an easy decision to bench Jack Miller. The entire world has already benched the guy for the Minnesota game; I'm 50-50 on that. I'm frustrated with him sometimes as well, but here's another loss on which the offensive line appears to be working just fine. He got dumped into the backfield once earlier in this game and struggled in a couple of pass protections (a couple of other pressures that came up the middle were not on him), but I wouldn't be surprised if Michigan soldiers on with their current five guys. Even if they don't, how long is Chris Bryant going to be able to stay on the field?
Also, folks speculating that Michigan might move Michael Schofield back to guard and insert Braden or Magnuson should stop. Miller is not bad enough that switching three spots on the OL and sending a good right tackle back to guard so you can insert a freshman is anywhere near an upgrade. That's a midseason switch worthy of a Rodriguez defense.
*[This is iso's role in the world. It is the DURRR SMASH of run plays, requiring almost nothing other than brute strength and rarely picking up more than three yards, but rarely losing any.]
Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.
Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.
This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:
Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.
Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.
Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.
Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:
(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)
Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.
At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.
Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.
That's a loss of two yards.
Items Of Interest
Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.
Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…
Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.
Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.
This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.
Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.
Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.
Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.
In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:
And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?
Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.
None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.
Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.