I fear what happens the first time we try to run with manball. I know it opens up some things, but I pray Borges sees early that its going to get us murdered. MSU be A-gap blitzin'. I have some hope that Borges plans for a gameplan more like IU given how successful it was (even give the Indiana caveat)
What To Expect When You're Expecting MSU
Michigan State has a pretty good defense, as you may have heard, and this deep into Michigan State having pretty good defenses there's nothing you can say about it other than "I wish that was not the case." There is some Bud Foster action going on in East Lansing.
Let's review what went down the last two years, in an effort to figure out what Michigan's looking at and what they might do in response.
The trash tornado game. With winds howling around Spartan Stadium, Borges put the game on the arms of Robinson and Gardner and got little in return.
Shotgun or under center? This was almost entirely a shotgun game, and when Michigan went under center it was to throw. Setting aside the disastrous fourth-and-inch from the nine on which Michigan went goal line play action and Brandon Moore didn't block his guy, Michigan saw five snaps from the I-form (two more were penalties, one on each team). One of these was a pitch to Toussaint for four yards. The others were throws. The first was a wild, jinking 15-yard touchdown scramble for Robinson on Michigan's first drive; the others were a sack, a one-yard throwback screen, and an incompletion to Hopkins in the flat off play action.
First down approach? 16 passes, 11 runs. Not that it really mattered. Michigan got a 34-yard touchdown when Roy Roundtree broke a tackle on a slant. They had one other good gain, a 29-yarder acquired when Robinson ignored two open guys, threw at Hemingway as a linebacker was undercutting him, and threw it high enough to get over the LB but short enough for Hemingway to grab it—a lucky fluke. Their other first-down passes acquired a total of –3 yards.
Running was no better, with 36 yards on their 11 attempts. Four of these were Denard's (18 yard total), which boggles. Michigan had 27 opportunities to run Denard Robinson on first down and did it four times. But that's not really relevant with Gardner, who's much more of a dual-threat.
What worked? Virtually nothing. That one long completion where Roundtree beat a tackle in cover zero was the longest play, Denard's should-have-been-pick-six was #2, and #3 was a double A gap blitz on which Vincent Smith was hit in the backfield but managed to pop through a tackle. Breaking tackles to get more than five yards is no way to live.
The rest of it was Robinson running around: a scramble, a jet sweep, a run-around improv throw, a jet stretch, and a QB draw were Michigan's most successful plays outside of the aforementioned.
Was it really as bad as all that? Yes and no. Borges did rip open the MSU defense for several plays that should have been big gains only for his quarterbacks to throw it at covered guys.
Spielman's faith that Robinson would have found the open guy is probably optimistic, but inserting a clearly overwhelmed Gardner was a huge tactical misstep, as he blew multiple opportunities to gash MSU. This in turn may have led to the WR move, which in turn led to the Nebraska game, which… let's stop the counterfactual history of the Michigan program before our heads go numb.
On the downside: Michigan had no answer for MSU timing their snaps, both with double A blitzes and plain old running at the quarterback. This was maddening since it had just happened the year before; there were no adjustments. And they relied on Brandon Moore, who had seen virtually no meaningful snaps in his career, on that deadly fourth down. When that guy doesn't execute, you share in the blame for putting a guy who'd never seen live bullets in a stressful situation. But he's a tight end, and all tight ends must tight end even if they obviously can't tight end.
Wurrfle furffle torghern furfen. Michigan abdicated without really trying here. See: 4 first down Denard runs. The constant snap issues were a coaching issue, not a toughness one. Ditto the thing where Molk put his head up a nanosecond before the snap and had to figure out which of the two linebackers he was going to block and which one he was going to let scream up the middle unmolested.
[2012 and 2013 after the jump]
Shotgun or under center? With Denard returning for his senior year, Michigan entirely abandoned the notion of going under center. Their four snaps from under center last year were two throwback screens for 22 and –1 yards, a goal-line fade to Funchess (incomplete) and a play action hitch to Gallon that was batted at the line of scrimmage.
This sort of helped. Both Toussaint and Robinson squeezed out respectable days on the ground, combining for 148 yards on 30 carries. However, half of these came on a 44 yard Robinson QB draw and that Toussaint run where Joe Reynolds sliced down a safety. Eleven of Michigan's 32 runs were TFLs or zero yard gains; ten more were 1-4 yards. In that environment it's difficult to do anything consistent since eventually you end up behind the chains, and Denard Robinson behind the chains against MSU is not a recipe for great success. Michigan's drives into MSU territory petered out into field goals as they acquired 326 yards.
First down approach? Run run run. Michigan attempted six passes on first down, one the 35-yard quick post to Dileo that would have been a touchdown if Dileo was fast…
…the other five incompletions or a TFL on Toussaint. Michigan ran 18 times for 108 yards, with five failures (<2 yards), six meh(2-5 yards), and 7 successes.
What worked? The inverted veer. Aside from the two big plays, Michigan's five most successful runs were inverted veers (two gives, three keeps), at the cost of two TFLs. Michigan successfully blew MSU DT James Kittredge off the ball all game. Unfortunately, Kittredge is now third-string.
Also: Drew Dileo, who racked up a number of catches in the seam.
Was it really as bad as all that? Well, they won, and few teams really did better against MSU than Michigan did last year in a yardage sense. The snap timing and jumping receded despite Michigan going from the 'gun the whole game. Michigan had a productive day running the ball, all things considered, and avoided the fatal turnover. Michigan should have scored the touchdown that would have put them ahead, but Denard threw an easy pass hard and behind Gallon in the endzone.
On the downside, Michigan's general incoherency hurt them in big spots. Kerridge ran by a DE on a first-and goal inverted veer that Denard gave on:
Either someone's got to crack back on the safety there or Kerridge needs to pop the DE, because once he gets out there there's no one for him to block. Michigan has been terrible at executing their runs mentally for going on three years now, and when things got tight in the redzone the costs were steep. On the ensuing third down from the seven, a double-A gap blitz saw Toussaint whiff and Denard threw it away. MSU is still not getting burned at all on that.
Also: the two minute drill was an abomination, taking Michigan down to 18 seconds before the Dileo bacon-saving completion when a relatively competent offense still has 41.
Wurrfle furffle torghern furfen. LeVeon Bell ran for 2.8 YPA, Michigan actually ran productively, and Andrew Maxwell threw it 34 times. Toughness was not an issue.
Shotgun or under center? Even after the Penn State game, Michigan stuck much closer to their under center dreams, splitting plays almost down the middle. Since it was Indiana, it's tough to draw conclusions, but even against the Hoosiers, running from under center was iffy.
One thing that's over, or at least should be: tackle over. Michigan ran seven times from it and acquired 10 yards against the worst defense known to man; the payoff was one comeback route and a throwback screen that went for 70 that should have gone for six. Short yardage, fine, but if it comes out elsewhere it'll probably be to run super tricky play action.
As for regular under-center business, the rest of Michigan's under-center runs (goal line and the Toussaint pitch fumble excluded) included 5 for 45 on their final drive, and 20 carries for 47 yards the rest of the day. Add in the debatably-useful data from the final drive if you like; either way under four yards a carry against Indiana corresponds to down-burning against MSU. Michigan may be able to get compensation for that with the Jimmy Clausen/Golden Tate/Michael Floyd gameplan wherein you go max protect and go deep, hoping to win one on one downfield.
Any semblance of an offense that moves the ball on the ground will be from the shotgun.
First down approach? Probably more 2011 than 2012. Gardner is proficient deep and has two excellent threats; the run offense has been one of the worst in the nation at avoiding TFLs. With Funchess and Gallon available to test MSU defensive backs in multifarious and sundry ways, unleashing the dragon seems like the way to go.
Wurffle furffle torghern furfen. 27 for 27 pretty much says it all, especially after Penn State got annihilated on the ground by OSU. Evasive action required.
Can we drop the 27 for 27 meme already? I agree that we did not have much luck with RB runs in that game. The number of rushes, however, was inflated by OT and places where it arguably made sense to go conservative. Let's put this in the "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics" category.
If the offensive game plan is the same for MSU as it was for Penn State, then I'm looking at a very bad outcome. The offense would be much better servered opening it up, moving Gardner around the pocket and on rollouts, and switching thing up with more of a spread/zone read look. That may be the only way to get around MSU's staunch run D. "Manball" needs to go away this game.
Listen: if we say that we don't like crashing the RBs into the D line at the line of scrimmage either, will you go away?
Only if you can guarantee Borges won't have the team spend much of the game crashing directly into MSU linebackers two yards behind the LOS.
I enjoy seeing runs for no gain, they make me feel happy and I hope that Borges sends our running backs right into the D-line on every first down.
(Now they can all reply to me instead of the voices in their head.)
+ a gazillion. Thanks for taking one for the team.
What happened in the last two days that proved running from under center for minus yards or zero yards is acceptable.
Also, 27 yards on 27 plays is bad. Even with conservative plays. Now if UofM had run for 102 yards on 26 plays, and then taken a 75 yard loss on one of them, then yes, the stats would lie.
MGoMember Space Coyote learned in the last two days that arguing with people on the internet is futile and threatened to quit the MGoCommunity. Then there was a SC appreciation thread trying to convince him to stay. One of SC's complaints was people continually bringing up 27 for 27.
I think his bigger complaint was about people acting like they were great minds because that was all they could bring up when complaining about Borges.
But honestly, it should be acknowledged but no longer treated as a crutch when trying to make sense of the offensive coordinator. I disagree with those who want to act as if that outcome was not representative of issues with this team and the playcalling in certain situations.
The number of runs may have been inflated by late game clock burning and OT, but it's not like the 14 or so runs before that point were much more successful - "27 for 27" doesn't really misrepresent the overall effectiveness of the RB run game (a bit over 1YPA was about right), it only (arguably) misrepresents how much it was used. And even in "we're definitely running to run out the clock" mode, a good running offense should still be able to break 1YPA.
Anyway, it's relevant here because if we cannot successfully execute under center RB carries against PSU (or UConn, for that matter), we are unlikely to have substantially more success against State's much better defense.
Regardless of whether you blame Borges or just terrible O-line play for 27 for 27, it still happened. The fact of the matter is that, against State, Borges really needs to be gameplanning on the assumption that traditional under center run plays are going to be burned downs in the sense that they will put us behind the chains more often than not. Sometimes it's worthwhile to burn downs for some greater good, so I expect to see some of it, but there's no way Michigan will win the game if they rely on it.
I think the point is the coaches did know how ineffective running was after the 2nd series and only did it about a dozen times until it was clock killing mode or short yardage situations. The main argument I hear 27 for 27 brought up to try and prove is that not only were we bad at it but we were too stubborn to stop doing it. The bad part, as Brian points out below is self evident. The second part is arguably less so because for large parts of the game we were for all intents and purposes an air raid offense.
14 first-down tailback runs for 26 yards in regulation? The notion that Borges stopped burning first-down plays during regulation in the PSU game simply isn't borne out by the facts.
[Edit: And oh, by the way, nearly half of those yards (12) came on a Toussaint first-down run on the third series of the game, which seems to contradict your assertion that Borges largely abandoned the run after the second series. Good thing he didn't abandon the run for that particular series, because otherwise the 27-for-27 would be even worse.]
should I use some other stat that emphasizes how terrible Michigan is at running from under center this year? TFLs? RB YPC? Upshot is the same.
The "27 for 27" Never Forget tagline, while considered by some to be a profusely profane - may well be the most remembered phrase of the 2013 season of MGoBlog! Having witnessed it from just a few seats from you that night in PA - certainly carves those words into my recollection of that trip to Happy Valley.
do you think the problem is running from under center or the fact that our offensive line didn't play very well in that game? Is the blocking that different?
RB YPC makes sense to me. I don't think anyone is arguing that RB runs are a glowing success this year. I'm certainly not. At this point, I'm not sure that we even need to reference the statistics. A vague reference to the pain that will be UM running under center against MSU should be sufficient. Or pull out the PDFT acronym again.
If RB runs significantly improve (or heaven help us, get worse), then another look at the stats might be worthwhile, but probably not necessary at this point.
is the production from the running back significantly higher out of the shotgun vs under the center? Or is the running game production out of shotgun higher because more of Gardner's attempts come from the shotgun formation?
Is that it is more about relying on TE's who can't block very well as opposed to utilizing good to great slot receivers. They were able to put 8 to 9 in the box all game. Its tough to get 5 lineman and 2 TE's to execute especially when the TE's are young, or undersized, or don't want to block very much.
We've had a better RB yards per carry out of the shotgun every season since Hoke took over. And it's not particularly close.
It's a stat from the performance of the PSU game.
Yeah, this isn't big deal territory, but I rolled my eyes a bit when qualification was advised on Michigan's final (successful) drive against Indiana and yet "27 for 27" apparently can stand as totally representative.
Eh, I don't think it's a stretch to consider an essentially garbage time TD against Indiana to be less relevant than performance throughout a competitive game against PSU to Michigan's chances this weekend.
Anyway, the "many of the 27 for 27 runs were run to intentionally burn clock!" argument would only be a strong caveat if we were tearing it up on the ground all game only to run into a wall in OT when PSU knew it was coming. It's not like 27 for 27 started as 14 for 50...
with a long of 12. Huzzah!
3.7 YPC even with that in, and that's cutting the 10 yard loss on the Toussaint fumble and goal line carries. Against Indiana, the worst D in the league. That projects to what against MSU?
Wow, no kidding you're not a statistician. Geez, man, leave it to the professionals.
It clearly projects to
unfortunately, if it is tried against MSU, it will lead to this:
I dunno, I'd estimate that train got at least 10 yards. Probably needs a breather on the sideline though.
No, I agree. It'll be death against MSU. As I said below, though, if you put 27 for 27 in context ("14 for 4," as someone says below) it feels like more of an indictment of our running game than an indictment of an OC who blows play after play doing something that obviously won't work. A bad running game is damn good reason not to run like crazy against MSU, but my understanding of "27 for 27" (as a meme) is that it was meant to reflect play calling failure as much as anything. There were huge coaching failures against PSU, but until we decided to put all of our eggs into the Gibbons and don't-let-them-drive-90-yards-in-one-minute baskets, we really hadn't run Fitz into the ground. Anyway, this is all kind of beside the point...
I think Saturday's game will be decided largely by what kind of Gardner we get - and whether we can avoid the cheap shots at his knees and ankles. I'm fine with feeling out an RB-based run game early to see if it looks like there's anything there, but if Fitz can't find anything, it's time to switch quickly to going all in on Devin.
Here, I'll break it down for you:
Prior to the second to last drive of the fourth quarter, our RBs had 14 carries for 13 yards!
On the first two plays of the final drive they racked up 2 carries for 12 yards! FIRST DOWN!
On the next seven carries by our running backs during that drive, we netted -3 yards!
In overtime, our running backs managed 5 carries for 5 yards!
Brian is obviously cherry-picking data to create a false meme so let's look at the REAL SHIT, which is obviously 2 carries for TWELVE YARDS (AKA FIRST DOWN BABY!)!!!
I'm saying we RUN WITH THIS (LOL) 2 for 12! That's 6 PER POP!
No wonder when we were trying to pick up yardage to win the game we went with our running backs!!! We were averaging SIX WHOLE YARDS A CARRY during the most relevant stretch of the game! Using any data from before those two carries (say 14 for 13!) or after (12 for 2!) is just being unfair, especially to the single most competent OC in the ENTIRE country Al Borges.
this ignores the fact that PSU responded with putting 9 guys in the box, with man coverage on Gallon and Funchess AND gave them 10 yard cushions. Why? They took the risk that Michigan would not throw. They were giving us free throws and the coaches refused to challenge them. They played the clock and not the opponent.
Let's cut out the 4th quarter (where it made sense to go conservative) and overtime:
NEW MEME: 14 for 4!
Oh, guess what? That's even MORE DEPRESSING.
It might be worse, but it's different from the initial critique. The initial critique (kind of broadly, not just from one person) was "Why the hell do you do something over and over and over again when it clearly doesn't work?" On the other hand, 14 for 4 is more of a, "Why don't we have a damn running game?" I'm not saying either is fun... in fact, I"ll say neither is fun... but the critique is different. I'm personally inclined to put more of "14 for 4" on Funk and Rodriguez for the state of our interior line. If it had been all about wasting plays when we were trying to drive, I would put more of that on Borges.
Yeah, that's what it was. We were wasting downs by setting them on fire.
27 for 27 pretty much says it all, especially after Penn State got annihilated on the ground by OSU. Evasive action required.
On my reading, the logic is: "We couldn't run on Penn State. Ohio State destroyed them on the ground. Ergo, our running attack is god-awful. We need to do something else." So 27 for 27 is actually being generous in the context of this particular argument.
I agree that maybe 27 for 27 could be slightly misleading if used in the "Why did we keep doing this?" context, but that's not what is at issue here (at least, from my perspective).
That's fair. I agree. I just think "27 for 27" is misleading (or at least ambiguous) as a meme and this post made me think that Brian wants to keep it around.
This idea that 27 for 27 doesn't mean anything towards playcalling because it really was only "14 to 4" is silly for a couple reasons, but mainly because there absolutely were times in those last 13 carries that gaining yards was a necessary goal (getting a FG instead of settling for a punt at the end of regulation, not needing to rely on a FG for the win, getting shorter game winning FG attempts). Yet we went with plays that we had proven we could not execute. To act like the final 13 runs were only about grinding out the clock, to me, gives the coaching staff an unearned free pass.
I've been a huge Borges apologist. About as strident as they come. But even I have never said there is nothing wrong with play calling.
14 for 4 is actually a worse output than 14 for 4. But it was only 14 runs. This is directly in opposition to the idea that Borges "kept running into the line". If you think 14 rushing attempts is a lot, I would honestly be curious to see your ideal offense. No one rushes that few times. They just don't. We need to run a bit. Every team does. Kliff Kingsbury does. Mike Leach does.
How many total plays had there been when they got to 14? How many of those run plays were asinine tackle over plays with a TE playing tackle?
I don't know. They are all good questions. Those are the legit criticisms that ought to be debated. But just saying 27 for 27 clearly means we just burned half of our plays isn't true. About 13 made sense, even if they didn't work.
Besides, in that lost, Brian blames Borges for 40%. In his estimation, 60% had a chance. That doesn't scream setting plays on fire.
Fire Borges, but do it for good reasons.
I think this last point gets lost here on the board. I don't know of any poster - you, SC, anyone - who is thrilled with Borges. People disagree about how far from ideal he's been, but we're not as far off as it sometimes seems. We all wish things had been a least a little different.
That's 12 rushes for 9 yards, mostly on 1st down.
I used the ESPN play-by-play: http://espn.go.com/ncf/playbyplay?gameId=332850213&period=0
Thank you. And boy is that farkin sad data/
And the Buckeyes came out throwing like nobody's business in the first half.
The PSU cadaver gets uglier the more you dissect.
Hey 14 for 4 sounds like the best lap dance deal ever!!