So this is what it's like having a real job. I have enough time to watch the games, but not enough to obsessively analyze them. But there's been a lingering question about Fitz's lack of productivity compared to last season that I wanted to take a stab at answering. So even though it's a couple weeks late, here's my analysis of what's been going wrong for Fitz.
There are some other problems in the defensive schemes and matchups, the playcalling, and our lack of run audibles, but these are minor issues and don't really explain everything.
So the stat line is god awful, but when you look at his entire day, Fitz didn't do so bad. The injury to Hopkins and the lack of a true fullback has really hurt. Purdue also had their safeties crashing down in run support and they've got a few NFL caliber guys on the D-Line. But that's not gonna be any different when we go against MSU, OSU, Neb, and Wisc. The disappearance of Vincent on 3rd downs is also a concern. It means Fitz is spending more and more time on the field, and more of it blocking.
1st10 zoneread fake
2nd5 blocked for jetsweep
3rd1 iso dive* 12:28 into a pile
This play is going nowhere right from the start. We come out in a doubletight I left. Purdue counters by bringing the SS down into the box on the field side. At this point, Denard should really have audibled to attack the open bubble over the right side, but I doubt he has the freedom to do that, and we're running behind Lewan, our best lineman.
We pull a guard, and things are looking okay at the point of attack. Their safety is keying our FB and crashing hard on this short yardarge play.
The problem really starts when the interior linemen scrape off their chip blocks to get to the LB's. They haven't helped out enough to get leverage and the DTs squeeze the hole. You might chalk this up to the "Purdue's Talent" But then, say that phrase to yourself a few times and think about how weird it sounds.
The pulling guard is looking for someone to hit instead of just driving into the pile to get the 1 yard. And with the safety in the box, he's got two unblocked guys to choose from.
Lewan whiffs on the 2nd level, and behind him, the DE has beaten the TE. The backside DT is squeezing the hole and we've got two blockers trying to clear out 2 and half defenders.
By the time Fitz gets to the l.o.s. there's a huge clusterfuck and nowhere to go.
He tries to plow forward and push the pile, but the safety pushes him back.
[AFTER THE JUMP: ADDITIONAL ITEMS]
1st10 split wide as decoy
2nd6 sweep to the strong side*
This play is an example of Borges butting together a symphony of strong beats instead of playing a harmony of chords. It's just a simple sweep, but Gallon is going to fake a reverse. This helps keep the edge defenders at home, but it is to the detriment of the current play. But when you look at the game as a whole, this kind of thing opens up other plays for Denard and the reverse and screens. It starts as a spread look with double flankers to the right. The Sam is splitting the difference between Gallon and the TE.
Once we snap the ball and show sweep motion both ILB's flow with the pulling linemen. The Sam has to be mindful of Gallon, so that slows him down a fraction of a second.
But once he reads run, he's sitting right there to make the play. The hope is that he's locked into man coverage on Gallon and he'll take himself out of the play. If we get lucky, he might run into his own teammates. But this is a very suboptimal use of Gallon, if you're only concerned about this single play, and not about setting up future plays. If Gallon had cracked down on the Sam or the Mike, it's possible that the Will gets caught up in the trash and this play breaks for a huge gain. Instead, it's almost like Borges is asking Fitz to "take one for the team" on this play. Even with the reverse fake, we still could have gotten decen yardage if the frontside DE had been blocked better and our pulling linemen didn't have to go around him.
But with that DE crashing so hard and our TE holding on for dear life, Fitz has to jump out of the way, and this blows up all the timing for the blocks.
A couple more missed blocks and Purdue has three guys in position to make the stop.
So the line isn't helping Fitz. But Fitz also missed the hole. Last year he would have dived between his two lead blockers and gotten 4 or 5 yards instead of getting stuffed by the pursuit. That last part is on Fitz.
1st10 frontside blocker on the reverse
2nd3 sweep, bad block bounces it outside.
3rd1 Leadblock for Denard (didn't touch anyone)
1st10 Zonelead to the weakside where the safety was walked up, safety made the tackle, drags him for 5 extra yards.*
I like Devin Funchess, I think he's going to be one of the all time great receiving TE's in Wolverine History. But right now, he's a liability as a run blocker. Note the size difference between him and the guy next to him. But more on that later. It's 1st down and the SS is walked up with a directive to crash the l.o.s.
The blocking design is okay, we've got a hat on a hat, except for the safety. The problem is that we seem to be losing each of those individual battles. This is another play where we kind of outsmarted ourselves and Purdue was overplaying our tendencies. If Hopkins is in there, we have the opportunity to audible away from the safety. Instead, he's right on the l.o.s. to make the tackle. Fitz does a good job of dragging him for 5 yards.
2nd3 Zoneread kept, so he's blocking the crashing end
3rd4 Naked flare, pass is too tall
4th4 passblock (no contact)
1st10 Leadblock for Vincent
2nd9 fake sweep
1stG Hands on hips, he's already tired.Review TO
1stG Dive, no blocking, nowhere to go.* Purdue offsides
This play didn't count, but it's indicative of the kind of problems the O-line was having in short yardage. Notice how all the defenders are keeping their blockers at arms length, they've got their heads up to watch the ball, and their lateral movement is keeping them on the l.o.s. instead of getting pushed back into the endzone. After watching a year of Greg Mattison, this is some pretty good fundamentals from the Boiler DL. Fitz takes the ball a little wider than he should have, but part of that is the fullback, #36 just got destroyed. He's too small, and his pad level is too high. It would have been a tough cut, but there was a little bit of space behind Schofield. That's the kind of cut Fitz was making at the end of last year. But he either didn't see it, or was too tired on this play.
And Schofield has to do a better job of driving his block even when the defender is slanting hard.
1stG Exact same play, FB blocks the outside man instead of the inside man. Fitz barely scores. FB too high, too small.
(Roh at DT NOT GOOD, head down, missed the draw.)
1st10 zoneread kept
1st10 leadblock for Denard
2nd7 inside zoneread give, terrible blocking* jukes the free man and stumbles forward for 5 extra
When two linemen whif at the point of attack, it's amazing to get any yards at all. Also note the unblocked optioned man is so far from the mesh that it doesn't affect him either way.
3rd2 Leadblock on the power option*
I've noted it before, but here's another example of why we don't run more veer and speed option. Denard just doesn't have much experience or feel for the pitch. On this play we had a nice wall and he should have stuck his nose in there for the first down. I don't particularly like that, because I don't want him to take unnecessary hits. But he pitches this ball way too early.
The guy that you suck in and pitch off of should never be able to make a tackle on the pitchman, but that's exactly what happened on this play.
1st10 Zoneread give, denard should have kept, Funchess can't runblock, liability
2nd10 Decoy run fake
Start 2nd Quarter
1stG Basically same play as previous goal line dive, no push from the line, sneaks in for TD anyway.*
The o-line is getting pushed back nearly two yards on the playside.
But Fitz somehow twists keeps his legs driving and manages to get in for the TD anway.
Back to back turnovers, game over.*
I'm not saying the sun was in his eyes. But the sun WAS in his eyes.
2nd10, after falsestart. Hit in the backfield by runblitz.
1st10 Bench 5WR
That probably could have been called a holding, but I like the effort.
1st10 Leadblocker on endaround
2nd7 Zoneread keep, shoulda given. Fitz tried to take, slapped his hands in frustration.
So, there's a bunch of defenders right up the middle, and not a lot on the outside. Fitz really wanted this ball and nearly took it from Denard.
3rd7 Blitz pickup
Fifth Drive 2 minute drill
1st10 Bench (ball fumbled on runblitz)
1st10 zoneread give, missed the hole strongside unblocked safety crashing support, walked up.*
From alignment, the safety doesn't look like he's in the box, but at the snap of the ball, he's essentially blitzing.
This is one of the few times when we got a nice walled off hole, but the safety is already at the l.o.s. by the time Fitz gets the ball. Last year, Fitz woulda given him a stiff arm, taken the outside path, and stumbled forward for an extra 4 or 5 yards. On this play he cuts back and the unblocked pursuit gets him with no possibility of a broken tackle.
1st10 zoneread give, CB blitz and the DL slanted away, nowhere to go.
2nd8 playaction fake
1st10 zoneread keep
1st10 outsidezone nowhere to go, OL can't sustain blocks. *
The blocking on this play is horrid. We've got plenty of guys out in front, they just can't stick to their defenders.
2nd10 Doubletight dive. OL can't get to the reach blocks. Funchess again a liability as a runblocker.*
I don't know what this is. But it's ugly. Really f***ing ugly. Look at Funchess 4 yards deep in his own backfield on a running play.
1st15 splitbacks, weakside dive. The safety is coming down so hard he's sitting in the hole and Fitz takes it up the middle instead of bouncing outside.*
Again the safety is coming up in run support, so there's going to be an unblocked defender in the hole. Gallon is giving a hitch fake so Borges can see whether or not the safety is reacting to him. He doesn't. So Fitz 'takes another one for the team'.
Lewan actually gets a pretty decent block and Fitz might have had some yards if he'd bounced it outside the tackle. But that unblocked safety is making him rush his decision and he cuts it inside where the DL and LB are squeezing down away from the blitzing safety.
3rd12 outlet hook
1st10 playaction fake
3rd8 flat route
1st10 zoneread keep. Denard pops open for like 60 yards
1st10 zoneread give, unblocked end eats him up. no push on the frontside
2nd11 offtackle with a reverse fake. Pulling lineman has to choose which of the 5 (FIVE!) unblocked defenders to pick up.*
At least the reverse is going to be wide open. Sorry Fitz, no soup for you on this play.
2nd26 leadblock for QB draw, looks tired, runs into Denard
1st10 zoneread give, there was a hole, but it was squeezed down pretty quickly, fitz didn't look like he had any burst left to get there.
1st10 zoneread give, decent blocking this time the hole is again squeezed shut, but there is good push up the middle, but fitz doesn't slam the hole when he has a chance, instead he bounces outside for no gain instead of the 4 or 5 yards he could have had. *
The line has gotten a good two yard push, so Fitz could have just ridden them for a nice pickup on first down. In the podcast for this game, Brian was complaining of Fitz bounce, bounce, bouncing too much, but this was the only egregious example I could find.
2nd10 Leadblocker, very tired, is jogging halfway through the play.
3rd6 playaction pass block
So out of about 70 offensive plays, Fitz was in on 60, and he was blocking on 25 plays in addition to carrying the rock 17 times. The rest of the plays were zonereads he didn't get the ball on, playaction fakes, or passing routes. Fitz was being used a lot on short yardarge downs, so that's part of what pulled down his ypc. Five of his 17 carries were short yardage plays and another 6 or 7 were terribly blocked. So he had about 5 carries for about 20 yards and a couple of goalline TD's. That's not great, but it's about what you'd expect from a FB who is blocking all day.
In the end, I think there's nothing wrong with Fitz that a lighter workload and better blocking won't cure. The return of Hopkins, the development of Rawls in short yardarge, and the return of Vincent on 3rd downs with his billygoat blocking would be very helpful for Fitz's ypc.
Last year, many of Fitz's big runs came late in games when the defense was tired and he was fresh. With all the blocking, that's not happening this year.
Look at how far away he is from this play. But his instant recognition and his quick first step™ allow him make the play.
He completely takes the running back by surprise with his Superman impression.
And trips him up for a nice TFL. That's called 'selling out' on a play. (Giving it your all)
Well, alllllrighty then...I'm not real good at reading expressions, but I'm pretty sure that one is saying "Hey twitter, STFU."