Neck Sharpies: Jet Motion RPO in Urban’s Face

Neck Sharpies: Jet Motion RPO in Urban’s Face

Submitted by Seth on May 16th, 2018 at 11:35 AM


[Patrick Barron]

For many reasons I loved Harbaugh’s offensive game plan against Ohio State. He knew Ohio State well, knew his players better, and nearly made up an entire massive talent gap between the two teams with coaching alone. One minute they’d be in super-wide splits and running up the gut, the next play they’d be in super-packed goal line, fake a handoff to Hammerin Panda, and slip a TE for an easy touchdown. Next drive they come out in a split-backs right out of a Bill Walsh playbook, plus a bunch of spread.

Ohio State ran a pretty basic defense; at this point they’re just churning through five-stars Calipari-style, and giving them a basic Quarters/Cover 1 system with one or two checks based on alignment. But Michigan’s offense wasn’t anywhere near that level last year. So Harbaugh pulled plays from every offensive tree, whipsawing the OSU defense between dramatically different concepts until he found a few that the Buckeye checks made wrong. Was it complicated? Well yeah, they practiced this stuff all season and emptied the drawer for the Game. Did it work? Brilliantly.



One of those successful attacks was a packaged play they broke out to save a 1st and 17 in the shadow of their own endzone early in the 2nd quarter, then twice more during an important drive down 24-20 in the 4th. But before they broke out the big gun, they scouted it.

Prior to that play they ran a jet screen to Evans on the field side that converted a 3rd and 11 to 1st and goal by catching the cornerback in man waiting too long to react to the jet motion.


A little later Michigan ran their slot (Crawford) in jet motion from a 2x2 wide TE look, and noted how Ohio State reacted:


Both throws went to the jet man, and now Michigan has seen the two ways Ohio State plans to defend it: an under front against odd formations, an over front for even ones, and slanting the line in the direction of the jet.



Now it’s the 2nd quarter and Michigan comes out in a similar thing, except instead of a second tight end in the formation there are two running backs: Higdon standing next to O’Korn, and Evans opposite and behind. Evans jet motion to the field against an under front, pulling the LBs away from the boundary. But this time Michigan’s running a pin and pull in the other direction.

I am guessing he found this on some Auburn film because it’s got Malzahn’s fingerprints all over it: jet motion, backside reads, pin and pull. It worked all day, and I think it’s because Michigan noticed how Ohio State defends jet motion and planned to punish it, and OSU never got to change it up because there were a million other things Michigan was doing. Here it is later against an over:

There’s a lot going on here so let’s break down the components.



  1. Michigan aligns in a standard shotgun 3-wide formation with two receivers (SL and X) to the field, and the TE to the boundary.
  2. McDoom (13) goes in a jet motion, ball is snapped when McDoom passes the quarterback.
  3. The three receivers are running a bubble action, O’Korn reads the reaction of the receivers side (purple zone) and may have the option to throw the bubble if Michigan has numbers.
  4. Line call uses the old Vince Lombardi sweep rules on the frontside: pin what you can pin and pull what you can’t. Backside is zone blocking.
  5. Backside DE (orange zone) left unblocked, is optioned (QB keeps if end crashes down).

Granted those options could be entirely for show—Ohio State isn’t a naturally aggressive defense. Whether or not it’s a run-pass option, like any sound defense Ohio State had practiced how to take away the field side options and force it down to a running play on the boundary. It just so happened that’s exactly what Harbaugh was hoping for when he ran that…

[After the jump: the Jets]

Neck Sharpies: The Sight Adjustment

Neck Sharpies: The Sight Adjustment

Submitted by Seth on December 1st, 2017 at 9:46 AM

I realize there was a drive and a half afterwards, but for all purposes this was the end of The Game:

In the aftermath there’s been some Michigan fans saying that this wasn’t something the coaches should have put on O’Korn to do—that it was too complicated for a guy who’s already not good at reacting to what’s in front of him.

I don’t think that’s accurate. Option routes in general are complicated because they put more on receivers, but for the quarterback it’s less complicated than a West Coast tree. He’s still seeing the coverage and making a read, it’s just that he gets to stare at the same receiver the whole time instead of finding each guy where he’s supposed to be. Now, the Run and Shoot, or its cousin the Air Raid: those are complicated for quarterbacks because he’s got to read multiple option routes. That’s not what Michigan was asking O’Korn to do on this play.

I’ll explain. Two bad things happened for Michigan to create this disaster:


First, let’s go over what the announcing team said about it, since Gus Johnson and Joel Klatt did a good job of explaining what happened afterwards:

Ohio State switching coverage post-snap is half the story. They’re talking about the fact that Ohio State showed Cover 2 pre-snap and then ran a Cover 3 zone blitz, with the line slanting, the SAM blitzing, the weakside end dropping into the flat, and the WLB tasked with dropping into a deep 1/3rd zone.


[After THE JUMP what O’Korn saw]

Neck Sharpies: The Back Side of Power

Neck Sharpies: The Back Side of Power

Submitted by Seth on November 1st, 2017 at 9:00 AM

Things that happen against Rutgers’s defense can’t be taken too seriously. They’re playing a former Brady Hoke cornerback as a SAM in a 4-3 under, which means he’s taking on fullbacks and pulling guards. Their other edge guy is Kemoko Turay, an athletic dude who’s still rather unfamiliar with the game of football, and who’s functioning now as a WDE/OLB hybrid. Their WLB is by some distance the worst player I’ve scouted this year. One of their safeties is 5’9” and was their leading receiver last year and just joined the defense three weeks ago. The other safety is worse.

But their three interior DL are pretty stout. This made the Rutgers game uniquely suited to Michigan’s power running game. You know Power, Michigan’s base play under Jim Harbaugh, Brady Hoke, Lloyd Carr, and Fielding H. Yost. God’s play. Power.

Power and its close cousin Counter Trey are a lot like Inside Zone in that as a base play there are a ton of ways to run it depending on what the defense is showing and who appears where.


The concept is simple enough: 1) Block down on as many line defenders as you can to seal them inside, 2) Pry open a gap between them and the playside edge protector, and 3) Swing around a backside blocker into the point of attack to hit the first guy he sees. Win those downblocks and kick out the edge and now it’s just a race to see if your meat and the ball can get through that gap before the defense can plug it.

On “Power” the swing man is usually your backside guard, while a fullback or H-back is the “trapper” or pry-bar trying to blow the edge open. On “Counter Trey” those guys swap jobs. Note the backfield action is like a run to the right side, and that the pulling guard is wiping out the edge:

Counter Trey. (The guy Ben Mason blocked into the endzone is an awful, awful player, but still: braaaaawwwwrrrr!)

[Hit THE JUMP for what Rutgers did, and how Michigan didn’t have to respond because an answer was built into the play did I tell you this is God’s play?]


Neck Sharpies: The Fullback Counter Trap

Neck Sharpies: The Fullback Counter Trap

Submitted by Seth on October 18th, 2017 at 12:21 PM

I used to be really good at slaps, that game where your opponent puts their hands over yours and you try to whack them before they can pull away. My best trick was I’d make my elbow twitch on one side then *WHAP* the other side. I’d get so many in a row with this that my siblings stopped wanting to play.

Tom Allen probably doesn’t want to play slaps with Harbaugh anymore.

This was a beautiful play. I thought so. Brian thought so. Jon Duerr thought so. James Light thought so. Harbaugh apparently liked it enough to call it three times in a five-play drive. We all guessed Michigan would have preferred not to put it on tape before the Penn State game but since it is let’s dive into it.


It’s early in the 4th quarter. Michigan is up just 13-10 over Indiana and gets the ball back on their 16 yard line after Indiana punts on 4th and 1. The first play is a split zone off the same look with which they’d successfully run a TE motion crack sweep, and it goes for 8 yards when Onwenu and Bredeson beat their respective DTs (Bredeson’s guy got up crying for a hold that was probably legit and is never called).

Then out comes this:

It’s a trap play, which itself isn’t very weird. On a trap the backside guard (Bredeson, #74) pulls and the frontside starts blocking down just like on a power play. But instead of having the DE kicked out by a tackle or tight end, they leave the edge guy for a moment and the puller then plows into him. The erstwhile kicker meanwhile is heading downfield hunting linebackers and safeties. The running back then charges through the hole, with a lead blocking fullback if that’s your style.

In this instance Hill didn’t even bother to block Tegray Scales, the WLB, because he’s stumbling over his buddy—Scales managed to right himself and make the tackle, else Higdon is following Hill into the secondary. That’s on Hill for going for a big gain and given the situation (2nd and 2) I’m fine with taking a shot when the worst result is still a first down. Anyway that’s not the interesting part.

The interesting parts are the path that Hill took, and the way they blocked the playside tackle. There are a lot of arrows in a tight space so let me show you who’s blocking whom with colors:


Let’s examine the two really cool wrinkles in detail.

[After THE JUMP]

Neck Sharpies: One Dead Zone Run

Neck Sharpies: One Dead Zone Run

Submitted by Seth on October 11th, 2017 at 10:27 AM

There was a rather long twitter exchange earlier this week between BiSB and former player/regular MGoBlog reader Jon Duerr about this play, a ho-hum split zone that Michigan State swarmed. Both guys saw things in this play that somewhat characterized the Spartans’ approach this game, and why Michigan had to pass to counter it. So I thought I’d draw it up.



This play has been an effective counter to the base inside zone run all year. Rather than making the tight end block the DE lined up over him, the TE releases into a linebacker, leaving that end to get clobberated by a crossing TE or FB. Defenders who think they’re trying to defeat zone blocks to the frontside suddenly find themselves sealed in place, and linebackers who thought they were flowing to frontside gaps are just putting themselves in position to be blocked by free-releasing linemen who shouldn’t have an angle on them:


Regular zone rules are otherwise in effect. The covered linemen and the next closest uncovered linemen will try to combo the DTs then work their way to the Mike and Will linebackers. With split zone however play is designed to seal the tackles—who think they’re winning at preventing themselves from getting reached—in place and release the covered guys to the linebackers, who will naturally try to flow to the frontside of those blocks. Then—“whoops”—the linebackers are on the wrong side.

What you do with your receivers is up to you (and what your opponent is doing). The tight end’s crack block on the SAM is mirrored by the split end (X)’s attack on the Will, which mimics a mesh play. Michigan added the flanker (Z) cracking a safety rather than running off a cornerback, since the CB might take himself out of the play by playing man anyway.

Michigan State snuffed it out by playing super-aggressively against the run. They’re doing three things to blow this up.

[After THE JUMP]


Neck Sharpies: The Tunnel Screen of Doom

Neck Sharpies: The Tunnel Screen of Doom

Submitted by Seth on September 13th, 2017 at 8:42 AM

Re-watching Saturday’s game the damage didn’t look so bad—take away Cincy’s illegal picks and we’re down to quibbles about McCray’s position and Kinnel finally taking a bad angle that one time. There was only one play that Michigan didn’t seem to have an answer for, despite Cincy running it SEVEN times: The tunnel screens.

This is not a new problem; Maryland got 103 yards on four of them last year. Did Fickell find a hole in Don Brown’s attack? Was it a certain player? Was Cincy just good at that?


Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 10.02.35 PM

Coincidentally I got this from Kyle Jones of 11W’s Cincinnati preview in 2014

A tunnel screen is kind of the reverse of a bubble: you block outside-in with a slot guy and bring your receiver inside-out. Typically covered linemen will seek to delay an insta-pass rush while uncovered OL release to cut off the second level.

It’s mostly a counter versus an aggressive man defense because you’re punishing linemen from running upfield so far you can squeeze a ballcarrier and his convoy behind them.

However in this game Cincy was doing some odd stuff with it. I’ve listed them by increasing order of weirdness:

1. Get the Ball to Your Athletes

Like Maryland last year, Cincinnati came into this game with a plan to negate their offensive linemen and trust their athletes in space. Michigan for its part refused to back off the pass rushers, or to change up their simple man assignments for this game. Even on the 7th time they see this, Don Brown is not going to give any quarter inside to win a DT spy. He’d rather David Long wind up the Viper:

Bush did as well as you could ask to redirect with a TE cutting his legs out, but Cincy’s RB caught it in stride and accelerated quickly. Long on the other hand was way more hesitant in his turn at trying to woop the OL and ate a block. Kinnel arrived just in time to make this a 4th and 2.

Part of Michigan’s problem with these all day was the screen targets were very precise in their routes and excellent at accelerating with the catch. Running back Mike Boone (above) and slot receiver Kahlil Lewis were Cincy’s best offensive players, and this play was a good way to put them in a position to make that count.

2. Tight End is Blocking a CB Off the Snap Like It’s a Run Play

Here’s the first tunnel screen against Michigan last week and you can watch the tight end motion across and make the key block on the CB (Long) in man coverage on the screen target (Michigan’s in straight-up Cover 1, with Hudson following the TE across rather than switching with Kinnel).

That gives Cincy a TE rather than a slot receiver removing the man in man-to-man coverage.


You’d like David Long to realize faster what’s happening and attack but that’s asking for him to make a big play.

By the way if you’re wondering if the TE can cut block while the ball is in the air, this is contact within a yard of the line of scrimmage and thus a legal block:

ARTICLE 8. b.Offensive pass interference is contact by a Team A player beyond the neutral zone that interferes with a Team B player during a legal forward pass play in which the forward pass crosses the neutral zone. It is the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the opponents. It is not offensive pass interference (A.R. 7-3-8-IV, V, X, XV and XVI):

  1. When, after the snap, a Team A ineligible player immediately charges and contacts an opponent at a point not more than one yard beyond the neutral zone and maintains the contact for no more than three yards beyond the neutral zone.

The releasing center’s block on McCray wouldn’t be a legal block if he made contact with McCray, but he is just getting in the way and that too is legal.


Hudson is able to recover but now the receiver has momentum and gets 6 yards. Now that it was on tape Cincy eschewed the subterfuge and usually lined up the receiver directly behind the tight end in a stack.

On the second tunnel screen (to the RB) they get Devin Bush playing off coverage, but the TE can still lock onto Long and take him for a ride.


I circled the TE’s block on Long this time because this play erroneously made the (mostly legit) list of missed offensive PI plays. But read that same rule above again:

ARTICLE 8. b.Offensive pass interference is contact by a Team A player beyond the neutral zone that interferes with a Team B player during a legal forward pass play in which the forward pass crosses the neutral zone. It is the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the opponents. It is not offensive pass interference (A.R. 7-3-8-IV, V, X, XV and XVI):

The ball is caught behind the line of scrimmage, which the NCAA defines as a run for downfield blocking purposes. With Long blocked out by a TE it’s now all three interior OL escorting the RB downfield. Two of them are doing what you’d expect: the right guard authoritatively cuts out Devin Bush’s legs to make a lane, and the center is trundling downfield to take out Michigan’s last defender, Tyree Kinnel.

[After the jump: Seth loses his sanity, then we have five more of these]

Neck Sharpies: The Beef Spread Offense

Neck Sharpies: The Beef Spread Offense

Submitted by Seth on August 29th, 2017 at 8:05 AM



[QUICK HURRICANE HARVEY NOTE: Major ongoing natural disasters are usually beyond our scope, but Houston has become an all-hands-on-deck situation. MGoStaff writer Alex Cook is still holed up in his apartment and has assured us he is safe. Close friend of the site Jane Coaston has family there. Over 3,000 readers are in it too.

The charities out there to deal with such things are blowing through everything they’ve got. If you’d like to help, some good charities are All Hands (they train & equip volunteers), the American Red Cross, Samaritan’s Purse (Christian, International), Food banks (that’s a list from the Houston Press), Americares (provide medicine and basic supplies), SBP (ongoing recovery volunteering) the Houston SPCA (animal rescue—bc evacuation centers don’t let people bring their pets), and NECHAMA (Jewish flood response organization I volunteered with when Dearborn and Oak Park were inundated a few years ago).

If you’d like to go down there and help the Red Cross and others above are taking on-the-ground volunteers. I can’t think of a better way to justify making that Dallas game after all.]


a preview

They say football is a game of inches. But in football physics space and time amount to the same thing. The inches between a tackle and a broken one, or momentum vs time for the defense to rally, are the real difference-makers. All of that scheming, development, recruiting, and training is about finding those inch-seconds. And we’ve been telling you all offseason that we think the way Michigan plans to do that is to play with some gigantic dudes who will push you off the ball, and spread ‘em out.

Maybe we should explain why.

[after the jump]

Neck Sharpies: Solving the Spread Punt

Neck Sharpies: Solving the Spread Punt

Submitted by Seth on December 7th, 2016 at 4:00 PM


A few years ago it was de rigueur on this site to talk about how college rules allowed NCAA teams to use a different style of punting, and that this style (called spread or shield) of punting was demonstrably superior to NFL-style (tornado). Michigan has swung between them in recent years. Carr tested out something like shield punting in 2003 then scrapped it when it cost him a game against Iowa. Rodriguez took us to spread punting along with spread offense, and Hoke returned the program to pro-style as was his wont.

In 2015 Harbaugh brought in special teams guru John Baxter and the spread was once again installed, presumably for good. Then Baxter left, and this year Michigan used both. At first we wondered if this was, like under Hoke, some relic of a coaching staff that strove to be pro-like in everything. But as the punt blocks, and near punt blocks, and running-intos that by all rights should have been punt blocks piled up, a new thought emerged: maybe Michigan thinks they’ve solved the spread punt.

Shield punting refresher

For a full explanation of spread punting and a comparison to NFL-style see my 2014 article or watch the Joe Daniel Youtube. Here’s a graphic:


The splits are huge: two yards between the snapper and the guards, and two more yards until the next guy. You don’t care who comes up the A gaps—the only thing the guys on the line of scrimmage have to do is redirect the man lined up outside of them then get downfield (you don’t want your snapper involved in blocking).

The three guys standing about 7 yards back are the “shield”. You want big burly dudes for your shield, and you tell them the Grand Canyon is just behind their heels so they’d better not give an inch. By not giving an inch, they create an eye in the middle of the storm for the punter to safely get the punt off.

Everyone else just has to force the attackers to widen to the point where they can’t get back inside in time to affect the punt. That’s why the guards split so far apart: anyone going outside of them should presumably be too far outside to affect the punt. Anyone coming up the middle will get stuck behind an immovable wall of beef.

In the linked video, Daniel mentions the way to attack it is put four guys into those big “A” gaps, because that could overwhelm the shield. The way the shield would deal with this is block out man-to-man, and let the guys in the A gaps try to get around the shield. As long as your three-man shield can still stop four A-gap rushers, you’ve got a sound punt blocking strategy with two to four more guys releasing downfield than you would in an NFL-style punt.


[After the JUMP we get around the shield]

Neck Sharpies: Mr. Dantonio’s Opus

Neck Sharpies: Mr. Dantonio’s Opus

Submitted by Seth on November 2nd, 2016 at 12:00 PM

My videos had trouble uploading. Here’s DGDestroy’s every snap for now.

Mark Dantonio came prepared for this game. He had thoroughly scouted this Michigan defense, learned how it adjusted to motions and angles, and put together a bewildering drive plan that kept everybody confused and got State the matchups they wanted. It must have taken hours of watching game film and practice to make it all work. He could have used it for the game-winning points against, oh, Northwestern, or Maryland, or Indiana.

But this is Mark Dantonio. This drive was always intended for Michigan. It used Michigan’s own ideas, exploited Michigan’s tendencies and personnel. It was a coaching masterpiece he made for us. Let’s appreciate it.


Play 1: Jet to Split Zone


This play sets up the rest of the drive. Jet motion from RJ Shelton pulls the WLB, McCray, out of the box, effectively removing a linebacker from where they’re planning to run.

The split zone means the play’s backside DE is blocked by the fullback, freeing up the RT to block Godin. The plan at the playcall is to hold a linebacker outside with the jet motion and zone run into the remaining four-man (two DTs, a DE and the MLB) front with all five offensive linemen.

But Godin and Glasgow have a stunt on here. That could kill Michigan since Gedeon gets a releasing center on him and Glasgow is putting himself out of the backside B gap with the stunt. Godin made a great play to shoot underneath the right guard and push that guy down the line to squeeze the gap out of existence. Like a Roman at Cannae, the back is trapped behind his own men until the Carthaginians have hacked their way through.


Also note that the jet motion to the boundary side played with Michigan’s OLB designations. McCray ends up the guy covering a slot type in space while Peppers is lined up a foot away from a big tight end.

Anyway, great play Godin. Second and long.

[After the JUMP: a counter off a counter off a counter]

Neck Sharpies: The Five-Tight-End Train to Trips Mesh Buttdown

Neck Sharpies: The Five-Tight-End Train to Trips Mesh Buttdown

Submitted by Seth on October 25th, 2016 at 4:00 PM

We were cheering so much when they brought out the train that we missed how cool the play design was that they ran with it. It’s not the most complicated play to break down, but it’s certainly the most fun I’ve had breaking one down.

All aboard:

The Train


Other than looking cool, the train formation does actually accomplish something. The defense is trying to figure out who’s got whom, but can’t actually line up and sort out the offense’s look until this weird huddle has broken. It’s hard to catch numbers with all those other dudes in the way. It might not even dawn on the defenders until the snap that all the skill position players are tight ends (or in the case of Hill, a quasi-TE turned fullback). The train doubles as a huddle—Speight walks up the line giving the playcall—but preserves a no-huddle offense’s confusion factor.

If you’re an opponent, you don’t have a lot of time to dissect the various shades of blocky-catchy. And down near the goal line you’re not going to have the luxury of playing cover 2, since any underneath dumpoff is a touchdown. With a weird formation, the simplest thing to do is call a man defense, and everybody line up in their spots.

Then Speight claps his hands to break the huddle, and everybody rushes to his spot.


[After the Jump: Why five tight ends, why mesh, and how the rule that spread teams proved unfair is also unfair for teams that run out lots of TEs and crossing routes]