go go go
Bubbly. AnnArbor.com catches up to a smiling Brandon Graham after his selection by the Eagles:
Rarely have I been so happy for a Michigan player. After the last two years, Graham deserves every good thing that can possibly happen to him. I hope he learns how to fly.
(Also: can I take a moment to tout how useful UFRs have been in tracking Brandon Graham's impact? I was a little worried that BG was outperforming Woodley, but there he is in the top half of the first round after the NFL saw how unblockable he is.)
Denard-o. Gerry DiNardo has lost more football games than you've ever watched, but he's still on the television so people ascend to his yurt high up in the Indiana mountains to beseech him for his wisdom. Last year his wisdom was "Denard Robinson is going to start at quarterback," which is a strong indicator as to why he's lost more football games than you've ever watched. DiNardo single criterion for choosing a starting quarterback is "is it vaguely possible this kid was named after me?" By no other measure was Robinson a plausible starter in 2009.
In 2010 things are different. Denard Robinson is still named after Dinardo, though:
"I think it has to be Denard Robinson," he said. "If you think about the way Rich Rodriguez became so successful at West Virginia it wasn't with a drop-back quarterback that threw 50 times, even though that approached worked for him some as an offensive coordinator. He wants to play the game that Denard plays, with a greater emphasis on the running attack than the passing attack. He wants to have that guy that can tuck the ball and make you miss even when the blocking isn't perfect, that can make you miss even if he misreads the read-option, and from everything I've seen, Denard Robinson is that guy.
"In college football nowadays, defenses, as much as they try to practice this, cannot tackle in space. From the earliest age, you're not coached to tackle one-on-one without help. The instruction is always about rallying to the ball and then for your defensive backs to use the sideline as their friend. But when you're stuck in a one-on-one situation, against an athlete like Denard Robinson, most of the time you're going to be left grasping for air.
"So when I see what he can do, and then I see what Forcier did last year - to me there is no comparison for where this offense wants to go."
I'm not sure he's right that Rodriguez is dedicated to running 75% of the time, but his other points are solid. The bit about defenses being unable to tackle in space could be the operational philosophy of Rodriguez's entire offensive system. Tate missed reads on the option plenty last year—most of the time, it seemed—and while he was slippery enough to evade lumbering defensive ends he wasn't fast enough to turn his frequent missed reads into anything more than a few yards. A prime example from the Illinois game:
It's possible Robinson can turn this into another couple yards, or even break something long (although probably not on this particular play). A quarterback who can get that extra couple yards is an extremely dangerous option. For all Forcier's flaws, he was an effective runner. If you cut out the copious sacks Michigan gave up last year (24 for 184 yards), he averaged 4.7 YPC. (This is slightly optimistic since Robinson probably took a couple sacks, so you may want to mentally adjust that to 4.5 or so.) A version of Denard Robinson that can run the zone read and throw well enough to keep linebackers honest will obliterate that.
Keeping the linebackers honest will take some doing, but the nice thing about being Denard Robinson is that when you go to play action, it's time to cheat like a mother for all but the best defenses. I don't think Ohio State is going to be particularly vulnerable to a raw sophomore like Robinson, but I also don't think Illinois or Purdue has much of a chance to stop him.
Merrill rising, talkin' smack. Incoming defenseman Jon Merrill saw his stock slip slightly over the course of his final year with the NTDP, but a strong U-18 tournament (where the US is obliterating all comers) has seen Merrill's stock pop up into the rarefied air of a potential top ten selection once more:
At the beginning of the tournament Gudbranson had the inside edge as the potential top defender to be selected this year, battling it out with Windsor's Cam Fowler, but the gap is closing. The play of Merrill, along with the struggles of the Gudbranson-led Canadian team, may have catapulted Merrill into that coveted position and certainly into the overall debate.
Coming into the tournament many even felt Forbort would likely be ranked and selected ahead of Merrill, and even though Forbort has looked strong, the abilities that Merrill has showcased so far during this tournament have pushed him ahead in the eyes of many scouting circles. Merrill is a tall and lanky player with a lot of room to build on his frame. He has tremendous speed and has extremely good intelligence with and around the puck. Merrill has been the kingpin of the US's powerplay and quarterbacks it tremendously well.
Merrill will jump into Michigan's top four on day one and I'm betting he'll be on the top powerplay and top pairing by midseason at the latest. He was also interviewed by McKeen's, and because he's going to play in college he was asked to justify his existence. He did so with aplomb:
I think a lot of guys make the argument that the CHL (Canadian Hockey League) is the most similar to the NHL in style of play, and you play a lot of games, and things like that, but you’ve got to look at it from my perspective. I’m 18 years old. If I went and played in the CHL, there’s 15 and 16-year-olds, 17-year-olds, in the league. There’s top-end 18 and 19-year-old guys, too, but if you go to college, everyone’s older than you. I’m a freshman in a bigger, stronger, faster game, and you get up for every game, because you only play 35, 40 games, or whatever it is. Every game is a big game. Whereas in the CHL, you’re playing in Sudbury on a Tuesday night, and how do you get up for that, you know?
Tuesdays in Sudbury is a best-seller by Bizzaro Canadian Mitch Albom, but not a particularly attractive option compared to playing outdoors in front of one million people, give or take nine hundred thousand.
Nothing on Moffatt, unfortunately. He has just one assist for a rampant USA. The U18s are the last opportunity to put it out there for NHL scouts and he's not drawing a whole lot of notice. Hopefully he'll slide in comfortably—a mid-round NHL draft pick is usually a good player—but an instant impact is unlikely.
Side note: please don't read anything about Jack Campbell. It will make you sad.
(Interview HT: Michigan Hockey Net.)
About the one million people. Sales for Cold War II have been ridiculous so far:
General ticket sales began Wednesday, netting 14,700 purchases by 4 p.m., according to an athletic department spokesman. When added to the that seats have already been sold or committed to by season-ticket holders, former players and other groups, officials announced Wednesday that close to 80,000 tickets have already been sold.
"This has just taken off. You knew it would when you have something this special at the Big House - the first time ever, maybe the only time ever," Berenson said in a statement. " Everybody wants to be there. I think we'll be sold out before we know it. It'll be a tough ticket to buy."
With the original Cold War still the all-time hockey attendance record, the question at this point is not if this December's game will break it, but if the record shatters with enough force to match the destructive power of a bear dropping a bomb into a volcano.
Probably not. But it will be close, yo.
Cancer, again. Chris Perry's arrest was a family thing in which something went down with a cousin, possibly because Perry's mom is terminally ill with the cancer she was battling when Perry played at Michigan. Irene Perry is the main reason Chris didn't transfer a couple years into his career. Best wishes, for whatever that's worth, to the Perry family.
I mentioned this earlier in one of the two instances where I brought up Chris Brown's explanation of the differences between inside and outside zone runs. Here's a play featuring the tell a couple coaches suggested I look for when I was complaining about the difficulty of distinguishing between the two.
Michigan's in a shotgun with trips to the right. Two things to note here are the two deep Iowa safeties, and the shift of the Iowa linebackers outside. Angerer, the MLB, is lined up over Odoms, sort of:
Also, Greece has destroyed Latvia in World Cup qualifying.
The thing to note in the above frame is the position of Forcier relative to Minor. Forcier is a yard or so in front of his tailback. For comparison, here's a play against Indiana that would end up a standard zone stretch:
Forcier is a yard behind the tailback. This allows the RB to come across him at speed and get to the frontside creases the stretch looks to exploit.
Back in the Iowa game, the positioning of Forcier allows Minor to take a handoff already headed upfield, which was one of the adjustments that Penn State struggled with so badly last year. Also note a great oddity:
Michigan is blocking the backside defensive end! Why are they doing this? Well, if you don't block him and he crashes down and you're running a play that's anything short of a stretch play that's running away from him there's a good chance he makes a thumping tackle in the backfield. Michigan did this a lot against Iowa because Brandon Minor's RAGE is most effective when he's heading straight upfield.
Another item to note: at the moment of the handoff, Forcier is staring at the MLB over Odoms, judging whether or not he's coming up to contain.
He isn't. And one reason for that may be that this looks like play action. Odoms isn't running a bubble. The backside defensive end is getting blocked. In the past, this has always been a pass, or an attempted one. So Angerer gets a pass drop. By our next frame he'll be hanging out at the first down line, six yards back from the frame above:
You'll note that Minor is running right next to Forcier; with five guys in the box and no support for a hypothetical bounce, Minor could have made this same run. Iowa's decision to leave two deep safeties back makes it really hard for them to stop Michigan's ground game, though it did prevent Michigan from breaking anything long: their longest run in Kinnick was twelve yards.
At the end of the play Forcier has near first down yardage after having slid to the ground untouched. The Iowa defender does give him his best Cato June, though:
Here's the glorious you-tube-o-vision, in which you can see that the receivers' half-hearted routes. That indicates this was a called run play, not an improvisation, in case you're wondering if this was play action gone awry (awright?):
- Zone runs have a bit of a tell. If your depth perception and processing is quick enough and you see the QB step forward you've got a good idea that it's not a stretch. If he stays back you've got a good idea it is. This is probably not a huge deal since the QB takes up his final position moments before the snap, preventing—or at least hindering—the ability for defenses to key on it. It's a lot to process that when you're trying to time the snap and figuring out your assignments and whatnot. It is there.
- But you, the viewer, have a great view of it. TV angles are great for picking this out, though, and it's simple enough that you can try to pick it out real-time.
- RAGE. Michigan went to a lot of interior, non-stretch runs with Minor and blocked the backside DE. This helped out on a variety of plays and should hypothetically make Forcier's job on the reads easier because the guy he's reading is a lot further away and his motion has to be less subtle if he's got contain. This also brings in some elements of Paul Johnson's flexbone, too. Johnson loves to leave a guy unblocked for much of the game, then crush him unexpectedly for a big play.
- Michigan's mixing up its routes on certain keeper plays. I'm betting that if Odoms ran a bubble route on this play that was a key for one of the linebackers to shoot up for contain against Forcier and for one of the safeties to crash down on the bubble. By just running its receivers downfield, Michigan got Iowa to go into pass drops and opened up tons of space for Forcier.
- Iowa loves them some two-deep safeties. The zone read brings in the quarterback as another runner and has essentially forced its opponents to ditch the two-deep look. In the Rodriguez coaching videos kicking around the web, the implicit assumption is that opponents will usually have a single deep safety because of the threat of the keeper. Iowa defies that, and it worked for them, albeit barely. Michigan racked up almost 200 yards on the ground without its starting center and nominal starting tailback despite seeing five drives end on turnovers. Michigan had similar success against Notre Dame last year when Corwin Brown decided to keep two deep safeties. Once Michigan emerges from its freshman quarterback purgatory I wonder if Iowa will be able to get away with this sort of thing.
Or, a selection of emails that are sort of old:
I noticed something potentially of interest in the Hennechart. There's an absolute lack of batted balls. There are ZERO and Tate's reputed to be a midget. By comparison, Navarre was a giant, and I seem to recall that one of the most frustrating things about watching him was that he would seemingly fire at will into the raised arms of D-lineman (I don't have a Hennechart reference to back that up because it hadn't been invented yet, right?).
So, questions: Is this schematic? Does our offense now somehow help our QBs avoid the batted ball in ways that the previous offense did not? (A comparison of Tate vs. Death last year might help as a reference, but Death wasn't very good, so…) Does Tate have a special knack for avoiding batted balls? He's always been short and Navarre was probably always tall, so maybe it's something he developed by necessity, whereas Navarre never had to worry about that sort of thing until he reached college.
Forcier got his first two batted balls of the year against Iowa, and both were on third down when Broderick Binns just sat back and waited for Forcier to throw his way; he wasn't even rushing. Even so, the batted ball phenomenon is seriously reduced from past years. The reasons are partially schematic, as Michigan runs a lot of rollouts that open up passing lanes, and partially Tate creating his own fake rollouts by bugging out of the pocket after his first read is covered. As Michigan moves to more pocket passing they'll see the batted balls creep up, but it's not likely to ever approach the frustrating levels it did when Navarre was the statuesque Michigan pocket passer of choice.
Are Kovacs and Leach on scholarship? I know they are referred to as walk-ons but are they now on scholarship?
If not, what are the odds that Kovacs and possibly Leach earn scholarships this year? Kovacs is appears like he is going to be a major contributor the rest of the year with Leach seeing some time too.
I realize that there aren't many scholarships left, but RR also wants to develop a solid walk on program. I've always figured that one of the ways to make sure you have a good walk on program is for the walk on's to know that there's a chance, albeit very slim, that you could earn a scholarship.
Obviously, the fans and I'm sure RR would like to use the scholarships on incoming fresh but if Kovacs keeps up his play and isn't on scholarship, how do you tell him he hasn't earned one?
Michigan's only got 76 scholarship players on the roster now, but teams always hand out bonus scholarships to their walk-ons when they end up short. I'd assume Sheridan, Kovacs, Leach, Heininger, Olesnavage, and Pomarico (the long snapper) are all getting this year of school for free. Three other guys who are less obvious are also getting money.
Those scholarships—all scholarships, actually—are one-year deals. If Michigan fills out its roster next year the walk-ons will be out of luck; usually what happens is Michigan fills up in February and then sees some offseason attrition that opens up a couple slots, but not nine, for the top of the walk-on crop. Kovacs, who looks like he'll start the whole year, might be an exception to that.
I am curious to hear your thoughts on whether or not Tate and Denard have been making the right reads on the zone read option. I've seen a lot of criticism directed at these two indicating that they are keeping it too often and making the wrong read. I know RR has said he'd like to have them not have as many carries. My question is this - are they actually making the wrong reads? On the zone read option, Isn't the correct read against the scrape exchange for the QB to keep it? Or do they need to read the scraping LB/DB (the guy filling the hole vacated by the backside DE)? It just seems a little knee-jerk to say that they are keeping it too often. I know we've come up with a set of plays to counter the scrape exchange, but I'd be curious to hear how the scrape exchange has impacted the reads on the bread-and-butter zone read option play.
I realize it's difficult to assess whether they are making the right reads as we have no idea if a play was a called run or keeper but it might be interesting to try and track whether it appears the correct read was made when you are doing the offensive UFRs.
This was before the Iowa game and an interesting development in that game: Michigan blocked the backside end frequently and, I believe, had Forcier read the appropriate "scrape" linebacker if he read anyone at all. It looked like Michigan took away many of Forcier's reads in the run game and just told him to hand off to the back, because Iowa frequently left no one for contain on him and he did not keep the ball.
The one time he did, though, he made a wrong read, pulling the ball from Minor when the backside DE was keeping contain; he managed to juke the guy and pick up six yards anyway. This has been a frequent occurrence, which isn't unexpected when you're dealing with a true freshman adjusting to a ton of backside games.
The thing I'm wondering about: where is the zone read with Denard Robinson? He's run a ton of draws and called runs but other than a reverse pitch here and there, there's been precious little misdirection from the Robinson package.
what’s the difference between the zone read dive and the zone read veer? is a “veer” just the term for any play that reads the frontside instead of the backside?
The "zone read dive," or zone counter dive, is not a read play. Michigan pulls the TE to the backside to block the DE back there and always hands it off with the intent of hitting the gap between that DE and the rest of the line, which down blocks. The play gets rid of the extra defender that read plays get rid of by assuming a linebacker to that side of the line has containment on the QB and will run himself out of the play. While it looks like Forcier has an option on the play, he really doesn't.
The veer is a true read play on which the tailback's desired hole is between the backside tackle and the backside DE*. If Viddler had any idea what fair use was I could show you some killer examples from Brandon Minor a year ago, but alas it is not to be. But the idea is this: you block down.** This looks exactly like a stretch play until it's too late and all the DL have slanted past the OL and out of the play. The QB reads the backside DE like a normal zone read, but the tailback cuts hard and swift upfield behind everything, hitting into the secondary immediately since the DE's been dragged outside. Minor had touchdowns on it against Purdue and Wisconsin where he ran virtually untouched into the endzone.
Opponents took away the veer most of the year by crashing the DE down and scraping, which necessitated Michigan's response to that. By the end of the Michigan State game it was clear they weren't scraping, so Michigan ran a version of the veer that was bleedingly open, but Forcier kept it and turned a lot of yards into four.
The key takeaway: any time
*(In Michigan's offense so far. It has a lot of different forms.)
**(Blocking down is the polar opposite of stretch or reach blocking. You basically shove a guy you started playside of; this always leaves an unblocked defender or two behind you. Power off tackle plays seek to get rid of him by pulling guards and tight ends around; the veer tries to do it with a read.)
You have mentioned a couple of times that the performance of the Michigan rush offense against Michigan State the past two years has been a statistical outlier. I think you have also mentioned that this may be a result of State spending more than the usual amount of preparation time for this game. If that is the case, how much more time do you think State is putting toward Michigan than a typical opponent and what kind of negative impact might that have on State since that would be time they are not spending on their current opponent?
Steve Sharik has it from sources inside the MSU program that Dantonio came up with much of the defensive game plan himself, which is unusual. MSU blogs have been complaining about Pat Narduzzi all year. So, yes, Dantonio "gets the rivalry" and Rodriguez "has an injured freshman quarterback."
As far as the question: one thing I might have overlooked in the aftermath of the State game was State getting a test run against Michigan's offense when they played Central Michigan. That did not go well, obviously, but it did give State an entire game film with which to scout themselves and fix a bunch of their problems. Then they went out and laid an egg against Wisconsin in all aspects of the game… it's hard to not see the correlation. Too bad Illinois is such a debacle or we would have gotten some more interesting information out of that game.
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.)