Megatron—the Decepticon, not the Detroit Lion—is definitely the most interesting robot in the Transformer pantheon. Classic Megatron had the most clearly defined mission—pillage Earth's energy resources to power Cybertron—of any imaginary bad guy leader, but still possessed all the classic bad guy traits: narcissism, obsession with power, mistrust.
That last gave the character a rich irony, since in order to provide his greatest contribution in a fight, Megatron had to transform into a weapon wielded by someone else—usually that was Starscream, Megatron's primary rival for power. Nobody seemed to mind the physics of a transformer equal in size to Optimus Prime—a truck cab—transforming into a handheld blaster.
The thing Carr said when he gave Braylon the number is it's going to make you a target—the defense will always be accounting for #1. But there's no point in having such a powerful bad guy if you don't give him plenty of his own screen time. Somehow, Nussmeier managed to get Funchess open all over the field this week, and I wanted to know how.
Catch 1: Quick WR Screen
How to read these diagrams: Black lines are blocks, blue are routes, red denotes the hot read (as best as I could tell) and dotted lines are pre-snap motion. Click for bigger.
Michigan has just spent an offseason talking about how they're going to be an inside zone team. So Nussmeier chooses the best possible debut: a totally spread "quick screen" to the guy in #1, with an extra block courtesy of putting the U-back, Khalid Hill, in motion. Hill goes flat to kick out whoever appears, Norfleet starts downfield then latches on to the guy over him creating space for Funchess to get the ball and turn downfield.
Why it worked: Like Megatron, Funchess may be big but he's also got the acceleration and wiggle of a much smaller guy, and the screen gets those qualities in space against small defensive backs. Because he's a such a downfield threat the defense has to give him that space at the snap (even MSU did that last year). To stop this the defense needed to react super-fast and/or beat a block.
Such a quick pass also saved the OL from having to make long or difficult blocks, so there was no need to have a perfect protection scheme—the backside routes were both outlets in case the CB on Funchess was jumping the route or something.
How it helps the offense: This play punishes App State's space linebacker (#88 in the videos, denoted as WLB in the diagrams for simplicity's sake) for coming down into the box, something opponents did a ton of to us last year. That guy is responsible for the edge if the offense is running to his side, so forcing him to book it outside on the first play really messes with how that guy can react to things the rest of the day.
Downsides? This is highly coordinated play that had to have taken a lot of practice time to execute. That practice time was only worth it because it directly punishes the defense for playing sound against the rest of the offense.
The best reason I've been able to come up with for how this Michigan team could put up that kind of yardage against Ohio State is that Ohio State's defensive players are—man, how do I say this without being a total jackass homer rival?—more prone to mental errors than your average Big Ten starters.
I hereby dedicate this post In memory of the too-short MGoCareer of Heiko "Bubble Screen" Yang. Who needs doctor money anyway?
Another way to say it: the best and most representative player on that unit is Ryan Shazier, who is basically Jonas Mouton with five years of good coaching. Another way to say it: they're exactly as dumb as they are talented, and that's why a group of 5-stars are just an average defense. I am a total jackass homer rival.
The second-best reason, and the best you can say without coming off like a TJHR, is that which Borges himself apparently gave in the pre-game interview with Musberger: "We emptied the drawer." In other words, they finally ran all of those counters to the things they'd been doing all year.
There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to wonder why it took this long to throw paper, especially when that gamble came up just short (and the last play was a rock that OSU allegedly* RPS'ed) of paying off. For the moment, let's look at one of the "third" things they brought out for this game and what that did for the offense.
* Ohio State's players threw out one of those heartbreaking quotes about being uber-prepared for what was coming, but the play also had Gallon about to break open.
It's hard to argue Funchess isn't an "ideal" slot ninja, isn't it? [Upchurch]
The Bubble Package
Yards per attempt; attempts in parentheses:
Michigan does the bubble differently than Rich Rod—he made it an automatic check against the slot defender getting too close to his running game—but both work under the same principle: keep your grubby SAM's hands away from my interior running game!
The Borges Bubble game debuted against Michigan State as a bubble screen(!) that got a remarkable-for-that-day eight yards, followed by a fake bubble (out of the shotgun) to inside zone that got unfortunately blown up by a double-a gap blitz. It really came out in the Northwestern game: ten plays for 5.4 YPP. Of those, three were the bubble screen, four were a fake to an inside zone, and three to an iso. Once it was on film, Iowa adapted but Michigan ran the same (basically) two things they had against the Wildcats. The result was 2.4 YPP on seven tries: 2 bubbles and 5 inside zones.
They run it out of different formations, usually with two tight ends opposite the bubble twins (20/27 plays I have charted were from the Ace twins twin TE or I-form twins). They do run other stuff from these formations but twins (two receivers to one side) with Gallon on the line and Funchess in the slot is a good sign the bubble game is in play.
It's a good fit for this team since it: A) de-emphasizes interior blocking by holding the SAM outside and letting his OL play 5-on-5; B) Utilizes the surprising multi-threats of Gallon (as a blocker) and Funchess (as a slot receiver), and C) Lets them get Derrick Green running downhill.
I don't have Iowa video but I can show you how they adapted. The first time Michigan ran it they threatened blitz with the SAM:
Then had that guy back out and attack Funchess. The idea was to lure Michigan into a screen if this was a check, and then blow it all to hell. Like I said, it's on tape. Fortunately Michigan doesn't run checks; they called run:
Iowa got to play their base defense against that basic zone run, and the result was 5-ish yards. That is rock on rock: it's blockers versus the blocked until safeties arrive, however the SAM was kept away from the running game by the threat of Funchess. The thing is, up to then Michigan only had a rock and a scissors, so Iowa could spend all day in this defense, ceding 3-5 yards when Michigan ran it, and blowing up the bubble constraint.
Here's what this looked like when OSU defended it:
Same playcall as Iowa except since they knew it wasn't a check they didn't bother with fake SAM ("Star" in Buckeye terminology) blitz—just lined him up against Funchess. A screen is dead.
But watch Joey Bosa (#97 on the bottom of OSU's line) get way too upfield and try to knock down the screen pass that isn't coming, thus taking himself completely out of the play. He's matched against Lewan instead of Butt, though, so Michigan was probably going to get something out of that block anyway; you still don't want to make it so easy.
The middle linebacker (#14 Curtis Grant) compounded matters by Obi Ezeh-ing his way to the hole, which gave Kerridge enough time to arrive and pop in an advantageous position. Finally, the safety (#3 Corey "City in Pennsylvania" Brown) took a long time to read the play, backing out a few steps before setting up at the 1st down line. He might have been run through if the other safety (#4 C.J. Barnett) hadn't made his way over, got depth with a neat little athletic step, and helped stop it.
So rock on rock nets a big hole and big yards, because Ohio State's defenders are something-something box of rocks. But they're not the only talent-deficient guys on the field. Michigan's OL screwed up rock on the third bubble package play of the game:
That's inside zone. With the Star taken out by the bubble fake, everyone is blocked except the safety coming down (#3 Corey "a Jewish suburb west of Pittsburgh" Brown). And he was set up outside so if Mags and Glasgow can hold their downfield blocks this could bust huge. However Glasgow and Kalis didn't do a very good job on their exchange—or else the DT (#63 Michael Bennett) just did a great job fighting through it—and the Buckeye DT ends the play with a mouthful. Bennett was bent back when Glasgow released so my inclination here is to point at Kalis and call it ten-man football.
In the Iowa play I wish I had video of, that DE threw off Butt, and the middle linebacker, despite drawing Lewan, managed to attack quick enough to cut off escape until everyone else arrived, which didn't take long since Iowa's safeties were playing with their ears back. However Green's momentum vs the size of those guys got an extra two yards. Here his 240 lbs. are irrelevant against a wall like Bennett.
[After the jump: other things you can make your fist into]
Reader and graphic designer Brian Downing shows off his skills with the above, which I wish I was aware of before attempting my own "Al Borges is trolling us all" GIF:
Brian's (NTB's) is obviously superior; both of these are exempted from voting this week since they're edited. There's still plenty to choose from after the jump, mostly featuring Indiana not playing defense and various reactions to the on-field insanity. It's a good crop, so...