Michigan’s gameplan last week was to build around one of the most consistently effective offensive plays in college football: the Mesh. Now listen, everybody meshes. It’s the favorite play of schools with questionable quarterbacks, and the base play that the air raid offense is built from. Unless you’re really good at fades mesh is probably your go-to goal-line passing offense. I know it probably wasn’t the plan, but a mesh-based game was also perfect for O’Korn.
At its core, Mesh is a short, easy, and rather cheap passing play designed to cross a pair of drag routes in hopes of creating a ton of traffic for the coverage. Imagine the above with the strong safety ($) trying to trail the blue tight end: what hope does the red cornerback have of staying with the red tight end with all of those bodies around?
That of course is if they catch man defense. If it’s zone, well, crossing routes are zone-beaters: just run the receivers into open ground and have them sit down for easy yardage.
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I think something happened here.
Depending on whom you’re talking to, today’s concept is a concept, an offense, a philosophy, or a way of life, though all who use it will agree anyone who defines it differently than they do doesn’t know what they’re talking about.* Though nobody on Michigan’s schedule commits to it fully, bits of it populate every passing offense today, and big chunks have been reintroduced to Michigan’s schedule with Kevin Wilson going to Ohio State, and Minnesota and Purdue hiring P.J. Fleck and Jeff Brohm, respectively.
It’s the Run & Shoot, the Libertarianism of football philosophies, and like its third-rail metaphor the first thing you need to know about it is that few people can talk about it without getting pissed off. Observe this salty convert to the Church of Shoot:
“Going somewhere where they don’t have route conversions into certain coverages was just absurd,” said Jacobs, who played nine NFL seasons. “They’re just running routes in the defense, getting people killed. Size and strength is what they had, and that’s why they won. Let’s be real. They had great assistant coaches, but Jim didn’t know what he was doing. Jim had no idea. Jim is throwing slants into Cover-2 safeties, getting people hurt. That guy knew nothing, man.
That was the Brandon Jacobs line that got him into one of this offseason’s more unexpected Harbaugh news cycles, with Michigan fans, Harbaugh fans, and anyone who knows their ass from a go-route on one side, nobody of consequence on the other, and some NFL types trying to stoke something out of it anyway.
Despite said efforts what controversy came of it quickly petered out, not because the sides came together, but because the disagreement was ultimately too wonky for the kinds of audiences an apparent Harbaugh-former player beef would attract. As soon as Kevin Gilbride’s name came up, knee-depth football fans gave up and left it for the deep geeks to figure out.
Iowa runs a base Cover 2 defense, and Michigan has been adding lots of Cover 2 to their Cover 1/Cover 3 base. Meanwhile Iowa’s offensive coordinator, Greg Davis, is well known for favoring a simple, West Coast-style passing offense that creates easy reads and, at the very least, open receivers underneath to dump it to.
All of that means it’s a good week to discuss a defensive concept we haven’t gone over in so long that the quarterback’s targets last time were Roy Roundtree and Martavious Odoms: a High-Low read.
If you’re a football guy already you can almost certainly tune this one out. If you’re not, this is a really easy thing to see on the field that can make you sound knowledgeable when you point it out to your friends.
This is an offensive passing concept that gives the quarterback two routes that cross above and below a defender’s zone, close enough to stay in view but vertically spaced enough (12-15 yards) that the flat defender can’t cover either by splitting the difference. The quarterback then throws whichever route the high-low’d defender covered.
I say “flat defender” instead of “cornerback” because it’s not always a CB who has that zone.
[After THE JUMP: lots of ways to stretch a man’s zone.]
Brian mentioned a "triangle" route during the offensive UFR last week. I wanted to highlight that play, not just because I don't remember if we've covered what that means, but because it illustrates how the emergence of Funchess as a complementary deep threat to Gallon makes defenses do unsound (read: relatively easy to exploit) things.
A triangle is another passing concept for picking on zone, and works pretty well against different coverages. We've covered smash/high-low (which attacks the top and bottom of a zone simultaneously) and 4-verts (which gets guys to either side of a zone). A triangle is actually putting dudes to three sides of a zone. It's a slightly more complicated version of high-low, the triple-option version of it if you will.
Here's a play from the Indiana UFR. I want you to watch the bottom of the screen and how the Funchess, Gallon, and Toussaint routes work together:
Shotgun 4-wide tight
IME Gardner blows this read presnap by going to the short side of the field. He's got three guys on the wide side and Toussaint's flare is going to be open as M runs a triangle there. Instead he's looking at the wheel/out combo M is running a lot this year. Both are covered; Gardner tries to fit a ball into Butt in a tiny window, LB breaks it up. (BR, 1, protection 1/1)
The left side is a high-low. The right side of the play, even though Gardner didn't go there, is the triangle we're looking at.
I don't know if Gallon's route was a deep curl or an out or flag or whatever; it doesn't matter. I drew curl just to make the picture smaller.
In this case Gallon and Toussaint are smashing the corner's Cover 2 zone, while Funchess's curl route keeps the SAM linebacker from interfering with that. The cornerback went with Gallon (from alignment it was obvious he was more worried about the deep part of his zone than anything underneath), and that left the SAM to deal with Funchess and Toussaint. He chose Funchess, and Toussaint's flare route was open.
Trying a new series on the blog this year, kinda like picture pages but more focused on base concepts in Michigan's offense and defense, and how the skill level and talent of our players and our opponents' interact with that. If you're like "yeah, that's Picture Pages" well, yeah, sometimes, except usually PP is about showing you something specific while I'm really trying to show how all of these mad football skillz we talk about in recruiting translate into plays with a big outcome on the game. Since I'm still pretty new at this stuff I strongly appreciate criticism and comments. Anyway this week's play:
A very slow-developing play-action where Gardner is either very lazily getting into his drop or else doing a very good acting job of a lazy quarterback who handed it off already and is just going through the motions. Because Michigan was up 38-6 and Central's front seven were getting so pwned the safeties were being forced to sell out against the run, a play-action deep pass was so set up you can hear the announcers literally wondering aloud at the snap when it would come. Or should have been. Was it? On the fourth play of the drive (following a waggle, an Iso and a zone stretch), it comes.
My Irrational Gametime Borges Emotion Meter flipped from disgusted to enthralled back to disgusted on a series of three plays on Michigan's second drive. The first play was the second and twelve play action on which an unimpressed defensive end flew upfield and sacked Robinson without giving any thought to the tailback supposedly getting the ball. Running second and twelve play action from a big I-Form set makes Homer crazy.
This is another way to high-low the corner, something this series has discussed in the context of curl-flat routes against UConn and Notre Dame. In this instance the flood worked for a big-time completion as Roundtree beat the safety to the corner route and the cornerback sucked up on the Hemingway deep out.
Grady at the 20. Hemingway at the 35 with the cover-two corner. Roundtree at the 45 beating the safety to the outside.
On the next play Borges did the exact same thing, but he did it completely differently. He flooded a zoning cornerback and high-lowed him for a big gain. It was the same guy. He'd just gotten beaten over the top and sank back into the deep route, leaving the intermediate guy wide open. Gardner ignored the blitheringly wide open guy, instead chucking a terrible interception. Live this flipped me back to disgusted mode, and this lasted long enough for me to complain about two-man routes on the podcast. I was wrong. Borges engaged a decided schematic advantage here only to see a freshman (-ish) quarterback derp it.
Michigan comes out in a Gardner formation with Robinson as the slot receiver.
Now for something completely the same
Before the snap they motion Hemingway tighter to the line. The cornerback's reaction and the two deep safeties imply another zone.
On the snap they fake a handoff and then fake the end around. The coverage is revealed to be Not Cover 2. Both corners are headed deep and one safety steps up into a robber zone in the middle. This is cover three:
robber in red, three-deep in blue
Gallon is running straight downfield and will take both the corner and the topmost safety with him—Hemingway cuts his route off and he has no other vertical threats and can double. The two linebackers you see have their eyes in the backfield, preparing for an end-around. By the time it's certain Gardner has the ball Hemingway is ten yards downfield, running hard, with inside position on the robber. The linebackers are done.
Now it's a little bit of a problem that Gardner took his eyes off the defense for a long time as he executed both handoff fakes, but he is literally eight yards from the nearest defender as he sets up. He has plenty of time to read the corner Michigan is trying to high-low.
doo dee doo dee doo
You can see the playside LB heading out for Robinson's wheel route, which doesn't seem like a real option but still demands attention. There's no one checking Hemingway except that robber, who is improvising in the time-honored tradition of anyone who sees something going very wrong and runs at the red button screaming "oh shiiiiiiiiii—."
Gardner loads up and fires…
…over the head of a wide open Hemingway hanging out 20 yards downfield…
…to the bracketed Gallon…
…and throws it way short to add interception to injury. Derp.
Items of Interest
This is the same passing concept out of a totally different play. Michigan goes from a three-wide stack with a rollout to that side to an ace set with a couple of play action fakes, but it's the same thing for the quarterback: three options of varying depth along the left sideline. (Depending on how real the Denard wheel is. If it's not it should be.) On both plays the depths are five yards, 20 yards, and 40 yards. On both plays the playside corner is the main dude to read.
Use multiple formations and motions to confuse the defense or gain an advantage in numbers or leverage. This approach tries to turn the defense against itself by never giving the defense a chance to get settled or to identify what the offense may do. Moreover, sometimes the defense simply fails to adjust, and the offense gains some new advantage. The downside of this approach is it leaves little time and fewer clues for the offense to make adjustments, but the idea is that “motion causes emotion” (to use the old adage) and the offense has an advantage in that it knows where it is going. This is the method employed by Boise State.
The other two are changing the play before the snap and using good old option football to force the opponent to be wrong.
The advantage of the multiple look is that it gets complex for the defense while remaining simple for the offense, particularly the critical guy with the ball in his hands every play. On back-to-back plays a zone flood wins, getting receivers open for huge chunks. Since the flood develops differently the defense has a hard time picking up on the tendency. Here the quarterback switch mitigates the effect of having the QB get to make the same read he just successfully executed, but in a normal situation you get the advantage of familiarity while the defense does not.
This may be why it feels like Michigan increasingly has no "base." Here's Boise State's RB coach on what they do on offense:
“We run plays, we don’t have an offense. It makes it difficult to defend.” At that time he was working with the running backs. Before this project, I wondered how an offense can’t be a system. Coordinators pride themselves on establishing identities: “It’s what we do” is a common mantra among the coaching profession. Urban Meyer at Florida has his spread option, Chip Kelly at Oregon has his QB run game, Steve Sarkasian at Washington has his pro-style offense that he developed at USC. Well, apparently Boise was the Seinfeld of college football — their lack of identity is their identity.
I've described the offense as "grab-bag," "cute," and "gimmickball" at various points during the year because they don't have a core play—at least not one that works COUGH power COUGH—that forces opponents to cheat and opens up your constraint plays.
Michigan fans have never seen an offense like this. Rodriguez varied his base but there was always the zone, inside and out, or the QB iso offense. DeBord literally ran a zone stretch left on the first play 90% of the time. Before that Michigan based its offense off pro-style power running (even though they couldn't run). They always had a Thing They Did.
This year Michigan has done the following things on the ground: iso, power, pitch sweep, speed option, inside zone, outside zone, inverted veer, down G, sprint counter, jet sweep. That is damn near everything possible short of triple option and trapping, and it moves from week to week. Most people, including myself, have believed this is a transitional cost of fitting Borges into an offense he didn't build. I am beginning to doubt that conclusion.
Maybe this should have been obvious given the multiplicity of Borges's SDSU offense but there's a big difference between watching a team and living it.
Even though this should be simple for the QB Gardner biffs spectacularly. Man is this a terrible decision. This isn't the error he made against State by throwing to Hemingway instead of the free touchdown offered Hopkins. Hemingway was kind of open and a good throw is a potential touchdown.
Here he's got a hand-wavingly open guy and a double-covered one. He's reading one guy, the playside corner. He's got enough time to take tea in the backfield. The playside corner is booking it downfield with his back to the guy underneath him. And Gardner still throws to the double-covered guy. If Borges didn't throw something in the press box he's a better man than I.
Anyone calling for Gardner to start should be shown this play over and over.
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to thenewspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
Stop throwing on the run.
Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Michigan needs Hagerup back. Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.
EPIC. Thujone's latest paint opus has panels for Tate Forcier, Big Ten expansion, and Les Miles, but this is where it's at:
As always, Thujone comes with a CARTOON PENIS warning. Do not click if you are in a situation where being caught looking at a cartoon penis would be compromising.
Epic in the other direction. Chris Brown's latest at Smart Football is one of those posts that instantly illuminates a part of football that was murky before, and this one even comes with locally-relevant content. He describes the "snag" and "y-stick" plays you may have seen in your copy of NCAA 12 (or any year since '08 since they haven't changed it since). They incorporate stretches both vertical (i.e., making a cover two cornerback pick between a high guy and a low guy) and horizontal (i.e., making a flat defender pick between an outside guy and an inside guy) with routes that do well against man coverage.
Presenting that concept taking candy from a baby:
The snag is so synonymous with the triangle concept that some teams simply call it “triangle.” The basic concept involves one receiver in the deep third on a corner route (good by itself against man-to-man), one receiver in the flat, often a runningback or inside receiver (which can also be good against man from a bunch-set), and a third receiver on the “snag” route, sometimes also known as a “slant-settle” or a “mini-curl.”
As a general matter, against a Cover Two defense the quarterback will have a high/low read of the cornerback; if he sinks back he can throw it to the inside receiver in the flat; if the cornerback drops he will throw it to the corner route behind the cornerback, as shown in the clip below.
Against a Cover Three defense, the cornerback should take away the corner route by dropping into the deep third, but the snag/mini-curl and the flat should put a horizontal stretch on the flat defender and one of the two should be open.
At times like this I think to myself "boy, I hope I got that right." Drumroll…
NFW Michigan can defend this as aligned, as Rogers(-1) has a nasty choice between giving up the corner or the flat and chooses poorly by not sinking into the corner. (Cover -2, RPS -2); Gordon has no prayer of getting over in time and can only hope to tackle. Also, Avery(-1) appears to be abandoning his zone to ride the WR on a little hitch farther, which means the flat is wide open; Michigan is putting lots of guys in the same areas on their zone drops
Not bad. Michigan didn't even make that snag hard; by the time the ball is gone Mouton and Ezeh are within a yard of each other and Avery isn't much farther away. I still don't think there was any way for Michigan to defend this staple play as aligned, which points to the incoherence of the defense. Everything from last year points to the incoherence of the defense, sure.
Outdoor hockey is go. The on-again-off-again outdoor game in Cleveland is on again, this time officially. It's January 15th.
I wonder what the fan breakdown will be. This one's a bit farther than the Big House but still an easy drive and Ohio State fans don't usually turn out for hockey. They do make an exception for Michigan, though, and they'll probably make a larger one for the outdoor game PR stunt. 50-50?
Let's be friends. Dimitri Martin has a one-liner about bumper stickers: "to me, all bumper stickers say the same thing: 'let's not be friends.' This is one of two exceptions:
You know what happened in 1973, I'm sure. If not MVictors has you covered.
The other exception: once I saw a guy with a black bumper sticker that read CASH, as in Johnny.
Very aggressive. I'll take anything more than three guys this year. Also, feel the soothing reassurance of Greg Mattison talking vis a vis Greg Robinson.
Euroleague says thanks. Someone credible enough to get retweeted by Pete Thamel says he "keeps hearing" NBA owners are pushing for an eligibility structure similar to the NFL. I.E.: you can't enter the draft until you're three years out of high school.
At that point wouldn't a lot of kids scheduled to be one-and-done GTFO? It's one thing when you've got to cool your heels for a year nailing cheerleaders and maybe taking a few classes. Three years is a totally different matter. The money will be bigger overseas since they can expect some high-level performances when the #1 pick in the NBA draft is 21.
Football can get away with their structure because there's nowhere else to play and they're almost always right: you should not be playing in the NFL less than three years after prom because you will die. The Adrian Petersons of the world are exceedingly rare. In basketball there are a dozen guys coming out of high school every year who can be all right NBA players right away.
Earlier in the year Chris Brown of Smart Football offered up some clarification of a route package Michigan's running, and now I'm spotting it in key situations so I might as well Picture Page it. This will please people who complain about the relentlessly negative PPs in past weeks that are all about explaining why Michigan gave up a touchdown.
It's third and four from the 29 on Michigan's second drive of the day. Michigan comes out in a standard formation:
Smith, Hemingway, and tight end Kevin Koger are going to run a snag concept. This consists of three parts:
The #1 (outside) receiver runs a slant and then sits down about five yards downfield.
The #2 receiver, in this case the TE, runs a corner route.
The tailback runs a flare.
This is what it looks like on a diagram. It's on the right:
Chris Brown on the point of this package:
The snag is a variant of the smash, where one point is to get a high-low with the corner route and the flat route (except now the flat is controlled by the runningback), with the added dimension of an outside receiver running the “snag” route — a one-step slant where he settles inside at 5-6 yards. This gives you a “triangle” stretch, where you have both a high/low read (corner to RB in the flat) and a horizontal read from inside to outside (snag route to the RB in the flat).
In previous games when Michigan's run this the opponent was in three deep and the read was simply reading the playside linebacker: throw it where he's not. Here Illinois runs what looks like a combo coverage. Just after the snap:
Illinois has a hard corner to the bottom of the screen and a soft one to the top. Robinson's reading the snag package all the way. Here he's starting at the playside LB, who's figuring out what to do with Koger.
It turns out he goes with Koger:
The hard corner is taking away the flare and this linebacker is turning his hips, so the snag route itself (Hemingway's) will come open. Denard should probably be throwing the ball now.
He should definitely be throwing the ball now.
THROW THE BALL AAAIAIGH
Hemingway's about a half yard short of the first down and is fortunate that Martez Wilson read the route package about as fast as Denard did. He's still two steps away from Hemingway, allowing Hemingway to take that orbit step wide receivers to do evade overpursuing tacklers…
…which gets him past the sticks for a first down.
Maybe Michigan's passing game isn't as unsophisticated as the spread n shred used to be? This is a favored package around the NCAA right now, which is why Smart Football could bring it to my attention—he'd seen it in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, despite having a quarterback who's going to break the all-time rushing record for his position and possibly Tim Biakabutuka's Michigan rushing record, this is not the West Virginia offense. Disclaimers about Tate cameos and catchup ball apply, but Michigan's running 61% of the time this year. That's not far off from Carr's last three years, which were 56% rush (2007), 61% (2006), and 55% (2005) and it's a far cry from Rodriguez's Pat White offenses that ran 75% of the time.
Despite missing a game and a half, Denard already has more attempts than White did as a sophomore and needs just 22 attempts per game to match White's 274 attempts as a senior (which wasn't even an RR offense anymore). Michigan's 14th in passer efficiency, which says a lot more when you're throwing it around at a semi-normal rate.
But maybe so, or maybe not. Previously in this series we've broken down the curl/flat combo (twice) and frequently mentioned the snag. Here Illinois runs a combo coverage that blankets the curl/flat to the top of the screen and probably should do the same to the snag but for Wilson's tardiness. They're prepared for this play. On the other hand, they were completely unprepared for the all-hitch routes that Roundtree kept dropping, and Michigan got their bomb on. So maybe nevermind.
The game is still slowing down for Denard. This is the euphemistic way to say "he's not reading defenses fast enough yet." (For a given definition of "enough," anyway. He's 11th in passer efficiency.) He's late here and I think he was late a couple other times. It's hard to tell whether certain balls are inaccurate or thrown in the right zone window, but thrown too late. I think the fourth and nine Roundtree touchdown may be an example of this. He couldn't hit Roundtree in the numbers because of the safety coming over and forced a moderately difficult catch out of him.
Great protection. This happened all day. Robinson sat back there like John Navarre, most prominently on the second(!) 75-yard completion to Roundtree where Michigan slid the line and he re-enacted his throw to Roundtree from the spring game except without the guy coming into his face.
Maybe this is why he never scrambles? He seems uncertain about his reads still so he sits in the pocket wondering if he's missing something when he should just run, Forrest, run. For a guy with his ability on the ground he's got a weird antipathy for taking off. I've got him for four scrambles on the year.
Last time on Picture Pages, Denard Robinson got Roy Roundtree killed against UConn by being too impatient to throw on a curl-flat combo. This time things will go a bit better.
The setup has Michigan in a four-wide formation with ND in a two-deep shell and a 3-4 defense—this is slightly unusual since ND spent most of the day in a 4-3:
Michigan starts the play with a zone stretch fake, pulling Schilling around to act as the lead blocker Shaw was on the previous play:
Roundtree's come in like he's going to block as Odoms heads upfield:
Roundtree then breaks outside as Walls rubs Odoms, pushing him out of bounds briefly. If this was man coverage Roundtree would be open, but if it's zone it'll be Odoms, or you can also take a look at Grady running well behind the linebackers, all of whom have sucked up to either the zone stretch fake or the threat of Robinson on the edge:
It was right about here, if not earlier, that Denard threw the ball against UConn:
But as you can see from the downfield perspective, that would have been a bad idea since the corner is disconnecting from Odoms and coming upfield. If he had thrown it above, the ball would be about halfway to Roundtree right here:
This probably would have led to another decleating hit. But Denard sees the play developing and waits. A split second later Odoms sits down on a fifteen-yard hitch. He's wide open:
ND's Harrison Smith doesn't know what to do with both Grady and Odoms open in front of him. Robinson zing:
Odoms picks up some YAC…
…and it's 21 yards.
Most of the same stuff from the last post. Michigan will see a lot of zone. Most of the routes they run will be designed to beat it. Robinson is going to be expected to high-low cover two corners a ton, not least because a hard cover two corner gives the defense much better containment on the edge than a cover three where the corners bail out into deep zones.
Holy pants wide open receivers again. The Roundtree and Odoms catches were more spectacular and the end result of this play had nothing to do with the linebackers, but Kelvin Grady is screamingly wide open on this play too because Manti Te'o is hurtling towards the line of scrimmage and Calabrese sucked in towards the zone stretch fake. Michigan should have run more play action, though I guess it's hard to criticize what the offense did when it wasn't getting flags in its face.
Denard is learning stuff. Obviously. I haven't gotten through everything yet and do remember a period in the fourth quarter where he was looking pretty wobbly, but the coaches probably spent a bunch of time this week working on Denard's mistakes and getting his patience right for various plays. So far there haven't been any plays against Notre Dame where I thought "that throw is way too late/early" except one on which Robinson dodged a blitzer and had his timing disrupted.
Odoms is just fine as an outside receiver. It would be nice if he was a towering colossus of speed but given Robinson's strengths it's better to have a reliable mountain goat and experienced route-runner who can sit down in the right spots and catch the balls zinged to him. It seems clear that going over the top is not one of Robinson's strengths, at least not right now.