Second Tranquill in as many weeks [via wmubroncos.com]
Previously: The Offense
So the thing you should know about WMU's defense is they have another Tranquill. Yes, the same family as that WLB who knifed through everything Michigan was trying to do last week. Drue's younger brother Justin was the highest-rated high schooler to ever commit to a MAC school at the time he pledged to WMU. His 4-star ranking slipped over a senior year lost to an ACL injury. Then he lost his freshman year four games in to another ACL tear. Then he was all-MAC in 2016, but his 2017 season again ended with an ACL injury, this time while covering a punt in the 2nd quarter vs MSU. That time it was 2 games.
Justin, a strong safety, is playing again this year, but with braces on his legs. He's clearly not the same player. But nobody thought to tell his coordinator.
#2 aligned in the slot
Personnel. My diagram:
Beyond Justin the secondary is all rather new to K-zoo. Sophomore FS A.J. Thomas gets out of position a lot when there's any kind of backfield motion—Syracuse's tempo was especially hard on him. Boundary CB Stefan Claiborne is a rare returning starter, though he took over just nine games into last year and was getting run by in this game. The field CB is Juwan Dowels, a grad transfer from Syracuse, who couldn't crack the secondary the WMU offense just torched last week.
The linebackers rotate a bunch and none of them are much good at reading and reacting. The best is WLB/HSP Drake Spears, who got tossed from the game last week as part of the fight in the 3rd quarter, and is listed behind true sophomore Treshaun Hayward in this week's game notes. MLB Corvin Moment, a redshirt freshman, isn't good for much more than blitzes since he thinks he's instinctive and isn't. Regular SLB Alex Grace is the opposite: he's patient and gets a lot of tackles, but he's also 6'1"/220, easy to push around, and liable to get himself in the wrong gap while he's trying to do the math.
The ends are all smallish; the one who gets the most hype is senior SDE Eric Assoua, once a Don Brown target at Boston College, but he's just 240 and was set back last year by a leg injury that's hampered his development some. WDE Antonio Balaban and DE swingman Ali Fayad, who plays as much as the nominal starters, are closer to 230. I liked Fayad best, who gets really low like a young Craig Roh and has a few nasty tricks.
To mitigate the DTs they often go with a 3-3-5 that uses SLB Najee Clayton, a Rutgers transfer who's barely 220, as the edge attacker since he's good at it. The DTs are a weakness they cover up for by sending them upfield. 3-tech Ralph Holey is undersized and NT Wesley French was an offensive linemen until spring practice. Depth behind them is shallow, though true freshman DT Andre Carter (Cass Tech) is already well up past his listed 255 and showed flashes of a good player down the road.
Base Set? 4-2-5 or 3-3-5, with the safeties rolled waaaaaaay up.
I mean waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay up.
Srlsy. Yeah, five yards, why not?
[Hit THE JUMP for why..? How…?]
Man or zone coverage: In case the safeties weren't a dead giveaway, it's tight Quarters and man. They'll flip between the above and Cover 1 for the most part. Often they'll leave their corners on an island, have the safeties take a guy each, and blitz whoever isn't needed.
Dangerman: I was hoping to see Tranquill but after three ACL surgeries he looks like a guy who's, well, been through three ACL surgeries. The DEs are alright. WMU's best play of the night was this stunt sack created by Eric Assoua (33), who blew into the backfield with an offensive tackle in escort, and which was cleaned up by great moves from Ali Fayad (57) inside, and Najee Clayton (7) off the edge. Note that they dropped one DT into coverage and the other looped for contain.
Here's Ali Fayad ending a play on his own:
He's no Jaylin Hayes but stars on this defense are relative. Also: Michigan OTs.
It's a bad defense. It was an atrocious defense—122nd in Rushing S&P+ last year and good at one thing: average 3rd down distance. This is the gambit Tim Daoust had to make with the limited talent he had (what Fleck found was mostly on offense). Whether in their Spartanesque 4-2-5 base quarters or coming on a zero blitz, the goal of this defense is to keep moving guys around like a 3-3-5 and eventually bring up a long situation you can't get out of. If they get slashed to bits in the middle, so be it. Let's all go down together in a rain of fire. #blitzlife
WMU's main problem is the middle of their defense is not ready to play at this level. Every option play got the other safety and the safety-sized LBs chasing the wrong thing:
And the undisciplined linebackers combined with exotic stunts are ripe for getting RPS'd. Remember that stunt that got their three best players in for a sack? Try that shit again:
Weak LBs who aren't super-reactive become easy prey for large pullers:
And sending the DTs flying upfield with linebackers who can't figure out their gaps is a recipe for getting gashed:
So…they blitz. A LAWGHT. Bringing six is standard, and five feels light. That's why the safeties are up so high. They want every play to be over as soon as possible. They want you afraid to run into all those guys and trying to get pass out before the routes materialize with two safeties close by to suffocate your dumpoff.
Because college quarterbacks are what they are, this strategy can win some drives, especially against unblooded signal-callers who expect to have a moment to breath and read through their progressions. Brandon Peters in this game: not so much. But a Shea Patterson can do some major damage. Syracuse QB's Eric Dungey's first half was this in the micro:
Incompletions that stack up in a series lead to three and out, and then WMU's offense can close the gap by seven at any moment. Syracuse masterfully toyed with them by running options, and the highly undisciplined Broncos folded.
But the real Bronco-beater is play-action. Those linebackers can't not come down.
And the cornerbacks, playing up with no help, are dead in the water if they miss their jams on a Nico Collins or DPJ. And if you can drop a slot fade where it needs to go, that secondary—Justin's knees and all—are not going to keep up.
QUICKLY, SPECIAL TEAMS:
The kicker, true sophomore Josh Grant, was erratic last year, kicking 15/23, with just two of those makes from outside 40 yards. He missed a chip shot this game. Nick Mihalic was 247's #1 ranked punter out of high school and has been decent—he's good at hang time, and Cuse didn't try to block any so he took his time behind the shield. Their return guys are the scatback Levante Bellamy and the true freshman slot Jayden "Bird" Reed; the latter gets to most of what he should.
Against Syracuse, WMU was squibbing their kickoffs. I don't know if that was a game strategy or a sign they don't have a leg they trust to boot it out of the end zone. Get the hands team out there and have everyone ready to field a hopper.