Hokepoints: The Key Plays
Last Saturday Michigan ran 51 offensive plays. Of those the Big Ten's best rushing quarterback ever participated in 19. Two of the sans-Robinson plays were on the goal line; here's how Michigan fared on the other 49:
|Denard||Plays||Run%||YPA||YPA-Adj.*||1st half*||2nd half*||In box|
Yards per attempt-adjusted (*) means I capped maximum gain or loss on a play at 20 yards so the outliers don't throw off the rest. It's not a quotable statistic but I think it provides a more accurate apples to apples comparison of the offense with Denard under center and without. It shows how Ohio State's defense seemed to have every part of Michigan's offense pretty much shut down except Denard running. Then they shut that down too.
Success rate is a thing they use at Football Outsiders at the start of their S&P+ calculations, and measures how much of the distance needed for a 1st down was achieved given the down. On 1st down you need to get 50% or more, on 2nd down 75% or more, on 3rd down or 4th down 100%. It doesn't account for the time of the game, so running for 8 yards on 1st and 10 from your own 25 with 75 seconds left in the half is considered "success" here. Here's the four quarters by success rating:
|Denard||1st Q||2nd Q||3rd Q||4th Q||Total|
For all the Borges carping from the 2nd half, Michigan's ability to get chunk yards with Denard's legs despite having to double Hankins and the entire world knowing what's coming was some Level 4 Rodriguez 2010 stuff. Then the bad guys did something at halftime to shut it down and it went to 2008 Rodriguez stuff and Denard Robinson's Big Ten career ended with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter down 2 points.
A lot of folks have taken the "keying" quote to mean Meyer did something by alignment to take away what Michigan was doing until. I don't think this means what you think it means.
[See THE JUMP for a Picture Pages of the Keying]
"In box" in the above table is how many guys Ohio State put there. Yes they stacked less for Devin than for Denard, but that was more of effect of going to a spread when Robinson was in:
Meyer seemed determined to take away Gardner's scrambles and make him hit receivers in single-coverage before the pass rush arrived. On the other hand he put 9 in the box just once—the 4th down attempt that was an obvious run.
Stacking the box wasn't Meyer's strategy for stopping Always-Runs Denard in the second half; "keying" was. On re-watch I saw a few plays where the defense lined up in a pass protection formation, but then reacted to some sort of key in the backfield remarkably quickly and made for their running lanes.
Here's a play mid-way through the 3rd. Gardner has just thrown the most accurate pass in history to hit Gallon for 30 yards. Ohio State comes out in a nickel (!), and puts six in the box with a tight cornerback just outside it and a nickelback shaded far enough inside the slot to trip the bubble screen wire in spread brains.
Meyer can get away with this because 1) Al Borges has no spread brain, and 2) Denard Robinson's nervous system currently does not extend to his throwing arm. Even so the safeties are 10-12 yards off the LOS and the corners are playing off as well.
Anyway ignore the open bubble at the bottom and see Mr. Highlight. That's Christian Bryant. In HTTV this year Heiko wrote that Bryant is the anti-Kovacs and this couldn't be more true: Bryant's concept of tackling is to hit the ball carrier with a fast-moving projectile, preferably head-first. OSU fans complain that he takes a long time to diagnose plays, but makes up for that with Ed Reed speed. And yet here he is on the handoff.
That's full body sent in the direction of the run. LB Boren and nickel Orhian Johnson moved forward as soon as Omameh began coming across the formation and Bryant reacted right after they did so I'm betting that's their key. They're taken care of by the play but Ed Reed speed plus his decision made for him has Bryant streaking in fast enough to close off both holes either side of Barnum's block.
The second annoying thing here is the Omameh block. This has been a persistent Borges battle in that zone reading is made to get rid of a defender without wasting a blocker on him, and Borges grew up believing linemen are there to be blocked and safeties are there to be run over by a back with a head of steam. This brings us to a moment of truth:
Here the DE forms up inside and then Omameh's pulling block arrives to blast him into…the same direction he was going anyway because he thought the running back had the ball. That's fine; the handoff was most likely a fake and the quick key by the nickel has shoved Roundtree's block five yards into the backfield and into Smith's lane so had this been a real read that's dead too from the keying. Show a thousand Borgeses this cap and they will all giggle with anticipation at the idea of a pulling lineman with momentum hitting a stationary DE at full pop. In MANBALL Russia, every comrade gets blocker.
It just goes to underline again that if you mean to run Rodriguezian spread-'n-shred to the point where the defense is keying for it, you've got to option off that end and save the guards for picking off screaming head-first safeties. Except for the bowl game this is moot.
Things and stuff:
The quick safety fill is what busted this play up. That Barnum block is skating toward the bottom of your screen so this isn't a given for big chunks of yards. Borges could be credited for the play design, and the blocking was good, but the context of the play in the series of what Michigan was doing all day is what makes it an RPS thing. Devin Gardner just threw one of the most perfect balls in the last five years, yet he (along with our team's last functional passing arm) is on the bench. If Denard could throw—or had at all in 35 previous offensive plays—then you're forcing Christian Bryant to use his head for something other than spearing the football, or taking the free yards on the bottom of the screen and sniffing go-ahead field goal territory.
This is the frustrating thing about this offense. We have the tools to do incredibly mean things, to emphasize obvious weaknesses of theirs and exploit our strengths. Instead we have a telegraphed running play that sees Denard eating safety a yard out of the backfield on a play that had good blocking and a DE high-tailing after a fake handoff.
Thank DGDestroys for putting that Every-Snap video together for me. Keep watching and see if you can pick out they keys and reactions.
I made a mini-UFR to gather all of this so I figured I'd share it. Broken up by drives. Click the times to pull up the video.
|Fumble. Michigan 7, Ohio State 0|
|Punt. Michigan 7, Ohio State 10|
|Touchdown. Michigan 14, Ohio State 10|
|Punt. Michigan 14, Ohio State 10|
|Touchdown. Michigan 21, Ohio State 17|
|Turnover on downs. Michigan 21, Ohio State 20|
|Fumble. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. Picture Paged above.|
|Punt. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. ARRRRGH Vincent Smith short yardage 1.|
|Punt. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. ARRRRGH Vincent Smith short yardage 2.|
|Fumble. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23.|
|Interception. Michigan 21, Ohio State 26.|