On Saturday, Michigan faced third and three and, for probably the first time in 20 or so years, called a designed quarterback run. Here it is:
Okay, empty backfield and wide splits on the defensive line. Seems like a pretty good setup, but there is one issue: this play is designed to go between the DT to the right of your screen and the DE to the same side. Without a lead blocker one of those linebackers will nail the slow-ish Threet before the marker.
To allay this, Michigan is going to try a reach block by Molk on the DT, which will allow Moosman to head downfield on the linebacker.
What's a reach block? Uh… well…
Using the left guard again, to “reach” would be to get around the defensive tackle, and use his right shoulder to pin him to the inside, so that a ball carrier can go around you to the left. Again, it is about getting the face mask in “front” or beyond the defender to get the shoulder pad in position. Seriously, line up with a friend sometime and try to reach block to your outside, you will appreciate linemen athleticism much more.
The idea is to get Molk around the defensive tackle so he can seal him, creasing the two defenders, as Moosman heads downfield to take out a linebacker. If this sounds hard, it is. I lost this in the ether, but at one point during my research for Hail To The Victors 2007 I came across one coach's description of a bunch of different blocks, ordered by difficulty. "Reach block by the center" was #1.
Real UFR diehards may remember a common bitch from the last couple years that usually went something like "Kraus attempts to block a DT lined up playside of him, but he shoots into the backfield/flows down the line to tackle/eats a baby." These were all attempted reach blocks gone bad.
(A "scoop" block, as I understand it, is basically an assisted reach block. Moosman banged the DT back and helped Molk get over, that would be a scoop.)
And all this stuff is supposed to be hard when the DT is lined up to your outside shoulder. Here the DT is lined up slightly outside of the guard(!). How is this going to work?
You can see the line shifting to the left here, and you can see that the DT is now between the two OL. The wide splits were a pass rush gambit—tougher to block outside that way—and the first step of the DT is upfield, not down the line.
Molk makes contact and he's in decent position here given the relative momentum here, but he's still got to get his helmet across the player, then anchor as well as he can to preserve the crease between the two OL. Chris Spielman, by the way, is currently doodling on the DE, who is still in pass rush mode.
Molk is now full of win, playside of a guy who lined up a yard outside of him at the snap. Moosman is in great position to block the MLB, but doesn't have to because he's getting cut to the ground. Minor is about to block the safety-type object.
Woop! Open spaces, first and goal, and a one-yard Minor touchdown follow.
Object lessons. I picked this play out of all the various things for a variety of reasons. To wit:
I think Molk might be pretty good once he is enormous-er. I brought this up earlier in the year, but Molk was a fringe top-100 guy who was the only real OL recruit brought in after the shift to zone blocking. He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.
The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.
(This is the long way of saying I think GS was unduly harsh on Molk this week in the Run Chart; he should get more credit for these reach blocks.)
You can only make a reach block if the defense lets you. I'm not a coach or an expert or anything but over the last three years I've watched a ton of stretch plays and have come to the conclusion that if the DL steps the right way and you have been tasked with a reach block, you lose.
And the thing is, either way can be the right way. Last year Penn State's Ollie Ogbu had three TFLs and a half-dozen more plays he forced into unblocked defenders because he was shooting behind the attempted reach block. Penn State slanted their DL all day, and if they got a zone left they strung it out and if they got a zone right they came under it and did even more damage.
Diversity. The reason Michigan's run game was so successful against Penn State was because of its diversity. For much of the first half, Michigan had Penn State defenders expecting stretch and getting something else.
The results are, for the first time, encouraging. The rushing game against Penn State this year and last, sacks excised:
||Opp Rush D
Some of that improvement is the decline in Penn State's defense, but raise your hand if you think the Penn State defense declined more than the Michigan offense.
Right, no takers.
How? Well, I found a three-play sequence on Michigan's first touchdown drive interesting. Michigan had been moving the ball and found itself in fourth and one. Penn State slanted into the backfield and should have had Minor(+2!) dead; Minor squirmed out and got the first. On the next two plays, Penn State went back to the slant—back to the successful gameplan from a year ago—and got cut for a total of 14 yards and a first down because Michigan ran the same play you see above and that backside veer play. Michigan had Penn State guessing in a way that Carr never did, IMO, and that's a large reason why WVU's ground game was near the national best in YPC.
Of course, all that died in the second half, but there's only so much diversity Michigan has at this point. If they had a reliable passing game (read: Threet with elbows) or a better offensive line or some rocket quarterback they'd be able to punish Penn State's adjustments to their run game; as it was they just ran out of things to do.