Four Plays – ND @ UM 2013
Though football is obviously a team sport, much of what determines the success or failure of any specific football play is determined by individual matchups between blockers and defenders, receivers and defensive backs, ballcarriers and tacklers, and so on. This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan would face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment).
For my debut edition, I look at Michigan’s marquee early-season contest with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, in what will be the penultimate game of the classic series. The off-season loss of sophomore QB Everett Golson to academic ineligibility takes some of the sting out of a promising ND offense, but a formidable defensive line trio promises to keep the Irish in it.
When Michigan has the ball…
1. 26 Power R
Michigan hasn’t had too much success with the famous “Power O” play in Brady Hoke’s first two seasons. But with the departures of Rich Rod speed guards Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh, and their replacement with battering ram types Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden, year 3 of the Hoke era promises to finally showcase the return of that “Manball” centerpiece. Shown here from an offset I formation, Power O attacks the “6-hole” between offensive tackle and TE. For this exercise I am presuming Fitzgerald Toussaint is the ballcarrier, though the play ought to work just as well with any other skilled tailback. Key features of the play include: (i) the RT and TE will double-team the opposing SDE at the point-of-attack; (ii) the LG will pull and lead the tailback through the hole; (iii) the tailback then reads and cuts off the LG’s block.
LT – Taylor Lewan: downblock “Cat” LB Prince Shembo
LG – Ben Braden: pull and lead RB through 6-hole, block WLB Dan Fox
C – Jack Miller: downblock WDE Sheldon Day
RG – Kyle Kalis: downblock NT Louis Nix III
RT – Michael Schofield: downblock SDE Stephon Tuitt
TE – Devin Funchess: double-team Tuitt, move to second-level and block MLB Jarrett Grace
FB – Joey Kerridge: execute kick-out block on “Dog” LB Danny Spond
RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: follow LG through 6-hole, cut off LG’s block. Note that when running power from I-formation, the back must execute a counter step (toward the backside) before receiving the handoff. This is to allow the LG time to execute his pull.
Probably Michigan’s only favorable matchup on this list of assignments is Lewan’s downblock on Shembo, which is arguably the least important block in the play. Tuitt can likely hold his ground against a Schofield-Funchess double-team, and asking new starters Kyle Kalis and Jack Miller to single-block Louis Nix and Sheldon Day is an iffy proposition at best. Things could really get ugly if Tuitt gets penetration or if Braden (or whoever is playing LG) struggles to execute his pulls.
2. 874 Play-Action Corner-Hook
Here is an adaptation of a Stanford play I found on smartfootball.com, which is a play-action pass off of power. I’m not sure if Borges will pull guards on play-action, but it looks like a pretty smart thing to do when a team’s running game is predicated on Power O. Other than that little wrinkle with the protection, it looks pretty much like something Borges would run, so I am going with it. Normally, for play-action to work a team must ordinarily first establish the running play off of which the play-action pass is run—and as we see above, establishing Power O against the Irish front may be a difficult proposition. But when your offense coordinator stresses the value of failed plays, it’s a pretty safe bet that Michigan will run some kind of play-action off of power whether the run is working or not.
LT – Taylor Lewan: pass protect vs. WDE Sheldon Day
LG – Ben Braden: pull to simulate run action, pass protect vs. SDE Stephon Tuitt
C – Jack Miller: pass protect vs. WDE Sheldon Day
RG – Kyle Kalis: pass protect vs. NT Louis Nix III
RT – Michael Schofield: pass protect vs. SDE Stephon Tuitt
TE – Devin Funchess: run corner (7) route
FB – Joey Kerridge: motion to left side of formation; pass protect vs. Cat LB Prince Shembo
SE – Jeremy Gallon: run deep post (8)
FL – Amara Darboh: run hook (4) route
TB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: execute fake handoff, pass protect, then release to flat
QB – Devin Gardner: execute play-fake, then check FS Elijah Shumate (will ordinarily be playing the deep left half in a cover 2 scheme); throw the deep post if open; if not, read FCB KeiVare Russell—if Russell has come up to play Darboh’s curl, throw to Funchess on corner; if Russell “sinks” to cover the corner route, throw curl to Darboh; final read is Toussaint, who should release to the flat.
ND’s favorable matchups against Michigan’s young interior OL may frustrate the power running game, but on passing plays Michigan’s veteran tackles should take the sting out of the ND pass rush. If Gardner has time to throw, Michigan should be able to consistently move the ball through the air with Gallon’s shiftiness, Funchess’s length, and Darboh’s size posing difficult matchup problems for the ND secondary. Big plays become possible if the Michigan is able to establish Power O and force the safeties to respect the play-action fakes.
When Notre Dame has the ball…
3. Inside Zone
Any Michigan fans older than about twelve are undoubtedly quite familiar with this play, at least the under-center version. Shown here from a Shotgun 2TE formation, the zone game is the staple of Brian Kelly’s ground attack.
Assignments. In a zone blocking scheme, linemen are not assigned specific defenders to block. Rather, linemen who are covered block the defender who is covering them; uncovered linemen move to the second level and find a linebacker or safety to block (with or without chipping the nearest defender on the line of scrimmage first). Nonetheless, were ND to run the inside zone against Michigan’s base 4-3 under front, we can predict the matchups as follows:
LTE Troy Niklas: block WDE Frank Clark
LT Zack Martin: move to second level and block WLB James Ross
LG Chris Watt: block 3T Jibreel Black
C Nick Martin: block NT Quinton Washington
RG Conner Hanratty: block MLB Desmond Morgan
RT Christian Lombard: SDE (Keith Heitzman/Matt Godin/Tom Strobel)
RTE Alex Welch: block SLB Cam Gordon
RB George Atkinson III: run though B gap (between RG & RT) if open; read blocks and take cutback lane or bounce outside if holes appear there instead
According to the UFR, in 2012 Notre Dame ran 21 zone runs against the Michigan defense for a respectable 83 yards, with much of their success coming against Michigan’s inexperienced weakside ends (Frank Clark and Mario Ojemudia). It is difficult to see ND doing any better than that in 2013—and they could do significantly worse if the WDE position becomes a strongpoint in Michigan’s run defense instead of the primary weakness.
4. Play-Action Split Left 936
On this play, detailed at OneFootDown, the Irish form a triangle read for the QB by pairing a fly-out combination on the left side with a dig route on the backside. If the play works as designed, the run action should help at least one of the inside receivers (either two TEs or a TE and a slot WR) get open in the flat (on the out route) or over the middle (on the dig route). This makes the safety wrong; if he comes up to assist the short defender, he leaves the CB in single coverage on the fly route. If he stays back to help the CB over the top, the underneath route will be open (with the possibility of YAC). The QB should determine, based on his pre-snap read, which side of the field is more likely to present a mismatch and read deep-to-shallow starting on that side of the field. On this play, we will presume that Rees assesses the matchup to the left side as more favorable.
SE DaVaris Daniels: Run fly (9) route (likely covered by BCB Raymon Taylor)
LTE Troy Niklas/Slot WR Davonte Neal: split wide and run an out (3) pattern (likely covered by WLB James Ross or NCB Dymonte Thomas)
LT Zack Martin: pass protect vs. WDE Frank Clark
LG Chris Watt: pass protect vs. 3T Jibreel Black
C Nick Martin: pass protect vs. NT Quinton Washington
RG Conner Hanratty: pass protect vs. NT Quinton Washington
RT Christian Lombard: pass protect vs. SDE (Keith Heitzman/Matt Godin/Tom Strobel)
RTE Alex Welch: run dig route (likely covered by SLB Cam Gordon or MLB Desmond Morgan)
RB George Atkinson III: pass protect vs. ? (probably a blitzing LB or double the SDE)
FL T.J. Jones: run fly route (likely covered by FCB Blake Countess)
QB Tommy Rees: read passing triangle deep-to-shallow, key defender is FS Jarod Wilson
Michigan’s experienced corners should be able to hold their own against ND’s underwhelming receivers, and while Rees has veteran savvy he doesn’t feature a huge arm. Michigan’s linebackers should also be athletic enough to handle ND’s tight ends, while Dymonte Thomas and Courtney Avery give M two good options should ND insert a third WR. Thomas Gordon adds a 5th-year senior presence in the defensive backfield. On the other hand, Michigan has yet to prove it can get pressure with four rushers—and while a player like Jerod Wilson offers a physical upgrade from Jordan Kovacs, whether Wilson is mentally ready for the position has yet to be seen.
Based on the foregoing, Michigan will win obvs.