Picture Pages: Nose Penetration Allowed

Picture Pages: Nose Penetration Allowed

Submitted by Brian on September 17th, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Michigan's running game wasn't quite as bad as it looks in the stats, as they had some good gains wiped out by phantom holding penalties, but it warn't good. One of Michigan's main issues was not getting the Akron nose tackle blocked, but when this happened the guy in the backfield seemed only partially at fault, because Michigan was asking him to do something very tough.

Here's a play at the end of the first quarter. Michigan has just shifted various players around and gotten Akron to do this in response:


That is a massive gap between their nose tackle, who's "shaded"* over Miller, and their end, who's outside of Jake Butt. Michigan decides to run at this, which seemed like a good idea at the time.

*[ie, lined up between the center and guard, closer to the center.]

Michigan's going to run a stretch to the wide side of the field, and get a loss out of this. I know. So. Akron's got about seven guys in the box. Michigan has two uncovered OL to the playside plus Kerridge. This should be easy.

[After the jump, it's not going to be]

Picture Pages: One Step

Picture Pages: One Step

Submitted by Brian on November 20th, 2012 at 2:18 PM

Saturday's game was a weird one in which virtually all of Iowa's relevant plays came on two back-to-back drives in the first half. They went three and out on their four other drives before it was 42-10.

The first of these drives was Iowa's only sustained success of the day. Iowa's second drive was a couple of chunk plays and then six straight unsuccessful ones; a terrible roughing the passer flag in the middle of that sequence got the Hawkeyes into chip-shot field goal territory.

I, like you, was a little worried about that touchdown drive and what it said about the defense; after looking at it I feel a bit better since one major reason was a bad matchup between James Ross and Mark Weisman. Ross would show up in the hole and Weisman would run him over, because he is a horsecow and Ross is a freshman.

There were a couple other subtle ways in which Ross showed his youth, like on this nine yard run. Iowa has picked up a first down and now has the ball first and ten nearing midfield. They come out in their 2TE ace set; Michigan responds with eight-ish in the box, sliding the linebackers to the field and bringing Kovacs down behind.


Iowa pops a TE up and moves one of the WRs to the line, then motions him.


Various Michigan defenders adjust in slight ways to this. Notably, two of the three linebackers step to the 2TE side; so does Kovacs. James Ross doesn't.


Each of these guys has slid essentially a person-width over, which makes sense because Iowa has moved their center of gravity a person-width over. Except Ross. Does this end up mattering?

I really need to find a better way to generate suspense in these posts.

Okay, snap. Inside zone because Iowa always always runs inside zone. I'm sure the playcalls have subtle variances; these escape me and are probably unknowable without actually being the playcaller. At our level of detail, all Iowa running plays are inside zone.

Key still explaining time:


1. Craig Roh on the backside hanging out unblocked. This is not what Michigan wants, I don't think. Earlier plays have seen Michigan split in the middle like they're doing on this play with a key difference:


There is no unblocked end as Iowa is running from a balanced formation. See Roh? Right above him is one guy moving to the second level and two LBs. Michigan has a free hitter—Ross again—and he'll hit, and Weisman will get one yard.

2. Brennen Beyer getting doubled. Ideally I think Iowa wants to seal him inside but if he goes outside too hard the back will cut inside and the interior OL will release.

3. Kovacs containing. He is the force guy, can't let anything outside of him, etc. By moving the TE over they get him blocked while still getting that double.

4 & 5. Ross and Demens running at the right spot. This time there are blockers for both, though, as long as Iowa can get Beyer effectively blocked.

They just barely do. Here Weisman is heading outside and Ross has gotten to the LOS so Iowa has run out of time to double Beyer. The outside guy pops off and Beyer is still not sealed:


Now this is where two things about James Ross combine to submarine Michigan. These are both basically "is a freshman." One is the the lack of response to the shift shown above. Take Ross in the above frame and move him a body-width to the outside. Now he's a step faster to this contact. He's outside, and his momentum is more downhill than it is here. With Beyer on the outside all he needs is a little bit of help…


Just a yard, just a hesitation, just any bit of delay. Beyer just needs one step. He doesn't get it, and then there's the other thing about being a freshman:


Sometimes you get picked up and dumped nine yards downfield.



Ross's lack of momentum when he meets the blocker is more apparent with the moving pictures.

Things And Stuff

This is something of an RPS play for Iowa. Beyer makes a nice play and may hold this down if he gets that step from Ross, but Weisman also has a cutback inside of that guy since Black goes straight upfield and Demens gets blocked. I don't think that's a problem with either of those guys since it seems like Michigan's strategy on the zone was to get aggressively upfield in gaps and let one of the two linebackers flow free:


would be a first down as Demens did not funnel back to Ross, may picture page later

On this play Michigan doesn't adjust and gets that unblocked backside guy they don't want. As a result someone has to beat a block to make a play; Beyer does and it is for naught.

Michigan still could have held it down. That one step Ross didn't take is probably the difference between two yards and nine; if he hits a little earlier, with a little more authority, Weisman slows and Beyer gets his cookie.

An older Ross could have made this mistake and still held it down. And then it's just getting carried. Of all the flaws to have this is the best one because it's obvious and not at all hard to fix; it was still a bit vexing on this drive.

Weisman was a bad matchup for Ross. Ross would show up in the right spot a lot and still get crunched back for significant YAC. On the third and five that set up Iowa's sneak, he did a great job to get to the hole on Yet Another Inside Zone and make contact with Weisman. Result:

That probably doesn't happen if Morgan's in the game. People stop when they meet Morgan. A guy like Weisman may pound out a yard or two; Iowa is still facing a fourth and three or four, and probably kicking except this is Ferentz we're talking about, the sandbagger.

Ross is still super instinctive. Once the ball is snapped Ross is almost certain to read quickly and get to the spot. While he still needs some work on zone drops, if he can put on 15-20 pounds and do that the sky is the limit for him. Of all the ways Iowa's rushing offense could have been better than expected "Weisman running over Ross" is the best one from a Michigan fan's perspective. Once Ross turns those twelve tackles into twelve tackles a yard closer to the LOS, with a yard less YAC, look out.

I came away from this game thinking that Ross was a major culprit in the admittedly limited success Iowa had on offense and that he was going to be really good possibly as soon as next year, if that makes any sense. The mistakes he makes are small, and given his high football IQ it seems certain he'll fix them by the time next fall rolls around. Add on the usual amount of mass and you've got my #1 pick for a breakout player on Michigan's 2013 D.

Picture Pages: Toussaint's Sad Day

Picture Pages: Toussaint's Sad Day

Submitted by Brian on October 10th, 2012 at 12:04 PM

[Special Toussaint Mini-UFR is what this is but it didn't seem like a good title.]

The single downer from the Purdue game was Fitzgerald Toussaint's anemic output: 17 carries, 19 yards, and at least one kicked cat in the Toussaint household after his return from West Lafayette. What happened? Should Thomas Rawls be inserted as a replacement? Let's look at pictures and try to find out.

First, let's set aside three short-yardage carries. One was a third and one power that just made it; two were goal line attempts that got in. (There was a third goal line attempt that did not wiped out by penalty.) Now we've got… 15 carries for 22 16 yards, one of which went for two yards but was wiped out by an irrelevant chop block. Dios mio, man.

How much of this is on Toussaint, how much the OL, and how much the line? Let's find out. Toussaint's non-goalline carries ordered by play type.

Line Dn Ds OForm RB TE WR DForm Type Play Yards
M27 1 10 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 Nickel even Run Inside zone 2
Poor damn Toussaint. Again he's eating an unblocked guy in the backfield. The end shuffled down and then collapsed on the handoff; give or not is a push for Denard because the corner was blitzing. Play was dead on the snap. RPS -1.

Barnum gets blown into the backfield here by a Short slant that can happen because of a corner blitz:

Toussaint is forced to cut behind that and then the end shuffling down behind makes the play.

VERDICT: 75% RPS, 25% blocking.

Line Dn Ds OForm RB TE WR DForm Type Play Yards
O22 2 7 ,Shotgun 2TE twins 1 2 2 Base 3-4 Run Inside zone 6
OLB comes off slot; Kwiatkowski blocks him out. Purdue slides its line playside and has a linebacker behind who's unblocked thanks to the blitz. He's staying outside, so handoff. The slant gets the Purdue OL past the M OL but the M OL gets good push on a couple guys. Mealer(-1) lets Short by him in frightening fashion; Lewan(+1) gets his guy two yards downfield and makes him give up a lot of space. Toussaint(+1) cuts backside and avoids that linebacker, stumbling as he manages to power through the arm tackle. Short can now finish the job from behind.

This worked well enough that we can dispense with the Verdict Of Blame.

Line Dn Ds OForm RB TE WR DForm Type Play Yards
O15 2 10 Ace big 1 3 1 Base 3-4 Run Inside zone 0
Michigan runs an inside zone away from the strength of the formation and into five guys against four blockers. This doesn't work, especially when the playside ILB bugs out to beat a block. Maybe this should have been a cutback. Yeah, maybe, but tough when Barnum(-1) has just caught a guy and is a yard in the backfield. Still, Toussaint -1.

This was not set up well from the start:


Michigan's running to the left of the center, where there are four Boilermakers and three blockers. A cutback develops and I have a sneaking suspicion that this run is supposed to cutback just because it can't work if it's run directly at where the action goes.

VERDICT: 50% Toussaint, 25% RPS, 25% blocking.


Picture Pages: ND Shift, Belly Defeat

Picture Pages: ND Shift, Belly Defeat

Submitted by Brian on September 26th, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Notre Dame has a very good defensive line, possibly great. If they still had Aaron Lynch holy pants man. They don't, but Tuitt is a 300 pound pass rusher, Nix is hard to move, and their Kapron Lewis-Moore/Prince Shembo combo at the other DE is a quality option. They've been making a lot of plays so far, and some of them against Lewan, who has a bunch of NFL hype and has shut down virtually every DE he's ever gone up against, including guys like Adrian Clayborn.

So Michigan was up against it against the Irish. They compounded those troubles with a spate of seemingly bizarre play calls that made it even harder for Michigan to execute since they often left key players unblocked, with the results you saw.

Here's a two yard run in the second quarter. It's first and ten on the first play of Michigan's first drive after the Smith interception. ND comes out showing a four-man front with one-high coverage, but will shift into their standard 3-4. Zeke Motta, currently 16 yards off the LOS, will approach the LOS for an eighth run defender against eight players in the box.


Post-shift, this is about standard for ND. Note that the secondary is showing extremely soft man coverage on the receivers, which is par for the course when you are in cover zero with three converted offensive players. Or at least, I'd imagine it's par for the course if anyone else ever did this.


Now, you may be thinking "AAAAAH DAMN AAAH BUBBLE." I am too. The defense is allowed to align like this because Michigan won't take a shot at that gooey soft edge. Constraint plays constrain what a defense can do, simplifying life for QBs. Here we've got a play, and it's a run despite the D showing a cover zero look.

On the snap it's revealed to be an inside zone play…


…but Lewan does something unusual by flaring out to go block Shembo as Denard reads Lewis-Moore. Meanwhile, look at Toussaint's upfield angle of attack:


This was supposed to be a midline type read. When ND showed a four-man front, Nix was shaded outside of Mealer. He would hit the frontside A-gap, allowing Barnum to release into the second level. Instead he's head up on the center and fights back, forcing Barnum to try and deal with him.


What Michigan thought it was doing

Meanwhile, Lewan's flare out on Shembo was supposed to be useful. Instead he's blocking a contain guy on a run up the middle. Lewis-Moore is not tearing up in a gap like a one-gap DL would but coming upfield under control.

So instead of a quick hit that got Michigan past the DT they get this:


Which is two yards thanks to an unblocked LB in the middle of where your belly is supposed to go.


This Looks Familiar

Denard's second interception is a terrible throw helped along by a totally unblocked Te'o as Barnum tries to help on Nix.


Terrible throw and all that but also not a shining example of coordinator mastery. This is a position to fail in, when you can't step into your throw because you'll get hit if you do so.

Things and Stuff

RB angle gives you the intended hole. Look at how vertical Toussaint is going. This is designed to go backside.

Checks: none. Once ND shifts to the three-man front, this play is in trouble, and once Motta slides down you're up against zero safeties. This would be a nice time to check. To what? Well, you are maybe probably getting some yards if Lewan changes his assignment and releases directly into that LB, or, you know…


…that OLB has eyes only for the backfield, so you've got one guy within twelve yards of the slot receiver. Who isn't a slot receiver, sure.

Since this was the first play of the drive I assume there was time to do this after the shift; nothing comes. This might be on Denard, or there just might not be a check for this. Rodriguez took that check burden onto himself with those plays where Michigan would call for a snap and then everyone would look to the sideline.

Constraints: none. A little later Michigan will block a QB sweep well but Motta will show in the hole as an unblocked eighth guy. Denard will abort and get three. ND again went cover zero with pudding soft outside coverage:


They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money! It's not the stupid little bubble itself that helps—though the yards from 2-8 averaging about 6 aren't bad—but the things that the defense can't do because they can't align with their secondary in Bolivia and bring down a run defender that erases your numerical advantage.

This alignment cannot be allowed to exist without a quick easy throw that invalidates it. Have we mentioned that both corners are converted offensive players? And one is a freshman?

Oy OL. Note that Nix not only drew a double but ripped through it to the backside hole, and that Tuitt has gotten inside of Schofield with ease. It may have been possible to get some yards here by getting Nix sealed and hitting a gap further to the playside, but none of that happens. I haven't gotten to the bit where Michigan just grinds on them yet, but so far there have been a lot of plays like this where Michigan OL get nowhere with their guys.

Why are we running a play that seems designed to go at a 4-3? ND will go to it but they are a 3-4 at heart and when they show a four man line it's usually short yardage or a passing down. I would expect an incoherent play like this to fire off when ND is giving Michigan a 4-3 curveball instead of the 3-4, especially after Michigan spent two weeks preparing exclusively for this defense. That Lewan flare-out is deadly to this play because Barnum has to help on a NT who is not shaded—and is rarely shaded. Meanwhile that guy on the edge is not a threat to Toussaint. RPS –1.

Clinic Notes: Darrell Funk

Clinic Notes: Darrell Funk

Submitted by Brian on February 17th, 2012 at 12:01 PM

Guest post by Craig Ross.

I talked to Coach Darrell Funk for a bit before his three sessions (all on the inside zone game) and asked him about his impressions re: the defense last spring. He said, “I could feel it in the spring that the defense would be good. Coach Mattison was doing little things that drove us crazy.” The coach indicated that he thought his offense would be decent, so he knew that Mattison had a chance to show a lot more than the defense had in 2010. Indeed, Coach Funk stated he had been pretty certain of his assessment.


Funk is a very engaging guy. Like a few other coaches I have talked to (Mark Smith on the current staff, Rod Smith, Scot Loeffler and Mike DeBord on prior staffs) he considers it a priority that the listener understands what he is getting at. And, it doesn’t seem to matter whether the listener is a coach, a wanna-be coach, or just some schmo off the street (me, for example). He is a teacher, first, and it shows. At the close of his last session (he was three hours in) I bugged him (well, Brian goaded me; his fault) about the offside’s guard first step into the A gap (some call this a “bucket” step, a term Funk doesn’t prefer—he likes to say the OL is “giving ground to gain leverage”), and he was pleased that I asked him, demonstrating the technique to make sure I understood the point.

He started his first session saying that he could talk “for two full days” on the inside zone, if anyone was willing to listen. When Brian joined me for session 3, (he had spent sessions 1 and 2 with Coach Mattison) he (kinda) groused about not having the background to learn the “minutia” of these blocking techniques. But after building upon the first two sessions, I could have easily have listened to a few more. Not that I can swear that I was getting more than the various tips of isolated icebergs. And, probably I have some of it twisted around. But, my notes from the first session were close to pristine, before my energy waned.


Here are Coach Funk’s basic principles from the first session [the philosophy of the Inside Zone] with the caveat that I am just an ordinary fan. [Though Funk said, “If you just get a tidbit out of this I will be happy.”] Jargon is always tough for the non-coach but I think I have most of this “right.”

When zoning, Funk and Borges are seeking “hard double teams” at the line of scrimmage. Even though it is zone, they still want physical, hard downhill combo blocks.

The hard double team at the LOS is more important than getting one of the double team blockers to the second level, though, clearly, that’s the idea. But, between late on the second level and not getting hard double team blocks at the LOS, Funk chooses “be late.”

He doesn’t want the offensive line blocking “rules” to vary. He prefers that there not be a lot of exceptions to blocking assignments; it is best if the OL have a few rules, and not a lot of exceptions. Practice time is limited, you can only learn so much. [I have heard coaches say this over and over. Get good at what you do.]

Funk wants the offensive line and the RB to work for “squareness” with their shoulders. He thinks the shoulder angles of the OL and RB should match, as much as is possible. He stressed this a couple of times so I assume this is a key point for him.

He says if your RBs are running with square shoulders and “downhill” the back has a greater opportunity to take advantage of cut backs. He prefers that the RB press the gap and stay square, implying less bounce to the outside and, when there, the opportunity to find a lane (a cut back) when the defense has over-pursued. [I found this very interesting, not something I had heard before, especially the “match” between RBs and OL.]

When they are running zone with “number 16,” they often have a read to the backside (but not always). The key for Coach Hoke “and I have heard him say this a hundred times” is that he wants the back to “press the A gap until he can’t.” Hoke stresses simplicity.


Targeting. Who is going to combo what DL and to what backer? The Coach says the guards never say/call anything but the Center (Tackles? They may communicate with guards on the 30 or Bear fronts) is responsible for making “exception” calls. In the UM offense the exceptions are (primarily) a “30 front” (odd front with a NT right over the center) or a Bear defense. Otherwise, they have primary rules to determine who is doubling and who the target LB is. My assumption is that an OL blocks a lineman if he is covered. If not covered he doubles to the next linemen to his play side. Depending upon the movement of the DL, one blocker releases and looks to the second level, the targeted LB.

OL Splits. The basics are that center to guard is about 2 feet. Guard to tackle, about three feet. But he isn’t dogmatic about this or with stance, so long as the lineman isn’t tipping run or pass.

Landmarks. Doesn’t like angles. He wants each OL to work from “his backside eye to the play side number.” He feels this gets back to principle #1, hard doubles at the LOS. And then work to square, finishing North. “Stay low, don’t stand up.” [As he shows tape in subsequent sessions, he critiques OL play primarily looking to footwork, working to square.] So, let’s say the backside guard has a DL over him. The landmark is still BSE/PSN. He wants the OL to work a line of his backside eye to the DL’s play side shoulder, thus protecting the backside A gap. In the subsequent sessions, when reviewing tape, I would say these are the keys for Funk.

Footwork. “First step, get out of your footprint.” [And gain ground.] The second step is the most important, has got to “get into the ground.” Funk makes the second step as the most important coaching point. [He provides examples.]

Get out of your footprint, “get into the ground with your second step,” work backside eye to play side number, work to square, finish north. This is the homily.

Oh yeah, “don’t stand up.” Funk says he has one, young promising OG who “will get there” as soon as he stops standing up.


Two small things that cropped up in his presentation that I found interesting. First, Funk’s theme that there just isn’t enough time to teach/practice, so getting good at a couple of things is better than doing a lot of stuff not very well. I have heard this from coaches a lot.

Second, and this wasn’t that explicit but it was clearly there, was that Al Borges isn’t a huge fan of zone schemes. He would prefer to be in a man or gap system. I think Funk can go either way, and might even lean to zone constructs, but Borges isn’t convinced. Whether or not this is a tea leaf for the future I don’t know. Coach Funk seemed to indicate that it would take him a couple of years to get his zone scheme in sync (a bit different that RR’s scheme). So, we get the zone into gear next year and then we transition when Denard graduates? Or not? Next time I get the opportunity, I will ask.

In sessions two and three there was a lot of video demonstration and refinement of the basics outlined in session 1—ergo Brian’s comment. In the second session there was a lot of talk about defenders “spiking,” specifically “spiking down.” That’s when a defender attacks a gap from (say) outside of the right guard, looping back into the A gap. Funk talked about the techniques for protecting the A gaps, which were, in fact, variations of the BSE/PSN theme, but with an OL always taking a “bucket” step to the protect the gap to his play side, even if a short jab step and if the OL was “covered.”

Picture Pages: Denard Three-In-One Threat

Picture Pages: Denard Three-In-One Threat

Submitted by Brian on November 15th, 2011 at 2:37 PM

You know the drill by now: always Denard's legs always. Michigan went away from using Denard's legs as a threat against Iowa and suffered through a day where their tailbacks averaged 3.6 yards an attempt. Against Illinois virtually every play saw Michigan threaten a Denard run, often with the additional threat of a triple option from a motioning slot receiver or fullback Stephen Hopkins

Additionally, Michigan brought back Rodriguez's old offset H-back formation. This allowed Kevin Koger to either flare backside and open up the designed cutback runs Toussaint had success with or attack the frontside of the play on QB draws and the like. This stretched Illinois out and gave Toussaint some extra creases.

Toussaint's 65-yarder on Michigan's second play demonstrates both of these changes. It's second and ten after the NT jumped he snap on the first play and Denard missed a keep read on a triple option. Michigan comes out in a formation that could be a shot from any of the last three years but for the WR tight to the line at the top of the screen, who isn't actually a WR but is TE Steve Watson. Illinois responds by shifting its linebackers to the field and half-dropping the free safety.


There are five second level defenders on this play: the three linebackers, the overhang corner, and the rolled-up free safety.

On the snap Koger starts to head backside. The slot LB charges on an exchange as the backside DE comes in unblocked:


By the mesh points defenders one and two are dead on a handoff.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 1: Scrape exchange designed to contain threat of a Denard keeper; Koger's backside block.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 2: Drop into zone designed to combat the threat of a mesh point oh noes play-action pass (that still does nothing to combat a bubble screen or quick out by Hemingway.

Denard sees the DE containing and hands off. Koger comes backside to prevent #1 from running down the line and making the play from behind. Defender three is blitzing up the middle…


…he manages to get through the small gap beween Huyge and Omameh but the two guys combine to slow him down long enough for Toussaint to hit the hole.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 3: Blitz picked up by Huyge and Molk.


The Illinois line creases between Schofield and Molk. With the Illinois line clearly slanting to the playside this is mostly thanks to Molk controlling the NT well enough to prevent him from getting upfield. This defense is clearly designed to get Fitz cutting to the backside of the play; Molk's block means he doesn't have to.

By the time Fitz is hitting the line, the gap is obvious.


When he's two yards past it Illinois is done.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 4: General uselessness of one guy in twenty yards of space against a blocker; need to maintain leverage.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 5: Derp. He's containing Denard Robinson, who doesn't have the ball and was never going to have the ball on this play, or he's anticipating a cutback that he doesn't wait to see develop.




Toussaint gets tackled by his shirt tail because that's what always happens to Fitzgerald Toussaint.


He manages to pick up another 15 yards after the initial contact, but someone needs to get Fitz a slippery jersey.


Items Of Interest

Denard's legs: all threaty and stuff. The zone read fake eliminates one linebacker, which helps the run game but isn't a miracle. When Michigan operates from under center they still eliminate a guy because all defenses leave backside ends for potential bootlegs.

Where operating from the shotgun helps Michigan is with defender #2, who has to back out into a short zone because of the threat of a quick seam over the top. The quick PA ability of the spread 'n' shred means any linebacker who sucks up and reacts is DOA.

This is enough to put Toussaint one on one with a safety. Since that safety derps it's one on none. That's a third player the threat posed by Denard in the gun eliminates. That's their starter and fourth-leading tackler, by the way. Don't know what it is about Illinois safeties and massive breakdowns on Michigan's first possession but I like it.

Molk's block: key. Illinois is slanting the line hard and trying to funnel the play back to their backside blitz. If Fitz has to cut behind Molk that blitz may or may not get home. Since he's got a crease to the side where the Illinois line slanted it has no chance. 

This isn't entirely up to Molk. Zone blocking is frequently about taking the guy where he wants to go, then taking him past that point. You can see on the replay that the backside DT is slanting, then stops, then tries to extend as Fitz hits the hole. He waves an arm at him but can do no more.

If the NT pushes hard to the playside Molk is tasked with kicking him past the point he wants to end up at; with the MLB handled by two guys Fitz likely has a cut either way. But not getting blown up/shoved back/chucked provides the crease.

Flinging Koger backside: nostalgic. Michigan also did this with Hopkins when they aligned with two backs. This is likely because of a heavy dose of plays like this where Illinois takes a quick linebacker and shoots him down the line.

A few years ago Calvin Magee said he'd worry about the guy crashing from the end "when he makes the play" on stretches; Illinois's goal with this exchange is to make the guy left unblocked a quicker player with a running start. On inside zones blocking the backside guy is mandatory because all possible creases are in the danger zone.

The bubble: screamingly open here. The slot LB will blitz as the MLB drops into coverage, so… yeah:


On this play the threat of the seam still eliminates the linebacker that the bubble usually forces out of the box*. I am still in favor of at least throwing a few bubbles because they will pick up big chunks if the defense plays like this.

I'm in favor of them generally because they put pressure on the defense by restricting the ways they can align without either getting 8 yards in their face or playing games that end with Worst Waldo passes. I mean, by the snap there isn't a guy on the field with a prayer of defending a slot bubble here.

*[When it doesn't it's forcing a safety either to the line or into a dangerous game of jumping the bubble route and opening up wide open bombs.]

Picture Pages: Zone Minus Read

Picture Pages: Zone Minus Read

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2011 at 10:53 AM

This week in spread zealotry we've got an example of something you can't do against the spread without getting a face full of Denard: crash. It's second and three early in the third quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint has just taken an iso seven yards thanks to Molk and Hopkins making quick work of the NT and MLB.

Michigan will run an inside zone from an ace set. I'm pretty sure that Michigan screwed this up because I've never seen an inside zone play on which a guy who is not the end man on the line scrimmage is let go unless he's getting read. Here the backside DE is let go while Watson flares out to block a guy with a longer path to the ballcarrier.

The setup:


Get used to both halves of this. Iowa is in a 4-3 under. The key guy is the DE at the top of the screen—the guy in a two point stance next to the standing SLB.

Michigan runs an inside zone. They double the NT and the SDE (at the bottom of the screen) as the linebackers flow to the LOS.


By the handoff point a couple things have happened. Both linebackers are at the LOS and engaged; the MLB is actually doubled by Lewan and Schofield. Sometimes a doubled LB means you've blocked a play so well that there's no one else to get. Not so much here.


I don't want to make too much of this because this is clearly a bust by the line (in all likelihood Lewan), but when I saw this I immediately wished Michigan was in the shotgun and Denard was reading the guy they let go. He'd have two choices: remain responsible on Denard and open that cutback up (he'd likely recover in time to tackle but not at the LOS) or do what he's doing now and put Denard one on one with the safety.

Similarly, with the linebackers one and two yards off the LOS, a pass like the one that started off their second hurry-up drive would be open. These things are all possible if you're reading the guy you've let go.


When you're not he just tackles you.


Toussaint does make the guy miss, but only by redirecting into a pile of bodies. He gets a yard. On the next play Michigan runs a QB power with Denard that Iowa is all over until two guys fall down after beating their blockers to the spot. Twenty two yards later they've got a first down. A field goal results.


Items of Interest

This seems strictly less effective than the same thing run from the gun. I'm not sure what the advantage of operating from under center on this can be. You hear a lot about getting downhill quickly as an advantage of playing from under center, but pistol sets and even Michigan's old belly setup where the QB is a yard in front of the tailback get guys going downhill pretty damn fast without giving up the mesh read.

The other advantage suggested by commenters when I tried to answer some guy's question about the advantages of the I-Form over the spread was an ability to keep your eyes on the coverage downfield instead of catching a shotgun snap*. Here Robinson turns his back to the defense and has no idea what's going on behind him until he turns around.

So… yeah. Living in a world without post-snap reads is giving up something when your quarterback is mobile.

This is an example of the "ten man football" Borges was talking about. Even so, the play should still work for a few yards. The blocking's decidedly mediocre—in the last few frames you see a DT chucking Omameh, forcing the cutback—but the nice thing about the zone is it's hard for the defense to be right when you've got an effective cutback runner. Toussaint is that.

If the backside end actually gets blocked, Toussaint looks like he has the cutback for decent yardage. While that safety is probably going to come down and hold it to a modest gain, the first down is well within reach. Lewan busts and Michigan gets zilch. That was a theme on the day: one guy doing something wrong on these run plays and Michigan getting stuffed.

I wonder if spread stuff has a greater failure tolerance. You'd think it would because you are optioning off a potential defender and therefore get a double on someone. The alternative is forcing a safety into the box, which isn't bad.

*[Something that didn't seem particularly convincing since the shotgun is the preferred passing formation for long-yardage situations and hurry-up even in the NFL.]

Picture Pages: Linebacker Hesitancy FML

Picture Pages: Linebacker Hesitancy FML

Submitted by Brian on October 20th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

A little more on what looks to me like one of the major issues with the run defense: the two MLBs not reading plays quickly enough. This was one of the videos featured in the UFR, FWIW.

Michigan State has first and ten at the beginning of the third quarter and will run an inside zone from an ace formation; Michigan is in their standard 4-3 under with Kovacs rolled down:


On the snap State starts to develop the run action and the linebackers start creeping forward:


A moment later the handoff point is almost reached and the two LBs are still three and four  yards off the LOS.


Contrast this with the MSU defense on Michigan's first and five on their first drive:


Both are two yards closer to the LOS and rapidly approaching. This was a consistent theme: MSU linebackers, even when not blitzing, were screaming at the LOS.

At the handoff there is one blocker for two guys because Heininger was doubled on the backside. Martin is driving his single block into the backfield and Van Bergen is cutting off the outside. Kovacs is still hanging around for backside bounceouts.


The above is not a good setup for an offense.

But Demens does not get outside his block.. and Hawthorne starts moving up into a hypothetical gap that the RB is not headed to. Even if he wants to cut backside the Martin penetration means it will take absolutely forever. Still, he starts moving straight upfield instead of flowing to the hole:


By the time Baker manages to squeeze through the gap left by the DL, Hawthorne is hardly closer to him than when he was three yards behind the LOS and Demens is still two yards downfield, not funneling the play back to help.

Baker pops outside. Countess fills quickly, but can't make the tackle…


…and neither can Ryan.






Items of Interest

The DL cannot do much more than this. They got a two-for-one on the double that leaves a free hitter. On the frontside they drive into the backfield such that the tailback has one realistic option. Short of throwing offensive linemen into the RB, they have done all they can.

The linebackers are uncertain of what they are doing. This has been a theme all year: me complaining about guys pulling in front of the LB's face only for that LB move directly upfield instead of scraping over to the POA. Sometimes poor DL play has washed them out, but often it's just derp.

Both linebackers screw it up here. Demens has to get into his blocker further upfield; failing that he needs to pop outside of him to funnel back to help. He does neither. Hawthorne can't see that his assigned gap is not an option because of the penetration and slows up for what turns out to be no reason. Either could have made this play themselves; it takes both of them screwing up to send it to the second level.

I'm sure they're more concerned about play action than Michigan State was because of the quarterbacks in question, but they get blocked way too often for my tastes. Hawthorne had already given way to Morgan for a series or two in the first half; IIRC this would be one of his last drives before Morgan re-entered for the remainder.

Ed Baker is hard to tackle and fast. I wish he was on the football team I liked instead of one I do not.

Countess does a great job here. I know he misses the tackle but a cornerback impacting a tailback just outside the hash four yards downfield is quality run support. If the linebackers hadn't compounded their Keystone Kops impression by banging into each other and falling over Baker is gang tackled after a moderate gain; as it is only Ryan is there to tackle and he is run through.

Unverified Voracity Starts Sexy WWII

Unverified Voracity Starts Sexy WWII

Submitted by Brian on October 13th, 2011 at 4:12 PM

My eccentric Oregon financial advisor doppelganger. Smart Football points to a fellow who goes by FishDuck and is all about zone reads, feeding his dog, the violent-yet-genteel devouring of Mike Patrick, and more zone reads:

An interesting point picked up from Chip Kelly's presentations: Oregon has tipped inside/outside zone for six years without ill effect because declaring the play causes people to overreact to it, which opens up constraint plays. More than that, the zone often acts as its own constraint as over-aggressive players flow playside or bunch up inside, opening cutbacks and bounces.

He's also got a video on Oregon's deployment of power, which it uses as a counter to their usual inside zone stuff. We haven't seen this out of Borges yet, but I'm hoping. My desire to see Michigan pair an opposite-side-of-the-line speed option with the inside zone borders on lust. And by "borders on lust" I mean "invades Poland with sexy tanks."

On point. Doctor Saturday lays out the situation and the stakes on Saturday as well as you can:

When he was hired in January, Hoke's mission was explicitly to roll back the Rodriguez era, to restore whatever it was that made Michigan feel like Michigan again. To that end, even Wolverine fans seemed to find the sudden proliferation of countdown clocks, macho posturing and various Buckeye-related eccentricities laying it on a little thick. But six weeks in, the Wolverines are right on schedule in the national polls, the Big Ten standings and the weekly stat sheets. If they clear the midseason hurdle Rodriguez's teams never could at Michigan State, they can claim one more phase of the mission accomplished.

Kind of a big deal, this game.

Point: Tim. Reportorial ex-girlfriend Tim, who now goes by the bizarrely long moniker "Tim Sullivan" over at Rivals, was a committed skeptic about Rob Bolden since he was one of a trio of touted in-state quarterbacks in the 2009 recruiting class.

Despite the rankings, Tim said the guy didn't know how to play football. It seems like his scouting prowess has been borne out:

Game Over, Man.  Game Over.  This quarterback contest is done.  Urban Meyer remarked toward the end of Penn State's first offensive drive that at Thursday practice, he did not see Bolden complete a single pass over five yards.  This makes sense, as Bolden did not throw a single decent pass on the entire first drive.  …

Rob looks completely shattered at this point, and it's time for the coaches, players, and fans to embrace the crazy train that is McGloin Moxie Mania.

It's McGloin o'clock in Bolden's Penn State career. Beaten out by a walk-on, does a transfer again beckon? /NYT headline writer imitation

Point: Hoke. Shudder at the awful puntasaur display in the Iowa-Penn State game:

Iowa got to the PSU 33, faced 4th and 8... and punted.  That Guthrie was able to pin PSU on their own 10-yard line (a solid accomplishment) is irrelevant.  Punting from the other team's 33-yard line is A F---ING STUPID AND TERRIBLE IDEA.  I don't even need statistics to back me up on that one (although they would).  Even if Ferentz didn't want to try to convert on fourth down (4th and 8 isn't easy, obviously), why not give Mike Meyer a crack at a field goal?  It was a beautiful day, the ball was lined up near the middle of the field, and Meyer has made 50+ yard field goals in the past (this year, in fact).  But no.  Ferentz gave a vote of "no confidence" to both Meyer and his offense on that play.  Iowa probably deserved to lose the game for that decision alone. 

Of course, JoePa was determined to out-conservative -- or out-dumb -- Ferentz; he punted three times from the Iowa side of the field, including late in the game on 4th and 2 from the Iowa 36.  If he really didn't think his offense could rip off a two-yard gain against a gassed and reeling Iowa defense, I... I just have no words for the level of neanderthal football thinking on display in this game.

Of course, that coaching blunder on Ferentz's part might be narrowly eclipsed by the decision to eschew running a two-minute offense upon getting the ball at the Iowa 20 with two timeouts and 1:42 to go before halftime.  God forbid we try to score there.  It's not like we don't have a no huddle offense that's been effective this year or a kicker with decent range.  Nope. 

Even if trying the field goal with Gibbons is a mistake, it pales in comparison to that business. I cannot express how much I love the Mathlete's new Dumb Punt of the Week feature. The inaugural winner is Ohio State's Frank Solich, who punted on fourth and one from the Buffalo 36. Buffalo has the #91 rushing defense. After an 11 yard punt, Buffalo drove for a touchdown. Ohio State lost by a point. The game theory gods do not take kindly to being spited so grandiosely. (See also: Kirk Ferentz.)

I missed another Hoke game theory bit: he got the ball at the 22 with about two minutes left and did not pull the Ferentz. Robinson rushed for a loss of one on first down, then five straight passes got Michigan to the Northwestern 44 before Robinson's third awful interception set up a Northwestern field goal drive. While we've seen Hoke eschew half-ending drives a couple times this year, those were with a minute or less on the clock, not two.

Now… it didn't work out that time, but these things are never 100%. Did it make sense at the time to try to score with a couple minutes left against Northwestern's defense? Yeah.

Glarb glarb glarb. So when Michigan shuffled its fullback on third and one and got owned I had a conniption fit. This was the result of DeBord Doom re-emergence:


That's the corpse of Steve Watson you see getting annihilated at the LOS. Glarb.

BWS picture-pages this and points out that the shuffling fullback opened up the Gardner rollout TD on which he had either the run or pass; I'm not so sure showing the first play is worth the cost to get a yard when your redzone offense seems to be able to get a yard whenever it wants. I like diabolical machinations better when they're like the above Oregon stuff—plenty diabolical in their own right without the counter.

Mitchbreaks. Mitch McGary's impending Michigan decision now seems far less certain:

Recently, reports came out that Mitch was nearing or had made a decision. However, Tim refutes that notion “He hasn’t made a decision. I just talked to him tonight (Monday night) and we talked about it a little bit. He’s coming home Wednesday night and we’re going to sit down and talk about it. They get a four or five day break this weekend so he’s flying in to O’hare and my older son will pick him up. We’ll be able to sit down and sort things out.”

Likely rumor vector: AAU coach to national guy, national guy tizzy checks in with coach a few more times, everyone wants to back off. Confidence level: reduced, but still high.

Etc.: Denard Robinson is healthier this year because he is homeopathic or something. Mark Huyge has had a tough year. Holdin' the Rope doesn't like "smug, pompous buffoon" Mark Dantoinio. Jon Merrill suspension 50/50 to end his career. Sad face.

Picture Pages: Toussaint Jab Step

Picture Pages: Toussaint Jab Step

Submitted by Brian on September 28th, 2011 at 12:07 PM

I like Fitzgerald Toussaint. Think the kid has a bright future if his various limbs stay functional. Enjoy his running style. Get emails from time to time declaring "I don't know what you see in this kid." Sit and ponder these emails. Shake fist. Decide to write post about it. Fitzgerald. Toussaint.

So here's a reason I like Fitzgerald Toussaint: I think his vision and his shake are plus pitches, to borrow from another sport. Here's an example. It's first and ten on the SDSU 16 late in the fourth quarter with Michigan driving to clinch the game. On the next play Vincent Smith will jackrabbit his way into the endzone, but to set that up Michigan's going to Toussaint.

The setup:


If this looks familiar, it should. This was one of the staple formations of the Rodriguez years. Here's Tate running it in the 2009 ND game:


Rodriguez would often send the TE backside to block the otherwise unblocked EMLOS as a counter to scrape exchanges. TE kicks out the guy coming down the line; WLB flies out to contain Robinson on the zone read, and viola:

[one of many examples that have been DMCAed by Thought Equity Motion.]

Michigan did this on the previous play. It was the first time they'd run it all game and it worked like a charm, opening up a huge lane for Toussaint to hit. He did so for eleven yards. When Michigan goes back to the well a second time things will be different.

SDSU's 3-3-5 was less dynamic than advertised. Instead of blitzing like mad from everywhere to mimic different fronts, it was mostly content to line up as very small 3-4s and 4-3s and run twist stunts from them. On this play they actually line up in the stack, which was rare.

On the snap the TE pulls backside as the mesh approaches.


Robinson sees the OLB headed upfield at him and hands off:


The problem is Koger is kicking out the QB contain guy:


This is very similar to problems Michigan had running this play against Illinois last year. When the scraper is hugging the backs of the OL TEs often miss him and head to the obvious guy on the outside. Once your pulling TE whacks the contain guy you've given up the advantage gained by optioning him off and are back to—horror—regular old 3.9 YPC running. When this happened against the Illini, Michigan gained a yard.

Since Huyge has released downfield there is an unblocked EMLOS tasked with the tailback on a play that usually tries to go backside. (This is a zone, but it is a zone with an idea of where it's going to end up.) Omameh is actually doing a good job on his guy since the play design nominally expects the ball to go behind him. Unfortunately, that means there's nowhere to go further playside. There is no room.

So Toussaint makes some. In the above frame you can see he's evaluated his situation and is about to take a critical step. This is what he does with it:


That's weird. It's easier to see on the video, but Toussaint takes this jab step outside and then bursts back upfield.

This little jab step… what is it? He slows for a half-beat and sticks that leg out as if he's going to veer outside, then shifts direction and heads away from the scraper. Is it just instinct, or is it a deliberate attempt to set up his block? Does Toussaint even know? This happened in a blink. This may be one of those things even the person doing it can't explain.

The result is most apparent on the guy Omameh is blocking:


In frame one the NT has already committed his momentum to the other side of Omameh's block because of the jab step; in frame two he's kindly GTFOed, giving Toussaint a lane as Schofield and Molk donkey a linebacker who blitzed into them. Toussaint set this up with the step, which convinced the NT he needed to fight to the other side of Omameh without slowing him down enough for the unblocked scraper to catch him.

Result: Toussaint runs up his OL's backs for nine yards.



Watch it twice. Watch the step, and then focus on Omameh and the guy he's blocking. See that yank that suddenly repositions the defender? That's the NT moving himself to where he thinks he needs to be.

Interesting Stuff

Will this be consistent from Toussaint? This is a play SDSU RPSed that Toussaint made into nine yards almost by himself with that jab step. Is that a fair representation of his vision and his ability to make split-second decisions that get him lanes other guys don't, or was it getting lucky? I don't know, but I do know that the last couple weeks I've had occasion to use "lovely" more than once to describe a Toussaint run. Early returns are "not lucky."

Back to the well. Yeah, this wrinkle was a Rodriguez staple. It worked like you draw it up the first time. This time it worked like you don't draw it up; Smith would come in and run it a third time for a touchdown, but he'd have to weave his way through defenders to do so. I'm not sure whether running it three times in a row was a good idea—it worked but clearly SDSU adjusted to it. Against better run defenses this might end up going splat. To be fair, the third one was a second and one from the seven.

Coaching points with coach Rod. In the Illinois game Michigan adjusted to the Illinois adjustment by the end of the game, coaching that pulling TE to ID the scraper hiding behind the line and blocking him into the endzone for a touchdown. It'll be interesting to see whether Michigan makes that adjustment if necessary in future games.

Further wrinkles. So there was this, which was brought out right at the end of the game, and the speed option you've heard and read so much about, a speed option that seemed to use outside zone "basketball on grass" blocking. That's an encouraging echo of the Rodriguez ground game, when most games of import saw new features being deployed.