Neck Sharpies: Belly and the Well-Fed Spread

Neck Sharpies: Belly and the Well-Fed Spread Comment Count

Seth October 24th, 2018 at 4:09 PM

I challenge anyone to find a greater irony in football than the fact that the spread 'n shred offense was rejected at Michigan by Rich Rodriguez and restored under Jim Harbaugh. Rich Rod scrapped it in 2010 because Denard wasn't good at option reads. Hoke avoided it because he had other plans. Harbaugh is on everybody's short list of best coaches in the country for Hoke's plans.

But here we are, running not just zone reads and split zone as a check, but the checks to the checks. Last week I got into the arc keeper, a counter off split zone that can hit for big yardage. But Michigan was also making heavy use of "Belly", a Rodriguez favorite from 2008-'09 that looks like a zone read but is actually doubling the backside DT and planning for the cutback. And it did its job.

Let's break out our 10-year-old playbooks and see how it works.

The Standard Defense of Zone Read

Since this is really a counter to a base play it's best to first understand the base play: the Zone Read option. You're familiar with zone read, but probably more so with the option part. For this exercise you need to pay more attention to how it's blocked.


After the backside end is dealt with by the option, the play becomes, well, whatever off-tackle run play you want to use. You can run inside zone, outside zone, even Power-O or Down G with it. In the above example it's inside zone, and when running the zone read game out of a pistol formation this is by far the most common run play.

[After THE JUMP: gliding downhill]

Zone running rules are simple: 1) Get the linemen blocked, 2) Get your extra material to the linebackers. 3) Seal or run off the defenders to create running lanes. Let's go left to right with their thought processes versus this (base 4-3 over) front:

  • Left tackle: Release to the WLB.
  • Left guard: Get this NT blocked with help from my Center so we can get one of us to the LB level
  • Center: Help the LG get this NT blocked so I can get to the LB level
  • Right guard: Get this DT blocked with help from my RT if necessary so he can get to a linebacker
  • Right tackle: Make sure my RG has this DT blocked so I can get to the LB and create a crease.
  • Tight end (Y): Kick out this LB so there's a nice big lane to run out.
  • Running Back: Find the gap that forms, starting with off-tackle then work back to a cutback lane.

Often in the course of running inside zone read, the quarterback has to take some time to make his read while the defense is reacting to the blocking. By the time the running back has the ball every defender is doing a fair job of closing every frontside gap and forcing a cutback towards that unblocked end:


Many a good inside zone read has died this particular death. The linebackers react too quickly for blockers to get down to them, and the linemen are intent on not letting your guys release, and your poor zone read run is now left to burrow into an unblocked LB's gap or cut back into the space between the unblocked end and the backside tackle.


But what if that was the plan all along?


Belly as we define it here* is a zone read play occasionally called "Double Dive" or "Read Dive" that attacks the cutback lane without ever having to cut back to it, giving the RB a direct shot at the backside while it's still pried open by the DE being optioned, and prying it open further by blowing the backside DT down. On a handoff all the back has to do is shoot straight ahead into the gap between the option and the ass-kicking.


For the first second after the snap, Belly moves like an inside zone read: The quarterback and running back get a mesh on, the tight end is kicking, the RT is threatening the next level, the RG is trying to get around the frontside DT, and the backside guard and tackle appear to be combo'ing the backside DT.


Except they're not getting off that NT. In fact they're moving him quite a bit. In fact there's starting to be a lot of space on that backside there. In fact: oh crap!

By the time that tackle realizes this double isn't some temporary nuisance en route to the second level but a planned thing to move him off the line of scrimmage, it's too late to do much about it. That's the whole point of a designed cutback: You want the defense to react to the direction inside zone attacks, so when the play cuts back they're caught on the wrong side of it.

* [As with many football terms this one gets used to mean different things. We got it from Rich Rod's WVU playbook, and that probably misappropriated a Wing-T play that's similar to Down-G.]

Belly in Action

Here's an pair of examples from the Wisconsin game. In fact they're the two plays directly after the 81-yard run I drew up last week. That too had a little belly action, i.e. they were doubling the backside DT.

The way I draw my play graphics makes it hard to tell how far the whole mass of bodies shifts. Note while you watch that the running back is going straight down the hashmark. It's not a cut; this play goes straight through the liver.

Play 1:


One thing to note from the above is the Pistol formation. If you have a super electric running back and run a lot of outside zone with your zone read (like Rich Rod) you can get away with a pure shotgun formation, but time is of the essence and the RB's downhill action from a pistol set can make all the difference when trying to run by the optioned guy.

Another thing is Wisconsin's in an odd (3-4 or 4-3 under) front, but the same rules apply: Wisconsin's "weakside end" is a defensive tackle in all but name. By adding a tight end to the backside the offense can still get that free release on the linebacker behind the guy they're doubling. Some teams also do it with a lead blocker.

Play 2:

An obvious question with any zone run is what do you do about a slant. If they slant away from the playside the last blocker has block the last unoptioned guy since you can't take his buddies off the double on the DT. This should bring a linebacker (or in this case a safety) around to be optioned.


This one caught a slant but the blockers are all on their toes and pick it up, even Gentry, who had the hardest job. It's hard to represent on the drawing but Wisconsin's line slanted so far that Higdon wound up barreling straight down the hash mark they started at and Bushell-Beatty planted the "SE" two yards inside of it.

The "ZONE" of the zone read also comes into play. According to Rodriguez this wasn't referring to the blocking but the area the QB reads for a defender to option. The difference between reading a player and whoever's in that zone becomes apparent when the defensive line slants. The SAM (#17 Van Ginkel) was the end man on the line of scrimmage when they lined up, but when it came time to read it was the strong safety holding the edge. That safety made the read hard, and Patterson countered by riding the mesh point almost all the way to a shared TD. By the time Higdon has the ball to himself the safety has shuffled down to meet him but there's no way a safety is stopping a Higdon.


I know we all bemoaned the lack of Bench Mason when Michigan got down to the 4 and 2 yard lines, but this play really gets the job done. The extra defender who has to commit to Patterson's legs can't be shooting in without a blocker, and the dive-ness of the backside handoff hits downhill and quickly like a good short gainer should.

The Harbaughification of Belly

I mentioned earlier you don't have to run this with a simple spread zone read look. In fact against Michigan State, the Wolverine offense added all sorts of blockers to the concept.

Here's a critical 4th and 2 early in the 4th quarter. It's a mark of how much Michigan trusts their belly game that this is their go-to short yardage play in such a situation.


Mason is indeed out there as the tailback (though back when the Flexbone was all the rage that guy was called the fullback). But this ain't no "We're diving the fullback—try to stop it" play. Okay, it is, but there's also a zone read, and now you really get to see what we mean when we say this spread 'n shred concept makes the defense play 11-on-11.

The play is blocked like it's meant to be a split zone duo. Duo is an inside zone play with extended doubles on both DTs. Split zone is that zone read counter where the guy who thinks he's being optioned suddenly discovers he's getting kicked with a fullback/TE/H-back coming opposite the flow of the play and the RB, who was always getting the ball, scoots through the resulting gap.

If it was Split Zone Duo, Michigan State has this solved:


The cornerback and strong safety on that side have to deal with Martin and Gentry in coverage so they're out. Michigan's doubling the DT (yellow), letting the DE (green) upfield to be kicked by McKeon, and bringing Mason on a dive. Sparty's plan is to hammer down the MLB (Joe Bachie) so Onwenu has to come off the double on the DT (Raequan Williams) who should be able to handle a single-block without giving up room. To cover the edge they will gap exchange: the DE (Willekes) is going to crash inside, thus putting his confrontation with McKeon right in the way of a dive. Willekes is replaced by the "Star" linebacker (Andrew Dowell).


I just named all four guys I starred on the MSU FFFF diagram. They're all selling out against a split zone, the exchange giving MSU equal numbers against a handoff while saving a safety. The result is a mass of bodies at the point of attack and a dead play because—if we're looking at split zone—the quarterback is just a guy delivering the ball then watching the play. Except he isn't. He's….




YO, CAMERAMAN! Pan down, man!




1. See the four star players of Michigan State's defense?

Point at them.



2. Michigan State should have defended this better

Very true, and the guy to blame is Andrew Dowell, the optioned guy, who sold out 100% on the FB dive, leaving Patterson an easy read and a wide open edge. It's possible he thought Willekes, being outside of that crack block and all, should have been set up to contain and force a handoff. But no: when you crack/replace the guy who cracked is the guy inside and the replacement has the outside. Willekes shouldn't be expected to reverse his momentum into a guy, turn around and chase a quarterback with good legs who started facing the opposite direction. If Dowell set up outside and forced the give the blitzing linebackers created enough of a jam to have a shot at stopping even Ben Mason, and certainly not giving up more than two.

That's relevant to us because opponents are still playing the early season tendency—which in fairness to them resurfaced on that unbalanced arc zone read that Patterson wishes he had back. They also might believe pushing all their chips in against a full Ben Mason is the only way to win this play. Having an offense that forces the opponent to do unsound things that make them risk looking stupid is part of having a good offense.

3. This is a good play

Compared to other short yardage options, this one might be a little more susceptible to getting entirely blown up, but it's also likelier to have a high success rate because the quarterback cancels out a front seven defender. Even with the LB blitz, if Dowell plays this right it's Ben Mason going down hill behind Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who did in fact win his battle with Williams.

While any play can break big, operating so closely to an unblocked guy and leaving linebackers unaccounted for tends to lead to modest gains. Michigan isn't marching down the field with Belly. They can use it as a tough to stop 3rd/4th & 2 option, and bust it out some more when they're running their regular zone read option game to keep the defense from overplaying the frontside or overcommitting to defending split zone and arc zone.

4. It's zone—you can change gaps still

Often—especially when the defense shifts to an odd front—when running Belly the original running lane gets jammed up. Like Duo, while the play design calls for extended doubles, it can easily become an inside zone if the defense plays it irresponsibly. Cutback gaps can and do form.

5. Belly may be Rodriguezian but it's also very Harbaugh

Doubling a DT with Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Michael Onwenu. Straight downhill runs. Opportunities for all sorts of crazy blocking angles. I'm sure Bo would approve.


Eleven On Eleven

Eleven On Eleven Comment Count

Brian October 15th, 2018 at 2:04 PM

10/13/2018 – Michigan 38, Wisconsin 13 – 6-1, 4-0 Big Ten

Like anyone still standing after a 2-15 run against Ohio State, I have withered into a cynical-ass bastard more tree than man. We are the Michigan ents. The Ments. But even though this heart was long ago replaced by lignin, by God I felt it beat when Roy Roundtree and Denard Robinson popped up on the video board before the game. They talked about night games at Michigan Stadium in general. They also talked about one very specific game. I had feelings.

I did not know I had just been handed the most critical bit of the gameplan. Wisconsin did not, either. Wisconsin apparently did not know quarterbacks were, like, allowed to keep the ball. I feel like they should have known this. Even if they were completely unaware of the last 20 years of college football, surely their review of Michigan's game tape would tip them of that yes, occasionally the quarterback guy runs with the ball, and faster than you'd think.


Patterson pulled twice more, once for a redzone touchdown and once for another chunk run. The last saw Wisconsin actually respect the idea of a pull, somewhat, but Patterson was able to outpace a wrong-footed Badger defensive end anyway.

Then the backups came in and things went from intriguing to bizarre and hilarious. Dylan McCaffrey is slashing inside a block and outrunning an All-American linebacker to the endzone! Okay!


TJ Edwards is sad in the background [Eric Upchurch]

Joe Milton, who had approximately zero rushing yards in high school, is switching fields and outrunning the whole Badger defense to the other sideline! I thought this was Diet Coke, not Meth Coke! Who put meth in my Coke? Did you also give some to Paul Chryst? Ah that's fine then, good move.


Michigan's season-long con took in both the Badgers and your author; now revealed, it resets season expectations. Harbaugh noted the impact it had on Wisconsin's run defense when they suddenly had to play 11 v 11:

Coach, you had two quarterbacks that were a big part of things as far as running the ball. Was that element added to this game?

“Yeah, it was big. Shea (Patterson) really got things going in the first quarter with the long run. And the touchdown run he had, he was — allowed us to stretch their defense, get all their gaps, make them cover — make them account for as many gaps as we could. So that was a gameplan well-executed.”

Michigan spent most of their short yardage snaps in this game in a two-tight-end shotgun look that had everyone in Michigan Stadium agonizing about the absence of Ben Mason, but aside from one bad decision from Higdon to press outside Michigan converted every time. Frequently this was accomplished by a running back cutting back behind Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who was paving his man, as a Wisconsin defender gave Patterson his newfound due.

Maybe I'd been primed by the pregame video, but I thought about Michigan's approach in Denard's other Notre Dame masterpiece, the one on the road: after a slant to Roundtree set Michigan up at the two on Michigan's winning drive, shotgun, QB zone stretch, easy cutback, TD.

Patterson's not Denard Robinson but he's certainly fast enough to demand someone account for him. When that gets combined with a mauling right side of the line and a rapidly developing whole, you get something. You get 320 rushing yards. You get nearly 240 of those in the second half. You get fourth quarter drives on which Wisconsin knows you're going to kill the clock and can't stop you on six straight runs; the clock only stops getting stabbed to death 40 seconds at a time because you accidentally score a touchdown.

With the mesh point suddenly a real thing, possibilities open up. Ends can't charge willy-nilly at the quarterback. You can make those token play actions into defense-crippling ones with the extra time that buys you—something that Ohio State just struggled to defend this weekend. The corner that Michigan could turn to become a juggernaut offense is there, shockingly in sight.



Known Friends and Trusted Agents Of The Week


JBB is almost out of this shot, which is good [Fuller]

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1(t) Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Jon Runyan Jr. Seriously. Not ironically. Not even in a throw-these-guys-a-bone sense. Patterson was iffy, Higdon fumbled, the defense didn't have a guy contributing except in scattered bursts: JBB and Runyan were the Michigan players most consistently helping Michigan down-to-down.

I don't think either gave up a pressure. JBB paved guys on a series of plays that cut to his side of the line; he was also the source of some of those zone stretch cutback runs. Meanwhile Michigan was usually running to Runyan's side of the line.

DOD was low with Wisconsin in desperation mode at DE, but I be like dang all the same. Both guys get three points because they're made up and don't matter and also this portion of the writeup is indeed me throwing them a bone.

#2 David Long. Both Long and Hill were avoided all night until the late Wisconsin TD drive when Hornibrook went after Hill's excellent coverage. Long didn't suffer those Mr. Tight Windows slings and arrows and was able to sell him twice on man coverage that turned out to be a trap—more below—that turned into a PBU and an interception.

#3 Karan Higdon. Did fumble. Did miss a hole or two. Also went over 100 yards and made some nice zone cuts; his ability was a major reason Michigan won a game in which they had four second half passing yards.

Honorable mention: The Spirit of Denard. Paul Chryst.

KFaTAotW Standings.

7: Chase Winovich (#1 ND, #3 SMU, #1 NW)
5: Karan Higdon (#1 WMU, #3 Nebraska, #3 Wisconsin).
4: Devin Bush(#3 ND, #1 Nebraska), Rashan Gary(#2 WMU, #2 Nebraska), Shea Patterson (#3 WMU, #1 Maryland).
3: Zach Gentry(T1 SMU, #2 Maryland), Juwann Bushell-Beatty(T1 Wisconsin), Jon Runyan Jr(T1 Wisconsin).
2: Ambry Thomas (#2 ND), Donovan Peoples-Jones(T1 SMU), Josh Metellus(#2 SMU), David Long(#2 Wisconsin).
1: Will Hart (#3 NW), Mike Dwumfour (T2 NW), Kwity Paye (T2 NW), Josh Uche (T2 NW), Khaleke Hudson(#3 Maryland).

Who's Got It Better Than Us(?) Of The Week

That would be a game-sealing pick six. Alex Hornibrook has to be sick of watching Michigan defenders spear his passes with one hand.

Honorable mention: 81 yard Patterson run; McCaffrey touchdown; Interception #1; DPJ almost breaks another punt; Wisconsin roughs the snapper; various Paul Chryst punt decisions.


Wisconsin busts a jet sweep to tie the game and momentarily give people the willies about whether Michigan can stop this run game at all.

Honorable mention: The two stunning Winovich holding calls that didn't get made; Michigan's inability to capitalize on the first INT; ESPN having the Chainsmokers on to pick games instead of Denard.

[After THE JUMP: What are you doing, Turtle?!]


Picture Pages: Maybe A Third Of Why We Suck At Running

Picture Pages: Maybe A Third Of Why We Suck At Running Comment Count

Brian September 24th, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.

Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.

This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:


Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.

Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.


Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.


Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:


(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)

Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.

At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.


Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.


That's a loss of two yards.



Items Of Interest

Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.

Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…


Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.

Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.

This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.

Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.

Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.

Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.

In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:

And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?

Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.

None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.

Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.


Picture Pages: Ending It, Part I

Picture Pages: Ending It, Part I Comment Count

Brian November 13th, 2012 at 3:04 PM

Michigan punched in a touchdown on their only possession of overtime against Northwestern and took the field needing to get a fourth-down stop at some point to win. They got it right away. On first down, Will Campbell(+2, pressure +2) swims through a guard to get instant pressure; Colter finds a running lane because Washington is out of position and picks up seven yards.

Three plays later, Northwestern was still at the eighteen, out of downs. WHA HAPPEN? In three parts, what happened.

Second And Three: Campbell Two-Gap

Northwestern comes out in the pistol, with Michigan in an even front with Ryan shaded over the slot. They keep two safeties 13 yards off the LOS—they are essentially playing a man down in the front seven because Colter demands to be contained.

The FB started on the other side of Colter and motioned just before the snap; Michigan's linebackers shuffle a little in response, but not much. Northwestern is going to run a plain old zone play.


There is a mesh point here. Colter is reading Roh. Roh does two things once the tackle lets him go:

  1. He forms up at the LOS
  2. He shuffles inside a bit to remain tight with the hip of the tackle.


give + no cutback == job done

#1 makes Colter give. #2 prevents Mark from heading all the way backside, which is important. If my spread 'n' shred analysis skillz are now basically irrelevant at least they're useful for parsing Northwestern. I've seen this before:


It's the vertical zone read play RR termed "belly." Under RR Michigan wouldn't go so far as to move into the pistol, but they would slide the QB up a foot or two and make this same handoff. It looks a lot like inside zone to the defense, and usually by the time they find out it's not the guy going backside has picked up a nice chunk.

Belly is about doubling the DTs, and driving them back; failing that you go at the spot the backside DE vacated when he went to contain the QB.

Here there's nothing. This is the mesh point. The line is a solid mass of humanity from Roh to Campbell, with the only gap on the frontside as Clark contains. The DTs have held up at the LOS. Mark has nowhere to go save that frontside gap.


That's a problem because neither LB is hitting that gap. Meanwhile the fullback shoots downfield, looking for Kovacs. Mark has to redirect—this is not what the play was supposed to create—and this takes time, which is a saving grace.


Campbell is here, and then he's obscured because he's flung himself to the other side of his blocker and tackled.


Mark squeezes out a couple before most of the players on the field converge on top of him.


Now Michigan has third and short. They like third and short.


Things And Stuff

It looks like Michigan is conceding the first down. Second and three and Michigan puts a full two-deep coverage on, leaving just six guys in the box against seven players. It's almost like Michigan is playing TD prevent and living to fight again on first and ten from the 13.

This is all defensive line. Collectively the two DTs take on four blockers and while those blockers release, Washington is in a spot where he closes off a gap at the LOS. Roh has taken the cutback away. And when Mark redirects outside, Campbell fills the gap outside Washington.

This is a cost of cutting off screens. Remember last year when Michigan got burned by bubble after bubble in this game? Mattison responded by flaring Ryan over the slot. That was the first we had seen of that; it's now a standard thing. Bubbles have all but evaporated. So that's good, but it also leaves Michigan in some vulnerable positions. Here their best defensive player is irrelevant to the play. It would be nice to have some better run support on the edges.

I'm not sure about the LB play here. Both guys end up catching blocks. They do this because the NW OL does not extend their doubles. Since the doubles are not extended, the DL can make the play they make. I am still kind of nervous about it. There's no slant here so they just have to play it straight, and as a result neither gets anywhere near the play. I'm guessing that's the way they have to play it. Gives me hives. Help, anyone?

Will Campbell woo. He vexed the pants off of a couple of guys in this game. This play in particular reminded me of watching Hoke talk about DL technique at that coaching clinic. Campbell may get a little high, but he takes one step inside and then fires upwards, rocking the G backwards. At that point his hands are on the interior of the OL. He controls the block, and can go from one gap to the other when Mark does. If you watch it enough you'll be like oh right the sleds DL hit.

Campbell made the Northwestern G look like an inanimate object designed to be hit to teach technique. Heininger Certainty Principle +1.



Picture Pages: Absolving Jibreel Black

Picture Pages: Absolving Jibreel Black Comment Count

Brian November 23rd, 2011 at 1:43 PM

If you're like me, there was a point late in the first half of the Nebraska game where you went "argh Jibreel Black" because Taylor Martinez burst outside for a big gain. After last week, when Nathan Scheelhaase got a couple of big runs because the backside end was unfamiliar with the concept of the zone read, this was a natural reaction.

A closer view shows Black was duped, but understandably so.

It's first and ten for the Huskers on the first play of their fourth drive; They come out in a pistol formation with an H-back and two WRs. Michigan is in their usual under. They've got a lot of backups in: Black, Campbell, and Beyer are three of the five folk on the line. Black is to the top of the screen.


On the snap Nebraska runs a pistol version of Michigan's staple play (this week, anyway): the belly. On the belly an H-back or FB will shoot into the backside end and the opponent will try to attack the weak spot caused in the backside of the line.

Michigan's LBs are prepared, attacking backside, and Kovacs has walked down to provide an eighth guy in the box.


The eighth guy is usually the solution to bounce issues; here having Kovacs behind him allows Black to shuffle down the line in preparation for this very play.

Except… what if you told your fullback to read the play too?


This is the frame were thing start going wrong. The fullback has convinced Black he needs to squeeze this space down, and now he's juking outside after Black has gotten set to take him on.


Now there are problems. Black has just realized Martinez has the ball. He's inside the tackle box a yard upfield. Meanwhile, the fullback has released outside to get the contain guy.


Because this is Taylor Martinez versus a defensive end the corner will be achieved. Kovacs takes the blocker on, but this is Kovacs kryptonite. Dude runs at your face in space. Block him and he gets put on skates.


Kovacs does not have a real good time here as he ends up giving up leverage eight yards downfield. Floyd is late arriving because he is in man coverage over a guy going deep and has a 54-yard pass in the back of his head.


I don't think the linebackers did a stellar job here—there are a couple of frames where they can reach out and touch each other—but when the ball goes outside the numbers behind a blocker they aren't doing much no matter how well they play.

Martinez jets down the sidelines, where he's barely forced by Floyd.


Nebraska would get outside on the next play for 23 yards before a holding call and Jake Ryan stunning Martinez with his acceleration put Nebraska in a big hole; they would punt on fourth and forever.


Items of interest

This could just be a playcall but I think it's a read. Nebraska's offensive coordinator is a mad scientist tinkerer who pulls out inverted veer triple options and inverted veer to speed options and it's not like Nebraska can possibly be doing anything else in practice other than relentlessly repping the option game. So I think this is not an out and out call but the fullback and the quarterback both reading the DE doing his shuffle down the line and punishing him for it.

So… yeah, this isn't on Black. Black was optioned off by a clever play requiring coordination between multiple readers and would have been wrong no matter what. Kovacs rolling down to the outside should free him to defend the belly, which Black does until it's clear he's in trouble.

If Black goes outside Burkhead's roaring upfield with Kovacs pulled outside. That is much worse news than what actually happened.

Kovacs gets owned. Not to be too hard on him because like some of the other stuff Nebraska pulled out of their bag of tricks this is a situation where you're caught off guard by the play developing in front of you. Martinez pulls, and the thought process goes:

Okay: I have to get infield to cut off cutbacks and then if he tries to bounce I will use KOVACSPOWER to tackle him in the open field.

But then it goes:

What's this? A blocker? My one weakness! Nooooooooooo…

This happened with some frequency last year when Kovacs was rolled up to the line more frequently. Some fullback or OL would latch on and then just donkey him off the field. This is not a huge problem for a safety—it's much more important to be able to run at guys full speed without ever missing a tackle—but I don't think anyone was surprised when this scenario on the edge went poorly.

Confusing the hell out of Michigan was the only way Nebraska moved the ball. Nebraska got Michigan misaligned here and there, caught guys off guard here and there, and burned JT Floyd (and Thomas Gordon) on play action. Other than that they got almost literally nothing. Michigan destroyed them up front.

Yes, I did exhale "finally" when this happened. I have been pining for this play since about two seconds after the UConn game started. It seems evil, unfair. So why didn't Nebraska run it again? I don't know. Maybe they didn't have an opportunity what with the fumbles and Mike Martin destroying stuff before they could get back to it.

Michigan's been running a lot of blocking schemes like this and it never seems like the QB and TE/FB are on the same page. When we do get a shuffle scheme with linebacker contain and Koger moves to the second level to block, Denard biffs it. Other times a slot LB gets sent and Koger goes upfield to block the guy who is containing the handoff.

O let do it. Nevermind. Need to rep it.

Nebraska's offense might ignite at some point in the next couple years. Martinez is a sophomore and has a couple more years to get better at his reads, and you can see pieces here and there of an offense that makes you wrong even in the world of scrape exchanges and whatnot.

I'm not saying it will happen. Their offensive line will have to get a ton better if they're going to get away with Martinez's arm. But if they get the blocking taken care of and maybe find a wide receiver who's not a liability, I can see Nebraska turning into an offense you loathe playing.