Previously: Indiana Defense
I know yesterday's post was a little grim, so here's some uplifting news. Guess who Tom Allen hired to effectively replace Kevin Wilson as the man in charge of Indiana's offense? Surely an up-tempo spread guru, right? Someone who could keep the chaos alive, right? At least a creative young mind to continue giving the Hoosiers an edge against more talented teams, right?
Wrong. They hired Mike DeBord. Yes, the guy who called zone left on the first play of every damn game, eked out a half-decent offense at Michigan despite NFL talent everywhere, and was nearly involved in not one but two top-ten upset losses to Appalachian State. You know, the guy Tennessee cast off because he wasn't good enough to be on this year's coaching staff. That Mike DeBord.
For all of Michigan's issues, Indiana ranks seven spots behind them in the S&P+ offense rankings. While Indiana's defense is solid, Michigan's is a rampaging hellbeast. Even on the road, even after last week's sludgefart, even after losing their starting quarterback, Michigan should still have the edge in this game because the matchup on this side of the ball is going to skew heavily in their favor.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
While there are no changes to Michigan's side, there are a number of notes on Indiana's lineup. The Hoosiers finally decided to bench erratic quarterback Richard Lagow in favor of redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey last week after flipping between the two for four games. True freshman running back Morgan Ellison has taken command of an underwhelming backfield-by-committee situation even though glorified third-down back Mike Majette is still listed atop the depth chart. Wideout Donavan Hale, who's already replacing an injured player in Nick Westbrook, is questionable with an injury; if he can't go he'll be replaced by redshirt freshman Taysir Mack.
Right tackle Brandon Knight is back in the lineup; he entered the season at less than 100% and rested for last week's blowout of Charleston Southern. The right guard spot has flipped between Simon Stepaniak and Mackenzie Nworah and that situation is clearly unsettled; Delroy Baker, who'd rather ineffectively replaced Knight in the lineup early in the season, got snaps at both guard spots in addition to right tackle last week. There's also been rotation at center, where redshirt sophomore Hunter Littlejohn has ceded in-game snaps to true freshman Harry Crider, though he's yet to miss a start.
If you're getting the impression Indiana has had some offensive line problems, you're onto something.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Let's see if this is a spread...
...yup, can confirm.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? IU hasn't changed their zone-heavy approach from when Greg Frey was in charge of the linemen. They'll mix in the occasional power; they tried one or two against PSU, got stuffed, and shelved it.
Hurry it up or grind it out? I don't think I was alone in expecting IU to slow down from their ludicrous speed Wilson-led offenses. Instead, DeBord has kept up the tempo; the Hoosiers are fourth in adjusted tempo. In the Penn State game, the BTN had to cut multiple replays short and still missed the beginning of several plays.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): One major reason Ramsey has surpassed Lagow on the depth chart is he adds a running dimension his competitor completely lacks. Saquon Barkley housed the opening kickoff of this game and IU committed two first-quarter turnovers, so Penn State got out to a huge early lead (28-7) by the time Ramsey took over midway through the second quarter.
Despite the game situation, Indiana went from a pass-first offense to a more varied attack featuring Ramsey's legs on read options and QB draws. Ramsey is about as athletic as MSU's Brian Lewerke, though a little less shifty. He'll make you pay if you leave a lane open but he's not doing much more than heading straight upfield and sliding when defenders arrive. He gets a six.
Dangerman: While the numbers aren't spectacular, there's no question 6'4" wideout Simmie Cobbs Jr. is an NFL talent, as anyone who saw him in 2015 or this year's Ohio State game will attest. An ankle injury cost him all but one snap last year and he's been held back by the QBs (and the coaching downgrade) this year. He's still huge, fast, and tough to bring down after the catch:
He's got great hands, too—despite many wayward throws going in his direction, he's brought in 68.8% of his targets. He's the go-to guy in the passing game and the biggest threat to swing the game in a single play or two.
I was also impressed by tight end Ian Thomas, a redshirt junior who's solidified a TE position so weak last year that senior returning starter Danny Friend, listed at 260 pounds, was moved to offensive tackle over the offseason, the football equivalent of putting a player out to pasture. Thomas was one of IU's more effective run-blockers against PSU; he had one Wheatley-like block that caved in the backside of the line to open up a cutback on an inside zone, and they feature him as a blocker in frequently deployed split zone runs.
Thomas is also an excellent receiver. He's averaging 15.9 yards per reception while catching a shade under 70% of his targets. As those numbers indicate, he's much more than an underneath dumpoff option. He can work up the seam, and he can also haul in some really difficult catches:
<--------- Thomas was running this way and turned at full speed to catch this.
Thomas got leg-whipped in the knee against Penn State and sat out last week, but he's listed as probable for Saturday. If he's close to full speed, he's a major threat.
Zook Factor: Hi, I'm Mike DeBord. I actually called a run-pass option in this game. It worked!
I never called it again.
HenneChart: I stopped charting this game when Penn State took a 38-14 lead late in the third quarter and Indiana went into get-this-over-with mode, so there's limited data on Ramsey. The charts still give a clear picture why IU made the full-time switch. Here's the HenneChart for Richard Lagow:
|Penn State||2+||3 (2)||--||6xx||--||1||--||2||--||45%|
Lagow occasionally makes NFL-level throws; he also sometimes literally throws more inaccurate passes than accurate ones, as he did in this game. Multiple throws were so wayward that neither the receivers nor defensive backs in the area could make a play on them. That's especially bad coming from your team's pocket passing option. Ramsey, meanwhile, threw a terrible pick-six on a throw to the perimeter that was well-covered and left inside*, but otherwise at least gave his receivers a chance:
|Penn State||2||2 (2)||--||--||1x||--||2||--||1||65%|
The two throws batted at the line were on the offensive line, not Ramsey. The other major data points we have on him are a 16/20, 8.7 YPA performance against Virginia and last week's 32/41, 7.8 YPA outing against Charleston Southern. I'm not sure Lagow could hit those percentages in a skeleton drill, so even if he's taken advantage of some weaker defenses, Ramsey is an upgrade as both a passer and runner. Lagow's inaccuracy more than makes up for Ramsey's occasional freshman mistake.
[*Notably, this came against a heavy blitz. He can be shook into a turnover or two.]
I almost forgot to continue filling out this chart because it was so uniform:
When Lagow was at quarterback, IU's offense tended to go pass-pass-pass-out. With Ramsey, it was run-pass-pass-out, which felt like a marginal improvement.
Let's start with the big picture stuff. When Kevin Wilson was in charge, this offense was cohesive; plays built on other plays they'd successfully run, keeping defenses off-guard. DeBord's offense doesn't have that feel. When a play works, he doesn't build on that success by calling a counter to it later; instead, he tries the same play again.
Once Ramsey entered this game, DeBord kept going to the QB draw, even calling it on consecutive snaps at one point; believe it or not, that wasn't sustainable. His main counter to inside zone was bringing Cobbs in motion and throwing him a play-action pass in the flat; it only got a couple yards the first time, and here's where Penn State was positioned the second time:
The DE to that side of the field actually chipped Cobbs as he crossed through the backfield. Everyone knew what was coming.
DeBord's did manage to dial up couple decent gains by alignment. Indiana often comes out in an empty set before motioning their RB and TE into the backfield; on this occasion they caught PSU in a lopsided six-man box that didn't adjust to the motion:
Indiana tried that same play several more times with much less success. That wasn't really on DeBord, though. (Yes, we don't literally blame DeBord for everything. Just most things.) Remember the personnel section? This offensive line has a brutal time getting any push up front. They rank 111th in standard down line yards. Even when they get a hat on a hat, they rarely create enough movement to get the running back to the second level:
When they do manage to get to the second level, they aren't great at finding targets to block; watch the center (#68, Hunter Littlejohn) just sorta wander past all the linebackers:
They're bad enough that it's difficult to evaluate the running backs, who had little choice but to run straight for the nearest sliver of a hole before a lineman closed it or a free-hitting linebacker filled it. Morgan Ellison showed some nice burst and could be a big-play threat if he breaks into the open field; I also have no idea what he looks like in the open field, and I doubt we're going to find out on Saturday.
The offensive line also struggles in pass protection—oddly, more so on standard downs than passing downs. Penn State's one sack belied more consistent pressure. True sophomore left tackle Coy Cronk held up okay against PSU, but he was a disaster last year and now has to go against the Gary/Winovich duo. Right tackle Brandon Knight allowed an easy third-down sack on a pure speed rush that got the corner clean at around nine yards. That said, IU held up decently well on the edge; the bigger issue was the interior line regularly getting pushed into the QB's lap, which impacted a few throws and forced them to get the ball out quickly. Mo Hurst should have himself a day.
Outside of Cobbs, the receiving corps is really missing the presence of last year's dynamic slot duo (Ricky Jones and Mitchell Paige) and 6'4" outside receiver Nick Westbrook, who went down for the year with an injury suffered on special teams in the opener, a brutal way to suffer a major loss. Slot Luke Timian gets a bunch of dumpoffs with which he does little; he's averaging a paltry 6.4 yards per catch and 3.9 yards per target. Outside receiver Donavan Hale provides another big target when he's healthy, but he's among the "questionable at best" crew on the injury report. He'd be replaced by redshirt freshman Taysir Mack, who recorded seven of his nine catches on the season against Charleston Southern.
There's no need to ramble on: Michigan should shut this offense down. Cobbs is a candidate to make a big play or two, but even if he gets himself open, it's hard to see this O-line holding up well enough against M's defensive front to give Ramsey many chances to make that connection. The run game should be a clobbering. The coaching matchup is Don Brown vs. Mike DeBord. QED.