Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense

Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense

Submitted by Ace on November 6th, 2014 at 4:22 PM

Previously: Northwestern Offense

This didn't result in a touchdown, making it different from every other clip in this post.

Michigan probably isn't going to take advantage of this because of reasons you're all very well-versed in—namely, Michigan isn't good at offense—but Northwestern gave up 38 first-half points to Iowa so I really have no choice here but to point out the the Wildcats may not be very good. I realize this will only add to the sadness, and for that.

Personnel: Diagram goes here—click to embiggen:

It's unclear if strong safety Ibraheim Campbell will be able to play, let alone at 100%, on Saturday. He was supposed to return to the starting lineup from a hamstring injury against Iowa, but was a late scratch when his leg didn't cooperate; Campbell says the "chances are pretty high" that he'll play—as a senior captain, he's certainly going to do eveything he can to get back on the field.

Also, Northwestern has an honest-to-god punter controversy after sophomore Chris Grandone was replaced by redshirt freshman Hunter Niswander after struggling against the Hawkeyes. The Wildcats are 120th nationally in net punting; there could be an opportunity or two for a big play there.

Base Set? 4-3. The Wildcats ran an over front last year, but against Iowa they played a lot of under.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Defense

Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Defense

Submitted by Ace on October 23rd, 2014 at 4:54 PM

Previously: Michigan State Offense (NOTE: C Jack Allen will play, according to Mark Dantonio.)

Kurtis Drummond's day in a nutshell: this late throw to the flat turned into a 30-yard gain

I really don't know what to do with this.

Michigan State's defense isn't as good as last year's, that much is certain. On the average play, they're still a very stout group; they're in the top five in opponent first down rate, opponent available yards gained, and 10+ play drives ceded, per Football Outsiders. FO also reveals their major problem: big plays. MSU ranks 97th in percentage of opponent drives that average at least ten yards per play. They finished ninth in that category last year.

It showed against Purdue. The Boilermakers offense either hit the MSU wall and exited with alacrity or busted a couple chunk gains on their way to scores. That ended up working out to the tune of 340 yards on 5.5 yards per play—not spectacular, but not bad, either—and 31 points, with three of the four touchdown drives covering at least 60 yards.

So, there's a ray of hope. But I also saw Purdue run multiple packaged plays with solid success, including a touchdown on a pop pass to a motioning slot receiver, and the light dims just a bit. Quite a bit. A great deal of bit, really. But hey, it's hope.

Personnel: Seth's diagram is now updated to properly reflect the amount of recruiting talent Michigan's offense is largely squandering. Click to embiggen and view Seth's pessimism regarding how M's coaches may decide to utilize their available personnel coming off a bye week in which MANBALLING may have been emphasized:

MSU keeps their base personnel on the field just about every down, with corner Trae Waynes and linebacker Ed Davis aligning to the boundary across from "STAR" (hybrid LB/S) David Harris and CB Darian Hicks on the field (wide) side. RJ Williamson and (sigh) true freshman Montae Nicholson have each earned starting nods; they're still battling for the strong safety job and both should see snaps on Saturday.

To address a typo, Kurtis Drummond is 6'1, 202 lbs., and not a three-tech masquerading as a free safety.

Base Set? The 4-3 alignment you see above. Either Harris or a safety—or both—will be shaded over the slot; an example:

Also note the depth of the safeties; in MSU's aggressive Cover 4 scheme, they tend to play relatively close to the line.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Fee Fi Foe Film: Minnesota Defense

Fee Fi Foe Film: Minnesota Defense

Submitted by Ace on September 25th, 2014 at 6:38 PM

Previously: Minnesota Offense

We're finally heading into conference play, which means this hopefully will be the last film breakdown of a body-bag game, in this case Minnesota's 24-7 steamrolling of San Jose State.


I'm not quite ready to deploy the "I have the sinking feeling this is totally useless" tag, which I waited until last year's Northwestern game to unleash for 2013, but it's getting close.

A pump-fake interception on a botched WR screen!

Tag deployed.

San Jose State managed 254 yards of offense in 11 possessions on 5.6 yards per pass and 2.1 per rush. They turned it over five times, on three fumbles and two ghastly interceptions. I'm going to attempt to keep this from being a total waste of time by going over the basics of Cover 4, which Minnesota ran a lot of in this game, to the great confusion of SJSU's quarterback.

But first...

Personnel: Seth has accounted for the uncertainty at quarterback by turning this into a GIF—click to embiggen and see who we expect will start on Saturday:

Fine, fine, we went with Morris, because that seems to be the gut feeling of those closest to the program today, as well as the common sense choice given Brady Hoke's presser comments (why keep the uncertainty if there isn't going to be a change?). Anyway, I'm sure this won't dominate the comments of a post that otherwise has nothing to do with M's quarterback situation.

Base Set? Against SJSU's multiple attack—which actually resembles Michigan quite a bit in terms of formations utilized—Minnesota had a dedicated nickel set against three wide, which is depicted in Seth's chart, and went to a 4-3 over against two receivers:

Their corners stayed to a dedicated side of the field except when SJSU went with a trips formation; that's the strongside LB between the hashes and a CB hanging out on the boundary next to the DE.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]



Submitted by Brian on July 30th, 2014 at 1:06 PM

I used to fisk things, back in the long long ago when people referred to the "MSM" seriously and I had a tiny platform compared to the people writing dumb things that annoyed me. These days most of those people are in other jobs and I gradually got over the fact that Someone Is Wrong On The Internet.

If that paragraph sounds like one big run up to me fisking the everloving pants off of something, yuuuuup. It's a teenager rage tactic from the dawn of mom's basement jokes. And it is absolutely required for this.


I got so mad at Matt Hayes writing things on the internet once that I called him "Horseface," which I was not proud of for a long time. I retroactively retract that shame. To the fiskmobile.

They’ve tried it all, and nothing has worked. Conditioning, suspension, rehabilitation. Even outright dismissal.

The prison system of America: overcrowded, broken, scourge of the inner city. This is an unusual topic for Matt Hayes.

Yet here we are, heading into a new era of college football with a brand new postseason, and the same old problems exist: players can’t seem to control themselves behaviorally off the field — no matter the consequences.

Oh goddammit. I have no idea what Matt Hayes's audience is these days since the Sporting News has died so many times cats are impressed but it must consist heavily of people who buy gold from Glenn Beck at 5 AM and think we should deport the Irish.

There is no college football crime spree. When SI did a study a few years ago they came back with the disturbing news that 7% of all college football players had been charged with a crime. That's terrible! Unless you look up the stats that say half of all black males and 40% of white males are arrested by 23. And that's just being charged, not convicted.

It turns out that professional aspirations and the threat of running stadium steps are in fact a great motivator to stay out of trouble.

“Because,” one Power 5 coach told Sporting News, “we can’t reach them where it matters most.”

Their penis.

That place, everyone, is the NFL.

I still think it's… let's come back to this.

If this were a relationship, it would have been dissolved long ago. College football gives everything to the NFL in every way, shape and form. The NFL gives nothing in return.

Now it’s time for the NFL, which for decades has thrived with the backdrop of a free minor league system that recruits, trains, teaches and ministers to young men before they step foot into the multi-billion dollar business, to give back.

Free minor league? What the…? I mean, yeah, the NCAA does act as a talent feeder, but the NFL only came into existence because the NCAA made football so popular that people tried and failed to make it into a nationwide pro sport for decades after Yost built a stadium that seated 100k. The NCAA is absolutely overrun with cash. The NFL doesn't owe it anything because it is impossible to owe a machine that prints money something. College football exists because it is profitable to exist, and not because of the NFL.

That means giving back the only way they can: controlling the flow of future money.

Shit is about to get real. This is the last semi-sane sentence here.

You want college football cleaned up?

No. We are currently making fun of how Mark Richt has lost control of everything because his players continually get in moped incidents.

Your article about the RASH OF ARRESTS SPIRALLING OUT OF CONTROL includes two marijuana possession charges, a DUI, an "obstructing governmental operations" misdemeanor, five guys who were immediately booted from their teams, and then four incidents spread across 120 teams that are serious-ish and still pending resolution. One of those is, yes, a moped joyride. I'm surprised Jameis Winston's crab legs aren't on there.

You want players who get second, third and fourth chances to finally see the game really is about both football and an education and learning about living and surviving and growing on your own?

I would like to see a system in which 75% fewer arrests transpire! But we already have…

You want this seemingly endless string of player arrests and violence against women to end?






Hit the players where it matters most:

Their penis.

future earnings.

That was my second choice.

The NFL can make this very simple and succinct. Any college player interested in employment in the league must pass a background check, and if they have a history of arrests or off-field issues, they immediately are moved into a — here’s the key — significantly lower earning bracket for the first four years of their employment.

How significant? Well below league minimum, or about $50,000-$75,000 a year.

Take a guess what the average league lifespan is for a player: four years.

The NFL can make it very simple if they negotiate an entirely new CBA that strips people with a history of "off-field issues"—like not even arrests—of potentially millions of dollars even if they're the top pick in the draft. Where is the line here? Does a pot arrest trigger it? How about a theft that got diverted into something that doesn't pop up on your criminal record?

And while this isn't relevant to the thrust of the article, let me state that saying "here's the key" when your platform is one plank long makes me want to flush your computer down a toilet, horseface. To have a "key" you have to have things that are more or less important, and it is impossible for a thing to be more or less important than itself. Obviously. Horseface.

“You have to understand, it’s more than just suspending a player and saying you’re going to miss X number of games for what you did,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban. “You have to change the behavior; you have to change the way the player thinks and acts.”

What better way than by taking away his ability to earn?

Yeah man why not just steal millions of dollars away from poor people who screwed up once because the Olds are scared of 'em.

I mean obviously the criminal justice system that looked at whatever these violations are and said "eh, do your time" is completely incapable of preventing this country from descending into a lawless morass. Let's take over from them. That is outside the justice system's core competency and right in ours.

This drastic yet necessary turn takes the onus off schools and the presidents of those schools to police behavior, the same people who have proven over and over that they have too much invested in players to make decisions that could impact those investments.

"Necessary." Because college football players get arrested one fourth as often as the average Joe.

“No one wants to look at this for what it is,” said another Power 5 conference coach. “It’s a vicious cycle.”

A vicious cycle is a feedback loop. The theory here is apparently that football players getting arrested and catching hell or getting booted by their coaches makes other football players more likely to commit crimes. I can only imagine this quote comes from Tim Beckmann, who tells his toaster every morning not to viciously cycle his bread, and then finds out he's talking to the washing machine again.

The first logical hurdle would be the NFL Players Association, which would be against anything that limits earning ability. But in the long run, it benefits both the NFL and the NFLPA to have players who understand right from wrong; who comprehend that every decision has consequences.

I mean Ray Lewis kind of murdered a dude. You know that, right? A guy ended up dead largely because of Ray Lewis, and the NFL fined him a quarter-million dollars and said "don't do it again." Nobody noticed or cared. If you want the NFL to fix college kids it is possible they should start with themselves.

You don’t punch someone in the head, and a year later, get picked in the second round of the draft and make significant money.

You don’t slap a woman, and a year later, get picked in the second round of the draft and make significant money.

It’s not like we’re breaking ground with this idea. Players will find in the real world, where you don’t get paid to play a game, employers don’t look too favorably on those with criminal records. And if they do, it certainly isn’t for much more than an entry-level job with minimum pay — until the employee proves to be worthy of more.

Even aside from guys named Ray who play for Baltimore, have you ever read any of the copious anonymous crap your own damn magazine publishes about players every time the draft rolls around? The NFL's official site said Johnny Manziel had an "outlaw mentality"! The NFL is constantly probing every potential mental gap and making tut-tutting judgments about every player. Those last until the instant that player proves he's pretty good in the NFL, and then you can knock your damn wife unconscious and you get a lesser suspension than Terrelle Pryor got for getting some free tattoos.

This is the way the world works. The sooner players understand and grasp this concept, the better for all involved.

The way the world works: pretend it never happened and refuse to apologize until people forget about it. This is my advice to you about this column.

A Totally Useless List Of People Michigan Might Hire But Will Not Hire, Probably

A Totally Useless List Of People Michigan Might Hire But Will Not Hire, Probably

Submitted by Brian on January 8th, 2014 at 8:22 PM


NOPE. / Please!

UPDATE: Kirk Herbstreit says it is a current college OC.

I'm going to try to keep this realistic, which means Oregon OC Scott Frost is out, RichRod OC Calvin Magee is out, and the two guys who have been in Manhattan, Kansas for 16 and 17 years as co-OCs are out. This puts me one step ahead of Coaching Scoop, which throws out Lane Kiffin as a name to watch.

The question is: how much control will Hoke cede and how married is he to manball? His coaching history suggests he's a "whatever works" guy, running a MAC-standard passing spread during his breakout year with Nate Davis and hiring Rocky Long to run the dreaded 3-3-5 at San Diego State. The fact that This Is Michigan seems to have given him the impression that he has to run Carr's mid-nineties offense. Has this season disabused him of that notion? Is he willing to hand the keys over to a proven offensive mind and say "go get it," even if it looks funky and does not abide by the Queensbury rules?

I don't know.

The problem with assuming that Hoke will look for a "pro style" coordinator is that they are increasingly hard to find. Looking at the top teams in yards per play this year is futile since they consist of guys Michigan cannot get to make a lateral move (OCs at Alabama, LSU, FSU, and Georgia aren't moving) or run offenses that would require a major philosophical shift(Oregon, Baylor, A&M, Auburn, Indiana) even if Michigan could hypothetically grab their OC. If we are sticking to manball, the field quickly narrows, leaving Michigan looking at candidates who are… uh… well, they're not slam dunks.

Current D-I coordinators who seem like they might fit are limited. Two that seem plausible:


Jim Chaney, OC, Arkansas. Chaney's been around the block, operating both Purdue's passing spread under Drew Brees and Tennessee's pro-style attack with Tyler "The" Bray. He just got hired at Arkansas by Bret Bielema and while Arkansas was in no way good, it is impressive that the Razorbacks had two 900 yard rushers and finished in the top 20 in YPC despite having a QB who completed fewer than half his passes for a Sheridan-like 6.0 YPC. Tennessee's offenses with Chaney were up and down; he did finish 2012 with the #19 YPP offense despite the turbulence at the end of the Dooley era.

Chaney's been around the block and has coordinated both spread and pro-style attacks; he knows the Big Ten from nine years as Purdue's OC.

Matt Canada, OC, NC State. Was Indiana's OC from 2007 to 2010, when Bill Lynch was swept out. Then started a Loeffler-like odyssey, visiting Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, and NC State for one year stints. None of his stops have been that successful save the one year at Northern Illinois, but did blow up at Bielema prior to last year's Big Ten Championship game, a 70-31 explosion against Nebraska. Likes futzin' and hoodaddery, in a Fritz Crisler sort of way.


Neither of these guys do much for me, and often the smart answer is to dip down to lower levels and pick off the guys killing it down there. Oklahoma State keeps losing offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator to head coaching jobs, and the last time Mike Gundy had to pick a guy he went over to the NCAA's website and picked off the guy at the head of D-II stats. That worked out fairly well.

With the kind of money Michigan was throwing at Borges they might not have to look at lower-level OCs, they can take a shot at…


Rob Ambrose, HC, Towson. You may remember Towson as the team that had an easier time against UConn than Michigan did, or from that time their basketball team played Michigan and was just unbelievably bad. Towson ended up in the FCS national title game against North Dakota State, and that is an amazing accomplishment for a program that almost ended in 1990. Ambrose was Towson's OC for a while before moving into the head job; he is a former quarterback who coaches that position but has flexibility:

Combs said many former quarterbacks who become offensive coordinators or head coaches often stick with pass-heavy offenses regardless of personnel.

Not Ambrose, Combs said.

With Ambrose as offensive coordinator in 1999, the Tigers thrived behind quarterback Joe Lee’s school-record 4,168 passing yards. The following season, Towson built its offense around running back Noah Reed, who rushed for a Patriot League-record 1,422 yards.

After a rough start, Towson's gone 9-3, 7-4, and 13-3, and Ambrose has heard of Michigan:

For Towson, winning a national championship means making history, and that’s something Rob Ambrose plays up when he talks to recruits.

“You can go to Michigan and be on Page 7,000 of their history book or you can come here and write it,’’ he said.

The article describes battles won to get coaches' cell phones paid for by the school, so I don't think the demotion in rank is going to bother Ambrose, hypothetically.

Bob Stitt, HC, Colorado School Of Mines. Stitt got on everyone's radar after Dana Holgorsen shredded Clemson with a play Stitt gave him, and his work at CSM has been impressive over a long duration. Hoke would have to give him the keys entirely…

Stitt says he'd be willing to move up as an offensive coordinator, but only if the head coach would give him total offensive control. It's not difficult to see why he's so well-regarded in coaching circles, especially by those who run wide-open offenses. At 6-3, Stitt is closing in on his 11th winning season in 13 years. In all but a few of those years, the Orediggers, who play in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, have ranked among the top-10 in Div. II in passing offense.

…but this is a guy widely known for not wearing a headset for most of the game, so… yeah. That's implied. In terms of consistent, long-term resume and success at a school with zero recruiting advantages(Mines consists of 5200 engineers), Stitt is tough to beat.

Troy Rothenbuhler, OC, Findlay. Three year record as OC with D-II Oilers is impressive. First year featured a bounce up from under 250 yards a game to nearly 400; year two was 437 yards a game, and year three saw Findlay crack 500. They do run a spread, but their plays per game of 75 is not super fast. Rushed for almost 2900 yards this year at 5.5 a pop. Is an OSU grad, with whom Michigan has done well with in the past.

Phil Longo, OC, Slippery Rock. Yeah, seriously. The main issue here is that he's a no-huddle Air Raid guy, but hear me out: He's in his third year at Slippery Rock, finding plenty of success, and spent two years at SIU in which the Salukies went 20-5. One year he lost his QB midyear and went from passing-oriented to spread 'n' shred. Kind of looks like Brock Lesnar, too.


The other option is to look up at NFL types. When not mentioning Lane Kiffin, Football Scoop throws out three NFL position coaches that induce varying levels of depression in the author:

  • Mike Groh, WR, Chicago Bears. The Jay Paterno of Virginia football under Al Groh. Was OC for three years at end of Groh tenure. In 2008, Virginia was 102nd in YPP, in 2007 they were 105th. CFB Stats does not have 2006, but I think the point is made. Groh's resume is terrible. DEPRESSION LEVEL: immense.


  • John McNulty, QB, Arizona Cardinals. A grad assistant at Michigan in the early 90s and has one year as an OC to his name, that in 2008 at Rutgers. Rutgers was good that year (20th in YPP) and he is a QB coach in the NFL. Track record very thin. DEPRESSION LEVEL: moderate.
  • Randy Fitchner, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers. Another guy who started as a grad assistant at Michigan, Fitchner in the mid-80s. He was a college OC for a decade at Arkansas State and Memphis, where he ran spread offenses rather effectively. This was the DeAngelo Williams era at Memphis, not the incredibly depressing stuff since. DEPRESSION LEVEL: minimal.
  • …and now Sam Webb's hinting strongly($) that the announcement will come tomorrow and crosses off Kiffin, Mazzone, and a few other possibilities that no one thought were particularly serious, so we won't have to wait long. To me this means none of these guys are particularly likely unless Hoke's been doing groundwork completely out of the public eye since AFAIK none of them have Hoke ties. I figured Michigan would vet and interview candidates at the big AFCA coaching hoo-haw this week; apparently not.

Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense

Fee Fi Foe Film: Northwestern Defense

Submitted by Ace on November 14th, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Previously: Northwestern Offense

WLB Chi Chi Ariguzo is asked to make a lot of plays in space, and make plays he does.

I'll be perfectly honest—I couldn't bring myself to get through this whole game for the second time, for a few reasons:

  1. BTN's refusal to show the defensive backfield during plays or provide anything but a pore-o-vision replay made this endeavor unnecessarily difficult/fruitless.
  2. Nebraska's offense and Michigan's offense function very differently in that one has a running game and the other just pretends to.
  3. Related to (2), just about every weakness I noticed in Northwestern's defense is something that Michigan has shown zero ability to exploit.
  4. Did I do a bunch of research and write a lot of words over the last 24 hours for a post that will never see the light of day? Yes.

Fun times ahead. Here goes nothin'.

Base Set? 4-3 over. When Nebraska spread the field, Northwestern usually lifted their strongside linebacker for backup safety Jimmy Hall, who'd play over the slot, often shaded a bit to the inside to help against the run.

Man or zone coverage? Mostly zone. Northwestern runs a lot of Cover 3 and some Cover 2; in this game, they utilzied a ton of soft zone coverage in order to help mask the fact that—after starting corner Nick VanHoose exited the game with an injury—they were playing two freshmen on the corners. Man coverage was mostly reserved for the red zone, which was also their strategy against Ohio State.

Yes, Nebraska took advantage of this.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]