That 70s Game

That 70s Game

Submitted by Brian on October 8th, 2012 at 12:24 PM

10/6/2012 – Michigan 44, Purdue 13 – 3-2, 1-0 Big Ten

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Bryan Fuller

For three hours on Saturday, October 6th, 2012, a rapidly-expanding event horizon engulfed the Indiana town of West Lafayette. Inside, gold chains were cool, Playboy featured natural breasts, you could lose four-year-olds in your carpet, and mass colorblindness reigned. Hair erupted from everywhere. Do not talk to central Indianans about storm drains.

A Jed Smithson from nearby Frankfort found his balding pate mysteriously replaced with a resplendent afro. Leaping atop a teal Chevy the size of a city block, he proclaimed a quest to fornicate with every hot broad in the county. He was a half-dozen hot broads into this project when the effect dissipated as mysteriously as it had arrived; the aftermath was even more appalling than that of the average middle-aged central Indiana sexual congress. Do not talk to Frankfort residents about what you can find in storm drains.

Unfortunately, due to the remote location of the event the only video evidence of this supernatural phenomenon was a foot-ball game between the University of Michigan and Purdue University in which the former team ran on every down for six yards a carry and the latter meekly accepted its place in the college football firmament. Up eighteen points at halftime, Michigan's head coach groused about his offensive line and said "you can't win football games like that" in reference to a fumble at the end of the first half. His team won by thirty-one. They ran for 300 yards and grudgingly passed for 100.

It was the greatest three hours of Jed Smithson's life, and pretty all right for Michigan fans watching on TV.

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Michigan stewed for a week after intercepting away the Notre Dame game and came back resolved to boringly suffocate opponents. Thanks to Greg Mattison's ability to turn anything more coordinated than a tube sock into a functional defensive tackle and those things on Denard Robinson that aren't arms—leargs or something—their first experiment in 1970s death football was a resounding success. There were no interceptions, and one lost fumble. Michigan won by many points.

Iowa fan Adam Jacobi crashed in the guest room en route to and from Blogs With Balls 5; at some point he complained that his job required him to actually watch that incredibly dull game from start to finish, and the two halves of my brain high-fived each other. I have taken walks to the other end of sanity where Michigan beats Illinois 67-65 or loses to Penn State 41-31 and feel like settling down with a vacuum cleaner repair manual for a while just now. There are worse things than boredom.

Call it Lloydball or MANBALL or Every Michigan Game Before 1986 or whatever. The plan was obvious, and executed, and would have resulted in a resounding victory even if Purdue hadn't thrown in a free touchdown. Lloydmanbopigball it was, and it was beautiful for being so ugly.

After Michigan's first drive, a 17-play Viking saga that ended with a one yard plunge into the endzone, I told twitter that was the second half of the Notre Dame game continued. As that expanded into the whole game it seemed like Jesus had indeed been come to by both Al Borges and Denard Robinson. Borges put his head down and rammed various players into the line; Robinson threw the ball away once and pulled the ball on the read option lots.

How long will it last? Ask again later. This was an easy game to get away from your comfort zone as a playcaller, what with the enormous lead and the instant success and the 9.8 YPC from the quarterback. When things get tight and boredom threatens to send Michigan into a grim Big Ten loss with both teams in the teens, will Borges and Denard be able to find a middle ground that does not lead to crippling interceptions? Will folks be blocked, will throws be on, will anything be anything?

We've seen these moments before, moments where Michigan dials it back for Denard. Once that works and everyone's feeling good about themselves, the playbook sets to exploring the exact contours of Denard's competency, usually with slate gray results. Trash Tornado. Iowa. Etc.

At some point this year Michigan may be forced into dropping back and throwing over and over again; let's make sure we give the leisure suit offense every chance to succeed before flinging the doors open to this modernity business. Given the state of the league there's a pretty decent chance that gold chains and chest hair are all you need to make reservations in Pasadena.

Boring, Boring Bullets

brady-hoke-epic-double-point_thumb_3Brady Hoke Epic Double Point of the week. This could go to Denard Robinson, obviously, but in the aftermath of a 213 yard performance by the opposing offense it feels more appropriate to hand it to Jake Ryan, whose sack leads this column. He picked up a second TFL, as well; more importantly he was tasked with sitting out on the perimeter against trips sets and annihilating anyone who took a step backwards in preparation for a WR screen.

Purdue was so discombobulated by this their WR-screen-heavy offense was reduced to a series of short passes in front of JT Floyd that were unsustainable as a method for driving the field. Ryan's performing at an All Big Ten level, easy.

Honorable mention: Al Borges (running the damn ball), Brady Hoke (for establishing the tone on the first drive by going for it on fourth down and likely for sitting Borges down and saying "get the gold chains, Al, and run the damn ball"), Denard Robinson (for running the damn ball), Kenny Demens (six solo tackles including the key stuff on Purdue's first three and out), defense in general.

Epic Double Point standings.

2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass), Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue)
1: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama)

I be like dang. When you only throw 16 times, your freshman tight end is not going to get a ton of looks but um guys I think he's pretty good anyway.

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Bryan Fuller

That's Funchess's third and long catch that set M up on the goal line, which was impressive on the TV and more so in that shot. Mandich watch still won't return this week—may not return until Michigan has completed the Denard era if the ground game keeps this pace up—but I'm pretty sure he'll get there even with a freshman year detour into a 1970s offense.

Funchess did get pushed out of bounds on a long wheel route later, but I'm not sure if that's on him or just excellent coverage by the Boiler safety checking him.

Shoeless Shoelace. I don't remember more than one or two incidents in Denard's career where his shoe actually came off until this year, when it seems there's a 50-50 shot that any long run will feature one of Denard's socks. Tighten up that velcro, man.

Denard given time. …makes better decisions, and he's often given time because of his legs. Your nervous "oh God is Denard going to throw an INT" sickness was finally—at long last, sir—unnecessary, as on third and long Michigan just dropped back and threw, no funny stuff. The Funchess catch above saw Denard step forward in the pocket and shoot that ball in between three defenders:

Rollouts probably can't be dumped entirely but reducing them, as they were reduced in this game, is a good idea.

If someone on the schedule can stop Michigan's offense from the Purdue game and put up enough points to win, tip your cap and say "well done." I'm not sure anyone in the Big Ten eligible for the postseason can do both.

The Fitz issue. I don't know, man. I think some of his ineffectiveness was on Denard, who gave when he should have kept a couple times. Some of it was on the line, which was not getting creases except when the veer made it easy to do so. And some of it was on Toussaint, who got impatient and started going BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE.

There was a particularly egregious instance in the second half where the line had gotten decent push and he could have gotten three to five by running up the backs of his linemen; he decided to go backwards around a Lewan kickout and got a yard for his trouble. He is getting impatient.

I'm not sure Rawls is going to be much of a solution because the veer is Michigan's best play and a moose like that is not going to be much of a threat going laterally as that play demands the RB do. I wouldn't mind seeing Norfleet get some cracks at that, though.

As for Rawls, Michigan can fit him into the spread offense. Think Brandon Minor: a lot of plays that go right upfield. Michigan tried a couple belly plays against ND and got defeated by shifts into the 3-4; that shouldn't be a problem going forward and is a way to get a power back going straight downhill at the snap.

Where is the stuff that fits with the other stuff? The one lingering issue with the offense was a lack of play action off the plays Michigan actually runs. I count two first down passes in the entire game(!), one of them a bubble to Gallon, the other a long bomb also to Gallon that was IIRC run from under center. Michigan's other attempt to get a big gainer was a shot at Funchess down the sideline that played off the throwback screen that always works (even when it's deflected).

That was covered pretty well, and I get why. After watching Borges for a year and a half he has a tendency to iterate through different things you can do with a new (or recycled from a while back) package. He runs that fly sweep off the veer look, then runs the veer, then runs play action. He runs the throwback screen, then runs play action off that throwback screen. He runs an iso from the gun, then runs play action from iso from the gun. He runs a pitch play, then runs a halfback pass off the pitch. The pattern may be too obvious to get guys wide open downfield.

If you're running play action off stuff you run a lot, not just once, it become a lot harder to say to yourself "okay, this time they're going to fake it." As long as Michigan's staple plays don't have ways to dick with the safeties built in, there will be a lot of Epic Viking Saga drives and not much of the five-play, 80-yard stuff. That could come back to bite M against the better teams in the league.

Here's hoping that Michigan has it but decided to keep all that stuff under wraps for another week since there was no point at which Michigan needed to do anything other than choke the game out after the Taylor INT. I'm still waiting for Michigan to get a wide open dude way downfield.

Speaking of that bomb to Gallon. I'm just like man you gotta be a half-foot taller there, Jeremy Gallon. No excuse for still being 5'9" as a redshirt junior.

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Fuller

Raymon Taylor entered a "free touchdown" coupon code. The game swung from plausible matchup to laugher on the fourth and two on which TerBush throws high and the WR deflects it directly to Taylor's meh coverage for a touchdown—that's 14-7 or 14-3 versus 21-0 and kind of a big deal. Given the yardage disparity, not enough of a big deal that it could have flipped the game but it is a big swing.

Holy pants defense. Film necessary to be sure but the DL kept those linebackers clean and kept contain, which led to a lot of nice sticks in or around the LOS. Kenny Demens set the tone when he shut down an outside run that looked like it was going to pick up a first down for the Boilers; he was allowed to do so because the DTs didn't allow anyone to get to him on the second level. Funny how he looks like a better player when he's not getting cut by multiple 260 pound Air Force guys on the same play.

Purdue's rushing output in this game was awe-inspiringly terrible. Restore seventeen yards lost on two sacks and Purdue still only gets to 73 yards on the day, barely over three yards a carry.

Purdue's only other relevant datapoint comes against a Notre Dame defense that's looking elite after a 41-3 stomping of Miami. Remove sacks and Purdue averaged 4.3 yards an attempt there—point Michigan.

Illinois hasn't put up more than 14 against a BCS opponent yet and have only managed to crest 300 yards once, that thanks to an 87 yard drive at the end of the Penn State game while down 35-7, so expect another outing like the last two before the Michigan State and Nebraska games define Michigan's season.

Kickoff WTF. The wind was not a factor Saturday so why did Wile cease booting things deep into the endzone? Did he get tired? Is he inconsistent? Is Michigan doing this on purpose for some reason, like maybe forcing a turnover when a returner tries to make a tough running catch?

We saw Michigan start screwing around with kickoffs in the UMass game, put all available into the endzone against ND, put all available into the endzone against Purdue until Michigan was up 14, and then more screwing around. Tentative guess is that it's experimentation with the new rules and that wind permitting we won't see anything fancy tried against MSU or Nebraska unless they've got something in their pocket.

Media

Highlights:

A shorter version:

Bryan Fuller's full photoset can be found in a previous post.

 

 

Here

Inside The Boxscore:

Denard didn’t throw any interceptions, and actually threw a ball out of bounds. Whoo-hoo!!!

Remembering the Touchdown Rabbit.

Elsewhere

Blogfolk. HSR:

I think it was easy to believe that "Bad Denard" was going to show up because we only tend to remember the last thing we have seen.  But Denard's apology after the Notre Dame game, and all of the right things we heard from the team and the coaches during the bye week* brought me to the conclusions that this was going to be an OK day.  It didn't make me any less fearful about the game, but I had staked out my position ahead of the game on that ground.

I'm all like man how do you even get Bad Denard when he throws 16 times. It's a lot harder, at least.

Also I can't agree with this bit from Touch The Banner…

Denard Robinson zone read anger.  Twice in this game, Robinson held onto the ball too long before pulling it out of the running back's stomach.  The first time it worked okay for him because he gained a bunch of yards, even though his running back (Toussaint or Smith, I can't remember) got smoked.  The second time it was disastrous because he got Smith crushed and, oh yeah, Robinson fumbled the ball in the process.  He gains a lot of yards because he's a dynamic runner, but he's never been adept at running those plays.

…when yanking the ball from his running back was something he did three times for huge gains on the veer. Michigan stayed away from a lot of reads when he was a sophomore and then de-emphasized them when Borges came in; we haven't been given a chance to see what would happen if he is put in a situation where he's doing it all the time. Probably too late now, but declaring anger after ten yards a carry against a DL featuring a first round pick that held ND to like 50 yards rushing… uh.

Sap's Decals:

JAKE RYAN – After watching #47 do his thing again, one word came to mind – MANSTER.  In the late ‘70s, Bob Ufer recalled how UM D-Tackle Chris Godfrey was called “manster” by fellow wolverine Ron Simpkins.  Why manster? He was half man, half monster. Jake Ryan – ‘nuff said!

Maize n Brew:

Michigan came out and did exactly what I hoped it would do: run, run, run. In my preview post for this game, I predicted (hoped, really) that Borges would call a run-heavy game, something to the tune of a 65:35 run-pass split. The Gorgeous One blew that figure away, with Michigan running it 51 times (not including the kneel downs) and passing only 16 times, good for a 76:24 run-pass split. It was the perfect gameplan for a team like Purdue: good tackles and good corners (with good playmaking ability) but not much else, particularly at linebacker, is basically a flashing neon sign saying RUN DENARD.

BWS:

This game was also another building block in the not-so-straw house of Michigan's defense. This Boilermaker offense, while not prolific, is still the most recent team to score an offensive touchdown on Notre Dame and had properly rolled the cupcakes you would expect from a good offense (48 against Eastern Kentucky, 54 against Eastern Michigan, and 51 against Marshall). Putting aside Raymon Taylor's gift pick-six* Michigan held Purdue to just 56 yards on 26 carries (2.2 YPC) and only 157 yards through the air on 23/35. Perhaps the most promising stat of the game is that Michigan's top four tacklers were all front-seven guys (Kenny Demens, Jake Ryan, Desmond Morgan, and Craig Roh). Michigan was controlling the line of scrimmage and hitting Purdue ball carriers at the point of attack. When Jordan Kovacs only makes one tackle in a dominating defensive performance, you know things are looking up.

Linking this just for the bizarre headline:

Pur"don’t": A Gravy Train With Biscuit Wheels

iseewhatyoudidthere.jpg AND lolwutpear.jpg in the same headline: well done.

Purdue POV. As you might imagine, the Purdue folk are not taking Saturday well. Purdue: Saturday :: Michigan : Alabama game.

Jumbo Heroes:

From the opening drive by Michigan yesterday Purdue was simply outmanned, outclassed, and quite frankly outcoached.  Purdue looked lost on offense for much of the game and seemed completely baffled that Denard Robinson was running with the ball.  Everyone knew coming in that Robinson was THE GUY that Purdue needed to stop in order to defeat Michigan.  Purdue failed miserably to do that.  Robinson ran for 235 yards in the game.  That’s more yardage than Purdue had on offense.  Wrap your head around that. 

Boiled Sports:

That was an embarrassing display in Ross-Ade Stadium this afternoon. Truly shameful. There's simply no way Michigan is that much better than Purdue. And to lose like that at home? In the first conference game of the season? When there are high hopes and getting off to a good start could quite possibly catapult you into the Big Ten title game? Much more easily than in most years? To come out like that and just stink up the joint so disgracefully?

Aaand Boiled Sports:

If you didn't watch it, congratulations.  Those hours that you spent coaching your children, watching better football, gardening, painting, napping or hunting for the perfect pumpkin were hours well-spent.  But the three hours that I spent in one of my favorite places in the world, I'll never get back. 

Postgame thread from Hammer And Rails:

Wasted money

I love Purdue football and basketball like a battered spouse loves their abuser, which is why I continue to spend my hard earned money to watch games like Saturday’s debacle. I am more disappointed for the program and students than anything. This was a chance to get some fans back. This was an opportunity to win some hearts and minds. No such luck. The fact the game wasn’t sold out was sad. The michigan fans sitting behind me were semi-mocking the stadium and number of fans and I could say nothing because they were right. …

by Scotty A on Oct 7, 2012 6:24 AM PDT

I don't know why some of you guys have to hit the special ed kid in the face. BE NICE.

MSM stuff. Michigan is ranked in the AP poll. I'm not sure where but probably first. Air Force and getting pounded by Alabama still distorting Michigan's pass D stats. Michigan had lots of time of possession, so therefore they outgained Purdue 2-1. I'm pretty sure that's the direction it goes.

Hoke is grumbling about penalties in the manner of an affronted walrus:

"We had some bad penalties, really three dumb penalties," Hoke said. "We don't want to play football that way."

This is a good sign when you have four penalties all game.

Grades of A for everyone! Except you, Fitz. Angelique suggests that maybe the defense is okay. Denard ties Ron Dayne for most B10 offensive player of the week awards.  M-MSU won't have a set gametime until October 20th. Also Joe Rexrode should explore the "rotate" option in his friendly local paint program.

ESPN predicts M to the Rose Bowl.

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:

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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.

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

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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:

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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…

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

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They aren't catching Denard.

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

Video

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: 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.

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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:

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

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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:

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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.

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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:

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

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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…

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…that does not end well.

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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.

Video

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:

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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.

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

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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:

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

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This is what it sounds like when doves cry.

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Video

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.

*[

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Mailbag: Zone/Power, Stretches, Trail Technique, Play Action, Linebackers

Mailbag: Zone/Power, Stretches, Trail Technique, Play Action, Linebackers

Submitted by Brian on October 3rd, 2011 at 2:46 PM

NOTE: I am looking to purchase a pair of tickets to Northwestern. If you've got a couple extras email me to discharge built-up beveled guilt.

powerzone-read-stretch

Power vs zone read. A couple weeks ago I wondered if running a bunch of power had opened up the zone read again or if it was just an effect of playing Bob Diaco and Ron English. Frequent correspondent Tyler Sellhorn provides some insight:

WLBs are the bugaboo defender for the power play (double team frontside = WLB difficult to block/unblocked).  They are coached to hit the window created by the inside OL stepping to the double.  Playside combos of inside zone are difficult to distinguish from straight doubles. 

The best defense vs. ZR is to exchange gaps between the DE and WLB (you already know this).  Therefore, these two plays in concert screw with the WLB assignment-wise from a gameplan standpoint.  Gap-exchange weakside means that the free defender versus power is no longer paying any attention to the RB running said power.  Leaving the DE to defend the ZR by his lonesome, though, against DR...hell to pay.

Hope that enlightens.

God Bless,
Tyler Sellhorn

Since then we've seen San Diego State defend the zone read (and nothing else) ably and Minnesota defend nothing (and nothing else). A test of this theory will come against Northwestern, which may have given up 38 to Illinois but held the Illini rushing game to just 82 yards. Sacks factor in but even without those Scheelhaase and company managed just 3.1 YPC.

They also gave up 400 yards passing, so don't get too frightened.

Stretches versus outside zone. I've been using the two terms interchangeably, which Tyler suggests is mistaking rectangles for squares:

…the zone stretch, the various sweeps (including QB sweeps), pin/pull, and when the G tries to "log" the end/OLB on Down G, the Dash (frontside zone read) all try to accomplish the same thing: circle the defense and (usually) carry the ball between the numbers and the sideline.  

What I am getting at is that you have made the statement that there have been zero stretches and it feels like you are implying that M is not trying to get outside when you make that statement.  There are lots of ways to get the same thing as "stretch" conceptually, and Borges is trying to fit the concept into what he already has experience calling and know what to call when.  For example, QB sweep was the first call against WMU. 

So yeah, you keep harping on "zero stretches" when there have been plenty of attempts to get the ball outside, but M is using different blocking schemes to do the same thing.  You just need to be clearer about what you are trying to say in regards to this: we should be running outside more or we should be using stretch to run outside.  That is the distinction I am encouraging you to make.

Tyler Sellhorn

Right, then: I'd like to see more outside zone blocking from Michigan because they're pretty good at it and don't seem particularly good at getting outside with pin and pull stuff or toss sweeps.

Advanced not looking at the ball. Chris Brown of Smart Football had a couple of things to add in re: Michigan's NOBODY CARES WHEN WR LOOKS FOR BALL coverage technique:

Saw your picture pages on Michigan DBs playing the fade and having success playing the man versus the ball. Thought you might find this of interest from Saban.

Basically if you are even with the WR, you play the ball. If the receiver looks over his inside shoulder you look back that way; if the WR turns his outside shoulder back you turn into the WR (toward the sideline) to play the back shoulder fade.

But if you're out of phase with the guy, ie trailing him, you don't turn back to find the ball because you never will and they'll catch it; you play the man and his hands and eyes. (I get the impression that this wasn't the case last year.)

From the photos I saw on your site the Michigan DBs are doing a good job playing the man, but that's because they aren't "in-phase" with the WRs. If the throw was better they'd probably be completing the fades. But you're closer to this stuff than I am; mostly wanted to pass along the Saban points.

So Michigan's trail technique seems born of necessity. Since they don't have Charles Woodson or Leon Hall back there the best they can do is go for the PBU. We've seen Blake Countess look for the ball because he's in better position a few times.

If Countess proves to be the real deal and Michigan can get a second corner at that level we may see more DBs look back for the ball. As it is the current technique is at least an excellent stopgap.  

A little outdated. This came in before the Minnesota game:

Brian,

Do you think Denard would be as effective a runner from the RB position as he is from the QB position? My gut says he would not be but can't explain why. I bring this up given his continued poor passing performance with some people clamoring for him to change positions.

Peter F

Denard wouldn't be as effective a runner because he excels in the space allowed by a spread formation. In a pro-style offense he would probably be too slight to be a tailback, at least full-time. He'd end up in the slot.

The main tactical innovation allowed by having your QB as a runner is it allows you to spread the field horizontally by adding more WRs without giving up the extra blocker. With the defense locked in on those slots—something the threat of the bubble screen enforces—a guy like Denard can pick and choose from big gaps that open up because the defense is stretched.

Handing it to a tailback without using the QB as a threat invites an unblocked guy through since there are fewer blockers in the area. Think of this like a power play: a 4-on-3 power play is more dangerous than a 5-on-4 because it's easier to find the open guy and there's more space. The shotgun provides the extra man by using the QB as a runner. That extra space means Denard can make yards by accelerating past tackles instead of breaking them.

Denard's still pretty good when things get tight, but the pounding would be worse if that was all he was doing.

Play action problems.

Brian, would like your view/analysis of Denard's play action fakes and the importance of these in the offense. It does not appear to me that Denard really sells the hand off as much as other QB's. I'll spare the comparison to Peyton Manning. A good play fake can open up zones in the secondary and give Denard more time to make his reads as the defense should be crashing on the running back. Or, is this less of an issue in a zone read offense since there is basically a play fake on the majority of plays.

It appears to me Borges likes to throw off play action and if the QB is not selling it, that might account for some of the pressured throws we have seen from Denard so far. (disclaimer about adjustment to learning a new offense a given)

Thanks,
Trueblueintexas

There are two entirely different playfakes Denard is executing. There's one from under center and one from the shotgun. It is possible that Denard's fakes from under center are not convincing, but I think the bigger problem is that the run game is not threatening. When you're averaging three yards a carry, safeties don't have to worry about your run game because it's not getting to them. I'll keep an eye out if we get more play action from the I-form later in the year. It's possible he's a problem there since he hasn't really practiced that skill.

The shotgun is a different matter. When Michigan goes play action from the shot gun it's either Denard stepping to the line or a zone read fake. Both are inherently convincing. In the first Denard is moving towards the LOS as the offense run blocks. In the second they are executing the mesh point exactly as they would on a running play. Unless the line is doing things that tip off the opponent there's no difference. The sheer number of hand-wavingly wide open dudes on shotgun PA should be sufficient evidence that Denard's doing just fine with his fakes there.

Linebacker blaming.

gerg

Brian,

I'm reading the SDSU preview and you say that Demens and Hawthorne have to get better at diagnosing plays quickly.  This appears to be a consistent theme with M linebackers over the last few years.  I would assume that this "skill" is probably the easiest to evaluate when recruiting high school players as HS offenses are pretty run heavy.  Did our coaches completely drop the ball in recruiting these guys or did they believe diagnosing plays is something that can be taught and, thus, focused more on the recruit's physical traits/potential? 

Thanks!

I'm not sure that skill is easy to evaluate because a lot of high school kids don't get much coaching and what they get is of debatable value. You might be able to detect a kid who just Gets It, but plenty of college-level athletes who look clueless early develop into excellent players with college coaching. Prescott Burgess and Shawn Crable are two examples in recent Michigan history.

In the case of Michigan's current starters, the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice is probably more at fault than recruiting. The current LB crew has been coached by Jay Hopson, Greg Robinson, and Adam Braithwaite. Braithwaite has the best resume of all of those guys by virtue of not having one. They've also swung from one system to another and, in the case of Herron, Hawthorne, and Cam Gordon, from one position to another. If these guys weren't having trouble diagnosing plays that would warrant creating a golden idol resembling Mark Smith.

As it is I think they're doing as well as can be expected. Hopefully we'll see the improvement we never got under the GRDCM as the season progresses.