A few years ago it was de rigueur on this site to talk about how college rules allowed NCAA teams to use a different style of punting, and that this style (called spread or shield) of punting was demonstrably superior to NFL-style (tornado). Michigan has swung between them in recent years. Carr tested out something like shield punting in 2003 then scrapped it when it cost him a game against Iowa. Rodriguez took us to spread punting along with spread offense, and Hoke returned the program to pro-style as was his wont.
In 2015 Harbaugh brought in special teams guru John Baxter and the spread was once again installed, presumably for good. Then Baxter left, and this year Michigan used both. At first we wondered if this was, like under Hoke, some relic of a coaching staff that strove to be pro-like in everything. But as the punt blocks, and near punt blocks, and running-intos that by all rights should have been punt blocks piled up, a new thought emerged: maybe Michigan thinks they’ve solved the spread punt.
The splits are huge: two yards between the snapper and the guards, and two more yards until the next guy. You don’t care who comes up the A gaps—the only thing the guys on the line of scrimmage have to do is redirect the man lined up outside of them then get downfield (you don’t want your snapper involved in blocking).
The three guys standing about 7 yards back are the “shield”. You want big burly dudes for your shield, and you tell them the Grand Canyon is just behind their heels so they’d better not give an inch. By not giving an inch, they create an eye in the middle of the storm for the punter to safely get the punt off.
Everyone else just has to force the attackers to widen to the point where they can’t get back inside in time to affect the punt. That’s why the guards split so far apart: anyone going outside of them should presumably be too far outside to affect the punt. Anyone coming up the middle will get stuck behind an immovable wall of beef.
In the linked video, Daniel mentions the way to attack it is put four guys into those big “A” gaps, because that could overwhelm the shield. The way the shield would deal with this is block out man-to-man, and let the guys in the A gaps try to get around the shield. As long as your three-man shield can still stop four A-gap rushers, you’ve got a sound punt blocking strategy with two to four more guys releasing downfield than you would in an NFL-style punt.
The title of the post still says “Post-Indiana,” but I seriously considered bucking convention and naming it “Pre-Ohio State.” With the stakes of The Game as high as they’ve been in a decade, it only felt right to look at where the two teams’ advanced stats are similar and where they’re different.
Still, it’s worth discussing what happened against Indiana. The offense took a fairly large hit in overall efficiency, falling from 23rd to 41st in success rate. The rushing offense’s success rate saw a nearly identical drop in the national rankings, falling from 21st to 42nd. The passing offense did even worse, with the success rate falling from 45.3% to 42.5% and from 26th to 50th. On standard downs, Michigan’s offensive success rate only dropped from 51.5% to 49.5%, but their ranking tumbled from 22nd to 43rd. The offense fared worse on passing downs, with their success rate dropping from 34.4% (39th overall) to 31.5% (62nd overall). The offense had a difficult time keeping on track, and their inability to pick up the necessary yardage to stay in manageable down-and-distance situations led to the drops in success rate. Of note is that the offense struggled in that department across the board (passing, rushing, standard vs. passing down, etc.) but with little impact on their other numbers, which stayed fairly stable. A few long runs helped keep the offense’s explosive play-realted numbers afloat.
The defense, already at or near the top of most categories, saw little movement. One of the bigger changes was in the defense’s IsoPPP, the number Bill Connelly uses to track explosiveness; Michigan moved up from ninth to fourth. That’s pretty much it. The defense is good. The stats are good. They both remained so against Indiana.
[After THE JUMP: how Michigan stacks up against Ohio State according to S&P+ and FEI]
SPONSOR NOTES: oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
FORMATION NOTES: Ace trips tight bunch was the most relevant formation of the day.
Michigan invariably used two tight ends in the bunch.
Indiana's response to this was to have only six guys in the box with and OLB flared way out to the field. This is one of Michigan's favorite crack sweep formations; Michigan ran one crack sweep that got buried for a loss of five yards and repeatedly gashed IU up the middle.
Michigan also went with a lot of big formations; Indiana usually lined up with an even front, a SAM linebacker, and increasingly aggressive safeties. By the third quarter it was MSU out there:
This run performance was against a statistically good outfit in difficult conditions.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL per usual. O'Korn the QB save one Pepcat snap; Peppers got two other plays on offense. Butt (57 snaps) and Darboh(54) got the most run amongst the skill position players, with Chesson (43) running third.
RB snaps were about half Smith, with Evans in second place; Higdon and Isaac got slightly less than ten each. Wheatley(30 snaps) was suddenly preferred over Asiasi(8) as the second TE. Bunting(11) actually came in third. Poggi got 28 FB snaps to Hill's 18; Hill did have another very bad pass pickup that might explain that.
Crawford, Perry, McDoom, Bushell-Beatty, and Harris all got a few snaps.
[After THE JUMP: De'Veon Smith and a buncha nothin'.]
[Happy Thanksgiving! We know that three hours ago we said we hoped one article was enough to chew on, but what fits the spirit of the day more than a second serving? Here’s one more to tide you over until tomorrow.]
Thoughts on this defensive football team you’re about to play?
“Very good defensive football team. Up front, very talented, use their hands very well, great initial quickness. Linebackers can run sideline to sideline. Very gifted at the corner spot. Think they play very good man coverage. The safeties—Mr. Hooker is a very good football player. Very, very talented football team. Very talented defense.”
Seemed like Indiana was having some success getting a little bit of pressure on John [O’Korn] in the last game. What was the factor that was causing that?
“Indiana does a nice job. Indiana going into that game was a big-time pressure team. They had a lot of different looks of what they did. Fundamentally, some of it was in terms of just us moving our feet, keeping our head out of there, covering guys up, IDing things. We’ve got to do a better job with that, and I’ve got to do a better job coaching it.”
How did John progress, in your mind, from the start of that game to the end?
“I think he did an outstanding job. Made a play when there was a play to be made. He managed the game very well. He took the timeouts when he needed to. He established that drive with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter. We took it down, made them use their last time out, gave the ball back with I believe :50 on the clock. John did an outstanding job.”
[Hit THE JUMP for the inevitable Speight questions]
MGoQuestion: This is one of the faster teams you’ll play this year. How do you counter that tempo defensively?
“Do you mean tempo meaning speed between plays or do you mean the team speed?”
MGoClarification: Speed between plays.
“Um, again, we’ve been seeing it on a week-to-week basis. Several teams we play run the spread or some kind of form of the spread. Ohio State does a little bit more with the power game, but, you know, you just gotta go ahead and get your calls in, get your guys lined up, and make sure you’re ready to go.
“To be quite honest, I think Indiana’s really fast. I mean, I felt that the other night, and I thought for the most part, expect for three snaps, we got our feet in the ground, all 11 ready to go. Feel good about to this point our preparation against spread offenses. We minimized our last spread outfit to 64 yards rushing, which is an important stat, especially when they’re in the 200s coming in. Felt like—feel like we’re in a good spot getting ready to go for this week.”
How tough is it specifically to deal with JT Barrett?
“He’s a good player. Does a good job. You’re gonna have to challenge your entire unit to stop him because when you’ve got an athlete at quarterback, you’ve got to chase an athlete with a bunch of athletes, so that becomes an important piece of this thing. You can’t just rely on the front four. You have to involve everybody in the process, whether it’s run fits or finding ways to be creative in rushing the passer on throw scenarios.”
[After THE JUMP: never, ever tease Don Brown about playing press man]
SPONSOR NOTES: Yeah man, rate hike. Rate hikes are bad for you unless you get in before them, which you should. I know rate hikes are like streetcars and seem hopelessly outdated, but it could be a thing.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
FORMATION NOTES: By far Michigan's most common approach:
4-3 even with Peppers as a SAM; press coverage with one high safety. Very, very Durkin. Remains to be seen if they maintain this with a running QB threat. Survey says "no": against most spread teams they've been two high, with one of those guys inserting in the box unpredictably.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: More rotation this week after things got very constricted against Iowa. Charlton led all DL with 58 of 67 snaps. Wormley and Glasgow got 47 and 45; Hurst and Godin got slightly over 30 each; Gary and Mone got around 20; Winovich got 10.
Gedeon, McCray, Peppers, and Stribling did not leave the field. PFF has Jourdan Lewis out for two snaps, but I don't remember what those snaps were; Hill and Thomas both lost a couple snaps to Kinnel, who got 7. There were rumors we'd see more of a few different players; he was the only one to even get on the field.
Brandon Watson was the only other player to appear; he got three snaps.
Erik Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, Jake Butt, and Chris Wormley
For the Ohio guys especially, is this the biggest game you’ve ever played in your career to date?
CW: “I think so. It’s #2 versus #3. It’s for a Big Ten championship berth. Big game.”
JB: “I second that.”
KK: “Agreed.” EM: “I’m not from Ohio.”
Pretty well documented the struggles the program’s had against OSU in the past 10 or 12 years. How important is it for you guys to end that and get Michigan [?]?
JB: “It’s not as important to win this game for what’s been going on in the past, what’s been going on the past 11, 12 years. Really, we just need to win this game for what we have in front of us right now, and that’s all we’re focused on is we have an unbelievable opportunity to go on the road and compete against a really good team. Everything’s on the line right now. Our whole entire season’s on the line, so we need to win the game for that reason.”
I have a similar question: to be a great rivalry both teams have to win, and that hasn’t happened. How much do you guys need to win not only for yourselves but knowing Michigan has lost 11 out of 12?
KK: “Again, I don’t think you can focus that much on the past, especially when it’s this type of game coming up. It’ll be a big game. We’re definitely going to put in the work this week to prepare ourselves for it. I can’t wait to go out there and just play with all the guys. It’ll be the last time we play together as a team in a regular season game against Ohio State, so it’s gonna be a lot of fun.”
[Guy identifies himself as being from a Columbus newspaper] The Jim Harbaugh we see, that we just saw about five minutes ago, would you guys know that side? How is that different from the Jim Harbaugh you see?
CW: “Compared to what you guys see?
EM: “Michigan reporters only.”
KK: “Yeah, no comment.”
EM: “I’m sorry, I’m just kidding. I think he’s probably very similar to what you guys see. He’s as real as they come. The media kind of paints a bad picture of him sometimes because of his antics like going after referees and stuff like that, but he’ll fight to the death for his players. He’s a player’s coach in that aspect and he’s somebody that you’d run through a wall for, but he’s pretty similar to what you see. In everyday life, that’s who he is.”
[Hit THE JUMP for a good Jabrill story and a lot on the personalities of great coaches]
I saw Chris Wormley on the list of players available to the media Monday and knew that I wanted to talk to him. I didn’t know exactly which play I’d talk to him about; it’s a heck of a luxury to have blind faith in a player’s weekly wrecking of a tight end. Sure enough, I found multiple examples of Wormley taking on a poor, unfortunate tight end after going through the tape. I picked this one because it allowed the opportunity to discuss proper technique when taking on a tight end as well as what a DE sees when he’s flowing down the line of scrimmage to make a tackle.
What did you see in their alignment as you were getting set?
“We knew all along that play set-up. We watched film on it. The tight end was off the line and I knew I was either going to get a reach block from the tackle or cut-off from the tight end. I got a cut-off from the tight end, and usually when a tight end’s on me usually it’s not a good thing for the opposite team. I saw the play and then being the guy that needs to make a play, I made the play.”
Were they tipping run/pass with the back’s alignment?
“You know, they were actually really good at the play-action pass, thinking it’s a run and then trying to get off and pass rush, so I think they did a good job at that. When it’s third down you kind of know it’s a pass, so we’ll be ready for it.”
You said the tight end was trying to cut you off. Technique-wise, what’s the proper technique when a tight end’s trying to do that in terms of your first step, where you want to put your hands, etc.?
“Especially for us, we’re reading the tackle and then depending on what he does your eyes shift to either the tight end or you get your hands on the tackle. My eyes shifted to the tight end, I got my hands on him, and there’s an escape drill that we do every day that comes in handy when you need to get off a block and then make a play.”
As you get your hands on him, are you able to see the mesh point in the backfield to see that the back’s getting the handoff or is the tight end too far in front of you?
“I think it all depends on the certain type of play, but for that play specifically you get your hands on the tight end, you extend, you escape, and then you try to find the ball. If the guy’s still on you it’s kind of hard to make a tackle, so you’ve got to get the defender off you first and then go make the play.”
When you dove into that gap it looked like you might have had it prediagnosed. Was that the case were you thought you knew where it was going to go, or was it more instinctual?
“Yeah. All through the week last week we repped that play. We repped the two different plays that it could have been. Just being a college football player for four years now you can kind of read a tackle and his stance, a tight end and his stance, and see what they’re doing. It’s a play I had to make and I made it.”
When you’re almost airborne like that and trying and make a tackle, what’s the most important thing technique-wise? Is it hand placement?
“I think getting a good base and a good shoulder on the guy. Wrapping is pretty key, especially now with people just trying to throw a shoulder in there or down at the legs. You’ve got to wrap up is the most important thing.”
Dymonte Thomas the last couple games has made some big plays for you. Talk about what he’s given you on the field?
“He’s always given solid play, and lately big hits, momentum-changing plays. He’s a very good player. Always has been consistently good.”
You’re going to a place where they really don’t know what to make of you down there. Some people say you’re crazy like a fox, some people say you’re just crazy, but they all say you’re progressive. Could you describe who you are to Ohioans?
“Not crazy. Wouldn’t describe myself as that.” Anything beyond that?
“No. I mean, I don’t know that my personality really, how relevant that will be to the ballgame this week. Probably irrelevant.”
Is there anything unique about competing against Urban Meyer, whether it’s on the field or recruiting or anywhere else you come up against each other?
“Unique in that it’s at the highest level.”
“In terms of competition on the field or recruiting, everything’s at the highest level. Competition’s at the highest level.”
Can you update us on Wilton Speight’s condition, and do you expect him to play?
“No, I do not have an update today. Hasn’t been evaluated today.”
[After THE JUMP: Harbaugh waxes poetic about Peppers, lists all the cities he lived in as a kid, and explains why love for his children and football can’t be accurately expressed with a pie chart]
11/19/2016 – Michigan 20, Indiana 10 – 10-1, 7-1 Big Ten
When Midwestern Football Weather looms, there is only one priority for the experienced fan: please, not sleet. The heavens can aim at my head with golf-ball-sized hail as long as the precipitation is of the form that can be dodged or shaken off. The icy needle stuff that penetrates anything short of a spaceship hull is decidedly not preferred.
That's what we got in 2008, figuratively and literally. The infamous Fandom Endurance III game against Northwestern that sent Michigan to 3-7, guaranteeing no bowl bid for the first time in 40-some years, was played in a driving sleet that is bar-none the worst weather I've ever experienced at a game. I imagine the only competition available is that Purdue game from the 90s that ended 5-0; I was not present.
At halftime of 2008 Northwestern the sleet sent me to the concourse in the hope the pretzel machines could restore some feeling to my hands. They could not. And yet:
This is how weird it's been of late: as I huddled near a pretzel contraption at halftime of a game between 3-7 Michigan and Northwestern, soaked, frozen, pondering the grim futility of all things, I discovered that I was sort of enjoying this. Yeah, sure, you had to peel back layer upon layer of misery to get to the morbidly sunny core. But it was there.
That column is staggeringly old now, especially for Michigan fans who aged in dog years during the RichRod era and in you-chose-the-wrong-grail years during the Hoke/Brandon double-barrel fiasco. By the stuttering end of Hoke's tenure I was referencing that column only to repudiate it, my goodwill stripped to the bone and pecked at by Brandon in case there was any seat-cushion related morsel he could take from me and give to himself.
I don't know what's going to happen Saturday. John O'Korn didn't look like a quarterback who could win against OHIO STATE, but Ohio State didn't look like the all-caps version of themselves in a one-point win over Michigan State, or a four-point win over Northwestern, or a loss to Penn State. I don't know if John O'Korn is even going to play.
Having an Ohio State game hanging by a thread because of a quarterback problem is frustratingly familiar turf. Denard Robinson and Chad Henne literally could not throw their senior years; Devin Gardner played most of an OSU game on a broken foot; Drew Henson didn't even bother to play his senior season. It is brutal to have this defense and not know if they're going to have a chance because of yet another backup quarterback throwing a spanner in well-laid plans.
I spent large portions of that game playing Ohio State in my head. I've been doing this since the end of the Wisconsin game, to be honest. I didn't like the results much, but I suppose neither did the sliver of the OSU fanbase capable of complex thought after the Buckeyes got outgained by 3-8 MSU.
I think about ten years ago, and how seismic that felt. It felt like the world would rise or fall based on the result of one goddamn game, and how that was right. And Saturday, and ugh, and can we get this over with.
Then the heavens opened up.
What people with no experience of winter fail to understand is its capacity for sheer beauty. Saturday's transient blizzard turned a football game into a kaleidoscope of lacy geometries. The individual flakes traced whorls across the sky, each brilliantly lit. As they began to stick the stadium brightened, and brightened, until it was glowing. Light bounced from white to white until it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
I forgot about Speight's shoulder, and the looming nausea machine this weekend, and Twitter, and even the fucking red hat TV timeout guy. What looked dim from the outside was brilliant as mid-day on the interior. It is something I will not forget.
110,000 people felt that same lift. Maybe they weren't thinking quite as far back in the sleety past as I was, but they knew the difference between then, and now. Someone started chanting "BEAT OHIO," and thousands more took it up, as Michigan marched out a victory lit by a sun of a their own devising.
#1 De'Veon Smith had more than half of Michigan's yards and more or less produced all their points. On one particular short yardage run he ran directly over safety Tony Fields, causing him to eject an object that was either his mouthpiece, tooth, or soul. Fields kept coming, and Smith kept turning him into mulch.
#2 Taco Charlton collected 2.5 TFLs and created several more by driving his man deep into the backfield. He has been virtually unstoppable as a pass rusher; this was his best outing against the run. And now his ankle's 100%. Look out, world.
#3 Jourdan Lewis had three pass breakups and only gave up one of the two completions he ceded because it was in a blizzard and he was giving up ten yards on purpose. He had a couple of important PBUs on third down slants that booted Indiana off the field.
Honorable mention: Channing Stribling gave up one completion for 20 yards or so but had his share of PBUs and solid coverage; Ryan Glasgow was an interior terror; the offensive line in general blew up what had been a very good rush defense. Dymonte Thomas had an impressive thunk to prevent a drag route from converting a third down and had one of those PBUs where I have to check to make sure that he's not Lewis.
10:Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois, #3 MSU, #1 Maryland) 9: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers, #2 MSU) 7: Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #3 Maryland, #2 Iowa, #2 Indiana). 5:Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #1 Iowa). 4: Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW, #2 Maryland, #3 Indiana). 3.5: De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU, #1 Indiana). 3:Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers), Amara Darboh(#1 MSU), 2.5:Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois). 2:Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW) 1:Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois), Channing Stribling (#3 Iowa). 0.5:Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
De'Veon Smith stakes Michigan to a lead that felt much larger than three points.
Also, shirtless men.
Honorable mention: O'Korn scrambles for 30 yards; Smith extends the lead to 10.
Indiana goes on a Legitimate Drive in the middle of the second quarter and takes the lead at a point where you're wondering if Michigan can actually score a touchdown of their own.
Honorable mention: Various O'Korn things; the back-to-back-to-back ludicrous catches to set up an Indiana FG.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again. UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy. Colorado: Speight blindsided. PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury. UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured. Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man. Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown? Michigan State: a terrifying first drive momentarily makes you think you're in the mirror universe. Maryland: Edge defense is a confirmed issue. Iowa: Kalis hands Iowa a safety. Indiana: A legitimate drive.