is there such a thing as an etsy genuis? if so, this is it.
Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.
This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.
The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:
With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.
On the snap, Schofield pulls…
…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:
Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:
This time not so much.
With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.
Items of Interest
Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.
On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.
This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.
"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.
This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.
Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.
Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.
I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.
Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.
(Last week there was some confusion about opponent fear levels. Let me explain my scale: 0 = Bye week?; 1 = If Michigan loses to this team somebody’s going to get fired; 5 = This team will have a winning record; 8 = Best in conference/will play in a BCS bowl; 9 = National title contender; 10 = Hold me, TomVH. Also, I’ve made some minor tweaks, but again, I welcome your suggestions for how I can make this more informative. Disclaimer still applies -- these analyses carry little weight until we’re through with the cupcakes or N=3.)
[ED: Yo. Heiko accidentally overwrote last week's opponent watch, so the first 45 comments are from that post last week. Do not be confused. Or do, I guess, but that's on you.]
About last Saturday:
Last game: Notre Dame 31, UM 35
Question: Where were you when Roy Roundtree caught Denard Robinson’s pass to allow Michigan to beat Notre Dame with two seconds left on the clock?
I was cheering so hard I forgot to take pictures, and when I finally did, this is all I got:
And it was awesome.
The Road Ahead:
Eastern Michigan (2-0 (! ? .))
Last game: Alabama State 7, EMU 14 (W)
Recap: Let’s start out nice and easy with a backhanded compliment. Brady Hoke:
“How do you make sure EMU is not a letdown game? “I can tell you one thing -- Eastern’s 2-0. They haven’t been 2-0 since 1989.”
So … Eastern Michigan managed to schedule a pair of FCS teams to begin their season and not lose to them. Bravo. You know what happened during week one, right? They crushed a bad, bad Howard team 41-9. Last Saturday they played against Alabama State, which according to MGoUser mikoyan, is not that bad. There is some merit in that assessment:
“I'm not sure Alabama State is a worse team than Eastern, they blew out their opening week opponent 41-9. If I recall, they are a fairly good 1AA team.”
I fact-checked to confirm that, indeed, a team coming off a 41-9 week one victory had squared off against another team coming off a 41-9 week one victory. #Destiny. #LoveIt.
You should stop holding your breath is what happened. It was unwatchable/I didn’t watch any of it.
The teams matched each other closely for first downs -- the Hornets accrued 18 and Eastern Michigan had 20 -- but each averaged only about 1.5 first downs per drive. (I know, I know, that sounds like … Michigan against Notre Dame!) The Eagles won by relying heavily on their ground game, which was good for 336 yards, because their passing was atrocious (which is the negative descriptor of the week). Eastern QB Alex Gillett put up a 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like completion percentage (7 for 19, 1 TD, 1 INT) without the 2011-Notre-Dame-Denard-like yards (61). Gillett actually gained more yards running (74) than passing, which officially makes him the Little Sister of the Poor Man’s 2011-Notre-Dame Denard. Wow, that’s two rivalry references in one.
Their defense did manage to convince Alabama State to run backwards for -13 yards on 30 attempts. Woo.
Right now they are as frightening as:
The common cold. At worst it’s an inconvenience, and a week later, nobody ever remembers you were sick. 1. A canker sore. You worry about it only if you think it might be Herpes. It’s not. 1.
Michigan should worry about:
It’s possible (but not probable) that Mike Hart may have some kind of fifth-year/grad/transfer eligibility left. Hart’s comments about not cheering for Michigan. Aww. =(
Michigan should sleep soundly about:
The highway that separates Ann Arbor and Ypsi. Those three-game Putterz vouchers never expire.
If Michigan had played them last Saturday:
Dave Brandon would have argued that the game was in hand before the game even started. At least GameDay would have been covering two teams with winning records.
Next game: That Team A Couple Miles West On Washtenaw.
San Diego State (2-0)
Last game: San Diego State 23, Army 20 (W)
Recap: San Diego State has now beaten all three service academies within the last year, which is more than Notre Dame can say for itself.
This game was close. Though Aztec RB Ronnie Hillman had another 100+ rushing performance, Army outrushed San Diego State 403-146. How did Army not win? Their passing was crappy (not that the Black Knights’ triple-option offense ever passes), and they turned the ball over three times, plus a forced fumble that was almost a fourth turnover on the last drive (they turned it over on downs on the next play regardless). The Aztecs had zero turnovers:
"Yards don't win games," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "Turnovers is what correlates to the final score."
I know, says Brian Kelly. I know. =’(
San Diego State QB Ryan Lindley was 8 for 18 with 146 yards and a TD. He wasn’t as good as last week, but he got the job done. More importantly though, Lindley seems to be courting a favorite wide receiver from the depths of the depth chart. His name is Colin Lockett, he’s a sophomore, and he didn’t even make it onto Tim’s 2011 Opponent Preview, but he did catch five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, so Michigan should keep an eye on him.
The obligatory defensive report: they gave up three more rushing touchdowns. Man, defense is so boring to write about.
Right now they are as frightening as:
The ex-fiancé of a girl that you dated before they were together to whom you are now married. Yeah, you were there first -- and he totally understands -- but you accidentally mailed him an invitation to your baby shower. Oops. 4. The ex-fiancé says he’s doing well, doesn’t miss your wife at all, and even got re-engaged … to your wife’s former defensive coordinator. Fear level remains at 4.
Michigan should worry about:
Lingering toughness and accountability from San Diego State’s Hoke era. In all seriousness, shoring up that run defense against Hillman.
Michigan should sleep soundly about:
The best scouting report EVER. They don’t have much of a run defense, either.
If Michigan had played them last Saturday:
Ryan Lindley, meet Jordan Kovacs. Kovacs, Lindley. I would love to see a noon game with the lights on.
Next game: Washington State
(more after the jump)
This is a personnel-oriented look at the season's opponents. The game-week previews will be more matchup based. Last year's stats are presented with projected starters in bold and departed players in italics.
|Northwestern Offense 2010|
|Yards Per Game||391.08||48|
|Points Per Game||26.38||63|
|Yards Per Play||5.40||70|
|Yards Per Pass||7.94||29|
|Yards Per Rush||3.64||91|
|Playcall Distribution||1.45 Rush:Pass|
Northwestern's offense was a one-man show last season, with quarterback Dan Persa accounting for 61% of the Wildcats' total yardage... despite missing three games (Denard accounted for 67% of Michigan's yardage; Persa was accounting for 76% for the Cats before he went down). If Northwestern is going to have success this year, they need to find other playmakers in the backfield to spread the ball around a bit more, especially with Persa coming off a serious injury.
Adjusting for sacks, NU called a pass for every 1.35 rushes, and if Persa is to be kept healthy, he's going to have to either pass or rush less. He's unlikely to have the same escapability as last year.
We're really tying the Dan Persa theme together here, as he was probably the player in the Big Ten that was most important to his team - yes, even moreso than Denard Robinson to Michigan. Coming of an Achilles injury is not easy to do, especially after just 10 months. That could mean some serious reps for backup Evan Watkins, who started the final three games for Northwestern last year - all losses.
|Northwestern QBs 2010|
|Northwestern QBs Rushing 2010|
Grade: 3.5/5. This grade is assuming non-full health for Dan Persa (Phil Steele give him that vote of confidence, naming Persa the league's 1st-Team selection at QB). His importance to Northwestern was magnified by exactly how bad his backups were in comparison. Since he's likely to be less of a rushing threat this year, it takes him down a notch. The experience from last year - unsuccessful though it may have been - is a positive going forward for the backups. If Persa was healthy, this would likely be a 5/5.
Despite their general ineffectiveness, a ton of different Northwestern backs got some experience last year. Mike Trumpy got by far the most run (second-most used back, Arby Fields, was by far the least effective), so I'm guessing he'll start again this year. There are three returning backs with significant experience.
|Northwestern RBs 2010|
|Northwestern RBs Receiving 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Having this much talent returning is a bright sign for Northwestern, even if they didn't have a lot of success on the ground last year. Trumpy was just a freshman last year and Fields just a sophomore, so it's reasonable to expect those guys to improve.
Jeremy Ebert was the Big Ten's most oft-deployed receiver, and turned that into the highest yardage total in the league as well. His #2, Sidney Stewart (younger brother of former Michigan DB Charles) is out the door, but plenty of Wildcats got game experience. Demetrius Fields should take over the #2 role, with Charles Brown stepping into a starting role. Drake Dunsmore got plenty of work (at "superback" in the NU offense) last year, but other than him, don't expect a ton out of tight ends.
|Northwestern Receivers 2010|
|Drake Dunsmore (TE)||40||381||9.53||5|
|Josh Rooks (TE)||5||24||4.80||1|
|Aaron Nagel (TE)||1||6||6.00||0|
|Northwestern Receivers Rushing 2009|
Grade: 3/5. Losing the #2 receiver probably hurts, but Northwestern spread the ball around plenty last season, so the players that will be expected to step up aren't exactly green. With the Big Ten's most-prolific receiver in the fold (though Phil Steele only projects him to the All-Conference second team), the young guys should be more than capable of picking up the slack. The one question mark is a lack of serious downfield threats - partially a product of a screen-heavy NU offense.
The Wildcats only lose right guard Keegan Grant from last year's starting lineup, but that may not be such a good thing, given how awful the front line was last year. NU gave up more sacks than any team in the conference, and they were in the "Minnesota-Indiana" cohort of rushing futility. NU should start three seniors this year, with Al Netter on the left side, Ben Burkett at center, and Doug Bartles taking over the RG position. Junior returning starters Brian Mulroe and Patrick Ward will play left guard and right tackle, respectively.
Grade: 3/5. The big hope for Northwestern fans here has to be that a line with very little personnel turnover will be able to build the chemistry to develop into a stronger unit. It really couldn't be a whole lot worse, as I shudder to think how terrible the line's performance could have been without Persa the whole year.
|Northwestern Defense 2009|
|Yards Per Game||426.15||97|
|Points Per Game||29.00||77|
|Yards Per Play||5.94||94|
|Pass Yards Per Game||241.15||95|
|Yards Per Pass||6.73||t-45|
|Sacks Per Game||1.23||104|
|Rush Yards Per Game||185.00||92|
|Yards Per Rush||5.15||110|
So, oddly, despite Pat Fitzgerald's reputation as a hard-nosed defensive specialist and all that entails, the Wildcats' defense was pretty bad. It was probably around the same league as Michigan and Minnesota in several areas.
So, what is Northwestern going to do to improve that? Getting to the passer and stopping the run were the two major weaknesses of the D, so stepping it up along the defensive front and linebackers is of the utmost importance.
The Wildcats' defensive line - weak though it may have been last year - returns three of four starters, and should have an opportunity for improvement. Vince Browne and Kevin Watt return for their senior seasons as bookends, and classmate Jack DiNardo will plug the middle. The only replacement is at the other defensive tackle spot, where Brian Arnfelt will replace Corbin Bryant. Northwestern also has a few players - most notably DEs Quentin Williams and Tyler Scott - who have a bit of experience and will play a role in the rotation.
|Northwestern Defensive Line 2010|
Grade: 3/5. It's hard to look past how bad Northwestern's run defense and sacking were last year when evaluating this unit. They should improve with three returning starters, but they have a long way to go to get out of the depths.
The Wildcats' top two tacklers from the linebacker position are out the door in Nate Williams and Quentin Davie, so there's some reshuffling to be done at the position. Bryce McNaul is the lone returning starter on the weakside. Junior David Nwabuisi is expected to fill the middle, while senior Ben Johnson will play the strongside. Sophomore Damien Proby is the only other player with significant experience anywhere other than special teams. Roderick Goodlow is coming off a mid-career redshirt thanks to a knee injury last year, as well.
|Northwestern Linebackers 2010|
Grade: 2/5. The linebackers weren't blameless for the issues I pinned on the DL, so losing the two most productive players from a weak unit isn't going to solve anything for Northwestern. The depth is also lacking in a big way. Any injuries could spell more doom (than already exists) for Northwestern.
Justan Vaughn is the only departing DB for the Wildcats, so there's a good chance the performance along the back is improved this season. Senior Jeravin Matthews should slide in to take his spot, with 4-year starter Jordan Mabin on the other side. The situation is a little murkier at safety, with Brian Peters a lock to start at one position, but three reasonable options at the other spot. I'm guessing Hunter Bates will play FS, allowing the enormous Peters (6-4, 215) to play closer to the line of scrimmage. David Arnold and Jared Carpenter both have a bit of starting experience, and could slot in at safety, as well.
|Northwestern Defensive Backs 2010|
|Brian Peters (SS)||60||4||3|
|Jordan Mabin (CB)||63||0||1|
|Hunter Bates (FS)||45||2||2|
|Jeravin Matthews (CB)||15||0||0|
Grade: 4/5. This is easily the strongest unit on Northwestern's entire team, with Phil Steele picking Peters to his 2nd-Team All-Conference defense and Mabin on the fourth team (though he was a 3rd-team performer in the Big Ten last year). There's also a few combinations that would result in four senior starters. Pass D was one of the few bright spots on NU's defense last year, and with even more experience, it could improve further in '11.
Stefan Demos - a recipient of the Brooks Bollinger Memorial Eighth Year Senior Award - has finally moved on, meaning that redshirt sophomore Jeff Budzien should become the new placekicker. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Williams will return for a second year as the starting punter.
|Northwestern Kicking 2010|
|Northwestern Punting 2010|
Grade: 2/5. Demos was never a superb kicker, so Budzien's inability to unseat him doesn't speak to any big upgrade there. In the punting department, Williams was steady last year, but not really very good. This should be an iffy unit.