national champs baby
Picture Pages: Running Downhill
I said I'd come back to this when I have video, and now I do. In last week's Iowa game, the linebackers became extremely aggressive against the run. This usually worked out pretty well. Iowa had a lot of problems running the ball, and what success they had was usually due to the NT getting blown too far back off the ball for Mouton—it was usually Mouton caught in the wash, with Ezeh flowing to a point farther outside—to flow to the ball. There were a couple instances in which the linebackers zipped into the wrong hole, but all told it was an encouraging performance, especially for Ezeh. Ezeh picked up a +4.5, his first positive outcome of the season.
Here's an excellent example of the linebacker's new aggression. It's first and ten late in the first half. Iowa's got the ball and is playing conservatively. They start in an I and motion the outside receiver in:
Here's the snap. You can see Martin already off the ball. Woolfolk has gone in motion to cover the receiver who shifted; this is man coverage:
A half-second later, Iowa is shifting the line left and running a zone stretch. It's hard to see the line from this angle but from the top to the bottom:
- Stevie Brown is holding the outside against an Iowa TE.
- Craig Roh has gotten sealed inside by his guy. I think this is because Michigan's line was slanting away from the play at the snap and then had to try to adjust. Look at Martin in the picture above: he's heading straight upfield. In the picture below, he's behind an OL and trying to come around.
- Ryan Van Bergen and Martin are in a big heap of bodies, with three blockers trying to take on two linemen. They don't crease and they don't allow anyone to get to the second level, so that's a win for Michigan.
- Brandon Graham isn't doing so hot but it doesn't matter. He may be preparing to shoot upfield in the event of a waggle.
And then you've got the linebackers, who are moving forward already, well before the handoff point. Both of them are headed outside.
At the handoff point, Roh has gotten himself a tad bit farther in the backfield. There are still no creases and no downfield blockers. Ezeh is heading outside into the crease between Brown and Roh. Mouton's waiting a bit in case there's a cutback; his designated hole is somewhere between Roh and Martin:
The handoff's made, and Mouton reads that there's nothing in the middle and heads outside. Ezeh's already in the hole, about to meet the fullback…
…who he crushes:
The key in the above frame is that Ezeh got outside the fullback, forcing the tailback behind him and into the help, which could be Roh or RVB but in this case is Mouton, who's running untouched into the path of the tailback…
…for a TFL:
Here's the video:
In real time you can hear, and feel, the crunching destruction of the pwned fullback. Michigan's been doing this for a while now. Contrast several plays against Iowa and Michigan State on which the linebackers flow downhill immediately with this, the opening play of the Notre Dame game:
Yes, they're flowing to the ball, but the hesitancy is obvious. This happened a few times.
The problem comes when opponents go to play action and two tight ends get wide open at the same time, but I don't know if that's their responsibility. With Michigan going to more man coverage since the insertion of Woolfolk at corner, Mouton and Ezeh can be responsible for the two guys in the I; the tight ends are not their problem. In an ace set, that's not the case, but at least one of them was innocent on Moeaki Disaster II.
I'm not sure if this is better play from the linebackers or Robinson removing responsibilities from them and telling them to go forth to rampage. The multiple times Iowa got guys wide open on play action waggles, and Michigan State's success with tight ends, suggest that Michigan has traded one problem for another here.