this may be of some local interest
First: a confession. I really wanted to have the UFR's raring to go early this week. You must believe me. I wanted to play Fallout 3, which I'd saved as an end of the year treat, slightly more. So… yeah. I am through the main bit of that and am now plowing through the OSU game at all speed. I apologize for lackadaisical behavior and certainly hope Michigan is taking their film breakdowns more seriously than I am.
Second: a confusion. If you're like me, Michigan's inexplicable lack of a free safety was a surprising and disconcerting feature of the Akron State Golden Bobcats game. Before, Michigan had safeties. During… not so much. The reason for this was twofold. One:
Michigan spent a lot of time in formations like this with Kovacs rolled up to the line of scrimmage. This leaves just one deep safety.
The guy on the far right in this still coming over the top of a tight end that's pretty dang covered is Troy Woolfolk. Result:
Not quite an eighty yard touchdown. This was the very next drive after Woolfolk did the same thing on incredibly easy Braxton Miller touchdown one.
And then… I mean… WTF. It's third and twenty seven for OSU on their own three yard line, and despite having a mistake-prone Braxton Miller and third and a billion from the three, Ohio State throws.
OSU's in an I, Michigan is in its usual under, albeit a nickel. You can see Kovacs rolled up to the line at the top of the screen; Floyd and Woolfolk are your two deep safeties.
OSU goes straight dropback. Michigan rushes three. You can see Ryan dropping off in the frame below; He'll set up to contain scrambles. Martin and RVB are doubled and get nowhere, but Roh got a speed rush on Mike Adams:
Adams tackles Roh and picks up the holding call that will give Michigan a safety. Huge play from Roh against a first round pick. But that's another Picture Pages. (It's not, actually.)
Given time, Miller sets up and chucks it. Where is Woolfolk?
On the 25, covering the slot receiver. Oh, balls.
NICE. KNEW THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN THE WHOLE TIME. WOO COUNTESS.
54-yard TD on which Woolfolk and Countess jump the underneath route:
Near 80 yard touchdown:
Third and twenty-seven:
Items of Interest
WTF was this? The consistency with which Woolfolk was jumping the underneath route suggests it was part of Mattison's gameplan. Watch Woolfolk on the video just above: he is sitting on the slot receiver. But if Woolfolk is supposed to come up in a robber, why the hell is Countess playing outside of Posey on both of the latter two throws?
On the first one Spielman starts chattering about how Countess can't give up in the inside, and my immediate thought was "dude that is not on him, that is on the free safety losing his mind." Then the second one happens and… if it's third and twenty seven and your free safety vacates the deep middle for the third time in seven minutes(!) can it really be Woolfolk blowing an assignment? Probably not. I have not yet run across the sideline reporter screaming "OH MY GOD GREG MATTISON IS LITERALLY EATING TROY WOOLFOLK'S INTERNAL ORGANS FOR BUSTING SPECTACULARLY THREE TIMES IN SEVEN MINUTES AAAAAAAAAH THEY TOLD ME THIS WOULDN'T BE LIKE COVERING BRIAN KELLY NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN." If Woolfolk had not been doing what he was supposed to, this would have happened.
So. We think Michigan is playing a three deep coverage on which the middle safety is intentionally sucking up on intermediate routes and the corner is playing outside. That does not make sense. That throw in the middle of the field is easy relative to deep fly routes down the sideline—that's why there's always a deep safety—and Michigan is giving it to OSU all day. Even on third and twenty-seven.
I don't get it, man. Even if you assume Countess is a freshman and thus screwing up, you're still putting him one on one with Posey all game with no help at all over the top. That doesn't seem like a good strategy.
On the other hand. Maybe you can't blame Woolfolk for these plays because he was executing his assignment. I find it hard to believe he is not at fault on the 54-yard WTF on OSU's first drive and the half-ending corner route on which he reacted very late. If Michigan lost that game that was going to be the kid's legacy, sorry to say. OSU's gameplan was based around attacking 1) Morgan and 2) Woolfolk with a side of Floyd and Countess.
Braxton Miller problems. Putting Kovacs in the box on every play restricts what you can run in coverage and exposes the middle of the field; that spot Woolfolk keeps running into is the same one Stoneburner will exploit for a huge gain on OSU's disconcerting 82-second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On that play the safety (now Gordon) stayed deep and there was no one to tackle once Stoneburner found the soft spot in the zone.
[Update: you can see Gordon turn and run for the post, leaving no one behind Demens.]
So your choice is between opening that up and opening up the deep stuff; obviously neither of those is a great choice.
Hurray Roh. Roh has not developed into the devastating pass rusher Michigan fans were hoping for this summer. He's got four sacks, which is amongst the team lead but far short of the numbers an impact player would put up. Here, though, he beats a very good tackle and gets paid for his effort. Thumbs up.
For a few weeks now people have been asserting that Denard Robinson has not been right. I wasn't sure what to make of those complaints since we didn't really get to see him in the open field much. After Nebraska, the answer appears to be "speed just fine, thanks" even if Lavonte David did hack him down on a couple of potential big gainers.
But, yeah, I do think something isn't right with Denard. That is not necessarily injury. Against Nebraska I've had more "argh" moments in re: Denard running than I've had in a long time. There was this:
That's a scramble on Michigan's botched end-of-half drive on which Denard, presented with a massive hole straight upfield, tries to bounce outside and gets tackled for a three yard gain—in bounds. Michigan ended up getting nothing here when making the really obvious cut (Denard knows the corner will be keeping leverage as his top priority) sees them set up with a first and ten near field goal range or better.
There was this on a play where Martavious Odoms came in motion to be a pitch man:
Denard handed off there when Nebraska had one guy containing two on the edge; Hopkins thumped straight ahead for three yards. Robinson keeps showing up in the run minus category because he's not pulling when the corner opens up like whoah.
Even when Denard did pull he made some inexplicable decisions. Here's one.
It's first and ten on the Michigan something or other and Michigan is in some variety of formation. So is Nebraska. I'm not entirely sure what they are because the director in this game comes from the Michigan Stadium Replay Guy school of framing where everything is a super tight closeup. I assume Michigan is in a standard three-wide set. You can see the slot to the bottom of the screen; M will have a WR on the line outside of him. The other guy could be in a trips formation below or to the top of the screen away outside.
Nebraska appears to be in a straight nickel with a safety as support.
Michigan runs a basic inside zone read, leaving the backside guy unblocked and flaring Koger out.
The above is the mesh point. Robinson is reading the end. The end is square but he is in shuffle mode.
What's shuffle mode?
Remember that period in 2009 when Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor would slam up the backside of the line and run untouched into the endzone? That was Michigan's response to various games defenses were playing with the backside end. The shuffle is the DL's response to that response. He is protecting the soft spot behind the backside tackle that the zone read often causes. He's not really containing the QB, though he's a lot more useful on a keeper than someone screaming down the line. He's more of an RB defender.
Michigan's started seeing this because they brought back the RR H-back inside zone where there is a guy cracking back on this DE.
On the next frame Robinson has just pulled it:
Denard Robinson is Denard Robinson. Koger has flared out to seal the playside linebacker. There is no slot to the top of the screen. Robinson is about to run to the corner for a billio—
I SAID, ROBINSON IS ABOUT TO RUN TO THE COR—
Robinson does run past Meredith and David but Huyge can't extend his block on that defensive end, and that defensive end…
…eats Denard after a two yard gain.
Items of interest
Yeah, this is kind of the same thing Scheelhaase did last week. You know, this:
The difference between the plays is that Scheelhaase screwed up his read and pulled when the defensive end was upfield in a QB contain mode. It was a plan B, one that worked. Here Michigan's plan A is "Denard in a race with a defensive end going the other way." That's a good plan. Let's try that.
It does almost work, but Huyge isn't great and he loses his guy. If Michigan sustains that block they get a decent gain.
Note the difference in the defensive ends. Clark is not shuffling down the line. He's a couple yards further outside and a yard in the backfield. Meredith is at the LOS and tucked in behind a Michigan OL. That should be enough to get Denard the corner but…
Denard seems hesitant. I don't know what the deal is. Unless there's something outside the frame that's relevant—not likely—it's really weird that Robinson wouldn't just run outside. Feel the panic in this linebacker:
That is a man going "oh shiiiiiiii" in slo-mo. He's done and Denard pops outside the DE and is dealing with that safety. Maybe he gets five yards. Maybe he gets ALL OF THE YARDS.
In recent weeks it seems like he's been less of a north-south guy. In this game he is way less of a read threat than he needs to be. In just the first half of last week's game you've got the above three plays, a speed option on which Denard cuts all the way to the backside of the line to little effect, and three or four seemingly obvious pull reads he's missed.
It is possible the reads aren't actually reads, but given what Borges has said it seems like they are. I'm not sure we've seen him pitch on the option yet, though. Is it really an option, or is it just a decoy?
The picture painted is of a guy who's thinking, not reacting.
Too much cram cram. This is a downside of not having a true base offense, I think. Lacking reps on all these things, Denard makes mistakes. If the speed option is just another way to run a QB stretch that's because they don't rep the option enough to be comfortable with the pitch. If they miss a bunch of keep reads it's because they're not repping it enough to make that clear to the quarterback.
Remember that last year Michigan largely dumped the read option in favor of just running Denard. This isn't a regression, it's Denard trying to do something he might not have been very good at last year. That plus an entirely new passing offense means there's a ton on his plate.
We've seen progress in the passing game. They may be emphasizing that since it turns out handing the ball to Toussaint isn't that bad of an idea even when it's a bad idea. Hopefully Michigan can get some of this corrected over the next week because Denard left a lot of yards on the field even when Lavonte David wasn't tackling him by his ankles.
Complaining about the lack of bubble screens in Michigan's offense has become a hobby-horse here. Some people find this weird. I admit that a focus on one particular play, no matter what it is, is often missing the forest for a tree, and my focus on a play that picks up eight yards if run well is a little maniacal. But I see a lot of things not work and think 1) the bubble is open and 2) that might have worked if the bubble wasn't open.
While the bubble seems like an option you can take or leave, it's actually a key way to make every player on the offense an effective blocker every play. When Magee goes to his cutups in those videos about the spread 'n' shred philosophy, the guy asking most of the questions* wants to see bubbles first.
*[who I think is Harvard's coach since he talks about playing Columbia and a pizza place on "Comm Ave" that Google reveals is in Boston.]
The bubble is a constraint that opens up other things and forces the defense into positions it would rather not take. Michigan saw this first hand, as a series of first half bubbles forced Jake Ryan into the slot against Northwestern. Even that wasn't enough to hold down the single bubble the Wildcats ran in the second half before fumbles and interceptions and Michigan scoring on every drive terminated Northwestern's ability to use them.
It's not just a play. It's part of a coherent whole. Spreading the field stresses the defense only if you make the D cover everyone horizontally. Smart Football explained a long Oregon touchdown in the recent Stanford game and I was struck by the difference between the way Stanford defends this play…
…and the way Illinois defended a similarly unbalanced formation from Michigan:
That is a similar setup with one extra guy in the backfield. The highlighted defender to the top of the screen is the equivalent of #3 at the top of the Stanford defense (not the guy on the line)… unless the highlighted guy at the bottom—the corner—is. Someone on this defense is not respecting the threat of Junior Hemingway.
Michigan will run the play I've been calling "inverted veer", which is probably not the best terminology since various people say people call it "dash" and since it features a guy pulling to the frontside of the play it's not really a "veer"—if you care about these things. It's too late for me since I've got a tag, but you can still save yourself.
Anyway, on the snap, before the mesh point, it is clear that both highlighted defenders are going to get involved in the run defense.
Where is the equivalent guy in the Stanford play?
His feet are the ones bugging out for the bubble at the top of the screen. This effectively blocks a defender without having to engage that receiver's potentially crap blocking skills.
Junior Hemingway's existence, in contrast, is pointlessly lonely:
There isn't anyone within five yards of him by the time the mesh point passes. Even before the mesh it's clear the bubble is going to be open, if it was being run.
Anyway, at the mesh point the containing DE is containing so Denard pulls.
This options off a DE; the slot guy is being taken by Hopkins; the playside LB will get kicked by the pulling Omameh. There is no one for the corner, and this has turned into a run up the middle.
This is pretty much dead at this point. Michigan's got some problems on the line, too: you can see that the Lewan/Schofield combo block hasn't even sealed the playside DT, let alone the WLB… but that's just another reason the play isn't going to work since Denard is tackled in the backfield by that backside CB:
Pile of bodies, no gain, third down.
Items of Interest
This isn't to say I think Borges did a bad job in this game. I did get a little frustrated by the forays into the I that were spectacularly unsuccessful—before the Toussaint runs in garbage time Michigan had run seven times out of the I for –1 yards—and the lack of responses to the increasingly aggressive Illinois defense. HOWEVA, in context the move was to go conservative and get out of Dodge; before that was the move he tore up a good defense and was thwarted largely by things out of his control.
There are multiple issues with this play and I'm not suggesting the bubble is a panacea. I am saying it is going to work for tons of yards here, but it's not the only reason this play gets thumped.
The threat of the bubble effectively options off another defender. This means more space for people who are good in space, one more opportunity to blow something for the defense, and mitigates the following.
Receivers' blocking eh… not so good. On the play where Denard fumbled he actually had a good setup for the pull: the backside DE has shuffled down the line and Koger went around him to the edge.
Unfortunately, Junior Hemingway's consistently crap blocking reared its head on this play and the slot LB—who is actually covering the WR on this play—created problems.
Denard has to cut back. If Michigan's running a bubble this guy is either outside of the hash or Denard's throwing it to Hemingway or the Illinois defense is getting super aggressive and opening itself up to a Worst Waldo play. Since he's just a wide receiver who can't block Denard loses an opportunity to burst into a ton of space.
Lack of bubbles = lack of big plays (that aren't chuck and hope)? If you're looking for a culprit when it comes to the lack of long plays that are very open, the lack of the humble bubble screen is a candidate. When you spread the field and make the defense defend all eleven players on every play, a single breakdown means big yards. If you're covering every WR man to man and trying to leave two deep safeties, this is the result:
Michigan has put a lot less stress on safeties this year because they run a bunch of plays from a formation in which opponent safeties think "if they run it will be for half a yard" and when they're in the shotgun they aren't really in the spread, if you catch my drift. By not attacking the outside consistently Michigan lets opponents defend them with two deep.
In the inverted veer above the guy on Hemingway starts 13 yards off the LOS, which means the free safety can come down on the run without worrying about an Oh Noes.
Also bubbles work, yo. I mean, sure, opponents freaked out about them in the RR era since they were a foundational component of the offense but when they were run they worked, and when opponents run them against Michigan (or State vs Iowa) they pick up chunks. When you can get a chunk on first down you have a low-pressure environment to probe with your run game.
This is clearly a philosophical thing that is permanent. I'll drop it now, and this is not a criticism of Al Borges's overall philosophy—we have no idea what that's going to be like. It's clear, however, that the vast bulk of teams who use the quarterback as a runner believe the bubble is an integral part of the effectiveness of the offense. Michigan doesn't, and unless Borges can explain that in a way better than "don't ask me about it" its absence will rankle.
This is a mild complaint on another "ten guys" play. Michigan got Iowa fairly well blocked thanks to their alignment, but one mistake far away from everything ends up submarining a winning playcall.
It's Michigan's second play of the game. Robinson has just slipped while cutting, turning a decent gain into a single yard. On second and nine Michigan comes out in a tight ace set with both TEs in a two-point stance. Nominally this is a passing formation what with the TEs all standing up, but formations like this often result in outside runs this year.
On the snap Roundtree, Koger, and Lewan block down, with Schofield and Molk pulling. Patrick Omameh is going to cut the backside tackle… or at least he's going to try. His failure to creates a CHAIN REACTION that DESTROYS THE REACTOR:
Hmm. This isn't good. The backside DT isn't delayed at all. A TFL is possible here. TFLs are not nice.
Meanwhile, there is good work being done on the playside. Koger and Lewan have gotten movement on their guys and Roundtree is cracking down on the playside LB with a great angle.
Molk perceives the threat and removes the threat of the DT with his back. That takes the TFL off the table. Unfortunately, Koger and Lewan have now lost their guys playside. Roundtree does get the linebacker:
At the moment of truth Toussaint does have a crease because Roundtree's block cuts off Koger's guy and Molk slowing has prevented that DT from making the play; Schofield has kicked out the corner.
Unfortunately, there is no lead block, and there is a safety. With the playside DT flowing down the line there's nowhere to go.
On third and five Robinson gets quick pressure and has no one open, so he chucks it well past everyone.
Items of Interest
Ten angry men. So… yeah. Borges basically got Iowa here. Look at the alignment of the linebackers:
They're shifted well to the wide side, assuming that the outside run will come behind Hemingway's block. That gives Michigan a numbers advantage to the playside and gives Roundtree a super easy block on the most dangerous linebacker.
That's enough to get Toussaint a crease on the sideline. If Molk is hanging out being all blocky chances are this sets Michigan up in a third and short. But because of whiff by Omameh so total it threatens to allow a guy on the backside of the play to tackle on a pitch sweep Molk has to bail and unblocked safety is unblocked.
Receivers tight to the line == outside run. Not all the time, of course, but frequently.
These defensive ends are not Purdue defensive ends. Remember Purdue, when a defensive end was a gnome on ice skates?
Good times. Michigan was not playing Purdue in this game. (This is why it was in Iowa.) Koger loses his guy to the outside, and as you can see in the left frame above #79 is threatening enough to remove any hope of a cutback behind Lewan. He's not making the play, but he's doing enough to let some other guys do it. This was a theme.
I don't think Michigan's going to have much better luck with the rest of the defenses on the schedule. Koger's monster day against Purdue looks like an outlier based on the opposition, not a sudden renaissance. NFL scouting of him is middling overall and negative on his blocking:
Isn’t a real balance blocker. Struggles to keep feet under him, lunges into contact and doesn’t create much power as an in-line guy. Possesses a naturally strong frame, but his inability to gain leverage and maintain balance kills him at the point. Possesses long arms and strong hands that allow him to stick initially when he gets his hands on you, but is still learning the nuances of being a consistent run blocker.
That was pre-season; NFP's Wes Bunting re-iterated that recently in a post I can't find.
This is going to be ugly next year when the only options are Brandon Moore, Ricardo Miller, and freshmen. People are talking up AJ Williams as a potential tackle but I think Michigan would love to keep him at tight end if this is at all possible. Having an edge blocker like Williams is a critical piece of a manball offense. Even if Williams is a tackle long term I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't redshirt and Borges uses him as an extra OL. Preseason he talked about wanting to install an extra tackle package but couldn't because he didn't actually have any extra tackles.
Molk == SMRT. The reason this is a modest gain instead of a TFL is Molk's awareness. He catches a glimpse of an Iowa player in his peripheral vision and immediately knows this is trouble. If he had continued on his pull no one would have blamed him—or at least no one would have blamed him much.
He's adapted fairly well to the new system. Not every center can pull effectively. He certainly can, and while he's not an in-line mauler he is generating push more consistently than either of the guards. I predict Michigan misses him badly next year.
This week in spread zealotry we've got an example of something you can't do against the spread without getting a face full of Denard: crash. It's second and three early in the third quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint has just taken an iso seven yards thanks to Molk and Hopkins making quick work of the NT and MLB.
Michigan will run an inside zone from an ace set. I'm pretty sure that Michigan screwed this up because I've never seen an inside zone play on which a guy who is not the end man on the line scrimmage is let go unless he's getting read. Here the backside DE is let go while Watson flares out to block a guy with a longer path to the ballcarrier.
Get used to both halves of this. Iowa is in a 4-3 under. The key guy is the DE at the top of the screen—the guy in a two point stance next to the standing SLB.
Michigan runs an inside zone. They double the NT and the SDE (at the bottom of the screen) as the linebackers flow to the LOS.
By the handoff point a couple things have happened. Both linebackers are at the LOS and engaged; the MLB is actually doubled by Lewan and Schofield. Sometimes a doubled LB means you've blocked a play so well that there's no one else to get. Not so much here.
I don't want to make too much of this because this is clearly a bust by the line (in all likelihood Lewan), but when I saw this I immediately wished Michigan was in the shotgun and Denard was reading the guy they let go. He'd have two choices: remain responsible on Denard and open that cutback up (he'd likely recover in time to tackle but not at the LOS) or do what he's doing now and put Denard one on one with the safety.
Similarly, with the linebackers one and two yards off the LOS, a pass like the one that started off their second hurry-up drive would be open. These things are all possible if you're reading the guy you've let go.
When you're not he just tackles you.
Toussaint does make the guy miss, but only by redirecting into a pile of bodies. He gets a yard. On the next play Michigan runs a QB power with Denard that Iowa is all over until two guys fall down after beating their blockers to the spot. Twenty two yards later they've got a first down. A field goal results.
Items of Interest
This seems strictly less effective than the same thing run from the gun. I'm not sure what the advantage of operating from under center on this can be. You hear a lot about getting downhill quickly as an advantage of playing from under center, but pistol sets and even Michigan's old belly setup where the QB is a yard in front of the tailback get guys going downhill pretty damn fast without giving up the mesh read.
The other advantage suggested by commenters when I tried to answer some guy's question about the advantages of the I-Form over the spread was an ability to keep your eyes on the coverage downfield instead of catching a shotgun snap*. Here Robinson turns his back to the defense and has no idea what's going on behind him until he turns around.
So… yeah. Living in a world without post-snap reads is giving up something when your quarterback is mobile.
This is an example of the "ten man football" Borges was talking about. Even so, the play should still work for a few yards. The blocking's decidedly mediocre—in the last few frames you see a DT chucking Omameh, forcing the cutback—but the nice thing about the zone is it's hard for the defense to be right when you've got an effective cutback runner. Toussaint is that.
If the backside end actually gets blocked, Toussaint looks like he has the cutback for decent yardage. While that safety is probably going to come down and hold it to a modest gain, the first down is well within reach. Lewan busts and Michigan gets zilch. That was a theme on the day: one guy doing something wrong on these run plays and Michigan getting stuffed.
I wonder if spread stuff has a greater failure tolerance. You'd think it would because you are optioning off a potential defender and therefore get a double on someone. The alternative is forcing a safety into the box, which isn't bad.
*[Something that didn't seem particularly convincing since the shotgun is the preferred passing formation for long-yardage situations and hurry-up even in the NFL.]
My Irrational Gametime Borges Emotion Meter flipped from disgusted to enthralled back to disgusted on a series of three plays on Michigan's second drive. The first play was the second and twelve play action on which an unimpressed defensive end flew upfield and sacked Robinson without giving any thought to the tailback supposedly getting the ball. Running second and twelve play action from a big I-Form set makes Homer crazy.
It got better. On the next play, Borges rolled the pocket and flooded the roll side. Via BWS:
This is another way to high-low the corner, something this series has discussed in the context of curl-flat routes against UConn and Notre Dame. In this instance the flood worked for a big-time completion as Roundtree beat the safety to the corner route and the cornerback sucked up on the Hemingway deep out.
Grady at the 20. Hemingway at the 35 with the cover-two corner. Roundtree at the 45 beating the safety to the outside.
On the next play Borges did the exact same thing, but he did it completely differently. He flooded a zoning cornerback and high-lowed him for a big gain. It was the same guy. He'd just gotten beaten over the top and sank back into the deep route, leaving the intermediate guy wide open. Gardner ignored the blitheringly wide open guy, instead chucking a terrible interception. Live this flipped me back to disgusted mode, and this lasted long enough for me to complain about two-man routes on the podcast. I was wrong. Borges engaged a decided schematic advantage here only to see a freshman (-ish) quarterback derp it.
Michigan comes out in a Gardner formation with Robinson as the slot receiver.
Now for something completely the same
Before the snap they motion Hemingway tighter to the line. The cornerback's reaction and the two deep safeties imply another zone.
On the snap they fake a handoff and then fake the end around. The coverage is revealed to be Not Cover 2. Both corners are headed deep and one safety steps up into a robber zone in the middle. This is cover three:
robber in red, three-deep in blue
Gallon is running straight downfield and will take both the corner and the topmost safety with him—Hemingway cuts his route off and he has no other vertical threats and can double. The two linebackers you see have their eyes in the backfield, preparing for an end-around. By the time it's certain Gardner has the ball Hemingway is ten yards downfield, running hard, with inside position on the robber. The linebackers are done.
Now it's a little bit of a problem that Gardner took his eyes off the defense for a long time as he executed both handoff fakes, but he is literally eight yards from the nearest defender as he sets up. He has plenty of time to read the corner Michigan is trying to high-low.
doo dee doo dee doo
You can see the playside LB heading out for Robinson's wheel route, which doesn't seem like a real option but still demands attention. There's no one checking Hemingway except that robber, who is improvising in the time-honored tradition of anyone who sees something going very wrong and runs at the red button screaming "oh shiiiiiiiiii—."
Gardner loads up and fires…
…over the head of a wide open Hemingway hanging out 20 yards downfield…
…to the bracketed Gallon…
…and throws it way short to add interception to injury. Derp.
Items of Interest
This is the same passing concept out of a totally different play. Michigan goes from a three-wide stack with a rollout to that side to an ace set with a couple of play action fakes, but it's the same thing for the quarterback: three options of varying depth along the left sideline. (Depending on how real the Denard wheel is. If it's not it should be.) On both plays the depths are five yards, 20 yards, and 40 yards. On both plays the playside corner is the main dude to read.
This kind of thing is all the rage in the NFL and various places in college football: Stanford, Boise State, wherever Weis is hanging his hat ("Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations."), etc. Smart Football notes the concept is one of three main ways modern offenses beat defenses:
Use multiple formations and motions to confuse the defense or gain an advantage in numbers or leverage. This approach tries to turn the defense against itself by never giving the defense a chance to get settled or to identify what the offense may do. Moreover, sometimes the defense simply fails to adjust, and the offense gains some new advantage. The downside of this approach is it leaves little time and fewer clues for the offense to make adjustments, but the idea is that “motion causes emotion” (to use the old adage) and the offense has an advantage in that it knows where it is going. This is the method employed by Boise State.
The other two are changing the play before the snap and using good old option football to force the opponent to be wrong.
The advantage of the multiple look is that it gets complex for the defense while remaining simple for the offense, particularly the critical guy with the ball in his hands every play. On back-to-back plays a zone flood wins, getting receivers open for huge chunks. Since the flood develops differently the defense has a hard time picking up on the tendency. Here the quarterback switch mitigates the effect of having the QB get to make the same read he just successfully executed, but in a normal situation you get the advantage of familiarity while the defense does not.
This may be why it feels like Michigan increasingly has no "base." Here's Boise State's RB coach on what they do on offense:
“We run plays, we don’t have an offense. It makes it difficult to defend.” At that time he was working with the running backs. Before this project, I wondered how an offense can’t be a system. Coordinators pride themselves on establishing identities: “It’s what we do” is a common mantra among the coaching profession. Urban Meyer at Florida has his spread option, Chip Kelly at Oregon has his QB run game, Steve Sarkasian at Washington has his pro-style offense that he developed at USC. Well, apparently Boise was the Seinfeld of college football — their lack of identity is their identity.
I've described the offense as "grab-bag," "cute," and "gimmickball" at various points during the year because they don't have a core play—at least not one that works COUGH power COUGH—that forces opponents to cheat and opens up your constraint plays.
Michigan fans have never seen an offense like this. Rodriguez varied his base but there was always the zone, inside and out, or the QB iso offense. DeBord literally ran a zone stretch left on the first play 90% of the time. Before that Michigan based its offense off pro-style power running (even though they couldn't run). They always had a Thing They Did.
This year Michigan has done the following things on the ground: iso, power, pitch sweep, speed option, inside zone, outside zone, inverted veer, down G, sprint counter, jet sweep. That is damn near everything possible short of triple option and trapping, and it moves from week to week. Most people, including myself, have believed this is a transitional cost of fitting Borges into an offense he didn't build. I am beginning to doubt that conclusion.
Maybe this should have been obvious given the multiplicity of Borges's SDSU offense but there's a big difference between watching a team and living it.
Even though this should be simple for the QB Gardner biffs spectacularly. Man is this a terrible decision. This isn't the error he made against State by throwing to Hemingway instead of the free touchdown offered Hopkins. Hemingway was kind of open and a good throw is a potential touchdown.
Here he's got a hand-wavingly open guy and a double-covered one. He's reading one guy, the playside corner. He's got enough time to take tea in the backfield. The playside corner is booking it downfield with his back to the guy underneath him. And Gardner still throws to the double-covered guy. If Borges didn't throw something in the press box he's a better man than I.
Anyone calling for Gardner to start should be shown this play over and over.