The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
Upon Further Review: Defense Versus OSU
|1||10||O20||Run||-4||Branch(+2) owns two blockers and makes a TFL all by his lonesome.|
|2||14||O16||Pass||Inc||Trent(+1) makes a break on this ball about 15 yards downfield. No replay but it looks like Smith threw this behind his wide receiver.|
|3||14||O16||Pass||15||Crable as the standup DT, stunting around Woodley. Ohio State keeps seven in to block, including a TE to Woodley's side. The zone is wide open on the corner route.|
|1||10||O31||Penalty||-10||Branch(+1) draws an obvious holding call as he gets tackled on the option.|
|1||20||O21||Pass||11||Ugh. Michigan attempts to cover Ted Ginn with Jamar Adams, and that works about as well as you think it might. Clearly Ohio State has noticed our strange tendency to line up safeties and linebackers over slot receivers no matter who they are and immediately goes to it when it needs a play.|
|2||9||O32||Run||11||Massey(-1) is crushed off the snap and Burgess(-1) is sealed easily, dÃ©jÃ vu.|
|1||10||O43||Pass||15||Watson(-1) is offsides, it's declined. This is a simple screen out to Ginn that we have no chance of stopping just from the alignment. We have two DBs over two outside wide receivers and no one really on Ginn, who's in that weird wingback spot. Harris is lined up two or three yards inside of him and his first step on the snap is to the inside as Smith gives a just enough of a fake pitch to suck him in. By the time he throws, Ginn is at the hash and moving forward; Engelmon is about to get blocked five yards downfield, and Harris is wrong-footed in the dead center of the field.|
|1||10||M42||Run||1||QB draw, and our DL on this play has Van Alstyne and Johnson on it... Johnson(+1) actually makes a nice play to stop the draw.|
|2||9||M41||Run||11||Jeremy Van Alstyne(-2) gets killed on this play, completely losing contain and ceding the outside as Danielson points out that he has a third tackle lined up at TE, which might be a tipoff if we paid attention to stuff like that.|
|1||10||M30||Run||1||Strange draw here from a standard I into an eight man front. I don't know where this is supposed to go, but it's all jammed up. Woods with the tackle.|
|2||9||M29||Pass||8||Smith flicks a checkdown to Pittman.|
|3||1||M21||Pass||11||Hall lets er, Hall, sit down in a hole in the zone for an easy first down, as he had to come off to respect a deep route run by Gonzalez. I don't think he can cover two guys.|
|1||G||M10||Run||6||There's Burgess(-1) getting blocked by a wide receiver again. Branch hops inside the tackle here, too.|
|2||G||M4||Run||4||QB draw. Again. Touchdown.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown(Missed XP), 0-6, 9 min 1st Q. Some good play here from Smith but a lot of this is Ohio State studying the Michigan film and running an array of plays that exploit all the tendencies we've shown this year. The two plays to Ginn, in particular, are plays we're dead on presnap, and the Hall completion is another play like Iowa's opening touchdown where the opponent runs a combo route at the zone they know is coming. Smith has to read one player (in this case Hall) and throw it to where he doesn't go. Easy.|
|1||10||O28||Pass||6||Dumpoff over the middle to the tight end.|
|2||4||O34||Run||3||Engelmon(-1) is unblocked and has an opportunity to make this play at the line of scrimmage or for a loss, but gets stiff-armed to the turf. This is one of the little things that separates these defenses; I think Salley or whoever makes this open field tackle.|
|3||1||O37||Pass||7||Third and one from the shotgun. Michigan: soft zone. Smith hits an open Ginn three yards past the marker.|
|1||10||O44||Pass||8||WR screen to Gonzalez, again taking advantage of the fact that we don't cover the slot receiver, instead tasking a linebacker lined up several yards inside who has to make a read to get over there. Burgess(+1) makes a valiant effort and a nice tackle given the situation he finds himself in, but this is a best-case scenario if Ohio State executes this properly. They do, and that's something about Smith to appreciate: both of the screens so far require Smith to hit them exactly since they rely on the WR moving forward on the catch, unlike a lot of ours which have the WR stationary or moving laterally.|
|2||2||M48||Run||2||Burgess comes up to fill but gets knocked backward after a moment, opening up a bit of a hole for Pittman to get the first down.|
|1||10||M46||Pass||6||Holmes on a crossing route underneath the zone. Apparently the first read.|
|2||4||M40||Run||5||This is mostly Branch(-1) getting crushed by the tackle/TE, unfortunately. Not you, too. Massey also gets crushed by single blocking.|
|1||10||M35||Pass||Inc||Smith overthrows Pittman. Trent gives him a pop afterwards.|
|2||10||M35||Scramble||1||Play action with an option followed by a dropback. Good coverage as Smith decides to take off and we bottle him up pretty well. Woods and Massey track him down.|
|3||8||M34||Pass||4||Um, okay. Play action on third and nine then follow it up with a first-read to the TE in the flat. Englemon(+1) goes pow with a nice hit to make a sure wrap.|
|Drive Notes: Field Goal(47), 0-9, 13 min 2nd Q. The zone is effective here to end the drive.|
|1||10||O40||Run||-4||Watson(+3) drives into the backfield, strips the ball, and recovers it. A huge play that prevents this from getting away early made by one man and one man alone.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 0-9, 9 min 2nd Q. Good thing he hardly played against Notre Dame.|
|1||10||O20||Pass||14||More zone. Smith nails Gonzalez between four different guys in the zone. Excellent timing and throw, but you know, zone evil evil zone.|
|1||10||O34||Run||3||Stupid cut by Pittman into Watson and Woodley holds this play down to only a few yards.|
|2||7||O37||Scramble||9||Option play action that Branch gets out on well enough to force the scramble. Mason(-2) takes a terrible angle and comes up way too fast. Smith kust has to change direction a little and poof(!) gone.|
|1||10||O46||Run||1||Running right at Massey again, who crumples backwards under the force of two blockers, but there are two linebackers (Graham(+1) and Harris(+1)) who read the hole well and show up right when Pittman arrives.|
|2||9||O47||Pas s||Inc||Option play action again. Ginn is wide open 20 yards downfield and Smith nails him, but Ginn drops it. Heard footsteps from Barringer, who had him lined up for a killshot.|
|3||9||O47||Pass||23||So... angry... more standup Crable DT, and a double stunt but OSU has that scouted, so no pressure. Smith has a ton of time before the line gets to him eventually; he rolls out and finds Ginn open by five yards right along the sideline, just standing there.|
|1||10||M30||Scramble||4||Smith under center with Mangold temporarily out. He scrambles out after searching downfield for a beat or two; Woodley tracks him down.|
|2||6||M26||Run||14||A fake end around to Ginn draws the attention of Adams, who's tasked with spying on him this play, and Burgess, the OLB to the fake side. Watson(+1) penetrates and dives at Pittman's feet, disrupting the run, but he manages to cut between Massey and Branch to the outside after drawing Englemon(-1) up into the hole. The corner on that side (Trent) started six yards off the LOS and bailed out on the snap into a three deep zone, making him useless.|
|1||10||M12||Scramble||4||Danielson says that Holmes didn't get a Smith checkoff and I buy it; Smith scrambles in response.|
|2||6||M8||Run||0||Option pitch to Pittman; Burgess(+2) is the last player between him and the end zone and makes an impressive stick. The only plays we're getting are when someone makes a great play in the face of grim odds.|
|3||6||M8||Pass||Inc||Holy cow a blitz! Crable and Englemon both come clean and force an errant throw.|
|Drive Notes: Field Goal(25), 7-12, EOH. Should I bother about the efficacy of blitzing? No? Okay.|
|1||10||O25||Run||2||(Fumbled Ginn punt sets up the field position.) Pitch play is cut off well by Barringer(+1) and Harris(+1).|
|2||8||O27||Pass||4||Ginn underneath the zone. He's immediately smacked to the turf by Trent(+1).|
|3||4||O31||Pass||Sack, -11||This play is insane. Michigan rushes four with a delayed Crable blitz, but it's Woodley(+3) who splits two blockers to do the sack/strip thing and Branch(+1) who shoves Woodley's befuddled blockers out of the way and recovers the fumble.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 7-12, 12 min 3rd Q. Just an outstanding, outstanding individual play.|
|1||10||O20||Run||3||Branch(+1) fights a double team admirably while Engelmon takes the corner away. Pittman's forced to throw himself forward for a few.|
|2||7||O23||Pass||11||Option play action to one side against actual man coverage draws Harris a step towards the fake, which puts him two steps behind the TE Frost coming across the field on a crossing route against the grain. Strangely effective playcall... this one of the like three times all game we play man.|
|1||10||O34||Pass||Inc||Mason(+1) jumps the out route, forcing the incompletion.|
|2||10||O34||Run||2||Wow, impressive play by Crable(+2) at the standup DT spot. OSU sees it and calls a run right up the gut... good against the presumed stunt or just to go right at Crable, an OLB by trade. No stunt this time and Crable evades his blocker, then comes around to make a tackle right at the LOS.|
|3||8||O36||Pass||3||Three man line coupled with a delayed Crable(+1) blitz finds a gaping hole in the Buckeye OL as both Watson and Branch draw doubles. Smith is forced to dump off to Ginn and the zone reacts to force the punt. Key to this play is Crable's timing... he reached Smith as soon as he could, after letting the OL commit themselves.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-12, 8 min 3rd Q. Two good plays from Crable and a good call on third down from Herrmann.|
|1||10||O13||Run||1||Branch(+1) and Watson(+1) swallow Pittman as he attempts to plow offtackle. Uh... okay, you can run over there I guess.|
|2||9||O14||Pass||5||A screen that's set up well but Mason(+1) reads and reacts quickly to minimize the damage as much as possible.|
|3||4||O19||Pass||Inc||More miscommunication. Ginn runs a hook, Smith throws an out that Englemon(+1) nearly intercepts. Ginn immediately points to himself.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 10-12, 3 min 3rd Q. Even if Ginn had run the right route Michigan was all over the third down play.|
|1||10||O26||Run||5||Option pitch to Pittman; Hall's(-1) tackle is fairly arm-y and weak.|
|2||5||O31||Run||6||Clear evidence of Massey(-1) being a part of the opponent gameplan here. He's blown off the ball a couple yards by one blocker. The center doesn't even chip anyone and immediately plows into Harris. Watson(+1) drives his man as far back towards the hole as he can, valiantly attempting to plug the Massey gap, but fails. Burgess(-1) is also held by an end around fake, opening up a few more yards... Woodley had the end around covered.|
|1||10||O37||Run||4||Oof. Exactly the same play but Watson does crush the gap closed this time, forcing a Pittman cutback. Woodley has to respect the end around fake and this time Burgess is trying to guard the actual lane of attack, allowing Pittman an alley to run for a few yards before Woodley shuts him down.|
|2||6||O41||Run||5||A quarterback draw for Smith. Blocked well and Englemon is forced to hang back to take away the outside.|
|3||1||O46||Run||4||A better approach and tackle from Burgess(-1) punches OSU off the field here.|
|1||10||50||Pass||13||Option play action followed by a dumpoff to Pittman on a swing pass; the zone's been run off by the WRs to that side.|
|1||10||M37||Run||1||A wad of players in the middle. Branch(+1) removes all creases from the immediate area.|
|2||9||M36||Pass||Inc||Crable(+1) bats the pass down.|
|3||9||M36||Pass||7||Same play from earlier: option play action followed by the Pittman swing. Mason(+1) sticks Pittman short of the first down.|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG(46), 18-12, 12 min 4th Q. I wonder about Crable's future as this standup DT. He's made a number of plays from that position, even one against the run in this game, but the inevitable stunt is too predictable unless he can get pass rush from the interior sometimes.|
|1||10||O32||Pass||28||Again with the pooch punt, giving away critical yards... and followed up by Smith bulleting the ball downfield against the zone. The damn zone. No switchup whatsoever.|
|1||10||M40||Pass||Inc||Option play action; Woodley(+1) hits him, forcing an overthrow.|
|2||10||M40||Pass||Inc||The blitz again forces a quick, inaccurate Smith throw. Englemon(+1) is there to hit the WR as the ball gets there, completely removing the possibility of a great catch.|
|3||10||M40||Scramble||14||Ugh... a scramble from Smith that would end a few yards short of the first down with Woodley and Englemon converging on him, but Smith manages to juke past the charging Woodley and get the first down. Woodley's 270... can't change direction that fast.|
|1||10||M26||Pass||26||Touchdown. Tampa 2 with Burgess coming way back in the zone against Holmes but Smith wedges it in between him and Englemon... a great throw. Celebration penalty is tenuous.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 21-19, 6 min 4th Q. That was quick. Smith is throwing darts with superb timing.|
|1||10||O12||Pass||9||Fake counter draw, Smith rollout finds Holmes in front of Hall. Any proof you require about Woodley's health: he is not in.|
|2||1||O21||Run||2||Again with the fake end around, holding Woods just long enough for Pittman to move up a couple yards.|
|1||10||O23||Pass||Inc||Smith throws this one well over Gonzalez's head.|
|2||10||O23||Pass||11||Woods(+1) avoids the TE's chip block on this play action and should have Smith sacked, but he spins away and hits Ginn just past the first down marker.|
|1||10||O34||Pass||6||Ginn underneath Hall... decent enough play from Hall.|
|2||4||O40||Pass||7||I don't know what this defense is. All three linebackers fake a blitz and end up within a yard of the LOS. The five players dropping back in a zone can't possibly cover anyone tightly. The worst of all possible worlds: no pass rush coupled with five guys in a zone.|
|1||10||O47||Pass||10||Easy pitch and catch underneath the zone; the defender is no fewer than eight yards off the LOS.|
|1||10||M43||Run||5||Quarterback draw. Englemon(+1) makes a nice play. OSU is planning to run the clock out already from the 43.|
|2||5||M38||Pass||7||We blitz. Mason attempts to jump the route but does not get there. He barely manages to trip Holmes up.|
|1||10||M30||Pass||27||Smith looks like he's going to scramble but then changes direction when Harris comes up to plug him, lofting the ball down to Gonzalez, who catches it. And goddammit, yes, Gonzalez went out bounds of his own volition and this is an obvious illegal touching penalty. Would it matter? Probably not, but it's fitting that our year of disasters ends with a refereeing disaster following a coaching disaster in a game of injury disaster. Eff 2005.|
|Drive Notes: Whatever, you know what happened.|
I will stand back and watch you explode.
I'm not that mad, actually. The two dagger plays on the final drive--the Smith spin and the Gonzalez OOB play--were fantastic individual efforts from Smith and his downfield throws were frighteningly accurate all day. At some point you have to tip your cap to his performance and give his phone number to Drew Rosenhaus.
I'm not totally un-mad, though. Michigan's defense failed at the beginning and at the end for like the sixth time this year, which goes beyond coincidence. It was blindingly frustrating to see corners lined up eight, ten, even fifteen yards off the line of scrimmage. Danielson kept remarking about how Ohio State hadn't gone deep all day, and the reason was that Michigan's presnap alignment on every play was cowering in fear of the deep ball. Pat Massey's total failure to exist--obvious to everyone from mouthbreathing Internet trolls to handsome, combative bloggers to opposing coaches--never troubled them all year. What plays they got were more the result of Michigan's talent defying design than Herrmann dialing up a clever playcall (with some exceptions). A holistic view of the season does not yield the impression that Michigan is well coached.
What is the deal with the opening drive touchdowns?
We're amazingly predictable on those opening drives. We come out, zone up, and don't blitz. We respond to multiple WR looks with safeties or linebackers over slot receivers. We rotate our backup defensive linemen in. We prevent the big play. The result is that it's easy for teams to put in a special set of plays that get us off balance, exploit our tendencies, and march down the field. In short, the Michigan defense is reactive, not proactive, and until we have something to react to we allow things ("touchdowns") to happen to us.
At least... that's my best guess.
And then what's the deal with the late game failures?
More of the same predictability. It should be noted that even on the one blitz Michigan sent they were still in a zone, and then on the weird fake blitz they were in a zone behind that, too. There was an umbrella of three players attempting to prevent the deep ball on all plays--blitzing is not aggressive when backed up by a three-deep zone, it's just an invitation to Please Exploit Your Hot Route. Michigan seems convinced that with a narrow lead that asking the opponent to do a long series of relatively easy things is better than forcing them to do a shorter series of harder things. This, as you've heard before, is dumb.
Why does Michigan treat man coverage like it's the plague?
I don't know. Are there other teams that play like this, running zone on what must be about 90% of defensive snaps? Why would you do this? It seems completely insane to give up on half of the coverages in football, especially when you have defensive backs who can run. Having the quarterback misread your defense is a sure way to turnovers, incompletions, and punts, but how many times did you see Troy Smith throw into coverage? How many times did you see Drew Tate throw into coverage? If the men who are not rushing the passer do not cover anyone, can they even be said to be "coverage"?
Look, I am not a football expert, but dammit I've played all sorts of games my entire life, and revealing your intentions to your opponents is always the worst thing you can do. Sun-Tzu:
"All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near."
To say that this train of thought does not seem to be foremost in Lloyd Carr's mind is to be charitable.
Okay, you'd like to rochambeau the coaches. What about the players?
|Woodley||4||-||4||Mostly quiet; often replaced by Woods because of the arm. Still had that critical strip.|
|Woods||1||-||1||Taken out of play, mostly.|
|Van Alstyne||-||2||-2||Either injured or a bust.|
|Watson||6||1||5||Never got the credit he deserves, benching earlier this year is questionable at best.|
|Jamison||-||-||-||Scattered snaps; didn't do anything with them.|
|Branch||7||1||6||Great game, but no pass rush.|
|Burgess||3||4||-1||Okay, I guesss.|
|Thompson||-||-||-||Did not appear to play much.|
|Crable||4||-||4||Effective rushing the passer.|
|Trent||2||-||2||Should be very good as a starter.|
That seems too kind to the defensive line since they didn't sack Smith more than once and didn't get much pressure, but recall that +7 of that comes from the two turnovers that kept Michigan in the game. The linebackers (aside from Crable, who is less a linebacker and more a randomly-placed pass rusher) did little; there were no plays made in coverage by anyone aside from Mason, who forced one incompletion by jumping a route. All in all, most players were put in a position to watch Ohio State do something and then minimize it; this they did.
Say something nice about the coaches.
Crable's deployment is an example of outside-the-box thinking that got a strange player on the field and playing effectively. Early in the season he was looking like a total bust; now he has a role on the defense and a future to be at least somewhat excited about. Ron English's work in the secondary was exemplary this year and Steve Stripling maximized the output of Alan Branch; he was prepared to play both DT and DE.
What does it mean for next year?
I don't know. Watson is the only player who we'll miss, but if Michigan doesn't take advantage of an experienced secondary with two fast corners by playing a more aggressive brand of defense it won't matter. Other than the outside linebackers, everyone on the team executed what they were supposed to do.
The caveat: their tasks were designed to minimize their shortcomings instead of take advantage of their talents. It's obvious that the Michigan coaches did not trust their team to play both aggressively and responsibly, so they went with the responsible, cut off the big plays, and superficially improved the defense by slowing the game down. The truth is somewhat murkier (and something I hope to explore in the offseason).
The good news is that Michigan does seem to swing towards more aggressive play when they have veterans at their disposal, something which will be true of both the offense and defense next year.