I made two separate posts on the board with analysis based on my mini UFR of the first and second half RZ area plays.
I've decided to combine them and update my reads based on the feedback I received on those posts. I've also added some picture break downs from a couple plays where I dinged Speight for a missed read or throw.
Here is the tl;dr which is still too long:
The biggest issue moving forward is clearly the offensive line. People like me can knock Speight all we want, and even if his culpability is closer to my hot take than those with cooler heads, at the end of the day, there's only so much he can do when the OL is a sieve. My biggest worry is that, if the OL doesn't improve fast, Speight is going to regress into Poor Damn Devin Gardner mode. In fact, my new wild conspiracy theory is that Speight's seeming regression is stemming from practice, where he has to go against our terrifying defensive line with only this year's OL sieve, which is creating and worsening this PDDG process. Hopefully it isn't affecting the progression of Peters, either.
IMO, most deficiencies in play calling ultimately comes down to the OL. What are the coaches supposed to call if the OL can't execute basic rush blocking schemes in the redzone? What are the coaches supposed to call if the OL can't block when they have more blockers than pass rushers? We all want to see more TE routes, but Air Force was getting pressure while leaving a guy dedicated to any TE leaks. One thing of note, I don't think TE or RB screens would have worked in this game, since Air Force got pressure while still leaving 1-2 guys spying the backfield on each play. I do hope to see some quicker passes moving forward. With Black gone for at least 6-8 weeks, I'm expecting to see Perry become a stronger and stronger safety blanket. He reminds me of Gallon. The guy gets open on almost every play.
All this being said, I'm pretty torn on whether or not I believe we're holding back the playbook. Maybe those easy short throw dunkers are coming. It's hard for me to believe that Perry doesn't understand the playbook enough to feature him in those plays. But it's also very easy to believe that our OL and other young receivers are struggling so much executing the basic plays we called in this game for us to move forward with other plays. We shall see in the coming weeks.
First, a quick film session: these are two plays that should have been either a TD or long gain.
#1. Failed McDoom sweep. Watching live, I rolled my eyes at the play call for being too predictable. On a rewatch, this was a perfect play call and is an easy TD if Bunting correctly IDs his assignment.
From the snap, it's clear that there are only 3 defenders that have any leverage to make a tackle on a sweep. I can't read their numbers but they are the corner and the two DBs at the far left on the screen. And Lo, we have 3 blockers to neutralize them all: Cole, Bunting, and Mckeon.
Unfortunately, Bunting fails to ID his assignment and doubles the corner with Mckeon, leaving Cole in no-man's land to decide between taking Bunting's man or getting upfield to get to his own assignment.
Cole doesn't really have any chance at getting to Bunting's assignment, so he goes towards his man. Bunting comes off his first erroneous block, and is still in position to at least bother his man. Unfortunately, he makes a second mistake by choosin instead to go towards Cole's blocking assignment.
And the play is doomed.
This is almost assuredly a TD if Bunting correctly IDs his blocking assignment. Perfect play call to neutralize the Air Force blitz. Unfortunately, a mental error ruins it.
#2: Crawford/Perry Hi-Lo that Speight fails to read.
Pre-snap, Air Force shows a blitz from the corner covering Perry. The safety responsible for Perry is 12 yards away.
Air Force DBs are in man coverage, with a corner + LB blitz and 2 LBs dropping into zone coverage. Michigan is running a Hi-Lo on the left side, with Crawford running a fly route and Perry an out. There is only 1 corner in the area, with the safety, again, 12 yards away.
The LB fails to drop deep enough in his zone to cover the area vacated by the blitzing corner (-1 for McCray). This leaves Speight with a simple read on the corner covering Crawford. If the corner bites on the short route to Perry, he throws to Crawford. The safety is too far away to make a play on the long pass, especially considering his eyes are on Perry. If the corner sticks with Crawford (which I'm almost 100% does on this play), you throw to Perry, who breaks open with at least 6 yards of separation. This is 11 yards in the air and likely goes for more after the catch.
Instead, Speight chooses against this read in favor of going towards DPJ's drag over the middle. It is possible that this was the designed play, as there doesn't appear to be anybody over the middle to cover him if he can beat his corner. However, he is bracketed by the two LBs that dropped into zone coverage, and the passing window is not open.
Speight misses his window of opportunity, and is forced to scramble. He then fails to throw OOB and scrambles for a loss of 4 that is luckily only marked for a loss of 1. This could have been important for the FG attempt, considering he loses an additional chunk of yards on his sack + fumble the next play.
This is another great play call that gives Speight a quick and easy read and results in a wide open receiver. Speight fails to make the read, and Michigan misses out on another potential TD.
Onto the play-by-play.
Redzone #1 (11:40 in the 1st quarter)
1st & 10 @ the 18: Air Force only rushes 4—and never shows blitz—but we leave Gentry and Isaac in for pass pro (woof). Protection is thankfully great given it’s 7v4. Perry runs a great sloping out route that shreds their zone D, gets open by a couple steps, but Speight misses the somewhat lengthy throw wide. This is a relatively tough throw, but Speight completes the same pass under extreme duress in the second half, so he is more than capable of making it. FWIW, there is an easier pass open over the middle of the field.
-1 Speight: missed throw
Play calling: +1. We have two receivers open on this play despite only running 3 routes and Air Force only rushing 4.
2nd & 10 @ the 18: Air Force has 7 in the box, we have 6 blockers. Shotgun inside hand-off to Higdon, Mckeon pulls to block inside (which looks by design), leaving an unblocked edge DE who makes the tackle after a 1-yard gain.
-1 Speight/press box: needed to audible out of that run call
Play calling: -1. See above.
3rd & 9 @ the 17: We have 5 wide w/ 5 blockers. Air Force shows 6 rushers but drops the D tackle and one LB into underneath coverage after only mini rushes. This leaves Bredneson blocking air as the edge LB gets a free rush onto Speight from the blind side, hitting Speight as he throws. Speight misses a pretty well-covered Perry too high by a half-foot on a go route in the end zone.
-1 OL: blitz pick-up
Play calling: Push. There aren't a lot of good options to go to on 3rd & long, and if Speight has more time to make a better pass, I think Perry can make that catch despite the good coverage. But it would have been nice to see a play that gets quicker/easier separation for the receivers.
Air Force won the RPS battle on each play, and shredded our OL on 2/3 plays. The first down route by Perry was still excellent and Speight flat missed him, which was a total drive-changer. The second down play was never going to work because it left DE unblocked, which was clear before the snap, so either Speight or the press-box needed to audible there. The third down play call was fine—if Speight has more time to throw that ball better, I think Perry can make that catch even though it was covered well. Air Force just had a great disguised blitz called and our OL didn’t pick it up.
Redzone #2 (12:40 in the 2st quarter)
1st & goal @ the 9: Air Force has 7 in the box. We run-fake out of the gun to Higdon and leave in Gentry and Higdon to block. Air Force brings only 6 (but has 1 LB taken out by play fake/covering Higdon). However, Ulizio and Gentry both block the DE, leaving an unblocked rusher who gets into Speight’s face in a hurry, as the play-fake has taken Higdon to the opposite side of the line. Speight sails a fade to totally covered Crawford out the back of the endzone, which is understandable considering he's got a free rusher right in his face.
OL: -1 blitz pick-up
Play calling: +1. Can't fault the play call for giving up pressure given there are more blockers than pass rushers. If Speight is given time to make a progression, he has Tarik Black 1-on-1 on the opposite side of the field, who gained inside leverage on a slant route.
2nd & goal @ the 9: McDoom sweep that gets blown up for no gain. This should have been a TD. We have 3 blockers for the 3 edge Air Force defenders who can possibly make this tackle. Bunting completely blows it here by not identifying who he is supposed to block as he inexplicably doubles the corner that McKeon is easily blocking, leaving Cole in no-man’s land to either fight a losing battle to block Bunting’s LB or get out to the safety. Cole chooses the safety (still not his fault, he couldn’t have made the block), leaving the LB free to get the stop for no gain. Very frustrating.
OL: -1 for Bunting run block
Play calling: +1. This was an excellent RPS and perfect call against the Air Force blitz. We just failed to execute
3rd & goal @ the 9: Michigan is in the gun with Isaac. Air Force initially shows 5 rushers but then brings the corner and LB from the strong side late, dropping the weakside LB into coverage to make it 6v6. But our OL gets absolutely crushed. Cole blocks nobody as he was expecting the weakside LB blitz. Onwenu can’t decide which of 3 rushers to block and ultimately doesn’t block anyone. Speight does an incredible job of rolling out and getting free. He then looks like he's going to tuck and run, but at the last second can't decide between that or throwing to Crawford. Neither decision is likely to get into the endzone, but running would have made us a lot closer.
Speight: +1 for roll out, -0.5 for run/pass indecision
OL: -1 blitz pick-up
Play calling: +1. This call gets Perry wide open on a corner route that will be a TD if the OL gives Speight any time to throw.
Each of these plays could have been TDs if our blocking executes. On the first, Speight doesn't have time to make a more accurate throw to Crawford or progress on his read to see Black getting separation inside. On the second, Bunting makes a terrible mental mistake and misses his blocking assignment, turning a probably TD into no gain. On the third, Perry gets open in a hurry but the OL fails to give Speight even a fraction of second before the blitz hits home.
On both pass plays, the Air Force blitzes were as impressively designed as the blocking was atrocious. Still, the TDs were there for the taking.
Not technically redzone but close enough #3 (2:12 in the 2nd quarter)
1st & 10 @ the 24: This is the play diagrammed above.
Speight: -1 missed read
OL: +1 pass protection
Play call: +1. This is a very simple read that RPS's the corner blitz perfectly.
14 11 @ the 25: Pass out of the gun as we leave Eubanks and Isaac in again for pass pro. Air Force threatens 7 but only sends 6 (with one guy neutralized b/c he’s playing man on Isaac who doesn’t run a route), so it’s 6v7. Ulizio doesn’t identify whom to block and misses his blitzing LB assignment. The LB has a free run at Speight for the sack. Speight doesn’t have time for for the play to develop, which showed promise, as Crawford was breaking free down the middle for a solid chunk play, and Perry also looked like he was again going to get open. As Speight is getting sacked, he makes the most inexcusable decision of the game of trying to throw it away while going to the ground. His arm hits Ulizio as he’s doing this and he fumbles. The ball miraculously falls in front of Eubanks who makes a heady play to snag it, but after losing 3 additional yards.
OL: -1 blitz pick-up
Speight: -1 terrible fumble
Play call: +1. Perry looks like he's going to get open again if the OL does their job
3rd & 21 @ the 35: Isaac draw play for 4 yards to make the FG easier. Hard to fault the play call given the poor play from the OL and Speight up to that point. Also lucky for Ace that the ref missed those 3 yards from Speight’s scramble to make it a 49 yarder rather than 52 yarder (because we all know MVP Wild Thin’ Quinn Nordin woulda knocked that baby in from 60.)
Play call: +1. Needed to gain a couple sure yards to make the FG more manageable.
Speight made his first bonafide bad passing read, failing to pull the trigger to a wide-open Perry for a bare minimum 11 yarder that easily could have scored. He followed that up with his worst basic mental error by not taking the sack and almost costing us 3 points. Pass pro finally picked up a disguised blitz, only to follow it up with the worst blow of the game on a 6v7 rush as Ulizio failed to identiy his assignment.
Redzone #4 (5:15 in the 3rd quarter)
1st & 10 @ the 21: Speight makes a crazy impressive throw. Another play where we keep in the TE (Mckeon) and RB (Higdon) for pass pro. Air Force brings the house and its 7v7 for the first time. But Ulizio and Mckeon block the same guy so Air Force has an extra rusher. Luckily, the pass pro is otherwise solid, so the free rusher takes quite some time to get there. This gives Perry enough time to do his thing, getting open on a slow developing out route. Speight does a great job to stay in the pocket (especially given the pressure he’s previously faced), and makes a crazy throw that I don’t really understand the physics (looks like he throws sideways) that hits Perry in stride for 13 yards. Really amazing throw.
Speight: +3. Amazing throw.
OL: -0.5 for leaving free rusher but still gives exactly enough time for Speight to make the throw
Play-calling: Push. This was a very slow developing pass, which doesn’t really make sense given the pressure that was getting there all day. I guess they were betting on their OL to do its job for the first time, which is either stubbornness or luckiness depending on the shade of your glasses. IMO, it isn’t a great adjustment from the first half, but it worked, so que sera, sera.
1st & goal @ the 8: We have 3 TEs and a FB in for the first rush on first down from the redzone. I think the trio of TEs are Gentry on the rush side and Bunting + Mckeon on the weakside (but can’t really see clearly). Tl;dr, the blocking on this was bad, but I’ll wait for Brian to tell me who to blame. This is a stretch play with Higdon. My take: the inside TE (either Bunting or Mckeon) on the weakside misses his block, Ulizio misses his, and Onwenu and Krugler and up both slip upfield to block the same LB. Overall, not good, Bob. Higdon gets stuffed for a half-yard gain.
OL: -1 run blocking
Play calling: +1. Have to expect your OL to be able to block this basic play.
2nd & goal @ the 7.5: This was a fantastic play call by the Air Force D. They have 6 in the box and show all as blitzing. This is the first time nobody actually blitzes. Michigan keeps the TE and RB in the backfield once again for pass pro, leaving us at 7v4. Air Force +++. We make a play call that expects the blitz, a short flat route to Perry that still requires a relatively impressive play from the Air Force corner to stuff for no gain.
Speight: Push. This was a designed play and there’s nothing else there.
OL: Push. At least they didn’t get beat on 7v4.
Play calling: Push. Air Force just made a better call on this play. This play call made sense, but, as Harbaugh said in the presser, Air Force guessed right that it was coming. I think he was really referring on the second half play calls by Air Force, and this one especially.
3rd & goal @ the 8: The Isaac draw play. This play was never going to work and, like in the first half run, either Speight or the booth failed for not changing it based on the pre-snap blitz. We had 5 blockers for 7 rushers, that was never never never going to work.
Speight: -1 for not calling an audible.
OL: Push. Put in a position to fail.
Play calling: -1 for not calling an audible or time out. This was never going to work.
Speight made the best throw from the redzone(-ish) area and then the play calling was outdone by Air Force. The 3rd & goal play call was the only inexcusable one. The others were just failed execution and/or Air Force making the right call.
Not technically yet the Redzone #5 (00:37 in the 3rd quarter)
1st & 10 @ the 29: Corner is giving Black 6 yards of cushion and Speight zings it over for an easy 8 yards.
Speight: Good throw.
Play calling: +1. This was frustrating to watch live because it seemed like it was begging to be called earlier in the game. But, better late than never.
2nd & 3 @ the 21.5: Sweep play to Higdon. Onwenu pulls and blocks nobody until going to the second level. Higdon does a good job to battle for 2 yards and the refs reward him with an extra yard on the marking to give us the first down.
OL: -1 on Onwenu blocking air.
RB: Higdon +1 for grinding out yards.
Refs: +1 for extra yard given.
Play calling: +1. The call made sense. Again, it wasn’t executed well.
1st @ 10 @ the 19: Air Force has 7 in the box and brings an 8th prior to the snap. Michigan leaves the TE and RB in once again, this time on a play fake. Air Force only brings 5 but is still confusingly leaving 2 players to spy the TE and RB, neutralizing them on the play. The OL does serviceable in a 7v5 situation, but there is some push up the middle, which seemingly spooks Speight. Speight lets it go half a second too early and throws off his back foot, even though he does have room to step into the throw. This causes the throw to go a step past McDoom, who breaks free in the endzone at the last second on a solid post route.
Speight: -1. He has a Poor Damn Devin Gardner moment and gets spooked by the pass rush despite adequate protection, and releases the ball a second too early + off his back foot, failing to give McDoom a chance on the ball.
OL: -0.25 for ceding too a little too much ground given the 7v5 blocking advantage. Still did enough to get the job done.
Play calling: Push. Again, hard to say this slow developing play makes 100% sense given the OL struggles. Would have liked to see a quicker pass. But, the play succeeded to get a player open as called, the OL did hold up enough, Speight just didn’t deliver.
2nd & 10 @ the 19: Counter run play that fails miserably. Again, I’m not too great at understanding run blocking schemes, but Gentry blocks air, which gets a Not Good, Bob. Onwenu releases to the second level to block an LB, which leaves Ulizio in a tough position to make a block on the DE who already has inside leverage. Ulizio cannot make the block, and the DE swallows Higdon for no gain.
OL: -2 for Gentry blocking air and the right side doing inexperienced right side things.
Play calling: I mean, what are they supposed to do when the OL can’t pass protect or run block?
3rd & 10 @ the 19: Michigan again keeps the TE and RB in for pass protection. Air Force brings 6 and it’s 7v6. Pass protection holds up. Routes are a fly by Crawford, an in by Perry, and a hitch by DPJ. Perry is bracketed and not open for the first time all day, DPJ’s hitch would take a perfectly timed pass and could easily be intercepted if thrown, and Speight goes with the what looks like the primary read which is Crawford’s fly route. This is a very low percentage throw and very difficult pass. Speight doesn’t keep it in bounds to give Crawford a chance.
Speight: -0.25 for not keeping the ball in bounds. But, this is a very low probability play anyways.
OL: +1 for solid blitz pick up.
Play calling: -1. Not a lot of good options on 3rd and long when the OL hasn’t been great at pass blocking. An incredibly tough fly fade is not a good option.
An offense isn’t going to do well in the redzone when it can’t run block down there. Speight throwing off his back foot to miss a TD doesn’t put warm, fuzzy feelings in your belly, but by that point, the pass protection had to be giving him a little bit of Devin Gardner syndrome. Otherwise, uninspiring play calls.