Fee Fi Foe Film: Rutgers Defense

Submitted by Ace on October 2nd, 2014 at 4:14 PM

Previously: Rutgers Offense

Very legible uniform numbers, Rutgers.

Penn State's nearly nonfunctional offense managed to just enough to take down Rutgers a few weeks ago, but it certainly wasn't pretty—the Nittany Lions averaged just 2.9 yards per rush (sacks removed) and 6.0 yards per pass (sacks included), and the numbers were even worse than that until a couple big plays late in the game. The Scarlet Knight defense looked formidable, especially up front, and while it's difficult to tell how much of that fell on PSU's inept offensive line... well, you've presumably seen Michigan play football this year.

Once again, let's just try to get through this.

Personnel: I'll post Seth's diagram first, then explain why this could look rather different on Saturday [click to embiggen]:

So, we did our best to project the Rutgers lineup, but it's one very muddled by injuries right now. Starting MIKE Kevin Snyder missed the entire Navy game and most of last week's Tulsa contest with a lower body injury and is listed as questionable for Michigan. Free safety Delon Stephenson is also questionable; if he can't go, redshirt freshman walk-on Andre Hunt must spell him at least for the first half, as last week's starter, Johnathan Aiken, must sit out the first half due to suspension (targeting penalty). The top four corners on the roster all made the injury report, though all are probable save sophomore Anthony Cioffi (questionable).

Even if Rutgers manages to trot out their usual starting lineup, it's doubtful they'll be at 100% strength.

Base Set? 4-3 under. Rutgers did show a few three-man fronts, usually in third-and-very-long situations, and they'll stand up one of their DEs on occasion, giving them the look of a 3-4.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Man or zone coverage? A pretty even mix of both here. Rutgers usually kept two safeties deep, either running a pure Cover 2 zone or playing man coverage in front of the deep safeties.

Pressure: GERG or Greg? Rutgers brought a ton of heat in this game, possibly because they smelled blood in the water given how poorly Penn State protected Christian Hackenberg—RU's five sacks don't begin to cover the pressure he was under. The Scarlet Knights sent seven rushers on multiple third-and-longs and were able to take down Hackenberg or force incompletions on just about all of them.

Dangerman: Former five-star Darius Hamilton seems a little undersized for a DT spot at 6'4, 255 pounds, but he so consistently slashes into the backfield that doesn't matter much. He's tied for the team lead with 6 TFLs this season. Just about every time Penn State tried to single-block Hamilton, something happened along these lines:

Hamilton looked equally good against the run; he's a disruptive force, and will pose a huge test for Michigan's interior line. Yes, that sentence should make you nervous.


A disclaimer: Penn State often went high-tempo and Rutgers wore uniforms with near-illegible numbers, so deciphering the ability of individual players was a tough task while watching the BTN broadcast. I'll do my best here; mostly I'm going to address each unit as a whole instead of the individuals unless something really stood out. As an example, here's a great play to blow up a run and draw a hold by... some defensive lineman:

Even with the benefit of replay, I can't tell who did that. 

The above is representative of what Rutgers did to Penn State's running game. Here's their starting nose tackle, Kenneth Kirksey, annihilating PSU's center so badly Bill Belton's only option is to make a futile effort to get the edge. At first this play looks like a well-timed corner blitz, but the corner shouldn't come into play—Belton can't hit the intended hole because WDE David Milewski got instant penetration up the gut. Rutgers makes up for their undersized front by shooting the gaps hard, and against PSU's line this led to great success.

The key backup to watch on the D-line is WDE Kemoko Turay, a pass-rushing specialist who already has a team-leading five sacks this year. Turay is also dangerous on special teams, which I'll cover in a later section.

The linebackers looked solid, with the caveat that Snyder was healthy for this game and I didn't get a look at his possible replacement in the middle. WLB Steve Longa is an impressive athlete who covers a lot of ground against the run—it's hard to get the edge on this defense, especially since their linemen are relatively athletic as well. Penn State also had trouble completing anything over the middle; RU's linebackers played disciplined zone defense and got impressive depth on their drops.

The secondary had an up-and-down day, as much of Hackenberg's struggles were due to pressure more than anything else. PSU tried to attack RU's man coverage early with a lot of slants, and the corners were up to the challenge, staying tight and making good plays on the ball; PSU simply couldn't do anything to attack RU's Cover 2 because Hackenberg didn't have time to let any downfield routes develop.

Both of those things changed late in the game. On a critical third-and-7 at the tail end of the third quarter, Hackenberg finally had time to find the opening between the corner and the safety against RU's Cover 2:

The tackling in the secondary on that play was obviously poor, and that issue cropped up again in a big way on PSU's game-winning TD drive, when they finally connected on a slant:

Even if Stephenson manages to play in this one, I don't think Rutgers is solid at safety. The final big pass play that led to PSU's winning TD run put that on display.


The setup—third-and-13 from the Rutgers 30-yard line, and you can see that the safeties are making sure nothing can get over the top of them:

Early on, it looks like this might be Cover 2 Man, as the slot corner sticks with the slot receiver and the corner to the bottom of the screen appears to be playing man as well, but look at the receiver to the top of the screen:

This looks like it's potentially a Cover 3, as that top corner is just dropping deep instead of hanging with the receiver's route, and he's got help underneath from a linebacker. The corner to the bottom clearly expects help over the top, as he stays almost flat-footed with his eyes in the backfield as Geno Lewis does a little move...

...and blows past him, with the corner late to turn and run with Lewis:

If it's Cover 3, you'd expect the near-side safety to be hanging over the top of this route and closing quickly, but...

...instead he's hanging out somewhere in the vicinity of the end zone, giving Hackenberg ample room to fit this pass in to Lewis:


PSU hurried to the line, so I didn't get the benefit of replay, and when I asked Brian what type of coverage this was he wasn't sure. I think it's safe to say the safety was way late getting to this ball; the question is whether he simply strayed from his zone or if this was a pure coverage bust—it's obvious the corner wasn't happy about the lack of help over the top.

I don't expect Michigan to be able to run on these guys, and Gardner should come under his fair share of pressure; this one could come down to whether or not M can hit one or two big plays either over the top or via poor tackling in the secondary, as that's all it took for a PSU offense that had shown almost no ability to move the ball to somehow pull out a win.

There's one other factor that must be covered here:


Rutgers is tied for first in the country with four blocked kicks in 2014, and their 39 blocks since 2009 are 12 more than any other program in the country. They managed to get their hands on both a field goal and a punt in this one. Turay used extremely impressive ups to get a mitt on this Sam Ficken FG attempt:

A short time later, receiver Leontae Carroo got in so quickly on a punt that he nearly blew past the punter before the kick:

I'm not sure who or what to credit for RU's remarkable kick-blocking ability, but with Michigan's special teams in the state they're in, it's certainly worth keeping in mind when trying to predict this game. If this is going to be the type of contest in which one or two big plays swing the result, Rutgers is very much hoping one or two of those big plays come on special teams.



October 2nd, 2014 at 4:23 PM ^

Just looked up Hamilton.  #11 player in the country.  Went to Rutgers?  Interesting.


I did watch the PSU-Rutgers game as well as I was curious what both teams looked like vs each other and Hack was under duress constantly.  I thought the Rutgers DL looked very athletic, long, and active but I presumed that was mostly due to PSU OL being Michigan 2013 OL.  Also since WSU gashed them a lot I thought it was more PSU specific but it sounds like Rutgers has some good talent on that DL offset by some troubles in the back 7.

At this point any team with a viable DL is all sorts of trouble.

And yep on special teams.


October 2nd, 2014 at 4:32 PM ^

So…Regarding M’s offence in attacking various D’s…...I'd like to hear someone ask Nussmeier at a press conference about the QB reads in his offence....not just the 1,2,3 progressions, but the checkoff guy (does he exist). I noticed with the Borges O that, not only were receivers not coming back or remaining viable after things fell apart, but there never seemed to be a RB or TE with a blocking assignment peeling off of the block for a quick outlet pass. Even though all they had to do was to turn toward the QB. I'm seeing the same thing with the Nussmeier O - When the QB get's in trouble does the strong side RB or TE have any checkoff assignment.... I never see it, but it is needed with a weak O-Line. I remember Brian Griese was always checking off to a peeling off RB or TE when the long pass wasn't there and pressure came. We really need this as part of the O game plan and I just don't see it any more....why? It looks like the QB's only emergency out is to eat it or throw it away. It's surprising that Borges didn't implement this since in the West Coast O typically after the quarterback makes three reads and if no opportunity is available after three reads, the QB will then check off to a back or tight end. Not that our QB's can make three reads prior to pressure, but should check off as soon as pressure is felt. Ok, rambling enough, but why isn't Nussmeier implementing this?  Or, aren’t the players executing?


October 2nd, 2014 at 4:38 PM ^

Hey Ace

How do you determine who is a returning starter? 

I notice that Kalis is designated as a returning starter but Miller isn't it.  Didn't they start about the same number of games last year?

Also, on the post regarding Rutgers offense, Bolden is listed as a returning starter.  I know he played a good bit last year, but did he ever start? 


October 2nd, 2014 at 4:40 PM ^

This isn't a criticism as the non-athletic issues very much have needed to be covered, but it's nice to focus on some football again. Even if we aren't very good, we only get 12 games of these a year so I'll always look forward watching the winged helmets take the field. Hopefully Gardner comes out inspired and helps negate the Rutgers DL enough for us to come out with a victory. 


October 2nd, 2014 at 4:51 PM ^

Excellent analysis. However what would convince you that M can take advantage of any of this???? Come Saturday, ... one day closer to new leadership.


October 2nd, 2014 at 5:25 PM ^

Doesn't Rutgers have a couple RB's starting at Corner?  They had the worst Pass D in the nation last year and we will make them look like all american's at the end of the day


October 2nd, 2014 at 5:37 PM ^

Former five-star Darius Hamilton seems a little undersized for a DT spot at 6'4, 255 pounds, but he so consistently slashes into the backfield that doesn't matter much.

Hold on ... if he doesn't have size or weight, then what explains his ability to get into the backfield?  Is it this "technique" thing I hear about?

Okay, joking aside ... is there something about his technique that makes him particularly effective?  This is kind of a nuts-and-bolts question of DT mechanics.


October 2nd, 2014 at 6:41 PM ^

Agree w/Ace's take on their D. This team is a lot like Utah, with a slightly worse quarterback and similar defense with worse DBs. WSU is a gun, three step, leach-n-shoot and Halliday went bombs away after WSU stretched out Rutgers' D. Their pass rush was good and they held WSU to 6 yards rushing (on 14 carries I think knowing Leach they were called as pass plays and Halliday misread the signal). Caroo seems like the real deal, would be nice if we could just hand him to Peppers and say "give him nothing".. That's obvs not an option. Hopefully Louis/Countess/Taylor can stick with him as our safties are young and late on their help. Agree on that the less derpy offense wins. There's a chance If M goes DG Shotgun 4 wide with a few designed QB runs to keep them off balance. The slant game should be open, but having flown cross-country to attend the Minnesota debacle in person with my 5 year old son (his first game at Michigan Stadium), I expect to see lots of 3TE waggles and 3rd & long PA instead or whatever this weeks' version of the RPS takedown is..If somehow we can run the ball that would be a breakthrough, but that would actually take Nuss and Hoke giving more carries to the better running back vs. trying to keep things "equal" and going back to Green who is less than decisive with his cuts. I like how Smith runs out of the gun alot, Smith + DG = someone gets open somehow. Unfortnuately due to the transitive powers of college football, Rutgers beating WSU, WSU beating Utah at home and Utah beating M at home, I predict a 3 sack 3 interception outing for Garder with 67 yards rushing and 318 yards passing and a 17-10 loss with a blocked punt returned for a TD and inability to convert on 3rd and long being the main culprits.


October 2nd, 2014 at 7:56 PM ^

Sorry Ace; not falling for it again.

The stadium will be louder than UConn and the players will be more determined. Every week I get my hopes up, because your write-ups are accurate and detailed. We just don't live up to our potential.

My son's Fall 10U baseball will be on my sports schedule on Saturday.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

Mr. Yost

October 2nd, 2014 at 9:13 PM ^

...I don't know why we don't put Glasgow there. He practiced there all spring and started there in the spring game.



October 3rd, 2014 at 2:52 AM ^

It will all be up to how Gardner plays. If he plays well we may be able to beat Rutgers much like PSU did. If Gardner has a poor game then Rutgers may blow us out! Overall, the OL has not been too terrible this season.

Go Blue 10

October 3rd, 2014 at 10:25 AM ^

After watching RR do his thing to Oregon for the second season in a row make you wonder where michigan would be if they wouldve given him a fourth season. my guess is better than where we are right now


October 3rd, 2014 at 11:05 AM ^

If M would have coughed up $10k more Casteel (Reference - "3 and out") would have come and RR would still be here, probably winning. Instead of paying $10k more when they should have, they payed millions more for this...uhhhgggg....when will the circus end.

The loss of recruits seems to be less serious of an issue than the right coaches....Arizona managed to land a couple of 2 stars every year and seems ok.....Which is better than Utah's recruiting....hmmmm

The Arizona O and D lines really got pushes and looked great against Oregon...they were motivated and Tough....Chris Allen is their S&C coach...Worked for Barwis at M as his assistant....enough said......