Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Defense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 19th, 2018 at 10:07 AM

Previously: The Offense, MSU's defense last year

Resources: My charting, MSU game notes, MSU roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats

Michigan State runs a…

Lemme guess: a match quarters defense.

Yes, which…

squeezes the linebackers inside and plays their safeties super-aggressively against the run.

Right, and this…

stifles outside runs, but opens up deep passes behind the safeties who are not super-athletic. But they get away with that because the quarterbacks they face are either butt, or playing in a rainstorm, or suddenly become butt when they're playing Michigan State for no reason, or just forget they're allowed to throw.

I feel like you're read this before.

They return 10/11 starters from last year. Also I have been living in this state this millennium. Do they have a Bullough at middle linebacker?

Yes, but he's not starting. Instead there's a guy named Joe Bachie…

…who can cover multiple A gaps and won't stay blocked, so you don't want to run at him, and anyway their DTs are excellent at squeezing those gaps shut, but they're also built to stop all outside runs so it's either run over Bullough…


…Bachie or throw over the safeties, which we can't do because we have a Big Ten quarterback who can't hit wide open bombs?

Dude, Shea is GREAT at wide open bombs!

Oh? What's the forecast on Saturday?

Rain, but only from 12 to 3pm.

So Dantonio just has a deal with the…

interim president of Michigan State University, John Engler.

eo nomine.

The Film: PSU-MSU again. Michigan's not a Speedy Eaglet offense (and yes, we're sore about that), but it was always going to be this game. FWIW the officiating atrocities didn't quite even out but Penn State won back a lot of OL tackles.

My diagram:


PDF Version, full-size version (or click on the image)

[after THE JUMP: same story, same names]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Offense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 18th, 2018 at 10:00 AM

Resources: My charting, MSU game notes, MSU roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats

DISRESPEKT is earned. Anyone can become a scrappy, well-coached, ball-control program that wins a few big games despite never showing much in the way of draft picks and fancystats. But the more you win, the more that disrespect erodes. It takes an extraordinary program to reach true DISRESPEKT, to both keep winning AND continue to prove, day in and day out, that you objectively shouldn't.

Sending a string of quarterbacks to the NFL, returning 10 starters, getting some Heisman chatter, having a top-10 class reach drinking age, blocking someone: these are all acts that will undermine the foundations of a good DISRESPEKT, catapulting your Bill C numbers into playoff contention, making pundits believe for reasons they don't quite understand, and convincing Vegas to put the dreaded minus sign after your name. DISRESPEKT requires a true commitment to playing hurt and underrecruited backups, taking behavioral penalties, pulling statistical improbabilities out of your ass, then going online to make fun of all the losers and their math.

This Michigan State offense has reached peak DISRESPEKT. The top-250 RB who "skipped the NFL" is voluntarily on the bench. Lewerke's Heisman campaign barely merits all-Big Ten honorable mention. All but one of their burly receivers are injured. The offensive lineman most expected to be good is the least likely to play. Their biggest gainers are trick plays, and their best actual play is throwing a too-short fade into perfect coverage.

They're #75 to Bill Connelly, brutal to watch, and perfectly formed for the narratives of people who hate smart. They just knocked off #6 Penn State on the road. My brain says Michigan's #1 S&P+ defense can go into that cold, wet slab of concrete and whup these guys. History is clear they'll find a way to get just enough. I'm terrified.

The film: MSU-PSU was a classic upset. State collected all four of their fumbles plus Penn State's, Penn State defenders dropped all four of Lewerke passes they jumped, and while they did intercept one of their 12(!) additional one-handed passes defensed, Spartan receivers caught four of them. MSU's longest play from scrimmage was a fake punt, and their four touchdowns were off an RB pass, a fake field goal, and two dead drives extended by unnecessary defensive penalties. The national takeaway was why didn't they save this game for Michigan. I also charted the offense vs. Indiana, whose defense is conceptually a lot more like ours. That game too featured a lot of luck, but also Cody White.

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

Putting aside the offensive line situation, MSU's skill position personnel is dealing with a lot of their own injuries. RB L.J. Scott has a recurring ankle issue and Dantonio said last week that it'll be up to Scott, who's been dressing, when he plays again. I'm guessing that will be Michigan, but he's been a progressively paler shadow of the dynamo freshman we saw in 2015. In fact I think he's been fully passed by sophomore RB Connor Heyward, a thick north-south type, if not also by the slightly more agile but still tank-like RB La'Darious Jefferson. All three are under 4 YPC this season, but again, the OL is after the jump.

Talent at receiver this year was a deep pool until somebody went grenade fishing in it. Jumbo slot WR Darrell Stewart is expected back for the first time since an (ankle?) injury against IU, and WR Cody White, the Tarik Black to Felton's DPJ, broke his wrist against CMU and is probably still out for this one. Add to the list freshman WR Jalen Nailor, who hasn't dressed the last few weeks, last year's top backup WR Cam Chambers, who's got 137 yards this year on just 8 targets but has been playing with a cast on his hand, and a backup slot Andre Welch. By the the PSU game regular outside options had been whittled down to just star split end Felton Davis, a Braylonesque threat we'll get into at the Dangerman section, and flanker Brandon Sowards, a skinny 5th year senior who wasn't used until this year except as a backup punt returner. In Stewart's absence smurfy slot Laress Nelson was highly productive, gathering 5 receptions on as many targets for 12 YPT, most of those seams.

In hefty skill position guys, tight end is a rotation after they failed to get much of a senior year bump out of returning starter TE Matt Sokol, who's been less a part of the offense of late. Backup TE Matt Dotson, a true sophomore, is basically a flex receiver. He's big enough to get away with some big guy OPI and shrug off little guy OPI, but not much of a blocker yet at this stage. There's also "TE" Chase Gianacakos, an offensive tackle-sized big boy who moved from guard and is purely in there to road grade. Standard blocky FB Collin Lucas has been dealing with an injury as well but I'm sure they've got a play designed for him in this game.

And then there's QB Brian "I Like the Way" Lewerke, whose legs were the engine of last year's MSU's offense, and whose star is hanging on right now only out of respect for his prior season. He'll have his own section too, after…



Fee Fi Foe Film: Wisconsin Defense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Wisconsin Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 12th, 2018 at 10:11 AM

Previously: The Offense, UW's defense last year

Resources: My charting, UW game notes, UW roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats

Wisconsin never seems to have a problem replacing key players for their old fashioned 3-4 system. For a generation it's been an endless train of 290-pound DEs, 360-pound nose guards who post Vines of themselves doing crazy acrobatic feats, gap-diving middle linebackers who are far too good in coverage for their purportedly limited athleticism, ultra-grabby, hoodie-wearing jabroni cornerbacks who whine incessantly about the obvious flags they draw, odd couple safeties who are some kind of scrappy, and outside linebackers they had to start giving obviously fake names like "Joe Schobert" and "Vince Biegel" because the public was growing suspicious of the prodigiousness of this supposed "Watt" family. BadgerGen Cloning is a thing.

They still have still have that freaky nose (RIP Vine), got another year of eligibility for the scrappy/small/dreadlocked safety, returned three of their embarrassment of riches at middle linebacker, and the cornerbacks are still out there embarrassing themselves (it's still too warm for hoodies). But they graduated a lot of key players, and are banged up at the replacements. And Iowa moved them off the ball pretty consistently. And their schedule has been pretty kind. And they can't pass rush at all. I dunno you guys, I'm kinda thinking The Year was last year.

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

Bemoan Michigan's DT injuries this weekend if you wish, but I warn you not to do so within earshot of any Badger fans. Wisconsin graduated all three main contributors at the two DE spots last year, then took two more body blows in Spring when SDE Garrett Rand, who was also the projected backup NT, and the projected WDE Isaiahh Loudermilk were both injured. Rand is out for the year, and Loudermilk probably should be shut down; he missed the first two games and has been ruled out of this one.

It's not hard to see why they tried to play him hurt; his backup is a redshirt freshman walk-on, DE Matt Henningsen. Iowa went right at Henningsen when he came on the field, and Loudermilk duly limped back. Hobbled as he was, Loudermilk was the only lineman generating any kind of pressure or TFLs on his own. It's a significant loss.

Rand's replacement is another RS freshman, DE Kayden Lyles, who was 207th on the 247 composite last year because 320-pound DTs are much sought after. Lyles may be the future at nose but right now he's way behind on technique and routinely gets planted 4 yards downfield whenever he meets an Iowa double team. NG Olive Sagapolu can still move faster than any 360-pound (the roster lies) human, but Iowa's OL really had their way with him this game too—I won't take away his star because he stayed in contact with his linemen and he can still move faster than any other 360-pound human. His backup is not good—3-star true freshman NG Bryson Williams was the other crumpled thing in a white jersey when Iowa was gashing Lyles. I'm not usually in the habit of putting cyans on the bench unless the guy sees a lot of snaps and is close to charting in the negative double digits, and, well…

Another guy playing hurt is Strongside OLB Andrew Van Ginkel, a star off the bench last year as a pass-rusher. He's been out there, and he's still got that crazy get-off that makes him a terrifying edge attacker, but he can't seem to turn without falling down this year; Iowa's QB managed to escape him with relative ease. The rest of the front not getting much pass rush also nerfs AVG's effectiveness when he's on the field. When he's not they're using another former walk-on, OLB Tyler Johnson, who's just a guy. The normal weakside OLB, Zach Baun, flips over to Van Ginkel's spot when Johnson's on the field. Baun's been injured much of his career and only charted in this game because Iowa's LT was kicking him way upfield a few times; usually he did a fair job of contain and that's all he was asked to do.

The secondary is also casting about for players. Injuries, a transfer, and a targeting penalty that will force FS Scott Nelson (a redshirt freshman Detroiter Don Brown offered at BC) to sit the first half is testing an already shaky unit. Backup FS Eric Burrell was flat-out burned by a tight end on the one play he charted, and he's already behind the obvious weak spot of this defense.

watch #9 the high safety on the left

SS D'Cota Dixon was thinking of the NFL but Wisconsin found another year for him (he didn't play the Big Ten portion of 2014 so they didn't Spartan this) or else things were going to get dire. He's the one real player they have back there. He also was in a precautionary walking boot on Tuesday.

Iowa mostly stayed away from CB Caesar Williams; if they'd gone at him a third time he'd a have a star on my chart, but he's another one of the "Questionable" players on the injury report after leaving the Nebraska game with a leg injury. The other two in the rotation are CB Faion "Handsy" Hicks and CB Deron "Handsy" Harrell, who both commit so much pass interference it even gets called(!). By Big Ten refs (!!!). Hicks does so because he's not fast and is a terrestrial small guy who freaks out if he gets put on a tight end. Harrell does so because he's a recently converted WR. Oddly Harrell started the Iowa (and Nebraska) games over Williams. Harrell also left the Nebraska game under concussion protocol and is the more questionable of the questionables to play. The fourth, true sophomore CB Madison Cone, is a very tiny guy who was very very confused whenever he played.

Of course I've yet to mention two of the best players in the Big Ten, including a guy in the running for "The". We'll get to those inside linebackers in the Dangerman section, after the jump.

[Hit THE JUMP for…yes I know Zach Gentry exists; if you can't stop tenting your fingers just use your nose to click]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Wisconsin Offense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Wisconsin Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 11th, 2018 at 9:05 AM

Resources: My charting, UW game notes, UW roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats

Jim Harbaugh's offense is rare in this age of spread. He loves to use extra tight ends, fullbacks, and offensive linemen dressed as tight ends to extend the line of scrimmage, creating more gaps than the defense has competent run defenders to cover. Harbaugh also probably finds the heaviness of Paul Chryst's Wisconsin's offense excessive.

Four years into Chryst's return to Madison and the meatball transformation is complete. Its engine, as per usual, is an offensive line that averages over 320 pounds, benches more than their pickup trucks, and goes eight deep with all-conference candidates before roll call gets to the fifth letter of the alphabet. They're grabby, mean, way more intelligent than all the memes about them, and mostly impenetrable in pass protection.

Behind them is man for this time and place. A man who believes he can shoot a football into a pinhole. A man turned on by the undulations of a rill.

Behind that man, that rarest of North American endangered species: A fullback.

Behind him, a patient discerning connoisseur of bespoke gaps.

The film: Sure we'd all like to have seen how BYU pulled it off, but are we BYU or are we Kinnick at Night? Iowa could have won this too if they hadn't fumbled away two punts.

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

Wisconsin returned everybody but the tight end and fullback from last year. The latter had a proper heir apparent in FB Alex Ingold. The former however has been replacement by committee, which committee includes blocky-blocky-catchy TE Kyle Pennison, and catchy-flexy freshman TE Jake Ferguson (last year's quasi-second starter Zander Nueville is out for the season), and several backup offensive linemen in high numbers.

They're also facing Michigan again without their burly star WR Quintez Cephus, who's embroiled in a sexual assault accusation he's contesting as if he's either extremely innocent or extremely not. Flanker/Jet motion guy A.J. Taylor has maintained his highly efficient 12 yards per target from last year. Sophomore split end Danny Davis III is at 8 YPT and a 73% catch rate but strangely hasn't been used as much as the far less efficient slot Kendric Pryor. The real third down threat is Ferguson, Barry Alvarez's grandson, who's got 10 YPT and the second-most targets to Taylor. They also like to throw to slippery third down back Garrett Groshek, a quasi-slot receiver who seems to be reserved for shotgun snaps. When Taylor needs a breather they have RB Taiwan Deal back from the injury that knocked him out for 2017. Deal is a pure mooseback.

If it's not a passing down however, you're unlikely to see more than AJ Taylor from the last paragraph. The great RB Jonathan Taylor has started to get some use as a receiver this season, Ingold can catch more than fullbackian passes in the flat. They rarely throw at Pennison, and three different backup OL charted in this game in addition to the starting five. Play-action passes are sprinkled in with equal parts cunning and reticence, and are mostly America's Favorite Rollout to make sure your OLBs and safeties don't come down to interrupt Wisconsin's 9-minute turns.

The line is the vintage Wisconsin line. RT (Hornibrooks's blind side) David Edwards is a 1st rounder on most boards. He's a wall in pass protection, and a bulldozer on the run. RG Beau Benzschawel is a peak Wisconsin guard, a little too stiff to get NFL types excited but massive, leaning, smart, and quick enough to be a massive pain and their best run blocker. C Tyler Biadasz is a thick run-blocker with savvy beyond his years but arms that can get him in trouble versus a serious pass rusher. LG Michael Dieter has finally found his home inside after playing C and LT over a long starting career. And LT Jon Dietzen is a punishing run blocker who splits time with promising sophomre LT Cole Van Lanen, who's as grabby as any Badger OT I've seen. Not that it matters against Michigan but they all have their hands outside their defenders' arms pretty much every play. The Packers do this too. Other states should legalize it since it seems to be working.

[after THE JUMP: Randy Rivers and the Tight, Tight Windows]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Maryland Defense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Maryland Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 5th, 2018 at 10:04 AM

Resources: The Offense, My charting, UMD depth chart, UMD roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats, ESPN PbP (Photo: Paul Sherman)

D.J. Durkin isn't allowed to coach this year, and his DC was also implicated, so the defense is being run by LBs/Special Teams coordinator Matt Barnes, who followed Durkin since Florida (including to Michigan as a defensive analyst). You can be very forgiven—especially if you remember some of the linebacker issues at Maryland under Durkin—for thinking Barnes would walk in with the same system and exacerbate its myriad issues. You'd be wrong. In D.J.'s absence his defense has become suddenly very un-Durkin like. No more single-high safety in the parking lot. Very little 4-3 over. Maryland's Buck linebacker isn't a 100% defensive end! They're not even bad anymore. What are you doing Barnes?

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

Last year Maryland was breaking in a lot of new starters, but only a handful are still on the field. FS Darnell Savage remains the Very Not Boring Safety but a prevalence of good coverage suggests that's now a plus. The rest of his game is attack dog—instances in this game were 75% wicked TFLs (or close to it) and 25% arm-flailing overruns. My guess is the shift to a lot more two-high looks this year has been to play to Savage's strengths. The other two guys we faced last year are DT Mbi Tanyi, now much more comfortable at 3-tech instead of getting blown out at nose all the time, and CB Tino Ellis, who seemed to be playing very far off whenever he was caught on camera.

Almost every spot that gave them trouble last year has been filled with an able non-freshman. BUCK (WDE/LB) Jesse Aniebonam, who had 14 TFLs in 2016, returned from the injury that knocked him out of last year's opener vs. Texas. They've swapped out a cornerback for an FSU transfer, CB Marcus Lewis who's athletic and good in run support, and a middle linebacker for an Illinois one, leading tackler and MLB Tre Watson. The star SS/HSP Antoine Brooks has moved down to the Peppers role full time and is excelling there, and former Michigan commit SS Antwaine Richardson, who filled in at safety for Brooks on nickel snaps in the past, is boringly fine. Auburn transfer and former 247 Composite #3 overall prospect SDE Byron Cowart is finally eligible somewhere and flashing that talent, though he's a step down from graduated Cavon Walker (UDFA to the Bears).

There's also very little drop-off from the starters to the four backup DL, who requested I honor them as a group:

Replacing the other two NFL prospects has gone less well. New NT Adam McClean, a former Top-150 prospect, is just a big big boy who gets stood up by doubles—I decidedly preferred the walk-on from his class, NT Oluwaseun Oluwatimi to the point of wondering why he's not starting. And since Watson had to take Jermaine Carter's old job, WLB Isaiah Davis is still on the field, and therefore still the best way to attack this defense.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Maryland Offense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Maryland Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth October 4th, 2018 at 12:51 PM

Resources: My full charting, UMD depth chart, UMD roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats, ESPN

If Northwestern's Mike Hankwitz is de jure heir to Bo's defensive legacy, Matt Canada carries the most direct claim to Bo's offense, inheriting it through (former Bo player at Miami) Joe Novak, the longtime Gary Moeller and Bill Mallory assistant. While at NIU, Canada and Novak helped write part of the history of spread offense by putting the meatball back in it. When Novak retired (leaving Jerry Kill in charge) Canada went back to Indiana, his alma mater. Michigan fans may remember the Chappelbombing under Bill Lynch: that was Canada.

That was also six(!) teams ago. Canada went back to NIU for a year, spent a year coaching Bielema's offense at Wisconsin, spent three years at NC State with Dave Doeren, joined Pitt as Pat Narduzzi's first OC, was bought by LSU, got fired by Orgeron, and landed at Maryland just in time to be the one guy not tainted by everything.

At every stop beat reporters have struggled to define Canada as a spread coach who runs much of his offense out of the flexbone. But for Canada, it's never been about where you are at the snap, but the path you took to get there:

Matt Canada is the Motion Man, traveling from one campus to another, staying only long enough to set scoring records and sew his particular brand of jet-fueled chaos. After all, the man has two degrees from Indiana.

The film: They played this game in a decrepit, leaking NFL building without any drainage because Maryland is one of those college teams that likes to regularly sell its home games to local pro stadiums. Since the Terps weren't expected to win, hard rain was in the forecast, it was 110 degrees with 970% humidity at kickoff, and Maryland had just had their insanely toxic culture exposed by the negligent death of a player, the event was not well-attended.


And rain it did. After three quarters of panting in a sweat lodge fans had to wait through an 86-minute weather delay at the start of the 4th quarter (during which fans got to pack into the hallways and watch the media complain about leaks in their covered, air conditioned press box). After that the players were sloshing around in 4 inches of water and Canada stuck almost exclusively to jet action plays out of the flexbone. Maryland looked like the better team but won flukily: Bill C's stats put Maryland at a 30% win expectancy with an adjusted scoring margin of –5.5. It was a weird game.

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

This is the first game they'll have the entire starting offensive line playing together though it's hard to tell which injuries are still relevant after a bye week. I'll detail in the OVERVIEW, 

[after THE JUMP]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 28th, 2018 at 9:59 AM

Previously: The Offense [photo: UM Bentley Library]

A lot about defense has changed since Northwestern DC/former Michigan tight end Mike Hankwitz got his coaching start as a grad assistant for Bo. Like, nobody runs a base 5-2 anymore. Nose guards can't be 175 pounds. Randy Bates no longer coaches the Northwestern secondary. Nebraska ain't so good at it (mea culpa).

But if you've watched enough Dr. Sap videos the Northwestern system starts does start to feel familiar. From the middle linebackers covering interior gaps. To the way a safety comes down almost to linebacker depth when he smells a tight end on his side. To the got-dang soft coverage by the cornerbacks that old guys used to complain about back when they couldn't complain that the latest Michigan head coach is no Bo Schembechler.

This being Northwestern, there are always some holes to fill; this time it's the safeties and hoo boy did Bates chose a bad time to end his 25-year career. It also means there's at least on capital-D Dude around; this time it's The Gaz, and hoo boy.

The film: We are still on Duke, even though I'm down to just official highlights now that some shadow company has re-emerged to strike football video from the internet. Duke runs its offense out of a base pistol with a fullback and uses a lot of zone read, inverted veer, and run-pass options. So they're not quite us, but neither is Purdue or Akron.

Personnel: My diagram (Official depth chart):


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

We'll get to The Gaz. The whole front seven is good and they're deep at defensive tackle. They're at their best though when NT Jordan Thompson is on the field—PFF had him on the Big Ten team of the week after this performance. He's a mean ball of hate with a Hulk-like body shape.

#99 second DT from the top

Last year he was an X-factor, sometimes playing high and out of control and sometimes wrecking all in his path. If this performance is indicative of a new consistency he's immediately in the conversation for best DTs in the conference.

I was surprised by the outside linebacker I liked—it wasn't SLB Nate Hall, who had 16.5 TFLs last year. It was true sophomore WLB Blake Gallagher, who had just 1 TFL last year as a seldom used backup. By their weights last season you might guess the 235-pound Hall would be the interior guy and Gallagher, who as 215 on the '17 roster, is a hybrid type; that was correct last year but Gallagher is up 20 pounds and playing in-yo-face WLB. Hall, who remains over 230, is lining up over slot receivers. That looks as awkward as it sounds:


Hall was up and down, picked on in coverage by the slot receiver at times, good at hurtling himself into an attempt to run outside; he was +5/-5.5 in my unofficial UFR'ing. Gallagher meanwhile is about to become the three-year fave of a low-rung PFF employee who has to chart Northwestern games. I had nearly as many clips from Gallagher as the Gaz and scored him +7/-3, which is a thumpin' good outing for a linebacker.

#51 the guy…oh you'll see

The starters rarely come off the field except WDE Samdup Miller moves inside against spread teams with a rotation of EDGE types coming in for DT Fred Wyatt, who's also the backup nose. They leave The Gaz on the strong side, and Duke's offense learned quickly not to move the tight end away. The middle is manned by throwback MLB Paddy Fisher, who might be Pat Fitzgerald back in pads.

In the secondary CB Montre Hardage plays a lot tighter than I remember—that could be a competition thing. Opposite Hardage is a surprise starter, true freshman CB Greg Newsome, who's got a lot more suddenness about him and put two former starters on the bench. Safety is still a work in progress after Northwestern graduated a Thorpe candidate and an MGo-Favorite. The new FS J.R. Pace wasn't tested much but seems to play hesitant. As expected by everybody, SS Jared McGee, a 5th year senior pushing linebacker size, is not keeping up at safety; purple sippers are waiting for word that redshirt freshman SS Bryce Jackson is ready to handle a complicated position.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Offense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 27th, 2018 at 12:05 PM

Despite what many Northwestern fans say while shaking fistfuls of their own hair at you, the Wildcats' play-calling isn't the only problem with the Northwestern offense. But going from Scott Frost to Mick McCall in a week is jarring.

The film: The Wildcats opened the season with a 31-27 win at Purdue then lost 7-21 to Duke and 34-39 to Akron. Michigan is nothing like Purdue. Akron is 111th in S&P+, had 140 penalty yards, scored three return TDs, and caught Northwestern with and without several injured linemen. So: Duke. Duke is currently 27th in S&P+ and runs a tight man-1 defense. This also means your author had to spend several hours listening to Medill grads talk about what a great thing academics are.

Personnel: My diagram (Official depth chart):

FFFF Northwestern Offense 2018.JPG

PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

The bye week came at an opportune time. Northwestern has three viable offensive linemen, and limped to the end of the Akron game without all of them. Senior four-year starter QB Clayton Thorson has been on a "pitch count" this season as he recovers from an ACL tear suffered at the end of the last one, with mediocre TJ Green inserted for a depreciating percentage of snaps. Green was in for a third of this game and a fifth of Akron. The plan may have been to phase Thorson back in completely by this game.

Not everybody made it back. This week running back Jeremy Larkin medically retired from football. This is a Big Deal. Northwestern likes to lean on one running back like it's 1979. Recently graduated Justin Jackson had 1142 carries in four years, ceding just 84 touches to freshman Larkin last season. The next guy, John Moten IV, had 17 carries for 3.24 YPC in 2017. Larkin this year has accounted for 85% of their non-QB running game. He was also one target shy of tying slot receiver Flynn Nagel as his quarterbacks' top passing target. Moten this year has 21 yards…on 12 carries. It's a Big Deal.

[After THE JUMP: Inside the mind of a non-genius]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Nebraska Defense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Nebraska Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 21st, 2018 at 10:07 AM

Previously: Offense (image via Huskers.com)

The film: Last year Nebraska's defense was kind of a mess. S&P+ had them ranked 110th (out of 130 teams), 116th in rushing, 102nd in passing. Some of that was a rejection of Bob Diaco's switch to a 3-4. Most of it was a rejection of Diaco himself.

A thing about college football however is it's not that hard, with an injection of competence, to get a group of 4- and 3-stars from the 100s to the 50s. You all remember Hoke and Mattison doing that with Michigan's defense in 2011. You see what skills you have on hand, choose a system you know how to teach that uses those skills, and make this an identity. Voila: something approximating competence.

Through two games it appears Frost's fellow UCF import Erik Chinander has built just this sort of jalopy. They're not a GREAT defense, but they might be good? Two games against questionable competition (Colorado might be bad, Troy is a good Sun Belt team) and high-tempo throw off the counting stats but they're giving up 4.2 YPC rushing, and 4.9 YPA passing (counting sacks with the latter).

Their strength is at safety, where some experienced starters returned from injury and are joined by a former UCF star, and a seven-man deep defensive line. Whether both units are a B+ or A+ is hard to tell—they do have three guys starting over the one bona fide GOOD player they had last year, and given his job was taken by last year's late breakout player that might not even be a Godin/Give-the-2nd-Unit-a-Hurst kind of way. Colorado made this doubly difficult on me by not blocking the guys I was trying to assess:

You may note all of those links show the same two offensive players. One of those guys is a grayshirt redshirt freshman, but the other is a third-year starter and former freshman All-American. Are Colorado's center and left guard two of the worst collegiate players I've ever watched on film, or was Nebraska's line so dominant they just made it look that way?

Personnel: Official depth chart. My diagram (PDF, click image for larger):


Nebraska's defense so we are using black shirts instead of stars. Like Michigan's opponent last week Nebraska's defense was still in find-out-who-can-play mode and was thus rotating a lot of players, especially up front. Also note the "Key Player" from my HTTV preview is now on the bench. My entire section on the front seven needs to be rewritten.

Base Set: 3-4, and considering they mostly kept the same personnel on the field against a modern spread offense all day that's unlikely to change now.


[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown]


Fee Fi Foe Film: Nebraska Offense 2018

Fee Fi Foe Film: Nebraska Offense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 20th, 2018 at 10:40 AM

The film: I hate how much I respect Scott Frost. I hate that Michigan is going to be locked into playing against this guy every year while Michigan State gets to pad every conference record with Minnesota (that was OUR rival!). I hate that the only guy in the world who could have made Nebraska into NEBRASKA again is the kind of Nebraska fan who would take the Nebraska job when Florida and LSU were ready to chuck $Texas at him. I hate that I like Frost more for doing so. I hate that I couldn't get through two drives (both which ended in turnovers) without grabbing my forehead to make sure my skull had a little extra buttressing as it tried to process everything Frost was doing. I hate myself for clipping six out of the first 11 plays.

Anyway Nebraska Year Zero outgained Colorado 565 yards to 395, outrushed their old Big 8 rival 329 yards to 44, had a lead, and were driving deep into Buffalos territory in the 4th quarter when their freshman phenom quarterback injured his knee.

Personnel: My diagram:



[PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image), official depth chart]

True freshman starting QB Adrian Martinez missed most of his senior year with a shoulder injury, left the Colorado game late with a knee injury and did not play in Nebraska's subsequent 24-19 loss to the Troy Trojans of Troy (We're from Troy!) He's a game-time decision. When he's healthy he's a future star. If he can't go things drop pretty far: RS freshman Tristan Gebbia transferred when Martinez won the job, so if Martinez can't go it's back to walk-on QB Andrew Bunch, who started against Troy last week.

WR Stanley Morgan was 14 receiving yards short of 1,000 last year, second in the Big Ten only to D.J. Moore. JuCo transfer WR Mike Williams has shored up the spot opposite him so they can keep excellent Slot J.D. Spielman where he belongs, backed up by 2017 Top-50 recruit Tyjon Lindsey, who had a committable Ohio State offer.

All of the tight ends are receiver-ish and line up like receivers. Jack Stoll appeared in every game last year and spends as much time as a Flex TE as he does inline or at H-back. The other TEs in the rotation, Austin Allen and Kurt Rafdal are super-tall redshirt freshmen.

The line is experienced, and though they struggled at run blocking last year they kept former QB Tanner Lee upright (8th in 2017 adj. sack rate). The only one not back is former center Michael Decker, who left football with eligibility remaining. New C Cole Conrad is a poorer man's Graham Glasgow—the former walk-on started 12 games at guard or tackle over two season before moving to the middle this fall. RG Tanner Farmer is a longtime PFF favorite, however fellow longtime starter LG Jerald Foster tends to be really good against bad teams, really bad against good teams, and really REALLY grabby. LT Brenden Jaimes struggled last year when thrust onto the field as a true freshman, but he's up to 300 pounds on his NFL left tackle frame and starting to look the part. Right tackle is back to the guy Conrad replaced last year, Matt Farniok, who's bleah at pass protection and not much help on runs.

The backfied sorely misses feature back Tre Bryant, who retired from football late in fall practice. As befits a Scott Frost team they use a rotation of them. RB Greg Bell was the nation's top JuCo prospect this year, and is averaging a smooth 6.22 YPC; he has excellent vision and good acceleration but will get caught from behind. Freshman RB Maurice Washington caught up to Bell in carries and yardage by bouncing outside on Troy—he's lengthy but hard to bring down on first contact. Last year's nominal starter Devine Ozigbo actually has one more carry than Washington right now; he's a burly pile-mover and the designated short-yardage back.

[After THE JUMP: Inside the mind of a genius]