Dear Diary is in the Zone Comment Count

Seth January 10th, 2014 at 10:51 AM


So we've got ourselves a new offensive coordinator. I guess there's no use hiding that I'm on the more ambivalent end of the spectrum of Michigan fans, but I'm a spread zealot, and I admit another gorram transition is just too painful a prospect right this moment. At the very least it was the kind of PR coup that resets the countdown clock on Hoke's tenure. These days you only get to play the "it was my offensive coordinator's fault" card once per Rose Bowl trip, but this was the right time to do so. I'm probably just a cynic who's been sold a bill of Mariucci over Mornhinwheg to believe in any apparent upgrade. Let's see if the readers can convince me otherwise.

Eye of the TIger tried. He found some quotes by an ex-Bama player on how Inside Zone is repped to insanity, which can be taken as evidence of philosophical thinking, or taken as the zone version of Hoke's "Power" philosophy which admittedly never materialized under Borges anyway.

AP All America Team Football
The thing about Barrett Jones is you don't have to make tough decisions about what your OL can and can't do.

Tiger pointed out that Alabama's riches in offensive lineman size allowed them to depart from the typical suite of complementary plays and players that limits you to. It's supposed to be this:

Inside Zone has another advantage--flexibility:

The majority of the time in a zone blocking scheme the tailback will follow the design of the play, but occasionally the tailback will perform a cutback and change direction during the run.  A cutback is when the tailback changes direction and runs away from where the linebackers are flowing (the tailback can only do this once and must not hesitate). This cutback made by the tailback is what makes zone blocking so dangerous because of how easily a cutback can lead to a big play.  The cutback exaggerates the advantages of the zone-blocking scheme.

Watch this video highlighting Texas’ use of Inside Zone to see this point illustrated nicely, not only for cutbacks, but for alternate read options.

Major advantages: You can run an offense with less experienced OL and opens up a bigger growth curve for RBs, who become more effective the more comfortable they get at reading the holes and cutback lanes.

Major disadvantage: It's way harder to run play-action from a zone running look. Reason is nothing gets defenders thinking run like a good running MANBALL (or inverted veer) team pulling a guard. Second reason is the small, cut-rate scatbacks that zone lets you get away with don't typically make very good pass blockers. I probably don't have to tell this to 2013 Michigan fans.

At Alabama they overcame the disadvantage by having massive/quick OL who are naturally difficult obstacles to a pass rusher, and with 5-star running backs who can cut, block, slam, juke, and jet, all for three easy payments of $3,995.95, plus shipping and handler's fee (order now and we'll throw in a free safety). At Michigan, well, actually, we've got just those kinds of guys on campus now. Maybe?

Also there's this:

And here I am a quarter way through UFRing an Alabama game. Anyone got Washington tapes?

P.S. I purposely stayed vague on the Song of Ice and Fire references; you're not off the hook from a season recap.

Etc. A CoFoPoff refresher, Hockey poll update (Michigan is 8th), more on Mary Sue Coleman's heir (I vote Ken Whisenhunt for all openings).

[After the jump: the board goes Borges for Nuss]

Best of the Board



Gee board, did anything happen this week? Cherrypicking reacts:

Thanks Borges. This currently stands at 142 upvotes to 3 down. His offense sucked, sure, but I don't think it's palpy to acknowledge he was a good guy

Did Brandon force this on Hoke? Maybe? Source check all came back "this was Hoke's doing":

If it was Dave's call, well, that's the kind of macro decision for the program he's supposed to be making. If it was Hoke's then good for him. It's irrelevant since if Nuss needs to be fired in three years you have to guess Brady doesn't survive either.

Nussmeier recruit shopping list, i.e. recruits he was lead on for Bama. Also irrelevant since I expect the recruits signed knowing that Nuss was leaving, and Michigan and Bama have very different approaches to recruiting.

Does this help the OL and RBs? The offensive line definitely. They're a young group and Nussmeier's zone preference and history both suggest competence at getting sophomore OL to functionality pretty quickly. His specialty is really quarterbacks—Shane Morris expectations might have gone up a notch. I think it hurts the current RBs, honestly, since they're going to have to learn zone running. Green was brought in to be a MANBALL hammer; Brandon Minor went through this and turned out alright. DeVeon Smith's adaptation will probably remind you of Hart in 2007 (look at him cut!) versus Hart in 2006 (look at him churn!), except Hart was injured so much of 2007 it's hard to get a handle on that except that there's an early season transition cost.

Actually it probably helps Justice Hayes and…wait do you think he might use Norfleet?

Dee Hart Rushing
Season Att Yards Avg TD Att/G
2013 22 78 3.55 1 2.44
2012 21 88 4.19 0 4.2
Dennis Norfleet Rushing
Season Att Yards Avg TD Att/G
2013 4 53 13.25 0 0.31
2012 2 13 6.5 0 0.15



If somebody has this and can put it on YouTube you would be a hero.

Yo_Blue snuck this onto the board last weekend:

I have a hundred or so Michigan Football and basketball VHS tapes that my dad made beginning in 1985 or so.  I can no longer house them (according to my wife).  Against her wishes, I would like to donate them to someone who may enjoy seeing "the good ol' days" once more.  She would like them donated to the landfill just west of town.  I feel like that would be a travesty.

…before I could leap in with YES YES A THOUSAND TIMES PLEASE! Which probably would have created the same situation for me that he's in. Alas a victor was chosen and now we can just hope he will share a la Wolverine Historian.

I should mention that Bentley has a collection of games going back to the '50s that they're talking about putting online for public viewing.

The preferred donation to add Petoskey Stone Polishing to your wood bling is $300. You ARE a real Michiganian are you not?


By which I mean they're demanding spouses all join the Alumni Association as well or be left at home. I don't think they understand that some of us have Spartan wives who are very sensitive to being treated like second class citizens and have no wish to associate themselves with Michigan.

So that killed that.


I am probably more frustrated with people who keep misunderstanding the "2013 must die" meme than is reasonable. I should probably drop it and just exile the board posts that continue to flub its meaning. Like this one:

I will start this off by saying I am a little perplexed with why 2013 is looked at as such a failure. I have read all the reasons, but personally I feel there was a lot of good, a lot of heartbreak, and a lot of bad; nothing worse than other years as a whole except many people lost faith in Michigan's main sport that we thought was turning around.

I am susceptible to coming off like a dick when responding to things like this. I know that. It's like getting mad at my brother that he doesn't agree that Shrek saying to donkey "You're going the right way for a smart bottom" is a Shakespeare joke.

Just drop it, Seth.

But maybe they'll all understand if I just…


Okay. But can I make an analogy?

Is making an analogy akin to dropping it?

All I'm saying is that 2013 is like the Ohio State game, which wasn't at all a waste of time, but also turned out to be a setup for the most Borges playcall ever and a broken foot for Gardner. So it was worth the price of admission, but also depressing and I'm glad it's over. That is all I'm saying.

That is all you're saying.


Wanna see something that'll take away all of that cynicism?


It's just a basketball commit making a 3-pointer.

That is going to take away my cynicism?

Your Moment of Zen:

Bonus: Austin's teammate executing a Bartelstein leap in front of the camera right as ball's going to him.


Wolverine 73

January 10th, 2014 at 11:19 AM ^

suggests reason to be optimistic.  Just looking at what Alabama did and assuming he will do that at Michigan is not reasonable.  He also had success running offenses when he did not have the 'Bama OL to run behind, and where he used a more wide-open approach.  He seems to have modified his approach based on the abilities of the players he has.  That is what we need, flexibility and not stubborness.  I think there is a very good chance he brings that to the program.


January 10th, 2014 at 11:53 AM ^

way:  If he was our OC this past season, I'm guessing we would have won 3, maybe 4 more games, just based on play calling, but then again, I could say that about a number of other OC's.  This is a great hire and I think he will be happy to have complete control of the offense which I'm sure was not the case at AL.  Also, his HC potential will be on display to a great degree.  I expect we will worry about keeping him in a couple years.


January 10th, 2014 at 11:28 AM ^

whether Saban in fact told Nussmeier to look for a job? it seems to me to be sour grapes from Alabama. Also, the fact that Michigan double his salary seems to dispel this nonsense.

Everyone Murders

January 10th, 2014 at 12:17 PM ^

The key difference here is that Nussmeier had many potential landing spots if he was feeling disrespected or squeezed out.  While I suspect Borges will find another job, he was not exactly in a position to say "take this job and shove it, I'm out" and going and getting himself a 40% raise in the process.  Any lateral move Borges made in a fit of pique would have been for less money.

(Yeah, I know that your post was likely  tongue-in-cheek.)


January 10th, 2014 at 11:41 AM ^

It's board chatter that's been going on since the middle of the season. There's also a plausibility check: do you really think Michigan swoops in and offers a guy working for Saban a "better offer" to move laterally? Coordinator positions at Alabama are a step away from BCS head coaching jobs.

Now, the REASON Nussmeier didn't fit with Alabama's staff may not be bad news for Michigan: philosophical differences. I'd like to think Doug was voicing displeasure at the unethical practices that characterize Bama's program. But eminently more likely it's that Saban has outdated and strict guidelines for the kind of offense he wants to run, and that conflicted with Nussmeier's preference for doing what will score the most points. And given the kind of offense we had in 2013 and the mix-matched talent at Michigan he's taking over, that could be very good news indeed. The upside for 2014 is 2005 Texas (stellar defense, super-athletic quarterback goes ham), and it's more believable that Nussmeier than Borges is the kind of guy who could make that a realization.


January 10th, 2014 at 12:09 PM ^

why some think this is a lateral move or a downgrade.  Sure, AL & MI are not on the same level win-wise recently, but at AL, Nuss worked for an egomaniac micromanager.  At MI, he has complete control of the offense where he gets to showcase his talent and develop some of the best young players, at least in the conference.  Long range, this is an upgrade.

The FannMan

January 10th, 2014 at 12:34 PM ^

Doesn't the likelihood that Saban had strict rules address, in part, your concern about how the inside zone play at he ran at Bama will work here? Let's suppose that Nuss had ideological differences with Saban.  Then maybe Nuss was up in the booth hating that all he could do was run inside zone?

It may also be that he just ran what worked at Alabama - which was an inside zone scheme that his backs could exploit for bountiful tracks o'land whenever they wanted  Since he ran a different offense at Washington, he may just have been designing an offense around the team he had versus making the team he had run an offense he designed.

Finally, and I do not at all mean to tell you how to feel since they are your feelings and all, but c'mong man be happy!  The OC who gave us negative rushing is gone, and we replaced him with a dude who won National Titles, played in the NFL and is really good at developing young QBs into NFL-worthy throw-gods.  This is a good thing!  

Space Coyote

January 10th, 2014 at 1:33 PM ^

And implemented pro-style schemes within his hybrid offense at Washington. Nuss's preferred offense is probably more of a zone blocking USC type offense than what he showed at Bama, but Alabama's offense did open up quite a bit this year as well and was in many ways similar to USC offenses of the past.

The FannMan

January 10th, 2014 at 2:46 PM ^

I was just trying to make the point that we shouldn't assume that what he did at Alabama will be exactly what he will do here and worry about wether it will work or not.  My reasons for this are 1) what he did at Bama had to go through Saban and 2) he seems able to adjust to what he has.

I also had this image of a sad Seth on a day when the rest of us are pretty happy.  That made me feel bad.

Eye of the Tiger

January 10th, 2014 at 1:13 PM ^

...for someone who does not live in Alabama and does not care what happens to the Crimson Tide, but I can't get enough of the accents and it's actually a pretty informative show.

Anyways, the reason I bring this up is that the show gives the impression that the "underlying cause" for the split is Saban's belief that Alabama should challenge for an NC every single year, and his sense that Alabama's offense wasn't as overwhelingly dominant in 2013 as he thought it should be. That it was comparable more dominant than in 2011, when they won an NC and with 3 new starting OL, as well as new TE and RB, doesn't seem to factor into the equation here.

This might be apocryphal, but the whole Lane Kiffin consulting thing makes a lot more sense in that context.

...the second part of the theory is that the resultant Kiffin event served as the "proximate cause," the feeling of being undermined that potentially explains why Nussmeier was keen on leaving Tuscaloosa--even for another OC gig.

There are, of course, alternate theories: Saban micromanaging the offense throughout Nussmeier's tenure, Michigan paying more money, the desire for a new challenge, the hope that he might improve his stock for an HC position, etc.

...but this one has the ring of truth for me.

Space Coyote

January 10th, 2014 at 1:30 PM ^

I don't think anything about Saban should be considered "outdated". Saban has a vision for his program, is very strict about that vision, and has been successful utilizing that philosophy. It's not that Saban demands his OC to not score points, he just doesn't want to always run an up-tempo offense and he thinks defense and teaching first and foremost, and arguments/methods counter to that, he hates. Alabama ran some tempo. They took plenty of deep shots. They liked to score as efficiently as possible. It's just not an uptempo spread.

Now, I will say that I have heard many stories second hand from people that have worked directly with Saban. If you're on his good side, he's a pain in the ass to work with. If you're on his bad side he's down right hell to work with. Saban is very hard to work with because of his extremely high demands and his very precise vision for what he wants.

It's more likely that Nuss liked the idea of the freedom that Hoke provides him (essentially being an associate HC on the offensive side and not being micromanaged and potentially undermined), the huge raise he got, and if he's successful at this stop, the financial and program benefits he'll have when he moves on to head coaching.


January 10th, 2014 at 3:43 PM ^

I have every Michigan Replay show starting with the 1979 season for about 20 years, mostly commercial free, on VHS. Also have most all the MSU< OSU< ND< Bowl games during that period. I mentioned this to Magnus a couple of years ago and didn't get a response, so make me an offer I can't refuse.

The Old QB

Ron Utah

January 10th, 2014 at 11:57 AM ^

There is some good stuff here and here.

What you'll see is a very multiple offense, with lots of WR screens, zone, and some pulling guards.  He uses pick routes, jet action, and empties the backfield.  RBs are much more utilized the passing game than with Borges.  He spreads the receptions around to everyone.

Ron Utah

January 10th, 2014 at 12:38 PM ^

As you watch this tape, keep in mind that the LT is a Sr and the C is a junior, but the LG is a RSFr, and the RG and RT are true sophomores.

The QB is a RS sophomore in his first year as a starter.

Also remember it's the third year in the system.

More extended highlight reel here and here.

Zone Left

January 10th, 2014 at 12:01 PM ^

Let's not compare Dee Hart's stats against Norfleet's stats. Remember, Alabama had a very viable run game this season, with Yeldon averaging 6.0 per carry, Kenyon Drake averaging 7.5, and that's not counting the Derrick Henry Robocop serial killer monster guy.

If Michigan got to, say, 80% of 6.0 per carry this past season (4.8), we probably win 11 games and Borges is a hero. I think the caliber of talent Michigan is recruiting should be able to get 80% of Alabama's main back production pretty consistently--especially given that our schedule is a little lighter.


January 10th, 2014 at 12:22 PM ^

Thank you for the Austin Hatch 3 pointer video.  The way the entire gym went nuts for him when he buried that 3 put tears in my eyes.  I don't know why... I am not connected to Hatch in any way except the University of Michigan.  Maybe because I have a son.  Don't know, who cares... awesome video.

Eye of the Tiger

January 10th, 2014 at 1:00 PM ^

Nice writeup of the diary, Seth--thank you!

But I think zone blocking is potentially worse for play-action in another respect: many zone blocking schemes (especially those run from the spread and pro-style variants that stress Outside over Inside Zone) prefer leaner more athletic OL over the big bruisers. These kinds of OL don't function as well (for the most part) in protection for long-developing pass plays. But as Space Coyote pointed out in the comments on my diary, that's not the case for Inside Zone focused teams like Alabama and Wisconsin.

And against both these teams, whose bread-and-butter is to punch you repeatedly in the face with Inside Zone (recall our collective PTSD after the 2010 Wisconsin game), defenses have to expect run on every single play. It's not hard to sell playaction if you can do that.

Of course, it's much harder to do that if you can't run consistently :P

...and this is one of the maddening things about Borges 2013: we couldn't not credibly sell the run, yet we kept going back to playaction as if we could.

While it's not reasonable to expect Michigan 2014 to run like Alabama 2013 (or Wisconsin 2013), it is reasonable to expect Michigan 2014 (under a simpler blocking scheme combined with more efficient drilling, featuring a more experienced/better conditioned interior OL and utilizing misdirection and passing constraints) to match or surpass the run game of other zone blocking teams in the Big 10.

Say Iowa 2013. Iowa was ranked #50 in total rushing offense (179.9 YPG, for 4.2 YPC) and was  #30 in TFLs.  = Not elite, but solid.  

Michigan 2013, by contrast, was ranked #102 in total rushing offense (125.7 YPG and 3.58 YPC) and #91 in TFLs. = Basement.

[stats from:]

Now, keep in mind that's not adjusted for sacks. But still...I can only imagine how different our season is if half those 3rd and 8-12s are 3rd and 2-6s, and if playaction actually came off a credible fake.



January 10th, 2014 at 2:48 PM ^

the reason for Nuss' departure with Alabama, could also be due to the fact that Saban wanted a scapegoat similar to Michigan and has the chance to nab Kiffin in the process which generally would be considered an upgrade from Nuss.  If you look at Kiffins record as an OC at USC its pretty impressive actually.  Plus he was considered a primo recruiter and would have connections to the California/west coast area.  Whats interesting is the fact that we would love to have had an 11-2 record while Alabama fans consider that a disappointing season.   Sad... 




January 10th, 2014 at 5:12 PM ^

Think of Glenn Mason's Minny teams running inside zone with Maroney, Barber, et al....

A lot of people called them power (because of the "physicalness"), but they were almost exclusively zone.


January 10th, 2014 at 9:56 PM ^

"It's way harder to run play-action from a zone running look. Reason is nothing gets defenders thinking run like a good running MANBALL (or inverted veer) team pulling a guard."

This is just not true at all. You must not have watched many Shanahan era Broncos games or Manning era Colts games. Manning ran playaction off their strech play just about every series.

I've also said this many times on this blog but I guess I will say it again. "MANBALL" can be zone. It can be a finese scheme as well. But there are plenty of examples of zone teams pounding the ball between the tackles in a manner that is just as physical as a power "gap" scheme team. More times than not a power running team uses both zone and gap schemes.