It wasn't so long ago that we had an interesting offense full of lowly recruited who-dats that would spread you out and infuriate opposing defensive coordinators. At least until we committed a few turnovers and fell apart in the second half.
But now we've returned to the pre spread and shred days. Now we've got an offense that can grind out the clock when needed. And now we've got a defense that can come up with the crucial stops and force critical turnovers. I think this game finally proved that we're not the same team as last year or the year before. Because this is exactly the kind of game we would have lost back then, i.e. it was a conference game against a team with a pulse.
But lets not start celebrating a division title just yet. Next week will be the toughest challenge yet and we've got lots of problems we need to correct.
It does bode well that we seemed to address many of the problems in the 2nd half, but let's take a moment to understand what went wrong in that first half.
1st half Denard
He's not a tailback playing QB. But he is still a young QB who makes bad reads sometimes. All three of his interceptions were due to him not reading zone coverage.
His first INT is probably the worst of the misreads. #45 is an OLB covering the slot, he's not going to be man to man with Jr. The free safety is drifting back at the snap, and the corners are playing off. I really don't understand how Denard could read this as anything other than a soft zone. And if he read it that way and threw it anway, then it's a terrible throw. The lack of a bubble screen is still bugging me as this play would have picked up an easy 5 or more yards with a good block on 2nd down.
Even without the bubble screen, Roundtree is wide open for the sideline hitch, but Denard is locked in on Jr. probably because he'd already hit him for one jump ball.
The 2nd INT was on a QB dive OH NOES! except NW had the right defense called.
When Denard looks to the right, he sees the safety has walked up, but if he had looked to the left, he would have seen zone coverage.
Denard starts towards the line, but the TE releases quick. The safety must have done a good job in film study, because he starts backing off to get into his zone.
Denard gets some pressure right in his face, which probably contributed to the pick, but the main point here is that the TE is supposed to drive off the safety to free up Vincent on the wheel route. This doesn't work if the safety is playing zone.
So with the ball in the air, and not much zip on it thanks to the pressure, the safety has an easy job of coming off the TE to get the pick. I think putting Koger on a steeper angle, more like a slant or a true post instead of this skinny post will make the read easier for Denard.
The third INT was due to Denard getting locked in on his man, not surveying the field, and not reading the safeties. He also had a terrible underthrow.
Before the snap, this looks like a straight up cover two. The playside CB moves up late.
Denard thinks he's in man and gets all excited when the WR zooms past him. But the CB has flat responsibilities on this play.
Because the ball is badly underthrown, there was some debate about whether it was really an overthrow to Jr. I hope not, because Jr. is bracketed with double coverage. I think Denard is staring down the outside fly route. But because he's looking that way the whole time, he's pulled the safety into perfect position for the INT.
Denard also had one more throw that should have been intercepted.
This pop pass to Koger was delivered too high and with too much steam. Too much adrenaline. This is a bad no-no.
I'm not worried about the jump balls, so long as we're actually getting man coverage. Especially against the kinds of athletes Northwestern fields in its secondary, our WR ought to outfight most DB's for an underthrown jumpball. I am worried that if we try it too much against the likes of MSU or TSIO that have B1G caliber DBs, it'll blow up in our faces.
ND has good athletes at CB, but we showed it could work against half of them. Gary Gray got exposed, but Robert Blanton had a nearly soul crushing pick and another pass break up. I haven't studied MSU's DB's enough to see which are vulnerable, but hopefully Denard and Borges have. The game could easily turn on whether or not we get a couple of TD's or a couple of INT's on the jump balls.
1st half option woes
The defense wasn't looking very good in the first half either. When people talk about a return to the Lloyd Carr days, I hope that doesn't include an inability to stop the option. You hear it said all the time (because it's true) that stopping the option comes down to communication and being responsible on the edges. We didn't do a very good job of either of those things in the first half.
On Northwestern's first TD, they come out with a covered (and thus inelligible) slot receiver. This probably means it's going to be a run, because we're too close to the endzone for most double pass plays. The corners have to recognize this and be screaming at the far side OLB that he doesn't have support. (Really Ryan should recognize this on his own, but in the heat of battle, it really helps to get those cloud/eagle calls, or whatever we call them. Kovacs bears some responsibility for this miscommunication too.
At the snap, both MLB's get sucked in by the dive. Ideally, if you know the option is coming at you, Ryan should be drifting wider, Hawthorne should be scraping C gap and trying to get to the QB, leaving Demens with the dive and pursuit. I feel like in a split back situation, Hawthorne needs to be reading both backs, instead, he's only keyed in on the frontside back. That's fine, but it means Demens has a much harder task to follow the option man to the edge.
So yeah, all three of our LB's are blocked and Colter sees a lot of empty grass between him and the endzone
Kovacs almost saves our bacon on the play, but Colter puts a nice move on him.
And our other safety is way too far away to help out.
This next option play is from a trips formation.
I feel like Demens should slide over a bit against this formation. He's going to be in zone coverage on this play anyway.
NW runs the speed option from the pistol. The playside tackle pulls out and hauls ass to seal the edge and get to the 2nd level. This leaves RVB free, because he's the man that Colter is going to option. Demens is a little slow to react.
Mike Martin does an excellent job of beating his man on the slant, if RVB had seen that, he should have gone more upfield and tried to get in between the QB and pitchman letting Mike clean up the QB. The two slot WRs double down on the nickelback.
#5 Mark is actually a CB doing some double duty, he easily outruns Martin and RVB. Because of his late start, Demens gets blocked by the tackle.
He does get held, which wasn't called.
Mark ran through some arm tackles and picked up a huge gain. Gordon has to do a better job of fighting through his blocker to make the tackle.
This next option is from the Colt 45 (what I call the heavy pistol).
The FB is really more of a secondary threat, as I think this play is designed to disguise the standard belly dive. This is also designed as a key buster, because normally it's the FB who takes the dive fake and the TB who goes into pitch relationship.
I think Hawthorne is reading the FB which is why he takes himself out of this play.
Kovacs is in no mans land because he has to respect the option pitch.
Give credit to NW's O-line who opened up a nice hole, although it does look like #76 is getting away with a bit of a hold. J.T. is not in run support on this play.
So we end up giving up a pretty big play to the first man through, but the first man through was the tailback. If you're looking for a silver lining, check out the pursuit. That's 5 guys who haven't given up on the play and it's this kind of thing that keeps a 20 yard play from turning into a TD. And if the ball happens to get knocked out, then we've got a lot of guys around it to fall on any potential fumbles.
On their 2nd TD, we've got pretty good alignment to stop the play
If you play a lot of DE against the option, you learn how to outside shade the QB so that you can bait him into keeping it and then collapse back into him and the pursuit. If he pitches it, you end up in good position to clog up any cutbacks. RVB runs a little too directly at the QB (and he looked gassed at the end of this long drive). The safety is in good position to make the tackle, but the DB's have to shed their blocks as soon as they sense linemen drive blocking (this is where people shouting RUUUUUN! RUUUUN! helps).
Floyd is getting pushed way too far back for this redzone play. And Carvin takes a bad angle and doesn't break down to make a solid tackle.
So he overruns the cutback.
Northwestern, who sees the option a lot in practice, shows you how you're supposed to defend it.
Their in a base 4-3 against this splitback slot. But the OLB is flexed way out to help with the zone coverage.
Both the Mike and the Sam read option and start flowing playside.
Hopkins doesn't sell his fake very well on this play. Huyge does a good job of scraping off his man, but he doesn't get to the LB who is on his horse, having correctly recognized the play.
The DE goes to Denard to force the pitch, but OLB has kept discipline and is playing the pitchman (who didn't get a good pitch relationship to Denard).
The Mike easily beats Huyge's block and Denard just has to eat it.
But the good news is that when it counts, our defense stopped a huge 4th down option because Kovacs is all heart and smarts.
Roh does a great job of playing outside shoulder on the TE and forcing the pitch. Morgan does an ok job of taking on the FB, which leaves Kovacs to clean up the pitchman. He didn't wrap up, but he took out the ball carrier's legs and he get a huge turnover on downs.
If you're a Northwestern fan, I can understand why you might be upset after that game. But on closer inspection I think the refs did a better job than it appeared on first blush. (Better than the announcers)
Let's start with one that went your way.
On 1st down, Colter gets tackled with 40 seconds on the clock, and you've got a T.O. that you don't take. O.k. w/e. Maybe you can get to the line and get off another play quickly...
BUT you DIDN'T. The ball isn't snapped until there's only 12 seconds left. That's pretty bad clock management.
And you're lucky to have those 2 seconds to try a field goal. Watching it live, I thought the clock had expired. Remember, it's not basketball, the clock doesn't stop until the ref signals it to stop. I've seen lots of games end this way, because it takes the ref a second or two to wave his arms and then for the clock operator to push the button. In this case, you can see that the ref made his incomplete signal with a second (not two) still on the clock.
Now let's look at one that went our way.
Gordon and Demens have stood up Ebert after NW had been killing us on bubble screens. Gordon strips the ball even though Ebert has two hands wrapped around it. You can see that the ball is coming out before his knee has hit the ground.
And Brian, please stop saying that fumble recoveries are mostly luck and are 50-50 as to who recovers them. Some fumbles are. But the ones that aren't tip the scales. Here we've got 5 guys hustling towards the ball versus one guy who is going to have a mountain of defenders on him and another guy who is flat footed. The odds for us recovering this fumble were very high.
And I almost feel sorry for this guy. He had a great game. It wasn't good enough to beat us, but it was a good effort.
Both of those plays look like good calls to me. The only one I think you've got a fair complaint on is the helmet removal.
Kovacs is coming on a delayed blitz (which, those are some big balls Mr. Mattison) on this all important 4th down.
Because Persa ducked, it doesn't look like a facemask from this angle. Just the friction of the defender's body can often remove a helmet in a situation like this.
But on the slow-mo replay you can see his hand in the grill.
And on this frame you can see that Kovacs actually Goatse'd the thing off with both hands, one in the facemask and one under the ear pad.
So I don't blame you if you felt like this. That's a pretty likeable coach turning Brian Kelly Red (Kudos to the liveblog commentator who came up with that). Howeva, to quote a quote:
Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.
The helmet came off pretty quickly, so it's hard to fault the refs. But I'm of the opinion that slightly less prideful officials might have huddled up, sneaked a peak at the big screen and then quietly dropped a flag. Flag coach Fitz, but also Kovacs, assess the liveball penalty, then march it back 15 for the deadball penalty, 1st and 10 Northwestern, but at the same LoS.
And lastly, we've got the interception by Hawthorne.
From the front angle it looked like he got his hand under the ball.
But from the back angle it looks like the tip of the ball hit the ground and the ball moved. This is the kind of play that is inconclusive and would have gone whatever way it was called on the field. So I guess we got lucky on that one.
Depending on who you believe, it was either because the old jersey's are tighter, or because the new jersey's rip too easily. Either way, our D-line was being held a lot and not getting the calls.
Mike Martin is still awesome (when not getting held).
Good Shaw: getting to the pylon ala Chris Perry
That DE can't match his speed.
And Gallon gets an excellent block.
Bad Shaw; juking a man that has been pancaked.
The play got about 7 yards, but it could have been much more. Seriously stop dancing when you don't need to. This is the kind of thing that Nick $aban would cut you for, just so he could recruit another 5* freshman to replace your indecisive ass with.
The BTN is still more of a mickey mouse operation than the mickey mouse network.
Good stuff....I cant believe I am going to say this because this was a good read and pretty extensive....BUT, would have been nice to see some breakdowns of the D Formation we came out with the in the second half
Ryan in over the slot....in the first half, he played sparingly and only at DE and Thomas Gordon was always lined up directly over the slot
But, in the second half Ryan was put out there as a wide, wide OLB of sorts over the slot and he either flowed in to stop the option or flowed more to the outside on those bubble screens. The inability to block him effectively let Demens and Gordon get a free shot at Ebert, forcing that turnover
Loved this diary. I should be hushed for even suggesting I wish it had more stuff in it. Thanks, Blue Seoul
I said earlier in the year that I wasn't going to focus as much on system stuff for our team and save that kind of analysis for scouting reports. I think a 28-0 shutout in the 2nd half says everything you need to know about our 2nd half adjustments and our coordinators. <3.
BlueSeoul, your contributions are very much appreciated! The frames showing the defenders not giving up are outstanding and the frame showing Shaw juke the pancaked defender made me laugh. I was like, WTF, just hold onto the ball and run downhill!
(Also, I about threw my TV remote through the television during those technical difficulties.)
I found it interesting that you mentioned on multiple occassions about our DBs needing to come off blocks to stop the option. While watching the game I felt like their WR would grab the jerseys of our DBs and never let go. I realize that some of this happens all the time, but it seemed pretty blatant without a call. Maybe you can work some of your screen-shot magic and show some views of this. I think that goes a long way toward explaining why they couldn't make those tackles.
Also, I strongly second the request for an analysis of the alignment correction made in the second half to help shut this down.
Finally, I thought the refs were equally bad both ways. There was a holding call on Huyge that I swear was just him shoving a guy to the ground without a jersey grab at all and it totally negated a big gain.
I couldn't get the first half on TV, but the radio announcers (our radio announcers) made it sound like we were being held all over the place - our D-linemen and our DBs, particularly on the screens.
The pictures you have of Kovacs are blurry enough so that they do not convince me that he grabbed the facemask; it looks like the helmet almost landed on him and that he reflexively grabbed at it after it was already off. I have also heard people say he did not have it strapped properly, which would increase the chance of friction removing it. What Fitzgerald did was probably enough to get him thrown out as well as penalized, regardless of whether the call was correct.
As to the interception, having seen umpteen replays, it still looks more like an interception than not.
The only really strange calls I have seen went against us 100% - phantom holding calls that negated our gains and no-calls on NW plays where the holding was usually clear and in at least one instance right in front of the official and blatant.
But in the end we won.
Harbaugh football is not just "hit 'em in the mouth." There are sophisticated strategies, but they all serve a physical approach. As a defender, you know that after all the deception, someone big is going to run into you.
I really enjoy an extra perspective to Brian's. I didn't notice the holding as much when I watched it. In addition to complaining to the ref's the players need to still take action to come off the block. Doing so dramatically displays the holding, and that is when it gets called. Even when you're getting held you can still drive the blocker if you are stronger, and if they cling after you attempt to shed them, that is very easy to spot.