Picture Pages: ND Shift, Belly Defeat

Picture Pages: ND Shift, Belly Defeat

Submitted by Brian on September 26th, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Notre Dame has a very good defensive line, possibly great. If they still had Aaron Lynch holy pants man. They don't, but Tuitt is a 300 pound pass rusher, Nix is hard to move, and their Kapron Lewis-Moore/Prince Shembo combo at the other DE is a quality option. They've been making a lot of plays so far, and some of them against Lewan, who has a bunch of NFL hype and has shut down virtually every DE he's ever gone up against, including guys like Adrian Clayborn.

So Michigan was up against it against the Irish. They compounded those troubles with a spate of seemingly bizarre play calls that made it even harder for Michigan to execute since they often left key players unblocked, with the results you saw.

Here's a two yard run in the second quarter. It's first and ten on the first play of Michigan's first drive after the Smith interception. ND comes out showing a four-man front with one-high coverage, but will shift into their standard 3-4. Zeke Motta, currently 16 yards off the LOS, will approach the LOS for an eighth run defender against eight players in the box.


Post-shift, this is about standard for ND. Note that the secondary is showing extremely soft man coverage on the receivers, which is par for the course when you are in cover zero with three converted offensive players. Or at least, I'd imagine it's par for the course if anyone else ever did this.


Now, you may be thinking "AAAAAH DAMN AAAH BUBBLE." I am too. The defense is allowed to align like this because Michigan won't take a shot at that gooey soft edge. Constraint plays constrain what a defense can do, simplifying life for QBs. Here we've got a play, and it's a run despite the D showing a cover zero look.

On the snap it's revealed to be an inside zone play…


…but Lewan does something unusual by flaring out to go block Shembo as Denard reads Lewis-Moore. Meanwhile, look at Toussaint's upfield angle of attack:


This was supposed to be a midline type read. When ND showed a four-man front, Nix was shaded outside of Mealer. He would hit the frontside A-gap, allowing Barnum to release into the second level. Instead he's head up on the center and fights back, forcing Barnum to try and deal with him.


What Michigan thought it was doing

Meanwhile, Lewan's flare out on Shembo was supposed to be useful. Instead he's blocking a contain guy on a run up the middle. Lewis-Moore is not tearing up in a gap like a one-gap DL would but coming upfield under control.

So instead of a quick hit that got Michigan past the DT they get this:


Which is two yards thanks to an unblocked LB in the middle of where your belly is supposed to go.


This Looks Familiar

Denard's second interception is a terrible throw helped along by a totally unblocked Te'o as Barnum tries to help on Nix.


Terrible throw and all that but also not a shining example of coordinator mastery. This is a position to fail in, when you can't step into your throw because you'll get hit if you do so.

Things and Stuff

RB angle gives you the intended hole. Look at how vertical Toussaint is going. This is designed to go backside.

Checks: none. Once ND shifts to the three-man front, this play is in trouble, and once Motta slides down you're up against zero safeties. This would be a nice time to check. To what? Well, you are maybe probably getting some yards if Lewan changes his assignment and releases directly into that LB, or, you know…


…that OLB has eyes only for the backfield, so you've got one guy within twelve yards of the slot receiver. Who isn't a slot receiver, sure.

Since this was the first play of the drive I assume there was time to do this after the shift; nothing comes. This might be on Denard, or there just might not be a check for this. Rodriguez took that check burden onto himself with those plays where Michigan would call for a snap and then everyone would look to the sideline.

Constraints: none. A little later Michigan will block a QB sweep well but Motta will show in the hole as an unblocked eighth guy. Denard will abort and get three. ND again went cover zero with pudding soft outside coverage:


They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money! It's not the stupid little bubble itself that helps—though the yards from 2-8 averaging about 6 aren't bad—but the things that the defense can't do because they can't align with their secondary in Bolivia and bring down a run defender that erases your numerical advantage.

This alignment cannot be allowed to exist without a quick easy throw that invalidates it. Have we mentioned that both corners are converted offensive players? And one is a freshman?

Oy OL. Note that Nix not only drew a double but ripped through it to the backside hole, and that Tuitt has gotten inside of Schofield with ease. It may have been possible to get some yards here by getting Nix sealed and hitting a gap further to the playside, but none of that happens. I haven't gotten to the bit where Michigan just grinds on them yet, but so far there have been a lot of plays like this where Michigan OL get nowhere with their guys.

Why are we running a play that seems designed to go at a 4-3? ND will go to it but they are a 3-4 at heart and when they show a four man line it's usually short yardage or a passing down. I would expect an incoherent play like this to fire off when ND is giving Michigan a 4-3 curveball instead of the 3-4, especially after Michigan spent two weeks preparing exclusively for this defense. That Lewan flare-out is deadly to this play because Barnum has to help on a NT who is not shaded—and is rarely shaded. Meanwhile that guy on the edge is not a threat to Toussaint. RPS –1.

Picture Pages: Here Come The CRUMPETS, Ready Or Not

Picture Pages: Here Come The CRUMPETS, Ready Or Not

Submitted by Brian on September 18th, 2012 at 12:33 PM

I'm feeling quite a bit better about Michigan's DL performance now that I'm actually going over the tape. They're not doing much more than it seems like they did live, but since no actual NT types are getting much time and a lot of the problems rest squarely on the shoulders of things like "let's see if Mario Ojemudia is a 3-4 DE" and "let's see if Frank Clark is a three-tech." They turn out not to be.

Hopefully we can file this under experimentation and things won't be so bad when the big boys are actually in there. If Michigan goes long stretches without Washington, Campbell, or Pipkins on the field against Notre Dame I'll be surprised. And possibly catatonic.

Not everything can be waved away by calling it mad experimentation, unfortunately. Michigan's linebackers, be they beardy veterans or baby-fresh newcomers, are not making plays. One particular example leapt out because I'd just seen the UMass LB read Michigan's sprint counter, shoot past a blocker, and fill.

Thing I'm talking about == watch Mealer and the MLB

UMass gave up seven yards because all their guys ended up downfield but that's not on the LB.

On UMass's next drive they'd run a play that's very close to that sprint counter. It's just the plain ol' counter, but it's got a pulling tackle that leaves for the wide side of the field on the snap, a linebacker who could be but must not be looking at that, and positive yardage for a team that has struggled to find any.

Late first quarter, second and ten, UMass comes out with trips and a TE to the boundary (short side). Michigan is in the nickel look they spent almost the whole day in. Your DTs are Brink and Black; your ILBs are Bolden and Ross. Ryan is the DE who gets run at.


The tackle at the top of the field pulls.


My great and powerful desire in the above frame is for a Michigan linebacker to read that pull, bug out for the frontside, and hit whatever hole the tackle shows up in. I've been thinking of Notre Dame's linebackers this week since Notre Dame is the next team on the schedule, and they do this. If you zone your line one direction or pull a guy, they're gone. They go so hard it seems they leave themselves open to misdirection and counters, but that seems preferable to the steady drip drip of not getting off blocks.

Ross doesn't do this. He's moving, but the wrong way. Everyone else has taken two steps here; he's gone a half yard and drifted slightly to what would be the playside if this was the standard inside zone. Bolden, by contrast, sees what's going on and gets on his horse.


A moment later, Ross is kaput, Bolden is moving at the LOS, and there's a pretty big hole because Black is not a nose tackle.


Bolden makes contact at the LOS. This is a good place to make contact, but the thing that bugs me here is something I can't show you in a still.


Here's a still anyway. Bolden's got to the LOS and he's got this tackle and he forms up. Okay. But even if Ross is here, the RB is going outside of Bolden. All he does is make the gap somewhat small. He has not MADE PLAYS.

As I watched this I started getting frustrated with Bolden's approach. This is a technique thing and I may be wrong, but don't you want this contact to be less dainty?


I want some BOOM at the end of that approach. Bolden just kind of catches the guy, which has two negative impacts. One: he does not go BOOM. If Bolden really whacks this guy he has a good shot at giving Cox no crease, or at least forcing him to slow down and pick another one. Two: he cannot make a tackle because he hasn't hit him hard enough to set up outside. No tackle, no funnel, no point. His ability to impact the OL at the LOS is essentially irrelevant because he didn't turn it into the Situation BOOM [tm shutdown fullback].

Like, I want to insert a little fireball when Bolden makes contact here. Instead, crumpets. There is some amount of control that must be deployed to prevent you from not impacting the play. Here the control makes you… not impact the play.

Anyway. Cox bursts through the hole…


…and is hewed down after six yards.



Things and Stuff

Once you've committed to the run you should COMMIT TO THE RUN. Whenever you're hitting a blocker in the backfield you get a check-plus for your read. But because Bolden just impacts the guy softly, he does not force Cox into a new hole. He doesn't even get the diving arm-tackle attempt Ryan puts in, and Ryan has contain responsibility.

Bolden needs a little Ross in him on this play. Not the Ross on this play. The Ross on other plays. The ones where he meets a guy at the LOS and that guy ends up on his back, antennae flailing in the air.

I don't get what Michigan's reading. You can't chalk this up to Ross being a freshman since he's a freshman who seems in the process of displacing Kenny Demens and Michigan linebackers have been frustrating like this for a year-plus now. Are they supposed to be looking in the backfield? Are they making Mattison chew his lip in frustration? Does Michigan require their DL to fill a bunch of these holes and want to use LBs as a cleanup crew?

I don't know. I hear Alabama LBs talk about what they see before a play even starts…

…and I'm like whoah. It doesn't seem like Michigan's getting much of that.

Big dang hole here. Black gets put away, but I'm not sure that's a problem with him. He doesn't know a tackle pulled. He sees the guy in front of him start inside zone blocking. He wants to get in his gap. He does. This goes back to the questions about Michigan's line slants against Alabama. If the DL controls his gap and you've got the extra guy who knows where the line is going, you should have a free hitter somewhere. Michigan has not gotten that much this year.

Ryan: active. Here he almost makes a great play by coming upfield of his guy and making a tackle attempt without giving up the outside. He did this late enough that his attempt did not open the hole any wider. He's a quality player.

Nice fill from Gordon. This is only six yards despite a tailback running untouched through the LOS because he comes down well and tackles in space.

Picture Pages: Nefarious Option Scheme

Picture Pages: Nefarious Option Scheme

Submitted by Brian on September 12th, 2012 at 11:41 AM

Air Force's ability to consistently get the edge on Michigan's defense was the most frustrating thing about Saturday's game, and many theories have been proffered as to what was supposed to be happening, why it wasn't, and why we will or will not die on the rest of the schedule.

I'm of the opinion that Michigan's scheme was predictable and that as soon as Air Force started blocking Kovacs they were out of ideas.

Here's Air Force's first play of the second half. Denard Robinson's just gone 58 yards to put M up 21-10 and a poor decision by a Falcon player to fall on a squibbed kickoff sets the Falcons up on their own 12 yard line. Michigan has just sat in the locker room for 20 minutes getting coached up; Air Force comes out and runs the same triple option they've been running all game.

It does not go well.


Okay: I called this "near half-flex" for Air  Force. Michigan is in their 4-4 under, which I know is actually shifted towards the nominal strength of the formation and so is technically an over. Michigan aligns to field, not strength—so they would flip their formation if it was on the other hash.

Against Air Force, Michigan brought Gordon down into the box and made their formation basically symmetrical. Mattison:

Jake and Thomas were the exact same position in our scheme. A lot of people play the same scheme.

Kovacs is playing center field. Earlier in the game, he was not getting blocked and doing Kovacs things. Like this:

Air Force was all like Eff that to the A and started blocking him. That took out Michigan's edge defender and opened up the corner. Michigan didn't really adjust.


Air Force's "triple" option" wasn't really that. They occasionally ran the dive to keep the defense honest but when they did that the QB just turned around and give it, no read. Here they're running the option with the token dive fake. Already in the above frame, bad things are happening.

Will Campbell(1) is tackling an Air Force lineman who's trying to get out on Bolden. He'll succeed at this, allowing Bolden to flow freely for the rest of the play, but he'll pick up a second defensive holding call doing so. On the edge, Gordon(2) is the optioned guy. Michigan is playing him to pitch like they have been all game. Kovacs(3), is the destination of the flexback.

In a second or two, Michigan is going to eat cut blocks:


Thanks for participating, Clark and Morgan, but you've been elimidated. Try again next play. Meanwhile, downfield…


…the ref is ANGAR at Campbell and Jordan Kovacs is decidedly not coming up to stop the pitch.

Why is Kovacs taking that angle? Why is he not attacking the run? That's an eligible receiver he is in man coverage on. He's got no one behind him, and there are two other receivers going vertical. He has to respect this guy as a receiver, or he could give up an 88-yard touchdown.


At this point it's pretty obvious, but Kovacs doesn't have good options.


Gordon forces the pitch. Michigan has Bolden ready to hit the QB if necessary, but he doesn't know that, and that's not the scheme.


The scheme is getting cut to the ground 13 yards downfield.


Presenting yet another ten yard run on a pitch. WSG Will Campbell holding flag.


[After THE JUMP: Air Force twists its mustache!]

Picture Pages: Who Are You Optioning?

Picture Pages: Who Are You Optioning?

Submitted by Brian on September 4th, 2012 at 2:04 PM

The option has always been about making a defender wrong about who has the ball, thus effectively blocking him. Since you don't have to actually block him this means you can take out a slavering rage-beast with even the daintiest of skill position players.

Rich Rodriguez's innovation was taking the hazard-laden option and turning it into a simple yes-or-no handoff. The read option makes a guy wrong without requiring a pitch, and without getting your quarterback lit up time and again. Pairing that with plays that stretch the defense across the field horizontally opens up the box, forces safeties down, and creates the kind of environments that see his teams run for nearly six yards a clip.

Borges and Hoke have a different outlook on football. Last year when the inverted veer was running riot over Ohio State, they were consistently blocking the guy a Rodriguez-style offense would consider optioned off.


This worked, but I wondered if it was working because Ryan Shazier was an injured freshman who was pretty horrible in that game. It's hard not to look at what's going on with Michael Schofield in this clip and not pine for the guy to move past the OSU DE and take on Ohrian Johnson, thus likely springing Denard for another huge gain.

Last year both myself and fellow guy who does the picture paging Chris Gaerig thought that this was an execution issue that would be hammered out given enough time, but Tyler Sellhorn, a high school OL coach who frequently emails me tips and corrections, thought this was a philosophical thing:

Dear Brian,

I think Schofield and Omameh were coached to block the DE. Hoke/Borges do not like leaving unblocked defensive linemen out there. A famous unattributed coaching axiom that I am sure that Hoke/Borges believe in is: "First level defenders cause fumbles, second level defenders make tackles." To me, this is the "MANBALL" component of M's "option" game.  True power running game people think like that.  I think that is the reason there have been fewer really long runs (the second level has been blocked less consistently this season). 

This is one philosophical difference: RR's first thought always was, "How can we mess with the safeties to get big yards when we break through the line",  Hoke/Borges first thought is "How can we mess with the DL so they are less aggro (in run and pass situations) and we don't ever have a negative play." Both work well as we have seen.

Tyler Sellhorn

The consistency with which Michigan guys were blocking the supposedly option DL was a point in his favor. At first I thought the Alabama game was the point at which this was undeniable, but now I think Alabama was blocking Michigan, not the other way around.

Optioning Nobody #1

It's Michigan's first drive. They've picked up a first down with a (horribly spotted) flare to Smith and a third down conversion from same. They come out in a two-back, three-wide set. Alabama responds with its base 3-4 set, half-rolling a safety into the box.


Michigan will run the veer. They pull Barnum (1), use Hopkins(2) as a lead blocker, and block down on the front side. This leaves the Alabama defender (3) there unblocked… for now, anyway.


Hopkins. You are not flaring out, my man. You are  doing something that isn't that.


At the mesh point, Hopkins (1) has contacted the "unblocked" Alabama defensive end. This means he is now blocked. (Science!) Hopkins is also blocked. They are mutually blocking each other. Neither can go forward very easily.

This happens really fast. The DE is doing this on purpose. His goal here is two-fold: one, to force the handoff, and two to pick off one of the lead blockers.

Barnum(2) is still pulling for the front side; since the guys blocking down have actually done a pretty good job of getting push he's got a lane. Denard(3) sees the DE underneath Hopkins and gives.


And now it's over. Hopkins has indeed eliminated the Alabama DE, and Barnum reaches the hole as Smith sprints outside. Also sprinting outside: the totally unblocked Alabama LB.

Michigan's got some other problems, too, as the playside DE came through the double on the playside when Kwiatkowski released—you can see Schofield hunched over in an "oops" way right at the LOS behind Barnum. Given Smith's angle and Barnum's this is only a further indicator that Schofield got hammered on Saturday, not an actual reason the play doesn't work.


And that's all she wrote.


Who did Michigan block with Denard's legs on this play? Nobody.


[After THE JUMP: oops they did it again :( ]

Picture Pages: Revisiting The Hash To Hash Drop

Picture Pages: Revisiting The Hash To Hash Drop

Submitted by Brian on March 7th, 2012 at 1:44 PM

Early in the 2011 football season I noticed an odd, seemingly-impossible task handed to one of the inside linebackers: going from one hash to the other while attempting to get enough depth to cover a receiver who's starting the play on the opposite side of the field from the linebacker.

Here's Brandon Herron trying this admittedly hard task:


This would end up a Western Michigan first down as the receiver would sit down at the sticks; you can tell that Carder has already identified the open man and is throwing before the WR makes his break. He'd do better on a subsequent attempt to cover this but still give up another completion. He got there, basically, but because of the angle he had to take to do so he wasn't in a position to do anything about the ball when it was in the air:


This was odd behavior to me. Most of the time a Picture Pages is trying to explain something; this one was just "I noticed this weird pattern… isn't it weird?" It seemed bizarre to ask a not-very-good coverage guy to make a very hard drop, especially when the quarterback is getting blitzed from the same side of the field and will naturally look for a hole in the zone from the direction of the blitz.

One of the ancillary benefits of checking out those coaching clinics, however, has been an increased understanding of what's going on when this happens. A hash to hash zone drop requires a particular set of circumstances:

  1. The defense is sending a zone blitz with a three-deep coverage behind it and three underneath defenders, one of whom is an inside linebacker*.
  2. The three underneath defenders are instructed to "drop off of" a particular receiver.
  3. The offense aligns or motions itself into a situation with three wide receivers to one side of the line.

In this situation… well, here's some Xs and Os that should help:


This comes from Coach Hoover via Smart Football and is a fire zone similar to one Greg Mattison explained at his Glazier Clinic talk. Michigan's running something similar above, with the WLB tasked with a "hot" coverage on a receiver. It is far from uncommon—the Coach Hoover post calls it "America's Fire Zone."

Our linebacker chugging across the field in a futile attempt to wave at a ball he's not looking at is "hot 3."

Hot 2? Hot 3? What? The goal of this defense is to get pressure without giving up big plays and often devolves into man to man coverage. Defenses number the opposing WRs from the outside. Above the two receivers are the #1 receivers and largely dealt with by the corners. The tight end is the field side #2 and will be the responsibility of the SS; the dropping "F" (in Michigan's scheme this would be the WDE, Craig Roh last year) is going to pick up any back coming out of the backfield to his side of the field; the WLB has whoever's left. Hot X defenders are supposed to get their man until he breaks to safety depth at 15 yards—again, pseudo man-to-man.

If you're running a three-under combo like this and you are facing an I-Form, no problem. The WLB is going to have to make up a yard or two of distance if he even gets a guy to play pseudo man-to-man on. He may watch a back stay in to block, in which case he's just an extra guy or becomes a delayed blitzer. If he does get a second guy leaking out of the backfield, he's probably a fullback. Crisis: not present.

Unfortunately for weakside linebackers everywhere, a million billion plays these days are run with three or four wide receivers on the field. This means the WLB is going to have to deal with a player who is a lot faster than a fullback and much farther away from his starting point, with results often like what you see above.

Brandin Hawthorne[1]

Mattison's video jockeys did find an example of the coverage working against a slot receiver, but where they had to go to get it was telling. It featured Brandin Hawthorne against Purdue running over the top of a seam route. It's not in the UFR because it was in garbage time.

Hawthorne took off for his drop the moment the ball was snapped without even thinking about the possibility of a run, which caused one of the coaches in the audience to ask after that odd behavior. Mattison hadn't selected the clips and this one did not jump out from his memory for obvious reasons, so he attributed it to Michigan's scouting and whatever the potential down and distance was.

He was right, but it doesn't take much scouting to predict a pass when the second team is in up 36-7 in the fourth. The one example Michigan had of this drop working against a spread formation was better evidence that it didn't work than it did.

His Rock, Your Scissors

Getting rained on like this is a frequent problem in the current college football metagame. Offensive coaches are always searching for ways to get bad matchups; defensive coaches are looking for free rushers and no holes. The hash-to-hash thing leapt off the page in the opener because it was strange and seemed really hard.

Unsurprisingly, it faded as the year went on. Like Mattison flipping his line every time an opponent changed its strength, it was a makeshift band-aid made necessary by a lack of experience with Mattison's defense. If Michigan's running a fire zone and gets a bunch of receivers to one side of the field, this year you'll probably get something like this:


That is from a post at Coach Hoover detailing a half-dozen coverage adjustments this blitz can undergo to combat bad matchups like you see above. Here the D sees a bunch of guys to the wide side of the field and switches the blitz, sending the WLB and giving the closer MLB slot duty. WLB high-fives himself, MLB grumbles, defense probably gets a better result.

That adaptation is well underway at Michigan. Linebackers will look at each other, pat their helmets or cross their forearms or give each other finger gunz, and check into something less ostentatiously weird. Not every time, but enough to relegate those hash to hash drops into the realm of oddity. We'll see them from time to time as Mattison tries to bait opponents into big wrong decisions and not much more.


[Hoover HT: Smart Football.]

*[Nomenclature NOTE: the middle and weakside linebackers are almost but not quite interchangeable and I use this term to distinguish them from the SAM, who is almost but not quite a DE.

Also while you're down here: these Purdue plays were actually cover four but all of Mattison's clinic stuff assumed cover three so I'll stick with that for the explanations. I assume Michigan was intent on preventing big plays in game one or didn't think WMU could run the ball at all.]

Picture Pages: Was It a Catch?

Picture Pages: Was It a Catch?

Submitted by Seth on January 4th, 2012 at 2:40 PM

Screenshot 1

There's been some question over the no-catch ruling on Virginia Tech's 3rd down overtime prayer to receiver/punter Danny Coale. The play was ruled a touchdown live but overturned on review.

The setup: On 3rd down and 5 from the Michigan 20 in the first possession of overtime, Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas attempted to hit Coale on a corner route in the end zone. Coale had Michigan's coverage (by safety Woolfolk and cornerback Avery) beat to the outside but the ball was slightly overthrown. Coale dove for what would be a spectacular one-handed catch, bringing the ball in just as he, and it, hit the ground just inbounds. The side judge ruled it a touchdown, but on review it was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass because the receiver did not have control of the ballrulebook when the ball hit the ground.

The rule: You can find it on Pages 72-73 of the NCAA rulebook (emphasis mine):

Incomplete Pass
ARTICLE 7. a. Any forward pass is incomplete if the ball is out of bounds by rule or if it touches the ground when not firmly controlled by a player. It also is incomplete when a player leaves his feet and receives the pass but first lands on or outside a boundary line, unless his progress has been stopped in the field of play or end zone (Rule 4-1-3-p) (A.R. 2-4-3-III and A.R. 7-3-7-I).

The argument: The debate centers on whether or not Coale had "firm control" of the ball when it touched the ground. If the ball never touches the ground it's a clear reception, but since in this case nobody is arguing that the ball didn't touch the ground, the standard we're debating is whether or not Coale had established this firm control before the ball touched turf. For that we will consult the video.

With the grit of 40 Ecksteins, two Welkers, and half a Dileo, Coale reaches out and gets a hand underneath the ball. This is not "firm" control.


Coale now brings the ball between his forearms. This too would not be confused for "firm possession." However at this point he has a chance, if he can bring the ball to his chest and get it crooked in his arm, to prevent the ball from hitting the hard thing that is rapidly rushing toward him very fast.


So big and flat and round, it needs a big wide sounding name like 'Ow', 'Ownge', 'Round', 'Ground'! That's it! Ground! Ha! I wonder if it'll be friends with me?


Here is the money shot (clickening embiggens). Coale's elbow has hit the turf (just inbounds) but the ball is still between his forearms, not in his hands. It is hard to tell but the ball has now hit the ground as well, a nanosecond after the elbow.


The announcers were focusing on the elbow but the question is still one of whether the ball was firmly controlled by the player before it hit the ground.

A good test of this "firm control" (this is a sanity check not the final arbiter) is whether the ball moved when it hit the ground. It stands to reason that if the receiver had firm control of the ball when it came in contact with the ground it won't move that much.

If you recall, this is what doomed Junior Hemingway's TD catch attempt while down 8 in the closing seconds of the Iowa game. Hemingway actually managed to get two hands under the ball and secure it against his chest and arm a moment before coming down atop it. The "firm control" test in that case seemed to have been passed, but the catch was ruled incomplete because the reviewers saw the ball move in his possession after it hit the ground.

As you can see in the screenshots below, at the zero moment (when a part of the body made the player down) Coale's level of possession is way less than Hemingway's.

coale Hemingway

What controversially damned Hemingway was that after this the ball rotated about 90 degrees after the nose of the ball hit the ground, or so it was supposed since Hemingway's body blocked most of that. With Coale however the movement after contact with ground was pretty clear.


The ball is between Coale's forearms and possession only becomes firm long after the ball has impacted the ground. This I believe is what the review officials saw.


Incomplete! Time to bring in the 3rd string VT kicker who has been 4/4 today for an easy field g…oh snap!

But it's too close to call/not enough evidence to overturn! If someone is saying this to you they are confusing a Law & Order episode for reality. They have conceded that "incomplete" is the correct call, and are essentially complaining that it should have been ruled incorrectly because of a technicality in the literal meaning of the review rule. You cannot complain about calls the refs get right; that's not how complaining works. If you think the video is "inconclusive" you are conceding the call could have gone equally either way and saying it should be one or the other makes as much sense as whining that a flip of the coin should have been heads.

Picture Pages: Whither Safeties

Picture Pages: Whither Safeties

Submitted by Brian on December 6th, 2011 at 2:01 PM

First: a confession. I really wanted to have the UFR's raring to go early this week. You must believe me. I wanted to play Fallout 3, which I'd saved as an end of the year treat, slightly more. So… yeah. I am through the main bit of that and am now plowing through the OSU game at all speed. I apologize for lackadaisical behavior and certainly hope Michigan is taking their film breakdowns more seriously than I am.

Second: a confusion. If you're like me, Michigan's inexplicable lack of a free safety was a surprising and disconcerting feature of the Akron State Golden Bobcats game. Before, Michigan had safeties. During… not so much. The reason for this was twofold. One:



Michigan spent a lot of time in formations like this with Kovacs rolled up to the line of scrimmage. This leaves just one deep safety.



The guy on the far right in this still coming over the top of a tight end that's pretty dang covered is Troy Woolfolk. Result:


Not quite an eighty yard touchdown. This was the very next drive after Woolfolk did the same thing on incredibly easy Braxton Miller touchdown one.

And then… I mean… WTF. It's third and twenty seven for OSU on their own three yard line, and despite having a mistake-prone Braxton Miller and third and a billion from the three, Ohio State throws.

The setup:


OSU's in an I, Michigan is in its usual under, albeit a nickel. You can see Kovacs rolled up to the line at the top of the screen; Floyd and Woolfolk are your two deep safeties.

OSU goes straight dropback. Michigan rushes three. You can see Ryan dropping off in the frame below; He'll set up to contain scrambles. Martin and RVB are doubled and get nowhere, but Roh got a speed rush on Mike Adams:


Adams tackles Roh and picks up the holding call that will give Michigan a safety. Huge play from Roh against a first round pick. But that's another Picture Pages. (It's not, actually.)


Given time, Miller sets up and chucks it. Where is Woolfolk?


On the 25, covering the slot receiver. Oh, balls.






54-yard TD on which Woolfolk and Countess jump the underneath route:

Near 80 yard touchdown:

Third and twenty-seven:

Items of Interest

WTF was this? The consistency with which Woolfolk was jumping the underneath route suggests it was part of Mattison's gameplan. Watch Woolfolk on the video just above: he is sitting on the slot receiver. But if Woolfolk is supposed to come up in a robber, why the hell is Countess playing outside of Posey on both of the latter two throws?

On the first one Spielman starts chattering about how Countess can't give up in the inside, and my immediate thought was "dude that is not on him, that is on the free safety losing his mind." Then the second one happens and… if it's third and twenty seven and your free safety vacates the deep middle for the third time in seven minutes(!) can it really be Woolfolk blowing an assignment? Probably not. I have not yet run across the sideline reporter screaming "OH MY GOD GREG MATTISON IS LITERALLY EATING TROY WOOLFOLK'S INTERNAL ORGANS FOR BUSTING SPECTACULARLY THREE TIMES IN SEVEN MINUTES AAAAAAAAAH THEY TOLD ME THIS WOULDN'T BE LIKE COVERING BRIAN KELLY NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN." If Woolfolk had not been doing what he was supposed to, this would have happened.

So. We think Michigan is playing a three deep coverage on which the middle safety is intentionally sucking up on intermediate routes and the corner is playing outside. That does not make sense. That throw in the middle of the field is easy relative to deep fly routes down the sideline—that's why there's always a deep safety—and Michigan is giving it to OSU all day. Even on third and twenty-seven.

I don't get it, man. Even if you assume Countess is a freshman and thus screwing up, you're still putting him one on one with Posey all game with no help at all over the top. That doesn't seem like a good strategy.

On the other hand. Maybe you can't blame Woolfolk for these plays because he was executing his assignment. I find it hard to believe he is not at fault on the 54-yard WTF on OSU's first drive and the half-ending corner route on which he reacted very late. If Michigan lost that game that was going to be the kid's legacy, sorry to say. OSU's gameplan was based around attacking 1) Morgan and 2) Woolfolk with a side of Floyd and Countess.

Braxton Miller problems. Putting Kovacs in the box on every play restricts what you can run in coverage and exposes the middle of the field; that spot Woolfolk keeps running into is the same one Stoneburner will exploit for a huge gain on OSU's disconcerting 82-second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On that play the safety (now Gordon) stayed deep and there was no one to tackle once Stoneburner found the soft spot in the zone.

[Update: you can see Gordon turn and run for the post, leaving no one behind Demens.]

So your choice is between opening that up and opening up the deep stuff; obviously neither of those is a great choice.

Hurray Roh. Roh has not developed into the devastating pass rusher Michigan fans were hoping for this summer. He's got four sacks, which is amongst the team lead but far short of the numbers an impact player would put up. Here, though, he beats a very good tackle and gets paid for his effort. Thumbs up.

Picture Pages: Argh Denard

Picture Pages: Argh Denard

Submitted by Brian on November 22nd, 2011 at 12:53 PM

For a few weeks now people have been asserting that Denard Robinson has not been right. I wasn't sure what to make of those complaints since we didn't really get to see him in the open field much. After Nebraska, the answer appears to be "speed just fine, thanks" even if Lavonte David did hack him down on a couple of potential big gainers.

But, yeah, I do think something isn't right with Denard. That is not necessarily injury. Against Nebraska I've had more "argh" moments in re: Denard running than I've had in a long time. There was this:

argh robinson argh

That's a scramble on Michigan's botched end-of-half drive on which Denard, presented with a massive hole straight upfield, tries to bounce outside and gets tackled for a three yard gain—in bounds. Michigan ended up getting nothing here when making the really obvious cut (Denard knows the corner will be keeping leverage as his top priority) sees them set up with a first and ten near field goal range or better.

There was this on a play where Martavious Odoms came in motion to be a pitch man:


Denard handed off there when Nebraska had one guy containing two on the edge; Hopkins thumped straight ahead for three yards. Robinson keeps showing up in the run minus category because he's not pulling when the corner opens up like whoah.

Even when Denard did pull he made some inexplicable decisions. Here's one.

It's first and ten on the Michigan something or other and Michigan is in some variety of formation. So is Nebraska. I'm not entirely sure what they are because the director in this game comes from the Michigan Stadium Replay Guy school of framing where everything is a super tight closeup. I assume Michigan is in a standard three-wide set. You can see the slot to the bottom of the screen; M will have a WR on the line outside of him. The other guy could be in a trips formation below or to the top of the screen away outside.

Nebraska appears to be in a straight nickel with a safety as support.


Michigan runs a basic inside zone read, leaving the backside guy unblocked and flaring Koger out.


The above is the mesh point. Robinson is reading the end. The end is square but he is in shuffle mode.


What's shuffle mode?

Remember that period in 2009 when Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor would slam up the backside of the line and run untouched into the endzone? That was Michigan's response to various games defenses were playing with the backside end. The shuffle is the DL's response to that response. He is protecting the soft spot behind the backside tackle that the zone read often causes. He's not really containing the QB, though he's a lot more useful on a keeper than someone screaming down the line. He's more of an RB defender.

Michigan's started seeing this because they brought back the RR H-back inside zone where there is a guy cracking back on this DE.


On the next frame Robinson has just pulled it:


Denard Robinson is Denard Robinson. Koger has flared out to seal the playside linebacker. There is no slot to the top of the screen. Robinson is about to run to the corner for a billio—





Robinson does run past Meredith and David but Huyge can't extend his block on that defensive end, and that defensive end…


…eats Denard after a two yard gain.



Items of interest

Yeah, this is kind of the same thing Scheelhaase did last week. You know, this:

The difference between the plays is that Scheelhaase screwed up his read and pulled when the defensive end was upfield in a QB contain mode. It was a plan B, one that worked. Here Michigan's plan A is "Denard in a race with a defensive end going the other way." That's a good plan. Let's try that.

It does almost work, but Huyge isn't great and he loses his guy. If Michigan sustains that block they get a decent gain.

Note the difference in the defensive ends. Clark is not shuffling down the line. He's a couple yards further outside and a yard in the backfield. Meredith is at the LOS and tucked in behind a Michigan OL. That should be enough to get Denard the corner but…

Denard seems hesitant. I don't know what the deal is. Unless there's something outside the frame that's relevant—not likely—it's really weird that Robinson wouldn't just run outside. Feel the panic in this linebacker:


That is a man going "oh shiiiiiiii" in slo-mo. He's done and Denard pops outside the DE and is dealing with that safety. Maybe he gets five yards. Maybe he gets ALL OF THE YARDS.

In recent weeks it seems like he's been less of a north-south guy. In this game he is way less of a read threat than he needs to be. In just the first half of last week's game you've got the above three plays, a speed option on which Denard cuts all the way to the backside of the line to little effect, and three or four seemingly obvious pull reads he's missed.

It is possible the reads aren't actually reads, but given what Borges has said it seems like they are. I'm not sure we've seen him pitch on the option yet, though. Is it really an option, or is it just a decoy?

The picture painted is of a guy who's thinking, not reacting.

Too much cram cram. This is a downside of not having a true base offense, I think. Lacking reps on all these things, Denard makes mistakes. If the speed option is just another way to run a QB stretch that's because they don't rep the option enough to be comfortable with the pitch. If they miss a bunch of keep reads it's because they're not repping it enough to make that clear to the quarterback.

Remember that last year Michigan largely dumped the read option in favor of just running Denard. This isn't a regression, it's Denard trying to do something he might not have been very  good at last year. That plus an entirely new passing offense means there's a ton on his plate.

We've seen progress in the passing game. They may be emphasizing that since it turns out handing the ball to Toussaint isn't that bad of an idea even when it's a bad idea. Hopefully Michigan can get some of this corrected over the next week because Denard left a lot of yards on the field even when Lavonte David wasn't tackling him by his ankles.

Picture Pages: Final Bubble Treatise

Picture Pages: Final Bubble Treatise

Submitted by Brian on November 16th, 2011 at 1:17 PM

Complaining about the lack of bubble screens in Michigan's offense has become a hobby-horse here. Some people find this weird. I admit that a focus on one particular play, no matter what it is, is often missing the forest for a tree, and my focus on a play that picks up eight yards if run well is a little maniacal. But I see a lot of things not work and think 1) the bubble is open and 2) that might have worked if the bubble wasn't open.

While the bubble seems like an option you can take or leave, it's actually a key way to make every player on the offense an effective blocker every play. When Magee goes to his cutups in those videos about the spread 'n' shred philosophy, the guy asking most of the questions* wants to see bubbles first.

*[who I think is Harvard's coach since he talks about playing Columbia and a pizza place on "Comm Ave" that Google reveals is in Boston.]

The bubble is a constraint that opens up other things and forces the defense into positions it would rather not take. Michigan saw this first hand, as a series of first half bubbles forced Jake Ryan into the slot against Northwestern. Even that wasn't enough to hold down the single bubble the Wildcats ran in the second half before fumbles and interceptions and Michigan scoring on every drive terminated Northwestern's ability to use them.

It's not just a play. It's part of a coherent whole. Spreading the field stresses the defense only if you make the D cover everyone horizontally. Smart Football explained a long Oregon touchdown in the recent Stanford game and I was struck by the difference between the way Stanford defends this play


…and the way Illinois defended a similarly unbalanced formation from Michigan:


That is a similar setup with one extra guy in the backfield. The highlighted defender to the top of the screen is the equivalent of #3 at the top of the Stanford defense (not the guy on the line)… unless the highlighted guy at the bottom—the corner—is. Someone on this defense is not respecting the threat of Junior Hemingway.

Michigan will run the play I've been calling "inverted veer", which is probably not the best terminology since various people say people call it "dash" and since it features a guy pulling to the frontside of the play it's not really a "veer"—if you care about these things. It's too late for me since I've got a tag, but you can still save yourself.

Anyway, on the snap, before the mesh point, it is clear that both highlighted defenders are going to get involved in the run defense. 


Where is the equivalent guy in the Stanford play?


His feet are the ones bugging out for the bubble at the top of the screen. This effectively blocks a defender without having to engage that receiver's potentially crap blocking skills.

Junior Hemingway's existence, in contrast, is pointlessly lonely:


There isn't anyone within five yards of him by the time the mesh point passes. Even before the mesh it's clear the bubble is going to be open, if it was being run.

Anyway, at the mesh point the containing DE is containing so Denard pulls.


This options off a DE; the slot guy is being taken by Hopkins; the playside LB will get kicked by the pulling Omameh. There is no one for the corner, and this has turned into a run up the middle.


This is pretty much dead at this point. Michigan's got some problems on the line, too: you can see that the Lewan/Schofield combo block hasn't even sealed the playside DT, let alone the WLB… but that's just another reason the play isn't going to work since Denard is tackled in the backfield by that backside CB:


Pile of bodies, no gain, third down.



Items of Interest

This isn't to say I think Borges did a bad job in this game. I did get a little frustrated by the forays into the I that were spectacularly unsuccessful—before the Toussaint runs in garbage time Michigan had run seven times out of the I for –1 yards—and the lack of responses to the increasingly aggressive Illinois defense. HOWEVA, in context the move was to go conservative and get out of Dodge; before that was the move he tore up a good defense and was thwarted largely by things out of his control.

There are multiple issues with this play and I'm not suggesting the bubble is a panacea. I am saying it is going to work for tons of yards here, but it's not the only reason this play gets thumped.

The threat of the bubble effectively options off another defender. This means more space for people who are good in space, one more opportunity to blow something for the defense, and mitigates the following.

Receivers' blocking eh… not so good. On the play where Denard fumbled he actually had a good setup for the pull: the backside DE has shuffled down the line and Koger went around him to the edge.


Unfortunately, Junior Hemingway's consistently crap blocking reared its head on this play and the slot LB—who is actually covering the WR on this play—created problems.


Denard has to cut back. If Michigan's running a bubble this guy is either outside of the hash or Denard's throwing it to Hemingway or the Illinois defense is getting super aggressive and opening itself up to a Worst Waldo play. Since he's just a wide receiver who can't block Denard loses an opportunity to burst into a ton of space.

Lack of bubbles = lack of big plays (that aren't chuck and hope)? If you're looking for a culprit when it comes to the lack of long plays that are very open, the lack of the humble bubble screen is a candidate. When you spread the field and make the defense defend all eleven players on every play, a single breakdown means big yards. If you're covering every WR man to man and trying to leave two deep safeties, this is the result:


Michigan has put a lot less stress on safeties this year because they run a bunch of plays from a formation in which opponent safeties think "if they run it will be for half a yard" and when they're in the shotgun they aren't really in the spread, if you catch my drift. By not attacking the outside consistently Michigan lets opponents defend them with two deep.

In the inverted veer above the guy on Hemingway starts 13 yards off the LOS, which means the free safety can come down on the run without worrying about an Oh Noes.

Also bubbles work, yo. I mean, sure, opponents freaked out about them in the RR era since they were a foundational component of the offense but when they were run they worked, and when opponents run them against Michigan (or State vs Iowa) they pick up chunks. When you can get a chunk on first down you have a low-pressure environment to probe with your run game.

This is clearly a philosophical thing that is permanent. I'll drop it now, and this is not a criticism of Al Borges's overall philosophy—we have no idea what that's going to be like. It's clear, however, that the vast bulk of teams who use the quarterback as a runner believe the bubble is an integral part of the effectiveness of the offense. Michigan doesn't, and unless Borges can explain that in a way better than "don't ask me about it" its absence will rankle.

Picture Pages: Mediocre Pitch Sweep

Picture Pages: Mediocre Pitch Sweep

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2011 at 12:29 PM

It's Complain About Blocking day in the Michigan blogosphere, what with me complaining about blocking and BWS complaining about blocking and—hey!—me complaining about blocking again. Which is this.

This is a mild complaint on another "ten guys" play. Michigan got Iowa fairly well blocked thanks to their alignment, but one mistake far away from everything ends up submarining a winning playcall.

It's Michigan's second play of the game. Robinson has just slipped while cutting, turning a decent gain into a single yard. On second and nine Michigan comes out in a tight ace set with both TEs in a two-point stance. Nominally this is a passing formation what with the TEs all standing up, but formations like this often result in outside runs this year.


On the snap Roundtree, Koger, and Lewan block down, with Schofield and Molk pulling. Patrick Omameh is going to cut the backside tackle… or at least he's going to try. His failure to creates a CHAIN REACTION that DESTROYS THE REACTOR:


Hmm. This isn't good. The backside DT isn't delayed at all. A TFL is possible here. TFLs are not nice.


Meanwhile, there is good work being done on the playside. Koger and Lewan have gotten movement on their guys and Roundtree is cracking down on the playside LB with a great angle.

Molk perceives the threat and removes the threat of the DT with his back. That takes the TFL off the table. Unfortunately, Koger and Lewan have now lost their guys playside. Roundtree does get the linebacker:


At the moment of truth Toussaint does have a crease because Roundtree's block cuts off Koger's guy and Molk slowing has prevented that DT from making the play; Schofield has kicked out the corner.


Unfortunately, there is no lead block, and there is a safety. With the playside DT flowing down the line there's nowhere to go.


On third and five Robinson gets quick pressure and has no one open, so he chucks it well past everyone.


Items of Interest

Ten angry men. So… yeah. Borges basically got Iowa here. Look at the alignment of the linebackers:


They're shifted well to the wide side, assuming that the outside run will come behind Hemingway's block. That gives Michigan a numbers advantage to the playside and gives Roundtree a super easy block on the most dangerous linebacker.

That's enough to get Toussaint a crease on the sideline. If Molk is hanging out being all blocky chances are this sets Michigan up in a third and short. But because of whiff by Omameh so total it threatens to allow a guy on the backside of the play to tackle on a pitch sweep Molk has to bail and unblocked safety is unblocked.

Receivers tight to the line == outside run. Not all the time, of course, but frequently.

These defensive ends are not Purdue defensive ends. Remember Purdue, when a defensive end was a gnome on ice skates?

Good times. Michigan was not playing Purdue in this game. (This is why it was in Iowa.) Koger loses his guy to the outside, and as you can see in the left frame above #79 is threatening enough to remove any hope of a cutback behind Lewan. He's not making the play, but he's doing enough to let some other guys do it. This was a theme.

I don't think Michigan's going to have much better luck with the rest of the defenses on the schedule. Koger's monster day against Purdue looks like an outlier based on the opposition, not a sudden renaissance. NFL scouting of him is middling overall and negative on his blocking:

Isn’t a real balance blocker. Struggles to keep feet under him, lunges into contact and doesn’t create much power as an in-line guy. Possesses a naturally strong frame, but his inability to gain leverage and maintain balance kills him at the point. Possesses long arms and strong hands that allow him to stick initially when he gets his hands on you, but is still learning the nuances of being a consistent run blocker.

That was pre-season; NFP's Wes Bunting re-iterated that recently in a post I can't find.

This is going to be ugly next year when the only options are Brandon Moore, Ricardo Miller, and freshmen. People are talking up AJ Williams as a potential tackle but I think Michigan would love to keep him at tight end if this is at all possible. Having an edge blocker like Williams is a critical piece of a manball offense. Even if Williams is a tackle long term I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't redshirt and Borges uses him as an extra OL. Preseason he talked about wanting to install an extra tackle package but couldn't because he didn't actually have any extra tackles.

Molk == SMRT. The reason this is a modest gain instead of a TFL is Molk's awareness. He catches a glimpse of an Iowa player in his peripheral vision and immediately knows this is trouble. If he had continued on his pull no one would have blamed him—or at least no one would have blamed him much.

He's adapted fairly well to the new system. Not every center can pull effectively. He certainly can, and while he's not an in-line mauler he is generating push more consistently than either of the guards. I predict Michigan misses him badly next year.