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.
- Michigan aligns in a standard shotgun 3-wide formation with two receivers (SL and X) to the field, and the TE to the boundary.
- McDoom (13) goes in a jet motion, ball is snapped when McDoom passes the quarterback.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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]