The option has always been about making a defender wrong about who has the ball, thus effectively blocking him. Since you don't have to actually block him this means you can take out a slavering rage-beast with even the daintiest of skill position players.
Rich Rodriguez's innovation was taking the hazard-laden option and turning it into a simple yes-or-no handoff. The read option makes a guy wrong without requiring a pitch, and without getting your quarterback lit up time and again. Pairing that with plays that stretch the defense across the field horizontally opens up the box, forces safeties down, and creates the kind of environments that see his teams run for nearly six yards a clip.
Borges and Hoke have a different outlook on football. Last year when the inverted veer was running riot over Ohio State, they were consistently blocking the guy a Rodriguez-style offense would consider optioned off.
This worked, but I wondered if it was working because Ryan Shazier was an injured freshman who was pretty horrible in that game. It's hard not to look at what's going on with Michael Schofield in this clip and not pine for the guy to move past the OSU DE and take on Ohrian Johnson, thus likely springing Denard for another huge gain.
Last year both myself and fellow guy who does the picture paging Chris Gaerig thought that this was an execution issue that would be hammered out given enough time, but Tyler Sellhorn, a high school OL coach who frequently emails me tips and corrections, thought this was a philosophical thing:
I think Schofield and Omameh were coached to block the DE. Hoke/Borges do not like leaving unblocked defensive linemen out there. A famous unattributed coaching axiom that I am sure that Hoke/Borges believe in is: "First level defenders cause fumbles, second level defenders make tackles." To me, this is the "MANBALL" component of M's "option" game. True power running game people think like that. I think that is the reason there have been fewer really long runs (the second level has been blocked less consistently this season).
This is one philosophical difference: RR's first thought always was, "How can we mess with the safeties to get big yards when we break through the line", Hoke/Borges first thought is "How can we mess with the DL so they are less aggro (in run and pass situations) and we don't ever have a negative play." Both work well as we have seen.
The consistency with which Michigan guys were blocking the supposedly option DL was a point in his favor. At first I thought the Alabama game was the point at which this was undeniable, but now I think Alabama was blocking Michigan, not the other way around.
Optioning Nobody #1
It's Michigan's first drive. They've picked up a first down with a (horribly spotted) flare to Smith and a third down conversion from same. They come out in a two-back, three-wide set. Alabama responds with its base 3-4 set, half-rolling a safety into the box.
Michigan will run the veer. They pull Barnum (1), use Hopkins(2) as a lead blocker, and block down on the front side. This leaves the Alabama defender (3) there unblocked… for now, anyway.
Hopkins. You are not flaring out, my man. You are doing something that isn't that.
At the mesh point, Hopkins (1) has contacted the "unblocked" Alabama defensive end. This means he is now blocked. (Science!) Hopkins is also blocked. They are mutually blocking each other. Neither can go forward very easily.
This happens really fast. The DE is doing this on purpose. His goal here is two-fold: one, to force the handoff, and two to pick off one of the lead blockers.
Barnum(2) is still pulling for the front side; since the guys blocking down have actually done a pretty good job of getting push he's got a lane. Denard(3) sees the DE underneath Hopkins and gives.
And now it's over. Hopkins has indeed eliminated the Alabama DE, and Barnum reaches the hole as Smith sprints outside. Also sprinting outside: the totally unblocked Alabama LB.
Michigan's got some other problems, too, as the playside DE came through the double on the playside when Kwiatkowski released—you can see Schofield hunched over in an "oops" way right at the LOS behind Barnum. Given Smith's angle and Barnum's this is only a further indicator that Schofield got hammered on Saturday, not an actual reason the play doesn't work.
And that's all she wrote.
Who did Michigan block with Denard's legs on this play? Nobody.
[After THE JUMP: oops they did it again :( ]
Optioning Nobody #2
A bit later in the first quarter Michigan has a first and ten on its own 29 and again runs the veer. Alabama is in a standard 4-man front nickel, which they had not done on a standard down before. Something's up the ol' sleeve.
They're going to the boundary this time, so Omameh pulls on the snap. Alabama reveals its trick: a corner blitz from the boundary.
So, again this is what happens: the unblocked defensive end comes down(1) as the G pulls around. This time it's Omameh. Barnum can be seen crushing the other DT to the ground—there will be no help from the interior on this one. Denard sees the dive(2) and gives.
That corner(3) is coming, though, and Hopkins only has eyes for the playside LB.
Omameh, like Barnum, blocks the DE. Why block the DE? He has no choice. The DE is blocking him. He's not trying to do anything except crunch Omameh near the LOS and force the give.
Denard(2) sees the DE inside and gives. The corner is hanging out. Being uncool.
And that's all she wrote. DEPRESSION PROTIP: look at all the space here!
Oh well. Back to the salt mines.
Nice pancake on a totally irrelevant guy. Who'd you option again?
Things And Stuff
This is Exhibit A for We Don't Know How To Use Denard Enough. Nick Saban's pretty smart, you guys, and devised a defense that would get the ball out of Denard's hands without that costing his defense a guy. On the first one it's possible a more outward route by Hopkins gets him past the attacking DE, but then that DE flattens out and flattens Barnum; same result. On the second one Omameh would have to orbit around the DE so elaborately that he'd be useless anyway.
So who are you optioning? You're not optioning anyone. The defense is preventing Denard from getting the ball by openly declaring they will not use their end to contain, and you block him despite handing it off to a guy going in the opposite direction. So now you're just trying to out-execute Alabama. Good luck.
This was a response to what Michigan showed in the OSU game. (Also I assume Saban's night terrors starring a xenomorph Cam Newton played a role.) That game was great but often required Denard to juke and unblocked guy in a tight space and get Shazier plowed for the first touchdown. When the structure of the defense is getting you to give to Smith and Rawls, that is not happening.
You could still get big gains out of it by outsmarting the opposition, but when Borges goes to coaching clinics he talks about passing routes. When I was breaking down Rodriguez's offense, he would switch little things up almost weekly. They'd run belly, then they'd run belly a gap over, then they'd slide a tight end, then they'd break outside the guy shuffling down to prevent belly from going 80 yards. By the time that was done the three chords Denard knew in the passing game were sufficient.
Borges probably taught his route tree most of the summer with the read stuff thrown in as a sidelight. That'll work just fine against a lot of teams, but when Michigan starts going up against the elite they don't do any one thing well enough to move the ball. They don't have a staple because their main weapon and the man deploying it are ill-suited to each other.
Is keeping any good? If Denard keeps here what happens? The LB flares out to contain on the first one, but then probably can come back since Denard has to go outside of the FB. Still a better alternative since he's moving upfield faster and is Denard. On the second one that CB may read that Rawls doesn't have the ball and collapse down to tackle from the side, but that's still better than what happened.
So, yeah, if Michigan recognizes this is happening and changes their keep rules, but then we're just back to the jack-of-all-trades stuff. Is this Denard's fault or Borges's fault or Rodriguez's fault, etc. Doesn't matter now; this is what we're stuck with.
Schofield had a rough, rough day. I didn't even notice the blown block in the first play until doing this post; BWS has a coupleother examples. Alabama disclaimers apply. He was not regularly beaten up like that last year despite playing against DTs a lot more often. Still, worrying.
Maybe Fitz does something with one of these. Smith is Smith. Whatever Rawls's assets are they do not include making cornerbacks miss in space. It's possible Toussaint can create something by making a guy miss, cutting hard upfield, and jetting. When he's out, the only way you make yards is by… I don't know.
Are you counting the DB lined up over the slot? Even if you are, which is a nebulous definition of "the box", there's still a numerical advantage, 10 Michigan offensive players to 9 Alabama defensive players. What audible are you looking for?
There are 8 defenders in the first Alabama picture within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, none of them lined up over the slot. There is a safety coming down into the box. We have one on one coverage on our two outside receivers and no one on our slot receiver. That should be an audible to a quick pass all day.
There was still a safety over the top and with that many in the box it was likely that a LB would be covering the slot, but still I agree completely. Especially considering our gameplan all game was to run the bare minimum and pass whenever viable, this seems like an obvious audible to make.
Watch the video. The safety, Lester, comes down directly over the slot, their CB, Belue, drops back to 7 yards directly over the WR, and the other safety, Sunseri, is 8 yards back splitting the TE and the slot. That's three DBs to two WRs, all within 8 yards of the LOS. The situation is not screaming for an audible to a quick pass to the outside. A quick pass might work, but will require a receiver beating the DB quickly enough in a one on one scenario to gain yards before Sunseri gets there to help. These aren't the "free yards" Brian is always harping on in his zeal for the bubble screen.
There's 8 in the box against 5 linemen, a TE and a lead back. The numbers aren't against running in that scenario.
On watching the video, they changed their aligment from the first picture Brian put up. I also was thinking we had a wide receiver to the other side of the formation, because I forgot about the TE. My posting skills are on par with the performance this weekend. I will work on it and be ready for next week. Its a long season.
Most people don't count DBs covering a WR or Slot as someone "within 5 yards of the LOS." Otherwise there would almost always be 8 or 9. How would teams ever decide to run following your logic?
There were 8 within the box. That's certainly a lot. But we had 5 linemen, a TE, and a lead back. 7 blockers, one ball carrier, and one decoy. Teams expect to be able to run with those numbers. Call it "math" or "on paper" all you want, but that's how you design an offensive play. We couldn't execute from some combination of being out "athleted" and out "coached."
I think you are right that there might not be a good audible. However I think Brian's point of this post is that we really didn't have a decoy on this play so its running 7 blockers and a ball carrier against 8 defenders.
I haven't posted anything since the Bama game, so I'm sure this is a total retread, but it does seem like we're just stuck with what we've got--a badly mismatched QB and OC. That's just the way it goes. In order to make Denard Denard, Borges would have to be RR or Urban Meyer or Chip Kelly or Gus Malzahn or something.
It's not a criticism of Borges to say that he isn't those guys. He doesn't want to be and he isn't. So Denard will be Denard * 0.80 or whatever under Borges. That makes me very sad and even more angry at RR's failures on defense than I would otherwise be, but it is what it is. Still, Denard * 0.80 >>> Sherithreet * 0.40, as they were under RR. We'll still win a bunch of games this year and build for the Shane Morris era.
I think at this point we have to realize as a fan base that this year our offense will not be as good as it could have been under RR, but that this is not an indictment of Borges or his skills as an OC. To really judge him fairly we will need to see what happens in a year or two when we start to have the guys in to really run his offense. The future certainly looks bright with the O-Line classes Hoke has been recruiting and Shane Morris.
One thing the Alabama game made me realize is that Treadwell is a much more important recruit than I originally thought. To really compete against the best defenses a good line and QB will not be enough. We have to have top skill guys at every position on offense. (side note, watching the 2000 UM Alabama game made me look forward to more Michigan receiving corps like that one).
I think its fair minded to give Borges a break on not being a spread option guru. But, I cannot give him a break for asking Denard to do things he proves time and time again that he just cant do. Asking him to throw a touch pass 30 yds down field is...unwise. Nah, eff it, it's dumb. It needs to stop.
The other thing I think Borges can influence is Denard's apparent propensity to force the throw (as in the pick 6 he threw straight to the defender). Denard should have 1 read on a combo route or something, and if its covered it's scramble time.
Despite my lack of knowledge in exactly how it might be done, I dont think Denard is being put in the best possible position to succeed, despite the mismatch in styles.
You're right, that's not what you typed, but look at Denard's downfield sucess rate. It's usually awful. Perhaps that is precisely the only reason we were successful on a couple of those plays; Bama wasn't too worried about his downfield passing.
Yes, 2 of his 11 completions were long passes. And yes, 115 of his 200 yards came on those 2 completions. Should we just ignore the rest of the incompletions and the open receivers he flat missed because of those two passes hit?
If you trust him to connect on the long ball, good on you. I dont.
You said we should stop throwing the ball 30 yards downfield.
However, I also didn't say what you tihnk I did. I didn't say that Denard threw well. I also didn't say we should ignore his other incompletions. What I said is that throwing long should be eliminated - which is what you said.
As a matter of fact, I'm so willing to NOT ignore his other completions that I can see that his lack of success wasn't just limited to long passes - but to ALL passes. Thus, "throwing 30 yards downfield" doesn't seem to be the problem, does it?
I was actually kind of excited about our downfield passing. A couple worked (and worked well), a couple would have worked against any non-Milliner CB, and a few others were wide open receivers who were narrowly missed.
A couple more weeks of Denard and Gardner syncing up, and a half second more time for Denard to throw, and we might see 5 or 6 completions out of 11 on long passes, which probably means 3 TD and 3 more set up, not to mention an opened up run game.
Wait, I'm confused. Are we saying that he should not make 30-yard throws? Only make 30-yard throws? Not throw at all? I can't keep up. (A little levity to ease the tension)
Either way, watching that game sucked and its sad to see Denard not succeed. He is what made Michigan football exciting the past few years (for me, anyway). Its sad to think that his abilities are not being maximized. But maybe this one game will not a season make. I can't believe that there are many (if any) teams that can put together and execute a gameplan like Alabama did.
Your last two sentences are key to me. We will not play Alabama again, or anything close, most likely. So we can't take much away from it, and we shouldn't get down just yet.
Let's say you're a promising high school wrestler. Your first match of the season is against the top wrestler in the country, from another state. He beats you, badly. It's a bummer to lose, but your state has nothing like this guy, so changing your expectations really isn't necessary.
Yes, Bama is the best D we will face, but MSU will be elite as well. OSU will probably be very good. Nebraska and Notre Dame will have talent too.
I agree with not getting too down on this team, but after seeing what VaTech and MSU have done to our offense in the last year, it's a stretch to say the Bama game should be discarded entirely for take-aways. Beating elite defenses like MSU's - teams we can't just out-talent - is exactly what Michigan/Borges need to be working on.
I hope you aren't comparing MSU's D to Bama. They aren't even in the same ball park. Did you watch their game? If Boise wasn't playing hot potato with the football, they would have put up a ton of points on them, and Boise's offense was pathetic.
The worst part about Bama's defense is that their offense is even better. We try to separate those two, but you really can't. MSU's defense won't be such a problem because their offense kinda stinks. Bama's defense was even tougher than it could have been since their offense was also unstoppable for the entire first half. Playing defense is a lot easier when you're up 31-0 at halftime. MSU won't have that luxury.
OK, so, what's the problem as you see it? How should Borges utilize Denard so that we can avoid games like Notre Dame 2011 (yes, I remember how it ended; no, I dont want to retry it), MSU 2011, Iowa 2011, Virginia Tech 2011? Should we not have Denard throw at all? I know, I know that's NOT what you said...
Asking Denard to throw the ball down field is asking for trouble. Particularly against the "good" defenses people like to single out. Call me crazy, I think we should play to Denards strenghts rather than his weaknesses.
Despite your desire to not retry it, I'd call the game in which his passing led us to 3 2nd half TD's and won the game "successful", completion rate be damned.
Look - I'm not a football expert, and that's part of my point here - neither are you. Neither is Brian. Sometimes great Quarterbacks have bad games.
To answer your question, I'd say "Get him a running game to support him, and some WR's capable of winning 1-on-1 coverage, because he's not going to thread the needle to a covered WR, no matter how far down the field he is."
Yeah, man, we're all amateurs and I dont think anyone has made a claim to the contrary; certainly not me. In fact I explicity said that in my original comment. Denard's has bad games when defenses are able to force him into beating them with his arm. It's Borges's job to put him in situations where he can make defenses pay for cheating on him, he hasn't done that against good defenses and it;s fair to criticize him for it.
Hopefully the return of Toussaint will continue to take some heat off Denard as it seemed to during the last half of last season. As to the WR scenario, we dont appear to have that on our roster this year (I guess we'll see about Gardner, Darboh, and Chesson). So, in lieu of that, I'd like Borges to figure our a schematic solution to sheild Denard's weaknesses. You know, what he's paid to do.
I think you're being overly critical of Denard. He threw a lot of nice passes the other night, many of which were either broken up by elite Alabama DB's or flat out dropped by the WR's. It's always amazing to me how many people are so quick to blame Denard when there are lots of other factors involved in an incompletion. I didn't see many "open receivers he flat misse" at all. What I saw was a defense that gives a QB a very tight passing window, who is very physical -- see INT when Tree was decleated -- and WR's that really don't run good routes and catch all that well. The one exception, IMO, is Gallon. I think Gardner will get there as it was only his first game at WR, but Michigan is used to having elite WR's. With no credible rushing alternative, only one sure handed WR, and very little passing room in the secondary, I think Denard did fine. Heck, he did better than Tyler Wilson did the year before didn't he?
I thought his arm looked as good as we've seen, and there was a welcome absense of "arm punts" and back foot throws. Maybe you have a more discerning eye than I do, but I thought had he had more help from the WR's early Michigan might have had a chance to go on to the second phase of the game plan -- to fake the pass and run Denard a bit more.
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Yeah, Denard did make some nice throws, no question. But he also made some really bad decisions, no doubt about it. Both picks should not have been thrown and he should know better by know. On the Roundtree pick we have two options (probably more, lest the rhetoric police lock me up again). Either the ref missed an illegal contact call (ball was in the air prior to the ragdoll episode) or the contact was legal and Denard threw the ball without realizing that Roundtree was 5 rows into the stands. Regardless, Denard shouldn't have thrown that ball. On the other one he was throwing into a best a tight window, at worst it was double coverage. Sorry, that's not his game.
The main thrust of my point despite the rhetoical boondoggle above was that I think Borges can put Denard in passing scenarios that play more to his strengths than he has in the last two games we've watched...against "good" defenses.
In the "Roundtree decleated" play, it looks like Denard signals something to Roundtree before the snap. I completely agree that Denard should never have thrown that ball. Even without Roundtree going out of bounds, the DB was stride for stride covering and there was help over the top from the safety. So whatever Denard saw from the formation, he should have done anything but throw that ball to Roundtree once the play started.
And the other interception was even worse. He barely looked off the intended target, and then he fails to see three defenders to one teammate, and then throws the ball poorly (at least for the tiny window he decided was a good decision to attempt).
That said, if you can ignore the two interceptions, Denard's completion percentage wasn't far off of McCarron's (Denard 11-26=42%, McCarron 11-21=52%) . And on top of that, Michigan suffered no sacks, while Alabama suffered two, and seemed to have a "get out of intential grounding forever" card. Well for at least two throws where McCarron never bothered to run out side the tackles.
Denard still showed poor decision making, but he is in year two of a pass heavy offense. Overall his throwing mechanics were much better. Borges does not understand the nuances of the read option run game, and from my two times watching, I think Borges is trying to create a play action pass/scramble option for Denard. What the picture pages are telling me is that Borges/Hoke are really not running read option as much as shotgun running. But some plays looked like Denard faked the handoff, not to run, but to then pass. This maybe the best Borges can do, and if Denard's throwing doesn't improve such that a linebacker and safety are sacrificed to shadow him, then it will be a rough year.
Although, I really really liked that first playcall, and wish that Devin had run a better out fake to his shallow post pattern, because I'm not sure the deep safety would have caught him. The corner certainly was in no position to tackle.
i get that we can't expect borges to run the spread n shred, any more than we could've expected rodriguez to run a pro-style. it's not in either of their skill sets.
that said - rodriguez had some tight ends on the roster, and despite the "ohmygodhedoesn'tusetightends" freakouts before he got here, he got production out of them. he adapted to the talent available. i haven't seen all that much willingness on borges' part to say, "whoa, i've got an electrifying fucking guy back there, i've got to try to get him in space. oh, and look at that - mobile offensive linemen and a little guy at tailback."
instead he keeps running trying to turn denard robinson into cade mcnown, despite little evidence that he's able, and he keeps running vincent smith between the tackles, and he keeps trying to get thomas rawls to the edge.
the book on borges pre-michigan, as i recall, was that he was a 'swiss army knife' guy, not married to a single scheme. i'd fucking love to see some evidence of that this year. we've got 12 more opportunities to see one of the most electric players we've ever had, it sure would be nice if he could cut him loose a little bit.
as an aside - i just wonder what rodriguez would have done with ryan mallett. to me, that's a bigger "what if" from his tenure, way more interesting than the "what if he'd had a competent defensive coordinator?" question.
Rodriguez had some tight ends on the roster, and despite the "ohmygodhedoesn'tusetightends" freakouts before he got here, he got production out of them. he adapted to the talent available.
How are you defining "production"? Kevin Koger caught six, 16 and 14 passes in his three seasons under RR. I'm not sure how you could compare that favorably to how Borges used Denard last year ( 1,176 yards and 16 rush TDs - more TDs than he scored in 2010).
I agree 100% with MCalibur's point about asking Denard to take a quick read on a primary receiver and if he's not open, to scramble. Scrambling has almost always been when Denard is the most dangerous. I would go one step further and suggest that Borges should have put in a series of "designed scrambles" for Denard and the offense to run against Alabama, especially with all of the time to implement them. It could have put Alabama off balance, exactly what is needed when the players on the other team are generally bigger and faster than yours.
On play #2, I think he's seeing the DE that Omameh's engaged with staying inside and not following Rawls. I don't think he sees the blitzing CB, and he certainly can't know that Omameh's about to club the DE to the ground, opening up a hole if he jumps outside the DE. The keys here say give (b/c I think it's really hard to see that CB blitz) but the best result would certainly be keep.
If the TE can get out on the outside linebacker, Smith has a chance. Instead, he blocks the middle linebacker, leaving the OLB free to meet Smith 5 yards behind the LOS.
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on play #1, if the TE blocks #33, I'm fairly certain that the pulling Barnum can clean up whomever is left unblocked and there will be a fairly reasonable gain on the play. Instead #33 zips right past and Barnum has no chance at even coming near him. Barnum pulling could have blocked #35, the LB that the TE does actually block, but Barnum has zero chance at blocking #33.
There is the possibility that this is not actually an option, that it's a called handoff and that Borges is designing a play that looks like an option in order to use Denard as a decoy. If that's accurate, it didn't work, but it's certainly a possibility.
I think that at some point last year the reads were taken out of it somewhat. Denard doesn't always make the right read anyway, and I think at times they just run a handoff play that looks like a read option.
I think (at times, not in the Bama game) they do the opposite too. Have RB action even though the play is a designed Denard run.
So a play that looks like a read option could be either: Read option, designed give, designed keep no matter what the defense does.
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The question is the same. If it's a called hand-off then its just a slow-developing one where you hope the defense gets distracted by Denard. And you aren't letting Denard run the ball if its a called run. Might as well be in i-form.
The coaches did explicitly say Denard could have kept more so not all of the read-looking plays are fake-reads.
This doesn't look like an option at all besides there being a little mesh. It looks like a classic power play with the FB kicking out playside DE and backside guard pulling through the hole for the playside OLB.
“There’s no greater feeling than moving a man from point A to point B against his will." - Russ Grimm
That's what this play, that someone called "inverted veer" looks like, or that's what veer looks like? My understanding of the veer play is to leave the playside DE unblocked and read the give or keep off him. If the playside DE is being kicked out, what makes this a veer play? It seems to be a QB power play with the option of giving to the RB if the DE spills the kickout block. Didn't Borges act confused when Heiko used the term "inverted veer" last year? Maybe we should stop trying to compare this play to the veer option play..
“There’s no greater feeling than moving a man from point A to point B against his will." - Russ Grimm
inverted veer = "jet read" (according to Hoke) or "dash read"
Meanwhile, in the 2nd video, if Denard keeps and scoots outside of Schofield and Gallon chips the nickel corner we've got profit. At that point 'Lace is one on one with the safety and we're getting 10 yards at a minimum. That's highly preferable to Rawls getting blown up while heading toward the sideline.
Any chance Borges lets Denard run the zone stretch this year?
I'm taking Denard and the coaches at their word when they say they are actual reads. That's also the most charitiable way to interpret the gameplan, because handing it off to Smith and Rawls to the outside against Alabama without even having a read aspect to the play...
Against a defense that athletic and big, lots of things can look bad if they aren't run right. Things are hard to run right because they are that athletic and big. The great dilemma of football which is a game of constant physical friction every bit as much as scheme.
The only examples we have of Denard dominating big talented defenses are Ohio and Nebraska from last year. That alone should give us hope that the Borges/Denard is a match that can work. Denard's big big games against low caliber defenses are meaningless because you find a way to beat those teams regardless. The season ultimately turns on winning more of the games that matter against real teams. You don't get standing ovations with the Sugar Bowl trophy in tow at Crisler for 300 yards and 3 running TDs against Minnesota or Bowling Green.
This quarterback and this offensive coordinator have both won and had highly productive stat games together against good defenses. With another year in tandem and no more Bama defense on the schedule, my money is on them delivering a few more.
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