At press time, Harbaugh had sent Michigan’s athletic department an envelope containing a heavily annotated seating chart, a list of the 63,000 seat views he had found unsatisfactory, and a glowing 70-page report on section 25, row 12, seat 9, which he claimed is “exactly what the great sport of football is all about.”
It might be silly to highlight a play that worked in a game where your offense scores three net points but I thought this was an interesting play, and it's one we haven't seen this year. It's third and one on Michigan's second drive of the game; Threet's about to throw the disaster interception.
But first we have to get that first down. Michigan comes out in an I-formation(secondary offense what!) with twin receivers to the bottom of the screen. Also, note the position of TE Kevin Koger: he's covered up by the outside receiver and can't go downfield.*
This next frame is taken right at the snap and exists to show you the presnap motion of the fullback: he took two quick steps to his right the instant before the snap. Michigan used to do this all the time under Debord and it drove me crazy; in this instance the fullback shuffle is 1) much quicker and 2) followed immediately by the snap. It's still a tipoff, but less of one.
The DL didn't pick up on it, obviously: they're slanting inside.
The Rockets are in trouble at this point: check Molk out: he's got a complete seal on the playside DT. This leaves six Michigan blockers (WR, RG, RT, TE, LG attempting to cut the MLB, as you can see) in an area with four Toledo defenders. Five of them can get excellent angles on their players; only the LG has something of a difficult job.
This hole is truly gaping as Grady approaches the LOS, but the LG has failed to chop that linebacker, leaving him to Moosman, and Moundros is kind of running aimlessly outside.
Our final frame shows Moosman having whiffed on the MLB, Grady past the first down marker, and backside pursuit encroaching. Moundros is still looking for someone to block.
So: a great playcall that caught Toledo's defense, particularly the playside DT, in a play they weren't prepared to defend. Good execution by Molk and Schilling creates a cavernous hole in the line with plenty of blockers heading downfield, but poor execution by those downfield blockers held this gain down to about six; club that MLB and he's probably down to the two or three and Michigan grinds in a touchdown.
*(This bugs me way less than the formation where Greg Mathews is split out and covered up because if Michigan passes they can still use Koger as a blocker; the Mathews thing is basically playing 10-on-11 if you pass.)
We're back with a trips formation.
Check out that guy lined up outside of Mathews way out there: that's a linebacker. He is on the LOS outside of a couple wide receivers. Weird.
Michigan will run a zone stretch, and Illinois will do what they did:
Again we see the backside defensive end crashing in with no thought for Threet. He can do this because Miller is shooting out to contain the QB, like we saw on the last play.
Also, check the linebacker, already flowing upfield as soon as he sees the play start.
Check the very top of the screen: if Michigan was to throw a bubble screen Odoms would probably get lit up, as the linebacker has used his advantageous position to hop past the wide receiver. This defense takes away all three prongs of the Rodriguez system.
But it doesn't take away everything. Look at the vast huge gaping hole between that linebacker and Miller. If Odoms was just to not go anywhere, or if he was to run a little hitch to the line of scrimmage, he would be wide open. Illinois's secondary is playing in the parking lot. If Odoms was to come in at the snap and establish a pitch relationship with Threet, there's no one to cover him on the option. This is not defeat for the zone read; it's just defeat for Michigan's zone read at this moment.
Anyway, McGuffie is forced to cut back because Schilling's been driven into the backfield…
… and gets smooshed.
The instant conclusion to jump to is that Rodriguez got beat. Illinois regularly deployed this gimmicky defense specifically aimed the staple of his offense. It has big gaping flaws in it that Michigan did not adjust to. They assumed Michigan would run on first down, put themselves in a position to stop it, and did; Michigan did not go to a throwing mode.
It's not that easy, of course, when you're a coach at a new school and you're using freshmen everywhere. Illinois, like Oregon, has guys who have been in this offense for multiple years and they pulled out a vast array of sleight-of-hand. Michigan probably doesn't have that rabbit in its hat yet.
Still… doing the UFR here was a sad trip into the recent past. At this point we know the line is better at pass blocking than run blocking—though Ortmann was way worse at guard than he was a tackle—and that teams are teeing off on the zone-read/bubble on first and ten; too rarely did we go away from that.
Hey, guess what? Michigan's run game against Illinois sucked donkey. This was partly Michigan's offensive line getting beat, but it was also partly Illinois outscheming Rodriguez.
To wit: first and ten on Michigan's second touchdown drive on the Illinois 25. Michigan comes out in a standard 3-WR set; Illinois has their base formation on the field with a linebacker over Odoms.
Michigan is running the same play Brandon Minor took to the house against Wisconsin; I've been terming it the "zone read dive" in the UFRs. Michigan will hand it off to McGuffie, using the zone-read induced delay on the unblocked defensive end to get out on the linebackers and shoot McGuffie into the secondary.
Problem: the defensive end couldn't give a crap about Threet. Here at the handoff he's already given up containment.
This is quickly followed by McGuffie getting swallowed whole. So Threet should keep it? Not so much, as Martez Wilson has hopped outside and Vontae Davis is crashing down, too. If Threet keeps it he's going to get tackled for loss, too:
(Also, note Molk's whiff on Miller, the only real execution issue on this play.)
And for the kicker, go up to that first frame above: that linebacker is right on the LOS, close enough to jump the bubble screen route if Michigan sets up to throw. They've got all the angles covered.
Except, of course, they don't. Michigan could combat this a number of different ways:
- Shoot Threet up into the hole originally designated for McGuffie. On this play it wouldn't work, but only because of the Molk whiff. If Molk gets a block that's into the secondary.
- Just run some play action. For Davis to get that close to the LOS he had to jump off Mathews as soon as he saw the zone read action; Mathews is now wide open.
- Throw a long handoff to Savoy. Look at the cushion, man.
They did none of these things. I've got another one of these coming in a little bit.
Part of an erratic series. Check the comments for potential corrections from gsimmons and others who are actual coaches.
Notre Dame didn't have a ton of success running the ball against Michigan, but their performance against Michigan State—2.0 YPC for the running backs—indicates they suck and that any amount of success is disturbing.
Notre Dame's run strategy last Saturday was to double the hell out of the defensive tackles and exploit Michigan's crappy linebacking. Time and again ND would leave Michigan linebackers totally unblocked and still pick up plenty of yards; they did this mostly by crushing Johnny Thompson with their fullback. An example follows.
It's second an nine on ND's first drive of the third quarter; they come out in an offset I and Michigan has their base set on the field.
The play is pure caveman: an iso up the gut. Will Johnson is doubled; this one of the rare times that Taylor doesn't get the double himself. Johnson's holds up decently on the initial play and Jamison isn't upfield so the hole Thompson has to deal with is manageable.
Thompson meets the fullback and makes a critical mistake: he lets the FB get outside of him, losing leverage on the ball and opening up a hole outside. There's no one outside of him: he's the outside linebacker.
Meanwhile, Johnson has slipped and is going to the ground; Ezeh has to watch a cutback lane opened up and is hesitant; he still needs to read the RB's cut faster than he does. (It wouldn't have mattered much because of Thompson's failure to get to the outside shoulder of his blocker.)
Thompson is now getting shoved backwards by the FB, and Johnson is finished getting wiped out. Note that Taylor has beaten his blocker and slid down the line; if Thompson had done his job and funneled the tailback inside there's a good chance he's making a tackle right now.
Thompson did not do his job and is now three yards downfield; Hughes takes it up into a sizable hole, gaining seven. Notre Dame would run the exact same play on second and three, gaining thirteen as Thompson repeats the performance encapsulated here.
This play highlighted a number of themes from the day: Taylor crushed single blocking whenever Notre Dame provided it, which was rarely. Johnson did okay against a wide array of double teams but not great. Thompson was owned by the fullback, and Ezeh was hesitant.