Neck Sharpies: Reading Your Tight End Open

Neck Sharpies: Reading Your Tight End Open

Submitted by Seth on February 17th, 2016 at 9:44 AM

In January I drew up two running plays from Harbaugh's masterful 1st quarter drive against Florida. In both plays Michigan found room to run despite the Gators scheming to attack inside runs, either by blitzing a linebacker or putting DTs in both "A" gaps (the gaps between the center and his guards).

Michigan also used its passing game to attack that defensive strategy, and true to Harbaugh, they did it with tight ends. Let's see how.

The setup:

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Rudock will call a play three plays in the huddle and pick one at the line. At that point Harbaugh quarterbacks will often decide where the ball is going by subtle things the defense does with its alignment. You can't trust a defense to attack the way they show, but they do betray some things. Apologies if this sounds like Dora (I work from home with a toddler, okay?!?) but can you spot what the defense is aligning for?

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1. That DT isn't in a standard 3-tech position. Both DTs are in a 2i, i.e. lined up on a guard's shoulder. Again, Florida is srsly about taking away those inside runs.

2. The LBs are squeezed in, more evidence that they're selling out against interior runs, which isn't so bad of an idea given Michigan's got Houma and Smith—two runners who do most of their damage going north-south—in the backfield. Guessing who's got what gap isn't easy since the MLB doesn't seem to have one. On the other hand the SAM I'm pointing at here isn't really in position to defend a quick-releasing TE. Meaning the safety to that side is engaged either in a zone or man coverage over there (i.e. not free to roam). Good to know.

3. The ends are both playing 6i, off their respective tight ends' inside shoulders. This suggests some defensive backs have edge responsibility, with the MLB a free hitter. This is suggesting a 9-man front. Perhaps those ends are expected to engage and delay the release of their tight ends, but it's doubtful either would have more than flat coverage against the TEs on a pass play; if those tight ends do release downfield those same edge defenders hangout out on the wings become pass defenders.

Considering the things Michigan wants to do with its offense, this seems pretty sound. Is it accurate though?

[After the jump: there's always a crack]

Neck Sharpies: The Whack-a-Trap Counter

Neck Sharpies: The Whack-a-Trap Counter

Submitted by Seth on October 6th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

This was boss from Harbaugh; Smith ignored it then got 10 yards with his own thing.

One of the plays from Brian's BYU Edition 11,000-word tome on De'Veon Smith we ended up discussing in slack chat for awhile. Brian covered what happened in that play in the UFR:

Ln Dn Ds O Form RB TE WR D Form Type Play Player Yards
O44 1 10 Ace twins H 1 2 2 Base 3-4 Run Counter trap. Smith 11
This gets jammed up on the playside and is gloriously ridiculously wide open on the backside. Glasgow is the guy releasing immediately and he has to go out to a guy lined up directly over a slot receiver to get a block. That's a trap pull behind Kalis. A cutback is a massive gain. Smith doesn't see that despite it being the play design but I still like what he does on this play. Hill can't get a seal on this because the DT is heading right at him inside; that's one reason the backside gap is so massive. Braden(+0.5) gets caught up; forms up, and cuts the guy off. Kalis(+1) doesn't have an angle unless this goes backside and still buries a linebacker into the mess w Braden and Hill. Cole(+1) gets a yard of depth; Smith(+1) spots the tiny crease and does a hard out-in cut. Three BYU players take a false step and Smith bursts upfield for near first down yardage. RPS +2.

And he had a breakout discussion on what Smith did with his cut. So that's what Smithg did but what about the RPS +2 part that Smith ignored. I'd like to show you what Harbaugh did to break that backside wide open, because it's a good example of atypical wrinkles he can pull out to mess with teams overreacting to the base power plays.

[after the jump I draw it up and try to figure out what was supposed to happen]

Picture Pages: Adjusting On The Fly

Picture Pages: Adjusting On The Fly

Submitted by Brian on September 17th, 2013 at 3:18 PM

I'd planned on posting another Picture Pages this week from the Notre Dame game on the assumption that there wouldn't be much from the Akron game to discuss. Surprise! The good news—ish—is that this continues our discussion of where Michigan's line is.

This is another Toussaint lost yardage play that marks the last time Michigan's run their as-yet-unsuccessful counter to their zone game. ABC provided a slick closeup of events (the difference between doing this for an ABC broadcast and BTN one is enormous—viva ABC), so we'll get a zoomed-in look at goings-on.

ND's in an even front; Michigan has two tight ends. They'll pull Schofield as the rest of the line tries to sell another zone.

image

Michigan immediately runs into the problems that is Louis Nix, who either isn't buying or is just assigned to slant outside of Glasgow.

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That's bad, that'll happen sometimes when you play Nix. As Nix surges upfield of Glasgow, Schofield sees him and knows he's got to deal with that lest Toussaint get swallowed in the backfield.

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Glasgow violates the fake rule I made up by turning upfield. Schofield's coming, but he doesn't comprehend that he isn't totally screwed until…

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Both guys go to Nix, leaving one of ND's ILBs unblocked. Toussaint makes things worse by trying to bounce around a rampant Nix, and gets chopped down.

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That's a two yard loss.

Video

Slow unnecessary for this one.

[After THE JUMP: Notre Dame faces the same problem, finds different results.]

Dear Diary is the Modern Stone Age Family

Dear Diary is the Modern Stone Age Family

Submitted by Seth on September 13th, 2013 at 10:49 AM

michigan-football-wallpaper-2013-notre-dame-widescreen-postgame

ppToilet’s post-game version of Monumental’s wallpaper

It’s been nearly a week and I’m not sure I’m back on a normal sleep schedule yet. I had to shake down Ace for our review copy of NCAA 14 back, change Devin’s number to 98, then go Michael Vick on computer defenses for hours because I wasn’t quite ready to stop watching that happen. This apparently is happened to bronxblue as well…aw hamburgers Brian already quoted that part. Here then’s a totally different stanza from this masterpiece:

Worst:  QB Vision Cone still in experimental mode

[Funchess and Butt] are young and should improve as the season comes along (especially Butt, who appeared to drop and/or run out of position for a couple of balls), but Gardner’s passing cone seems a bit skewed toward Dileo and Gallon and that could very well catch up to him as teams adjust or, knock on wood, one of them gets hurt.  For as much as I love the idea of this team’s leading receivers both being eligible for the Pomeroy Award, that would feel like a massive waste of talent at other positions on the field and, frankly, counter-productive to this team’s maturation this year and beyond.

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Brian is like 6’2” so H2V must be a big guy.

I disagree with both bronx and ST3 (in his weekly inside the box score) that the running game was effective at taking pressure off the passing. Brian already UFR’d what I saw: one big Gardner run that made the stats nice, and Fitz doing subtle things to screw with ND’s linebackers when they had him dead to rights. The particular brilliance of Gardner and Borges and Gallon and Dileo and Toussaint in this game was they managed to put up 41 points without the running game being something the defense had to cheat to. Borges picked his spots well because there wasn’t much to be had, Gallon hauled in catches while wearing cornerbacks who could be aggressive because there was help behind them, and Dileo threw his defender on his TD by doing a high-speed luau in the end zone.

More in ND postgame: HAIL 2 VICTORS did the Sports Power Weekends thing and wrote up his glowing review—Jared’s a client and I sat with him at the game so obvious bias here but, yeah, there’s a reason he’s our guy. Jamie Mac went through the recent history of favorites in this series. Brhino went through his favorite memories of the definitely-not-a-rivalry (why is Ismail in there?!?).

[Diarist of the Week and Best of the Board after the jump]

Picture Pages: Here Come The CRUMPETS, Ready Or Not

Picture Pages: Here Come The CRUMPETS, Ready Or Not

Submitted by Brian on September 18th, 2012 at 12:33 PM

I'm feeling quite a bit better about Michigan's DL performance now that I'm actually going over the tape. They're not doing much more than it seems like they did live, but since no actual NT types are getting much time and a lot of the problems rest squarely on the shoulders of things like "let's see if Mario Ojemudia is a 3-4 DE" and "let's see if Frank Clark is a three-tech." They turn out not to be.

Hopefully we can file this under experimentation and things won't be so bad when the big boys are actually in there. If Michigan goes long stretches without Washington, Campbell, or Pipkins on the field against Notre Dame I'll be surprised. And possibly catatonic.

Not everything can be waved away by calling it mad experimentation, unfortunately. Michigan's linebackers, be they beardy veterans or baby-fresh newcomers, are not making plays. One particular example leapt out because I'd just seen the UMass LB read Michigan's sprint counter, shoot past a blocker, and fill.

Thing I'm talking about == watch Mealer and the MLB

UMass gave up seven yards because all their guys ended up downfield but that's not on the LB.

On UMass's next drive they'd run a play that's very close to that sprint counter. It's just the plain ol' counter, but it's got a pulling tackle that leaves for the wide side of the field on the snap, a linebacker who could be but must not be looking at that, and positive yardage for a team that has struggled to find any.

Late first quarter, second and ten, UMass comes out with trips and a TE to the boundary (short side). Michigan is in the nickel look they spent almost the whole day in. Your DTs are Brink and Black; your ILBs are Bolden and Ross. Ryan is the DE who gets run at.

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The tackle at the top of the field pulls.

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My great and powerful desire in the above frame is for a Michigan linebacker to read that pull, bug out for the frontside, and hit whatever hole the tackle shows up in. I've been thinking of Notre Dame's linebackers this week since Notre Dame is the next team on the schedule, and they do this. If you zone your line one direction or pull a guy, they're gone. They go so hard it seems they leave themselves open to misdirection and counters, but that seems preferable to the steady drip drip of not getting off blocks.

Ross doesn't do this. He's moving, but the wrong way. Everyone else has taken two steps here; he's gone a half yard and drifted slightly to what would be the playside if this was the standard inside zone. Bolden, by contrast, sees what's going on and gets on his horse.

counter-3

A moment later, Ross is kaput, Bolden is moving at the LOS, and there's a pretty big hole because Black is not a nose tackle.

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Bolden makes contact at the LOS. This is a good place to make contact, but the thing that bugs me here is something I can't show you in a still.

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Here's a still anyway. Bolden's got to the LOS and he's got this tackle and he forms up. Okay. But even if Ross is here, the RB is going outside of Bolden. All he does is make the gap somewhat small. He has not MADE PLAYS.

As I watched this I started getting frustrated with Bolden's approach. This is a technique thing and I may be wrong, but don't you want this contact to be less dainty?

bolden

I want some BOOM at the end of that approach. Bolden just kind of catches the guy, which has two negative impacts. One: he does not go BOOM. If Bolden really whacks this guy he has a good shot at giving Cox no crease, or at least forcing him to slow down and pick another one. Two: he cannot make a tackle because he hasn't hit him hard enough to set up outside. No tackle, no funnel, no point. His ability to impact the OL at the LOS is essentially irrelevant because he didn't turn it into the Situation BOOM [tm shutdown fullback].

Like, I want to insert a little fireball when Bolden makes contact here. Instead, crumpets. There is some amount of control that must be deployed to prevent you from not impacting the play. Here the control makes you… not impact the play.

Anyway. Cox bursts through the hole…

counter-6

…and is hewed down after six yards.

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Video:

Things and Stuff

Once you've committed to the run you should COMMIT TO THE RUN. Whenever you're hitting a blocker in the backfield you get a check-plus for your read. But because Bolden just impacts the guy softly, he does not force Cox into a new hole. He doesn't even get the diving arm-tackle attempt Ryan puts in, and Ryan has contain responsibility.

Bolden needs a little Ross in him on this play. Not the Ross on this play. The Ross on other plays. The ones where he meets a guy at the LOS and that guy ends up on his back, antennae flailing in the air.

I don't get what Michigan's reading. You can't chalk this up to Ross being a freshman since he's a freshman who seems in the process of displacing Kenny Demens and Michigan linebackers have been frustrating like this for a year-plus now. Are they supposed to be looking in the backfield? Are they making Mattison chew his lip in frustration? Does Michigan require their DL to fill a bunch of these holes and want to use LBs as a cleanup crew?

I don't know. I hear Alabama LBs talk about what they see before a play even starts…

…and I'm like whoah. It doesn't seem like Michigan's getting much of that.

Big dang hole here. Black gets put away, but I'm not sure that's a problem with him. He doesn't know a tackle pulled. He sees the guy in front of him start inside zone blocking. He wants to get in his gap. He does. This goes back to the questions about Michigan's line slants against Alabama. If the DL controls his gap and you've got the extra guy who knows where the line is going, you should have a free hitter somewhere. Michigan has not gotten that much this year.

Ryan: active. Here he almost makes a great play by coming upfield of his guy and making a tackle attempt without giving up the outside. He did this late enough that his attempt did not open the hole any wider. He's a quality player.

Nice fill from Gordon. This is only six yards despite a tailback running untouched through the LOS because he comes down well and tackles in space.

Picture Pages: EMLOS Keys Are Hard

Picture Pages: EMLOS Keys Are Hard

Submitted by Brian on September 20th, 2011 at 3:01 PM

[Editor's Note: I was going to do a jet sweep post but got beaten to it by BWS. His conclusion is pretty harsh to Demens, and some of that is deserved. I don't see that as a specifically Demens problem, though. EMU used a ton of formations, unbalanced lines, presnap motion, and wholesale realignments to get Michigan's D out of position and confused. It worked. It worked on Demens and it worked on large chunks of the rest of the D. I think they're confused as a group.

That taken care of I'll move on to one of EMU's completed passes, which answers a question from earlier in the year.]

In the first week of the season we discussed Michigan's End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage (EMLOS is the commonly accepted jargon) and how his performance was hurting Michigan against power runs, particularly the counters that both WMU and Notre Dame used to good effect.

Part of that discussion was about how much Brennen Beyer was at fault for getting way upfield on our first example. Beyer was sent on a blitz, ended up three yards in the backfield, and made it difficult for Kenny Demens to close down a major hole. Demens lost contain, compounding matters. How much of that was on Beyer?

I thought the answer was "quite a bit" and the way Michigan handled a particular play-action showing the same counter action seems to confirm. It's the first quarter and EMU is on its second drive. They've got a first and ten. They line up in a three-wide shotgun with two backs; Michigan aligns in the under.

rollout-1

On the snap two things are apparent based on the Michigan line: 1) Jibreel Black v(top of line) is dropping off into a short zone and Jake Ryan (bottom) is blitzing as the rest of the line slants left:

rollout-2

EMU is pulling the backside G; the RB is taking a counter step, and the other RB is coming down the line to block. This is a close analogue to the Beyer counter. You'll notice that both linebackers are still waiting.

Here's how Ryan handles this:

rollout-3rollout-4rollout-5

LEFT: he reads the pulling OL.
MIDDLE: he flattens his approach and starts coming down the line.
RIGHT: he's in the running lane playside of the block, not kicked out.

Here's Beyer vs Ryan:

counter-not-so-much-4_thumb[1]rollout-5

Beyer is three yards upfield. Ryan is two. You can't tell this in the stills but Ryan's momentum is also much better. He is heading down the line and can impact a blocker with force. Beyer had to come to a full stop and redirect. He did that impressively; it was not enough.

Move Beyer a yard towards the LOS in the left frame and he is either making a tackle for no gain or picking off the other blocker, leaving the RB for an unblocked Demens. Look at the distance between the DE/LBs and the DTs. Even though RVB is fighting playside in the left frame and slanting away from the play in the right, the gap is much larger in the former. Win for Ryan.

Great! Except the tailback doesn't have the ball.

rollout-5

Nuts.

Gillette rolls out as Ryan comes underneath the tackle and three WRs release to the roll side:

rollout-6

Ryan's there to provide some token pressure but it's not enough; a WR running deeper than Demens and Gordon finds a window. Gillette throws…

rollout-7

…for a nice gain.

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Video

Items of interest

Just because you're blitzing doesn't mean you don't have keys. My assumption is that Ryan is the guy doing what the coaches want here. He's got a year of experience, Michigan's been burned by this before and probably made a point of it in film study, and he's playing instead of Beyer (mostly).

You're sent on a blitz and get no resistance at all? Check for a pulling OL and get inside of him.

Just because there's obviously a key here doesn't mean there aren't more. The RB's second step here should be a giveaway that this is not a run play. My guess at Ryan's thought process:

  1. BLITZ WOO crap check the…
  2. Pulling G. Have to get inside pulling G to occupy blockers, restrict hole.
  3. Pulling G.
  4. D'oh.
  5. Token, too late edge pressure.

My guess at the ideal thought process:

  1. I have been assigned a blitz. Let's soberly check the…
  2. Pulling G. Have to get inside pulling G to occupy blockers, restrict hole. Hmm, maybe I should check the…
  3. Running back. He is past the mesh point but not following the pulling guys.
  4. ALERT
  5. EDGE PRESSURE WOO

"Football is hard." -psychology majors who used to be pre-med

I'm not too bothered by the hole in the zone. Once Ryan loses the edge there that's a lot of time for the QB to sit and wait for his WR to run his way into an inevitable gap. I guess you could blame either Gordon or Demens, probably Gordon. He could sink back into the route by reading the QB's eyes and either get a PBU/pick or, more likely, force a less-damaging dumpoff to the underneath receiver.

That seems like Advanced Zone Mechanics 486, though. That's a place to get to eventually.

Kovacs is the free safety. Gordon/whoever rolls down into the box far more often than Kovacs does and it's almost always Kovacs who's coming down to fill against WRs when completions are made.

Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part II

Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part II

Submitted by Brian on September 7th, 2011 at 2:38 PM

Last time on Picture Pages we saw how hopeless n00b Brennen Beyer made life very difficult for Michigan on a 25-yard counter play Western ran in the second quarter. Poor linebacker play from Kenny Demens and Carvin Johnson contributed.

A bit later in the half, Western would go back to the well. How would Beyer react?

It's first and ten at the Michigan 17 on Western's third drive. They've taken the ball from the Michigan 47 to get here. Western comes out in the same look-ma-spread-in-shred formation and will run the same counter play they ran before. Michigan is again in an aggressive one-high press look:

second-counter-1

A lot of backups are in. The DL is Beyer/Heininger/Brink/Black. LBs are Herron, Fitzgerald, and Johnson walking down into the box.

On the snap it's the same business, with the backside G and H-back pulling around. This time Beyer's got it figure out, though. You can just see his head popping out from behind the tackle who is releasing downfield:

second-counter-2

All right, now we are in the business. Or not. You can read the title.

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Beyer disappears in the above frame because he is making contact with the G at about the LOS. Also look at the linebackers. Fitzgerald has not moved; Herron is starting to run at the play.

Doh:

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Beyer has run inside and gotten sealed at the LOS approximately where the center started the play. The fullback sails outside no problem. Instead of making a pile he's just created a huge hole by removing any leverage available.

Meanwhile Fitzgerald is getting cut to the ground. He's hardly moved despite a guard pulling in front of his face, and thanks to that Johnson can't flow. Neither can Brink, who is giving ground to pursue but just gets cut.

Herron, for his part, is going to blow the leverage again…

second-counter-5

…but it wouldn't have mattered much because there's hardly anyone behind him.

Zoom!

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Kovacs cleans up again.

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Video with dramatic pause:

Object Lessons

Someone took Beyer aside and told him how he'd screwed up on the first power and what to do. If you look at the comments on the last one there is some debate about whether or not Beyer was absolved because of a blitz. I don't think that's entirely possible; if you're blitzing and no one's blocking you off the edge while the QB executes a mesh point you need to slow your roll and adjust. Beyer didn't; someone told him he should do that.

Beyer took that advice and overcompensated a la Cam Gordon playing safety last year. I'm still not sure if they were playing to squeeze or spill. I'm guessing squeeze. This is the cost of playing freshmen. This kind of thing will get better.

I do wonder why he's even on the field. If they're going to run a four-man line I'd rather have Brink and Heininger out there than Beyer, since at least they've played football in college before. I guess you have to chalk that up to the heat and the necessity to play the walk-ons on the interior, which means just terrible things about Ash/Campbell/Washington. If Cam Gordon returns next week it wouldn't surprise me to see Ryan in Beyer's role.

Yet more indecisive linebackers. A guard pulling is a dead giveaway as to the direction of the play and twice we see Michigan players not reacting to it at all. If they're not reading the G whatever they are reading is not giving them a heads-up quickly enough.

This may be four defensive systems in four years with three coordinators; it may be a talent issue. Demens suggests it's at least some of the latter. Either way, Fitzgerald sits entirely still until he's chopped to the ground by a Western OL, which eliminates not only him but Johnson and Brink thanks to the location of the block. Meanwhile, Herron has a tough job that he does poorly with, losing leverage on the play.

I assume days that aren't blistering hot will see Demens on the field for every snap, but if he's hurt we're screwed and WLB is a real problem. Herron had two touchdowns and is going to end up significantly negative on the day.

Heininger does not accomplish what RVB does. He gets sealed away and is trying to spin free when the LB-FB contact occurs; he's in no position to help if Herron turns it inside, which he doesn't because no one turns it inside ever. This may be a slight exaggeration born of frustration.

Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part I

Picture Pages: How Not To Defend Power, Part I

Submitted by Brian on September 7th, 2011 at 12:21 PM

People are worried about the defense, and with good reason. The worrying bit isn't so much the best quarterback in the state averaging 5.9 YPA and being forced into two turnovers by getting clobbered, but rather Western Michigan running for almost 5 YPC with guards they picked up at a yard sale in Jackson.

I have good news and bad news about this. The good news: a major reason for these issues was a true freshman in his first game who made obvious errors. He fixed some of those errors. The bad news: he fixed those errors so hard he made the opposite error. More bad news: he wasn't the only culprit.

We're looking at two successful first-half counters run by the Broncos. Here's the first. It's second and two on the Michigan 47 on Western's second drive of the day. Western's all like "look, ma, I'm the 2010 Michigan offense" and Michigan brings out its aggressive one-high press man for the first time:

counter-not-so-much-1

You see the 3-4 front with three tight corners. Kovacs is out of the picture deep. The slot "corner" is Thomas Gordon. The LBs from top to bottom are Herron Jones, Johnson, Demens, and Beyer, with Roh/Martin/Van Bergen the DL. Your key players are the bottom three guys in the front seven: Beyer, RVB, and Demens.

A moment after the snap:

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The tackle blocks down on RVB, leaving Beyer free to fly into the backfield. This is an Admiral Ackbar situation that Beyer is too pumped up on adrenaline and youthful stupidity to recognize. He's all like "gonna get me some QB."

Meanwhile, the RB is moving right, but check out that OL directly in front of the QB: he's pulling left. This is a counter.

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A moment later Beyer is recognizing his DERP far too late. He's already three yards into the backfield and his momentum is stopped as he tries to change direction now that the QB doesn't have the ball. the pulling G is going to hammer him.

Not all is lost, though: Demens has read it and is moving into the hole. And you see a lot more of Van Bergen's jersey, don't you?

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RVB has given about a yard but now has his helmet across his blocker. Beyer defeats the OG's block and would have a shot at a tackle if he hadn't flown upfield so fast. There's that lead blocker and a lot of room for Demens to close down but he could…

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…just about turn it back inside to RVB, who has now totally defeated his block, or he could…

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…turn into Jonas Mouton and lose leverage.

Zoom!

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That's 25 yards before Kovacs can come up and save the bacon.

Video, with annotation!

OBJECT LESSONS

I learned this from Spielman. There are two main ways to defend the power play: "squeeze" and "spill." Squeezing is getting into the guard upfield a bit so that the RB has to take it inside into a more restricted hole. Beyer would have to be a yard or two closer to the LOS and to the inside to be squeezing. From that spot he can make a play, or at least make it harder to burst outside that LB.

Spilling is kind of a scrape exchange type deal where the playside DE roars down the line at the pulling G and cuts his ass to the ground. This is intended to create a pile that takes out the other lead blocker and forces the running back to bounce outside, where a linebacker scraping over the top should clean stuff up. Beyer would have had to shoot directly at the G as soon as he reads the pull.

Obviously, he does neither and gets kicked out of a very large hole. If he's in the right position he's dealt with the block well enough to make a tackle. He's not.

Demens did Mouton it. He's got a tough job here with the fullback and a big hole, but letting the guy outside of you is a cardinal sin—unfortunately, one we're all too familiar with. If Demens gets outside that fullback WMU might get a big run anyway but "losing leverage" (the jargon) guarantees it.

Another quiet Van Bergen plus. This is the kind of thing I am talking about when I say RVB is good but the things he does often go for naught. Here he beats a downblock, which is tough, to show up in the hole and potentially rescue Johnson, who you may note ran ridiculously playside and ends up farther away from the play than double-teamed NT Martin. Demens loses the plot and Van Bergen's reward is just a UFR plus and a chase downfield.

Ugh Johnson. To reiterate: the guard directly in front of Johnson's face pulls and he ends up yards away from relevance.

Kovacs. He tackles. He does not not tackle. Here he sort of misses, but this was very rare. This may not hold up against Big Ten teams but there were plenty of opportunities for the Broncos to pick up a touchdown that they could not because Kovacs tackled them.

Picture Pages: This Is Not A Stack

Picture Pages: This Is Not A Stack

Submitted by Brian on November 3rd, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.

You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!

So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:

kovacs-1

This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.

At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:

 kovacs-2

Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?

kovacs-3

Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)

kovacs-4

The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:

kovacs-5

The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:

kovacs-6

Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:

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Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.

Here's the video:

I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.

The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:

 wvu-2007-inside-zone

At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-2

At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-3

This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-4

MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-5

There are four WVU guys in the area:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-6

And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:

wvu-2007-inside-zone-7

On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.

So, things:

  • It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
  • I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
  • Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
    base-3-4
    4-3:
    moutong-ugh-1 
    Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
  • Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
  • Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
  • I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.