rundown of Michigan's riser
Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.
This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.
The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:
With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.
On the snap, Schofield pulls…
…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:
Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:
This time not so much.
With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.
Items of Interest
Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.
On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.
This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.
"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.
This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.
Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.
Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.
I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.
Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.
So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.
- Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
- Interception #1
- Interception #2
Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.
Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.
Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:
On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.
As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:
At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.
This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:
This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:
Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.
But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…
…that does not end well.
I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.
Items of interest
This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.
When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.
This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:
He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.
Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.
Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.
Last time on Picture Pages we looked at a 35-yard iso on Michigan's first drive against Minnesota. A 35 yard iso means someone did something terrible on defense or your tailback did something ridiculous; Michigan was playing Minnesota so it was the former.
So Michigan scores a touchdown and gets the ball back and opens up with the same set. Minnesota again has both safeties rolled up.
On the snap the line pass blocks but the backfield executes a historical reenactment of The Battle Of Minnesota Sucks At Isos.
There's a gap in the line that Hopkins is thundering towards again and by the time it's clear Denard has the ball the three LB type substances have started moving towards the LOS:
When Hopkins hits the LOS the two guys who could hypothetically cover him are four yards from the LOS and stationary.
This is what it sounds like when doves cry.
Items of Interest
Constraint theory right here. Minnesota just got hit with a big iso and got chewed out on the sideline about it. They are hyped up to stop it, so when Michigan shows it again the LB and S suck way up and leave Hopkins open for a big gain over the top. This works not only because Minnesota overreacts to it but because of the omnipresent Denard threat posed in the shotgun. That means the Gophers are operating with essentially zero deep safeties.
This is what happens when you can force the defense to cheat. An actual opponent playing this way probably would have given up five, not 35, on the first iso, but that's enough to force them to cheat to it, whereupon bang.
This isn't unique or new. Literally every program in the country except Ohio State* tries to do this. Michigan's old-school waggle is an example. The hope with Borges is that he'll use them frequently to score lots of points instead of occasionally as part of a bler offense run by 70s thinking. Denard is a hell of a thing to try to stop without cheating, much more threatening than Michigan's four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game was in the late 90s and early aughts.
This is the stuff you get in the shotgun even when Denard is not running because the zone read demands attention at all times. Under center Denard's legs mean waggle or Incredibly Surprising QB Draw, neither of which forces safeties into the box.
We saw a bucket of constraint against the Gophers. This is in part because the Gophers are so bad they have to cheat every play in the hopes of stopping the opposition.
I think it's also in part because Borges is finding his legs in this strange environment where your quarterback is one of the most threatening rushers in the country. Michigan tried the waggle a bunch earlier this year (and in spring) and got little out of it; against the Gophers that was ditched in favor of plays that use fear of Denard's legs as a major component of their success.
Hey man, nice touch. Denard floated a nice catchable ball to Hopkins about 18 yards downfield. He could do that because there were no safeties, so I've got no problem with the throw.
Let's see if Shaw can block this. Because this is a 75 yard touchdown if a fullback isn't running it. Also Hopkins almost dropped this.
One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.
[Editor's Note: I was going to do a jet sweep post but got beaten to it by BWS. His conclusion is pretty harsh to Demens, and some of that is deserved. I don't see that as a specifically Demens problem, though. EMU used a ton of formations, unbalanced lines, presnap motion, and wholesale realignments to get Michigan's D out of position and confused. It worked. It worked on Demens and it worked on large chunks of the rest of the D. I think they're confused as a group.
That taken care of I'll move on to one of EMU's completed passes, which answers a question from earlier in the year.]
In the first week of the season we discussed Michigan's End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage (EMLOS is the commonly accepted jargon) and how his performance was hurting Michigan against power runs, particularly the counters that both WMU and Notre Dame used to good effect.
Part of that discussion was about how much Brennen Beyer was at fault for getting way upfield on our first example. Beyer was sent on a blitz, ended up three yards in the backfield, and made it difficult for Kenny Demens to close down a major hole. Demens lost contain, compounding matters. How much of that was on Beyer?
I thought the answer was "quite a bit" and the way Michigan handled a particular play-action showing the same counter action seems to confirm. It's the first quarter and EMU is on its second drive. They've got a first and ten. They line up in a three-wide shotgun with two backs; Michigan aligns in the under.
On the snap two things are apparent based on the Michigan line: 1) Jibreel Black v(top of line) is dropping off into a short zone and Jake Ryan (bottom) is blitzing as the rest of the line slants left:
EMU is pulling the backside G; the RB is taking a counter step, and the other RB is coming down the line to block. This is a close analogue to the Beyer counter. You'll notice that both linebackers are still waiting.
Here's how Ryan handles this:
LEFT: he reads the pulling OL.
MIDDLE: he flattens his approach and starts coming down the line.
RIGHT: he's in the running lane playside of the block, not kicked out.
Here's Beyer vs Ryan:
Beyer is three yards upfield. Ryan is two. You can't tell this in the stills but Ryan's momentum is also much better. He is heading down the line and can impact a blocker with force. Beyer had to come to a full stop and redirect. He did that impressively; it was not enough.
Move Beyer a yard towards the LOS in the left frame and he is either making a tackle for no gain or picking off the other blocker, leaving the RB for an unblocked Demens. Look at the distance between the DE/LBs and the DTs. Even though RVB is fighting playside in the left frame and slanting away from the play in the right, the gap is much larger in the former. Win for Ryan.
Great! Except the tailback doesn't have the ball.
Gillette rolls out as Ryan comes underneath the tackle and three WRs release to the roll side:
Ryan's there to provide some token pressure but it's not enough; a WR running deeper than Demens and Gordon finds a window. Gillette throws…
…for a nice gain.
Items of interest
Just because you're blitzing doesn't mean you don't have keys. My assumption is that Ryan is the guy doing what the coaches want here. He's got a year of experience, Michigan's been burned by this before and probably made a point of it in film study, and he's playing instead of Beyer (mostly).
You're sent on a blitz and get no resistance at all? Check for a pulling OL and get inside of him.
Just because there's obviously a key here doesn't mean there aren't more. The RB's second step here should be a giveaway that this is not a run play. My guess at Ryan's thought process:
- BLITZ WOO crap check the…
- Pulling G. Have to get inside pulling G to occupy blockers, restrict hole.
- Pulling G.
- Token, too late edge pressure.
My guess at the ideal thought process:
- I have been assigned a blitz. Let's soberly check the…
- Pulling G. Have to get inside pulling G to occupy blockers, restrict hole. Hmm, maybe I should check the…
- Running back. He is past the mesh point but not following the pulling guys.
- EDGE PRESSURE WOO
"Football is hard." -psychology majors who used to be pre-med
I'm not too bothered by the hole in the zone. Once Ryan loses the edge there that's a lot of time for the QB to sit and wait for his WR to run his way into an inevitable gap. I guess you could blame either Gordon or Demens, probably Gordon. He could sink back into the route by reading the QB's eyes and either get a PBU/pick or, more likely, force a less-damaging dumpoff to the underneath receiver.
That seems like Advanced Zone Mechanics 486, though. That's a place to get to eventually.
Kovacs is the free safety. Gordon/whoever rolls down into the box far more often than Kovacs does and it's almost always Kovacs who's coming down to fill against WRs when completions are made.
Q: How did Eastern Michigan run for 4.5 YPC despite having their quarterback attempt five passes all game?
A: There were a few different issues. Here's one of the minor ones.
It's first and ten on EMU's first drive of the day. They've just gotten a first down on a jet sweep. Their second play from scrimmage is POWER they will run with POWER and on the BIG TEN NETWORK they use HUGE WIDE ANGLES instead of REAL TIGHT ANGLES and this was going to be MATT FOLEY but now it's more like a BRAWNDO COMMERCIAL.
Anyway. EMU I-Form, Michigan responds with an even front with three linebackers back. They'll run power at Will Heininger. The images will be a little fuzzy. Tackle box:
On the snap the backside G pulls; linebackers start creepin':
The playside DE is Craig Roh and he'll do a pretty good job. He's at the LOS, his guy is a yard or so behind it, he's able to release either way. He is not sealed. This is what he looks like:
This is the essence of a half-point. You are relevant to the play. You are basically doing your job. When everyone does their job and you don't get rock-paper-scisssored you are not going to give up many yards. Roh will eventually get plastered by a pulling G and tumble to the ground, but that's fine. Two guys blocking you means someone's free to hit.
If the rest of the line did this there'd be nothing. Unfortunately, this is Will Heininger's fate (second from the top in the first frame):
You can see the blue stripe. Roh has his helmet on it. Heininger ends up a yard behind it and sealed away. That middle frame is a butt-kicking, and the third frame is the result: two Michigan players with no hope of making a tackle.
The result of this is a hole with blockers headed out to the linebackers:
Here's the key point as EMU's #13 has to whack Roh, leaving the pulling G for Hawthorne. If there's a crack here the RB is into the secondary:
Hawthorne holds and the RB runs up the back of his blockers. His other option is a bounce outside that Floyd may or may not have covered:
The blob stops moving after about six yards.
I don't think Heininger can hold up. Last week I pointed out a couple instances where one on one blocking handled him easily against ND; here he gets blown up by a couple of dudes from Eastern Michigan. He makes plays from time to time but I shudder to think about what will happen when we play Illinois, Nebraska, and Ohio State to close out the year. Those OSU drives against Miami where their interior line whooped that of the 'Canes give me the heebie-jeebies.
So Campbell's pretty important, and every time I see something like this it increments my Rodriguez firing justification meter, especially with Jon Hankins starting as a sophomore for OSU.
The playside DT is probably the most important player on a power. We've explored what happens when DEs aren't in the right spot, but what happens when they are in the right spot is not often impactful. The play kicks you out and you need to restrict the hole; you also need to be prepared for a bounce. This makes it hard to do much* except sit there and maybe try an arm tackle if the running back passes by close enough.
The playside DT is kind of the key to the whole thing. If the DE is in the right spot and that DT holds up to the double two things are going to happen:
- the hole in the line is going to be very narrow or nonexistent.
- one of the linebackers is going to be a free hitter.
If the guy gets caved in it's hard not to give up your three to seven yards. It's hard not to get caved in—that's why they double you—and this is why planet-sized DTs are popular.
*[Exceptions for slants and stuff granted.]
Michigan's alignment exposes Heininger to the double. This is not the "under" alignment that usually allows the three-tech to take on single blocking. Here he's on the strongside between the G and T. Ryan is not on the line hovering over the TE.
That's about it. It's bad if your DT gets his butt kicked. SCIENCE!