FORMATION NOTES: Northwestern stuck to a 4-3 virtually the entire game, with pretty predictable rules as to how they would line up.
When Michigan aligned its strength to the short side of the field and had twins, NW would slide the LBs and play an even front. They would slide the LBs to the twins and shift their line to the strength of the formation when M aligned with their strength to the field.
When Michigan presented Ace, they would play a 4-3 under.
The primary exception to this was the redzone, where Northwestern played their safeties as extra LBs.
Five yards off the LOS and coming on the snap is why those two Derrick Green carries from around the ten ended up losing yards. The first one was actually blocked quite well.
Note that the way NW aligned consistently invited the bubble fake run game, as their corners played off and the slot LB had to respect the bubble. With a safety over the top those two guys removed three players from the box and left Michigan with seven on seven blocking opportunities without having to use the threat of Gardner's legs. It will still work if teams play Michigan like this; if they don't Michigan will have to find something else.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB, WR, and the OL were all as you would expect. Dileo seemed to return full strength in this one and this meant Jackson was removed. Paskorz got some early PT but it was Williams most of the way as inline blocky guy. The line remained Lewan/Bosch/Glasgow/Magnuson/Schofield save for some goal line plays on which Kalis game in at RG and weird stuff happened otherwise, like wing TE Taylor Lewan.
Running back was of course an overhaul, with Derrick Green getting the bulk of the work, De'Veon Smith becoming a 30% second, and Justice Hayes acting as a third down back sometimes. Joe Kerridge also got a few snaps as a running back in the shotgun on passes.
[After THE JUMP: wherein we seem relatively happy with nine points in regulation.]
Every time I post a play analysis these days there are a half-dozen people in the comments who mention that if player X did hard thing Y they are not prepared to do then the play would work. This has gotten to the point where I can explicitly prepare for such criticism and find them ignored, as in the most recent one, and find a diary on this site asserting that if player X did hard thing Y something would have worked.
This is extremely frustrating to me, because these are good-faith attempts to paint broader pictures of what I'm seeing down to down, game after game, year after year, as I try to figure out what Michigan football is doing. Various critics, most prominently Space Coyote, make a few small concessions and then go about explaining why play X was a good call and why it would have worked. They implicitly assert things like "Joe Kerridge in a ton of space should deviate from expecting Nebraska to use their slot LB as a force and ably block that guy when that LB believes the inverted veer is coming, has no need to respect the slot receiver because he is covered, and runs directly into Fitzgerald Toussaint."
I disagree with that. I have watched a lot of people play a lot of football and I think that's hard. I'm trying not to have a stance here; I am evaluating whether I think a thing is easy to do or hard and assigning a number to that feel. Coaches tend to think everything is an execution issue. Players should be able to do arbitrarily hard things. Some arrows on a diagram say this should work. Meanwhile I think there's a 10% chance for Kerridge to abort the plan and do anything with hell-for-leather blitzer and judge accordingly. Various guys dying on Borges Hill disagree.
I don't know what might be sufficient other than 175 yards against Nebraska to convince these guys that a poor offensive game plan can even exist, but here are various things that are normally too dull to post in a Picture Pages in which unblocked guys on blitzes obliterate Michigan runners for no or little gain.
These are representative of a larger slice of the game and a general feel that confirmed the Nebraska players' postgame assertions that they were expecting most of what Michigan threw at them. Tomorrow's Picture Pages will cover every play of the game, because this isn't going to work either.
Here is an iso. The slot LB is an eighth guy in the box and crashes down unblocked to tackle.
As this goes for three yards it qualifies as one of Michigan's best plays on the day on the ground. Three yards is not good on first and ten, and there was nothing Michigan could do about it.
Here is a zone play. Nebraska loads up and sends a blitz through a gap that Michigan doesn't pick up as Bosch ends up doubling with Lewan.
However, because of the blitz the only thing Bosch making a very good play to recognize and pick up the charging LB does is send Green to one of the two unblocked guys, either the backside guy ripping down the LOS without thought of checking the QB or a linebacker sitting two yards deep without anyone trying to get him, because Nebraska's blitz has prevented anyone from moving to the second level.
Here is a power play. Nebraska loads up with eight in the box and one deep safety and blitzes.
A Nebraska linebacker ends up shooting the gap behind the Bosch pull and meets Green in the backfield.
Michigan loses two yards and has third and eleven.
Oh for pants' sake.
The offensive line is not in fact overwhelmed here; they are not actually involved because Nebraska's blitz is perfect to destroy the inverted veer.
Items Of Interest
All of this is an execution issue, sure. For a given definition of execution, this is an execution issue. Michigan's hyper-raw OL should be able to block this. They should be able to deal with Nebraska switching gaps and blazing LBs to the point of attack. They should be able to block Nebraska's maniacal run-oriented loaded box. They would do this, if only they could execute.
Except the last one. And the first one. And probably the second and third.
Either you believe that players can be put in positions they can succeed or players are expected to succeed in the positions they are put in. I am in the former camp. The last few Borges defenders are in the latter camp. This entire season Space Coyote has been gamely explaining what should have happened on failed play after failed play without any thought to how difficult what should have happened is.
Players do not exist in a vacuum. Joe Kerridge is trying to block a guy in acres of space and that guy has the jump on him because he knows Funchess is covered, and he knows what Michigan's running. I look at that and I think "Jesus, I do not want to be Joe Kerridge there."
I am admittedly working from a hand-waving feel on this, but it's no worse a feel than whatever Space Coyote has gotten from doing whatever he does with whatever team at a totally different level of competition. I say Michigan puts their players in a spot to work miracles or die, and that this is on both the overall structure of the offense and the predictability of playcalls based on formations and down and distance. Space Coyote makes certain concessions to not seem totally insane and then goes back to hammering the fact that it's all execution.
Kerridge was put in a spot to fail, and did. I'm looking at the play and saying I believe there is a small chance that Kerridge can make a tough play in space; the guys in the comments think that because Kerridge could hypothetically have made a play none of this goes back to the folks in charge.
These plays. The above plays are no-chancers for the offense, because Michigan is running into the teeth of a defense stacked to stop the run and blitzing. In UFR lingo they acquired sizeable rock-paper-scissors minuses. In compensation Michigan got two screens which both got large RPS plus numbers, but the number of downs thrown away in this game running at a Nebraska defense that seemed to be in Michigan's head was alarming. When I add it up, I am guessing things will come out highly negative, and then people will cluck at me about that.
I won't deny that things are more likely to get put in the negative bin there when you have fewer options because you're not good, but in my opinion running plays you suck at into stacked boxes is a bad idea. So is the continued deployment of Toussaint as a pass blocker on plays that take forever to develop. That, too, is an execution issue, but it is nuts to expect him to block guys now, and the offense would be better served if he was used in a pattern or replaced by a fullback or something. Instead… he is not.
But yeah yeah, the expectation is for the position.
As I'm going over the film here something is resonating that I read from Ace's VEQ last week.
I cannot tell you how many times in the last three years I've watched an opposing offense go for 50, 60, 70 yards on their first drive, kick a field goal, score a touchdown, flip field position, whatever, and then absolutely get downloaded by this defense. It happened just this last weekend at Illinois. Sometimes it takes more than one drive, some days it takes a half of football or so. But I, for example, watched Purdue experience some early success throwing little 12-15 yard out patterns beneath MSU's retreating zone cornerback on two third downs in quick succession to keep drives alive, and then the third time Purdue tried it, not only was the corner right there in man coverage, but there too was safety Isaiah Lewis flashing in front of the receiver and nearly collecting a pick-six. Stuff like that is a joy to watch.
That was the story of this game, as well. Michigan found snatches of success early, whereupon MSU adjusted and that was all she wrote. A play that finds success has been followed by a nothing play that MSU crushes with a creepy consistency so far. Without the context of MSU's stats this year it feels like Pat Narduzzi is the luckiest guy in the world for a while, and then it's like he's Doyle Brunson.
In one instance, it seems like it took MSU one play to assimilate something Michigan was doing. M debuted a run play that is basically power from the playside guard gussied up to look like inverted veer. The first instance of this sort of worked. The second did not. The yards were basically the same, but that's because Toussaint managed to evade a TFL on the second.
It's Michigan's first drive; they've hit a couple passes to Gallon to open up with 46 yards on their first two plays. They come out in a 2TE set featuring Paskorz and Butt with Funchess in the slot. Unusually for MSU, they flip a corner over Funchess. Both safeties are hanging out where they usually do: rolled up tight.
Butt will release. Lewan will block down on the playside end; Bosch will pull around. Since the end doesn't get an initial block and Michigan makes its mesh point look like an inverted veer, he reads that and hangs outside, creating a wide crease for Toussaint to explore.
The design basically works. Lewan turns his guy inside and the veer appearance means Bosch isn't seriously challenged by the DE, who is trying to maintain outside contain.
Meanwhile, Butt and Glasgow release immediately into the playside LBs. This gives Magnuson an impossible task on the other DL, but I think they figure that guy's not going to make a play on this play and that a significant percentage of the time he will get hung up on the other DL getting smoked. Either that or it's just another assignment screwup; in UFR I thought Bullough was more dangerous than the DT and passed on a minus.
By the time Toussaint gets the handoff there's a nice gap that is unfortunately being rapidly filled by that DT, but there's so much space that he can run away from it. Meanwhile, Funchess has come down and blocks… uh… Butt, kind of. He eventually does shove the corner on him back but that looks bizarre to me; seems like he should be carrying to the safety. In any case, gap is extant.
This is looking rather promising.
But MSU holds the damage down, as Calhoun comes off the Bosch block easily and spins Toussaint around, allowing the safety to come down and tackle after a modest gain.
Three yards is a win, I guess?
Items Of Interest
It's new, and shiny, and created a hole. Hoorah. This play uses Lewan's strength to bash open a hole and while it doesn't actually option a guy off it uses the threat of a veer to make Bosch's job considerably easier.
I still don't understand M centers shooting to the second level immediately despite guys basically over them. It happens with such consistency that it might actually be the plan, but it drives me nuts every time it happens. Here Michigan issues Magnuson a blocking assignment that is flatly impossible and sends Glasgow out immediately; meanwhile on the back side of the play Schofield and Paskorz do combo the end, getting him sealed away. You can see the cost in the linebacker blocks: Glasgow gets into Bullough and gets him moving hard, providing a nice cutback lane… that the back cannot take because there's a DL flowing down the line. Meanwhile Allen gets playside of Schofield and is filling that hole.
To me it seems like you'd want to reverse this: shoot Schofield out immediately and say damn the backside end while getting that DT sealed away. It seems like whenever a M C or G ignores a nose tackle and gives someone else on the line a difficult task it results in doom, but it's happening almost all the time, and this doesn't seem like rocket science. The guy is in alignment X against you, you chip him so your partner can get around.
Michigan isn't doing this with a regularity that makes me think it's intentional, and the results are underwhelming. FMK: goofy assignments or guys who can't execute rule one of zone running.
Tight end blocking again an issue. Butt's block here gets hardly any motion and does allow the LB to slide off, or would if Funchess didn't add himself into the equation. Funchess, meanwhile, brings his corner into the fray and since the general rule of running when you suck at it (and probably even when you don't) is that most blocks are just opportunities to screw up a play, that is a negative.
I know what Funchess is thinking here, because Michigan would run this again against a more typical MSU D:
His job is to go get that slot LB. Here his job is to… run the corner off or something, go bash the safety, but he screws it up, probably because Michigan was prepping him to run it against a gray area LB instead of a press corner.
MSU's alignment throws this off. Compare the screenshot right above with the presnap setup here:
Note the relation of the LB Butt is going for relative to himself. On this play, he's even; on the other play he's a player and a half inside of him. Much easier angle for Butt, more likely there's a gap away from the DE and a nice gain. That's why the linebacker blocks here don't really get Fitz a hole he clearly expects to be outside. (And maybe why Michigan's okay with leaving the DT: they expected a different D.)
The download. The next time Michigan ran this they got the above formation. Aaaaand:
Slot LB rips down, Funchess has no shot, Toussaint does well to bounce around it and gets eaten by a safety after a similar gain. Is this sheer luck? On some level, sure. But the creepy mind-reading tendencies of the MSU defense are so consistent that it seems like something more. Could Narduzzi have executed this inference chain?
- Michigan has a new run play on which Funchess accidentally doubled a LB in a defense we don't run much.
- He's probably supposed to block the slot LB in our usual stuff.
- It's first and ten from the nine, probably a run.
- If it's the new toy, blitz slot LB.
I wouldn't put it past him. Seems hard given the chaos of football but if you're a DC with tons of experience and have a feel for this live, well, you might be quite good at your job.
What’s the secret to moving the ball against this Michigan State defense?
“Uh. Well, the first thing you have to make sure is you don’t give it to them. Same deal, because they’ve done a great job of feeding off turnovers, either creating opportunities for offense or literally scoring themselves, which is amazing how many times they’ve done that. So that’s the starting point. Take care of the football and minimizing the damage, if in fact there is damage. Making what could be a bad play not into a disaster. That’s number one. Number two is getting your bodies on their bodies, making sure your plays get started, so you give your skill guys a chance to do what they do best, whether it be in the open field or around the line of scrimmage. Those are really key points. If you’re getting hit in the backfield as soon as you hand the ball off, you’re not going anywhere, and they’ve done a lot of that.”
HELLO! HI! I AM BLUE! I AM A TUBE! I HOPE AT LEAST TEN OTHER STUDENTS MAKE BLUE TUBES! HELLO! ISN'T LIFE EXICTING!
THING NOTES: Torrent had no audio this week, so neither do the clips. Good news for people who get creeped out by the walrus lovemaking noises in the slow ones.
FORMATION NOTES: A note on nomenclature here: Indiana had a kind of weird system where they had a linebacker/safety type (6'1", 225) out over the slot.
That in itself isn't too weird against spread formations, but he still hung out over the slot when there was one in I-form twins packages and the like, and Indiana brought down a safety.
I designated IU formations with that guy in the gray area (and no safety down) "nickel" since the defensive formation thing is more about what the O is looking at than personnel packages the opponent has in and I felt their slot LB was a Hybrid Space Player, but I understand if you think IU was just in a 4-3 all game.
As for Michigan, they did not do much exotic in terms of formations. A lot of shotgun 3-wide stuff, some ace, some I-Form, etc. A couple things: I've changed Funchess to a WR in my personnel set tracking, so if you see "shotgun 3-wide" with four WRs that's because Funchess is the TE-type-substance. Also, when there are only four skill position players that's because Michigan has brought in an extra offensive lineman. Tackle over was still employed but rather rare.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Hoo boy. First: QB and RB were pretty obvious, with Green getting more run than he has in some other games in the past. FB was about split between Kerridge and Houma.
WR was a ton of Gallon and Funchess. Dileo went out early with an injury, leaving Jeremy Jackson to pick up most of the slot snaps. Chesson got in a bit but has clearly ceded a lot of PT to Funchess; Reynolds got a few snaps.
TE was mostly Butt and Williams; Williams ceded snaps to a sixth OL and also Jordan Paskorz, who got in some good blocks in the middle of the game. Funchess also lined up at TE from time to time.
And the OL. Burzynski started, tore his ACL, was replaced by Bosch. Glasgow was the C. Lewan was the LT, Magnuson the RG, Schofield the RT, except when guys were flipping all over the place. This game's version of tackle over was almost always a 6 OL with Kalis reclaiming his RG spot and Lewan flanking someone else: Schofield on the left and Magnuson on the right. Much less likely to get your QB murdered.
I noted OL changes in the notes below. Anyone not mentioned is playing their usual position. Apologies for cutesy name shortenings, but you try writing "Burzynski" and "Magnuson" for 80 plays. (Schofield defies shortening.)
[After the JUMP: nuclear samba Gallon.]
So yeah, I concluded yesterday that the quick fire throw to Gallon in the second quarter was a presnap read, not a true packaged play, and then about two plays into the remainder of the UFR, Michigan runs the same thing with the cornerback showing blitz presnap and M runs it after he backs out. Timing: I do not have it.
To the screenshots!
It's first and ten; Michigan's trying to respond to Indiana drawing to within one and has first and ten on their own 23. Same setup as the last play: 3 wide, Gallon alone to the boundary, IU in their nickel-ish package. This time the corner is indicating blitz.
On the snap, though, he backs out. Gardner's checking on Gallon, seeing if he's got the hitch.
When it become clear that the CB is not coming, he changes his plan. Taylor Lewan has the same idea, as his initial reaction was to pick up the corner. He's flared out to do so, and now has to frantically try to get back into the play and block someone who's trying to defend what's actually occurring.
Which is a handoff.
Now: Lewan's flare has borked a couple of things. See 98 below? He is being doubled and will end up three yards downfield, where it is ideal for him to go in the eyes of the offense.
The other DT, though, is being single blocked by Glasgow and if he chooses can decide to go upfield of him to the outside, which he does. Glasgow locks him out and pushes him past the play; Toussaint has one lane straight up the middle. Bosch deals with a DE well, but there's no one for an ILB.
That's unfortunate, since a guy dealing with him is a big gain with the other LB on a pass drop he's convinced to take by Funchess releasing into the slot LB. Even if he doesn't take this the backwards direction of the other DT would make it difficult for him to get to the hole.
Lewan tries to recover; can't quite; Toussaint makes the guy miss, which gets him a decent gain before the shuffling backside end comes down from behind to tackle.
Items of Interest
Nope, totally packaged. Gardner's first option is the hitch in the event of a CB blitz, and he decides that it's not there, so he hands off. Post snap read determining run or pass is the Smart Football-approved definition of a packaged play. Packaged.
An old bugaboo. This harkens back to some oddities Michigan had in their plays like this a couple years ago. When they ran the inverted veer in 2011, Michigan would often block the guy they were supposedly optioning with the pulling guard, leaving Denard to beat a guy if Michigan was going to pick up anything. This happened not infrequently, but it seemed pretty weird that you'd run an option and not option anyone.
This is a version of that old problem: Lewan flares out to block the corner when Michigan has a plan to deal with that. They're optioning him and they still block him, or would if he didn't back out into pass coverage. That leaves one of the ILBs free.
The rest of the line blocks it like they should if the corner blitz was coming; seems like someone on the OL made an adjustment to the blitz IU ostentatiously showed and backed out of.
A minor place. I don't want to make any grand conclusions from these two plays. A number of programs from the Okie State/WVU Hologorsen tree will build large chunks of their offense around packaged plays; Michigan has only dabbled in this department under Borges. They're still dabbling. The OL blocks this goofy because they are not on the same page as the play concept. If the guy making the line check understands that the corner is never a threat, this is a nice gain that doesn't require Toussaint to get his Hart on.
This isn't the first time they've tried these things—I remember pointing out a package to Smart Football a couple years ago. That didn't work, and it seemed like it got put on the shelf because the coaches weren't enthused with Denard's ability to read post-snap. Devin executed both of these; could they have been a test run for Michigan State?
Probably not, but here's hoping they've got something up their sleeve.
Bosch check. This was about par for Bosch's day. He got decent to good movement on his guys, probably better than Magnuson on average. Hopes were consistently tempered by the guy next to him, as when Lewan latched onto a dude he all but threw the dude into his teammates, ninjas-attacking-hero style. Indiana's terrible. He'll get a trial by fire next Saturday.
An accidental RPS. The other ILB's pass drop here is an interesting offshoot. He's reading Funchess and sees him release, and so goes to cover, as Funchess blocks (or attempts to block) IU's hybrid space player. That leaves the OL five on five in the box, which should be a profitable situation.
Every time a DE shuffles like this I want Gardner to pull, which is probably irrational. I don't think he should, but I have this visceral thing where it's like GO GIT EM, because is anyone in that position really keeping up with Gardner on the corner? I say no, especially when you've got Funchess bothering the slot LB. All DEs are shuffling and Gardner has beat them all around the edge. Sometimes there's help out there; that is the only thing that keeps these plays down.
Triple option? On this play it's asking a lot of him to read the corner and then come across the field to read the end, so the pull here is almost certainly not something that he has in the toolbox anyway. So, no, just a single option I think. The read option nature of the play does let you sort of option off two guys, though, except "optioning off" the corner is really just nerfing the corner blitz.