Fee Fi Foe Film: Rutgers Offense

Submitted by Ace on November 5th, 2015 at 2:53 PM

seen a ghost

Rutgers' offense is, essentially, bombs to Leonte Carroo or bust. That's tough to make work consistently in the best of times, and these aren't the best of times.

Carroo's status for Saturday's game is in doubt after he missed the vast majority of the last two games. He didn't suit up at all for last week's blowout loss to Wisconsin, which I watched, at least until I couldn't bear to watch it anymore. Read on!

Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:

Rutgers splits carries pretty evenly between their top three tailbacks. In this game they spent a ton of snaps in one-wideout formations; senior fullback Sam Bergen (#44) will play about half the game, apparently even if Rutgers falls way behind, as they did in this one.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Pro-style, for the given definition in which a team has few spread elements, huddles up, and takes most of their snaps under center.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Rutgers ran both gap and zone principles. Their pet play was a counter out of a one-receiver Ace set that had half-decent effectiveness on an early field goal drive...

pretty sure at least seven of these were the same counter play

...and that got stuffed when they tried it at the end of the drive and later in the game.

Hurry it up or grind it out? Very slow tempo; they currently rank 99th in adjusted pace.

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

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Chris Laviano isn't much of a runner; he'll pull the ball down only when he has to escape pressure. It's worth noting he has seven fumbles on the season, though he's only lost two. He gets a 3 on the scale.

Dangerman: If he's at all healthy, Carroo is one of the best receivers in the country, especially as a deep threat. Despite being the obvious focal point of the offense when he's in the game, he's averaging 15.1 yards per target this season. I'd expect Jourdan Lewis to shadow Carroo if he's on the field, and that matchup could provide some Lewis/Burbridge-like fireworks, though hopefully—probably—without the inch-perfect throws.

The other dangerman barely saw the field on offense. Janarion Grant is a lightning-fast slot receiver who's a major threat to take a screen or underneath throw and break it for a huge play. With Carroo sidelined, he should be the team's primary weapon, and instead he has three catches for 11 yards in the last two games while Rutgers chooses to go run-heavy and keep their receivers on the sideline. He's not particuarly pleased with this development.

Grant can still have a huge effect on the game, however, as a return specialist; he has two kickoff returns for touchdowns and another TD on a punt return this season; in this game he broke off a 42-yard kickoff return. He falls under the Will Likely category of DO NOT KICK TO THIS MAN.

Zook Factor: Archaic punt formation?


Clock management and play-calling so questionable it elicits a groan-sigh from Matt Freakin' Millen?


(On the ensuing play, Rutgers would not attempt a field goal; instead receiver Andre Patton dropped a pass two yards short of the sticks with a defender about to destroy him anyway. Wisconsin added a field goal at the end of the half. Rutgers!)

HenneChart: I'll cop to not charting this whole game because, I mean, it got really ugly. Laviano was yanked for Hayden Rettig after going 4/14 for for 31 yards, an interception, and three sacks. This was his chart before a fumbled snap exchange gave Wisconsin a goal-to-go situation they'd punch in for a 34-3 lead in the third quarter.

Wisconsin -- 2 -- 2 (1) 3 -- -- 3 -- 33%

Laviano wasn't helped by his O-line, which was awful at picking up blitzes. Given time, however, he still didn't look good. The screen pass filed as inaccurate was quick WR screen he actually threw backwards out of bounds; the officials missed the call and ruled it incomplete instead of a fumble. Laviano had a good opportunity for a touchdown pass on the field goal drive but floated a throw well inside against man coverage with inside leverage and no help to the outside; a should-be TD turned into an easy pass breakup.

Laviano's interception was a little fluky, as he threw a corner route that doinked off a linebacker's helmet and into the arms of a safety, but he also tried to fit a ball into this window:

That isn't really a window; if Laviano is going to throw this anyway, he needs to put it much farther outside.

Kyle Flood reaffirmed that Laviano will start this week; Rettig, an LSU transfer, has a stronger arm but there are concerns—seemingly legitimized by his continued backup role—that he doesn't have a strong command of the playbook.


I should note I'm not filing formations in exactly the same fashion as Brian; in my case, any formation with one or fewer wideouts is filed under "Heavy" and Rutgers ran a ton of that in this game—usually a one-back set with two TEs and an H-back, sometimes this offset heavy I-formation:

Believe it or not, this always tipped run. I've charted some very predictable offenses this season and Rutgers somehow managed to top them all.

Formations Run Pass PA
Gun -- 6 1
I-Form 2 -- --
Ace 10 1 1
Pistol -- -- --
Heavy 12 -- 1

When Rutgers goes under center, they run. When it's third down, they throw more receivers on the field and throw.

Down Run Pass PA
1st 16 -- --
2nd 9 1 3
3rd 3 6 --

You aren't reading that chart incorrectly: during the remotely competitive portion of this game, Rutgers ran on all 16 of their first downs and nine of their 13 second downs. Despite only getting into the red zone once in this span, they ran 22 plays with 0-2 wideouts (15 with zero or one) and only 16 with three or more.

This offense appears designed to take as much pressure off Laviano as possible, and the faith in the run game isn't totally misplaced. While the offensive line doesn't get much at all on the second level, they're a big group that tends to get half-decent push up front. That's about it, though: Rutgers is first in power success rate and 94th in adjusted line yards, which essentially means the running backs are on their own after the first yard or two.

The running backs aren't bad at squeezing out those extra yards, though they're not breaking big plays. Josh Hicks really impressed me on the field goal drive; he made some sharp cuts and reliably churned out yards after contact:

The problem, as you can see, is he often has to make those sharp cuts in the backfield, and when Carroo isn't on the field opponents can get away with loading up the box—there really weren't any opportunites to break runs big. Robert Martin is a similar runner to Hicks; Paul James boasts an impressive size/speed combination—if someone is going to find a way into the open field, it's probably him. Despite the general lack of production in this game I found myself envying Rutgers' running back situation, which was not something I expected.

The offensive line, not so much. I'm not entirely sure how Rutgers is 11th in adjusted sack rate, because they are awful at picking up blitzes. This is the play screencapped at the top of the page:

While the center is the guy who looks foolish in the still, this is an all-around failure. Wisconsin shows double A-gap pressure and sends one linebacker while dropping the other into coverage. The center never stops waiting for the other linebacker to come. The right guard is fooled by a stunt, starts to block the wrong guy, and is far too late when he tries to recover to the rush linebacker screaming up the gap he left open. The running back rather understandly can't handle a free hitter off a stunt when he must first check the A-gap blitz.

Other adventures in blitz pickup included this:

That again featured Wisconsin showing double A-gap pressure and backing out. Disguised blitzes and stunts should hit home. When I watched the MSU/Rutgers game earlier this year for the MSU FFFF, the Spartans also hit home with straight-up four-man rushes, and while Michigan doesn't have a Shilique Calhoun coming off the edge those stunts should be enough to generate pressure all on their own.

As you may have deduced from Laviano's stat line, this wasn't a great game for evaluating the non-Carroo talent among the receivers. The fullbacks and tight ends are blockers only until the red zone, where 6'6" TE Matt Flanagan is a big target with three TDs on the year. Grant is dangerous if Rutgers gets him the ball—or even bothers putting him on the field. Patton's main impact on this game was valuing the integrity of his ribcage over fighting through a hit for a potential first down. 6'6", 220-pound backup receiver Carlton Agudosi is a contested-ball threat—his 15 receptions have gone for 305 yards—but outside of the Indiana game his production has almost entirely come in garbage time.

If Rutgers is without Carroo, this could get ugly in a hurry; loading up and running right at Michigan isn't going to produce much behind this O-line and the obvious passing downs will allow DJ Durkin to unleash the hounds on Laviano. If Carroo plays, Rutgers should open up their playbook more and they'll almost inevitably hit him for a big play or three, but it still appears unlikely they'll be able to find a way to consistently move the ball.


PB-J Time

November 5th, 2015 at 2:58 PM ^

It's hard to be too confident after being at this game last year, but...yeah they just don't look like a good team (Gary Nova is out of eligibility though right?)


November 5th, 2015 at 3:35 PM ^

I like FFFF, but it seems like some of the worst games by the opponent are picked for these.  Starting with the third game of the season, here's the FFFFs.


UNLV: v UCLA, lost 37-3.

BYU: v Boise St, won 35-24

Maryland: @ W Virginia, lost 45-6

Northwestern: v Minnesota, won 27-0

Michigan St: v Rutgers, won 31-24

Minnesota: v Northwestern, lost 27-0.

Rutgers: @ Wisconsin, lost 48-10


Like, I appreciate the effort, and know that this type of analysis is like gold, but I don't think we're getting the full story when the games that are picked for this are either that team's worst performance, or one of, or a decent to pretty good team happening to struggle with a lesser opponent.  The FFFF for Minnesota gave everyone a false impression that the game would be a walkover.  The FFFF for Michigan State gave everyone the impression that Michigan would whip them on the line, that didn't happen.  Again, I read this and I enjoy it a lot, but, it's just a trend I've noticed that the F4 usually seems to go with a really bad outing from the opponent, which may or may not be the best barometer of their competence.


November 5th, 2015 at 3:44 PM ^

Pushed Sparty and came from 25 down to beat Indiana, on the road.  The Michigan State F4 they used their Rutgers game, then for the Rutgers F4 they use at Wisconsin? Maybe because for Rutgers that was the most recent game, and I could understand that trend, but sometimes the most recent game is not used.


November 5th, 2015 at 4:03 PM ^

...I'd already closely watched a Rutgers game when they had Carroo and, given his status for Saturday is in serious doubt, wanted to see how they looked without him. I also wanted to see Rutgers play defense against a pro-style team with an iffy quarterback; Wisconsin fit the bill.

I'm also limited by both the strictures of time, the quality of Michigan's opponents, and the availability of video online. UNLV looked bad and is bad; ditto Maryland. Boise/BYU was the only film I could find for BYU. For Northwestern I wanted to see the most recent performance from a redshirt freshman QB. For Michigan State I wanted to know how the hell Rutgers played them close. As for Minnesota, which game wouldn't have given you the sense that Michigan should beat the heck out of them?

I went with Northwestern because their defense is of somewhat comparable quality to Michigan's and the Gophers hadn't played an offense that looks like Harbaugh's.

I realize that picking one game can cause issues, but there's only so much I can do here.


November 5th, 2015 at 4:13 PM ^

All of that makes sense to me.  Again, appreciate you taking the time to respond.


10-4 on the available footage, I took for granted that any full game can be accessed.


"For Michigan State I wanted to know how the hell Rutgers played them close."

haha...yeah...that makes a lot of us, I think.


Don't take my initial query as a neg, and part of the reason why I wondered that was because some of the data becomes unusuable after the game is out of hand, which you have acknoledged on a couple of these.  But reading what specifically you were looking for out of these games gives me a new perspective on it.


November 5th, 2015 at 11:25 PM ^

Rutgers lost a lot of guys since last year so it should be an easier game than last year.  In addition, their entire secondary got kicked off the team.  So they are dealing with a bunch of freshmen, transfers, etc. in the secondary.  I know Rudock isn't a great passer, but hopefully, he'll have more confidence against this secondary.


November 5th, 2015 at 7:26 PM ^

#1) They threw long all night to a NFL wr who torched MSU's young secondary.  Laviano threw some excellent long distance passes.  That opened up their run game since MSU didn't just stack the box all day and LOL at the concept of long passes.

#2) Then their D went all out blitz for 3 quarters making Cook run for his life a lot.  The only Q they did not do that (3rd) Cook carved them up and MSU had two of its TD drives. 

Also Conklin sat out that game to prep for UM.  Conklin didnt allow a single pressure on Cook vs UM. 

So we could not do #1 due to personnel (throw on MSU's secondary) and for #2 we mostly rushed 4 most of the night vs Cook - when we did blitz we often got to him or made him make a mistake.  I would have liked to see more blitzes from us - not the all out types rutgers did (they often brought 6-7 guys) but at least 1 more.  I hate giving good QBs time.



November 6th, 2015 at 12:13 AM ^

Yup, any decent QB will have a good day if you give him time.  Conversely, even the best QB's have problems when you are consistently getting pressure on them.  Rodgers performance against the Broncos this past Sunday and Manning against the Seahawks in the Super Bowl a couple years ago are good examples of stud QB's being affected by constant pressure from the defense.


November 5th, 2015 at 4:55 PM ^

I'm a new user to Mgoblog can someone please tell me what the Zook factor is I looked at the glossary and I couldn't find it
Btw i hope our defense stone cold stops Rutgers A.K.A state college of New Jersey


November 5th, 2015 at 5:41 PM ^

To further Ace's response, the name Zook comes from former Illinois head football coach Ron Zook who has a well-documented history of awful coaching decisions. The Zook factor also can directly reference punting at a time in the game or at a down-and-distance and yardline situation that makes no statistical sense and said coach should feel bad about themselves.


November 5th, 2015 at 7:23 PM ^

The problem, as you can see, is he often has to make those sharp cuts in the backfield, and when Carroo isn't on the field opponents can get away with loading up the box...

Sounds vaguely familiar...


November 5th, 2015 at 8:30 PM ^

a horrible QB with a noodle for an arm or brain, or a savaged OL manned entirely by walk-on freshmen, or RBs with compound-fractured broken legs, only to see them go off on Michigan like they were NFL Pro-Bowlers in waiting.

Hopefully those days are over.


November 6th, 2015 at 6:20 AM ^

Get used to it; it's only going to increase from here.

In the past we'd get torched because we had dinosaur coaches who think "spread" is a betting term.  (Well, it is, but as coaches they should also be aware of the line split and associated plays.)  Those days are hopefully over.

But as Harbaugh brings life back into the program, we will get more and more of each team gunning for us.  They never really stopped, but FFFF will get increasingly shaky in its opponent assessments -- not for anything they're doing wrong, but because every single opponent will play out of their minds against us.


November 5th, 2015 at 10:40 PM ^

Ace, you should have posted the GIF, because that is one bizarre and hilarious moment right there. I'm really desiring to know what had this guy's attention out of the camera's view? This is something you'd expect to see at your nephews pee wee football game. lol