Didn't Iowa manhandle Minnesota last night? They may have been 4-0 in their out of conference, but they're 0-1 in conference and now 4-1 overall.
spoiler alert: i linked this
Four Plays – UM vs. Minnesota 2013
This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan expects to face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment). This is the third installment of the series; previous: Notre Dame and Connecticut.
Michigan opens Big Ten action at home this season against a Jerry Kill’s Gophers, who didn't exactly face a murderer’s row in their non-conference schedule but got off to a 4-0 start nonetheless—even despite an injury that deprived Minnesota of their starting QB for two games. [Edit: The Gophers are now 4-1, having lost 3-7 yesterday to Iowa. In the game, Minnesota gained only 30 yards rushing and gave up 147 yards rishing to Mark Weisman]. Overall, the Gophers looked well-coached and unlikely to beat themselves, but with the talent differential and Michigan needing to make a statement, this is not a game that should be close.
When Michigan has the ball…
The slant is a relatively easy throw that gets the ball to a receiver with a chance to gain yards after the catch. In west coast offenses, pairing multiple slants with a flat route underneath stretches a defense horizontally, while motion is used to help the QB diagnose the defense before the snap.
When the H-back motions across the formation before the snap, the QB will watch to see if a defender follows him. If so, then the defense must be playing man coverage—meaning the X receiver is one-on-one with the CB. If no defender follows the H-back, then the defense is in zone. The H-back (running the flat route) and the Y receiver (running a slant) will flood the right flat; the QB will read the flat defender (against cover 3, this is usually the box safety) and throw to whichever receiver the flat defender leaves open.
LT – Taylor Lewan: pass protect vs. WDE Theiren Cockran
LG – Graham Glasgow: pass protect vs. DT Cameron Botticelli
C – Jack Miller: pass protect vs. DT Ra’Shede Hageman
RG – Kyle Kalis: pass protect vs. DT Ra’Shede Hageman
RT – Michael Schofield: pass protect vs. SDE Michael Amaefula
TE – Devin Funchess: motion across formation, run flat route (covered by SS Cedric Thompson)
SL – Drew Dileo: run slant (2) route (covered by NB Brock Vereen)
SE – Jeremy Gallon: run slant route route (covered by CB Derrick Wells)
FL –Jehu Chesson: run slant route (covered by SS Cedric Thompson)
TB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: pass protect vs. SDE Michael Amaefula
QB – Devin Gardner: pre-snap, motion H-back across formation, recognize zone coverage underneath; receive snap, read flat defender (SS); if flat defender follows Chesson, set feet and throw flat route to Funchess, throw slant to Chesson if flat defender comes up to play Funchess.
Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have hesitated to declare the advantage for Michigan on this play, with Devin Gardner throwing to a solid group of receivers against Minnesota’s underwhelming defense. But Gardner’s been inconsistent over the past couple weeks, due in no small part to poor pass protection on the interior—and now Michigan has to face arguably the best DT in college football. That would be Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota’s senior DT who entered the season on most first-team All-B1G lists and boasts a first-round NFL draft grade. To have success against him, the Michigan line that handled Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt will have to show up against the Gophers. Another performance like the one we saw in Hartford could spell a long day for Michigan’s offense.
[After the JUMP: it's a trap!]
22 Inside Trap
I’m going to go ahead and assume that Michigan doesn’t particularly like their chances of handling Minnesota’s stud DT, Ra’shede Hageman, with Jack Miller. One obvious way of dealing with the problem is to double-team Hageman (see tackle power play below). Another is to option Hageman off. And a third approach is to trap-block Hageman, as we see here.
I found this play at the National Football Post, having known to look for it after reading Chris Brown’s articles about Harbaugh’s wildly successful wham schemes in the past. I’m not entirely certain that Borges has installed any trap-blocked plays into the offense this season (though I partly wonder if the play below is actually just an outside trap, and that Lewan was supposed to make his block in the backfield rather than lead the runner through the hole). But trap plays are a regular fixture of power running schemes and it’s well-known that Borges gets most of his ideas from the NFL—so hopefully he’s taken note of the 49ers’ proven method of dealing with dangerous DTs like Ndamakong Suh.
LT Taylor Lewan: fan block WDE Theiren Cockran
LG Graham Glasgow: pull behind C Jack Miller and trap-block DT Ra’Shede Hageman
C Jack Miller: down-block DT Cameron Botticelli
RG Kyle Kalis: proceed to second level, seal WLB De’Vondre Campbell
RT Michael Schofield: kick-out SDE Michael Amaefula
TE Devin Funchess: seal SLB Aaron Hill
FB Sione Houma: lead tailback through 2-hole, block first defender (likely MLB Damien Wilson)
RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: receive handoff, follow FB Sione Houma through 2-hole, cut off Houma’s block
This is a play Michigan really should be able to execute well, as many of the assignments match up pretty closely with the skills of Michigan’s players. But as everyone knows, the TEs have been dodgy (or worse) blockers this season and Jack Miller has really been struggling. A TE whiff here limits this play to maybe a 2-3 yard ceiling; if Miller gives ground to his DT, this could end in the backfield.
Bonus Play: 24 Tackle Trap
So, I posted this play on the board a couple weeks ago and asked whether it looked right that nobody got out to block the SAM linebacker. There were a lot of great responses, mostly to the effect that yes, this is probably what Michigan intended because (i) between the QB, the RB, and the double-team, there aren’t enough offensive players to block every defender so somebody has to go free, and (ii) the SAM probably can’t get through the traffic in time to stop the play anyway. I’d previously read something about how Vince Lombardi supposedly explained that a concept in Power O is to “get so much force moving in one direction that you completely seal off the back side.” Now I think I finally understand what Lombardi meant by that.
Of course, there would be even more force moving playside if there was a fullback picking off the EMLOS instead of a second TE going into a pass route. But as a couple of the previous commenters suggested, the pass pattern could additionally draw the SAM into a false step toward his pass drop on top of being sealed by the melee in front of him. The play already appears designed to work in tandem with M’s bootleg passes—and as those commenters pointed out, if the SAM doesn’t respect the TE’s pass route then the defense could be exposing vulnerability to a big play-action pass later on. But mainly, the play works as a counter by letting Michigan essentially run Power O without having the opposing LBs key on the pulling guard every time.
LT – Taylor Lewan: pull and lead tailback through 4-hole, block first defender to appear (likely WLB De’Vondre Campbell)
LG – Graham Glasgow: seal DT Cameron Botticelli to the back side
C – Jack Miller: double-team DT Ra’Shede Hageman, pop off to seal MLB Damien Wilson
RG – Kyle Kalis: downblock DT Ra’Shede Hageman
RT – Michael Schofield: kick-out WDE Theiren Cockran
Y-TE – A.J. Williams: reach block SDE Michael Amaefula
U-TE – Devin Funchess: sell seam route (hopefully drawing coverage from SLB Aaron Hill)
RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: counter step left, receive handoff, then follow LT Taylor Lewan through 4-hole, cut off Lewan’s block
As you have probably noticed already, this play seems to perfectly highlight Michigan’s offensive weaknesses. Having Lewan pull puts Michigan’s most reliable blocker outside his comfort zone, and having Funchess tight to the formation probably draws a safety toward the box without providing another blocker. And while it’s a pretty good bet that Glasgow and Schofield can execute their blocks on this play, expecting Williams to reach block a SDE and for Miller & Kalis to get movement on Hageman are much dicier propositions. For these reasons, I don’t think we’re likely to see this play again any time soon—and that’s why I’ve only included it here as just a “bonus” play. Then again, who knows?
When Minnesota has the ball…
Pistol Midline Option
Since I remembered 2012 Minnesota as pretty much a full-on spread unit, I was a bit surprised to see them repeatedly line up in I-form sets—often with multiple tight ends—against UNLV and try to establish a power running game. That didn’t really work. But Minnesota did begin to have success once they shifted into pistol and shotgun formations and began running spread option stuff again. Probably their most successful play was this midline read out of the pistol, which is starting to show up all over college and even pro football. This play resembles the inverted veer except that the QB options off the B-gap defender (the 3-tech, in a base; if the B-gap defender attacks the tailback, the QB pulls and proceeds outside; if the B-gap defender does anything else, the QB hands off to the tailback (who proceeds downhill into the B-gap).
The best way to defend this play is with a “gap exchange” between the 3-tech and the MLB. That is, instead of coming straight upfield and getting optioned-off, the 3-tech should bash the offensive guard into the A-gap and keep the MLB clean. The MLB can then flow over top of the 3-tech and fill the B-gap. The SAM, meanwhile, must beat the TE’s block and set an edge point (2 yards outside, 2 yards upfield) to force a QB keeper back inside.
WDE Frank Clark: Shed block of LT Marek Lenkiewicz, backside pursuit, “fence” play inside
NT Quinton Washington: Defeat single-block of C John Christenson, hopefully forcing LG Zac Epping to double (and keeping Epping from getting to WLB James Ross)
3T Jibreel Black: Quickly recognize that he is being optioned off; engage RG Caleb Bak (keeping him from getting to MLB Desmond Morgan) and constrict the right-side A-gap
SDE Keith Heitzman: Defeat reach block of RT Josh Campion; defend C gap
WLB James Ross: Defeat block of LG Zac Epping, assure no cutback lane through backside B-gap; pursue
MLB Desmond Morgan: Scrape over Black to fill B-gap
SLB Brennen Beyer: Defeat reach block of TE Drew Goodger; set edge 2 yards deep, 2 yards outside and (if QB Phillip Nelson keeps) force run back inside
Black and Morgan are experienced players who should make reliable reads, and Michigan’s NTs should regularly demand double-teams. If Black can effectively engage Minnesota’s RG despite Black’s size disadvantage, then Michigan should consistently close down the middle against this play. Beyer (and Cam Gordon) should not struggle to set the edge against Minnesota’s young tight ends, and Minnesota’s tailbacks are not particularly threatening.
Against UNLV, the Gophers must have run this same simple passing play at least ten times, albeit from numerous formations and with varied personnel groups. Shown here from the pistol in a 3-WR set, the play is designed to hi-lo the flat defenders on either side of the field.
Of course, the natural danger with continuously throwing outs is that a DB will eventually jump one of the routes and intercept it—with a good chance of a big return. Minnesota deterred UNLV defenders from jumping the outs by also running a fair number of go routes, back-shoulder fades, and “scissor” patterns (in which the outside receiver runs a post, crossing with a slot receiver running a corner). The Gophers also like to sometimes send the tailback on a wheel route underneath the pattern.
BCB Raymon Taylor: Defend the deep third (>15 yards) zone on the boundary side from the sideline to the hash against SE Isaac Fruechte
NCB Blake Countess: Defend the flat on the boundary side vs. slot receiver Derrick Engel
ILB James Ross: Defend the middle short ¼ zone on the boundary side
MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend the middle short ¼ one on the field side
FCB Delonte Hollowell: Defend the deep 1/3 zone on the field side from the sideline to the hash against TE Maxx Williams
SS Thomas Gordon: Defend the flat on the field side against FL Donovahn Jones
FS Jarrod Wilson: Defend deep middle 1/3 zone
DE Frank Clark: Pressure QB Phillip Nelson, defeat RT Josh Campion
DT Jibreel Black: Pressure QB Phillip Nelson, defeat C John Christenson, RG Caleb Bak
DT Chris Wormley: Pressure QB Phillip Nelson; defeat LG Zac Epping
DE Brennan Beyer: Pressure QB Phillip Nelson; defeat LT Marek Lenkiewicz
Michigan’s pass rush has been inconsistent all season, and this will probably be the second-best offensive line they’ll have faced (after ND). OTOH, the best pass rush performance M has shown this season came in their last game—and the The secondary has looked consistently good. Perhaps most importantly, QB Phillip Nelson is coming off an injury and isn’t a particularly skilled passer to begin with, and while WR Isaac Freuchte has some skills the Gophers are not exactly tripping MPLS air raid sirens.
Based on the foregoing, Michigan will win obvs. Note: I'm not sure I'll have time to get another one of these out by Penn State week, so I'd be interested to know whether folks whether folks would prefer I do the next one on State, Nebraska, or Northwestern. Thanks for reading!
Didn't Iowa manhandle Minnesota last night? They may have been 4-0 in their out of conference, but they're 0-1 in conference and now 4-1 overall.
Thanks for letting me know. I wrote that part a while ago and didn't realize Minnesota played yesterday, so I'll have to update it.
As much as opposing teams can smell blood in the water after our last two efforts, the team that put up 59 points in the opener and played pretty well against ND is also in the back of their minds.
Which Michigan team will show up this Saturday?
UofM wins big, to much time for UofM coaching staff not to fix some of maize blues wowed. UofM 41 Minn 24.
I'll be surprised if Minn scores 24 (unless, of course, we commit a million turnovers again). Their offense is pretty bad.
I think it's time to start tossing to Fitz and Norfleet on the wheel routes coming out of the backfield once we've cleared the area with wrs running deep patterns and, of course, the TE to the side we'r throwing to by pulling the responsible lber inside away from the side we're tossing to. Fitz has demonstrated on a couple of occasions how much better he is in open space and that's merely on a flare route. Give him and Dennis the ball when they have some forward momentum and their escapability in open space should result in substantial gains. End of paragraph so I guess I'm done:-)
I'd much rather see this against Northwestern than State or Nebraska, unless you're going to show how we'll handle the double A-gap blitz MSU uses.
Great stuff, although I don't see us running that trap play. I'd love it if we did, but I don't think we have yet, and I'm not sure we will.
I would LOVE to see more "Harbaugh" style whams and traps. Not sure why we don't use them, other than they are technically difficult.
I guess I would vote for Northwestern also because they honestly scare me more than anyone else we play this year. They have impressive passing schemes that would be fun to dissect. A play that I'd like to see Micigan run is the Ol' Student Body play where you pull 4 of the 5 lineman and create a wave of destruction. The comment earlier about Lombardi and "sealing the backside with pure force" reminds me of playing against teams that ran that play at me (middle linebacker) effectively. Maybe Heiko can suggest it???
I'm just a young football coach in Canada that's just starting out, so I don't claim to know everything about schemes or anything. So my suggestions here might not even be useful. However, I don't think that's how the opposing defenses would really be lining up against some of the offenses that you showed us (Michigan) running.
For example, in the tackle trap play, who would be the force player to the strong side? Would it be a safety (not shown in the diagram)? If not, we would just run stretches or tosses all day against that alignment. We have two players aligned outside of their furthest edge player. They'd be absolutely killed if we tried to attack the edge just based on alignment alone.
I could understand that there could be a safety there, so I'm just looking for clarification because it's difficult to understand without the proper context. The other reason I could see them being aligned like this in the picture is just because it's difficult to be precise when using programs to draw up plays like this. The reason I think it is important to note and possibly correct something like this is because it changes the blocks that would have to be made. For example, if the strongside end is outside of Williams to have some sort of edge control, Williams no longer has to make a difficult reach block, which drastically changes what your expectations on how well the play could work out for us.
Again, I appreciate the work you put in, I'm just looking for clarification. Thanks.
The alignment issue on the tackle trap/tackle power play was something that several people noticed when I posted that play on the board for discussion a few weeks ago. My diagram might be a bit imprecise, but I basically just stuck the LBs where CMU had them and raised the question of whether it was a problem that nobody took the SAM. Since that was the question on my mind at the time, I really wasn't thinking about how the diagram could be confusing because of other issues.
Anyway, here's a screen-shot of the pre-snap alignment on that play against CMU.
The boundary corner is lined-up outside Funchess, and then the SS is just behind the SAM.
If Funchess were a WR, then I think normally in this situation the SAM would have primary force (on an outside run to the boundary) and the CB would have secondary? Funchess is a TE, of course, but maybe this is CMU just treating him like a WR? I don't understand the concept of look-force all that well but could there maybe be some kind of switch between the SAM and one of the DBs? Maybe CMU is just misaligned (on that point, this also seems like a good frame to revisit the bubble screen question)?
In retrospect I probably shoud have put the boundary CB on the diagram too, but I guess I thought he was too far outside the box to include him and besides, he didn't seem relevant to a power-type play going in the opposite direction.
Anyway, I certainly appreciate your comment. I am by no means an expert on any of this stuff, but I am learning an awful lot by reading the comments and seeing what I got right and what I got wrong.
It makes a lot more sense seeing the receivers and defensive backfield. The reason I had difficulty understanding is because I was thinking "well if you have 2 corners covering 2 receivers, plus 2 safeties, who has the edge?" The assumption that I made incorrectly is that they would have a corner on each receiver (if the slot receiver at the top was at the bottom of the screen, they'd have to do this). Great point on the bubble screen issue, because we're allowing them to keep 9 guys near the box to stuff the run. If they have to walk their WILL out to the slot or have their boundary corner come across the formation to cover the slot, then we gain a numbers advantage in the box. If they walk the WILL out, that's one less block to make on the play you drew up. If they walk the boundary corner over, they have to adjust on the strong side of the line to have another force guy, and if they walk the safety that's over our slot receiver up, then we can go over the top on them. THROW THE BUBBLE!
As far as the precise alignment of the players in the diagram, I personally think it looks like the SDE is head up on Williams, which makes that an easier block on the tackle trap/power play. It looks like the tackles are in a 1-tech on the weak side and 3-tech on the strong side, which would lead me to believe that the SDE would be head up or outside shade of Williams (looks head up). Tough to tell for sure though from the camera angle.
I dont think trap is the answer as we are struggling with interior line play. If you think the defense has a player who is really good, or perhaps unbockable, dont waste 2 players to block him. Dont even try to block him. Read him. Make him the handoff key. Take him out of the play with the QB read and play 10 on 10.
Second... just because a defender chases a motion player doesnt mean its man coverage and just the opposite is true if he doesnt chase. This is over simplifying and could get the qb in trouble.