TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
I mentioned this earlier in one of the two instances where I brought up Chris Brown's explanation of the differences between inside and outside zone runs. Here's a play featuring the tell a couple coaches suggested I look for when I was complaining about the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.
Michigan's in a shotgun with trips to the right. Two things to note here are the two deep Iowa safeties, and the shift of the Iowa linebackers outside. Angerer, the MLB, is lined up over Odoms, sort of:
Also, Greece has destroyed Latvia in World Cup qualifying.
The thing to note in the above frame is the position of Forcier relative to Minor. Forcier is a yard or so in front of his tailback. For comparison, here's a play against Indiana that would end up a standard zone stretch:
Forcier is a yard behind the tailback. This allows the RB to come across him at speed and get to the frontside creases the stretch looks to exploit.
Back in the Iowa game, the positioning of Forcier allows Minor to take a handoff already headed upfield, which was one of the adjustments that Penn State struggled with so badly last year. Also note a great oddity:
Michigan is blocking the backside defensive end! Why are they doing this? Well, if you don't block him and he crashes down and you're running a play that's anything short of a stretch play that's running away from him there's a good chance he makes a thumping tackle in the backfield. Michigan did this a lot against Iowa because Brandon Minor's RAGE is most effective when he's heading straight upfield.
Another item to note: at the moment of the handoff, Forcier is staring at the MLB over Odoms, judging whether or not he's coming up to contain.
He isn't. And one reason for that may be that this looks like play action. Odoms isn't running a bubble. The backside defensive end is getting blocked. In the past, this has always been a pass, or an attempted one. So Angerer gets a pass drop. By our next frame he'll be hanging out at the first down line, six yards back from the frame above:
You'll note that Minor is running right next to Forcier; with five guys in the box and no support for a hypothetical bounce, Minor could have made this same run. Iowa's decision to leave two deep safeties back makes it really hard for them to stop Michigan's ground game, though it did prevent Michigan from breaking anything long: their longest run in Kinnick was twelve yards.
At the end of the play Forcier has near first down yardage after having slid to the ground untouched. The Iowa defender does give him his best Cato June, though:
Here's the glorious you-tube-o-vision, in which you can see that the receivers' half-hearted routes. That indicates this was a called run play, not an improvisation, in case you're wondering if this was play action gone awry (awright?):
- Zone runs have a bit of a tell. If your depth perception and processing is quick enough and you see the QB step forward you've got a good idea that it's not a stretch. If he stays back you've got a good idea it is. This is probably not a huge deal since the QB takes up his final position moments before the snap, preventing—or at least hindering—the ability for defenses to key on it. It's a lot to process that when you're trying to time the snap and figuring out your assignments and whatnot. It is there.
- But you, the viewer, have a great view of it. TV angles are great for picking this out, though, and it's simple enough that you can try to pick it out real-time.
- RAGE. Michigan went to a lot of interior, non-stretch runs with Minor and blocked the backside DE. This helped out on a variety of plays and should hypothetically make Forcier's job on the reads easier because the guy he's reading is a lot further away and his motion has to be less subtle if he's got contain. This also brings in some elements of Paul Johnson's flexbone, too. Johnson loves to leave a guy unblocked for much of the game, then crush him unexpectedly for a big play.
- Michigan's mixing up its routes on certain keeper plays. I'm betting that if Odoms ran a bubble route on this play that was a key for one of the linebackers to shoot up for contain against Forcier and for one of the safeties to crash down on the bubble. By just running its receivers downfield, Michigan got Iowa to go into pass drops and opened up tons of space for Forcier.
- Iowa loves them some two-deep safeties. The zone read brings in the quarterback as another runner and has essentially forced its opponents to ditch the two-deep look. In the Rodriguez coaching videos kicking around the web, the implicit assumption is that opponents will usually have a single deep safety because of the threat of the keeper. Iowa defies that, and it worked for them, albeit barely. Michigan racked up almost 200 yards on the ground without its starting center and nominal starting tailback despite seeing five drives end on turnovers. Michigan had similar success against Notre Dame last year when Corwin Brown decided to keep two deep safeties. Once Michigan emerges from its freshman quarterback purgatory I wonder if Iowa will be able to get away with this sort of thing.
I said I'd come back to this when I have video, and now I do. In last week's Iowa game, the linebackers became extremely aggressive against the run. This usually worked out pretty well. Iowa had a lot of problems running the ball, and what success they had was usually due to the NT getting blown too far back off the ball for Mouton—it was usually Mouton caught in the wash, with Ezeh flowing to a point farther outside—to flow to the ball. There were a couple instances in which the linebackers zipped into the wrong hole, but all told it was an encouraging performance, especially for Ezeh. Ezeh picked up a +4.5, his first positive outcome of the season.
Here's an excellent example of the linebacker's new aggression. It's first and ten late in the first half. Iowa's got the ball and is playing conservatively. They start in an I and motion the outside receiver in:
Here's the snap. You can see Martin already off the ball. Woolfolk has gone in motion to cover the receiver who shifted; this is man coverage:
A half-second later, Iowa is shifting the line left and running a zone stretch. It's hard to see the line from this angle but from the top to the bottom:
- Stevie Brown is holding the outside against an Iowa TE.
- Craig Roh has gotten sealed inside by his guy. I think this is because Michigan's line was slanting away from the play at the snap and then had to try to adjust. Look at Martin in the picture above: he's heading straight upfield. In the picture below, he's behind an OL and trying to come around.
- Ryan Van Bergen and Martin are in a big heap of bodies, with three blockers trying to take on two linemen. They don't crease and they don't allow anyone to get to the second level, so that's a win for Michigan.
- Brandon Graham isn't doing so hot but it doesn't matter. He may be preparing to shoot upfield in the event of a waggle.
And then you've got the linebackers, who are moving forward already, well before the handoff point. Both of them are headed outside.
At the handoff point, Roh has gotten himself a tad bit farther in the backfield. There are still no creases and no downfield blockers. Ezeh is heading outside into the crease between Brown and Roh. Mouton's waiting a bit in case there's a cutback; his designated hole is somewhere between Roh and Martin:
The handoff's made, and Mouton reads that there's nothing in the middle and heads outside. Ezeh's already in the hole, about to meet the fullback…
…who he crushes:
The key in the above frame is that Ezeh got outside the fullback, forcing the tailback behind him and into the help, which could be Roh or RVB but in this case is Mouton, who's running untouched into the path of the tailback…
…for a TFL:
Here's the video:
In real time you can hear, and feel, the crunching destruction of the pwned fullback. Michigan's been doing this for a while now. Contrast several plays against Iowa and Michigan State on which the linebackers flow downhill immediately with this, the opening play of the Notre Dame game:
Yes, they're flowing to the ball, but the hesitancy is obvious. This happened a few times.
The problem comes when opponents go to play action and two tight ends get wide open at the same time, but I don't know if that's their responsibility. With Michigan going to more man coverage since the insertion of Woolfolk at corner, Mouton and Ezeh can be responsible for the two guys in the I; the tight ends are not their problem. In an ace set, that's not the case, but at least one of them was innocent on Moeaki Disaster II.
I'm not sure if this is better play from the linebackers or Robinson removing responsibilities from them and telling them to go forth to rampage. The multiple times Iowa got guys wide open on play action waggles, and Michigan State's success with tight ends, suggest that Michigan has traded one problem for another here.
This one's pretty simple because the blocking scheme is "hey, receivers, block that guy": it's the edge pitch Michigan debuted over the weekend.
A standard formation with Koger as the near-side slot receiver. Note Forcier's position: he's a yard in front of the tailback—in this case Michael Shaw. This usually means Michigan is running something intended to go up the middle. On pure stretch plays Forcier will be even with the tailback.
Iowa, for its part, is in the base 4-3 cover two they ran the whole game. More about this in UFR later, but if Iowa persists in running this scheme in the future I think Michigan is going to smoke them when their quarterbacks are freshmen who are freakin' out, man.
Here's the snap:
Forcier's got the ball already and you can see Shaw bugging out to the sideline to get a in a pitch relationship with Forcier. There's no counter action on this play, it's just get to the edge as quickly as possible.
A moment later:
Forcier's still got the ball and has hardly moved; you can see by the clock on the field that this is less than a second later. The only things to note here are Iowa's MLB, who's taken a step to the side of the field a stretch would go to, and the defensive end, who has also stepped inside in anticipation of one of Michigan's plays that attacks the backside DE's usual tendency to either crash or head out on the quarterback. His caution, usually rewarded, pulls him out of this play.
A second or two later, Forcier has ditched the ball and is a spectator:
Odoms has whiffed his cut block, unfortunately, leaving a linebacker in space. Iowa safety Tyler Sash is also filling, and the backside DE has reacted to provide some contain.
Shaw gets upfield quickly before the three Iowa defenders can converge…
…and picks up five yards despite Odoms whiffing on one of the two relevant blocks.
- It's hard for this play to not pick up five yards unless the defense is specifically gameplanning for it (which they probably will at some point). Michigan ran this a bunch and the worst it ever did was two yards on second and two, and that was because a receiver ran right by a safety and that safety bounced Minor—who's not the best guy to run this thing—out. At all other times it picked up four to six yards. Opponents will now start preparing for that, which will open up some other stuff, as the defensive end's tendency to slide down the line in an effort to defend the zone counter dive opened up the edge for this play. Cat and mouse goes on forever.
- It's probably never going to break big against a defense like Iowa's. Linebacker versus slot receiver usually doesn't go well and it doesn't develop fast enough to make a cut block, even a really successful one, more than an annoyance when those linebackers are five yards downfield. Then you've got that safety coming downhill unblocked, the backside defensive end peeling back, and linebacker help from the inside. It's weirdly like MSU's power off tackle game, which is likely to pick up 3-5 yards and unlikely to do anything more.
- It's something I bet they wanted to run against MSU, and might work better against an aggressive defense that's using a corner guy as a scrape exchange defender. Iowa plays two deep on every play, which always gives them a safety who can run to the POA and fill. If the corner guy is charging off the slot and sucks in on Forcier, then Odoms can go block the safety and Shaw ends up with a lot of room to run downfield. Or he ends up with that scrape defender in his face. About that…
- This is step one in the evolution of a speed option game. The solution to that is to turn this into a true option play where Forcier threatens to get upfield and takes that scrape defender before pitching, or turns it up himself for yardage. Right now this is just a safe little pitch play that has no read and is easy to run.
Okay. Picture Pages has shown you three different counterpunches to the scrape exchange over the first couple weeks of the season. There's throwing a wide open bubble screen. There's shooting a blocker into the backside of the play and galloping through the gaping hole that results. And there's peeling that same blocker around the back to pick off the scraper and get the quarterback into acres of space in which Tate Forcier should run straight upfield until murdered by a safety no matter how many people disagree with me in the comments. Michigan broke out the second of those several times against Eastern, picking up a bunch of first downs and one ninety-yard touchdown.
So why bother doing this stupid thing that just results in various big plays in your face? Well… because it's better than the alternative. Meet the alternative, presented to you by Ron English:
Okay: Michigan is in a trips set on their second drive of the day. English sets up in soft coverage and plays his linebackers off the line of scrimmage. Michigan will run the most basic play in their arsenal: the zone read.
Here's the exchange point. (Sorry about the crappy quality; I was working with an SD torrent at this point.) Two points: 1) with trips to one side of the field and soft coverage, the bubble is open here. Two: Forcier gets to honest-to-God read the backside DE. He is maintaining outside contain, so he hands it off.
Eastern's defensive line has slanted hard to the frontside of the play and Ferrara has gotten blown back a couple yards. Brown has nowhere to go and must cut up. But he can.
Because of the heavy slant, which was required to cut off the frontside of the play, there's plenty of room between the defensive end and his compatriots on the line. Because of the bubble threat, the weakside linebacker has been held outside. EMU basically destroyed the play but because of the design and EMU's lack of aggression they still don't stop it.
Eastern Michigan defended this about as well as they could here, forcing Brown behind every offensive lineman and into the unblocked backside of the play. It still gained five yards. This is really hard to prevent if you let the backside end get read and he's not a superfreak. Thus, the scrape.
Yet another in this site's series "counters to the scrape exchange."
This one doesn't take a whole lot of explanation. Michigan's in its H-back set and Notre Dame in the nickel it used all day. It's first and ten on Michigan's field-goal drive right before halftime:
Michigan's going to run something I called a "QB counter"; it, I believe, is not a read but a called QB run. Just like the dive play we saw yesterday, the TE (in this case Martell Webb) is going to pull across the formation and look for a block. LT Mark Ortmann, the topmost offensive lineman, is going to downblock on the weakside defensive tackle. But you'll do fine on this play if you just watch #80. He's the whole play.
Here we have a moment right before the key part of the play. Forcier has pulled the ball out of Minor's belly and Webb is approaching the point at which he's supposed to block the defensive end.
So Webb reaches the DE and… uh… runs right by him.
Here note two things. One: Ortmann has not done a great job with the DT, who has apparently read the play or was stunting or something and has shot into the backfield. This held the defensive end up. Normally on a scrape he'd be hauling ass after Minor, but since he got delayed he's right there and sees Forcier with the ball. Two: Webb ignored that guy and is heading right for the scraper. Tate has to deal with the DE.
Next, the moment of truth:
One: Forcier has beaten the defensive end despite the screwup/stunt by Notre Dame. This is MAKING PLAYS, and something it's doubtful either Threet or Sheridan could have pulled off. Two: Webb has blocked the scraper. Crushed him.
look at all that space
nooooooooo cut it up cut it up
- This is another scrape counter. This one didn't go very well for whatever reason and it still should have been 8-10 yards because Michigan has blocked the one guy tasked with the quarterback.
- Assuming your guy with the quarterback isn't going to get blocked can be dangerous for the defense. The scrape read presumes that your guy tasked with the QB isn't going to get lit up by a tight end, and it's hard to see any way to read what's going on to help out. The only player who can be of assistance is the backside DE, and that pulling tight end can do so many different things—block the scraper, block you and spring Brandon Minor up the middle, head out into the flat, pass block—that you're really picking your poison.
- I don't think it matters what side the guy gets blocked on… usually. Here Webb gets outside of the scraper and that's key because of the defensive end's presence, but if that guy's not there it makes no difference because Tate will be jetting up into massive space on either side of the block.
- Rodriguez's offseason planning was hugely focused on the TE. This was something we talked about in UFR, but it's worth repeating. There was a lot of hype about Michigan's tight ends and that hype has been more than met. A TE is on the field 90% of the time and has been a huge key in Michigan's ground game. Rodriguez has adapted to the scrape exchange and his counter is the tight end. At this point I'm actually a little concerned Michigan doesn't have a tight end in the recruiting class.
- Tate needs to realize he's no longer way more athletic than everyone on the field. He's done this three or four time in his first two games. It worked against Western, but not so much here.
This ended up being three yards, but it should have been ten, and holy God what if Denard Robinson was out there in that kind of space?
UPDATE: forgot the youtube-o-vision:
Last week in Picture Pages we saw one of Michigan's counters to the "scrape exchange" that Western ran constantly last game. Michigan ran a ton of bubble screens or "long handoff"* routes and gave Forcier another option after he decided to pull the ball out: run or toss it to a (usually) wide open receiver. Once Forcier got over some early jitters, this worked well.
Notre Dame was determined to take that away:
This is Michigan's first drive of the second half. Michigan's moved the ball and just got a gashing Brandon Minor run on a zone stretch. They're going to play off that success here.
You can see Notre Dame's response to what they saw in the Western game: line up in press coverage all day, including over the slot receiver. There will be no bubbles here. To prevent Notre Dame from being outnumbered in the box, 80% of the time Notre Dame walks one or both safeties up just before the snap. And to deal with the zone read, Notre Dame is running a scrape exchange every play. (Reminder: on a scrape exchange the backside DE just hauls ass for the tailback and a linebacker pops out to contain the QB.)
Notre Dame has countered Michigan's counter to their counter and pretty much shut down Michigan's rushing attack in the first half. But it's time for the counter-counter-counter-counter.
Here's the snap as it approaches the handoff point. Note that 1) there's no bubble available and 2) Kevin Koger is pulling across the formation. Oh and 3) Moosman, who is the second OL from the top, is just drive blocking his guy instead of taking zone steps to the left in an attempt to get his helmet across. His ability to shove the DT back a yard or two is key to this play.
A couple of moments later, Michigan's diabolical plan is revealed:
Points of interest:
- Kevin Koger's pull block pops the backside defensive end, providing a lane between that guy and RG David Moosman.
- Mark Huyge gets a free release on the linebacker, who you can see moving upfield and to the outside to contain Forcier. When he realizes Forcier does not have the ball he will have run himself into a spot where Huyge has a great angle to block him.
- Molk and Moosman have terrific angles to block their guys. Why are these blocks so easy? Notre Dame is anticipating a stretch play, which is what Michigan usually runs from this formation, and if it was a stretch play it would be imperative for them to get playside of their blockers. On this counter, that expectation runs them into places where it's easy to seal them away from the play.
This is basically over. A moment later, you can see the motion of the scrape linebacker has taken him into Huyge's block and that Moosman and Molk have locked up their defenders. Brandon Minor doesn't even have to cut:
The play ends at the one yard line. Watch it in glorious Youtube-o-vision:
Minor misses a cut on first down, Forcier fumbles on second, and a pitch gets blown up on third; Michigan misses a chip shot field goal, providing yrs truly with a wave of despair. But it ended well: Michigan was provided a short field on the next drive after a Notre Dame fumble and went from the 26 to the 7 with a six-yard stretch and 13 more on this play; that drive ended in a touchdown.
*(I don't have good lingo for that. Basically, the outside receiver stands there.)