[Ed: commenter wile_e8 makes a great suggestion: check out the earlier ND Check Yo' Self Picture Page for everything Michigan wasn't doing against MSU.]
One of the main issues with Michigan's offense was an inability to adjust to Michigan State's constant double-A-gap blitzing. BWS has an example where it ate up a Smith run; this post has two more focused on the precise timing MSU used to shoot into the backfield untouched on multiple plays.
Two plays in this one. The first is actually a 25-yard run on Michigan's first drive on which Vincent Smith breaks a tackle when the WLB gets too far upfield. It would be a disturbing omen.
It's second and one; Michigan is in a three-wide shotgun set and MSU in the 4-3 they'd run all day. Don't bother screaming that the bubble is open.
All right, so Molk starts to put his head down; when it comes back up he snaps immediately.
Molk's head starts down…
And by the time it's completely down Allen is nearing the LOS.
Bullough is next; the blitz seems like it is designed to have Allen pick off Molk while Bullough gets a free run:
But Molk snaps the thing so quickly that he doesn't even get his head up before the play. Instead of blocking Allen he goes to double the playside DT. He does not see the blitz at all:
Allen is through untouched.
Schofield actually does a nice job to adjust and kick out Bullough, giving Smith a crease when he breaks the tackle.
So that's a problem. Michigan endures another half-dozen of these throughout the game, gets the ball back down seven with under five minutes left, and comes out empty.
Molk head down, Molk head up…
…instant snap with two LBs running straight up the middle of the field. This time Molk does block Allen; Schofield does not slide over to get Bullough, which would put someone else through but someone else not running up the middle at the snap.
Denard throws a slant; Smith runs a hitch. Ballgame.
Video of that:
The timing of the snap is the same, the result different.
So what's going on here?
While some of the timing issues may have been playclock related, neither of these are. Michigan snaps the ball with around ten seconds left on the first play and while there is no playclock listed on the second it was the first play of a drive and I don't remember being upset about getting the play in. This is just… like… voluntary.
Once or twice Michigan did go to longer counts and got the opponent to jump, but one of those was a hard count from under center. The fact that they could get the jumps meant MSU was timing the snap; the fact they could continue into the fourth quarter meant Michigan was using the long counts too infrequently. Michigan
consistently tipped their snap count
never motioned for the snap to reveal what the defense planned
didn't even bother to pause after Molk got his head up so he could evaluate the guys coming hell-bent up the middle of the field
did not check out of plays
did not execute what looks like a hot read here
This is not a toughness issue. Air cannot block people even if you're the Clint Eastwood State Fightin' John Waynes. It's an inability for Michigan to deal with a simple, grandiosely unsound defense that leaves simple throws in the middle of the field wide open*.
All of this is coaching at some level, but we can separate out getting execution out of your players from strategy. On the interception Michigan had an answer that they did not execute, which can reasonably be chalked up to transition/mindflub/one of those things. Michigan QBs passing up wide open guys on that second quarter drive is execution, not strategy. Those are costs of installing a new system, especially one with a lot of post-snap reads for the WRs, something I don't think Rodriguez ever did. On some level that's understandable.
However, they failed to adjust their strategy to help the offensive line out. MSU is running full speed at the line on the snap; varying the count would make those well-timed blitzes poorly timed, allowing Michigan to slide the protection and letting Denard know what he's in for pre-snap… or forcing MSU out of the play. Michigan State timing these snaps so precisely puts immediate pressure on Robinson, robbing him of a half-second he needs to maybe see Koger on the other side of the field or the actual route Smith is running. It gives Smith more time to read the play and understand his hot route. Even if you want the double LB blitz on the INT because you think you have it beat, waiting that beat lets everyone on the offense know it's there without letting MSU check. At the very least make your standard count long enough for Molk to look at the situation in front of him before he doubles on a guy who's going outside because of a blitz.
Did you notice that they were jumping your snap count? “I think everyone has an idea of snap counts from guns, because there’s a mechanic that every team has. We have a silent count, and we have a double silent count. I don’t think that’s all the way correct.”
…but clearly there is something there that is bloody obvious to the opposition that has destroyed Michigan's offense against MSU on their last two trips to East Lansing. (Michigan moved the ball fairly well in last year's matchup only to be undone by turnovers.) The next time Michigan visits they'll presumably be in more of a MANBALL offense with Gardner better equipped to go under center and a line that probably reads Lewan-Bryant-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, so we may have seen the last of this.
*[I was just reading that Smart Football post he linked about matching short passes with runs, which would have been perfect here. A-gap blitz? Immediate toss to slot/TE. Still need to block up the middle to get the QB some time.]
Re-watching some of the plays, it almost has this video game mentality. It's like Dantonio was on the sideline with a Dual Shock and a bag of Cheetos dialing up punt block on 1st and 10 because, hey, why not? The timed blitzes were killing us, but I don't see that we had an answer even if our snap count wasn't tipped off.
It also seemed like we never had two tight end sets in the game except for the soul crushing 4th and 1. I could be wrong though, that whole weekend is sort of a blur to me. I just remember during the game yelling about not hitting tight ends up the middle like we did to Northwestern.
In a five wide set with an even defense, I would think it would be a better idea to look to the side with three wide instead of the side with two wide. If he makes the same errant pass to Koger (who also didn't adjust to run a slant) on the left, it's probably just an ugly incompletion due to the fact that the MSU defense secondary wasn't as tight on that side.
I had the same thought, but my football knowledge is lacking to know whether that's right or not. But I agree, watching the two linebackers move up before the snap I immediately thought Koger would be the person to see the ball come his way. Koger seems the more open one though from pre-snap to post-snap. Perhaps the idea is that Smith is the right option because he is the one that should adjust to the vacated space?
Is really small, like 5'6 if the truth is known. Im not sure throwing to such a tiny target is the best idea in the world. Kinda like running him up the middle on MSUs defensive front but what do I know?
to the reciever who has a 10 yard cushion. I like gallon in open space making the first guy miss which will result in a nice gain. Why does UM refuse to throw these? They strectch the defense laterally and are the highest of percentage plays? Very frustrating.
I think he meant that line would be for 2013, the next time they come to MSU. So it would be...
RS Senior, RS Sophomore, RS Sophomore, RS Freshman / Sophomore, RS Freshman / Sophomore. I think that Schofield will be starting that year somewhere, so you can probably add another RS Senior in there and it isn't quite as bad.
This is heresy, but could it be that the problem is Molk?
Could it be that he needs to look, see where his target is, and snap it very soon after the visual clue or his snap is inaccurate? That would explain why we can't seem to cure an obvious problem. I can't recall if he did this last year.
I want to add that I have zero knowledge to back up this theory. Other than frat league IM football, I have never long snapped in a game. (There is no way that now distant experience qualifies me to have knowledge on any subject other than beer consumption and recreational violence.) So, is there anyone who has actualy played or coached the position who could comment? I would actually love to be told that I am wrong here.
What are they doing to the most explosive player in college football? The way we played on Saturday does not compute for me! Hopefully, we've learned some lessons...granted, not the ones mentioned i.e. "toughness" cough cough "physical" cough cough. Great post Brian and your absolutely right, the 'tough outphysical blah blah blah' may have played a role in the psyche but we just didn't play smart football.
ugh I can't read these anymore. so frustrating to think about what could have been if we made just a few simple adjustments.
I agree with a lot of other comments though...it seems blatantly obvious that there has to be something we are missing, right? how could borges not adjust to this? and how come its always state who is able to exploit this? this has happened for three years now...why does it seem like dantonio is the only one who knows this?
State has had the same coaching staff for five years now. Michigan has been changing quarterbacks or offensive systems for four consecutive years. Guess which team can do all sorts of fancy stuff and adjust on the fly and which team has trouble doing anything it didn't explicitly spend practice time on that week.
So, you think they take advantage of it... twice as much?
Anyways, I know this statement is going to annoy certain groups of people, but still: given all the obsessive focus Dantonio (and, by extension, the rest of the team) has had on Michigan ever since he got there, isn't it to be expected that Michigan State is the team that is best prepared to exploit whatever tendencies the team has?
Great breakdown Brian. I feel better about things actually. I was starting to fall into the trap of thinking that it was all roster. I steered clear of buying into the "toughness" thing, but who knows with 2 weeks where repeated myths might have taken me? These aren't big counterpunches and I'll bet we'll see improvement on this going forward. Being a little better at recognition and assignments could really cause harm to defenses who try this again.
Too bad the TV show "Quantum Leap" wasn't real. We could go back and do a couple important plays a better from Saturday and maybe change the result.
“First, understanding what their intent is, what our team’s intent is going to be. You’ve got to be willing to work for that. You’ve got to be willing to earn that..." 12-30-2014
In my opinion, this is a problem of a lack of self-scouting. If Mattison watched game film of Michigan from previous MSU games and our first 6 games he would see what was going on and find a way to take advantage of it if he was playing against that offense. I have to assume that our defensive coordinator looks at our offense to see what he would do if he was playing against Michigan. If that was done we could have an offensive scheme, a backup if defensive corrections were made, and a backup for the backup. We have one of the best defensive minds in the sport. Why aren't we using him to pick apart OUR offense? It would only help the team to get better.
It's probably a flaw in my personality, but after every defeat, I get in a funk so bad that I just come to mgoblog.com to give Brian the clicks. I can't read more than a few sentences before life sucks too much to keep reading.
I'm not trying to be melodramatic. That's just how depressed I am about this loss.
I'm sure the remainder of the defenses we play will try to jump the count and blitz often. Hopefully, Borges can implement some staggered snap counts. It would be great to get some crossing patterns 10 to 20 yards down field. These could all have big YAC and force a defenses to not stack the LOS which would help out DROB and other backs running. It will be interesting to see if our coaches can adjust. I'm optimistic but I'm worried about NE, IL and OSU.
that is every bit as big as timing the snap count is our OC's seeming inability to call plays that owrk to this offenses strength.
When this staff first got hired I figured they would try to implement their system right away and try to get the growing pains out of they way asap. I thought this because at the time Tressel and Pryor were still at OSU and the conference had a very different feel to it back then. It looked liked we would probably go 7-5 or 8-4 with a bowl game.
Fast forward to the season and we are in the hunt for winning our division and a shot at the B1G title and with some decent offensive play calling I think we could do it. If this staff would just start playing to the strengths of this offense there is no reason to believe we couldn't move the ball through the air like we did against NW and Minn.
This is they year for this staff to make some noise because next year we have one hell of a tough schedule. If they start using DR the way he should be used, we could still end up in the title game. I just hope they finally see it.
Purdue's center does the same thing--and so does the NE Patriots
I watched the Penn State-Purdue game yesterday and watched the Boilermaker center on the shotgun snaps.
Purdue did the same thing that Michigan did against MSU. The PU center would put his head down, bring it back up, then one one count he'd snap the football.
He did this for every shotgun snap that Purdue had in the game against PSU, with one minor exception. Late in the second half (under a minute), he put his head down, brought it up, then put his head down a second time. After he brought his head up again, it was one second, then snap the ball.
PSU really didn't take advantage of the tip off until Purdue's last two offensive series of the game. Even then, they didn't blitz the A-gap--PSU brought its blitzes from the outside.
Penn State actually did a better job anticipating the snap when Purdue was in the I-formation. I counted three occasions where a PSU DT was able to beat a Purdue guard off the snap because he anticipated it correctly.
I couldn't find a highlight video of the game to support this, but if you have time to look at a BTN rebroadcast, you'll see the same thing.
I also decided to look at what the pros do, so I took a look at the offensive highlights from the season opening Patriots-Dolphins game. Here's the Pats' first half offensive series:
You'll notice that the Patriots center also bobs his head and snaps the football immediately after it comes up again on most every play after Brady raises and lowers his foot. Perhaps this really doesn't matter for a team like the Pats because they're so well coached and because Brady can make a team pay if they do blitz up the middle--something Michigan evidentally couldn't do against MSU last Saturday.
In contrast, when you look at the Dolphins center (see highlights below--the audio and video don't synch up), there's no head bob--he snaps the ball based on the Henne's count.
There are some actual advantages to using a Qb under center with a proper snap count for more than 10% of the play calls? Also, where was that Wing T Diamond formation thingy? Would've been nice to pull that out a couple plays during that game. Hell if they're gonna run Denard 30 carries a game, might as well just run the triple option j/k. No matter what the play call is defenses key on Denard every play. So give the damn ball to somebody else FERGODSAKES. You might actually fool a defense once in a while.
“That is a total f***ing lie. It is bullsh*t and it is horse sh*t, and people need to be held accountable" -Jim Leyland