"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
"The experience he has from last year is starting to show," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. "He’s making shots, and he made some gutsy plays against Portland. He’s got a confidence about him that he can get the job done."
Conference play has come, and Big Ten teams can safely retreat to their thunderdomes to clobber each other in peace, insulated from the braying mockery of the national media. There is still upheaval. Michigan has fallen apart. Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke have been confined to the Touliers Palace.
Immediately after the game, I was struggling to come up with a thru-line for what had just happened. But then Brian posted "Defensive Annhilation Muppets" and then the video of Mattison getting emotional surfaced. And for a moment I thought, 'you guys are over-reacting. Illinois does not have a good offense'. I like when coaches just give coachspeak. But then I thought about the last three years and yeah, it makes sense. The difference in emotion between Chip Kelly's comments and Mattison's are where you're starting from.
A couple of years from now, a win like this will only be notable for constructive criticism. There were a lot of bad plays that need to be corrected. But given the circumstances of where we were last year and what we were expected to be this year and the fact that we're 8-2 with a decent chance of picking up at least one more win and a very small chance of getting to 11 wins, emotional celebration is more than appropriate.
What a difference a week makes!
Al Borges didn't have a great game against Iowa, and I pointed that out. He had a much better gameplan this week. I don't know if he or anyone close to him reads blogs or not, but he responded to several very specific criticisms leveled here last week.
Holding the backside DE
I mentioned something about a lack of reverses.
Thanks Al! Odoms is coming from his slot position to take an end around fake. Not only did it hold the backside OLB and prevent the DE from crashing down on Denard, it also froze the MLB just enough for Fitz to run right by him.
But that wasn't the only trick up Al's sleeve. He pulled out another wrinkle from the Richrod days.
One of the problems with protecting Denard and limiting his carries is that the DE that you're optioning on the zone read doesn't have to respect the keep and is free to chase the TB. But here we see Koger coming from his H-back wing to block #9.
The O-line is getting good lateral movement and both Denard and Koger are eliminating defenders from the pursuit.
One caveat is that their safeties were pretty bad (someone mentioned they had backups in the game). #5 has badly misread this play, and he's too slow to catch Fitz anyway. Meanwhile, if you wonder how a guy can get over 100 yards in the first quarter, you can bet he's breaking tackles. This arm tackle didn't even slow him down.
This arm tackle slowed him down,
but it didn't stop him.
So Fitz had about 45 yards of YAC from the first arm tackle and then about another 15 yards of super YAC downfield.
The offense as a whole had a much better day (despite some derpiness in the 2nd and 3rd quarters). The O-line was doing a great job with the zone blocking in the first quarter and opened up some nice running lanes.
Here we've got Hopkins blocking the DE from his FB position instead of Koger, but the result is about the same. Gallon cracks down on his man and Omameh does a good job scraping off the double team and getting to the linebacker.
Huyge takes his man where he wants to go and it opens up a nice line.
On this next play, there's only 5 in the box because the OLB's are out on the slot receivers.
Molk does an excellent job of tracking down his man and we've got a hat on a hat.
The Zen of zone blocking is you just get on your man and take him away from the play using his own impetus. Of course you need a guy like Fitz back there who is patient enough and has good vision to see the hole developing.
Even though the OLB crashes down for contain, he's nowhere near Fitz and Denard has read him properly. If this were the pros Fitz would be owing five really large guys a nice dinner for this play.
The Numbers Game
We had some issues in the red zone last week. Part of that is due to Iowa's talent on the D-line and part of it is having Denard sitting in the pocket or handing off or otherwise not putting pressure on the defense to account for him.
If this were a normal pitch play or off-tackle dive, it would've been completely stuffed because they've got more defenders than we've got blockers on the playside. But when Denard keeps it, we've got an even matchup and Denard just has to pick his way through and find a hole.
But what really makes this play work is that Omameh gets a great cut block, upending his man. Now we've got 6 blockers against their 5 defenders and Denard with no one to track him down.
Omameh's block freed up Molk to get on the pursuing linebacker and the result is an easy touchdown for shoelace.
So what happened in the 2nd Quarter? Well let's compare to a play where we don't have a numbers advantage.
They've got 9 defenders in the box with both safeties playing up. If Denard has the freedom to audible (or we had gotten to the line with more than 8 seconds so that the coaches could call a check play #misshightempo), then he should be throwing a fade or "z out" to Roundtree at the bottom of the screen. We've got 9 in the box, but because we're in I form, the defense doesn't have to account for the QB (as his first 5 steps are backwards).
The play is a lead draw. The line shows pass blocking and then the center or whoever is free is supposed to head upfield after a couple beats. But this call means that Illinois has a lot of unblocked defenders. It doesn't help that Molk misreads the defense and doesn't scrape off to one of the linebackers. This means that Hopkins has three unblocked people he has to choose from. If Denard had been running, then both Hopkins and Fitz would have hit the MLBs so Denard would just have to juke the safety to get in the endzone.
Instead, Hopkins gets one LB and the other stuffs Fitz for a loss with both safeties racing up to make sure he doesn't fall forward.
[ed: follow the jump.]
I think the entire blogosphere was complaining about the Denard jet sweep formation, and it didn't rear its ugly head this week. That might just be because we didn't need it, or we didn't get to it before Denard got hurt.
Either way, I'm not against having Devin and Denard on the field at the same time. We just can't get predictable with it.
We still haven't seen a bubble screen yet, but at least there was a tunnel screen and RB screen (that got blown'd up). But it's good, we need something to keep people from tee-ing off on Denard on passing downs. I still want the bubble screen as part of the zone read package, but if we can accomplish the same thing with blocking and reverses, then I'm happy.
Just as I have been exempted from Diarist of the Week, Mike Martin's awesomeness can be expected week to week. So let's focus on some other guys.
In the NFL, you see a lot more crazy things on defense because all the players are elite athletes and your DE's are actually decent in pass coverage, and your nose tackle runs a 4.6 forty. Mattison has had to find a happy medium between doing crazy and just looking crazy.
This looks pretty crazy. But it's not. It's more like a dare. On 3rd and 10, anything between zero and nine yards is just fine with us. It's very tempting to throw a short route to the left, but Mattison is betting on Floyd being able to come up and make the tackle short of the sticks. And having all 7 up front on the line achieves two things. It confuses the blocking assignments and it invites a dive audible.
Steelehouse takes the bait and audibles to a dive to the left. But the linebackers are peeling off at the snap. So it's really a base defense; it just looks like an all out blitz. Gotchya!
Later in the game, we get a nice sack by RVB on this same look.
Since Mike Martin is our best D-linemen and fairly athletic, Mattison was moving him around (even dropping him in coverage a couple of times) so that he's not getting double teamed all the time. On this play, Martin is lined up at DE so RVB has to take on the double team.
Which he manages to split through.
And Sheelhats has to run for his life. Martin also beat his block and would have cleaned up if Sheilhaas had run the other way.
Kovacs, feeling healthier.
Good to have our weekly big play from Kovacs back again.
He put his helmet right on the ball and T-Gord was there to fall on it.
Floyd had a good game.
J.T. Floyd has had an up and down career so far. The first time I noticed him was from the "We can has functional DB's?!?!" game against Notre Dame from a few years ago. But then he had games like against Penn State last year. This year he's been much better on average, although I've been critical of his run support and ability (inability) to shed WR blocks. He did not have a good game in coverage against McNutt and Iowa last week.
And people were worried about him matching up with 60% of Illinois' receiving yards. But he had a good game all around (wind assisted?) and capped it off with this interception (which the liveblog totally willed into existence, it's quantum physics, YO!). The recognition is the key, but he jabs his foot in the ground and really drives hard on the ball.
That's 5 yards covered in not very much time. So he gets at least a couple of imaginary helmet stickers for this game.
Jake Ryan is growing up fast.
So Jake Ryan is still an underclassman and he's made a lot of mistakes on contain, but talk about upside! He's got that quick first step and a high rev motor. And he's just getting better every week.
Aside from Martin and RVB, Ryan is the next biggest reason for our success in short yardage situations. On this play, Illinois comes out in a power set and motions the H-back to the weak side. It's pretty obvious that they want to attack the bubble between Martin and RVB.
The play is what we used to call a 35 Power Iso. The O-line is just following gap rules with no pulling. The tailback takes the handoff and will cut back to follow the two lead blockers. Both Demens and Morgan are attacking the LOS at the snap. Jake is unblocked because it's assumed he won't get to the play in time since he's on the backside.
Martin and Heimerdinger both get good penetration which cuts of the frontside and Ford's first read. Jake is crashing down hard.
The O-line has done a good job to get onto the linebackers, but since Jake is so fast, he hits the RB deep in the backfield. Demens also does a good job of fighting off the double team.
Jake sticks the RB and both Martin and RVB have shed their blockers to clean up the play and prevent the pile from moving forward.
That's the definition of a gang tackle.
From the endzone view we can see the nice form tackle Jake puts on the RB. He puts a shoulder in his stomach and wraps up with both arms.
I used to have a coach that loved to say, "if you're going to make a mistake, do it at full speed". On this next option play, no one is making a mistake, but Jake is certainly going full speed.
Illinois is in the Colt 45 and Ryan is lined up over the slot man. But a late shift by Kovacs shows that Jake has contain.
But when he sees Steelhash open up for the option, he attacks so fast that I'm not sure if it was a called blitz or not.
It probably was a called blitz, but still, he executes so fast that he runs right by the block of the slot receiver and makes the FB crap his pants. Kovacs does what you expect a smart player to do and covers the pitchman.
That's called "forcing the pitch." This is a bad play by the FB who should have let Jake go and blocked Kovacs. But it's hard to ignore that runaway semi that crosses your face as a lead blocker. Meanwhile, Martin has beaten his blocker, because of course he has, and is pursuing down the line to eat up any cutbacks.
But this last play really shows how Jake has matured through the season.
It's just your standard zone read option. But this play is designed to make the man in Jake's position always be wrong. If you cheat the TB, the QB is supposed to keep. If you stay outside, the QB gives. Simple. And Jake has been beaten on this play several times this year. But here he gets close enough to the mesh point that he's able to chase down either option for minimal gain. Speed kills.
Sheelhats keeps the ball and Jake does a great job of breaking down into a football stance and turns with him. He's running fast, but under control.
Jake drags the QB down for a loss. Meanwhile JT has done a good job of beating his blocker (finally) and would have cleaned up even if Jake had missed the tackle.
So Jake is becoming a much more consistent player to go with his athleticism. It's going to be fun watching him for the next 3 (I hope) years. Now if only Hawthorne could get his head screwed on right, we could use his athleticism too.
I propose we hire Bob Knight
And his only responsibility will be to yell at the refs. It's becoming like a broken record, but god damn, can we get a call? Last week we couldn't get a pass interference, this week our D-line couldn't get a holding call.
None of those were called. At least it didn't cost us the game this week, but sheesh!
I mean, there's TWO players getting held on this play.
And I have no idea how they didn't see that.
Did either offense really want to win?
There was an unusually high level of derpiness from both teams.
4th and goal from the 1 is a really bad time for a low snap.
And then there was the Fumble/Interception after Shaw's backwards run (more on this later)
At first I thought it was Huyge's fault for getting owned, but It's really on Omameh and whoever didn't call out the blitz pickup assignments. Patrick needed to either stay with the double team and let Vince get the blitzer or get a bigger hit on the DE before switching off.
Instead, #99 gets a free release inside of Huyge.
This is what's called a "Look Out!" block. It sounds silly, but yes, you really are supposed to yell "LOOK OUT!" so that the QB knows to put away the ball. It's the difference between a turnover and a long field goal attempt.
Illinois wasn't immune to bad snaps either.
And it was contagious. Hey, those QB's really are similar.
This last one is by a defender, but it takes the cake.
Good Shaw, Bad Shaw part 2
After the Purdue game, I was really hoping that Mike Shaw had turned a corner. And his first couple of runs on Saturday seemed to confirm that.
On this sweep, the defenders are cheating outside (probably because they watched film and saw #20 come in and everyone started yelling "OUTSIDE, OUTSIDE!"). So there's just the tiniest bit of daylight between McClogan and Scholfield (who does a nice job of peeling back to get his block). But you only need 18 inches of daylight, Shaw sees it and zips through the gap.
It's not a glamorous play, but 5 yards on first down is nothing to sneeze at. You can win a lot of games by doing that all day.
But then he forgot which way was our endzone.
Here he gets the handoff with Odoms doing the fake reverse from before. But his route is terrible. Omameh got knocked down and Shaw bends back around him. Ideally, Shaw is supposed to be chasing down the tail of the tackle or the TE so that he can cut off the block no matter which way it goes.
Give some credit to the defenders for beating their blocks. At this point the play is dead. He can't bounce because the end is cheating outside. He can't cut up because Omameh got owned. He can't cut back because of the design of the play (unblocked defenders). So he should just cut his losses, put both hands on the ball, and drive into #94 hoping to get back to the LOS or maybe even pick up a yard or two.
Instead he cuts with his left foot and goes backwards another 5 yards for an 8 yard loss. ಠ_ಠ. Don't make a bad situation worse.
That was some .... interesting.... announcing from Ashton's little brother and Craig "I killed 5 hookers at SMU" James (a.k.a. Craig "I perjure myself for my wussy little daddy's boy" James) who couldn't stop talking about fannies. Some of our international viewers found that amusing. (In case you don't know what a fanny is)
Gallon was looking much better on punt returns (ya know, like, when he actually fielded them instead of letting them bounce around)
ESPN, NO! Stop! Using video games does not contribute ANYTHING to the analysis of a football game. Let's put aside the whole Uncanny Valley aspect of the soulless eyes and the unrealistic physics. How can you and EA argue that you're not exploiting "amateur" athletes for commercial gain? Are you really going to argue that the zombie below is NOT supposed to be Denard? That's gonna be hard when the announcers are CALLING HIM DENARD.
When Scheelhaase made that audible I immediately hit rewind and pointed out to the people I was watching with that Scheelhaase just got Mattison'd.
Do you think Scheelhaase thought everyone was going to drop into coverage and that the dive play would work like it did in the ND game? That was my interpretation.
The guys I was watching with were wondering if after Scheelhaase audibled, did the defense then check and switch to base? I didn't see any evidence of the defense making a check, but rather staying with the original play call.
Great play calling by Mattison all day. And thanks for the recap. I look forward to these every week.
I don't think it was a "check-check" situation, I haven't really seen that yet from our defense. And we did the exact same defense several times in the game, (albeit with different guys dropping into coverage)
I'm a little more forgiving with holding calls because there are 2 refs looking at 10-12 players in a massive pile-up. The lack of pass interference calls from the Iowa game is less understandable given that the players are out in space and should have 1-2 refs looking at 2 players.
Great analysis, as usual. I was hoping for a picture of Van Bergen riding Shielhouse (sp?) on one of his sacks.
In the Year of our Lord 2014, MGoUsers of Ann Arbor - well-fed and outnumbered - charged the comment fields of the Internet. They blogged like warrior poets; they blogged like Wolverines, and won their MGoPoints.
unforgivable. I was screaming at the TV on that one. Holding happens all over, but when it's so bad a WHITE jersey is stretched the length of 2-3 bodies, someone has to see it. The OL has given up so completely he's just grabbing anything. He knows he's getting penalized. The equivalent would be tackling a WR if you know you're beat, understanding you're getting the PI call. And then having no one throw the flag.
Entertaining and informative as usual. It'll be fascinating to see the UFR on the OL, especially Omameh. This game seemed to have the heaviest dose of zone blocking in a while. Of all the OL, Omameh has struggled most with the new schemes. In this game he had his good moments, not like last year running out on LB's, but like the one pictured here. Let's hope Borges sticks with the zone stuff. I don't know about Nebraska, but running power at Ohio seems like futility waiting to happen.
Awesome awesome stuff. But the first bit about the Fitz run, you had a photo of the arm tackle that "didn't even slow him down" followed by a shot of "this one slowed him down"..
They were the same tackle. And the main reason I bring this up is that I have a question. Does it seem like our Jerseys (which seem to fit tighter lately) still have like the best stick'em ever made on them?? This guy grabs the back of Fitz's jersy and instanly latches on from the most tenuous distance imaginable. It doesn't even look like he grabbed a fist full of jersey so mach as "palmed" some section of Fitz's back almost like a basketball. And he just sticks for like 10 yards while fitz drags him, giving #3 time to recover and pull him down 15 yards down field.
(not an I hate adidas thing as i actually like them)
I'm wondering if this is a combination of the gloves the DB's are wearing and the jersey material. I agree that it is almost like a velcro effect. No way that should have brought Fitz down. Those gloves are magic catching a football. Maybe the jersey material should be changed.
Please note that your link for the "Uncanny Valley" is not safe for work. The stripper would not have gone over well if anyone had been looking over my shoulder. Amazing how she just happened to be from the same town I'm in though...