How did you feel about the zebras today?

How did you feel about the zebras today?

Submitted by HAIL-YEA on October 6th, 2018 at 8:26 PM

So did anyone else feel like for the first time in a while the refs were not out to get us today? Yes they had another phantom holding call on a running back this time negating a touchdown but overall it seems they have gotten the message. I guess only time will tell if this is just a 1 time thing or things will change long term, but I felt really happy during the game seeing the majority of calls being fair.

What is the feeling from you all, did Ward lay the smack down or am I just imagining things?

MSU game musings and postgame mitigation

MSU game musings and postgame mitigation

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on October 30th, 2013 at 12:11 AM

Now that I'm back in the states and am able to attend the games, I've seen some pretty disturbing things; the "you suck" chant (Just chant the damn Down Number, if we stuff them on 3rd down, chant "4TH DOWN!", if we stuff them on 4th down, chant "1ST DOWN!"), nearly losing to Akron, nearly losing to Uconn, actually losing to Penn St. But I do love football, so I'll try to get tickets to saturday's game in E. Lansing.  I must be a glutton for punishment. 

What that means is I won't be able to get on here and bitch about the game until several hours after it ends. So this diary is to get all my bitching out of the way beforehand.  I'm not a psychic and all predictions are guaranteed to be incorrect.  So if I betray any pessimism, consider it a chance for the team to prove me wrong. 

Things that will probably happen before the game:

1. I will have to ask about 20 people before I can get a good price on a ticket. 

2. Someone will bring up Dickhead Gholston. Which doesn't matter much since he's long gone. 

3. Someone will bring up Dickhead Narduzzi's quote about "60 Minutes of unnecessary roughness". Which does matter because that's how his defense plays. 

4. MSU's Band will bring out their fake wolverine mascot.  

5. MSU fans will be annoying. Conveniently forgetting anything that happened earlier than 5 years ago

6. I might refer to the Sparty mascot being gay, not that there's anything wrong with that, and how if he wants to marry Brutus, they could elope during the Rutgers game. 


Things that will probably happen during the game: 

1. We will not be able to run conventionally. Period. Unfortunately, Max Bullough seems to be the real deal.  Remember 27 yards on 27 attempts?  This game could be that bad, at least on a yards-per-carry basis.  Hopefully we won't have as many attempts.  I'd be ecstatic if we threw the ball 60 times and rushed 15.  That ain't gonna happen. 

2. Denard Devin will be good for at least 3 turnovers, probably two picks and one fumble. And he'll have two or three sacks, at least one of which is caused by his reverse spin and loses 15+ yards.  

3. Funchess will make an amazing play, and then we'll be frustrated the rest of the game as he mysteriously disappears.  

4. The Sparty defense will be jumping our snap count and we'll take major tackles for loss because of it. 

5. Devin will rush for at least 80 yards and two TD's. 

6. Gallon will get 100 yards receiving. 

7. Spartan players will take cheap shots that aren't flagged. 

8. One of our offensive linemen will get injured. 

9. MSU will put together annoyingly long drives because we won't be able to stall their running game on 3rd down. 

10. MSU fans will be annoying.  Some fat idiot will yell "CHEATERS" whenever a flag is thrown.  A brazenly foulmouthed pre-teen will get dangerously close to being slapped by me. That's just how they raise their kids. 

11. Jake Ryan will save the day. 

Things that will probably happen after the game: 

1. Bipolar coordinator love will swing to the defensive side, Mattison will again be a genius and Borges will be on the hot seat. This will of course have everything to do with playing MSU instead of Indiana and not actual merit.  (But yes, if we can UPGRADE Borges after the season, we should.)

2. Both fan bases will be upset with the referees.  MSU will have about 4 pass interference penalties called against them, 3 of which spartans will think are ridiculous. Meanwhile I'll be able to freeze-frame 8 other instances that should have been called P.I. or defensive holding but weren't. 

3. MSU fans will argue that any personal fouls called on them or other dirty plays that weren't flagged were somehow justified.  Insert your own non-sequitur here. I'm partial to the idea that you should always beat up frat boys while wearing ski masks, because you know, "they had it coming". 

4. If MSU wins, they'll probably win the division.  If we win, I'll complain about how the division title is determined by conference record instead of division record since we'll probably lose to Ohio and have our only two losses being to the other division.  

5. Win or Lose, something will be set on fire in E. Lansing. 

6. MSU fans will be annoying. 

Points of Quantum Uncertainty:

(aka, things that will swing the game)

1. Weather.  The forecast calls for 40% chance of rain.  With our dependence on the passing game and pass blocking, I'm guessing the more moisture, the worse for us.

2. Connor Cook's passing.  Somewhere between 3.5 yards per attempt and whatever the hell that was last week will probably determine the game. 

3. Al Borges the mad magician vs. Al Borges the stubborn coach looking for a new job. Self explanatory. (If you see Fitz catching wide open swings and screens, it could be a good day.)

4. The refs.  THROW THE DAMN FLAG. 

5. MSU Defensive scoring.  We'll probably turn the ball over a few times.  But will those be turned directly into TD's or will Mattison get a chance to make Connor Cook look like Andrew Maxwell? 



1. Our basketball team looks good. 

2. I hate cold weather. 

3. I hope they didn't screw up Ender's Game

4. I'm gonna do a Native American dance for sunshine and clear skies on Saturday. So like, an 'anti-rain-rain dance'. 

Ohio game wrap (with pics!)

Ohio game wrap (with pics!)

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on December 1st, 2011 at 1:53 PM

Finally! No,... FINALLY!!!!!

So that game was closer than it should have been.  Raise your hand if you think the replay official had taken Ohio against the spread.  A touchdown would have made it a 10 point game with Michigan covering the 9 point spread. But let's bitch about that later.


10-2 with wins against ND and OSU! It's beyond all expectations. If we hadn't laid an egg at Iowa and gotten screwed by the refs that game, we'd be sitting with just one loss, 3 close wins, and 8 curb stompings.  You could say that I'm sold on this coaching staff.  I had no idea the coordinators and position coaches would be this good.  We still have a lot of issues with our WLB and our secondary, but we're light years ahead of where we were last season. 

On to the pics!


I have to give him credit for coming out with an aggressive gameplan that put a lot of pressure on Braxton Miller's arm and Posey's ability to get separation.  It almost worked.  But the punt from the 36 yard line was a pure Zookian moment.


It's 4th and 4, the game is a high scoring affair, you've been moving the ball pretty well with your mobile QB and there's a strong possibility that you'd only be gaining 16 yards with a punt anyway.  There's no debate.  This was a HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE decision.  Their punter did a good job executing the coffin corner kick, but that still doesn't justify the thought process.  

Add that to Fickell's continued clock mismanagement, and I doubt you'll find a single bucknut fan who is sad to see him go (or demoted, or whatever).  Not forcing a punt at the end of the first half was not that bad with a one point lead, but wasting 16 seconds for a 3rd down spike on the last drive was just awful.  You could even hear Spielman rolling his eyes at that. 

F* That guy

Miller is going to be a problem going forward.  He fits "Urban Meyer's offense" as Spielman called it during the game (so much for the two weeks of pretense) almost perfectly.  He doesn't throw a very accurate ball but *cough*tebow*cough* that doesn't mean he can't be successful in that offense. 


It is interesting to note that Miller had 9 TD's and only 3 picks.  Yeah, he didn't have many yards or attempts and was under 50% passing, but that's still pretty remarkable for a true freshman.  He's been missing his receivers in safe ways and pulling it to run if the coverage doesn't look right.  That's pretty good ball security for someone you'd expect to misread coverages due to inexperience. 


He started out the game doing what we expected, we just weren't ready for his speed on the first couple of plays.  On this 2nd and long, Ryan is blitzing from a walked off OLB spot.  


But his path is a little too much to the outside.  I know he's thinking about contain, but he's got to aim more directly at Boren and then use his arms to stay off the block. 


Instead, he gets pushed outside and the tackle is free to release onto Demens. 


Morgan has to do a better job of reading that lineman crossing the LOS and react quicker to Miller.  Ryan would adjust later, but this gave them an important early 1st down. 


Mattison really sold out on stopping the run and stopping Miller's scrambling.  On Kovacs' delayed blitz, you can see we did a much better job of filling the running lanes on the rush.  Morgan is playing spy (which was kind of useless...) and the D-line is free to shoot the gaps away from the blitzer. 


But Miller is very elusive and showed great leg strength in getting away not only from Kovacs, but also RVB.  Fortunately Demens and Martin have followed the play allowing Kovacs a second shot at the sack. Meanwhile, Morgan is .... well I think Ohio watched a lot of film on Morgan and decided to go after him all game. 


Martin and RVB were great all day (of course), and they were twisting on most passing downs.  This is a pretty good idea when the O-line you're facing is known to have communication problems. On this play RVB is supposed to go around Martin, but Brewster gives Martin a pretty good pop. 


That's no problem for the two seniors, RVB just decides to go first and Martin swings around.  


The center and guard are so concerned with Mike, they let VanBergen go free for the easy TFL.


Miller picked up 1st downs with his legs all day.  The early bombs really messed with our gameplan and gave him more room to run.  On this 3rd and long, we've got Kovacs in the box in our crazy lineup with all the guys on the line and different people dropping out. Because of the earlier passing success, three people are dropping into coverage, even though Ohio LOVES to call the QB draw in this situation.  


The result is that Morgan got caught with his weight going the wrong direction and Miller galloped over Kovacs for a big gainer. 


But I think Mattison just decided he wasn't going to let Boom Herron beat us.  I think Herron ended up with less than 40 yards because of plays like this.  Here we've got Kovacs coming off the receiver to run blitz. 


And again you can see the linemen shooting gaps away from him.


Kovacs gets in there so fast that both Boren and Posey are blocking air.  Jordan gets the TFL and the Ohio is stuck in another 3rd and long. 

Miller ran the speed option a lot the last few games and that continued against us.  On this touchdown, he cuts against the grain and makes Roh miss in space.  Spielman was babbling about how great a play call this was and how it was a counter speed option. 


I call bullshit.  They definitely do have a counter speed option, but this play wasn't it.  You can tell because Roh is unblocked. On the designed counter, the tackle engages the end and tries to seal him inside or kick him outside. 

This looks more like improvisation by Miller. I think they just tell Posey to block on the backside like he means it on every play. They got a TD here simply on Miller's talent, not on any blocking scheme.  You can see he takes a hard jabstep upfield that fools Roh just enough so that he can get outside.  


After that he makes an amazing jumpcut and his momentum carries him into the endzone. 


THIS is the counter speed option, except it's a playaction pass.  The tip off that it's a pass is that Miller turns away from the LOS instead of going nose towards it. 


It's a well designed play that turns into a rollout to the right.  They've got three layers with a deep corner, the intermediate cross, and Stonebrunner is going to release into the flat. If the Defense over pursues the rollout, there's even a throwback available to Herron. 


But Stonebrunner doesn't hold his block long enough or Miller doesn't get enough depth and Roh is right up in his face. 


A more experienced QB might have tried to hit #11 who is open, but like I said before, Miller has been very safe with the ball.  Morgan does a good job of knowing who he's playing against and comes up expecting the run instead of uselessly trailing the TE.  


He was wide open though.  And Denard made a similar play that turned a sack into a short gain. Maybe Miller will be making those plays in the years ahead.  Guh. 


I'm just glad we'll have Mattison.  Because when push came to shove and we needed a stop on the goal-line in the 4th quarter, Mattison basically declared that Miller wasn't going to run the ball in.  And credit Kovacs for picking up the TE on playaction so that Miller didn't have an easy throw.  

F* this guy too

With only one game of film to watch, our DB's were not prepared for Posey's talent.  


But after a couple of short passes to him, they were very concerned about his presence.  A little too concerned. 


If Gordon hadn't screwed the pooch on this, the ball was not well thrown and he could have given Brown a harder time catching it since Miller threw it to the wrong shoulder and brown had to turn around to find it. 


I'm going to give our DB's a tiny little bit of slack in saying they haven't faced anyone with Posey's skill except for Michael Floyd.  And they had a lot of safety help against Floyd that they didnt' get for this game.  Posey is as close to Mario Mannigham that I've seen on an oposing team.  He does a great job of getting on the DB's toes and making them turn their hips. But still...


Even though this is a triple move, (headfake outside, cut inside, cut outside)...


You can't let a guy get that wide open.  Lucky for us this duck was overthrown.  


If you're going to put 8 men in the box and play man up against the WR, then freaking play man up.  Troy has Posey one on one, but because he's lined up so far back, there's no chance for him to make a play on anything but a fly.  


This deep cross was not a fly.


And it didn't help that Posey turned Troy around with an outside fake.  Amazingly, Miller hit him in stride (no it wasn't a tight spiral). 


Posey did it to all three of our DB's (Kovacs was essentially a LB this game).  On the last drive he turns around Floyd.  J.T. was thinking about getting an interception, and we almost paid dearly for it. 


We were about a yard and a half from being down by a point.  There would have still been 1:30+ left on the clock, but I was pretty happy to see this ball hit the ground.  Our offense was pretty good, and Denard was pretty accurate, but no offense to Gibbons, I'm glad we didn't have to drive for a winning field goal.  

[hit the jump for the remainder]

Illinois game wrap (with pics!)

Illinois game wrap (with pics!)

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on November 16th, 2011 at 12:00 PM

[Ed: argh, having some editing issues. Bump.]

"Play hard and play with great effort"

Immediately after the game, I was struggling to come up with a thru-line for what had just happened.  But then Brian posted "Defensive Annhilation Muppets" and then the video of Mattison getting emotional surfaced. And for a moment I thought, 'you guys are over-reacting. Illinois does not have a good offense'.  I like when coaches just give coachspeak. But then I thought about the last three years and yeah, it makes sense.  The difference in emotion between Chip Kelly's comments and Mattison's are where you're starting from.  

A couple of years from now, a win like this will only be notable for constructive criticism.  There were a lot of bad plays that need to be corrected.  But given the circumstances of where we were last year and what we were expected to be this year and the fact that we're 8-2 with a decent chance of picking up at least one more win and a very small chance of getting to 11 wins, emotional celebration is more than appropriate. 

What a difference a week makes!

Al Borges didn't have a great game against Iowa, and I pointed that out.  He had a much better gameplan this week.  I don't know if he or anyone close to him reads blogs or not, but he responded to several very specific criticisms leveled here last week.  

Holding the backside DE

I mentioned something about a lack of reverses.


Thanks Al!  Odoms is coming from his slot position to take an end around fake.  Not only did it hold the backside OLB and prevent the DE from crashing down on Denard, it also froze the MLB just enough for Fitz to run right by him. 

But that wasn't the only trick up Al's sleeve. He pulled out another wrinkle from the Richrod days.


One of the problems with protecting Denard and limiting his carries is that the DE that you're optioning on the zone read doesn't have to respect the keep and is free to chase the TB. But here we see Koger coming from his H-back wing to block #9.


The O-line is getting good lateral movement and both Denard and Koger are eliminating defenders from the pursuit.


One caveat is that their safeties were pretty bad (someone mentioned they had backups in the game). #5 has badly misread this play, and he's too slow to catch Fitz anyway. Meanwhile, if you wonder how a guy can get over 100 yards in the first quarter, you can bet he's breaking tackles.  This arm tackle didn't even slow him down.


This arm tackle slowed him down,


 but it didn't stop him. 


So Fitz had about 45 yards of YAC from the first arm tackle and then about another 15 yards of super YAC downfield. 

The offense as a whole had a much better day (despite some derpiness in the 2nd and 3rd quarters). The O-line was doing a great job with the zone blocking in the first quarter and opened up some nice running lanes. 


Here we've got Hopkins blocking the DE from his FB position instead of Koger, but the result is about the same. Gallon cracks down on his man and Omameh does a good job scraping off the double team and getting to the linebacker. 


Huyge takes his man where he wants to go and it opens up a nice line. 

On this next play, there's only 5 in the box because the OLB's are out on the slot receivers.


Molk does an excellent job of tracking down his man and we've got a hat on a hat. 


The Zen of zone blocking is you just get on your man and take him away from the play using his own impetus.  Of course you need a guy like Fitz back there who is patient enough and has good vision to see the hole developing. 


Even though the OLB crashes down for contain, he's nowhere near Fitz and Denard has read him properly.  If this were the pros Fitz would be owing five really large guys a nice dinner for this play.

The Numbers Game

We had some issues in the red zone last week. Part of that is due to Iowa's talent on the D-line and part of it is having Denard sitting in the pocket or handing off or otherwise not putting pressure on the defense to account for him.


If this were a normal pitch play or off-tackle dive, it would've been completely stuffed because they've got more defenders than we've got blockers on the playside.  But when Denard keeps it, we've got an even matchup and Denard just has to pick his way through and find a hole.  


But what really makes this play work is that Omameh gets a great cut block, upending his man.  Now we've got 6 blockers against their 5 defenders and Denard with no one to track him down. 


Omameh's block freed up Molk to get on the pursuing linebacker and the result is an easy touchdown for shoelace.

So what happened in the 2nd Quarter?  Well let's compare to a play where we don't have a numbers advantage. 


They've got 9 defenders in the box with both safeties playing up.  If Denard has the freedom to audible (or we had gotten to the line with more than 8 seconds so that the coaches could call a check play #misshightempo), then he should be throwing a fade or "z out" to Roundtree at the bottom of the screen. We've got 9 in the box, but because we're in I form, the defense doesn't have to account for the QB (as his first 5 steps are backwards).


The play is a lead draw. The line shows pass blocking and then the center or whoever is free is supposed to head upfield after a couple beats. But this call means that Illinois has a lot of unblocked defenders. It doesn't help that Molk misreads the defense and doesn't scrape off to one of the linebackers. This means that Hopkins has three unblocked people he has to choose from. If Denard had been running, then both Hopkins and Fitz would have hit the MLBs so Denard would just have to juke the safety to get in the endzone. 


Instead, Hopkins gets one LB and the other stuffs Fitz for a loss with both safeties racing up to make sure he doesn't fall forward. 

[ed: follow the jump.]

Iowa game wrap (in brief)

Iowa game wrap (in brief)

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on November 10th, 2011 at 3:10 PM

Out of whack

So that game kind of sucked.  If you're wondering why this diary is so late in the week, I try to wait until I feel like the foul language will be minimized after we lose. 

Despite the video above, I'm not really blaming Borges for this loss.  Not entirely anyway.  He did not have a very good game.  But that could be said for many people.  Denard, Hemingway, Vince, Roundtree, Morgan, Floyd, the refs. THE REFS.  THE MOTHERFUCKING REFS. But we'll get to that later.

You know when an offense is clicking, it's when guys are wide freaking open.  And not just in the passing game.  When an offense is in rhythm, running lanes open up too.  That really didn't happen on Saturday until the final drive (when Iowa was backed off in prevent). Every pass and running lane was contested. That's partially due to the vanilla cover two.  But a larger problem for us is our failure in self-scouting and our lack of an identity on offense.  

A lot of what an OC does during gameday is psychological.  You're supposed to mess with people's heads.  RR was great at this.  And the people he targeted most were the outside linebackers, DE's, nickel backs, and safeties.  The reason why all forms of the option offense are so strong is because of the ability to always make a player wrong.  You read which way he goes, and then go the other way.  It's about taking what you're being given.

Which leads us back to Borges's failure this week.  Ideally an offense creates an identity by beating a defense in a certain way so much that the DC has to adjust to take away those plays.  But when that happens, it opens up the companion play.  

Back during Lloydball that script went something like this.  Offtackle run, offtackle run, offtackle run, bootleg pass for a TD.  It was boring as hell, but when it worked, it was a thing of beauty.  Tuman wide open in the Rosebowl, Breaston taking a reverse for a TD, etc.

With Richrod it was more like, zone read/bubble play left, zone read/bubble play right, Denard, Denard, Dena-OH SHIT! TD!

With Borges it is ... uh ... ? What exactly?  Brian discussed this at length already, so I'll just add that it feels like we're just throwing random crap at the wall to see what sticks.  Borges has called better games and it's hard to establish an identity when your 'bread and butter' plays are getting stuffed.  But our best play this season has been for Denard to hold the ball too long in the pocket and then heave a prayer downfield.  No one is going to mistake Denard for Andrew Luck, I don't understand why we're trying to use him like that.  I don't understand why he's in the pocket reading pass coverages.

What is our base play?  A zone read?  Then why the hell don't we have the companion bubble screens?  Is our base play an I-form Iso?  Then where are the reverses that keep the backside DE honest?  I'm getting sick of watching the backside end or OLB making a tackle in the opposite B gap.  Are we running Denard?  Then why are wasting a blocker by handing it off to him?   

I understand that we're trying to keep him healthy, but we're losing the numbers game.  Every time we go to that Denard Jet Sweep formation, the defense doesn't have to account for him.  We hardly ever give him the ball, and we never throw it to him.  And why is that the trick play formation we're stuck with?  When we came out one week with the diamond Fritz formation and then had the jet sweep thing the next week, I was expecting to see 5 more different variations.  Instead we've settled into this one that opposing DC's have figured out.

There's only three games left.  It's time to take the reins of our biggest offensive threat.  It's time to put in all those counters and companions and make play calls during the game that are, uhm..., like fucking coherent.  (I wrote and rewrote that sentence 5 times, and still have an expletive, if not in all caps.)

I understand you're transitioning to a new philosophy and we're under-manned and can't hurt people with the base plays you want to run.  But there's only three games left, if we want to win any of them, some of that will have to go out the window.  I know you're not trying to use up Denard, but there's only three games left.  If not now, when?  

I appreciate that we've only lost two games, but there's only three games left and none of them are gonna be any easier than the two we lost.  There's only three games left, and none of them are against Minnesota.  There's only three games left.  It's time to bring out our "A game". 

A bad game all around.

So I noticed Brian noticed my noticing of Desmond Morgan getting a good tackle on a kickoff against Purdue.   How was his game against Iowa?




It's pretty bad when even the TV guys are pointing out your bad play.  (Although Spielman is one of the handfull of guys that knows the game pretty well and points out good and bad LB play)

And Fitz had a great game against Purdue, did that carry over?


Oh. (That's two unblocked middle linebackers on an A gap dive.)

But at least we've still got Denard who has been excellent at reading blockers and -


Oh. okay. 

It's hard to blame any one person on offense when the entire blocking day was sub-par.  


Looks ok here.  That is a linebacker (and supposedly an above average one) not a DB. So our little slot guy should either go low or try to pin him inside.


Oh. Nevermind.  But look, Fitz is leading the play for Denard, so we're still good.


We've got two guys on him, no problem.  Except Denard has no place to cut back because Huyge couldn't maintain his backside block. 


Still, a 2 on 1 means Denard should be able to bounce it outside.


*sigh*  I guess this is where I'm supposed to mention something about teaching cut blocking and then I get pissy about how small blockers should take on big defenders by going low ... but I just can't get too upset about this play.  I guess my rage is being reserved for something else...

And about those refs....

They started the game by missing a holding call


And then they decided that pass interference was no longer an enforceable rule.  


They actually threw a flag and then talked themselves out of it. Maybe they thought it was uncatchable.


Maybe they're FUCKING BLIND.


And this was on Denard's interception right before the half.  Denard has thrown some bad interceptions this year.  This was not one of them.  

At this point, someone needs to be in the ref's ear.  I know Hoke is not the fire and brimstone kind of guy, and that's fine, but we need somebody to be working on the refs.  The same thing happened during the Northwestern game, the refs never woke up and gave us a makeup call. 

And our receivers need to do a better job of getting the call.  Throw your hands up and dive on the ground.  Watch some European sissy boys play soccer and learn how to embellish a call.  I'm not saying all the time, because 'boy who cried wolf, blah blah blah.'  But when you've got a legitimate case, don't be afraid to hop up and down a bit more.  Make the ref peek at the video board and maybe you'll get the call next time.

Or just ... fuck. 

So there's about 14 points that they owe us.

Hey refs!



If this diary seemed overly critical, you win as a team, you lose as a team.  Win and there's plenty of credit and high fives to go around, lose and everyone gets shat upon.

Amongst those few that had good games:

  • Gallon, not as dropsies as Hemingway or Roundtree
  • Interior O-Line, not as bad as the tackles
  • Fitz, his running and hole reading were not as bad as his blocking
  • Demens, not as bad Morgan
  • Countess, not as bad as Floyd
  • Martin, ... ok he was still awesome, in fact the entire D-line had a decent game.  I guess that's what happens when you've got 3 D-line coaches (Hoke and Mattison are both ex D-line coaches)
  • Mattison, not as bad as.... well I think I've covered that already. 



Northwestern game wrap (with pics!)

Northwestern game wrap (with pics!)

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on October 11th, 2011 at 1:13 PM

That used to be us...

It wasn't so long ago that we had an interesting offense full of lowly recruited who-dats that would spread you out and infuriate opposing defensive coordinators.  At least until we committed a few turnovers and fell apart in the second half.  

But now we've returned to the pre spread and shred days. Now we've got an offense that can grind out the clock when needed.  And now we've got a defense that can come up with the crucial stops and force critical turnovers. I think this game finally proved that we're not the same team as last year or the year before.  Because this is exactly the kind of game we would have lost back then, i.e. it was a conference game against a team with a pulse.  

But lets not start celebrating a division title just yet.  Next week will be the toughest challenge yet and we've got lots of problems we need to correct.  

It does bode well that we seemed to address many of the problems in the 2nd half, but let's take a moment to understand what went wrong in that first half. 

1st half Denard

He's not a tailback playing QB.  But he is still a young QB who makes bad reads sometimes.  All three of his interceptions were due to him not reading zone coverage.  


His first INT is probably the worst of the misreads.  #45 is an OLB covering the slot, he's not going to be man to man with Jr.  The free safety is drifting back at the snap, and the corners are playing off.  I really don't understand how Denard could read this as anything other than a soft zone.  And if he read it that way and threw it anway, then it's a terrible throw.  The lack of a bubble screen is still bugging me as this play would have picked up an easy 5 or more yards with a good block on 2nd down. 


Even without the bubble screen, Roundtree is wide open for the sideline hitch, but Denard is locked in on Jr. probably because he'd already hit him for one jump ball. 

The 2nd INT was on a QB dive OH NOES! except NW had the right defense called. 


When Denard looks to the right, he sees the safety has walked up, but if he had looked to the left, he would have seen zone coverage. 


Denard starts towards the line, but the TE releases quick.  The safety must have done a good job in film study, because he starts backing off to get into his zone. 


Denard gets some pressure right in his face, which probably contributed to the pick, but the main point here is that the TE is supposed to drive off the safety to free up Vincent on the wheel route. This doesn't work if the safety is playing zone.


So with the ball in the air, and not much zip on it thanks to the pressure, the safety has an easy job of coming off the TE to get the pick.  I think putting Koger on a steeper angle, more like a slant or a true post instead of this skinny post will make the read easier for Denard.  

The third INT was due to Denard getting locked in on his man, not surveying the field, and not reading the safeties.  He also had a terrible underthrow.


Before the snap, this looks like a straight up cover two.  The playside CB moves up late. 


Denard thinks he's in man and gets all excited when the WR zooms past him.  But the CB has flat responsibilities on this play.


Because the ball is badly underthrown, there was some debate about whether it was really an overthrow to Jr. I hope not, because Jr. is bracketed with double coverage.  I think Denard is staring down the outside fly route.  But because he's looking that way the whole time, he's pulled the safety into perfect position for the INT.  

Denard also had one more throw that should have been intercepted.


This pop pass to Koger was delivered too high and with too much steam.  Too much adrenaline. This is a bad no-no. 


Because if that safety is in the right position, this is the kind of tipped ball that gets taken back for six

I'm not worried about the jump balls, so long as we're actually getting man coverage.  Especially against the kinds of athletes Northwestern fields in its secondary, our WR ought to outfight most DB's for an underthrown jumpball.  I am worried that if we try it too much against the likes of MSU or TSIO that have B1G caliber DBs, it'll blow up in our faces.  

ND has good athletes at CB, but we showed it could work against half of them.  Gary Gray got exposed, but Robert Blanton had a nearly soul crushing pick and another pass break up.  I haven't studied MSU's DB's enough to see which are vulnerable, but hopefully Denard and Borges have.  The game could easily turn on whether or not we get a couple of TD's or a couple of INT's on the jump balls. 

1st half option woes

The defense wasn't looking very good in the first half either. When people talk about a return to the Lloyd Carr days, I hope that doesn't include an inability to stop the option.  You hear it said all the time (because it's true) that stopping the option comes down to communication and being responsible on the edges.  We didn't do a very good job of either of those things in the first half.


On Northwestern's first TD, they come out with a covered (and thus inelligible) slot receiver. This probably means it's going to be a run, because we're too close to the endzone for most double pass plays.  The corners have to recognize this and be screaming at the far side OLB that he doesn't have support.   (Really Ryan should recognize this on his own, but in the heat of battle, it really helps to get those cloud/eagle calls, or whatever we call them.     Kovacs bears some responsibility for this miscommunication too. 


At the snap, both MLB's get sucked in by the dive.  Ideally, if you know the option is coming at you, Ryan should be drifting wider, Hawthorne should be scraping C gap and trying to get to the QB, leaving Demens with the dive and pursuit.   I feel like in a split back situation, Hawthorne needs to be reading both backs, instead, he's only keyed in on the frontside back.  That's fine, but it means Demens has a much harder task to follow the option man to the edge.


So yeah, all three of our LB's are blocked and Colter sees a lot of empty grass between him and the endzone


Kovacs almost saves our bacon on the play, but Colter puts a nice move on him. 


And our other safety is way too far away to help out.

This next option play is from a trips formation.


I feel like Demens should slide over a bit against this formation. He's going to be in zone coverage on this play anyway.


NW runs the speed option from the pistol.  The playside tackle pulls out and hauls ass to seal the edge and get to the 2nd level.  This leaves RVB free, because he's the man that Colter is going to option.  Demens is a little slow to react. 


Mike Martin does an excellent job of beating his man on the slant, if RVB had seen that, he should have gone more upfield and tried to get in between the QB and pitchman letting Mike clean up the QB.   The two slot WRs double down on the nickelback. 


#5 Mark is actually a CB doing some double duty, he easily outruns Martin and RVB. Because of his late start, Demens gets blocked by the tackle.moreoptionwoes5

He does get held, which wasn't called. 


Mark ran through some arm tackles and picked up a huge gain. Gordon has to do a better job of fighting through his blocker to make the tackle. 

This next option is from the Colt 45 (what I call the heavy pistol).


The FB is really more of a secondary threat, as I think this play is designed to disguise the  standard belly dive.  This is also designed as a key buster, because normally it's the FB who takes the dive fake and the TB who goes into pitch relationship.


I think Hawthorne is reading the FB which is why he takes himself out of this play. 


Kovacs is in no mans land because he has to respect the option pitch.


Give credit to NW's O-line who opened up a nice hole, although it does look like #76 is getting away with a bit of a hold.  J.T. is not in run support on this play.


So we end up giving up a pretty big play to the first man through, but the first man through was the tailback.  If you're looking for a silver lining, check out the pursuit. That's 5 guys who haven't given up on the play and it's this kind of thing that keeps a 20 yard play from turning into a TD.  And if the ball happens to get knocked out, then we've got a lot of guys around it to fall on any potential fumbles.  

On their 2nd TD, we've got pretty good alignment to stop the play


If you play a lot of DE against the option, you learn how to outside shade the QB so that you can bait him into keeping it and then collapse back into him and the pursuit.  If he pitches it, you end up in good position to clog up any cutbacks.  RVB runs a little too directly at the QB (and he looked gassed at the end of this long drive).  The safety is in good position to make the tackle, but the DB's have to shed their blocks as soon as they sense linemen drive blocking (this is where people shouting RUUUUUN! RUUUUN! helps).


Floyd is getting pushed way too far back for this redzone play.  And Carvin takes a bad angle and doesn't break down to make a solid tackle.


So he overruns the cutback.  

Northwestern, who sees the option a lot in practice, shows you how you're supposed to defend it. 


Their in a base 4-3 against this splitback slot.  But the OLB is flexed way out to help with the zone coverage. 


Both the Mike and the Sam read option and start flowing playside.


Hopkins doesn't sell his fake very well on this play.  Huyge does a good job of scraping off his man, but he doesn't get to the LB who is on his horse, having correctly recognized the play. 


The DE goes to Denard to force the pitch, but OLB has kept discipline and is playing the pitchman (who didn't get a good pitch relationship to Denard).


The Mike easily beats Huyge's block and Denard just has to eat it. 

But the good news is that when it counts, our defense stopped a huge 4th down option because Kovacs is all heart and smarts.


Roh does a great job of playing outside shoulder on the TE and forcing the pitch.  Morgan does an ok job of taking on the FB, which leaves Kovacs to clean up the pitchman.  He didn't wrap up, but he took out the ball carrier's legs and he get a huge turnover on downs. 

Close Calls

If you're a Northwestern fan, I can understand why you might be upset after that game. But on closer inspection I think the refs did a better job than it appeared on first blush.  (Better than the announcers)

Let's start with one that went your way.


On 1st down, Colter gets tackled with 40 seconds on the clock, and you've got a T.O. that you don't take. O.k.  w/e.  Maybe you can get to the line and get off another play quickly...


BUT you DIDN'T. The ball isn't snapped until there's only 12 seconds left.  That's pretty bad clock management.  


And you're lucky to have those 2 seconds to try a field goal.  Watching it live, I thought the clock had expired.  Remember, it's not basketball, the clock doesn't stop until the ref signals it to stop.  I've seen lots of games end this way, because it takes the ref a second or two to wave his arms and then for the clock operator to push the button.  In this case, you can see that the ref made his incomplete signal with a second (not two) still on the clock. 

Now let's look at one that went our way.


Gordon and Demens have stood up Ebert after NW had been killing us on bubble screens.  Gordon strips the ball even though Ebert has two hands wrapped around it.  You can see that the ball is coming out before his knee has hit the ground.


And Brian, please stop saying that fumble recoveries are mostly luck and are 50-50 as to who recovers them.  Some fumbles are.  But the ones that aren't tip the scales.  Here we've got 5 guys hustling towards the ball versus one guy who is going to have a mountain of defenders on him and another guy who is flat footed.  The odds for us recovering this fumble were very high.  


And I almost feel sorry for this guy.  He had a great game.  It wasn't good enough to beat us, but it was a good effort.

Both of those plays look like good calls to me.  The only one I think you've got a fair complaint on is the helmet removal. 


Kovacs is coming on a delayed blitz (which, those are some big balls Mr. Mattison) on this all important 4th down. 


Because Persa ducked, it doesn't look like a facemask from this angle.  Just the friction of the defender's body can often remove a helmet in a situation like this.


But on the slow-mo replay you can see his hand in the grill.


And on this frame you can see that Kovacs actually Goatse'd the thing off with both hands, one in the facemask and one under the ear pad. 


So I don't blame you if you felt like this.  That's a pretty likeable coach turning Brian Kelly Red (Kudos to the liveblog commentator who came up with that).  Howeva, to quote a quote:

Media, as in badge-wearers. Fox Sports's resident officiating expert on the Kovacs/Persa decapitating:

Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.

The helmet came off pretty quickly, so it's hard to fault the refs.  But I'm of the opinion that slightly less prideful officials might have huddled up, sneaked a peak at the big screen and then quietly dropped a flag. Flag coach Fitz, but also Kovacs, assess the liveball penalty, then march it back 15 for the deadball penalty, 1st and 10 Northwestern, but at the same LoS. 

And lastly, we've got the interception by Hawthorne.  


From the front angle it looked like he got his hand under the ball.  


But from the back angle it looks like the tip of the ball hit the ground and the ball moved.  This is the kind of play that is inconclusive and would have gone whatever way it was called on the field.  So I guess we got lucky on that one.  


  • Jersey switch


Several players (including the entire D-Line) switched Jerseys at halftime.  I didn't notice it on the fuzzy streams, but the board commentators pointed it out.


Depending on who you believe, it was either because the old jersey's are tighter, or because the new jersey's rip too easily.  Either way, our D-line was being held a lot and not getting the calls. 

  • Mike Martin is still awesome (when not getting held).


  • Good Shaw: getting to the pylon ala Chris Perry


That DE can't match his speed.


And Gallon gets an excellent block.

  • Bad Shaw; juking a man that has been pancaked. 


The play got about 7 yards, but it could have been much more.  Seriously stop dancing when you don't need to.  This is the kind of thing that Nick $aban would cut you for, just so he could recruit another 5* freshman to replace your indecisive ass with. 

  • The BTN is still more of a mickey mouse operation than the mickey mouse network.


  • And the announcers are not very good with facts. 


  • Hey Spartans, guess who's next.


Belated (and brief) notes from last week

Belated (and brief) notes from last week

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on September 24th, 2011 at 10:15 AM

I didn't have internet for the past week, so I'm getting to this diary pretty late.  Almost everything that occurred to me has already been said.  But here's a few things that stood out and could use repeating if you have already heard it.

This is why you don't teach players to only play strongside or only play weakside. 







A single shift into an unbalanced line made 6 of our guys change position.  I feel like this calls for some joke about Chinese fire drills, but it's too easy.  If the motion man hadn't taken the jet sweep and actually realigned on the other side, I wonder if those 6 guys would have been thinking about flopping back.  Ugh... ...

Our defense is still young and has a lot to learn.  We're a year or two (or three) away from being able to shut down serious opponents.

RB situation

Vincent looked good, I still worry about his durability.  There are some indications that ND's D-line and scheme are legitimately good against the run.  So this might not be as bad as we fear.  My hopes are still on Fitz to be the main workhorse until someone younger distinguishes himself.  Looks like we'll be RB by committee for the rest of this year.  

What about Denard?

Good thing: Denard is still awesome running the ball against weaker competition

Bad thing: We were forced to run Denard against a middling' MAC team

Good thing: Denard is getting better at getting out of bounds without taking a big hit

Bad thing: Several times he ran into a NT, DT sandwich

Good thing: The return of QB dive TROLOLOLOLO!!!!  (Brian "QB draw-OH NOES!" is a great name, but it's not a draw fake, it's a dive fake.)

Bad thing: Bubble screens still MIA

MSU @ ND notes

  • The game was closer than the score reflected.  MSU failed a fake FG and got intercepted in the redzone, ND had a kickoff return TD.  ND still wins handedly, but probably only by one score or 10 points instead of 18.  
  • MSU's O-line has big problems.  This is not news to anyone.  But I think it's showing up in some of their playcalling. 

For example, they used this weird formation


And then they pitched the ball around the short side TE/Guard.  It's like they don't trust their interior linemen, so they might as well try to run away from the muck.  (sometimes with a pulling lineman)


There's a reason why people don't normally line up like this.  It's not usually effective. 

  • Wood's first TD was not a TD.  

First of all, there was a blatant holding at the point of attack,


And he was down at the 1 yard line anyway.  


  • Bawk! Bawk! Dantonio.

It's 4th and 17 at midfield, down two touchdowns with 4 and half minutes left in the game. And he decided to PUNT.  C'mon, after last (last) week, we know that 4 minutes against ND is time enough for at least 6 touchdowns.

  • Nick Hill on Kick Returns

He looked good at finding the hole and they had some designed returns to break off to one side of the wedge.  This dishearteningly matches up with one of our weaknesses. 

  • It's all about stopping Cunningham

They still have the triplets at RB.  But with the issues they have with the O-line, Cunningham becomes the key to stopping MSU. 

  • Cousins is still a good QB, but I feel like we can trick him into a couple of INT's.  

He likes to throw the crossing routes to the WR.  And in the hurry-up, they seemed to favor square-ins and slants.  ND stepped in front for a couple of picks and tips.  Cousins is very good at throwing the checkdown and hitting late leakers from the backfield.  And all the backs seemed to be good at making them selves available after scraping past the rushers. 

MSU likes to call a fair number of screens and draws, but these are hard to do well for inexperienced linemen.