national champs baby
Picture Pages: UMass Counter Reconsideration
Normally in these posts I've noticed something or understood something or am trying to explain something. No so much on this one. I grabbed this because it's a play where it seems like four different things could go right or wrong to turn it into a better or worse play than it ended up being, which is a five-yard run on first and ten.
It's the beginning of UMass's first drive of the second half; Michigan has just put up three touchdowns in four minutes of game time to surge into an 11-point lead. UMass starts off in an Ace formation with twin WRs to one side of the formation and twin TEs to the other. Banks and Kovacs are to the top of the screen, RVB and Gordon to the bottom:
At the snap the tailback starts running to the left side of the line. Martin gets under the center and starts pushing him back. Michigan linebackers start stepping to the playside, and Kovacs starts burrowing into the line:
A moment later the action has continued but the tailback has started coming back to the right. The move left was a feint; this is a counter. It's pulled the Michigan linebackers to the right:
A couple things on the above frame: it certainly looks like Martin is in a position to tackle in the A gap if the play ends up there, and he has gotten into a position where he is useful. But: I +1ed him on this play I shouldn't have since the defense is trying to seal him to one side and has. I don't think this is a negative play since he hasn't gotten blown off the line or anything, but it's not a win for the D.
The confusing thing about the linebacker play to me is if Martin is going to go to one side when the play starts it would make sense for the MLB to immediately go the other. This is "making the nose tackle right" if the nose can cut off that gap, which it certainly looks like Martin has.
HOWEVA, in the UFR comments, Steve Sharik made a point I hadn't ever thought of: when you pull linemen you are putting more blockers in a gap than there are defenders if everyone just takes a gap. So it makes some sense that Michigan LBs were in a read-and-react mode against UConn, which was pulling linemen all over the place. ND also makes heavy use of pulls, and frankly I'd be surprised if Michigan bothered to change their gameplan for UMass. The Minutemen did their share of pulling, anway. So it's more complicated than that. If Ezeh hammered it up behind Martin on this play and the opponents were pulling around into Martin's gap they would find a lot of space.
By the next frame the tailback has taken the handoff and the defense realizes it's a counter. Banks and Kovacs are engaged in a shoving match with the OL on the right side of the line that is going nowhere, which is usually a +0.5 in my book. It won't be here, as we'll see.
Mouton and Ezeh are free, though Ezeh is about to get a guy peeling off Martin:
Mouton sitting in that gap dissuades the RB from trying to hit it up; a step later he's still moving outside as the center attempts to get out on Ezeh:
Ezeh gets his face across the blocker and Martin is fighting through his guy; no place to go (except maybe cut behind Martin for a big gainer, but RVB seems like he'll shut that down):
A moment later this is obvious. Mouton is nearing the second TE, giving M three defenders on three blockers and Floyd ready to handle a bounce:
Here is some confusion. The RB fakes outside…
…which causes Mouton to hop outside the TE and surprises Floyd; Kovacs has finally yielded to the physics of his leetle body, giving the tailback a crease:
Kovacs and Floyd close the crease down, but it's six yards:
Video; watch how the tailback's little juke outside gives him the crease:
I misidentified this play as an inside zone, which it kind of is but that does not take into account the counter action. These are the things I think about it after some consideration:
- I should not have given Martin a plus nor Ezeh a minus. Both plays are fine. Ezeh did react in time to get across the center and Martin cut off his gap, then fought back through his blocker in time to help close down the play's intended hole. But Martin did not force a cutback—that was the play design—and didn't help on the tackle.
- On a later edition of this same play Banks should have been minused for flowing down the line too hard and opening up space for the tailback, but I still think Ezeh is slow to read and react, thus allowing him to be "blocked" by a center who's falling to the ground because of Martin's violent burst into the guard; I'd rather run the D like Martin is going to able to slant into the gap he wants against most teams and watch the cutbacks. Kovacs's ability to pursue hard when he has a gap to one side of Mouton to fill, then redirect and make a tackle when the RB cuts inside of Mouton is impressively aware.
- This was the story of Banks's day: I'm not doing much but I'm not going backwards either.
- Kovacs is small and this hurt him here as he tried to stand up to blockers, but really if it takes this long for help to arrive it's not his fault.
- Mouton and Floyd are confused when it comes to edge play; here it seems like Mouton should make sure he bounces the RB to Floyd and instead he hops outside, creating a gap that the RB can use. If he bounces it to Floyd he should be able to tackle; if Floyd expects that Mouton will funnel it inside he should be able to tackle. Neither happens. More of this deficiency can be seen in the earlier Mouton picture pages and the easy touchdown UMass scored when Floyd let the RB outside.
- I think I would prefer a chancier scheme that said "aww, the hell with it" and blasted linebackers into open gaps once they read run. If Michigan's going to get ground like they did attempting to play read and react—a lot of should-be-zero-yard runs like this one turned into four or six—they're going to give up a lot of drives like we saw Saturday. Getting those zero- and negative-yard plays on early downs seems more likely to get the defense off the field. This will put more pressure on the safeties when this doesn't work out, but they seem like good tacklers and guys who take good angles.