This would not go over well.
After the injury to Ryan Glasgow Michigan has struggled to stop zone running. Indiana and Penn State tore the defense to shreds on stretch or outside zone, until Penn State decided the thing that got them two huge gains in three attempts wasn't worth using again (please keep James Franklin forever kthx). I drew that up last week and found Michigan was still trying to defend runs by shooting the DL upfield and dominating one-on-one matchups up front, as opposed to soundly preventing guards from releasing onto the linebackers.
With Urban Meyer, one of a few true masters of modern running attacks, doing the planning for the Game, we knew Michigan's defensive coaches would have to pull something out of our butts to stop it. Here's what we found in our butts:
Michigan broke out a 3-3-5 defense with an "even" front. Offensive coaches have different names for fronts but the basics are:
- Under: NT on the center, shaded to strong. DT on a guard. (aka Weak, 50)
- Over: NT on the center, shaded to weak. DT on a guard. (aka Strong)
- Even: DL are lined up over guards, none over the center. (aka Split)
- Okie: Center is covered, guards are not. (aka 30)
- Bear: Center and guards all covered. (aka 46, Eagle, Double Eagle)
These can be split into "Odd" (under/over) and "Even" (Even, Okie, Bear). It is usual for just about any defense to come out in multiple fronts over the course of a game, though Bear and Okie are more rare than the other three.
Anyway that's what that means. By putting guys over the guards it makes it tougher for them to release to the next level. Michigan State used to love their even fronts back when Bullough was their best run defender, and that tells you something about the design of this defense. Tweaking your defense is about making life hard on your better players so things are easier for the rest of your players. "Even" makes life hard on the MLB, since that center is getting a free release unto him.
There's nothing 100% unsound about this defense. Depending on the offense's play, one LB is likely to get a center on him but the other is often a free hitter. If your LB eating the block is good at beating those consistently, or your free hitter is a ninja who sniffs out the play and attacks ferociously, or your unblocked guy is coached to play aggressively against an option you can defeat a basic run play regularly.
[After the JUMP, we totally can't]
What did Ohio State do to us?
It was not always the case, but due to the covered guy, Michigan has numbers here, with Gedeon the 8th man in the box:
Ohio State's play is a Midline Zone Read, a play that Smart Football drew up as a scrape exchange beater (and which starts with a photo of RR-era Denard because of course it would). One of the read-option's curveball plays, the midline play reads a DT instead of the EMLOS; in this case it's going to be Taco Charlton, who's lined up as a 5-tech.
blue reads blue
I know, I know, an SDE isn't a DT. Except this play has an unbalanced formation (the TE is covered), which shifts the apparent front. They made this extra difficult by tempo'ing into it; Michigan did realize the TE isn't eligible before the snap but they haven't adjusted their gaps, as Taco Charlton and Ben Gedeon would wind up standing over the same hole.
Michigan's alignment has thrown off the usual blocking assignments; the RG will have to cross most of Henry to get his release while the RT could lose this whole play if Henry gets upfield and can't get shoved or cut.
The tradeoff is easier frontside blocks; the linemen step down, not sideways, off the snap, selling inside zone before sealing the next guy over.
By design, Michigan's DL are supposed to be preventing the guards from releasing. Wormley is into his guy, but the free releasing center (red circle below) isn't heading for the second level; he's about to seal Wormley:
Moving up the line, Henry didn't even delay Elflein's release, a matter of Elflein being very nimble, and Michigan's aggressive scheme gambling that Henry can dominate a blocker set up so far inside of him.
Meanwhile on the backside:
On the backside, Taco Charlton is getting read. He forms up in the hole so it's a handoff. However Gedeon seems to be hanging outside for a keeper as well. WTF? Having Taco play to handoff here doesn't make sense to me. I don't know what the coaching point is, or if this exposed a weakness in what Michigan's defenders are supposed to do against a read option, or perhaps somebody didn't know his assignment after getting tempo'd and having to process the unbalanced formation. But Taco isn't crashing, and Gedeon is watching that same gap.
This brought Gedeon in for a round of Twitter clucking (including from people who thought he was Bolden) but that doesn't seem fair to me. Gedeon's basically playing free safety here since Delano Hill, who probably had that covered TE in man, is now just the edge defender. So if this is play-action and one of that bunch of receivers outside comes across the formation, Gedeon's depth will be crucial. I'm just saying if you've got 8 men in the box, CRASH ON THE GORRAM ZONE READ.*
(On the other hand Gedeon IS the eighth man in the box, and therefore once the handoff is made he should be reading the ballcarrier and attacking the gap.)
Since the handoff is made let's get back to the point of attack. Henry's burrowing into that guy's shoulder to maintain his B gap, and if he can drive that down the line he's got a shot to end this or at least delay the RB while his teammates rally. Instead Henry gives ground at the crucial second; there's a gap.
Again, you can let blockers get a free release if you can dominate your gap. Henry hasn't dominated that gap. He got shoved back a yard right when Elliott got the ball. Does he have his gap? Yes. Does this help much? No. If you give the guard his free release and fire into the tackle, a stalemate with that tackle is a net loss.
It's now down to three players: Desmond Morgan vs. Pat Elflein and Ezekiel Elliott. If Morgan can beat the block and make a tackle, which is super super hard, Michigan can live for another down.
Michigan still can't run a 3-3-5 correctly. When 3-3-5 or its cousin the 2-4-5 is used as a base defense, they make up for free releasing OL with blitzes from here, there, and everywhere. They're kind of the next iteration of zone blitz defenses, except every play is a zone blitz.
That's not what Michigan's doing here. Michigan's taking their regular 4-3 over front that survived on instant gap penetration and going extreme with smaller players. This worked at Florida because one of those guys was Dante Fowler. It worked at Michigan for a time because one of those guys was Ryan Glasgow.
Later Michigan would go full-GERG by lining Morgan up a yard from the line of scrimmage, giving him no time to set up his block. I have no idea why we did that then or now. Michigan State, who runs the most even fronts (from a normal 4-3) of teams I watch regularly, puts its MLBs about five yards off the line to read and react. They also blitz the A gaps a ton so offenses can't trust that space to be there.
Live, other than a 4th down play when they overloaded the wrong side, I don't remember the linebackers ever blitzing to punish Ohio State for running into those A gaps.
Just don't let guards loose unless the DL is rampant. I think Michigan would like to play that way, and going 3-3-5 seems like it was intended to ease the load on that interior rotation. This play could have been blown up if Wormley shot through his gap so the center couldn't seal without getting an illegal chop. Or it could have been blown up if Henry blew back the RT so much that Ellliott had to stop and reroute to get to Morgan's gap. Asking Michigan's DL to do that with consistency is a way to dominate if they can do that with consistency. But against an excellent offensive line like Ohio State's, they can't.
And they shouldn't have to.
Don't let that guard cross your face without at least a delay, and Morgan gets to be first to the hole. That's the point of the whole alignment.
Life is hard for the middle linebacker. Notice on this play Morgan almost made the play anyway by having a second to see his block, take it on, and try to form up. That's versus perhaps the best guard in the conference and certainly the best RB in the conference and doesn't go well, but it nearly did, because Morgan popped the guy.
When we get to late spring and you're hearing about how great (walk-on MLB) Dan Liesman is in practices, that's because Liesman can read a play and hit a guy, and that's how you can win the two-on-one matchup Morgan got against a lot of comers. However to play this defense consistently you're going to need an ELITE middle linebacker. And against a team as uniquely suited for running as this Ohio State, we probably needed a better plan.
*[Crashing Charlton here would be no guarantee since it puts Barrett in space against against a linebacker and, well, this was Ohio State's first touchdown: