Neck Sharpies: The Power Return

Neck Sharpies: The Power Return

Submitted by Seth on October 13th, 2015 at 1:46 PM

On Saturday Michigan put up six points on Northwestern on the opening kickoff, a lead the defense was so unlikely to relinquish you might as well say this game was decided by a footrace between Jehu Chesson and the Wildcats' kicker. As Harbaugh described it in the presser:

“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.”

And our own Adam Schnepp got Butt on the record after yesterday's presser:

They hadn't really shown that on film where they were going to kick it there on the opening drive, but we knew they could potentially sky-kick it away from Jabrill and they did that to Jehu. We had the right return in anyway, so they kind of just gave us a counter. I had a kickout block and then we had like a wall built for Jehu. I mean, Jehu's a 10.3 100 guy. He just did the rest. You weren't catching him once he hit the open field.

I was still drawing it up when ebv posted an excellent writeup of the same. So at this point you might be sick of talking about it.


I'll use some of his diagrams, and show you what happened.

Our Playcall: Return (our) Right

Here's how ebv made it look:


Butt (on the 20 yard line)'s block is a kickout, not a lead but that's an otherwise very accurate description. Here's my drawing:


(kickoff coverage positions noted as left or right from the kicker, so e.g. "L4" is the fourth guy to the kicker's left.)

Omigod it's POWER—like manball-flavored power running where you form a wall that caves in on their wall, kick out the EMLOS to make a gap, then throw bodies at the point of attack. I color-coded the goals of the blocks: left for seal the guy inside, green for kickout, and blue for the lead blockers.

Wilson, Kinnel, Gedeon and Houma are going to form the "wall"—they each identify a gunner and their jobs are to block down, and keep their guys sealed from the play. Bolden and Poggi double a guy who's basically the playside end. Butt comes across the formation to blow the contain open, and Chesson gets an escort into the hole from Mason and Peppers.

Northwestern's Playcall: Corner (their) Right


This is a fairly basic kickoff coverage that only messes a little with the typical man-to-man return strategy. The kicker purposely sent it to the side away from Peppers, and the gunners were tasked with closing down running lanes. Two members of the coverage team, L5 and the kicker, are back as quasi-safeties to fill any lane that may be created.

[after the jump: execution]

Dear Diary Hasn't Returned One in Forever

Dear Diary Hasn't Returned One in Forever

Submitted by Seth on May 15th, 2015 at 4:10 PM


Last Push. We have the weekend and then HTTV's kickstarter closes. If you just want a book this is fastest and least expensive route (not counting going to an MGoEvent or tracking me down when there's a box in my car). If you want the Fingerguns shirt…


…this is your opportunity. If you want your annual purchase of HTTV stuff to go to a good cause, get in on the kickstarter, because a dollar of book orders and $5 of your t-shirt orders go to Vincent Smith's #EATING charity, which will be starting an urban garden in Flint. Pass along to friends, family, family friends, and anyone you have knowingly shared a "Harbaugh? Harbaugh." with this past year.

A lineman reviews Jake Rudock. Spath came up with a really cool idea for analysis videos: watch some Rudock film with a former player. The player he dug up was Doug Skene. The game was Iowa-Wisconsin. I plan to draw up a couple of them—would like an end analysis. One thing that stood out is he uncharacteristically went deep a lot—against Sojourn Shelton(!) #KirkFerentzTrollsIowaFans

This should be a video. Wolverine Devotee found all the Michigan punt and kick returns since 1948; unfortunately he put them in a chart instead of going down to Bentley, pouring through reels of film, and creating a Youtube of them. We'll just have to watch this one again:

Raindrops on roses and Katzenmoyer missin's. Dez in the pose and that punter needs mittens. 46 falling and sadface Germaine; that's why I watch this again and again.

Is it really that weird that Michigan hasn't had a kick or punt return touchdown in years? No.


Give Norfleet back two of three TDs he's had called back by insano refs calling ticky tack things that had no bearing on those plays and this is like any other era. The rich times were the early '90s, when Dwyane Ware blocked two within weeks, and Derrick Alexander co-existed with the guy who literally won a Heisman for being so good at returns. With return TDs such a rarity across history, two in a season is good, and more than three would be a record. Add the spread punt, which turned half of would-be punt return attempts into fair catches, and I'd bet you a lot of teams are on similar droughts.

WD also did a turf/grass/field turf study if you're nerdy enough to care about that. The only part that really interested me was dates for the different types of surfaces at the Big House:

Surface Years Record
Grass 1927-1968 162-72-11 (.684)
Tartan Turf (artificial turf) 1969-1981 73-8-3 (.887)
All-Pro Turf (artificial turf) 1982-1990 46-10-0 (.821)
Prescription Athletic Turf (grass) 1991-2002 63-12-1 (.836)
FieldTurf (artificial turf) 2003-2009 36-14 (.720)
Duraspine (artificial turf) 2010-present 27-8 (.771)

Etc. All you need to know to start paying attention to lacrosse. Jake Butt as James Bond wallpaper. There's only one player (and neither coach) left from the hybrid RR/Hoke Class of 2011. Ugliest Michigan gear. Couldn't get tickets for softball? Go see AFC Ann Arbor in their first-ever league game.

Your Moment of Zen:

Coaches on the road recruiting equals Northwest Airlines video:

Michigan State recruits China.

Upon Further Reviewy Hokepointsy Thing: Kick Return: First Four Games

Upon Further Reviewy Hokepointsy Thing: Kick Return: First Four Games

Submitted by Seth on September 26th, 2013 at 10:35 AM


Unlike other UFRs you may have read, this one comes with about 20x the NORFLEET! Michigan kickoffs were on Tuesday. Here's kick returns.

Michigan's deep set is usually Gedeon, Houma and Rawls then Dileo as a lead blocker (sets up opposite side of the field in case it goes there), and Norfleet returning. Houma and Rawls double the first guy to arrive while Gedeon's job is to wall off the second arrival so there's a hole between them. Up high it's like everybody else: four guys start just past the 50, two on the 40. Their job is to run downfield, then find somebody to hit and sustain that block. I'm sure Space Coyote is going to have a name for this but here's what it looks like:


After his injury Drake Johnson was replaced by Ross (vs ND) or Furman (elsewise). They change it up a lot up front. When Funchess was hurt Jackson folded back there. Hayes and Chesson rotated in at times.

Ball arrives after the...


Mailbag: Center vs Shotgun Fight, Punt vs Kick Return Fight, Let's Be Nebraska(?)

Mailbag: Center vs Shotgun Fight, Punt vs Kick Return Fight, Let's Be Nebraska(?)

Submitted by Brian on September 14th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

Unbalanced stuff, Denard under center.

First, in this pic from the Air Force Defensive UFR:


The slot receiver would be eligible if he took a step back and the WR at the top took a step forward, correct?  So what is the advantage to having this alignment vs. having two players be positioned less than one yard differently?  I can’t quite grasp what would compensate for losing an eligible receiver.

Normally, yes. Here Air Force is going to send the WR to the top of the screen in motion until he ends up behind the two guys in the backfield. That makes life easier for Air Force if they want to run to the short side because they've effectively blocked the corner to that side by putting him on the other side of the field.

Defenses can react to this by shifting but it's unnatural for them to do this. Sometimes they mess it up, especially when you're going at speed like Air Force does. The disadvantage created by making that WR ineligible can even be mitigated by sending him on a crazy route that takes him behind the QB. Is the offense going to use this? Probably not. Is the defense going to totally abandon defending this guy? Probably not.

Second, I saw the ESPN article about Denard’s passing from under center being pretty fantastic.  Given that, and Denard being Denard, why wouldn’t we run a basic QB draw from that setup on the regular?  Or is the passing being so good a result of defenses making sure to take that away?


The numbers here are relatively small—Rothstein charts 62 attempts from under center under Borges, which is two or three games of data. He's done well with those attempts, obviously. I have no idea why, and if you go all Gaussian on things it's clear that there's a lot of jitter in there. Via The Power Rank:


Rothstein does acknowledge the sample size issues. But just because your data is not big enough to be authoritative does not mean it isn't suggestive. Given the numbers, the chances that randomness explains all of the difference is a mere 6%. It's worth figurin' on.

There's a pretty obvious mechanism that makes Michigan's running game more effective from the shotgun—hi my name is Denard's legs. What is the reason Denard's only throwing interceptions from the shotgun? Nothing leaps out. The routes? They're probably the same. The drop-back? In the NFL, the shotgun is a more efficient formation (even accounting for down and distance) despite running quarterbacks being largely absent. Run paranoia? It seems hard to  believe that's more of a factor from under center.

Three things do seem like potential mechanisms:

  • Pressure. It's easier to max-pro when you've got a couple TEs or a couple backs. Also, it's easier to not tip your snap count against MSU. Denard + pressure == doom. If Denard is getting better protection from under center that would be an obvious way in which under center was really better.
  • Situation. Michigan's more likely to go under center in short-yardage situations, making those passes more profitable as the defense expects run. Also a potential factor in "situation": Michigan may run more under-center stuff against easy Ds and default to shotgun when they think they're up against it.
  • Luck. Sample size here is small enough that it probably explains some of the difference. It's hard to think TD/INT splits of 12-1 (under center) and 11-17 (shotgun) are totally explainable by luck.

The problem with throwing from under center is that sometimes you have to run it from under center, and that's burning downs at this point.

Seth has all this in a UFR database and will address it in more depth on Tuesday.

Punt versus kick return, fight.


Hey, Brian. I hoping you might be able to shed some light on a question. What is the difference between kick returner and punt returner? Why does Norfleet return kicks and Gallon return punts? Is it to limit their exposure to 11 special teams defensemen running downhill at full speed with the intent of breaking the returner's back? Or are there different skills involved? (Because who wouldn't like to see Norfleet returning punts, too?)


Kick returns are the junior varsity version of punt returns. As a kick returner you have a high-arcing kick travelling 60-70 yards before you camp out under it. If you fumble the thing, the nearest opponents are 20 yards away. You pick it up, you lose a few yards in field position, and no one has a panic attack. Either that or it's a touchback. BFD.

Screwing up a punt, whether it's by fumbling it or failing to field it, has much direr implications. A fumble is almost guaranteed to be a turnover, and we just saw Jeremy Gallon cost Michigan 25 yards by not fielding an Air Force punt. Additionally, punts can come in at all sorts of angles, generally much faster than kicks. Ever seen a kickoff fielded on the run? Maybe if someone is making a terrible decision on one that's going out of bounds. Otherwise, never. On punts it's not uncommon.

In addition to that, there are some different skills involved. Punts often involve dodging guys with little or no opportunity to get up to full speed. On a kickoff you're generally going to have the opportunity to get your motor humming before you have to make a cut. So a guy like Darryl Stonum made an excellent kick returner thanks to his top-end speed and ability to make a shallow cut at speed, but wouldn't have made much of a punt returner.

Gallon and Norfleet both have skills that make them a good fit for both positions. The coaches are currently more comfortable with Gallon back there, but if he keeps bringing out 2010 Gallon and Norfleet proves capable in practice, a switch won't be long in coming. Either way, at least Michigan won't be running a Greg Mathews out there.

Option MSU?


I haven’t seen any film on last year’s game between Nebraska and MSU, but I have to believe that Nebraska had a relatively effective day on offense judging from the score and offensive numbers. (24 points and 190 yards on the ground) So with that being said and knowing that Michigan and Nebraska run similar offenses, can Michigan look at that the game film and implement some sort of parallel schemes against MSU that Nebraska executed and have a likewise outcome?


That game was won by Nebraska's defense, which limited the Spartans to under 200 yards. While the Huskers racked up 190 yards rushing it took 58 carries for them to get there—3.3 YPC. Unless Michigan can do the same thing to the Spartan offense they're not likely to win with that kind of rushing output.

Meanwhile, an offense with pitches like Nebraska's is one you have to dedicate yourself to. It's not something you can implement for a single week. You can change your blocking schemes, routes, protections, and playcalling, sure, but when you start asking a guy to make split-second decisions about whether to fumble a ball in the general direction of the running back you're asking for trouble.

FWIW, it does seem like Michigan is at least allowing the center to get his head up and survey the landscape before he snaps the ball these days.