Picture Pages: Linebacker Hesitancy FML
A little more on what looks to me like one of the major issues with the run defense: the two MLBs not reading plays quickly enough. This was one of the videos featured in the UFR, FWIW.
Michigan State has first and ten at the beginning of the third quarter and will run an inside zone from an ace formation; Michigan is in their standard 4-3 under with Kovacs rolled down:
On the snap State starts to develop the run action and the linebackers start creeping forward:
A moment later the handoff point is almost reached and the two LBs are still three and four yards off the LOS.
Contrast this with the MSU defense on Michigan's first and five on their first drive:
Both are two yards closer to the LOS and rapidly approaching. This was a consistent theme: MSU linebackers, even when not blitzing, were screaming at the LOS.
At the handoff there is one blocker for two guys because Heininger was doubled on the backside. Martin is driving his single block into the backfield and Van Bergen is cutting off the outside. Kovacs is still hanging around for backside bounceouts.
The above is not a good setup for an offense.
But Demens does not get outside his block.. and Hawthorne starts moving up into a hypothetical gap that the RB is not headed to. Even if he wants to cut backside the Martin penetration means it will take absolutely forever. Still, he starts moving straight upfield instead of flowing to the hole:
By the time Baker manages to squeeze through the gap left by the DL, Hawthorne is hardly closer to him than when he was three yards behind the LOS and Demens is still two yards downfield, not funneling the play back to help.
Baker pops outside. Countess fills quickly, but can't make the tackle…
…and neither can Ryan.
Items of Interest
The DL cannot do much more than this. They got a two-for-one on the double that leaves a free hitter. On the frontside they drive into the backfield such that the tailback has one realistic option. Short of throwing offensive linemen into the RB, they have done all they can.
The linebackers are uncertain of what they are doing. This has been a theme all year: me complaining about guys pulling in front of the LB's face only for that LB move directly upfield instead of scraping over to the POA. Sometimes poor DL play has washed them out, but often it's just derp.
Both linebackers screw it up here. Demens has to get into his blocker further upfield; failing that he needs to pop outside of him to funnel back to help. He does neither. Hawthorne can't see that his assigned gap is not an option because of the penetration and slows up for what turns out to be no reason. Either could have made this play themselves; it takes both of them screwing up to send it to the second level.
I'm sure they're more concerned about play action than Michigan State was because of the quarterbacks in question, but they get blocked way too often for my tastes. Hawthorne had already given way to Morgan for a series or two in the first half; IIRC this would be one of his last drives before Morgan re-entered for the remainder.
Ed Baker is hard to tackle and fast. I wish he was on the football team I liked instead of one I do not.
Countess does a great job here. I know he misses the tackle but a cornerback impacting a tailback just outside the hash four yards downfield is quality run support. If the linebackers hadn't compounded their Keystone Kops impression by banging into each other and falling over Baker is gang tackled after a moderate gain; as it is only Ryan is there to tackle and he is run through.