I did not make this headline up
Last Saturday Michigan ran 51 offensive plays. Of those the Big Ten's best rushing quarterback ever participated in 19. Two of the sans-Robinson plays were on the goal line; here's how Michigan fared on the other 49:
|Denard||Plays||Run%||YPA||YPA-Adj.*||1st half*||2nd half*||In box|
Yards per attempt-adjusted (*) means I capped maximum gain or loss on a play at 20 yards so the outliers don't throw off the rest. It's not a quotable statistic but I think it provides a more accurate apples to apples comparison of the offense with Denard under center and without. It shows how Ohio State's defense seemed to have every part of Michigan's offense pretty much shut down except Denard running. Then they shut that down too.
Success rate is a thing they use at Football Outsiders at the start of their S&P+ calculations, and measures how much of the distance needed for a 1st down was achieved given the down. On 1st down you need to get 50% or more, on 2nd down 75% or more, on 3rd down or 4th down 100%. It doesn't account for the time of the game, so running for 8 yards on 1st and 10 from your own 25 with 75 seconds left in the half is considered "success" here. Here's the four quarters by success rating:
|Denard||1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||Total|
For all the Borges carping from the 2nd half, Michigan's ability to get chunk yards with Denard's legs despite having to double Hankins and the entire world knowing what's coming was some Level 4 Rodriguez 2010 stuff. Then the bad guys did something at halftime to shut it down and it went to 2008 Rodriguez stuff and Denard Robinson's Big Ten career ended with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter down 2 points.
A lot of folks have taken the "keying" quote to mean Meyer did something by alignment to take away what Michigan was doing until. I don't think this means what you think it means.
[See THE JUMP for a Picture Pages of the Keying]
Saturday's game was a weird one in which virtually all of Iowa's relevant plays came on two back-to-back drives in the first half. They went three and out on their four other drives before it was 42-10.
The first of these drives was Iowa's only sustained success of the day. Iowa's second drive was a couple of chunk plays and then six straight unsuccessful ones; a terrible roughing the passer flag in the middle of that sequence got the Hawkeyes into chip-shot field goal territory.
I, like you, was a little worried about that touchdown drive and what it said about the defense; after looking at it I feel a bit better since one major reason was a bad matchup between James Ross and Mark Weisman. Ross would show up in the hole and Weisman would run him over, because he is a horsecow and Ross is a freshman.
There were a couple other subtle ways in which Ross showed his youth, like on this nine yard run. Iowa has picked up a first down and now has the ball first and ten nearing midfield. They come out in their 2TE ace set; Michigan responds with eight-ish in the box, sliding the linebackers to the field and bringing Kovacs down behind.
Iowa pops a TE up and moves one of the WRs to the line, then motions him.
Various Michigan defenders adjust in slight ways to this. Notably, two of the three linebackers step to the 2TE side; so does Kovacs. James Ross doesn't.
Each of these guys has slid essentially a person-width over, which makes sense because Iowa has moved their center of gravity a person-width over. Except Ross. Does this end up mattering?
I really need to find a better way to generate suspense in these posts.
Okay, snap. Inside zone because Iowa always always runs inside zone. I'm sure the playcalls have subtle variances; these escape me and are probably unknowable without actually being the playcaller. At our level of detail, all Iowa running plays are inside zone.
Key still explaining time:
1. Craig Roh on the backside hanging out unblocked. This is not what Michigan wants, I don't think. Earlier plays have seen Michigan split in the middle like they're doing on this play with a key difference:
There is no unblocked end as Iowa is running from a balanced formation. See Roh? Right above him is one guy moving to the second level and two LBs. Michigan has a free hitter—Ross again—and he'll hit, and Weisman will get one yard.
2. Brennen Beyer getting doubled. Ideally I think Iowa wants to seal him inside but if he goes outside too hard the back will cut inside and the interior OL will release.
3. Kovacs containing. He is the force guy, can't let anything outside of him, etc. By moving the TE over they get him blocked while still getting that double.
4 & 5. Ross and Demens running at the right spot. This time there are blockers for both, though, as long as Iowa can get Beyer effectively blocked.
They just barely do. Here Weisman is heading outside and Ross has gotten to the LOS so Iowa has run out of time to double Beyer. The outside guy pops off and Beyer is still not sealed:
Now this is where two things about James Ross combine to submarine Michigan. These are both basically "is a freshman." One is the the lack of response to the shift shown above. Take Ross in the above frame and move him a body-width to the outside. Now he's a step faster to this contact. He's outside, and his momentum is more downhill than it is here. With Beyer on the outside all he needs is a little bit of help…
Just a yard, just a hesitation, just any bit of delay. Beyer just needs one step. He doesn't get it, and then there's the other thing about being a freshman:
Sometimes you get picked up and dumped nine yards downfield.
Ross's lack of momentum when he meets the blocker is more apparent with the moving pictures.
Things And Stuff
This is something of an RPS play for Iowa. Beyer makes a nice play and may hold this down if he gets that step from Ross, but Weisman also has a cutback inside of that guy since Black goes straight upfield and Demens gets blocked. I don't think that's a problem with either of those guys since it seems like Michigan's strategy on the zone was to get aggressively upfield in gaps and let one of the two linebackers flow free:
would be a first down as Demens did not funnel back to Ross, may picture page later
On this play Michigan doesn't adjust and gets that unblocked backside guy they don't want. As a result someone has to beat a block to make a play; Beyer does and it is for naught.
Michigan still could have held it down. That one step Ross didn't take is probably the difference between two yards and nine; if he hits a little earlier, with a little more authority, Weisman slows and Beyer gets his cookie.
An older Ross could have made this mistake and still held it down. And then it's just getting carried. Of all the flaws to have this is the best one because it's obvious and not at all hard to fix; it was still a bit vexing on this drive.
Weisman was a bad matchup for Ross. Ross would show up in the right spot a lot and still get crunched back for significant YAC. On the third and five that set up Iowa's sneak, he did a great job to get to the hole on Yet Another Inside Zone and make contact with Weisman. Result:
That probably doesn't happen if Morgan's in the game. People stop when they meet Morgan. A guy like Weisman may pound out a yard or two; Iowa is still facing a fourth and three or four, and probably kicking except this is Ferentz we're talking about, the sandbagger.
Ross is still super instinctive. Once the ball is snapped Ross is almost certain to read quickly and get to the spot. While he still needs some work on zone drops, if he can put on 15-20 pounds and do that the sky is the limit for him. Of all the ways Iowa's rushing offense could have been better than expected "Weisman running over Ross" is the best one from a Michigan fan's perspective. Once Ross turns those twelve tackles into twelve tackles a yard closer to the LOS, with a yard less YAC, look out.
I came away from this game thinking that Ross was a major culprit in the admittedly limited success Iowa had on offense and that he was going to be really good possibly as soon as next year, if that makes any sense. The mistakes he makes are small, and given his high football IQ it seems certain he'll fix them by the time next fall rolls around. Add on the usual amount of mass and you've got my #1 pick for a breakout player on Michigan's 2013 D.
So. Michigan got a nice play from Will Campbell to turn second and three into third and one despite kind of conceding the first down, then saw Kenny Demens blow upfield as soon as he saw Venric Mark block a blitzing James Ross. He hewed down a Colter scramble in the backfield. Now it's fourth and two, and all the timeouts have been taken.
Michigan comes out in… this. I guess. Whatever this is. Weird is what it is.
Please note that Northwestern has also brought their share of weird to the party. They're in a two back set with all three WRs to the field, which means one of those slots is covered up. Michigan is seven on eight in the box, with a safety—Gordon—hanging out deep. If Northwestern can get guys blocked they should have a guy running free. As we'll see, they don't.
This has been mentioned before, but Michigan came out in this weird formation on fourth and two in an attempt to bait Northwestern into a handoff up the middle, which they successfully did.
As a bonus, the bait here is compounded by Northwestern confusion. It does not matter what Colter does here. They're dead.
Part The First: Black Surge
Jibreel Black is shaded playside of the center above and immediately shoots upfield of said center.
This is easy for him. Just go straight upfield. It does two things:
- Invites Colter to hand off. That looks dangerous to him because if he's forced to pitch early by a Black surge then Roh is likely to contain the back.
- Forces the dive back to the backside of the play, where there are two Northwestern OL and three Michigan defenders.
In the wider view you can see three Northwestern OL releasing, with the fourth dealing with Clark.
Part The Second: Handoff Away From Strength
That looks un-promising. But here's what they'll do:
The option provides blocking strength to the front side of the play because you're letting the end go to option him; on the backside you're blocking him. Here Northwestern burns that strength as two confused guys go after Ross. A third has to cut Ryan, and there's no one for three separate Michigan defenders.
At the mesh point Colter is looking at Roh on the edge and Black surging through, which seemingly puts acres of space between the NT and backside DE. There are acres, in fact.
Part The Third: Free Train With Purchase Of Handoff
ACRES OF PAIN WOO
Everyone run around and do things! Be happy! And then play the dog groomers song and kill everyone's buzz. But those first 5 seconds were rad.
Things And Stuff
This was dead in every way. If Colter decides to keep he is probably going to get pushed wide by Black, maybe even have a pitched forced by him a la Mike Martin last year. If he does not…
…it's Mike Trumpy in space against Jordan Kovacs with Roh pursuing from the inside-out. We've seen how that story ends, against this team even.
That was forth and inches, this is fourth and two. I'll take my chances there.
This play seems specifically designed to defeat the option. The Black surge is going to do one of two things. One option is what it did. The other is for the playside G to block Black, likely with help from the center, and leave one guy for Ross. If those guys can combo Black a keep meets the same fate you see in the frame on the last bullet. If those guys can combo Black and the C manages a release to the second level, then you are possibly in business as you hypothetically have enough guys to block the LBs.
I don't see how that happens though given what Black does here. No one is coming off that guy fast enough to be useful. The only option that gets yards is a check.
Nothing else? Just a check? The only other way in which this might eke out the first down is by letting the backside end go, too, and having that tackle hit Demens. This may or may not work and exposes the back to Clark coming down the line; at least if he's hit by Clark it's from behind. Really, though, there's nothing.
Demens! This isn't the hardest play in the world for a linebacker but even so you can't do it any better. There's no drama after this:
No spinning out or grinding forward or sliding off. The guy just goes down, backwards, game over. That's one of them form tackles.
Cat and mouse. This play followed a series of timeouts. Michigan showed the formation they ran before the first one:
Northwestern called TO, and came out with their covered slot formation. Michigan again showed the 3-3-5 alignment…
…until everyone in the front seven yelled at Ryan to get on the LOS…
Roh had to do a ton of pointing and talking to get this to happen
…and then Michigan called timeout before a false start. As a bonus, unless the slot receiver moved after the camera took him out of the picture, Northwestern only had six on the line of scrimmage and would have been hit with an illegal formation.
So they went to it, got a TO, showed it, got rid of it, called a TO, and then ran it. The dance of doom.
A gimmick defense for gimmick times. Yeah this could get gashed by stuff other than what Northwestern ran; Michigan knew their comfort zone and had a plan to blow it up. They had plenty of problems in this game, and I think Mattison is going to have to make some adjustments to slow the Wildcats down in future years, but at the end it was Michigan who got the last stab in after a knock-down, drag-out fight.
Last time on keeping Michigan's overtime record sterling, Will Campbell played both sides of a guy and turned second and three into third and one. Venric Mark gets dinged on that play, Mike Trumpy comes in, and it's time for third and short.
Northwestern comes out in a goal-line version of the pistol they just ran. They again flip the FB:
Michigan sets up in an over front, which was unusually prevalent for the second straight week. It won't matter much because this is going to be a pass, which third and one with Kain Colter and you throw—Michigan's defense puts the fear of God into you on short yardage.
Michigan sends James Ross; Gordon and Floyd back out into coverage. Both NW players are taken care of, leaving only the tight end on the backside, who is running a slant to the interior.
This is not Demens's guy, it's Taylor's. Michigan is in man, which you can tell because of this:
The instant Mark lowers his head to block Ross, Demens starts flying at the LOS. He's got the RB out of the backfield, and once that RB commits to a blitzer he is now in QB attack mode.
Here's a wider shot:
Demens is moving before Colter even completes his drop. By the time Colter has taken a single step, Demens is across the LOS and closing:
It's now fourth and the game.
Things And Stuff
Colter had the third guy in the pattern but did not have the patience. He decides to take off after seeing the first two reads covered. Demens's presence may dissuade him from trying the route, but that TE is well inside Taylor and Ryan if Colter waits another beat or two for Demens to fly up at him.
Those guys were pointing at each other before the snap, confused; I am not sure if it's on Ryan or Taylor. Either way those guys are going to have a little trouble covering this since they're both lined up outside of him.
Can't really blame Colter for going one-two-go in this situation, but it looks like Michigan was banking on that being the default reaction here given how aggressively Demens plays this. He was likely told that if the back stays in go get the QB. If it's third and five, maybe he waits for Colter to take off.
Ross and Washington give Demens the space. Washington's playing this like he would a goal line carry, submarining the OL with no other thought than moving the LOS backwards. Look at that still above: mission accomplished. Ross meanwhile has bashed the OL he blitzed into into that mess and is taking the Mark cut block. Colter is looking at two guys against one blocker, who is Venric Mark, and knows those odds—another reason he was all GTFO.
Michigan punched in a touchdown on their only possession of overtime against Northwestern and took the field needing to get a fourth-down stop at some point to win. They got it right away. On first down, Will Campbell(+2, pressure +2) swims through a guard to get instant pressure; Colter finds a running lane because Washington is out of position and picks up seven yards.
Three plays later, Northwestern was still at the eighteen, out of downs. WHA HAPPEN? In three parts, what happened.
Second And Three: Campbell Two-Gap
Northwestern comes out in the pistol, with Michigan in an even front with Ryan shaded over the slot. They keep two safeties 13 yards off the LOS—they are essentially playing a man down in the front seven because Colter demands to be contained.
The FB started on the other side of Colter and motioned just before the snap; Michigan's linebackers shuffle a little in response, but not much. Northwestern is going to run a plain old zone play.
There is a mesh point here. Colter is reading Roh. Roh does two things once the tackle lets him go:
- He forms up at the LOS
- He shuffles inside a bit to remain tight with the hip of the tackle.
give + no cutback == job done
#1 makes Colter give. #2 prevents Mark from heading all the way backside, which is important. If my spread 'n' shred analysis skillz are now basically irrelevant at least they're useful for parsing Northwestern. I've seen this before:
It's the vertical zone read play RR termed "belly." Under RR Michigan wouldn't go so far as to move into the pistol, but they would slide the QB up a foot or two and make this same handoff. It looks a lot like inside zone to the defense, and usually by the time they find out it's not the guy going backside has picked up a nice chunk.
Belly is about doubling the DTs, and driving them back; failing that you go at the spot the backside DE vacated when he went to contain the QB.
Here there's nothing. This is the mesh point. The line is a solid mass of humanity from Roh to Campbell, with the only gap on the frontside as Clark contains. The DTs have held up at the LOS. Mark has nowhere to go save that frontside gap.
That's a problem because neither LB is hitting that gap. Meanwhile the fullback shoots downfield, looking for Kovacs. Mark has to redirect—this is not what the play was supposed to create—and this takes time, which is a saving grace.
Campbell is here, and then he's obscured because he's flung himself to the other side of his blocker and tackled.
Mark squeezes out a couple before most of the players on the field converge on top of him.
Now Michigan has third and short. They like third and short.
Things And Stuff
It looks like Michigan is conceding the first down. Second and three and Michigan puts a full two-deep coverage on, leaving just six guys in the box against seven players. It's almost like Michigan is playing TD prevent and living to fight again on first and ten from the 13.
This is all defensive line. Collectively the two DTs take on four blockers and while those blockers release, Washington is in a spot where he closes off a gap at the LOS. Roh has taken the cutback away. And when Mark redirects outside, Campbell fills the gap outside Washington.
This is a cost of cutting off screens. Remember last year when Michigan got burned by bubble after bubble in this game? Mattison responded by flaring Ryan over the slot. That was the first we had seen of that; it's now a standard thing. Bubbles have all but evaporated. So that's good, but it also leaves Michigan in some vulnerable positions. Here their best defensive player is irrelevant to the play. It would be nice to have some better run support on the edges.
I'm not sure about the LB play here. Both guys end up catching blocks. They do this because the NW OL does not extend their doubles. Since the doubles are not extended, the DL can make the play they make. I am still kind of nervous about it. There's no slant here so they just have to play it straight, and as a result neither gets anywhere near the play. I'm guessing that's the way they have to play it. Gives me hives. Help, anyone?
Will Campbell woo. He vexed the pants off of a couple of guys in this game. This play in particular reminded me of watching Hoke talk about DL technique at that coaching clinic. Campbell may get a little high, but he takes one step inside and then fires upwards, rocking the G backwards. At that point his hands are on the interior of the OL. He controls the block, and can go from one gap to the other when Mark does. If you watch it enough you'll be like oh right the sleds DL hit.
Campbell made the Northwestern G look like an inanimate object designed to be hit to teach technique. Heininger Certainty Principle +1.
SIDE NOTE: DL DID NOT USE SLEDS UNDER RR /dies
[PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to a three-pronged failure in various systems I lost the first half of UFR and had to re-do it. I tried, but couldn't get it done for today. 2x UFR tomorrow.]
Minnesota's offense struggled to move the ball most of Saturday. When they did move it was often because Michigan was in a difficult position against spread principles. For example: on Minnesota's first snap, Michigan slid their linebackers way to the field against a trips formation and gave up five yards when the tailback cut all the way behind the defensive line.
I'm not sure if this is actually a problem Michigan should fix or if they're taking away certain things that would otherwise be open and will just open up another hole in the dam. In certain cases, anyway. I caught a second-quarter run—at twelve yards, Minnesota's long run of the day—on which Michigan's alignment had them in trouble from the start. Since the Big Ten Network was running an uncommonly large number of useful replays, we can take a look at it from the end zone.
From the dead center of the field Minnesota comes out in a pistol formation with two backs flanking the quarterback. Minnesota has two WRs not shown. When Blue Seoul was pumping out With Pics on the regular he would often point out presnap alignment issues, and Michigan has one here.
This is a balanced formation right smack in the middle of the field, but note that the linebackers are shifted to the left—Demens is left of the center; Morgan is inside the tackle to the right while Ryan is well outside. The line is also shifted left: Washington is inside the guard, Campbell outside. As a result you can draw a line with five Minnesota players to one side and three Michigan defenders:
Minnesota will run at this, running the back on the left across the QB and pulling a guard to keep that two-man advantage as the center uses his angle to take care of Campbell.
Before the mesh point a few things are clear: the three backside defenders are basically nonentities. Demens has a shot, maybe, but he's getting a free release from a tackle with an excellent angle and is in tough. The two backs are available to take on Clark and Morgan.
At the mesh point and just after, two things. First, Clark:
Clark dives inside the pack trying to get him, which could be a valid move. The second frame there has a pulling guard; if Clark hits him that's two blockers on one guy. Because Michigan was badly aligned that still won't matter, though. Minnesota will run this later at Keith Heitzman; Heitzman will do the same thing and peg the QB, so this was what Mattison wanted… sort of. I'll explain below what he actually wanted, probably.
He eats a block, but I'm not even mad when he eats a guy before it's even clear who has the ball. Even if he reads the play on the snap this guy probably gets him since he's got a great angle; if the tackle doesn't the pulling guard literally has no one to block so Demens will again feel the wrath of two different OL on the same play. If Demens is at fault it's for presnap stuff involving this alignment that gets him in trouble.
By the time the back breaks outside, it doesn't really matter what Morgan does, the play is getting yards, whether it's inside or out.
But man you still shouldn't get hewed to the ground like this and give up the edge:
It was faintly possible that Washington, who beat a down block, gets in some sort of tackle attempt, and you also wouldn't be forcing Kovacs to get on his horse outside like he does. Note that Raymon Taylor is also on his knees after eating a cut block:
Kovacs has to take an awkward angle around that block and misses the tackle as a result. He does get the guy off balance; Taylor recovers.
Things And Stuff
I don't really have a big theme here. Often these posts are attempts to explain a general trend—like Michigan not blocking anyone against Nebraska—with some concrete examples. This is just a thing that happened and probably doesn't mean much of anything. These things pop up from time to time; the defense is still really good.
If there is a theme it's that these things tend to get fixed, as we'll see in the next bullet.
Clark is less good at defending the run than other folk/Mattison adjusts fast. There are two main differences between this and a –1 yard run later in the game off this same play. One is Heitzman. Watch the defensive end to the bottom of the screen:
That may be a different playcall that causes Beyer to move down on the tackle and prevent him from releasing. It is more useful than what Clark does above. While that's not a two for one the guy taking Demens is now the pulling guard, who takes a lot longer to get out on him. That allows Demens to get outside of him; a gap further inside James Ross is also playside of that tackle when he finally releases.
The other difference is of course JMFR, who demonstrates what the coaches are talking about when they call him an "unorthodox" player by taking a cut block hard and still managing to fling his off-balance body at the RB for a TFL.
Even if that does not happen Michigan has this covered as this chain…
- Beyer holds up T
- Demens beats pulling G to outside
- Back bounces it outside
- Gordon runs past RB with no angle now
…has an unblocked guy waiting to clean up if'n Ryan isn't a wizard or something.
These things tend to get fixed. Note that Michigan's alignment above is even instead of slid to one side or the other.
I am sorry to remind you of our shared, dark past, but remember the GERG defenses when Michigan would frequently get annihilated by the same thing over and over again? In the Oh God Justin Siller game (to be fair, a GERG defense only in spirit, not in letter) it was ten yard outs over and over. In the 2010 Wisconsin game I think the Badgers ran power 28 straight times in the second half, and I am not even sure that's a joke. One of the most frustrating aspects of Michigan's terrible terrible defenses pre-Mattison were the times when the same thing just kept working.
Here Michigan gets burned for a first down. The next two snaps they see out of this formation are runs that go for zero and –1 yards. That's why there's not a theme, because the things that seem to be dodgy with this defense are pure talent issues. Michigan doesn't have an elite pass-rusher or a lot of speed in the secondary. This leads to lots of attempted deep bombs that have not come off yet, mostly.
Minnesota backs and receivers can really cut block. Seriously, our guys could learn something from the Gophers in that department. Michigan CBs and LBs hit the ground a lot in this game, even if sometimes they got up like an unkillable zombie and made the tackle anyway.
Washington: pretty good. He couldn't do anything about the 12 yarder above; he did get off a block and pursue in case he could.