Picture Pages: Zone Minus Read

Picture Pages: Zone Minus Read

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2011 at 10:53 AM

This week in spread zealotry we've got an example of something you can't do against the spread without getting a face full of Denard: crash. It's second and three early in the third quarter. Fitzgerald Toussaint has just taken an iso seven yards thanks to Molk and Hopkins making quick work of the NT and MLB.

Michigan will run an inside zone from an ace set. I'm pretty sure that Michigan screwed this up because I've never seen an inside zone play on which a guy who is not the end man on the line scrimmage is let go unless he's getting read. Here the backside DE is let go while Watson flares out to block a guy with a longer path to the ballcarrier.

The setup:


Get used to both halves of this. Iowa is in a 4-3 under. The key guy is the DE at the top of the screen—the guy in a two point stance next to the standing SLB.

Michigan runs an inside zone. They double the NT and the SDE (at the bottom of the screen) as the linebackers flow to the LOS.


By the handoff point a couple things have happened. Both linebackers are at the LOS and engaged; the MLB is actually doubled by Lewan and Schofield. Sometimes a doubled LB means you've blocked a play so well that there's no one else to get. Not so much here.


I don't want to make too much of this because this is clearly a bust by the line (in all likelihood Lewan), but when I saw this I immediately wished Michigan was in the shotgun and Denard was reading the guy they let go. He'd have two choices: remain responsible on Denard and open that cutback up (he'd likely recover in time to tackle but not at the LOS) or do what he's doing now and put Denard one on one with the safety.

Similarly, with the linebackers one and two yards off the LOS, a pass like the one that started off their second hurry-up drive would be open. These things are all possible if you're reading the guy you've let go.


When you're not he just tackles you.


Toussaint does make the guy miss, but only by redirecting into a pile of bodies. He gets a yard. On the next play Michigan runs a QB power with Denard that Iowa is all over until two guys fall down after beating their blockers to the spot. Twenty two yards later they've got a first down. A field goal results.


Items of Interest

This seems strictly less effective than the same thing run from the gun. I'm not sure what the advantage of operating from under center on this can be. You hear a lot about getting downhill quickly as an advantage of playing from under center, but pistol sets and even Michigan's old belly setup where the QB is a yard in front of the tailback get guys going downhill pretty damn fast without giving up the mesh read.

The other advantage suggested by commenters when I tried to answer some guy's question about the advantages of the I-Form over the spread was an ability to keep your eyes on the coverage downfield instead of catching a shotgun snap*. Here Robinson turns his back to the defense and has no idea what's going on behind him until he turns around.

So… yeah. Living in a world without post-snap reads is giving up something when your quarterback is mobile.

This is an example of the "ten man football" Borges was talking about. Even so, the play should still work for a few yards. The blocking's decidedly mediocre—in the last few frames you see a DT chucking Omameh, forcing the cutback—but the nice thing about the zone is it's hard for the defense to be right when you've got an effective cutback runner. Toussaint is that.

If the backside end actually gets blocked, Toussaint looks like he has the cutback for decent yardage. While that safety is probably going to come down and hold it to a modest gain, the first down is well within reach. Lewan busts and Michigan gets zilch. That was a theme on the day: one guy doing something wrong on these run plays and Michigan getting stuffed.

I wonder if spread stuff has a greater failure tolerance. You'd think it would because you are optioning off a potential defender and therefore get a double on someone. The alternative is forcing a safety into the box, which isn't bad.

*[Something that didn't seem particularly convincing since the shotgun is the preferred passing formation for long-yardage situations and hurry-up even in the NFL.]

Picture Pages: Multiple Flood

Picture Pages: Multiple Flood

Submitted by Brian on November 1st, 2011 at 6:00 PM

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.

It got better. On the next play, Borges rolled the pocket and flooded the roll side. Via BWS:


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.

This kind of thing is all the rage in the NFL and various places in college football: Stanford, Boise State, wherever Weis is hanging his hat ("Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations."), etc. Smart Football notes the concept is one of three main ways modern offenses beat defenses:

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.

Picture Pages: Stunting The Veer

Picture Pages: Stunting The Veer

Submitted by Brian on November 1st, 2011 at 3:03 PM

Michigan pull out the inverted veer for the first time in the Hoke era over the weekend and got a couple of nice gains off of it.

I suspect that this was an effect of playing Purdue, which has made the veer a staple of its offense ever since Perry the ACLephant started striking down their quarterbacks left and right. When Michigan ran the veer in the Rodriguez era it was invariably against Illinois, which was veer-mad at that point. The theory behind that is Michigan's practicing against it as a defense, it works a bit, it moves from the scout team to the first team, and hey—this thing kinda works good. Let's use it.

But that's another post. This is this post. This post is about the opponent running the veer (sort of, anyway) and Michigan scheming it to death.

It's third and five on Purdue's second drive, and Purdue screams both "run" and "doom doom doom" by lining up Justin Siller at quarterback.


aaaiieeeeee aaaaarrrrgghghgh

Michigan is in its nickel package with Ryan as a DE and Avery hanging out over the slot. You'll note the odd positioning of the DEs: Roh is standing up and Ryan is a yard or so behind Martin. BWS has pointed this out before. It's a tip as to what Michigan will do. They're going to drop Roh and stunt Ryan.

On the snap they… drop Roh and stunt Ryan, except Roh is reading the mesh point and flying out on the edge. Morgan blitzes from the backside:


At the mesh point Siller makes his read, which is keep.


Why does he keep? It looks like he's reading Demens, who is bugging out for the tailback. With no other linebacker to read and two guys headed out for the tailback Purdue should have numbers to head up the middle.

But Purdue has problems. Van Bergen is in a spot where he ends up taking two guys and Demens is not going to get blocked so that spot inside the playside DE that the veer attacks is not open. Ryan is now stunting through the gap. So you've got two guys getting doubled and one guy blocking air.


When that happens you can option off a guy and still find another in your face. Van Bergen helps out by beating a block. Roh reads the pull and forms up.


One block beaten plus one RPS+2 playcall results in a zillion unblocked guys in the backfield.


That is all she wrote.



Items of Interest

I might lack a name for this or it might be a screwup, but probably the former. So usually on this veer play you see a pulling lineman get outside the playside DT and block whoever shows up. Here the guard pulls and ends up inside of the playside tackle, which is not how things are supposed to work normally. This could be a variant, a screwup, or an improvisation once the G sees the center release into air.

If I had to guess I would say variant intended to hit it up inside of the tackle. Siller appears to be looking at Demens to make his decision, not the playside end.

This is the ideal result from a stunt/slant. So we talked about a slant Michigan ran against Eastern Michigan on which Hawthorne did not get the message and ended up getting blocked by a guy. Here the center ends up blocking air and the pulling G ends up doubling a guy because of Michigan's playcall.

The difference in the linebackers is in the reaction and angle. Hawthorne vs Demens fight:


Hawthorne doesn't know where to go and sits until he's blocked; Demens moves out decisively. This puts him in a position where no one can block him. That is the kind of instant movement that defenses like this depend on to remain gap sound.

Ryan is also unblocked but that's just an effect of the stunt call that was inevitable once Purdue failed to pick up on it pre-snap. Speaking of failing to pick up on it pre-snap…

I wonder if this alignment is coached or a freshman mistake. As noted above, BWS has previously caught Michigan defensive ends lining up well off the LOS, thereby tipping pass drops. Here Roh isn't even in a three-point stance and Ryan is a full yard behind Martin.


Purdue is advertising run. Michigan is advertising a zone blitz paired with a stunt. Purdue does not recognize this and gets it in the face.

If random bloggers are catching it, opposing offensive coordinators are catching it. If Michigan does this in the future and gets stoned after extensive pointing by the QB or OL, you'll know this has migrated from the brain of the coaches to the field. These things are subtle, but not subtle enough to go unnoticed, I think.

Some player did some things well. RVB beats a block to provide a not-strictly-necessary third guy in the backfield and Ryan tackles. This is a rock-paper-scissors win, mostly, but you still have to execute.

Michigan did several things like this over the course of the day. Purdue's run game was basically nonexistent (just over 70 yards at less than three yards a carry, sacks removed) until Frank Clark came in and busted a zone read huge. Whatever Purdue tried they got nowhere with thanks in part to Martin dominating but also thanks to excellent edge play(!) from Ryan and Mattison putting his players in positions to succeed. After the screen touchdown Mattison pushed all the right buttons.

Picture Pages: Slanting Against Power

Picture Pages: Slanting Against Power

Submitted by Brian on October 25th, 2011 at 12:05 PM

Picture Pages on a bye week? Sure. I generally take more snapshots than I can reasonably cram into one week of posting what with all the other whatnot that goes on in this space, so this is a perfect spot for some reheated leftovers.

Yesterday I tagged Whoever at WLB as one of the main trouble spots on the defense; last week I criticized the linebackers for a particular Edwin Baker run that popped big despite Michigan seemingly having it covered. I caught some criticism myself for not being harsh enough with Mike Martin on that particular play that I'm still not sure about.

In any case, I pick the individual plays after the game (or season) has developed enough for me to identify a trend, and I grabbed that specifically because of the WTF behavior of the linebackers. Here's a play from earlier in the season that got in my thought processes and may have compelled me to pull that baby out of the bathwater. Metaphors not guaranteed.


It's late against Eastern. The starters are still mostly in; the Eagles have been driving a bit. It's first and ten. They'll run a power play to the strong side of their formation*. Michigan is in their usual under.

*[People have told me this is a "Down G", not a Power O, because the guard blocks down—I see what you did there—and it's actually a frontside tackle pulling, along with the center.]


Ryan to bottom of screen, Frank Clark to top.

The key guy to watch is Hawthorne, who is the topmost of the MLBs.

On the snap everything happens!


By this I mean three things.

  1. the center pulls
  2. the frontside tackle pulls
  3. Michigan slants away from the play

You can see the entire line headed inside away from the playside. Brink, Ryan, Martin: all are oblivious to the idea of containment. This is fine.


wsg Slanty, the football-playing, jean-vested gecko who is inexplicably the first hit in Google images for "line slant football."

Why do it? To get a free hitter. Your slant should make life difficult for anything run to its side. The downblocks are key in the power. They're the easy bit for the offense. If one gets beat your play is going to not work very well. In all likelihood your pullers are going to take defensive linemen in the backfield, leaving linebackers free to run up and smash face.

If the opponent runs away from your slant it should be okay because the linebackers know there's a slant on and can chase playside as soon as the offense gives any indication there is a playside. This gets the backside tackle/guard/whoever—the guy assigned to the WLB—blocking air. The WLB gets to scrape down the line to tackle.

This gets the backside tackle… guard… whoever…


…blocking air…


…awww, come on, Hawthorne.


In the wider view you can see huge numbers of players on the backside:


Cutback == doom. Hawthorne has no responsibility but to get down the line to the POA. Note the difference in the disposition of the linebackers. Demens is hauling for the frontside; Hawthorne is in full block-catching mode.

Now, Michigan's D can bottle this up without needing a WLB if Ryan gets a two for one on these pullers. He's the guy currently inside of #68. The other puller is running right by him. He's already given up the bounce because of the slant; if he gets into the other blocker Demens has a free run.

Ryan doesn't. He gets knocked to the inside and pancaked, which erases backside help. The other puller gets out on Demens:


Demens has maintained outside leverage, forcing it back to his help, which is three yards downfield and getting farther away.


First down on a basic power run.



Hesitation is a killer here and it does not seem explicable. Hawthorne does not quite know what he's doing yet, especially earlier in the season. The hesitation gets a little more explicable when you look at the previous play, when one Brandin Hawthorne got burned on a counter:

Even so, with the line slanting in front of him he should know to take off playside at any hint of a pull or any hint of a guy releasing to block him. Slanting should make LB decision processes easy.

This play is one of the archetypical examples of why the WLB is hard to block and can get away with being a slight fast guy… so don't get blocked.

This is especially bad for a player like Hawthorne. Hawthorne looks like Leo Messi out there. He has a hard time getting off blocks and has basically no chance if he's not thundering at whoever is coming out to block him. At least in that situation his momentum can pop the guy back and he can come off to tackle. He's done if he pulls the [REDACTED] Memorial Block Catching Dance.

Ryan missed an opportunity to MAKE PLAYS. The other thing a slant like this can do is take the playside DE/LB and make two guys block him. You see Ryan dive inside the first puller. This means the RB is going to bounce, which means Ryan's basically done. Also done is Ryan's blocker.

Ryan has one way to impact the play left: try to pick off that other puller, leaving Demens unimpeded on the edge. Here he takes the block and appears to try to fight back outside, which ends with him in a heap. This isn't the worst thing in the world but great defenses that swarm these kinds of plays with two guys get both the 2-for-1 and the WLB in the hole.

This is one of the reasons I'm looking owlishly at the WLB whenever something goes wrong. Picture Pages are attempts to thematically summarize trends I see as I'm UFRing, so when I pull a play to illustrate something it is a complaint/credit I've seen quite a bit of. That may mean I focus on the linebackers on a particular play that may or may not be Mike Martin's fault for not shedding his guy and tackling for loss.

Google images can be weird sometimes.

Picture Pages: Linebacker Hesitancy FML

Picture Pages: Linebacker Hesitancy FML

Submitted by Brian on October 20th, 2011 at 3:46 PM

A little more on what looks to me like one of the major issues with the run defense: the two MLBs not reading plays quickly enough. This was one of the videos featured in the UFR, FWIW.

Michigan State has first and ten at the beginning of the third quarter and will run an inside zone from an ace formation; Michigan is in their standard 4-3 under with Kovacs rolled down:


On the snap State starts to develop the run action and the linebackers start creeping forward:


A moment later the handoff point is almost reached and the two LBs are still three and four  yards off the LOS.


Contrast this with the MSU defense on Michigan's first and five on their first drive:


Both are two yards closer to the LOS and rapidly approaching. This was a consistent theme: MSU linebackers, even when not blitzing, were screaming at the LOS.

At the handoff there is one blocker for two guys because Heininger was doubled on the backside. Martin is driving his single block into the backfield and Van Bergen is cutting off the outside. Kovacs is still hanging around for backside bounceouts.


The above is not a good setup for an offense.

But Demens does not get outside his block.. and Hawthorne starts moving up into a hypothetical gap that the RB is not headed to. Even if he wants to cut backside the Martin penetration means it will take absolutely forever. Still, he starts moving straight upfield instead of flowing to the hole:


By the time Baker manages to squeeze through the gap left by the DL, Hawthorne is hardly closer to him than when he was three yards behind the LOS and Demens is still two yards downfield, not funneling the play back to help.

Baker pops outside. Countess fills quickly, but can't make the tackle…


…and neither can Ryan.






Items of Interest

The DL cannot do much more than this. They got a two-for-one on the double that leaves a free hitter. On the frontside they drive into the backfield such that the tailback has one realistic option. Short of throwing offensive linemen into the RB, they have done all they can.

The linebackers are uncertain of what they are doing. This has been a theme all year: me complaining about guys pulling in front of the LB's face only for that LB move directly upfield instead of scraping over to the POA. Sometimes poor DL play has washed them out, but often it's just derp.

Both linebackers screw it up here. Demens has to get into his blocker further upfield; failing that he needs to pop outside of him to funnel back to help. He does neither. Hawthorne can't see that his assigned gap is not an option because of the penetration and slows up for what turns out to be no reason. Either could have made this play themselves; it takes both of them screwing up to send it to the second level.

I'm sure they're more concerned about play action than Michigan State was because of the quarterbacks in question, but they get blocked way too often for my tastes. Hawthorne had already given way to Morgan for a series or two in the first half; IIRC this would be one of his last drives before Morgan re-entered for the remainder.

Ed Baker is hard to tackle and fast. I wish he was on the football team I liked instead of one I do not.

Countess does a great job here. I know he misses the tackle but a cornerback impacting a tailback just outside the hash four yards downfield is quality run support. If the linebackers hadn't compounded their Keystone Kops impression by banging into each other and falling over Baker is gang tackled after a moderate gain; as it is only Ryan is there to tackle and he is run through.

Picture Pages: Snap Timing Death

Picture Pages: Snap Timing Death

Submitted by Brian on October 19th, 2011 at 3:20 PM

[Ed: commenter wile_e8 makes a great suggestion: check out the earlier ND Check Yo' Self Picture Page for everything Michigan wasn't doing against MSU.]

One of the main issues with Michigan's offense was an inability to adjust to Michigan State's constant double-A-gap blitzing. BWS has an example where it ate up a Smith run; this post has two more focused on the precise timing MSU used to shoot into the backfield untouched on multiple plays.

Two plays in this one. The first is actually a 25-yard run on Michigan's first drive on which Vincent Smith breaks a tackle when the WLB gets too far upfield. It would be a disturbing omen.

It's second and one; Michigan is in a three-wide shotgun set and MSU in the 4-3 they'd run all day. Don't bother screaming that the bubble is open.


All right, so Molk starts to put his head down; when it comes back up he snaps immediately.

Molk's head starts down…


And by the time it's completely down Allen is nearing the LOS.

Bullough is next; the blitz seems like it is designed to have Allen pick off Molk while Bullough gets a free run:


But Molk snaps the thing so quickly that he doesn't even get his head up before the play. Instead of blocking Allen he goes to double the playside DT. He does not see the blitz at all:


Allen is through untouched.


Schofield actually does a nice job to adjust and kick out Bullough, giving Smith a crease when he breaks the tackle.

The video:

So that's a problem. Michigan endures another half-dozen of these throughout the game, gets the ball back down seven with under five minutes left, and comes out empty.


Molk head down, Molk head up…


…instant snap with two LBs running straight up the middle of the field. This time Molk does block Allen; Schofield does not slide over to get Bullough, which would put someone else through but someone else not running up the middle at the snap.


Denard throws a slant; Smith runs a hitch. Ballgame.

Video of that:

The timing of the snap is the same, the result different.

So what's going on here?

While some of the timing issues may have been playclock related, neither of these are. Michigan snaps the ball with around ten seconds left on the first play and while there is no playclock listed on the second it was the first play of a drive and I don't remember being upset about getting the play in. This is just… like… voluntary.

Once or twice Michigan did go to longer counts and got the opponent to jump, but one of those was a hard count from under center. The fact that they could get the jumps meant MSU was timing the snap; the fact they could continue into the fourth quarter meant Michigan was using the long counts too infrequently. Michigan

  1. consistently tipped their snap count
  2. never motioned for the snap to reveal what the defense planned
  3. didn't even bother to pause after Molk got his head up so he could evaluate the guys coming hell-bent up the middle of the field
  4. did not check out of plays
  5. did not execute what looks like a hot read here

This is not a toughness issue. Air cannot block people even if you're the Clint Eastwood State Fightin' John Waynes. It's an inability for Michigan to deal with a simple, grandiosely unsound defense that leaves simple throws in the middle of the field wide open*.

All of this is coaching at some level, but we can separate out getting execution out of your players from strategy. On the interception Michigan had an answer that they did not execute, which can reasonably be chalked up to transition/mindflub/one of those things. Michigan QBs passing up wide open guys on that second quarter drive is execution, not strategy. Those are costs of installing a new system, especially one with a lot of post-snap reads for the WRs, something I don't think Rodriguez ever did. On some level that's understandable.

However, they failed to adjust their strategy to help the offensive line out. MSU is running full speed at the line on the snap; varying the count would make those well-timed blitzes poorly timed, allowing Michigan to slide the protection and letting Denard know what he's in for pre-snap… or forcing MSU out of the play. Michigan State timing these snaps so precisely puts immediate pressure on Robinson, robbing him of a half-second he needs to maybe see Koger on the other side of the field or the actual route Smith is running. It gives Smith more time to read the play and understand his hot route. Even if you want the double LB blitz on the INT because you think you have it beat, waiting that beat lets everyone on the offense know it's there without letting MSU check. At the very least make your standard count long enough for Molk to look at the situation in front of him before he doubles on a guy who's going outside because of a blitz.

I find this incredibly frustrating. This was an inexplicable Rodriguez-era problem canning him was supposed to solve. Instead it got worse. Hoke tried to explain away the snap issues

Did you notice that they were jumping your snap count? “I think everyone has an idea of snap counts from guns, because there’s a mechanic that every team has. We have a silent count, and we have a double silent count. I don’t think that’s all the way correct.”

…but clearly there is something there that is bloody obvious to the opposition that has destroyed Michigan's offense against MSU on their last two trips to East Lansing. (Michigan moved the ball fairly well in last year's matchup only to be undone by turnovers.) The next time Michigan visits they'll presumably be in more of a MANBALL offense with Gardner better equipped to go under center and a line that probably reads Lewan-Bryant-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, so we may have seen the last of this.

*[I was just reading that Smart Football post he linked about matching short passes with runs, which would have been perfect here. A-gap blitz? Immediate toss to slot/TE. Still need to block up the middle to get the QB some time.]

Picture Pages: Getting Denard The Edge

Picture Pages: Getting Denard The Edge

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2011 at 6:42 PM

We complete our Pulling Mike Schofield trilogy with a reason he may have been so eager to get outside on the play action Tacopants interception: he spent the week getting coached up on getting outside.

You might remember last week's complaining about rollouts that only seemed to get Denard pressured. Borges attributed some of this to "protection." Those issues were on the pulling guard, who twice saw two opponents coming up at Denard, slowed up in a moment of indecision, and blocked no one. Once this was Schofield; once it was Omameh. Schofield's moment of indecision:


Denard had to pull up; he threw off his back foot and the ball sailed over Koger's head.

One week later Michigan went easy on the rollouts so those edge guys aren't so eager to get outside. Their first of the game came deep into Michigan's second drive. Hopkins picked up a questionable holding call on first down and Gallon got eight of that back on a throwback screen, setting up second and twelve from the Northwestern 44.

Michigan comes out with two TEs again, this time in a balanced formation. Northwestern undershifts their line and leaves a strongside linebacker to the outside.


Michigan runs a play action with a mesh point and Schofield pulling across the formation.


By the time the mesh passes, ludicrously aggressive Northwestern linebackers are ludicrously aggressive. The MLB threatens to shoot up in the gap to the outside as Denard pulls.

This time instead of being hesitant, Schofield deepens his pull:


He's moving away from the LOS, and he's not worried about anyone except the backside DE. As Denard sprints out to the corner he makes contact…


And seals the guy. Linebackers can blitz all they want now.


They aren't catching Denard.


He would pick up eight yards before running out of bounds; three plays later Schofield zoomed outside on the Tacopants INT.


Interesting Items

This is a bit easier for Schofield. On the Minnesota play there is a second guy scraping to the outside who he has to deal with. Here the outside guy is the outside guy and that is that.

This is still an obvious coaching point for the week. Schofield is headed hell or high water for the corner, not paying attention to anything that may show inside of him and focused on getting that outside guy sealed. As soon as that guy declares himself the contain man Schofield is directed to lock in and get outside of him.

I would not be surprised if the obvious coaching point was in some way responsible for Schofield getting too far outside on the Tacopants INT. It's a play action pass on which he is pulling a week after having the thing that happened against Minnesota happened—negative reinforcement—and three plays after the above play happened—positive reinforcement.

Schofield's in a tough spot as the designated backup at every position except center. He should be the top backup tackle, full stop, and only pull rarely (to date tackles only pull on some outside power plays and the sprint counter). Instead he's starting at guard and having a lot of very complicated things to do on a regular basis.

It's interesting that Michigan chose to pull him over and over despite his relative inexperience. Have they lost faith in Omameh's pulling to the point where they won't run behind Lewan, the most grinding of their OL? Is it because Denard is more of a threat rolling out to his right? Something in Northwestern's defense?  I don't know.

This is a pretty impressive drop from Northwestern's #51. On the video it's clear he's steaming towards the LOS, reads what's going on, and drops into Koger's route. Without that Robinson can toss it to him for what looks like a certain first down.

When Michigan can manage this seal good things will happen. I'm not sure they'll be able to consistently. When they can Denard on the edge with receivers is going to equal big gains. The problem with the rollouts against Minnesota was they never got that edge.

That seems like something a defender can force by getting upfield far enough that he won't be sealed. Shooting the gap between a guy maintaining leverage and pressure from the inside is a potential sack. So you have to have something in your arsenal that makes the guy think twice. Not sure what that is; maybe Borges does.

Picture Pages: Fourth And Fun

Picture Pages: Fourth And Fun

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.

This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.

The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:


With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.

On the snap, Schofield pulls…


…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:


Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:


This time not so much.


With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.



Items of Interest

Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.

On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.

This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.

"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.

This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.

Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.

Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.

I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.

Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.

Picture Pages: Denard Tacopants INT

Picture Pages: Denard Tacopants INT

Submitted by Brian on October 11th, 2011 at 11:17 AM

So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.


Those passes:

  1. Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
  2. Interception #1
  3. Interception #2

Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.

Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.

Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:


On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.


As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:


At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.


This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:


This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:


Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.

But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…


…that does not end well.


I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.


Items of interest

This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.

When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.

This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:


He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.

Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.

Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.

Picture Pages: Two-Way Hopkins II

Picture Pages: Two-Way Hopkins II

Submitted by Brian on October 4th, 2011 at 2:24 PM

Last time on Picture Pages we looked at a 35-yard iso on Michigan's first drive against Minnesota. A 35 yard iso means someone did something terrible on defense or your tailback did something ridiculous; Michigan was playing Minnesota so it was the former.

So Michigan scores a touchdown and gets the ball back and opens up with the same set. Minnesota again has both safeties rolled up.


On the snap the line pass blocks but the backfield executes a historical reenactment of The Battle Of Minnesota Sucks At Isos.


There's a gap in the line that Hopkins is thundering towards again and by the time it's clear Denard has the ball the three LB type substances have started moving towards the LOS:


When Hopkins hits the LOS the two guys who could hypothetically cover him are four yards from the LOS and stationary.


This is what it sounds like when doves cry.



Items of Interest

Constraint theory right here. Minnesota just got hit with a big iso and got chewed out on the sideline about it. They are hyped up to stop it, so when Michigan shows it again the LB and S suck way up and leave Hopkins open for a big gain over the top. This works not only because Minnesota overreacts to it but because of the omnipresent Denard threat posed in the shotgun. That means the Gophers are operating with essentially zero deep safeties.

This is what happens when you can force the defense to cheat. An actual opponent playing this way probably would have given up five, not 35, on the first iso, but that's enough to force them to cheat to it, whereupon bang.

This isn't unique or new. Literally every program in the country except Ohio State* tries to do this. Michigan's old-school waggle is an example. The hope with Borges is that he'll use them frequently to score lots of points instead of occasionally as part of a bler offense run by 70s thinking. Denard is a hell of a thing to try to stop without cheating, much more threatening than Michigan's four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game was in the late 90s and early aughts.

This is the stuff you get in the shotgun even when Denard is not running because the zone read demands attention at all times. Under center Denard's legs mean waggle or Incredibly Surprising QB Draw, neither of which forces safeties into the box.

We saw a bucket of constraint against the Gophers. This is in part because the Gophers are so bad they have to cheat every play in the hopes of stopping the opposition.

I think it's also in part because Borges is finding his legs in this strange environment where your quarterback is one of the most threatening rushers in the country. Michigan tried the waggle a bunch earlier this year (and in spring) and got little out of it; against the Gophers that was ditched in favor of plays that use fear of Denard's legs as a major component of their success.

Hey man, nice touch. Denard floated a nice catchable ball to Hopkins about 18 yards downfield. He could do that because there were no safeties, so I've got no problem with the throw.

Let's see if Shaw can block this. Because this is a 75 yard touchdown if a fullback isn't running it. Also Hopkins almost dropped this.