Deep In The Night I Heard The Pealing Of Bells

Deep In The Night I Heard The Pealing Of Bells

Submitted by Brian on October 12th, 2015 at 12:24 PM

10/10/2015 – Michigan 38, Northwestern 0 – 5-1, 2-0 Big Ten

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[Bryan Fuller]

It was one fan, maybe two or three, in the south endzone. He or she or they wrote themselves into a corner of Michigan lore with one of the simplest chants in sports. It's the one that gets deconstructed into the letter D and the outline of a fence at NFL stadiums across the country. It is about as unique and special as "Seven Nation Army" at this point, but life is all about timing.

I have been to every Michigan home game in the last 18 years and I have never heard that. It is alien, the kind of thing I recoil from because it represents the melting of our special Michigan snowflake.

And holy shit, man. The little pin-pricks all across your scalp; the tremor in the hands; the flush of sweat; the welling of tears manfully suppressed. I could not participate myself. I was too gob-smacked to do much of anything at that moment. Michigan was up 38-0 with time about to expire. It was 4th and 17. If you had asked me to draw a card from the deck at that moment I couldn't have managed it.

Since the podcast started I've looked at a lot of lyrics from songs I love, and on the page they're flat nothings. This was the inverse of that. Two syllables; one word; and yet, poetry. 

----------------------------------------------

This is it, already. The building process turned out to be a single offseason of four-hour practices and competition over everything from starting positions to the most elegant mashed potato sculpture at dinner. Brady Hoke may not have been able to point his team in the right direction given two tries, but he could recruit, and the fruits of his labors have been honed molecule-thin by a man who can get hat-displacingly angry up a billion points in the second half.

Michigan fans were dying for this. Barely anyone left until deep into the fourth quarter, and there were still enough people ready to run through a wall with 29 seconds left, enough people to rattle the press box and send electricity up your spine.

The recent Harbaugh-to-NFL flare ups caused Michigan twitter to once again latch on to the pant leg of anybody who dared assert that Harbaugh would ever leave the confines of Ann Arbor (save for road games, of course). In the aftermath, media members got rabies shots and quietly conferred about how Wolverines fans are low key the most annoying on the internet.

They are not wrong. We take after our mascot: outwardly innocuous, secretly vicious bastards with a pipe-crushing grip. Anyone threatening the precious will be verbally berated until they give up in exhaustion. After the last eight years in the wilderness even the thought of a diversion enrages.

I emceed the Alumni Association's tailgate on Saturday, and I heard an awful lot about how things have changed in just a year. Indeed they have. I went back to the game column after game six of 2014, in which I meditate on the mournfulness of the Kids In The Hall's theme song and embed their "Each Day We Work" sketch. This was the entirety of the bit about football:

Football happened, in the usual way.

That described a loss to Rutgers.

In that column I talked about how the most appealing bit of Kids In The Hall was always that theme song, titled "Having An Average Weekend"; I went back and listened to it, and now I think that song is genius. It filled me with a sense of contentment and optimism. That's an average weekend, just a year after things were so bad they spawned the first and only Wolverine Revolutionary Popular Front.

An average weekend ends with a stadium full of people exhorting Michigan to finish burying their opponent, with two syllables ringing through the nation's biggest stadium, once again full to the brim. With belief.

[Fuller]

Let those who would stand in Michigan's way come.

[Note: Alejandro Zuniga clipped the chant first but the sound quality wasn't what I wanted so I reproduced it.]

HIGHLIGHTS

HARBAUGH

Maize and Blue News has the Harbaugh presser and also the players.

AWARDS

21460344014_d1e6a5b8a2_z

this will end badly for you son [Fuller]

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

you're the man now, dog

#1 Jourdan Lewis had a spectacular YOINK pick-six in addition to generally being Jourdan Lewis. Gypsy seems real good with him currently.

#2 Jabrill Peppers annihilated the option several times, had 3 PBUs when tested in coverage (though one of them should have been an INT), laid the final block on Jehu Chesson's kickoff return, got the key block on Lewis's INT return, and fair caught all manner of short punts, saving Michigan dozens of yards of field position.

#3 Jake Rudock was efficient and capable; called into action on the ground he left a Northwestern LB in the dust on a play reminiscent of Tate Forcier's "I Saw Cover Zero" touchdown.

Honorable mention: All DL were excellent but Henry and Glasgow in particular stood out. Jehu Chesson's KO TD was more scheme than magic but dang he is fast and added a few nice plays on O. De'Veon Smith only had eight carries but had the entire Northwestern secondary on his back for one of them. AJ Williams led the team in catches and blocked well.

KFaTAotW Standings.

6: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern)
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
4: Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern)
3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland),
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU), Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland).
1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Jake Rudock(#3 Northwestern)

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

This week's best thing ever.

Jehu Chesson wins the game in the first 15 seconds.

Honorable mention: Ridiculous Lewis pick-six.

WGIBTUs Past.

Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.
Northwestern: Chesson opening KO TD.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

This week's worst thing ever.

USA-Mexico. Seriously, I got nothin' from the actual game.

Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill's second touchback. I guess one of those third and fifteen conversions?

PREVIOUS EDBs

Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.
Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT

[After THE JUMP: this week's ways in which Harbaugh out-schemed his opponent, Happy Iowa Rudock, John Baxter's first BANG, and more defense defense defense.]

Northwestern Postgame Presser: Jim Harbaugh

Northwestern Postgame Presser: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on October 11th, 2015 at 12:00 PM

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[Fuller/MGoBlog]

News bullets and other items:

  • Drake Johnson is working through something minor.
  • Jake Rudock had his best week of practice leading up to Northwestern.
  • Higdon played because they had some “specialty runs” they wanted to use him for.
  • On the rescinded targeting call, Harbaugh says they must have forgot to add the personal foul penalty. The refs also told Harbaugh they didn’t see the second player that landed on Rudock.
  • Things Harbaugh is pleased with: His fullbacks and how much his team likes to work.
  • The team’s physical play is helping them develop a “callus.”

What did you think of the two targeting calls, and will you appeal the suspension for James Ross?

“Yeah, we’ll take a look at them.

“I’m just really pleased with our team. All three phases had great success today: Special teams, starting with the kickoff return for a touchdown; defense, tremendous shutout; offense played really, really good football. Jabrill’s fielding of the punts…I’m getting less and less nervous about it. Did a nice job.

“So many factors. So many keys to the game, but the fellas really came out ballin’ right from the start and played a heck of a ballgame, so really pleased.”

Just talk about what a kick return touchdown like that does to spark your team.

“Does a lot. Does a lot.”

Talk about the play?

“106-yard return. The blocks were sharp and crisp. Timing was nearly perfect. 10 guys, 11 guys hustling and 10 of them blocking, blocking for Jehu and he got- he is the fastest player on the team. I know Jabrill said one of the fastest but he is the fastest, and he showed it today.”

Can you talk about this defense? Three straight shutouts for the first time since 1980. I mean, what’s the ceiling on this? Is this even shocking you, how potent this defense is?

“With a couple exceptions, we really shut down their running game. They got a few runs that got out, but not many so for all intents and purposes we were able to shut down their running game. Then coverage was- our guys were in the hip pocket almost every route, getting hands on the ball. They threw the back shoulder on Jourdan Lewis a couple times and one time he made an incredible interception. Looked like he got his arm in between the receivers arms and somehow intercepted it and took it back to the house. And then the pass rush was intense.

“All three of those phases were at the highest level today, and all working together. DJ Durkin and the defensive staff- tremendous week of preparation and called a near flawless game. That’s A++.”

[The rest after THE JUMP]

Michigan 38, Northwestern 0

Michigan 38, Northwestern 0

Submitted by Ace on October 10th, 2015 at 7:35 PM


Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

As dusk descended upon Ann Arbor, the crowd roared.

"DE-FENSE. DE-FENSE. DE-FENSE."

Michigan fans weren't urging the defense to make a critical stop in the fourth quarter. They were urging them to finish the shutout. For the third straight game, the defense finished.

"I wouldn't say any emotion," said Jabrill Peppers, asked if the defense fed off the chant. "This is what we expect to do."

"When we're out there, we don't want to give them anything."

The Wolverines allowed 168 yards; only 38 of those came on the ground against a Northwestern team that relied on its run game and its strong defense to win its first five games. One could easily argue the pass defense was even better than the rush defense. Jim Harbaugh said DJ Durkin called a "near-flawless game," adding "A-plus-plus." It would be much harder to argue that point.


Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

One of the stars of the defense helped Michigan to the game-winning points—on the first play of the game. Peppers had an inkling Northwestern would kick the ball away from him, electing instead to boot it towards Jehu Chesson.

"If they kick it to you, just follow me, follow my block," Peppers said he told Chesson.

A lane opened up, Peppers walled off two Wildcats, and Chesson streaked down the west sideline for Michigan's first kickoff return touchdown since Darryl Stonum against Notre Dame in 2009.

The defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, one of three they'd record in the first half. The offense held up their end of the bargain, with big plays by a healthy looking De'Veon Smith and Jake Butt setting up a touchdown plunge by Drake Johnson. Michigan led 14-0 just 4:40 into the game, which was effectively over, save for the extended beating.

Jake Rudock, who had his best game at Michigan, threw for 179 yards on 23 attempts and extended the lead to 21 on a two-yard quarterback keeper late in the first quarter. His favorite target on the day was AJ Williams, whose four receptions all went for first downs. Hail all the Harbaughs.

Jourdan Lewis had the play of the afternoon in the second quarter, stealing the ball from receiver Austin Carr, who looked for all the world like he'd made a first-down catch, and streaking 37 yards the other way in front of a befuddled Northwestern sideline and a delighted Michigan Stadium crowd. The Wolverines wouldn't need any more points, but they got some anyway on a 47-yard Kenny Allen field goal and a late four-yard touchdown run by Derrick Green. The latter score meant Michigan and Northwestern hit the over. The Wolverines required no contribution from the Wildcats.

"Pretty much every phase you look at, it was humming today," said Jim Harbaugh. "Congratulations, it was impressive. Next. Onward."

Next is Michigan State. Onward, indeed.

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Maryland

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Maryland

Submitted by Brian on October 8th, 2015 at 3:42 PM

Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.

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Do not worry. The pants thing is still valid. Someone tweeted me worried that he would have to be formally attired after I failed to mention it last time. This is not the case. I was just stretching my creative muscles. Last time that happens EVER, thanks twitter guy.

Matt's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call. (No pants required.)

FORMATION NOTES: Harbaugh unearthed a chestnut from the first half of the 20th century when he debuted a T formation:

image

After some Wikipedia reading I decided that Pro T == 1 WR, Wide T == 2 WR, and Power T == 0 WR. "Wide T" is not to be confused with "Split T," which means the OL take up crazy wide splits.

There wasn't anything too weird other than that unless you count a three wide shotgun formation as weird. Michigan spread the field much more than they did against BYU. They were still heavy; WRs got more snaps. Sometimes there were even two of them on the field at the same time.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Not much of note. Kerridge and Smith did not play. Isaac, Green, and Johnson seemed to split the RB opportunities down the middle for much of the game, with Isaac exiting permanently after his second fumble. Johnson got more playing time as the game went along.

OL was the usual, FB the usual minus Kerridge. WR was a bit more diverse than the last couple games, with Freddy Canteen and Grant Perry getting a dozen or so snaps each. Michigan spent more of this game in three-wide.

[After THE JUMP: scratching out… actually a lot more than they needed.]

I'll Believe In Anything; You'll Believe In Anything

I'll Believe In Anything; You'll Believe In Anything

Submitted by Brian on October 5th, 2015 at 12:24 PM

10/3/2015 – Michigan 28, Maryland 0 – 4-1, 1-0 Big Ten

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fight or fliiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaargh [Patrick Barron]

I'LL BELIEVE IN ANYTHING – WOLF PARADE

"I mean ... there were a couple plays where they got first downs. We've got to look at that and correct it. They shouldn't have anything."

-Maurice Hurst

"I BELIEVE" seems like one of the most fun things to say at full bellow. You are in thrall to whatever it is you are busy believing in. You are ejecting spittle that contains within it the virus that will pass the belief on to those blessed by its impact. You have left the constellation of niggling doubts and pressing issues behind for at least three syllables. It sounds like a good time.

With neither Catholics nor Michigan fans prone to bare-chested, cloth-rending proclamations of that sort, I haven't had many opportunities to test this theory out personally. Once I when I was a teenager I ended up in a place where super serious teenagers were hanging out and speaking in tongues and the like. Yes, the reason was a girl. No, it didn't take.

But anyway in the aftermath I have occasionally found myself lingering on late-night exploitative religious television with equal parts scorn, sympathy, and jealousy. While the pompadour'd reverend is immediately repulsive, I get the flock's desire.

Just give me a sign, Lord. Just give me a sign. I will take this sweaty dude's earpiece radio telling him details from the card I filled out. I'll take anything. My God, this dude is sweaty. That wasn't directed at you, necessarily, Lord. You probably know about the sweaty guy already. Sorry.

Just give me a sign.

He is really sweaty though.

----------------------------------------------------------------------

Here is what this game was like: Michigan punched in the first touchdown of the game early in the third quarter. When Maryland got the ball back, the play by play announcer gamely attempted to maintain the general public's waning interest by noting it was "just a two score game."

Unless it's the Big Ten West you're talking about, in modern college football you don't have to say that in the third quarter. You don't have to say it until there are about five minutes left, and that's only if someone's out of timeouts.

Baylor and Texas Tech were a couple hours away from trading 45 minutes of haymakers before falling over in an exhausted heap. Tennessee hired Mike DeBord and now specializes in blowing three-score leads. Indiana—Indiana minus its starting tailback and quarterback!—took three separate Ezekiel Elliott uppercuts and still staggered its way back to attempt a potential game-tying drive. They got a 79-yard touchdown run from that quarterback made out of popsicle sticks. Their attempt to tie only ended because a relatively obvious pass interference call in the endzone went unnoticed.

Indiana. Indiana's bench.

These days a two score lead in football is slightly more meaningful than one in basketball, but you could be forgiven for forgetting that during any particular Big 12 game. Anyone turning off a game because two scores separate the sides is ravenously hungry and can't turn on the toaster and the TV without blowing a fuse or has something seriously wrong—like Lions fandom—with them.

Not right now, not against Michigan. If you find yourself two scores down against Michigan it's time for a priest and a eulogy. "BYU: at least they're already saved." "Maryland: if you pay really close attention you can tell they tried."

I mean, maybe not forever. Anything this good is bound to regress to the mean and get various holes poked in it and fall over breathing heavily. This isn't even typical Michigan fan bleating, it's just a fact. The ultimate fact of the universe is entropy. Ask Ohio State, currently struggling to nose ahead of MAC teams and Indiana after returning almost literally everyone of importance from a team that blitzed Oregon and Alabama to end last year. Ask the water on Mars. Ask Devin Gardner. Chaos reigns.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Michigan now faces back-to back undefeated top 15 opponents. A year ago this would have been time to stock up the bunker and wait for the bombs to fall. Even when the Harbaugh Hail Mary was gloriously completed, we collectively told ourselves we were going to keep expectations on the level. Hopes stopped at "this is a nice 8-4 season that feels very nice and also like football mostly."

It's dumb to go past that even now. Reasonable expectations are a nice thing to have. The poison of ridiculous ones is evident down the road. I've been here before, latching on to the things that seem good and saying maybe it'll happen this time. I have gotten naught but misery for my troubles.

But each three and out, each time a Michigan defensive lineman shoots through a gap he should not be able to pierce, each bewildered quarterback throwing a ball he sort of hopes is complete but mostly just wants out of his hand—all of it sucks me closer to the event horizon. Within it all reason is lost and the future is a horde of pending victims in our war against the galaxy.

Outwardly I am still too Michigan to cry it out, the thing that is fun to say. But on third and long—and there is always a third and long—my eyes dance with blood. Just give me a sign, Lord.

HIGHLIGHTS

Also, the BTN profiled Amara Darboh:

AWARDS

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Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

Now named! Named like so because this is the nicest thing Harbaugh can say about you.

you're the man now, dog

#1 Desmond Morgan was actually relevant this week. He was also terrific, with a difficult diving interception on a deflected pass, two pass breakups besides, and nine tackles.

#2 Maurice Hurst edges out the rest of the defensive line with two ultra-badass TFLs, one a sack on a three man rush, one an extremely similar play where he dumped the RB in the backfield.

#3 Blake O'Neill delicately located two punts inside the five, had a 59-yarder, and was extremely important for field position in a field-position-heavy game.

Honorable mention: All defensive persons. Drake Johnson. Jake Butt. The offensive braintrust.

KFATAotW Standings.

5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland)
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU), Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland).
1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland)

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

This week's best thing ever.

Jehu Chesson gets loose on a jet sweep and puts a Maryland safety in an early grave before outrunning the other guy to the endzone.

Honorable mention: Perfectly called Drake Johnson screen goes for touchdown; perfectly called Jake Butt screen goes for 44 yards; every defensive play except about six.

WGIBTUs Past.

Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

This week's worst thing ever.

A Jake Rudock NO NO NO YES throw hits Sione Houma in the hands and bounces up to a defender, thus prolonging the first-half slog significantly.

Honorable mention: Even though Michigan got it back, Ty Isaac's second fumble felt a lot like a promising guy eating bench for half a season. Also Isaac's first fumble.

PREVIOUS EDBs

Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.

[After THE JUMP: sad ghost rudock, tuff ghost defensive line]

Monday Presser 9-28-15: Jim Harbaugh

Monday Presser 9-28-15: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on September 28th, 2015 at 6:02 PM

00 Harbaugh presser

[even his wardrobe has a constraint play]

How do you keep your team from listening too much to all the good things they’ve heard about themselves in the last 48 hours?

“Outstanding game, congratulations, and hard work.”

Jabrill doesn’t play a traditional safety position, and he doesn’t play a traditional cornerback position. Why is that spot that you guys have him at best for him and best for you guys?

“Uh, well, it’s a nickel position. Takes an athlete who’s physical but has the ability to cover receivers in the slot. Can also contribute in the running game. Usually somebody who’s a really good corner and a good safety is ideal for that position. I mean, pretty much every team has that position so no, not inventing anything. It’s looked at as a starting position by just about every defense that plays football.”

You were optimistic about De’Veon’s health the other day. Are you still optimistic? Do you have an updated on De’Veon?

“Yeah, he’s gonna be sore. He’ll be working through the soreness.”

Is it a questionable situation for him Saturday?

“I don’t think we have to do that in college football, do we?”

What’s the diagnosis?

“He’s got something he’s working through.”

Is he still in the boot?

“I haven’t seen him today.”

[After THE JUMP: Philosophizing on polls, talking contact courage, and do fourth and longs exist in Australia?]

One Frame At A Time: UNLV

One Frame At A Time: UNLV

Submitted by Ace on September 22nd, 2015 at 3:05 PM

I've coped with the "no cheering in the press box" rule by laughing at the absurd. This happened often when Denard Robinson played quarterback; since then, not so much.

I laughed maniacally at this.

[Hit THE JUMP for thunderous hits, great cornerback play, a long touchdown run(!), and Yip Yips.]

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Oregon State

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Oregon State

Submitted by Brian on September 17th, 2015 at 4:27 PM

Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.

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Let me further emphasize the fact that pants are entirely optional when you go with HomeSure Lending. I mean, it's not like Matt has anything against pants. You want to go with pants, you go ahead. If you want to go with a mumu or board shorts or whatever, also fine. He can't see you. Also, excellent rates. He may have wanted me to emphasize that instead of the pants.

But seriously, excellent rates. He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call. Also no pants.

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan went heavier in this game. I did not this week but in the future I am going to start specifying H-backs like Butt in this shot:

ace twins h

While TEs lined up next to other TEs are often H-backs in the offense I'm going to reserve the H designation for either the above or instances where there is a tight end near the LOS but tucked inside the edges of the line.

Michigan also had an under-center version of the diamond formations that Oklahoma State and other spread teams started implementing a year or two ago:

diamond-ace

Generally the diamond had a tailback with a tight end and the fullback in front of him. In fall camp there was the occasional rumble of these formations featuring all tailbacks. Not yet; that would be something they hold for a tenser outing, I think.

I had no idea what to call this goal line formation with the FB and RB next to each other.

goal line 2 back

And if I call something "tight bunch" this is generally what I mean:

trips-tight-bunch

That's a TE, FB, and WR in the bunch. Harbaugh loves throwing out buckets of formations with 2 RB, 1 TE personnel. In the Utah game this was very frequently a pitch sweep; Michigan broke that tendency in this game by running off-tackle- ish at the bunch.

FWIW, I am designating Houma and Kerridge as FBs and listing all other blocky catchy types as TEs.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL was the same as it was against Utah: Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson. Braden got dinged and left for a play or two; David Dawson entered in his place. That's not a huge surprise but there were a couple rumbles that Blake Bars might be the first guy in the game. That may be the case if a tackle goes out; it's apparently not the case at guard.

QB Rudock; RB was Smith almost the whole way until the fourth quarter, when Isaac and Green got the stress-free time. Isaac did spot Smith at various times in the first three quarters.

WR was the same rotation between Darboh, Chesson, and Harris on the outside. Perry got less time but I think that was more an effect of playing a lot of tight ends than anything else. Moe Ways got scattered snaps as well.

At tight end, every available one played except Khalid Hill. No idea what's going on with him. Fullback was mostly Kerridge until late when Houma came in to impress us all with his running and hair; Kerridge reportedly had a stinger.

[After THE JUMP: we can has manballs?]

Picture Pages: Iso Adaptation

Picture Pages: Iso Adaptation

Submitted by Brian on September 15th, 2015 at 4:03 PM

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[Bryan Fuller]

You're going to have to bear with me on the offensive UFRs this year. The last time I saw a traditional gap-blocked, regular-ol-QB offense for anything more than a one-game debacle was ten years ago. That was the first year I did UFR and most running plays of that sort were deemed "another wad of bodies" because I didn't know what I was looking at. Since then:

  • Two years of Debord running almost nothing but outside zone
  • Three years of Rodriguez running inside and outside zone with a little power frippery
  • Two years of Hoke trying to shoehorn Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense, giving up, and running a low-rent spread offense
  • Al Borges's Cheesecake Factory offense that ran everything terribly
  • Doug Nussmeier's inside zone-based offense.

I've seen plenty of power plays. Most of them were constraints that could  be run simply and still succeed because the offense's backbone was something else. The rest were so miserably executed that they offered no knowledge about what power is actually supposed to look like. I watched a bunch of Stanford but not in the kind of detail I get down to with the UFRs.

fbz3gg1_thumb[1]One thing that I am pretty sure I think is that the popular conception of power as a decision-free zone in which moving guys off the ball gets you yards is incomplete. Defenses will show you a front pre-snap. You will make blocking decisions based on that front. Then the defense will blitz and slant to foul your decisions and remove the gap you want to hit. If you do not adjust to what is happening in front of you then you run into bodies and everyone is sad.

What Stanford was great at was running power that was executed so consistently well that it was largely impervious to all the games defenses played. This requires linemen who are downblocking to think on their feet, maintain their balance, and stay attached to guys who may be going in directions they were not expected to. It requires everyone off the line of scrimmage (tailback, fullback, pulling G) to see what's in front of them and adjust accordingly.

Michigan did a bad job of this against Utah. They also got blown backwards too much, complicating decisions for the backfield. The latter was not a problem against a much weaker Oregon State outfit. The former was much better, and that's the most encouraging thing to take from this game.

Here's an example. It's a six yard run in the first quarter on which Oregon State sends a blitz that Michigan recognizes and thwarts. There's no puller on this play; I think it was intended to be a weakside iso that ends up looking not very much like iso because Michigan adjusts post-snap.

M comes out in an I-Form twins formation; Oregon state is in a 4-3 that shifts away from the run strength of Michigan's formation. They are also walking a DB to the line of scrimmage:

wiso-1

By the time Michigan snaps the ball this DB is hanging out in a zone with no eligible receiver while both WRs get guys who look to be in man coverage. This is not disguised well unless the highlighted player is Jabrill Peppers and can teleport places after the snap:

wiso-2

He's going to blitz and the DL is going to slant to the run strength of the line. Michigan will pick this up, and I wonder if they IDed the likelihood of this pre-snap. No way to tell, obviously.

On the snap both the FB and RB start to the weak side of the formation; you can see Erik Magnuson start to set up as if he is going to execute a kickout block on the defensive end:

wiso-3wiso-4

With the blitz and slant from the Oregon DL that's not going to happen. Each Oregon State DL has popped into a gap. Kerridge is taking a flight path to the gap that would normally open between Magnuson and Kalis, the right guard, on a play without this blitz. Without the blitz the DE would be the force player tasked with keeping the play inside of him; Magnuson would have a relatively easy job as he and the DE mutually agreed on where he should go.

Here the DE threatens the play's intended gap. Magnuson can't do anything about that. The D mostly gets to choose what gap they go in, and it's up to the offense to roll with the punches.

Michigan does this:

wiso-5

A moment later Magnuson has changed his tack from attempted kickout to an attempt to laterally displace the DE using his own momentum. Kerridge has abandoned the idea of hitting the weakside B gap and is flaring out for the blitzer.

Thunk:

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Now, this could be successful for Oregon State still. The slant got five Michigan OL to block four guys. Nobody got downfield; the slant got a 2 for 1. But their MLB has stood stock still for much of this play, and Magnuson ends up shoving his dude past the hash mark—+1, sir. This is a ton of space to shut down, and De'Veon Smith is the kind of back that can plow through you for YAC.

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Smith fends off the linebacker with a stiffarm and starts gaining yardage outside; it could be a good deal more but Chesson misses a cut* and the DB forces it back, creating a big ol' pile:

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Second and four sounds a lot better than second and eleven.

*[Drake Harris will later pick up a 15-yard penalty for a similar, but more successful cut block; the genesis of that flag is probably Gary Andersen doing some screaming at the official after this play.]

Video

Slow:

Items of interest

You don't get to pick the gap even if it's gap blocking. Defenses slant constantly, and often in a specific effort to foul the intended hole and pop the back out into a place where an unblocked guy can hit. Post-snap adaptation is a must for a well-oiled power running game.

Slants win if they suck away an extra blocker. I would be peeved at the MLB if I was Oregon State UFR guy. While Michigan adapts to the slant well enough to provide a crease for Smith, the blitz means Michigan had to spend a blocker on the defensive back and the MLB is a free hitter. He should be moving to this more quickly than he does.

Slants also tend to open up giant running gaps. Adjustments like the above will often lead to a defender running in one direction suddenly getting unwanted help from an OL. If the OL can redirect and latch on just about everyone is going for a ride here. Once Magnuson locks on and Kerridge targets the DB these are two blocks that are easy to win and Smith is going to have a truck lane.

Given how much space Smith has even a linebacker playing this aggressively who shows up in the gap might lose or get his tackle run through; Michigan's getting yards here, whether it's three or six or more if Chesson gets a good block.

In the past this site has seen arguments about whether meeting an unblocked safety at or near the line of scrimmage is a win for the offense or the defense. I have largely come down on the side of "that absolutely sucks," but when the hole is so big that the defender is attempting to make an open-field tackle it's a lot more appealing.

Michigan WRs need to be more careful with the cut blocks. You can cut a guy from the "front," by which the NCAA means the area from 10 to 2 on a clock. (Seriously, that's the way it's defined in the rulebook.) This was very close to a flag, and Michigan got one later.

I wish Michigan was running pop passes, as those are good ways to get defensive backs hesitant about running hard after plays like this. Maybe in a bit.