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FORMATION NOTES: Pretty much the standard by this point in the season: Michigan alternates between 1 and 3 TEs, spends 70% of its time in the gun and/or pistol, uses Ben Mason a little bit less than you'd like, and has largely abandoned Stanford-esque manball formations.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: QB, OL as per usual except Bushell-Beatty came out after the first two drives and Stueber went the rest of the way. Higdon resumed taking the plurality of RB snaps, with Evans, Mason and Wilson spotting him about half the time. Mason got some FB snaps as well; Wangler had a couple out of the pistol.
WR and TE were about usual too. Black got more snaps; Bell and Martin fewer than last week, but it was still Collins and DPJ most of the time with Perry in the slot. Michigan was slightly less TE heavy, with McKeon and Gentry out there about two-thirds of the time; Eubanks got his usual 15-20.
It's the last minute of the 3rd quarter. Michigan has dominated in just about every phase of the game. They're winning the turnover battle. They're quadrupling in yardage. They're converting 3rd down. They even have a huge advantage in special teams—despite a nearly disastrous blocked kick—because of DPJ's punt returns. And yet it's only 14-0. Michigan's at the PSU 7 with 2nd and 6 on a 13-play drive that's just murdered most of the third frame. A field goal and it's probably over. A touchdown and you know it's over. Nothing…well, Penn State knows a thing or two about losing games that Bill C's numbers say they won handily.
Michigan's in a 3-tight end shotgun. The day so far has seen a lot of split zone and zone reads with a crossing TE to the backside of similar formations, and Penn State's having none of it, getting into an Under formation with the backside reinforced and no safeties deep. Michigan likes to run, huh? Well We Are Penn State. We're Unrivaled. We brought the BLUE band and they're hanging out by the sideline over there. James Franklin's Pennsylvania boys. And Michigan's about to see what they're made of, especially if the Wolverines try the middle.
Penn State's inviting Michigan to try that gap between the Bushell-Beatty's right shoulder, where the strongside end is lined up, and two gaps over where the DT has shifted to Ruiz's right shoulder. Remember back to the Neck Sharpies after Northwestern, how your defensive linemen are your fortresses and the weak spots are the gaps between them? Look at PSU's front and where they want Michigan to go:
I don't remember the Sun Tzu quote for this. If your enemy shows you a weakness, use it? Or is it never do what your enemy wants you to do? Or is it when facing an irrational man never rationality? I'm sure it's something.
For many reasons I loved Harbaugh’s offensive game plan against Ohio State. He knew Ohio State well, knew his players better, and nearly made up an entire massive talent gap between the two teams with coaching alone. One minute they’d be in super-wide splits and running up the gut, the next play they’d be in super-packed goal line, fake a handoff to Hammerin Panda, and slip a TE for an easy touchdown. Next drive they come out in a split-backs right out of a Bill Walsh playbook, plus a bunch of spread.
Ohio State ran a pretty basic defense; at this point they’re just churning through five-stars Calipari-style, and giving them a basic Quarters/Cover 1 system with one or two checks based on alignment. But Michigan’s offense wasn’t anywhere near that level last year. So Harbaugh pulled plays from every offensive tree, whipsawing the OSU defense between dramatically different concepts until he found a few that the Buckeye checks made wrong. Was it complicated? Well yeah, they practiced this stuff all season and emptied the drawer for the Game. Did it work? Brilliantly.
One of those successful attacks was a packaged play they broke out to save a 1st and 17 in the shadow of their own endzone early in the 2nd quarter, then twice more during an important drive down 24-20 in the 4th. But before they broke out the big gun, they scouted it.
Prior to that play they ran a jet screen to Evans on the field side that converted a 3rd and 11 to 1st and goal by catching the cornerback in man waiting too long to react to the jet motion.
A little later Michigan ran their slot (Crawford) in jet motion from a 2x2 wide TE look, and noted how Ohio State reacted:
Both throws went to the jet man, and now Michigan has seen the two ways Ohio State plans to defend it: an under front against odd formations, an over front for even ones, and slanting the line in the direction of the jet.
Now it’s the 2nd quarter and Michigan comes out in a similar thing, except instead of a second tight end in the formation there are two running backs: Higdon standing next to O’Korn, and Evans opposite and behind. Evans jet motion to the field against an under front, pulling the LBs away from the boundary. But this time Michigan’s running a pin and pull in the other direction.
I am guessing he found this on some Auburn film because it’s got Malzahn’s fingerprints all over it: jet motion, backside reads, pin and pull. It worked all day, and I think it’s because Michigan noticed how Ohio State defends jet motion and planned to punish it, and OSU never got to change it up because there were a million other things Michigan was doing. Here it is later against an over:
There’s a lot going on here so let’s break down the components.
Michigan aligns in a standard shotgun 3-wide formation with two receivers (SL and X) to the field, and the TE to the boundary.
McDoom (13) goes in a jet motion, ball is snapped when McDoom passes the quarterback.
The three receivers are running a bubble action, O’Korn reads the reaction of the receivers side (purple zone) and may have the option to throw the bubble if Michigan has numbers.
Line call uses the old Vince Lombardi sweep rules on the frontside: pin what you can pin and pull what you can’t. Backside is zone blocking.
Backside DE (orange zone) left unblocked, is optioned (QB keeps if end crashes down).
Granted those options could be entirely for show—Ohio State isn’t a naturally aggressive defense. Whether or not it’s a run-pass option, like any sound defense Ohio State had practiced how to take away the field side options and force it down to a running play on the boundary. It just so happened that’s exactly what Harbaugh was hoping for when he ran that…
[Happy Thanksgiving! We’re on holiday. Hope this is enough to chew on]:
I’m guessing you don’t need to be told what we’re up against. The spread offense liberated running games from under center, and with it came all the fun stuff like little athletes juking people in space, big ones running deep downfield in man coverage, and all sorts of defenders standing around wishing someone—anyone—would at least try to block him. Each early adopter added a wrinkle: tempo, bubble screens, wide splits, quick folds, receiver route trees, lazy verts, and run-pass-options. Urban Meyer’s innovation was to assimilate all of it into the Earl Bruce power offenses he grew up in.
At Ohio State Meyer found he could tap Big Ten resources and fall back on SEC attitudes to convince athletes from all over America to bring their biological distinctiveness to its least charming truck stop. There they are assigned mundane designations like “Corey Brown” or “James Clark” and adapted to serve wherever it’s most efficient—usually as a diversion from running up the gut.
They are the Borg; resistance is futile, unless it rains.
Personnel: A star-studded diagram:
click to lightbox it bigger, open in new window for even greater largosity
Everybody was a top 250 recruit except the kicker, a backup tight end, and the best interior lineman in the conference. They have a Heisman candidate, and it’s not the starting quarterback who was a Heisman candidate at the beginning of the year. We’ll talk about the backfield in dangermen and the OL in the overview.
If you’re new to Meyer offenses, one slot WR position is just called the “H” now that “Percy Harvin’s position” is a dated reference. It’s a running back/slot receiver hybrid that does whatever the latest guy is good at. Curtis Samuel is the current guy. Last year he stole half of Braxton Miller’s playing time. He’s kind of a big deal.
They have a stable of 4- and 5-star receivers who are worth discussing here. Noah Brown is the Darboh but they have to create Chesson in the aggregate. Parris Campbell is the nearest approximation and though he doesn’t “start” he’s getting the starter snaps since Secret Weapon™ Corey Smith has had his hand in a cast all year. Smith’s role and nominal starts go to Terry McLaurin, who’s a throwback to the Odoms/Gallon Rodriguez-era mountain goats, right down to a listed height of two inches greater than plausibility. Backup H Dontre Wilson is a Norfleet. Those five guys will be in for two-thirds of the snaps; the remainder is split evenly between the next four: slot receiver KJ Hill is a good route runner. James Clark is an athletic deep threat who wasn’t connecting. Other extant cardio-pulmonary systems who’d have 1500 yards in the MAC are Johnnie Dixon and Austin Mack. OSU will rotate them heavily and send them sprinting downfield until your cornerbacks’ lungs burst from their chests—actual throws come less than once per drive.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid: Spread, which for lack of blocking TEs and superb blocker Ezekiel Elliott is back to being an actual spread:
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? A 60-40 mix in favor of manball. They use a lot of zone on their QB and zone read runs, but Inverted Veer/Power Read is still their base play.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Hurry up and wait. On third downs they usually will take their time getting set up and snap it with three to six seconds left. Otherwise the snap came with the clock between 16 and 25.
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): 8, effectively 9. We’ve always struggled to nail Barrett to a number on this scale because he’s a good runner but not Gardner-level. What he lacks for in whoop he makes up with vision, patience, and leaving all of his bad decisions for off the field. Against Michigan State I charted JT a perfect 19/19 on zone reads. That didn’t include the RPOs, which he also, on review, chose correctly every time. There’s a serious there, there, which is a big deal for an offense that has to stay ahead of the sticks.
[After the JUMP: inside the mind of the Collective]
We’re going to be talking more often in the next few weeks about Run-Pass Option (RPO) plays, also known as packaged plays. Rutgers lives off them, Indiana loves them, Maryland is installing them, and Ohio State has made them a bigger part of their offense this year.
The general concept is easy enough: the offense will isolate a defender who has both run and pass responsibilities. The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do, then either throws the pass if that guy attacks the run, or runs the running play if he stays back.
But they’re not good for all seasons—RPOs take advantage of players with both run and pass responsibilities. If there are none, or at least there are super-clear priorities, it’s hard to find a defender to put in a bind. For example Cover 1—which is still Michigan’s base play—has pretty clear-cut jobs for their man-on-man defenders, the linebackers are given small zones they can defend while hanging in to plug their gaps, and one safety is given free reign to roam the deep middle and clean up any runs that get through. But even Michigan can’t stay in Cover 1 forever (cough cough Durkin), and against option-y, spread-to-run teams you’re almost forced to get your safeties involved in the run game, and then once again you’re susceptible to the offense putting that guy in a run-pass bind.
So let’s see how they work.
Solving Stacked Boxes
While run options are an answer to the problem of how to involve your quarterback in the running game, run-pass options address a different age-old problem for offenses looking to run the ball successfully: defenders in the box.