Fee Fi Foe Film: Minnesota Offense

Submitted by Seth on October 29th, 2015 at 12:34 PM

[Hi it's Seth, not Ace. I offered to do this while Ace gets the hoops previews out]

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Minnesota's offense is bad at offense, the end.

Alright, given I chose to review a game in which they got shut out, I admit we're not getting the Gophers at their best. I chose this game anyway because Michigan saw Northwestern the very next week; the next two opponents were Purdue and Nebraska, who are in the Big Eight or wherever. Also because we already had it downloaded. Also because it's a better fit for the other side of the ball where the outcome is more in doubt. Also because this Michigan defense isn't like the Nebraska defense, nor the Purdue defense. It IS kind of like the Northwestern defense, if the Northwestern defense was Batman.

Personnel. Me diagram [click for full size]:

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I noted KJ Maye's jet motion path because they pulled that out a lot. Lauer and Pirsig split time last year at right tackle, but injured T Josh Campion was by far their first option. They tried starting him at RT this game before shutting him down. He's a no-go for Michigan. When he's out Lauer comes in at LT and Pirsig slides back to RT.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? "Pro Style" for a given definition of that which means something nobody runs in the pros. I mean it's shotgun and runs a lot of zone read, but not at all spread. Brian's going to have fun coming up with UFR formation names for this one. A taste:

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Yes I can name one recent NFL coach who ran stuff like this. He's back in college now.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL Inside zone mostly, with little bits of power mixed in.

Hurry it up or grind it out? Grind to the max. Last year Minnesota experimented with this tempo thing but they've since shelved all but the lining up with >15 seconds. Then they'll shift formations, put a guy in motion, etc. However the Gophers did manage to get off a super-quick snap late in the game to prevent the review official from re-watching a would-be interception on 2nd and long. That not only saved them from a turnover on their own 10, but Northwestern's players were still on the field celebrating and got hit with a too-many-men penalty. #BigTenRefs

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the wreckening]

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Leidner's legs are a big part of the offense but he only ran a few times as Northwestern game-planned to take that away. He's more poor man's Cardale Jones (a tank) than poor man's Braxton Miller (gazelle). As a zone reader he's pretty good; he chose correctly on 9 of 12 that I charted, though the read was nearly always give, and Northwestern's DEs formed up and closed so fast the Gophers didn't get very much from it. Here's the lone keeper:

That is a tough read even though the defensive end has formed up because he's also come inside as the line crashed, and at the handoff the center (67) has already been blown so far back the RB is toast on a handoff. Leidner's got a little bit of space that provided:

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But isn't athletic enough to do anything with it. He'd get dropped behind the white line (the 30). He gets a 7.

Dangermen? I'm going with the special teams. Kicker Ryan Santoso is 10/13 this year (misses all beyond 40 yards) with a long of 50, which was the game-winner at Colorado State. He was 12/18 last year with a long of 52. He's also large enough (6'6/250) to play tight end and fat kickers are my thing man.

Meanwhile, Myrick returned a kickoff last year against Northwestern; rather than have that happen again the Wildcats kicked line drives at the other guy. Michigan might have scouted this.

Zook Factor: Minnesota's first drive got to 4th and 3 at the Northwestern 40. Peter Mortell, a good ol'fashioned American Ray Guy candidate, punted it out of bounds at the 16 for a 24-yard net. On the next drive they went for it on 4th an 7 from the NW 31 rather than try a kick into the wind.

Hennechart: Facing a stiff wind and a stiff pass defense Minnesota didn't try to throw very much. When they did, they never went downfield; even on the long stuff they tried to run a delay or dump it off in the flat and hope.

QB Opponent DO CA MA IN BR TA BA PR SCR DSR
Leidner Northwestern   3(5) 2 5 2(1) 1   2   27%

Some of the "IN"s might be pressure; unable to block anybody Minnesota ran a lot of play-action stuff where someone pretends to block then flares underneath. This put guys in Leidner's face by design, at which point he'd wing it over a TE's head.

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By the way this is how you get a "BR" on a screen.

There was only one successful pass that went more than five yards, and while it might have been completed anyway it featured some spectacular offensive PI.

There's a guy in his face so if he doesn't take Maye off his feet (and if the tight end didn't literally run over the defender) I might have given Leidner a "DO". That's the best I've got to show what he's capable of because most of his stuff was screens. Leidner was 10/21 for 72 yards with an interception in this game; it's worse than that looks because a third of that yardage was the OPI above, and the rest was dumpoffs with no chance of converting the 3rd down.

OVERVIEW

Formations Run Pass PA      Wideouts Snaps      Down Run Pass PA
Gun 14 12 4 0 or 1 8 1st 10 5 3
Heavy 4   3 2 23 2nd 10 2 4
Pistol 5 1   3 13 3rd/4th 4 6 2
Ace 1   1 4 2  
I-Form     1 5 0

This is thrown off just a little because I kept charting until Leidner's fumble with 9 minutes in the 4th quarter when it was already 20-0, but to say they're mostly gun is accurate. There weren't a lot of plays, period, and with Northwestern stuffing 1st down regularly, many plays started in 2nd and long or 3rd and long. They did a lot of motioning from the pistol, and a lot of play-action.

With a lot of 2nd and longs the strategy was to take the four rushing yards the defense was offering so Leidner wouldn't have so far to go on the inevitable 3rd down. Then they'd try to screen a conversion.

The jet offense reminded me of Brady Hoke's earliest attempt to use Denard's legs without, you know, doing anything invented after 1990 because that's communism. Except instead of Denard they had KJ Maye. Maye didn't out-athlete anybody on Northwestern's defense when he got the ball on that jet action, and the threat of it didn't make them react very strongly when he didn't:

There didn't seem to be a way to get the ball to Maye there despite two crashing unblocked defenders on the frontside, but there's a ton of space if this was an Oregonian triple-option:

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The guy 86 is blocking really isn't being blocked; he made a beeline for Leidner to force the handoff, which the unblocked defensive end was crashing down on. That's a scrape exchange; if they're calling the scrape after seeing jet motion all day, they're either convinced Maye isn't going to get the ball, or they're confident the safeties can wrangle him down in space if he does. This guy isn't edging Peppers.

Maye is slippery enough if they try the slant thing that's worked against Michigan thus far. One thing you can do with this jet motion is put the Z receiver in the opposite slot, earning a Peppers matchup. Otherwise he'll draw Lewis, provided we've extricated Jourdan from Burbridge's back pocket.

While the interchangeable freshman RBs from Georgia had a couple of good runs early in the game they also miss holes and lack the speed to threaten the edge. They are slippery Drake Johnsons who can patiently wait for a crack in the zone blocks to squirt through for a good, kind-of-off-balance gain. Both displaced expected starter Rodrick Williams early in the year; Brooks started the last two games after Smith started the three before it.

Except there are no holes because the super-injured offensive line starts a true freshman at center and bad options nearly everywhere else. Since this game Minnesota lost Ohio State transfer Brian Bobek (the aforementioned center who got blown back into the zone read play), and was forced to insert true freshman Tyler Moore. If Moore was clearly behind Bobek it'll be a rough usual day inside. The other big problem was the 6'9 right tackle, Pirsig. Pirsig started this game at left tackle while Minnesota tried to get Campion to go at right, but I thought Pirsig was worse than Campion's quick replacement, Lauer. The Wormley matchup seems to strongly favor Michigan.

I did see a couple of good blocks from #55 Connor Mayes, a true sophomore right guard. He was Scout's #2 center (4-star) but well outside the top composite 250. If he didn't get beat a couple times late in the game I was considering giving him the right-side-up star.

Maxxx's departure, along with his H-back buddy, left a gaping hole at tight end that turned into a maw when Minnesota lost both of its 2016 starting tight ends for the season. Fortunately Kill did recruit a lot of tight ends, but it's forced a pair of rather overwhelmed sophomores on the field. Wozniak really is 6'10/271, but I didn't once see that frame tested in the air. As a blocker he's atrocious.

The play above is supposed to be an RPS payoff for Northwestern overreacting to zone reads, and it's a pretty neat one, with the left guard pulling and their H-back giving Lowry (the 5-tech), unblocked for so much of the day, a good thump.

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They get the RPS with Lowry shuffling inside (i.e. out of the hole) before eating the aforementioned wham block, the pull successfully seals the MLB inside, and it's about to be running back in the secondary time, except #80, Wozniak, was shed by the same SAM Michigan would run over a week later. James Ross is gonna have a good time.

Last week Ace also wrote that Michigan should terrorize an injured offensive line, but this is much closer to 2008 Michigan than MSU with a banged up Kieler and absent Jack Allen. And there's no Hero Cook to save them.

Here Leidner's under duress from the backside blitz and his guys are covered, and either he winged this over the tight end's head or was trying to hit Maye but either way it's almost intercepted. He'd try this again and Northwestern intercepted.

Leidner is not a very good quarterback, however due to some heavy attrition and not enough recruiting to make up for it they're stuck with either him or "you really ought to be redshirting right now" true freshman Demry Croft. At 6'5/200 Croft is a skinny dude who can dodge and weave like a young Gardner. He can also get spooked by a blitz and run for the hills like…like freshmen do (also note the RB isn't very good on the pickup). If Michigan sees Croft it's probably already over and they should go easy on the kid.

In summary, this looks like a worse offense than the one Michigan shut out at Maryland, let alone the two functional ones they shut out to either side of the Terp trip. Since it took the ultimate #BigTenRefs for Michigan State (#11 if FEI) just to score 21, and #108 Minnesota is currently one spot below Al Borges's San Jose State Trojans, well…

Comments

BlueKoj

October 29th, 2015 at 12:50 PM ^

I heard this will be the first game since TCU that the OL will start the 5 that won the job coming out of fall camp.  Any thoughts on this despite you choosing a much later game? Is it reasonable to expect their OL to be significantly better, and even if so, is that enough to move the needle considering they've not faced a DL close to UM's?

robpollard

October 29th, 2015 at 12:55 PM ^

They have a freshman center and a sophomore guard. Only their tackles are returning starters. If Henry & co aren't regularly caving in the middle of the defense, I will be shocked. In terms of skill players, Maxxxx Williams etc are no longer there.

UM's defense should be aiming for another shutout. I know that will be difficult, on the road, during a night game against a potentially fired up team. But UM has a serious experience *and* talent edge on defense against this offense. 

Perkis-Size Me

October 29th, 2015 at 1:03 PM ^

This is the kind of game that Michigan's defense should absolutely dominate. Minnesota can't do anything on offense, and even though they want to try and run the ball, that plays right into Michigan's strength: the DL. I don't see Minnesota having much success on the ground, if any. And their passing game...well...Jourdan Lewis might have more receptions on Saturday than any of Minnesota's receivers.

Maxxxxxxxxx Williams and David Cobb are gone, and Mitch Leidner is pretty meh. This should be a massacre on that side of the ball.

Of course the key word here is "should." Minnesota could come out fired up and inspired to play for their coach, and this could end up being a much closer game than we'd like. A lot of this too depends on how Michigan responds after losing the way they did last week.

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getsome

October 29th, 2015 at 2:03 PM ^

yeah i guess it could, we recently experienced just how crazy football can be.  but its not like michigan wont be "fired up" as well, pretty good chance theyve prepared for 2 weeks to rinse out foul sparty taste.  

minnesota would need multiple turnovers and short fields in order to make this a game (in my opinion) - even with a weak O, rudock and the O should still do enough to win if they end most possessions in kicks.  m should be able to put up 2-3 TDs even without much pass game and minnesota will struggle to score that much without aid of 3+ turnovers

Jonadan

October 29th, 2015 at 1:05 PM ^

Minnesota fans I've talked to have seemed to think the offense and especially Leidner have improved dramatically since Northwestern.  How much of that is simply not playing Northwestern's apparently mostly legit defense (and therefore, how much not-better they may look against Michigan's very legit defense) I'm not sure.

dnak438

October 29th, 2015 at 1:27 PM ^

Against Northwestern (#6 defense in FEI): 10 of 21, 72 yards, 47.6% completion rate, 1 INT, QBR 66.9

Against Purdue (#83 defense in FEI): 8 of 12, 59 yards, 66.7% completion, 2 TDs, 1 INT, QBR 146.3

Against Nebraska (#62 defense in FEI): 26 of 40, 301 yards, 65% completion, 1 TD, 2 INTs, QBR 126.5

Our defense is #2 in FEI.

dayevug

October 29th, 2015 at 1:44 PM ^

 
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markp

October 29th, 2015 at 1:49 PM ^

I expect Minnesota's play to be very emotionally-charged due to Kill's retirement... with a few highs from adrenaline and many lows due to loss of discipline.

I expect Michigan's play to be both vicious and disciplined... a delightful cocktail of instinct, fury, and confidence.

EGD

October 29th, 2015 at 5:21 PM ^

I can't imagine there are too many three-year starters who have been charted at 27% DSR.  Even in that UNLV game when Rudock couldn't have thrown a ball off the Penobscot Building at hit Detroit, he was at 50%.  If that's not a record, I bet it's pretty close.

Seth

October 29th, 2015 at 8:44 PM ^

Nobody else even mentioned that. I didn't want to pile on the kid so I let it stand for what it was, but damn. He's bad enough that the old adage about passing is actually true.