Can a conservative gameplan designed to protect Gardner's health still utilize Gardner's running ability as a threat to influence defenses?
This question came up, most recently, in today's Hokepoints thread. MCalibur argued for a much more intense use of Gardner as a runner, and was universally shot down by people like me who believe that a significant Gardner injury basically ends Michigan's season.
But can he force teams to account for him in the running game anyway?
Grantland has an interesting piece from Chris Brown of Smart Football that seeks to discern what kind of offense Chip Kelly will run in Philadelphia this year. One of the interesting revelations is that Chip can run his basic scheme with or without a running quarterback without changing its basic tenets. And, further, that Chip strongly preferred that his QBs in Oregon hand off, regardless of the actions of the unblocked defender.
And the statistics bear this out. Oregon's two most successful years occurred under the guidance of perhaps the least impressive, and certainly the slowest, quarterback of the Chip Kelly era: Darron Thomas. Thomas wasn't exactly Tom Brady in the pocket, but he wasn't a gamebreaker either, and those of us who watched Oregon in those years remember how infrequently he made plays with his feet.
Oregon won the Rose Bowl at the conclusion of its 2011 season; I don't think any of us would be disappointed with that kind of result this year. Darron Thomas that year? 56 carries, 206 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Yet Oregon was not lining up in the I-formation. They were running their diet of inside and outside zone reads, inside zone gives, and occasional reverses. Thomas wasn't a huge threat, but his presence required the coverage, or at least hesitation, of the unblocked defender; the result was space for LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner to run through.
Michigan does not run the spread concept anymore, and we do not have LaMichael James in our backfield, but the principle is the same. If the rumors of a pistol look are true, I would be unsurprised (but overjoyed) to see Michigan running pistol read-option looks to its tailbacks where Gardner almost always gives. This uses Gardner's speed as a threat while still keeping his running totals low. Frankly, as Kelly does, the only time Gardner would ever pull would be when the defense completely ignores him--and then he has the space to make them pay, and to protect himself. Two or three of those carries a game and the concept has done its job.
Combine those carries with perhaps one or two designed draws and Gardner's propensity for scrambling and you have 8-10 low-risk carries per game but also a fully realized threat that the defense must account for on every play.
Not a lot of personal input into this diary, but with Brian's front Picture Pages asking who the option read was there has been some confusion of which play is what. It's impossible to know what the play call is on any given down, and Bama did blow up just about everything, but I thought I'd post some diagrams showing what various teams do. Please chime in as well with different names for plays, as different coaches call the same play by different names.
All kinds of information (these pictures) can be found here: http://smartfootball.com/tag/option
Play 1: Zone Read (Read Option)
The offensive line zone blocks and leaves one defensive end (circled) unblocked. The QB then looks to see what this end does. The end picks one player and the QB's job is to make sure the other player has the ball.
There are variations on this (bubble screens etc) that are very nuanced and again, Chris Brown goes over them here http://smartfootball.com/run-game/the-zone-read-gun-triple-option-and-the-quadruple-option
Play 2: DT Read Option (Midline Option)
Very similar play, but here a DT is left unblocked. Lots of teams do this against stud DTs (Oregon optioned off Glenn Dorsey some)
Play 3 - Inverted Veer
The big differences here are that you now have a pulling guard and you leave someone unblocked playside. http://smartfootball.com/run-game/what-is-the-inverted-veer-dash-read
Michigan used this play to dismantle OSU last year as Brian pointed out here: http://mgoblog.com/content/picture-pages-inverted-veer-ftw
Typically your pulling guard and playside tackle would both serve as lead blockers on the 2nd level, but as noted elsewhere Borges and Hoke don't like leaving linemen unblocked. What worked against OSU was the LBs getting caught in the wash and Denard being awesome. I can't find an exact diagram of how we draw it up, but they still option off a DL, then get blocks elsewhere.
So how did Bama blow this up completely? Do we need to worry about teams doing this in the future? By being way more talented and maybe. What Bama did was "absorb" blockers and control them. Hopkins can't block #1, who forces a give. Omameh and Schofield are stuck double teaming DTs and can't get to the next level. Barnum is beat to the hole. If this was a true read play (I dont' know, and as mentioned, the coached don't like unblocked DLs) Hopkins should be on the 2nd level as well.
Do we need to worry about other teams doing this? Maybe, but I don't know who else will have the talent to. If a DL tries to pick off the lead blocker AND force a give, AND 2 DL force double teams so that our OL can't get to the 2nd level AND their LBs beat our pulling guard to the hole... then yes, we're in trouble. I don't think the talent disparity will be as big in future games. If it is, our option game will get blown up.
That was an unbelievable experience, watching the game with my family, unwittingly teaching my 4yo son a bad word or three, watching Michigan rewrite the 2009 script to include the new answer to all that ails Michigan Football. Because that is what Denard Robinson is, The Answer. Not just an answer, but instead The one and only Answer that you will need right about now. Let's demonstrate:
Q. Why is the sky blue?
A. Because Denard Robinson.
Q. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
A. De-Nard Rob-In-Son.
Q. Why do Michigan fans have a shit-eating grin on their faces?
A. The answer is The Answer, and he'll be here all season, just ask away.
Seriously though, enjoy this everyone. Denard Robinson is making Michigan Football history and for the first time I can remember we have a new script.
Other things I learned:
- Rich Rodriguez is old school. To hell with the latest in game theory, he will punt on fourth down and makable in the opponents end of the field, even on 4th and 2, if he wants to. No amount me ranting about it in my living room will make him change his mind. And let's not get started on trusting the leg of Gibbons a second time. Of course there was an answer to my frustration, see above.
- Michigan now has, I believe, the toughest group of players I have ever seen play anywhere. Roy Roundtree comes back a week after serious internal bruising, gets crushed again in this game, and gets back up to catch arguably the most important ball thrown all day. Odoms took a couple wicked shots as well. Of course Denard Robinson defies what every hater has said all week, getting up time and again and channeling the beating he is receiving into pure awesome. Credit to the almighty Barwis.
- Tate looks like he has decided to be a team player. His hug with RR at the beginning of the game looked a tad scripted ("Is the camera looking yet? OK now!") but it was nice to see him with the headset on, ready to help out. Others mentioned in various comments that he was getting the team huddled up during time outs and generally was with his teammates. I am glad to see this.
- This season our defense no longer looks incompetent, it merely looks young and inexperienced. Big plays burned us over and over, but for the majority of the plays faced, the defense appeared to be improving if anything. Man this Kool-Aid tastes good...
- Cam Gordon can really hit, but he needs to improve quickly as the deep contain. One bad angle and one letting a man behind him = burn crispy twice. Future opponents are definitely going to try to exploit him.
The best-case scenario has come true through two games. Denard Robinson's amazing displays have shoved all talk about RR's hot seat and the NCAA investigation out the window, and we are looking at a probable 4-0 start (I don't like adding Indiana into that figure after last year's game). Pretty much everyone of note is healthy and I think this team is showing improvement on defense despite some issues giving up the long ball. Take away the two touchdowns totaling 148 yards and Michigan has at least an average day on defense.
It was easy after this game to get very concerned about our reliance on one player. With Denard Robinson accounting for 502 of 532 total yards on offense, what happens if he goes down? Let's not forget that the OLine is getting great push, creating holes, and protecting the QB. Let's not overlook that the receivers are getting open, catching the football, and blocking well. And most of all, take solace that in Tate Forcier we have a more than capable starter waiting in the wings, and that he appears to have adopted a team-first mentality.
Enjoy this time fellow fans.
Nothing that hasn't been covered here, but interesting because of the UM vs ND context and quotes.
The Read: All About It
Forgive the question, which may be apparent to the more scheme oriented among us. But is the option run, where the QB goes parallel to the LOS and has the option of running or pitching to the RB ala While/Slaton, a part of our current offense? Both Tate and Denard had problems with the read option last year and so the run option wasn't really a part of what we did consistently, at least to my view. But I assumed that as (particularly) Denard got more skilled in the offense, that we would see that this year. I don't recall seeing it in the spring game, So is that something we still have in the playbook, or have I not paid enough attention?