Fee Fi Foe Film: Western Michigan Defense 2018 Comment Count

Seth September 7th, 2018 at 10:06 AM

Second Tranquill in as many weeks [via]

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.


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.



September 7th, 2018 at 10:12 AM ^

I would like to see the running game utilized more, and the offensive line improve (obviously). This defense does not look that great, so we better score some touchdowns.

I would really like to see some of our younger OT's get in there for some meaningful snaps... 


September 7th, 2018 at 10:47 AM ^

I'm with you on what we want to see, but. . . WMU's best defenders are their DEs, and our worst players on offense are our OTs.

Michigan might win this running away just on talent disparity (I don't think the safeties playing up will have much impact on using Gentry or Perry as a dump-off), but if they don't, it'll be because of the DE-OT matchups.


September 7th, 2018 at 10:17 AM ^

Kinda glad ND was the first game. If the offense had western for game 1 we'd have been all puffed up and turgid, just to get smashed back to earth when the schedule got tough. Wasn't the start we wanted but better to level-set right away, IMO.

Tom Pickle

September 7th, 2018 at 10:25 AM ^

A really aggressive, but crappy defense is just what the doctor ordered for this game. I could see a couple early three and outs/short drives, but hopefully the offensive line can hold up and limit negative plays and we can see Patterson make quick progressions that lead to big play opportunities.

Of course I say this and now Michigan is going to score 18 points on Saturday and look like absolute ass.


September 7th, 2018 at 10:41 AM ^

I wouldn't use Cuse game as a game film for WMU defense because Cuse offense runs a Baylor/Briles offense where they spread you so far out that WRs are lined up outside of the numbers that DBs are essentially playing man coverage with zero help over the top. The gameplan won't be similar to what they're going to utilize against Michigan for that reason.


September 7th, 2018 at 11:07 AM ^

True but Cuse offense are vastly different than Michigan in terms of philosophy and how they run their offensive system. Michigan won't ever really spread them out thin across the field and WMU can play more zone than man coverage because Cuse offense doesn't allow it to happen by formation and alignment. Harbaugh tends to like tighter formations bc he wants to utilize TE/WR to block for their RBs.


September 7th, 2018 at 11:06 AM ^

Shouldn't the hot read be a jumpball to Gentry or Collins?  Either way I'd like to see some some bombs to DPJ, Collins and Eubanks and some screens, options, misdirection and wheel routes to Evans.  The latter especially needs wayyyy more touches.


September 7th, 2018 at 11:22 AM ^

I watched this game last night and came away with a pretty similar impression. The DEs are quick and athletic, but tiny. I predict them slashing through the line with alarming regularity, but also getting blown out on other plays. This is probably a game of running frustratingly into stacked boxes and guys that penetrate slip blockers immediately for more plays than we'd like, but then torching them when a lane opens and there's zero guys past 5 yards. Also, I foresee a lot of profitable play action passes to guys running free downfield. 


September 7th, 2018 at 11:49 AM ^

Yeah, I bet WMU will try the same strategy and will blow up a frsutrating number of plays by getting in the backfield, but I bet there's going to be an awful lot of 'lol there's nobody within 10 yards of me' plays.

Syracuse probably has a much better offense than us this year, but their talent level is a lot closer to MAC level than to Michigan's level. We should be able to pave Western


September 7th, 2018 at 11:44 AM ^

Would increased use of fullbacks to help with blocking give the OL more help and the QB more time? Shea looks pretty accurate when he's not under too much pressure (in other words, running for his life . . .), and our fullbacks seem a talented bunch.


September 7th, 2018 at 11:51 AM ^

Seems like Western's enthusiasm for blitzing like madmen and their inability to do much in the secondary, so I'd guess our best chance of success is to just get the ball out quick to WRs a lot of the time. Given our propensity for bad blocking, I'd think less in the box is better than more so Western can't pile more 220 lb missiles at the LOS


September 7th, 2018 at 12:26 PM ^

I teach and coach at the high school both Tranquill's went to, their younger brother tore his ACL this year too and he was going to be our best defensive player. There is something in the water at the Tranquill house that causes fragile ACL's!

Shop Smart Sho…

September 7th, 2018 at 3:22 PM ^

I don't know if it is just my settings, but clicking on the diagram actually makes the font smaller and harder to read. Any chance the problem is on your end and it's something that can be fixed for next week?