I did not make this headline up
This pair of plays is striking only in comparison to the defense. They're both inside zone runs Michigan gets about a yard on, but one's a third and goal from the one so that's all you can get from there. The first is in the second overtime; Michigan has just executed a throwback wheel of its own for a first down at the eleven. They come out in a three-wide.
Illinois does their usual bit with a linebacker over a slot receiver, but this time he's going to walk down and blitz:
Michigan's running an inside zone. This can go anywhere but on this play the hole opens up behind everything as Illinois is slanting away from their blitz. By the mesh point something odd is happening:
The backside defensive end is headed directly upfield. Most of the time the DE will either sit and contain, shuffle down the LOS, or roar down it. Here he's getting way upfield. Two reasons for this, I think: 1) he really really has to contain because of the corner blitz and must not let the QB outside of him, and 2) by doing this he guarantees a handoff.
Meanwhile, Webb's pulling to the backside of the play to get a block on whoever the cutback guy is for Illinois. Because of the switch this is not the DE but the slot LB. Webb does not realize this:
[Update: commenters point out this is actually Koger, which it is. Apologies to Webb.]
Oops. With Webb blocking the guy who the zone read is supposed to option off Michigan's left a free hitter on the backside. He tracks…
Michigan gets two yards and eventually has to resort to a Houdini escape when Terry Hawthorne jumps a third and eight slant. The deflection miraculously bounces to Hemingway.
The second play is Michigan's second to last play of the game. It's third and goal from the one. On first down an inside zone run was stuffed when Schilling got slanted under. On second down a QB lead draw was stuffed when Forcier went airborne unnecessarily. On third down Michigan comes out in a three-wide package. From the one.
Before the snap the corner walks down again:
Illinois runs the same curve, shooting the DE directly upfield after several plays where he was tearing downhill at the RB; he made the tackle on first and goal. Webb, however, is taking a much different angle:
Huyge and Omameh are blocking downfield but not that well. Spence chucks Omameh to the ground and shows up in the hole; Webb is still headed for the slot LB:
Shaw hits it directly upfield in this useless screenshot and does get the ball over the plane, but here's Tate celebrating:
So… that's an adjustment to an Illinois adjustment. After getting fooled by this the one(!) time it came out earlier, Michigan goes to the sideline for mere moments—the offense has to come right back out. In these moments someone grabs Webb and says "if the DE goes straight upfield your assignment is the linebacker crashing in from the slot." Then Michigan seems to invite that very play by coming out in a three-wide formation on third and goal from the one. They want that DE to erase himself and for a LB to get singled up on the 260 pound Webb. His block provides the extra momentum that barely gets Shaw over the plane.
The reason I'm so down on the defense and high on the offense is that these things seem to happen on one side of the ball but not another. It should be clear that no one's on the keeper when Scheelhaase takes it for big yardage, but then he does it again on the exact same play. It should be clear that something's not right in the way you're defending the option but nothing really changes. Etc. Michigan's offense adapts in ways the defense doesn't, and I don't think it's youth when the players who can't contain a keeper are Roh and Mouton.
Chitownblue asked about an RPS plus on the final play of the game, but that's an example of what I'm talking about. Illinois runs the same play they got their earlier conversion on and Michigan runs the same defense. You've got a rub route against man coverage and a seven-man protection you're blitzing into. If Illinois had gotten to pick Michigan's defense on that final play, they would have picked a man-zero all out blitz. They got it, but Jonas Mouton saved the day by making a great play. If he gets cut or just blocked Scheelhaase rolls away from Roh and has a receiver wide open for a score.
It is in these ways that Michigan's defense is different from its offense.
Bonus: you know that corner who jumped the slant in the second OT and should have had Michigan in fourth and long but for some Notre Dame-level BS? Michigan ran a circle route (a fake slant to an out) on the two point conversion and got Hemingway wide open.
In the offensive UFR I mentioned State's Denard containment strategy: they sat a defensive end out on the zone read and forced gives, causing Michigan to go away from the read in the second half. But in the first half they had some success with their tailbacks. Also scrape exchange link.
The setup: Michigan is on its first drive of the day. It's second and two near the 50. They come out in a trips formation:
They're going to run a zone read but here they'll do something a little different. Instead of looking to seal a guy they'll double team both defensive tackles and blast them back. The handoff:
Denard sees the DE keeping contain and hands it off.
As Smith nears the line the doubles start to take effect. Both DTs are getting shoved yards downfield:
Both linebackers suck up into the hole in the interior; Smith can bounce it out either way. He goes to the backside, where the containing defensive end cannot get back in time to tackle. The doubles have driven the DTs back so far that the linebackers cannot get outside:
By the time the backside DT does grab smith he's five yards past the LOS:
…and ends up with eight.
- In this trips formation you have a pretty good idea who the contain guy is. With the linebackers shaded to the receiver-heavy side of the field asking the WLB to scrape is a somewhat taller task. By alignment you're likely to read the DE unless a safety walks down.
- A DE containing the zone read means cutbacks are more viable; this play is designed to cut back. Michigan showed little interest in blocking the linebackers on this play because they assumed doubling the DTs would open up two large holes. One is between Lewan and the doubled DT on the frontside, the other between the two DTs. Linebackers have to fill those holes, leaving Michigan room on the backside of the play to pick up a nice chunk of yards since the only person covering the cutback lane is a otherwise-occupied defensive end. Here the driving double-team on the backside DE effectively blocks both linebackers on the cutback.
- MSU adjusted to this and blew it up a few times. Later in the game MSU would slant that backside DT around the double and blitz linebackers into the A gaps, which stuffed Michigan on a couple of third and shorts. I didn't clip any of those but I did clip this Shaw run on which MSU runs the same blitz and gets burned:
- MSU was probably okay with this. They bled a lot of yards early in the game and coulda/shoulda given up a lot of early points but the long drives gave them time to adjust. Michigan had to go away from this later, but not before they saw a couple drives end when they went to the well one too many times with the 5'6" Smith.
Okay. Picture Pages has shown you three different counterpunches to the scrape exchange over the first couple weeks of the season. There's throwing a wide open bubble screen. There's shooting a blocker into the backside of the play and galloping through the gaping hole that results. And there's peeling that same blocker around the back to pick off the scraper and get the quarterback into acres of space in which Tate Forcier should run straight upfield until murdered by a safety no matter how many people disagree with me in the comments. Michigan broke out the second of those several times against Eastern, picking up a bunch of first downs and one ninety-yard touchdown.
So why bother doing this stupid thing that just results in various big plays in your face? Well… because it's better than the alternative. Meet the alternative, presented to you by Ron English:
Okay: Michigan is in a trips set on their second drive of the day. English sets up in soft coverage and plays his linebackers off the line of scrimmage. Michigan will run the most basic play in their arsenal: the zone read.
Here's the exchange point. (Sorry about the crappy quality; I was working with an SD torrent at this point.) Two points: 1) with trips to one side of the field and soft coverage, the bubble is open here. Two: Forcier gets to honest-to-God read the backside DE. He is maintaining outside contain, so he hands it off.
Eastern's defensive line has slanted hard to the frontside of the play and Ferrara has gotten blown back a couple yards. Brown has nowhere to go and must cut up. But he can.
Because of the heavy slant, which was required to cut off the frontside of the play, there's plenty of room between the defensive end and his compatriots on the line. Because of the bubble threat, the weakside linebacker has been held outside. EMU basically destroyed the play but because of the design and EMU's lack of aggression they still don't stop it.
Eastern Michigan defended this about as well as they could here, forcing Brown behind every offensive lineman and into the unblocked backside of the play. It still gained five yards. This is really hard to prevent if you let the backside end get read and he's not a superfreak. Thus, the scrape.
Yet another in this site's series "counters to the scrape exchange."
This one doesn't take a whole lot of explanation. Michigan's in its H-back set and Notre Dame in the nickel it used all day. It's first and ten on Michigan's field-goal drive right before halftime:
Michigan's going to run something I called a "QB counter"; it, I believe, is not a read but a called QB run. Just like the dive play we saw yesterday, the TE (in this case Martell Webb) is going to pull across the formation and look for a block. LT Mark Ortmann, the topmost offensive lineman, is going to downblock on the weakside defensive tackle. But you'll do fine on this play if you just watch #80. He's the whole play.
Here we have a moment right before the key part of the play. Forcier has pulled the ball out of Minor's belly and Webb is approaching the point at which he's supposed to block the defensive end.
So Webb reaches the DE and… uh… runs right by him.
Here note two things. One: Ortmann has not done a great job with the DT, who has apparently read the play or was stunting or something and has shot into the backfield. This held the defensive end up. Normally on a scrape he'd be hauling ass after Minor, but since he got delayed he's right there and sees Forcier with the ball. Two: Webb ignored that guy and is heading right for the scraper. Tate has to deal with the DE.
Next, the moment of truth:
One: Forcier has beaten the defensive end despite the screwup/stunt by Notre Dame. This is MAKING PLAYS, and something it's doubtful either Threet or Sheridan could have pulled off. Two: Webb has blocked the scraper. Crushed him.
look at all that space
nooooooooo cut it up cut it up
- This is another scrape counter. This one didn't go very well for whatever reason and it still should have been 8-10 yards because Michigan has blocked the one guy tasked with the quarterback.
- Assuming your guy with the quarterback isn't going to get blocked can be dangerous for the defense. The scrape read presumes that your guy tasked with the QB isn't going to get lit up by a tight end, and it's hard to see any way to read what's going on to help out. The only player who can be of assistance is the backside DE, and that pulling tight end can do so many different things—block the scraper, block you and spring Brandon Minor up the middle, head out into the flat, pass block—that you're really picking your poison.
- I don't think it matters what side the guy gets blocked on… usually. Here Webb gets outside of the scraper and that's key because of the defensive end's presence, but if that guy's not there it makes no difference because Tate will be jetting up into massive space on either side of the block.
- Rodriguez's offseason planning was hugely focused on the TE. This was something we talked about in UFR, but it's worth repeating. There was a lot of hype about Michigan's tight ends and that hype has been more than met. A TE is on the field 90% of the time and has been a huge key in Michigan's ground game. Rodriguez has adapted to the scrape exchange and his counter is the tight end. At this point I'm actually a little concerned Michigan doesn't have a tight end in the recruiting class.
- Tate needs to realize he's no longer way more athletic than everyone on the field. He's done this three or four time in his first two games. It worked against Western, but not so much here.
This ended up being three yards, but it should have been ten, and holy God what if Denard Robinson was out there in that kind of space?
UPDATE: forgot the youtube-o-vision:
Last week in Picture Pages we saw one of Michigan's counters to the "scrape exchange" that Western ran constantly last game. Michigan ran a ton of bubble screens or "long handoff"* routes and gave Forcier another option after he decided to pull the ball out: run or toss it to a (usually) wide open receiver. Once Forcier got over some early jitters, this worked well.
Notre Dame was determined to take that away:
This is Michigan's first drive of the second half. Michigan's moved the ball and just got a gashing Brandon Minor run on a zone stretch. They're going to play off that success here.
You can see Notre Dame's response to what they saw in the Western game: line up in press coverage all day, including over the slot receiver. There will be no bubbles here. To prevent Notre Dame from being outnumbered in the box, 80% of the time Notre Dame walks one or both safeties up just before the snap. And to deal with the zone read, Notre Dame is running a scrape exchange every play. (Reminder: on a scrape exchange the backside DE just hauls ass for the tailback and a linebacker pops out to contain the QB.)
Notre Dame has countered Michigan's counter to their counter and pretty much shut down Michigan's rushing attack in the first half. But it's time for the counter-counter-counter-counter.
Here's the snap as it approaches the handoff point. Note that 1) there's no bubble available and 2) Kevin Koger is pulling across the formation. Oh and 3) Moosman, who is the second OL from the top, is just drive blocking his guy instead of taking zone steps to the left in an attempt to get his helmet across. His ability to shove the DT back a yard or two is key to this play.
A couple of moments later, Michigan's diabolical plan is revealed:
Points of interest:
- Kevin Koger's pull block pops the backside defensive end, providing a lane between that guy and RG David Moosman.
- Mark Huyge gets a free release on the linebacker, who you can see moving upfield and to the outside to contain Forcier. When he realizes Forcier does not have the ball he will have run himself into a spot where Huyge has a great angle to block him.
- Molk and Moosman have terrific angles to block their guys. Why are these blocks so easy? Notre Dame is anticipating a stretch play, which is what Michigan usually runs from this formation, and if it was a stretch play it would be imperative for them to get playside of their blockers. On this counter, that expectation runs them into places where it's easy to seal them away from the play.
This is basically over. A moment later, you can see the motion of the scrape linebacker has taken him into Huyge's block and that Moosman and Molk have locked up their defenders. Brandon Minor doesn't even have to cut:
The play ends at the one yard line. Watch it in glorious Youtube-o-vision:
Minor misses a cut on first down, Forcier fumbles on second, and a pitch gets blown up on third; Michigan misses a chip shot field goal, providing yrs truly with a wave of despair. But it ended well: Michigan was provided a short field on the next drive after a Notre Dame fumble and went from the 26 to the 7 with a six-yard stretch and 13 more on this play; that drive ended in a touchdown.
*(I don't have good lingo for that. Basically, the outside receiver stands there.)
Picture Pages: you see, Rudy, sometimes you just need to break down a play that's representative of a larger trend. This series picks out a play or two per game that seem significant in the grand scheme of things, Theo, and attempts to explain why. Vanessa.
I brought this up in UFR and wanted to make it clearer so here goes. This is a first and 15 on Michigan's first drive of the day.
Michigan lines up in one of their common sets, a three-wide shotgun look. Here the tight end is lined up as an H-back. Michigan often used the h-back as a pass blocker for Forcier rollouts, but this time he's going to go with the play. Western aligns in a 4-3 look with the nickel back shaded inside of the slot receiver. Michigan will run a zone read, and Western will do a version of a scrape exchange. In brief: in a scrape, the backside defensive end will take off after the tailback instead of maintaining contain. A weakside linebacker or corner will provide QB contain, thus hopefully minimizing or eliminating the quarterback's athleticism edge over the defender he's dealing with.
Below is the handoff point. As Western did basically the whole game, the unblocked backside end takes off after the tailback. Since this is the guy Forcier is reading, he pulls the ball out. A couple points: Michigan has six blockers against six defenders here and should be content to hand the ball off. As we'll see, Brown's going to end up with a lot of room.
A few moments later we see the scraper coming in: he's the corner/LB who was lined up over Grady. He comes flying in and threatens to tackle Forcier in the backfield. The scrape exchange Michigan saw a lot last year saw the WLB head outside; this one is less vulnerable to the veer or other quick-hitting backside plays that exploit the fact that your WLB is flying around the edge. But there's an obvious cost: HOLY GOD LOOK AT THE SLOT RECEIVER.
Forcier is, in fact, looking at a spectacularly open guy on a bubble route. One of the Western safeties is coming up but he's inside of and ten yards away from a guy who's quicker than him. At best he squares up and holds the gain down. If he misses a tackle Grady is born to run.
Also note the line moving to the second level and sealing those defensive tackles. Michigan had three or four plays like this where the tailback shot up to cavernous gaps in the line of scrimmage without the ball. And this isn't a reaction to Forcier's decision to pull the ball yet; only the WLB has seen that. The frames above make it pretty clear that if Michigan had handed the ball off Schilling was going to cut this guy off.
Forcier, unfortunately, decides against the bubble and cuts directly upfield:
Molk has finished burying the playside DT and if Brown had the ball he'd be cruising, as the WLB who peeled off to Forcier was about to get his clock cleaned by Schilling. But Forcier pulled the ball and then made a poor read, so he's got one option:
- Just because the backside DE is crashing down doesn't mean you have to pull the ball. This would have been a big gainer if Forcier handed it off.
- Scrape exchanges are not a magic pill. They pull defenders out of position and the right play call—or read—can exploit them.
- Forcier is, yes, a freshman. He made a number of mistakes against Western of this variety.
- But even so it's nice to have a guy like Forcier who can turn his mistake into positive yards. Michigan had a lot of screwups in game one but most of them still went forward. That's a huge difference from last year.