Mike Lantry, 1972
zone read belly
Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.
Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.
This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:
Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.
Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.
Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.
Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:
(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)
Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.
At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.
Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.
That's a loss of two yards.
Items Of Interest
Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.
Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…
Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.
Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.
This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.
Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.
Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.
Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.
In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:
And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?
Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.
None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.
Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.
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
If you're like me, there was a point late in the first half of the Nebraska game where you went "argh Jibreel Black" because Taylor Martinez burst outside for a big gain. After last week, when Nathan Scheelhaase got a couple of big runs because the backside end was unfamiliar with the concept of the zone read, this was a natural reaction.
A closer view shows Black was duped, but understandably so.
It's first and ten for the Huskers on the first play of their fourth drive; They come out in a pistol formation with an H-back and two WRs. Michigan is in their usual under. They've got a lot of backups in: Black, Campbell, and Beyer are three of the five folk on the line. Black is to the top of the screen.
On the snap Nebraska runs a pistol version of Michigan's staple play (this week, anyway): the belly. On the belly an H-back or FB will shoot into the backside end and the opponent will try to attack the weak spot caused in the backside of the line.
Michigan's LBs are prepared, attacking backside, and Kovacs has walked down to provide an eighth guy in the box.
The eighth guy is usually the solution to bounce issues; here having Kovacs behind him allows Black to shuffle down the line in preparation for this very play.
Except… what if you told your fullback to read the play too?
This is the frame were thing start going wrong. The fullback has convinced Black he needs to squeeze this space down, and now he's juking outside after Black has gotten set to take him on.
Now there are problems. Black has just realized Martinez has the ball. He's inside the tackle box a yard upfield. Meanwhile, the fullback has released outside to get the contain guy.
Because this is Taylor Martinez versus a defensive end the corner will be achieved. Kovacs takes the blocker on, but this is Kovacs kryptonite. Dude runs at your face in space. Block him and he gets put on skates.
Kovacs does not have a real good time here as he ends up giving up leverage eight yards downfield. Floyd is late arriving because he is in man coverage over a guy going deep and has a 54-yard pass in the back of his head.
I don't think the linebackers did a stellar job here—there are a couple of frames where they can reach out and touch each other—but when the ball goes outside the numbers behind a blocker they aren't doing much no matter how well they play.
Martinez jets down the sidelines, where he's barely forced by Floyd.
Nebraska would get outside on the next play for 23 yards before a holding call and Jake Ryan stunning Martinez with his acceleration put Nebraska in a big hole; they would punt on fourth and forever.
Items of interest
This could just be a playcall but I think it's a read. Nebraska's offensive coordinator is a mad scientist tinkerer who pulls out inverted veer triple options and inverted veer to speed options and it's not like Nebraska can possibly be doing anything else in practice other than relentlessly repping the option game. So I think this is not an out and out call but the fullback and the quarterback both reading the DE doing his shuffle down the line and punishing him for it.
So… yeah, this isn't on Black. Black was optioned off by a clever play requiring coordination between multiple readers and would have been wrong no matter what. Kovacs rolling down to the outside should free him to defend the belly, which Black does until it's clear he's in trouble.
If Black goes outside Burkhead's roaring upfield with Kovacs pulled outside. That is much worse news than what actually happened.
Kovacs gets owned. Not to be too hard on him because like some of the other stuff Nebraska pulled out of their bag of tricks this is a situation where you're caught off guard by the play developing in front of you. Martinez pulls, and the thought process goes:
Okay: I have to get infield to cut off cutbacks and then if he tries to bounce I will use KOVACSPOWER to tackle him in the open field.
But then it goes:
What's this? A blocker? My one weakness! Nooooooooooo…
This happened with some frequency last year when Kovacs was rolled up to the line more frequently. Some fullback or OL would latch on and then just donkey him off the field. This is not a huge problem for a safety—it's much more important to be able to run at guys full speed without ever missing a tackle—but I don't think anyone was surprised when this scenario on the edge went poorly.
Confusing the hell out of Michigan was the only way Nebraska moved the ball. Nebraska got Michigan misaligned here and there, caught guys off guard here and there, and burned JT Floyd (and Thomas Gordon) on play action. Other than that they got almost literally nothing. Michigan destroyed them up front.
Yes, I did exhale "finally" when this happened. I have been pining for this play since about two seconds after the UConn game started. It seems evil, unfair. So why didn't Nebraska run it again? I don't know. Maybe they didn't have an opportunity what with the fumbles and Mike Martin destroying stuff before they could get back to it.
Michigan's been running a lot of blocking schemes like this and it never seems like the QB and TE/FB are on the same page. When we do get a shuffle scheme with linebacker contain and Koger moves to the second level to block, Denard biffs it. Other times a slot LB gets sent and Koger goes upfield to block the guy who is containing the handoff.
O let do it. Nevermind. Need to rep it.
Nebraska's offense might ignite at some point in the next couple years. Martinez is a sophomore and has a couple more years to get better at his reads, and you can see pieces here and there of an offense that makes you wrong even in the world of scrape exchanges and whatnot.
I'm not saying it will happen. Their offensive line will have to get a ton better if they're going to get away with Martinez's arm. But if they get the blocking taken care of and maybe find a wide receiver who's not a liability, I can see Nebraska turning into an offense you loathe playing.