“The player development is the main thing I like (about Michigan),” Williams said. “You can see that they develop their players. They get them in the gym and they work them hard. And their hard work pays off.”
3 quarters of PSU and 2 of Illinois, here it goes.
They run multiple sets. They can go from an I-from to 5-wide gun. They seem to like to start from power sets and work into the spread formations. They like to run a formation where they have a TE, a wing, and another TE to the same side. They will run to strengh out of this formations, but will also motion the wing to the weak side, and run towards motion. They only ran play action once out of this formation. They like to run iso, trap, belly and counters out of their standard I-formations. Pretty basic stuff. Out of their spread formations, they like to throw more than they like to run. They like to run the read option in the gun with double tights. I never saw them throw out of this formation. I also saw the speed option a couple times out of the spread formation. Their passing game consists of a lot of little option routes. The wide receivers just run to space between defenders and Pryor hits them on a three step drop. Illinois actually did a better job defending this than PSU. They ran smash routes a couple times against Illinois where there is a guy short in the flat, and a second receiver running a corner route behind the corner and in front of the safety. I expect to see this route several times tomorrow agasint our cover 2 scheme. Against PSU they ran double posts once, and also ran a 2 vertical route against one side of a cover two. They got a big gain out of it. They also like to run short underneath crossing routes. They ran one reverse with Robiskie against Illinois, but other than that they don't try to fool anybody.
Their O-line is good, but they are not by any means a dominate unit. They had a lot of trouble against PSU getting to the second level. Most of the time, LBs were able to get to the ball carrier and bring him down. They were better against Illinois, but stil had some trouble. If we had great linebackers this would be a good matchup. They will open some holes occasionally, but I think we can do a decent job of containing their power running game. #70, their right tackle is a liability in pass protection. Graham needs to have a big game against that guy. PSU was able to drive that guy backwards all day. He was better against Illinois, but still not that impressive.
Their receivers are good but not spectacular. It seems like Robiskie is their go to guy. He has great hands and can get open, but he is not the gamebreaker type. I see problems with these guys running short routes between linebackers. They find space very well and don't drop many balls. This could lead to a lot of third and 6 conversions. The safeties also have to be ready for the smash route.
Their big play guys are Wells and Pryor in the backfield, obviously. Wells will break every arm tackle. We really need to get a shoulder pad on this guy to bring him down. Pryor is most dangerous when he breaks contain. Not only is he a running threat, but is also very good during scramble drill. He will find the open reciever on the run. However, he is only average when he stays in the pocket. If his first read isn't there, he struggles. We really need to get pressure on him, and try not to let him break contain. That probably sounds like a broken record.
This is really just an ok offens in my opinion. I think the D can hold up ok against them if they don't repeatedly get put in bad positions.
They run multiple fronts. They will run both a 3 and 4 man front. Out of their three man front, they usually blitz at least one. If its 3rd and long with a 4 or 5 wide receiver set, they will drop 8 into a 3 deep coverage. They started blitzing more out of both fronts in the second quarter of the Illinois game. Out of the 3 man front, they will bring a guy off the edge and roll the strong safety down into the box while playing a 3 deep coverage behind it. If they bring more than one guy out of the 3 man front, they usually play man behind it. Other blitzes they like out of the 3 man front are a guy coming off both edges, two LBs up the middle, and they also showed a corner blitz a few times. Out of the 4 man front against Illinois, they put Freeman up on the line inside of the DE. They will run cover 2, 3, and man.
Their Dline is solid. Heyward is a very good player, but they don't have a dominant pass rusher like Gholston from last year. They held their own against PSU, but nobody really stood out. Illinois had a lot of success with their outside zone play early in the game. They were able to get these guys sealed, so there may be some hope we can run the ball. I only saw them stunt once or twice, and they did slant some to the strong side.
Their linebackers are also pretty good. I think Freeman is the best of the goup. He looks pretty athletic. Both him and Laurinites are good tackers. As I said before, Illinois had success with their outside zone and were able to get the linebackers to over pursue. When PSU or Illinois got lineman to them, they were able to drive them back for the most part. They did get off some blocks, but I think that if we can get lineman too them, we will be able to sustain blocks downfield. They seem to be pretty good in space against the pass, but I did not see them challenged much over the middle.
The secondary is also very good. I think this is the worst matchup for us. The corners are physical and do a good job of jamming guys off the line. We have not been good this year with getting releases off the line of scrimmage, and we don't beat man coverage consitently enough. I think they will be sitting on our slants and hitches, and it could be tough for the passing game. They generally play a man over every receiver. Against Illinois, they only had a safety over #2 on the weakside, so that could be a situation where we have an advantage on the bubble by alignment. Outside of that, we are going to need great blocking on those plays. Also, if they are blitzing and playin a lot of man, we could get a good mismatch with Odoms on a safety. I think we will see a lot of the formation where we have twins on both sides bunched together. PSU ran this formation a few times, and OSU put their corners and OLBs way out to the twins. That left only 5 in the box with a safety creeping down. We have to be able to run out of that formation against that front. If they have to pull those OLB's back in a little, that could lead to some other things.
Overall, they have a good defense, and an ok offense. We are obviously going to have to play our best game to win. But we have a shot, thats why they play the game.
This is a story that has come to mind recently.
From Bo's Lasting Lesson's:
“The following season, 1956, I left Doyt and Bowling Green-with his blessings-to become an assistant for Ara Parseghian at Northwestern University. I had made it to the Big Ten! I knew that's where I wanted to be, and I was working for a great coach. Of course, everyone remembers Ara when he led Notre Dame to a couple national titles, but a lot of people don't realize he led the Wildcats to some of their best seasons before that.
Ara was not big ego guy, he was great with players, he was a wonderful motivator, and he understood the game so well he COULD COME UP WITH THINGS NO ONE ELSE HAD THOUGHT OF. He was probably the most imaginative coach I'd ever seen, always adapting his plays to his players instead of the other way around like most coaches do. Heck, we used to call his practice field "The Laboratory," because that's where he'd try every trick in the book on Mondays, testing this and experimenting with that, just to see what might work that Saturday.
Before Ara arrived, Northwestern hadn't had a winning season in five years, but in his first year Northwestern went 4-4-1, and everyone was encouraged. But in Ara's second season, 1957, everything went to hell. We lost nine games - every single game we played! For a coach, that’s just about the most difficult situation you have to face.
We could keep our opponents down to one or two touchdowns, but we couldn't score for our lives. And I was working with the offense!
Losing creates all kinds of other problems too-poor morale, nagging injuries, and lackluster effort. The players were spending more time in the PR office than in the weight room. It was just a mess. I never experienced anything like that in all my years of coaching -and thank God for that.
I learned an awful lot from Ara in my first year at Northwestern. I learned a heckuva lot more from him that second season, when we lost 'em all. And what I learned was how a real leader leads when things aren't going his way.
Ara treated that staff as though we were winning every game. He never gave the slightest indication that we were the problem. He not once blamed any assistant or any player for any loss we suffered that year. NOT ONCE.
"Stick with it guys, and we’ll get through this," he'd tell us. "We're going to be okay." We all kept busting our butts for Ara, working past midnight, doing everything we could to get that guy a victory.
And that's why that losing season didn't break Ara's back: BECAUSE HE'S A CONFIDENT GUY, AND HE KNEW HE COULD COACH. HIS STAFF REMAINED DEDICATED TO HIM AND HIS PROGRAM THE ENTIRE SEASON.
You'd think my two years at Northwestern would have been a horrible experience, but it wasn't. It was a experience, because Ara had put together a stellar staff - they're all still good friends of mine, especially Alex Agase - but mostly, it was because was there.
The result? Pt this down: Ara Parseghian lost every game that year, but the next year his team went 5-4 - Northwestern's first winning season in eight years.
When Ara took the Notre Dame job fiver years later, in 1963, he left Evanston as one of the only three coaches in the last of Northwestern football to post a winning record. And of course, from there he won two national titles and Coach of the Year at Notre Dame. Don't tell me he didn't deserve it.
But that 0-9 year? He didn't get any awards for that, but let me tell you: THAT was the most impressive year of his coaching career."
Hopefully I didn't break any laws by quoting that much of the book, but that story really stood out to me after I read BO's LASTING Lessons. When you hear about RR talking about staying the course, it is because he is confident that the course will lead to success. Even the greatest coaches have down years, especially when they are working with very young kids. But more importantly, what are you going to do when things are going against you? Are you going to start questioning a coach that is a proven winner and has produced fundamentally sound teams? Are you going to give up when things don't look like they are going your way? Well maybe you will because you're not putting the time into becoming a champion, but I will tell you one thing. Those freshman, sophomores, and juniors will NOT throw in the towel for anybody. They are busting their ass right now to turn things around at the end of this season and next season. It’s easy for somebody to sit in their office chair, sip their coffee and bitch about coaching. When you are waking up at 6 am busting your ass to win a championship, there is no time for bitching. When your losing 10 pounds in a week of two-a-day practice, there is no time for bitching. There is only time for buying in and executing what you've been taught. Maybe it’s the Knob Creek that I've been drinking since the first MSU TD, but I still believe this staff will do great things at UM. I believe this because MICHIGAN WILL NEVER GIVE UP, BECAUSE WOLVERINES ALWAYS FIGHT!!
This is only from a couple quarters of the Purdue game and what I remember from Illinois. Didn't get a chance to watch that much this week.
- They will run out of a lot of different formations. They run the power I, regular I form with double tights, and some spread formations. They also like a tight bunch formation which allows them to motion Derrick Williams into the back field. Out of the power I, they like to run some inside zone lead which was very effective against Purdue. They also like to run some play-action out of that formation. Out of their spread formations, they will run some zone read option, QB draws, and will throw the ball.
- The offensive line looks pretty good. Purdue had some success slanting on them. They were able to get some penetration on run plays. However, the o-line looks like a good combination of Wisconsin and Illinois. They are as athletic as Illinois, and are looking to bury people like Wisconsin. This area will be a real challenge.
- Darryl Clark is pretty good. He can run and throw, and is tough to bring down. However, he does lose some accuracy when getting pressured and is forced to stay inside the pocket. We really need to get after him and hit him all day.
- Royster is a also very good. He is big and fast and does not usually go down after first contact. We have to be fundamentally sound in our tackling on Royster. This worries me as we have not been a great tackling team all year.
- As for the receivers, they are trying to get the ball to Derrick Williams. If he is lined up as the tailback, he is getting the ball. However, they also like to line him up as the third back in the power I and use him as a lead blocker. From the tight bunch formation, they like to motion him into the back field and fake an end around and run a dive, or hand the ball off to thim. They like to run some three step, and off their play actions, they like to flood one side of the field. Against Illinois, they ran a play action with williams and sent Williams down the sideline for a big play. We have to know where Williams is every play, and if we can, hit him right off the line of scrimmage. He is very difficult to cover one on one. If we can disrupt some of their routes by being physical off the line, and get pressure on Clark, we can slow down their passing game.
- They base out of a 4-3 and run a 4-2 nickel against spread formations. They start out of a two shell, and rarely leave a receiver uncovered. They blitz a fair amount, but not every down. When they do blitz, they like to bring their outside linebacker through C gap and bring down the opposite safety playing man or 3 behind the blitz. In the Purdue game, they ran Cover 4 vs. trips. They may run this coverage against us to help on the run and short passes. This can be beat by running a post by the #1 receiver and getting behind the safety. It could be a big play if we run it and hit it.
- The D-line is pretty good. The DE's like to get upfield. Purdue was able to just ride them out of some of their zone running plays. They DT's do not get driven back easily and stand up well to double teams. This is going to be a very difficult match up for our o-line.
- The linebackers are very good against the run. #43 Josh Hall? finds the ball quickly and tackles well. Purdue was only successful running the ball when they got a lineman on this guy at the second level. We have not been good at doing that this year, so this is not a good matchup for us. However, the linebackers are not great in their zone drops. They bite hard on play action and do not find receivers in their zones well. Purdue was able to move the ball with short option routes where the reciever just sits in between linebackers. They hit these quick for 6-7 yard gains. If Purdue could have put some points on the board, that game could have been interesting. Unfortunately, we have not executed these types of routes very well this year.
- The secondary is also pretty good. They didn't seem to run a lot of man coveage, but were able to stay with Pudue's receivers pretty well when they did. Purdue's tight end was able to run by #7 Scirrato on one play, so a big play down the seam may there. They looked good in coverage, but none of them looked like great tacklers. They came up on some of Pudue's short passes out of control, and one little side step sent the DB running by the guy. Our recievers are going to have to break some tackles and get yards after contact to move the chains.
Purdue was able to keep that game close by holding ball and getting first downs on short routes between linebackers. If they hit on a couple missed field goals, that game is more interesting in the second half. If we can get first downs consistently on offense and hold the ball, then we can keep ourselves in it. Unfortunately, we have not consistently done this all year. Our D-line can match up with their O-line, but can our LB's make plays behind them? Our O-line does not match up well against their D-line and line backers so can we hit some three step passes and break some tackles? If we can do those things, I think we can stay in the game. Hopefully, it doesn't get ugly.
This Michigan team reminds me of a team on which I played my senior year of college. The circumstances were a little different. It was our coaches fourth year, and had already produced an undefeated regular season and a trip to the Div 3 national quarter finals. However, the senior class that led us to that point in my sophomore year was one of the most talented group in the history of the program. The junior class was also very good, but by the time I was a senior there were only 13 players left in my class. Of those 13, only about half saw significant playing time. We started 5-0 against some weak competition. We played the eventual conference champion in week 6 and lost 33-31 after we missed a 40 yard field goal on the last play of the game. This is where the comparison really starts. The rest of the year we really struggled. Everything was a grind. We thought we had put bad moments behind us, but they obviously lingered. I do not remember having a bad week of practice, but we just could not seem to get it going in games. Our QB was inconsistent and struggled with his confidence. Over the last 5 games, we went 1-4. Occasionally, I think about that season and try to figure out what happened, because we had the players to win the conference. I think it came down to two things:
- We never got over the missed field goal. I think it lingered with many of our younger players, and we just could not pull ourselves out of it. We would have good weeks of practice, but when games came around, there was just couldn't put together any consistency especially on offense.
- We did not have many seniors on the field. It has been my experience that seniors play with a sense of urgency that younger players sometimes lack. When there are a good number of seniors on the field, this rubs off on everybody else.
I think Michigan is in a similar spot right now. They are in a grind offensively, and are struggling to find a rhythm. Threet has been inconsistent, and at least to me, does not look like he is throwing the ball with confidence right now. In fact, the whole offense lacks confidence right now. There seems to be indecision from the O-Line on who to block on zone plays, Threet doesn't seem to pull the trigger quick enough, and the backs don't seem to be finding the hole. I actually think the D has been ok.
The point of the story is that the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen from my senior went on to win or share the next 3 conference titles. The QB who struggled that year was Gagliardi Trophy finalist his senior year. (Div 3 Heisman) Those underclassmen did not give up on the system, they only became more determined. Was it bad coaching that led to that one bad season? I don't think so. Should those underclassmen have given up on our coach? Obviously not. All these things that look wrong on Saturdays are being drilled every day in practice. They are running the zone over and over again, because its what they practice. The coaches, who all have a track record of success, believe its what will work on Saturdays. Eventually, it will start working. It may not be this year. I think the offense will probably look good in spurts the way it has most of the season. But every time you think about the struggles of this Michigan team, you think about those young players that are getting experience, and not ever wanting to go through a Toledo loss ever again in their Michigan football career.
I hope some people find my experience relevant. I'd like to finish the post with a passage from Bo's Lasting Lessons.
"Hey. You can take any coach you want - I don't care if it's Woody Hayes or Ara Parseghian or Joe Paterno, all giants - and you can pick apart their career and find that, sure, they lost some games, probably a few they shouldn't have. Every one of those three guys won a national title, but every one of them had losing seasons, too - usually when I was on their staff, it occurs to me! And these are some of the best coaches the game has ever seen. What does that mean?
I'll tell you what it means: Nothing!
Everyone's got critics. And if you're in charge, you're going to have more than the people working for you. Well, I had 101,001 critics every Saturday, and millions more watching on TV - screaming at me to pass more, to blitz more, to go for it on fourth-and-one more from our own 40-yard line. Let me tell you something: I fundamentally did not give a damn what the press, the administration or the alumni thought about my coaching. Fritz Crisler said it best. "If you're winning," he said, "you don't need them. And if you're losing, they can't help you."
So, you block them out!"
I think gsimmons has covered many of the problems of the defense in the comments section, so I'm just going to write about a few things I saw out of the offense.
- I saw more man blocking on the O-line this game that what I noticed the last few weeks. The counters with Moundrous coming across the line of scrimmage produced a couple big gains. The line looked much better in the man scheme than the zone. They were getting a decent push and getting to the second level. The timing on the zone scheme just doesn't look quite right yet. We may see more man blocking as the year progresses if the zone scheme continues to struggle.
- Although they struggled more in the zone scheme, it was not always to the play side. There were a few plays where I thought Threet should have kept the ball. The DE had his shoulders completely turned, and Threet still handed the ball off. The DE was then able to run down the play from the back side for minimal gain. The corners were also pretty agressive on the running plays. I thought the zone read where Threet has the wideout as a third option may have worked well in the game.
- One of the ways Illinois was defending the zone read was to immediately bring the backside linebacker to tackle the QB. So you have an unblocked DE to take the RB, and an unblocked linebacker to take the QB. In this case, the QB should immediately throw the bubble screen. Against Illinois, Michigan already had an advantage by alignment with a safety 10 - 15 yards off the ball. With a linebacker going after the QB, there is no inside out flow to the play. If its a good throw, its probably a 6-7 yard gain every time.
- I thought we would see more bubble screens, but its probably better we did not. The blocking by our wide recievers was probably the worst I've seen all year. The basic idea behind stalk blocking as a wideout is to sell vertical until the DB stops his back pedal. If if he starts to come up under control, you stay in front of him, hit him, get your hands on the breast plate of his shoulder pads, keep your feet moving and drive him back. If he comes up hard, cut him and keep him on the ground. The wideouts looked very tentative in their blocks, and you have to be aggressive but under control when blocking as a wideout. If Matthews gets a block on the play that Minor fumbled, it probably goes for a big gain.
- The play in the first half where Threet threw it to the middle of the field was probably a mistake by Odoms. Miller was running with him down the middle on his release, and thats a good mismatch for us. Threet thought he was going to keep running, but he broke off over the middle. Either he just ran the wrong play, or he thought Miller was going to stay over top of him. Either way, I think Odoms was wrong on that play.
- I think we will see more shake up on the left side of the line. Ortmann is a step slow at guard, and I thought Dorrestein was consistently standing up off the snap instead of driving out of his stance low. He was blown backwards several times as a result. This is a fundamental thing that should be fixed this week in practice.
Overall, the offense did some good things, but they also did a lot of bad things. If we hit on the long passes to Savoy and Odoms at the end of the first half, maybe that changes the game. I don't want to beat a dead horse with things that have already been discussed, but I thought I'd point out a few things that I haven't seen in the comments section.
I watched the first three quarters of PSU and the first half of Mizzou. Here it goes.
- The offense set is similar to Michigan’s. Their base personnel is 3 wideouts, a tight end, tailback, and the Juice at QB. They will keep the tight end in and flex him and run the zone read option either way. They will also take out the TE and bring in a second back to run the set where there is a tailback on either side of Juice Williams. A couple times they also kept the TE in the game and replaced the slot receiver with a tailback. This is mostly a running formation. If my notes are accurate, they only threw twice out of this formation. They had one long drive against PSU exclusively out of this formation running both the zone read option and speed option. They also run 4 and 5 wide receiver sets. These are mostly passing formations on passing downs, but they like to run the QB draw out of the 4 receiver set with the tailback as a lead blocker. They will also pull the backside tackle through the hole on the QB draw. They will also line up in the I-form, where they like to run the zone lead play, outside zone with a pitch, and they ran play action with once in the first half of the Missouri game. They do not do a lot of motion or shifting, but if the TE is lined up as a wing and goes in motion, the will run towards motion. It was always a zone read option or a speed option. They will also send the tailback in a quick motion away from Juice Williams. This was always a speed option to the motion. They will motion Arrellious Benn into the backfield sometimes as well. When he goes in motion, they are giving him the ball. Its going to be a zone read or speed option with him as the tailback, or they will flair him out and run the bubble screen.
- The offensive line is pretty average. Missouri consistently pushed these guys backwards and blew up their inside and outside zone plays. Penn State also pushed them around for the most part, but Illinois ran some counters and traps to punish them for getting up field. They are athletic enough to get down field and get a block. They also seem to have their timing figured out a little better than Michigan on their chip blocks in the zone scheme. They also execute the counter and trap well when they pull. There was one play where they tried to pull the tackle through the hole on a QB draw and, Juice Williams got to the hole first. In the second half of the PSU game they went to a lot of outside running plays, because they were getting handled up front. There appears to be a significant difference in mentality between Illinois and Wisconsin. The Badger O-Line looked to work to the second level and absolutely bury linebackers. The Illini seem to just try and get in the way of linebackers. It looked much easier to shed their blocks than the Wisconsin O-line. At times, they were able to get a push against PSU and Missouri, but it was not consistent. Overall, they can execute their offense well enough to move the ball, but I will be disappointed if we don’t dominate their O-line all day.
- Their running backs are pretty good. Dufrene is not Mendenhall, but he is a good back. He is quick and has a good burst through the hole. He looked very quick on the counters and traps, and got through the hole with speed. He keeps his legs moving on contact and will run through arm tackles. We have to hit him and wrap up this week. They will also put #5 into the game, and he looked pretty good as well. As everybody knows, Juice Williams is a dangerous runner. I liked what Missouri did with him on the speed options. When he ran that play, they just hit him and forced the pitch. They caused a fumble doing this one time as well. I noticed a couple things in the Penn State game that were a little different. Sometimes when they motion the tight end as a wing, they will run what looks like a zone read. However, the tight end blocks down on the DE and the playside tackle goes after the OLB. I think this is a designed QB run with the play fake meant to draw the OLB into the block. I could be wrong, but there doesn’t seem to be anybody to option on this play. They will also run a sort of a counter zone read option. PSU defensive ends were getting up field, so Juice ran the zone read except that if the DE comes up field, he hands off. If the LB stays and squeezes down, he keeps it and runs the zone play himself. It went for a big gain on PSU. Juice is also good at escaping pressure in passing situations. Missouri had a pretty consistent pass rush, and Juice made some of his biggest plays when he escaped and found somebody open on scramble drill. Of course, when he gets down field on a run, he is a threat to take it to the house every time.
- They have one great receiver in Benn and the rest are ok. Judson has decent speed they threw a deep TD pass to him in the Missouri game. Missouri was able to jam them up front, and disrupt some of their routes. It came as no surprise that when they throw the ball, they are looking for Benn. He made a great catch in the PSU game down field, but they didn’t go back to him on deep throws. They mostly keep him in the slot. PSU kept a safety over top of him, and on a pass, would bring an outside linebacker out to him to try and knock him off is route. This seemed to be effective, because Juice was often searching for receivers down field. Juice has turned into an adequate passer. He can make plays after avoiding pressure, but still seems to be inaccurate when his first target is not open. They will run some bubble screens to twins and trips especially if a safety over #2 or #3 is playing very deep. They run the curl route the same way Michigan does by trying to sell the vertical seam by the #1 receiver and breaking back to the QB. They also like to run some crossing routes to the outside where the inside receiver runs an out and the outside receiver coming in just sits where the zone opens up. They will run some 4 vertical, and I think they were running some dig routes against Missouri. Sometimes its hard to see on TV.
- They base out of a 4-3 but will run a nickel with either #31 or #20 playing the nickel. They were almost exclusively nickel against Missouri, mostly due to Missouri going 5 wide all the time. Against the “Spread HD”( which is such a stupid name it makes me want to hit something), they ran both the nickel and base packages. They occasionally run a 3 man front on third and long, and they like to blitz out of this front. They will start out of a cover 2 shell and will run multiple coverages. It looks like they run a straight two, two man, a 2 read scheme where the strong safety will rob the middle without a vertical threat, and maybe a quarter quarter half coverage. It looked like they also ran some Tampa Two where the MLB ran with the TE down the middle. Usually they are in man when they blitz, but they do run a zone blitz that gave PSU problems. They don’t run it often, but they blitz the mike through strong side C gap and stunt the DE into A gap. The weakside DE sprints to the flat while the corner takes a deep half. The free safety replaces the Mike in the middle hole, and the strong safety takes a deep half. Their favorite blitz out of their base 4-3 is to bring the weakside backer and slant the DL to the strong side. This usually leaves Martez Wilson unblocked on the blitz, but PSU was able to block the slanting DL and Wilson was usually out of the play. They blitzed Missouri more than PSU especially the last drive of the first half. They brought the two linebackers on the outside blitz from either side. One of them came unblocked but Daniel just took off and gashed them for big yardage.
- The way they align against trips and five wide will give Michigan an advantage for the bubble screens. To twins they will play the corner over #1 but will split the distance between the tackle and #2 with the outside linebacker. To the trips they will put a ban over #1 and #2 and a safety deep over #3. It is hard for the inside defender to make a play on the bubble screen in this alignment, and I expect to see Michigan try to exploit this. If this leads to the safety creeping up, it could lead to big plays over the top. If it takes a linebacker all the way out over a receiver, it could lead to a numbers advantage in the running game. Hopefully, Threet can connect on these throws.
- The defensive line is also an average group. #81 Davis and #94 Lindquist seem to be pretty good athletes, but in the film I watched they did not consistently make plays. PSU was able to blows them off the ball most of the game. They were a little better against Missouri, but nobody really stood out to me the way Wisconsin’s guys did. They like to stunt the DE into A gap and the DT into C. They had some success with this against Missouri. Like I said before, they like to slant away from an outside blitzing linebacker. On a couple of these slants, the PSU lineman caught them off balance and drove them into the ground. I think they will probably blow up a few plays here and there, but they don’t seem like a group that’s going to control the line of scrimmage all day. They are better than ND, but I will be disappointed if we don’t run the ball consistently on Saturday.
- I also think their linebackers are pretty average. #45 Pittman is probably their best. He plays pretty aggressively and is a good athlete. #44 Miller is ok. He looks slow to react sometimes, and gets caught waiting for the play to get to him. PSU was able to block him pretty consistently all day. He is a good athlete and is able to chase down outside running plays if he doesn’t get caught up inside. If I remember correctly, Martez Wilson was a pretty highly regarded recruit, but he looked awful against PSU. He was not aggressive, didn’t look to hit anyone, and looked lost in pass coverage. One time, a PSU guard was able to block him with one arm. He is the weak side backer, so maybe we can run some counters to the weak side and just let a pulling lineman blow this guy up. He looked better against Missouri, but he didn’t have to stand up to many lineman or lead blockers down field. They like to blitz him with his good speed, but I didn’t notice him making many plays when he blitzed. I would love to see a wide out come in and light this guy up on a crack block.
- Their secondary is also pretty average. Vonte Davis is pretty good. Other than that, they don’t have anybody that is good in man coverage. Some of their cover 2 schemes where the free safety robs the middle of the field may confuse Threet, although he should see enough of this against Michigan’s defense. Hopefully we don’t see a pick when running the curl with the outside receiver, or dig with the slot. I think we will be able to get an easy one down the sideline. The safeties are not quick to get to the sideline if there is a vertical threat down the seam. If we get a player in the flat to hold the corner, and a guy down the side line and down the seam, somebody will be open for a big play.
- Overall it’s a pretty average defense. Nobody really stands out except maybe Vonte Davis. They are better overall than Notre Dame, but not as good as Wisconsin. However, Maurice Crum made a lot of tackles against us, and I think he would be their best linebacker if he played for them. We should be able to get on their linebackers and sustain blocks. One on one, I think our lineman can handle this D-line for the most part. Hopefully, we see some improvement on the timing and chip blocks on our zone plays. It would be great to see some more traps and counters as well. Maybe we are just not executing those plays well enough in practice, but I don’t think Michigan has shown much of that package.
I am more optimistic about this game than Wisconsin. I was probably more worried about Wisconsin’s interior line wreaking havoc than I wrote about last week. Illinois is not as good up front on either side of the ball. They have some dangerous playmakers on offense that can get them a couple scores. I really don’t think their defense is that good. Obviously, they have given up a lot of points, but they are not a great tackling team either. They don’t always play disciplined, especially Wilson, and I hope this game can be a confidence builder for the offense. If we get some accurate throws and some better zone blocking, I think we can put up a decent number of points. I’m hoping I don’t jinx Michigan by saying that, but that’s what I think after watching their film.