This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.
A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.
I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.
I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.
The Good Part
First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.
That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.
On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.
One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.
Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.
[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]
Clark can win this two ways: by having the opposing line fail to adjust to the slant at all, as above, or by having the guard pass the end off to that tackle and then release into a linebacker, which is what comes naturally. If the offensive line can execute they're going to get a big gap up the middle; easier said than done.
At the handoff point, all this has already happened:
The right tackle is now trying to block a guy he has no angle on, though it momentarily looks like he might get one as Clark continues to give ground as he drops back to his quasi-LB assignment:
But then Clark reads the play and goes woop upfield and that's all she wrote:
No gain, third and four, upcoming three and out.
Items Of Interest
Michigan does this all the time. Last offseason, Mattison said approximately 40% of Michigan's snaps see this inversion of the defense. That's been reduced this year as Michigan finds itself in nickel so often; it's still frequent. Expect a blizzard of this against Minnesota.
Inversion of the defense? Yes. Michigan lines up in an under front—line is even so we're judging based on the fact that there's more room to the area Michigan shifts away from—and ends up running something closer to an over front, on which you'll often see a strongside linebacker lined up at a more traditional ILB depth. Here Clark ends up where an over front SAM would be a couple of moments after the play starts, except UConn's blocking is all futzed.
On passes this folding is less effective, as those end up being those super short zones on which the dropping WDE doesn't really do much.
Clark executes. He gets the tackle to commit, floats around him and has the athleticism to redirect upfield once he reads the play. This is not a situation in which avoiding the block there is a bad thing. He's got an angle to shoot a gap and takes it. Even if he can't make the tackle he's forcing the play into space that Ross is about to occupy as he runs past the center trying to release.
Pipkins could do better here. He's lined up inside of the left guard, slants away from that guy, and still ends up handled by him as the center gets to release into a linebacker. I didn't ding him for this in UFR, but should have. He's the nose; he's got to demand a double team here by threatening to shoot inside and upfield of that guard like you've seen opponents do to Michigan when one of the interior lineman leaves for the second level. Instead he's effectively blocked one on one despite having an advantageous position and call on against the guard.
Henry did a nice job. He gets to a spot about two or three yards in the backfield and makes the bounce unappealing; job done. He also comes back down to constrict the tailback's space after he commits inside. He had another promising day.
This looks vulnerable to that jet. As the wideout goes in motion you can see Ross point him out and try to get a check in; he runs to a more usual ILB spot from a position flared out over the slot.
It even seems like Bolden gets the check, as he points out someone, apparently the tailback. But no one goes with the jet guy on the snap; with one deep safety in the middle of the field and two DBs on two wideouts if they actually run the jet here it's probably a nice play. Beyer will see it and widen out to do something about it, but that's a lot of space for a virtual DE to shut down.
It feels like something was off about this D, as Michigan ends up with seven guys in the box against five blockers, and has a backup plan against the inside zone UConn does run if Clark doesn't get a TFL. That's overcommitting.
I'd feel better about this if Jake Ryan was the guy coming off that edge; while Beyer's done a nice job, the doubts I have about Beyer's ability to redirect and shut this down are not applicable to Ryan the Barbarian and his explosive upfield burst.