Hokepoints: The Defense is Still The Wall

Submitted by Seth on October 23rd, 2012 at 3:41 PM


Stuffing. Upchurch

Eleven months ago I used this space to discuss Michigan's crazy success in defensive short situations. That was brought on by a staggering performance against Illinois, at which point Michigan had stopped 15 of 27 3rd- or 4th-and-one situations, and 13 of 19 against real competition. This was up from stopping less than a quarter of such plays the previous two years, and almost as far above the going rate for all defenses.

This was huge. Getting one yard for any offense is far easier that stopping it for any defense—one good block can usually do it. Forcing a 4th down situation from 3rd and 1 or a turnover on downs on 4th and 1 is worth half a turnover or more. Jamie Mac addressed this further in his HTTV article, showing that the stoppage situation was affecting the happy margin between our yards-ceded defense and scoring defense as much as having a ridiculous year in turnover luck.

Michigan last year was really good at stopping the short stuff, but folks chalked it up to Martin and Van Bergen playing to their strengths and figured it was a blip. Except it wasn't just those guys. Here's last year's chart for short situations, through OSU: BarnumRoundtreeRohSpringGame-Heiko

Player (2011) + -
Kenny Demens 6.5 0
Ryan Van Bergen 6.5 0
Craig Roh (right/Heiko) 6 0
Jake Ryan 5.5 0
Mike Martin 4.5 0
Jordan Kovacs 3 0
Campbell, Hawthorne & Heinigner 2.5 0
Black, Morgan, and Woolfolk 1 0
Herron and Beyer 0 -1
Total 42.5 -2
RPS 7 -2
Refs 0 -2

Two thirds of Michigan's short-down production from last year returned (as did bad refs). Demens, Roh, Ryan, Kovacs, and Campbell were all key role players in that ridiculous shutdown rate, and if the UFR can be trusted, they weren't getting it just because of things the Team 132 seniors were doing.

This doesn't even count things like stopping Ohio State on 3rd and goal from the 2. Actually it doesn't count goal line situations at all, though 1st and goal from the 1 is as hard to stop as 3rd and 1 from the 40. So I revisited when updating the UFR database. Get ready to be happy (through MSU):

Year    --FCS and MAC removed--         --All Opponents--
Stopped! They got it :( Stop % Stopped! They got it :( Stop %
2008 11 14 44% 16 18 47%
2009 3 11 21% 7 16 30%
2010 5 18 22% 11 24 31%
2011 14 10 58% 16 16 50%
2012 10 7 59% 10 8 56%
Total 43 60 42% 60 82 42%

It's still happening. It's happening more. We replaced Martin and RVB with Washington and Campbell, and if anything got better! And like last year Michigan's short defense seems to be getting tougher as the season goes on. Since Big Ten play started, the non-stops have read thusly: Purdue converting with 16 seconds left in the half while down 18, Illinois benefiting from a terrible spot, two plays where Bell was forced to cut back into the pile and just managed to squeak through, and one bust.

[After the jump, what's causing it, and the plays vs. State]

Culprits via UFR through Illinois (play-by-play details at bottom of the article) as compared to last year:Jake Ryan-boss

2011 (12 gms) 2012 (6 gms)
Player + - + -
Ryan 5.5 0 5 0
Demens 6.5 0 4.5 0
RVB 6.5 0 n/a n/a
Roh 6 0 3 0
Campbell 2.5 0 3.5 0
Martin 4.5 0 n/a n/a
Morgan 1 0 3 0
Heininger 2.5 0 n/a n/a
Kovacs 3 0 0 0
Hawthorne 2.5 0 0 0
Black 1 0 0.5 0
Woolfolk 1 0 n/a n/a
Herron 0 -1 n/a n/a
Beyer 0 -1 0 0
Totals 42.5 -2 26.5 0
RPS 7 -2 5 -1
Refs 0 -2 0 -2

I guess mentally double the 2012 numbers to project the final numbers. Nobody has slid backwards, and the linebackers are MAKING PLAYS with greater frequency.

The defensive UFR for Michigan State should be up by tomorrow but I pulled the relevant plays. Michigan stopped just one of four against Le'Veon Bell and MSU's patchwork offensive line. Still, there were some good things to see:

Play the first (No Gain):

State motions to the playside, M slants away from it. Washington was beat by a double but Roh made his dude completely whiff to cut off any cutbacks, and Ryan has shot inside the right tackle (who jumps on Ryan' s back--no flag) at the LOS. Bell did the Bell stutter-step thing he always does, then tried to dive outside, but Demens and Gordon have come up quickly and stop it short. Morgan had shed his block and was there in case Bell tried to power it. This brings up a few bars of Temptation and a Spartan punt.

Play the second (They get it, barely):

Fullback motions from H-back on the playside to H-back on the other side then back to an offset I on the playside again. Michigan is like 'whatever' and stays put. Roh and Ryan blew this up. Roh fought past a double to plug the middle (negating the left tackle and McDonald) and Clark got enough penetration to cut off the backside, so it's cut to the frontside. There, Ryan stuck the fullback a yard behind the LOS, fought past him, and grabs Bell's leg. However Demens was a bit slow to impact the pulling guard so Bell's cut and leap is just enough to fall past the 1st down marker. Washington had flowed down to help. So crose.

Play the third (They get it, RPS'ed?):

MSU overloads the boundary side (two TEs plus a fullback in the I) and Michigan walks Kovacs up to be tiny LB. Again with the sike! motion, this time from the TE, who starts at playside H-back, goes past the midline then winds up an offset fullback. Kovacs is moving with him and that momentum is still carrying him toward the boundary when the ball is snapped. Campbell is blown off the line, Washington is smacked into and turned over by the center, and Bell can pick his way for the first. Demens ran himself out of the play and into a block, giving up three more yards before pursuit from Clark and free hitter Floyd can get there.

Play the fourth (They get it)

No motion this time from an I-form 2TE formation, same play as the 2nd one above. M is slanting again but this time when Roh beats the guard blocking him the guard just pushes him (from the back, nooch), past the play. Slant gives Clark a two-for-one a la Ryan in play the second above, and so Bell has to cut back behind the guard shoving Roh. Ryan gets into Bell's knees with the OT hanging on his jersey and manages to momentarily stop the play short of the sticks if a LB can just arrive to hit Bell with authoritah. However Morgan used up his free hit generated by Clark to plug the pulling guard, while Demens tries to whack the pile and ends up just thumping Ryan. Bell keeps churning and squeezes inside that for the 1st. C'est la vie.

How Much Effect?

We can kinda figure this out using expected points from the various game states before and after these plays occurred. I tracked down the Mathlete to plug the performance so far into his database, and here's what he came up with:

Year Opponent Score diff Time Ln Dn Ds Yards Difference
2012 Alabama -27 5 min 4th M1 2 G 1 0.0%
2012 Air Force 4 3 min 1st Q M3 3 1 -1 5.6%
2012 Air Force 4 9 min 3rd M1 3 G 0 0.1%
2012 Air Force 4 9 min 3rd M1 4 G 1 -4.9%
2012 Massachusetts 18 10 min 2nd Q O35 3 1 3 -0.7%
2012 Notre Dame -10 1 min 2nd Q M1 2 G 0 (Pen -5) 1.6%
2012 Purdue 0 13 min 1st O34 3 1 0 UPDATE: 3.1%
2012 Purdue 18 EOH M16 3 1 3 -0.3%
2012 Illinois 0 10 min 1st Q O48 3 1 0 3.8%
2012 Illinois 7 5 min 1st Q O34 3 1 -5 3.5%
2012 Illinois 17 1 min 2nd Q M41 3 1 0 0.2%
2012 Illinois 17 1 min 2nd Q M41 4 1 -1 4.9%
2012 Illinois 38 EO3Q O33 3 1 2 0.0%
2012 Illinois 45 4 min 4th Q O37 3 1 -2 0.0%
2012 Michigan St 3 5 min 2nd Q M21 3 1 0 5.1%
2012 Michigan St 6 <1m 2nd Q O34 3 1 1 -1.3%
2012 Michigan St 6 9 min 3rd Q M16 3 1 4 -2.0%
2012 Michigan St 2 7 min 4th Q M30 3 1 2 -2.8%

That's about 12.8% 15% of a win added from this year's short situations, mostly from Illinois. Unfortunately he couldn't give me expected points instead of Win % since scores that were already out of hand made the results of a few of these moot.

Still, things: stopping the Illini on 3rd down from our 41 didn't make much difference because they were still likely to get it on 4th; when they didn't it was a big deal. Also note one stop against State was worth as much as losing the other three combined. In a tight game, stopping 1 of 4 is treading water; we're getting 3 of 5!

Takeaways: Even after graduating two NFL defensive tackles, Michigan remains exceptional at stopping short situations thanks to better than average play from our defensive tackles, better than good play from Roh and the linebackers, Mattison's ability to correctly guess which direction the offense wants to go and shut that down with his playcalling, and the existence of Jake Ryan, who is boss. With turnovers way way down from last year, Michigan's 'and-short' aptitude has become an even more important factor in maintaining an elite scoring defense.


Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Alabama M1 2 G yes Goal line Goal line Run Iso -- 1
They get it.
Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Air Force M3 3 1 no Flexbone 3-wide Goal line Run Outside pitch. Avery -1
AF blows this as the WR to the playside is headhunting Ryan, who's on the LOS and moving upfield at the snap this means he takes a bad angle that 1) immediately tips Avery that this is a run and 2) picks off the flex guy assigned to him. Avery(+1) moves up, forms up, and makes contact two yards behind the LOS. Ryan(+1) flattens the guy assigned to him and flows out to make sure there is no funny business. RPS+1. Putting Ryan on the line made AF go all crazy.
Air Force M1 3 G no Flexbone Goal line Run QB sneak Campbell 0
Campbell(+1) gets lower than two blockers and everyone falls at the LOS, not beyond it; Bolden(+1) is the first of many people to jump on Dietz. Roh(+1) also had a large hand in stalling the momentum of the pile.
Air Force M1 4 G yes Near half-flex tight Goal line Run Quick pitch N/A 1
Michigan sends everybody, and Air Force calls rock to their scissors, shooting Getz outside and getting it easily since Taylor is blitzing. I don't RPS plays like this since you've got to roll the dice to stop them from getting a yard.
Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Massachusetts O35 3 1 yes Pistol 3-wide Nickel even Run Power off tackle Roh 3
Still playing Roh at DT on third and one. He gets blown out of the center by a double, and that's enough. I'm not minusing the guy for being 280 pounds. Gordon(+1) fills well, hitting at the LOS, but without DL support this is always going to get it. RPS -1.
Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Notre Dame M1 2 G no Ace Goal line Run Dive Kovacs 0 (Pen -5)
Kovacs(+1) blitzes inside of the tight end and into the middle of the formation, which takes away any lanes there, forcing a bounce. Morgan(+1, tackling +1) and Demens are moving hard to the bounce at the snap, with Morgan chopping Riddick down for no gain. RPS +1. Illegal motion takes it back a little.
Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Purdue O34 3 1 no I-Form Big 4-4 under Run Pin and pull counter Demens 0
Fullback goes away from the play and RB takes a counter step as two linemen pull around the other way and TerBush pitches. This probably should have worked but one of the pulling linemen goes for Taylor instead of looking for a linebacker flowing from the inside. The other blocks Ryan(+0.5) who sheds quickly and comes upfield but does get in a shoestring tackle attempt that helps make the RB an easy target; Demens(+1) did flow quickly and get to the hole to tackle(+1) short of the sticks. Mostly just a Purdue screwup but M did execute some.
Purdue M16 3 1 yes Shotgun trips Nickel even Run Trap Morgan 3
M slanting, which means the DT Purdue is running at ends up running at the trapping G and kind of seals himself, but at least this time Morgan(+0.5) is moving fast at the snap, knowing the playcall, and ends up in the hole before the tackle coming out on him can block. He can't quite get out there, though, and while he makes the tackle it's not the thumper required to prevent a first down. Demens(+0.5) did a good job to pop a guard releasing and come off to finish the tackle. RPS push; good idea but evidently tough to execute.
Opponent Ln Dn Ds Get it? O Form DForm Type Play Player Yards
Illinois O48 3 1 no Pistol twin TE twins 4-4 even Run Power off tackle Roh 0
I said this was +1 in the game column but Roh(+2) gets two here because he is the whole play. He destroys the TE, comes under him hard, and seeks out the pulling guard to blast him. This slows the tailback and allows Demens a free run. Washington(+1) had popped two DL, who get confused and also allow Morgan a free run. The TE Roh destroyed is collapsing to the ground down; Ryan(+0.5) reaches out to grab a foot and Demens(+0.5) grabs the guy's upper body to prevent him from falling over the first down marker. Morgan(+0.5) had also arrived to help if necessary.
Illinois O34 3 1 no Shotgun twin TE twins 4-3 under Run Inverted veer sax Ryan -5
M flips their line when Illinois flips. This looks like it's going to be a veer; bad snap. Campbell(+0.5) and Ryan(+0.5) do put an end to any ensuing wackiness before it can start.
Illinois M41 3 1 no Shotgun twin TE twins 4-3 under Run QB power Campbell 0
Ojemudia is standing up on this, which may tip mischief. Campbell(+2) slants playside on the snap and gets past an attempted downblock; he gets penetration and fouls the play. One blocker is taking him. A second squeezes through the closing gap and is now useless since he has no angle. A third runs up the back of that OL. Ross ends up washed out in the pulling G; Demens(+0.5) reads where O'Toole is going and puts in a hit that stop him in his tracks; Ryan(+1) had blitzed from the backside and was tackling as this happens. RPS +1, slant caused blocks to fail and exposed runner to Ryan.
Illinois M41 4 1 no Pistol twins twin TE 4-3 over Run Power off tackle Ryan -1
Ryan(+2) blows inside of a tight end, getting upfield and picking off the pulling G. Demens(+2, tackling +1) has a free run and makes it count, making contact well in the backfield and tackling by himself. Boom. RPS +2. Perfect call.
Illinois O33 3 1 yes Pistol twin TE 4-3 under Run Power Bolden 2
Double just gets enough movement on Heitzman for a crease; Bolden(+0.5) gets a good hit at the line on the pulling G, restricting and funneling; Morgan(+1) scrapes over to hit right at the first down marker, and it looks like it's short, generous spot. Very generous.
Illinois O37 3 1 no Pistol twin TE 4-3 under Run Inside zone Ross -2
And the reason I bothered with the drive. Pipkins(+0.5) and Black(+0.5) get quality push; Ross(+2) shoots the gap with perfect timing and goodbye Illinois.



October 23rd, 2012 at 4:59 PM ^

the linebackers to step up this year with the departure of Martin and RVB.  They have.  Then again, Washington, Campbell, Roh, and the other rotating crew of the D-line have been playing well enough to keep the linebackers clean since the AF game.  Also, no doubt Mattison is slightly better at calling defenses than GERG.  Given all this, I look forward to many years of stuffing third and short.  It is such a satisfying feeling.


October 23rd, 2012 at 5:20 PM ^

That picture of half the defense tackling Bell is eerily reminscent of a Freep (I know) poster that still hangs in my old room at home (it hasn't really evolved since about my sophomore year of high school) from the national championship season.  Only back then it was half the team tackling Sedrick Irvin.


October 23rd, 2012 at 10:24 PM ^

I like how our defense is looking on these plays - they definitely pass the eye test.

That said, I think sample sizes are in effect here as we have not played too many good offenses.  I'll start believing for sure if we can make some key stops against the option this weekend, in Columbus, and (hopefully) against the Badgers in Indy.