The best reason I've been able to come up with for how this Michigan team could put up that kind of yardage against Ohio State is that Ohio State's defensive players are—man, how do I say this without being a total jackass homer rival?—more prone to mental errors than your average Big Ten starters.
|I hereby dedicate this post In memory of the too-short MGoCareer of Heiko "Bubble Screen" Yang. Who needs doctor money anyway?|
Another way to say it: the best and most representative player on that unit is Ryan Shazier, who is basically Jonas Mouton with five years of good coaching. Another way to say it: they're exactly as dumb as they are talented, and that's why a group of 5-stars are just an average defense. I am a total jackass homer rival.
The second-best reason, and the best you can say without coming off like a TJHR, is that which Borges himself apparently gave in the pre-game interview with Musberger: "We emptied the drawer." In other words, they finally ran all of those counters to the things they'd been doing all year.
There will be plenty of time in the months ahead to wonder why it took this long to throw paper, especially when that gamble came up just short (and the last play was a rock that OSU allegedly* RPS'ed) of paying off. For the moment, let's look at one of the "third" things they brought out for this game and what that did for the offense.
* Ohio State's players threw out one of those heartbreaking quotes about being uber-prepared for what was coming, but the play also had Gallon about to break open.
|It's hard to argue Funchess isn't an "ideal" slot ninja, isn't it? [Upchurch]|
The Bubble Package
Yards per attempt; attempts in parentheses:
|MSU||2.0 (1)||8.0 (1)||5.0|
|Northwestern||5.3 (7)||5.7 (3)||5.4|
|Iowa||3.0 (5)||1.0 (2)||2.4|
|Ohio State||4.5 (4)||7.7 (3)||18.0 (1)||7.4|
|TOTALS||4.2 (17)||5.6 (9)||18.0 (1)||5.2|
Michigan does the bubble differently than Rich Rod—he made it an automatic check against the slot defender getting too close to his running game—but both work under the same principle: keep your grubby SAM's hands away from my interior running game!
The Borges Bubble game debuted against Michigan State as a bubble screen(!) that got a remarkable-for-that-day eight yards, followed by a fake bubble (out of the shotgun) to inside zone that got unfortunately blown up by a double-a gap blitz. It really came out in the Northwestern game: ten plays for 5.4 YPP. Of those, three were the bubble screen, four were a fake to an inside zone, and three to an iso. Once it was on film, Iowa adapted but Michigan ran the same (basically) two things they had against the Wildcats. The result was 2.4 YPP on seven tries: 2 bubbles and 5 inside zones.
They run it out of different formations, usually with two tight ends opposite the bubble twins (20/27 plays I have charted were from the Ace twins twin TE or I-form twins). They do run other stuff from these formations but twins (two receivers to one side) with Gallon on the line and Funchess in the slot is a good sign the bubble game is in play.
It's a good fit for this team since it: A) de-emphasizes interior blocking by holding the SAM outside and letting his OL play 5-on-5; B) Utilizes the surprising multi-threats of Gallon (as a blocker) and Funchess (as a slot receiver), and C) Lets them get Derrick Green running downhill.
I don't have Iowa video but I can show you how they adapted. The first time Michigan ran it they threatened blitz with the SAM:
Then had that guy back out and attack Funchess. The idea was to lure Michigan into a screen if this was a check, and then blow it all to hell. Like I said, it's on tape. Fortunately Michigan doesn't run checks; they called run:
Iowa got to play their base defense against that basic zone run, and the result was 5-ish yards. That is rock on rock: it's blockers versus the blocked until safeties arrive, however the SAM was kept away from the running game by the threat of Funchess. The thing is, up to then Michigan only had a rock and a scissors, so Iowa could spend all day in this defense, ceding 3-5 yards when Michigan ran it, and blowing up the bubble constraint.
Here's what this looked like when OSU defended it:
Same playcall as Iowa except since they knew it wasn't a check they didn't bother with fake SAM ("Star" in Buckeye terminology) blitz—just lined him up against Funchess. A screen is dead.
But watch Joey Bosa (#97 on the bottom of OSU's line) get way too upfield and try to knock down the screen pass that isn't coming, thus taking himself completely out of the play. He's matched against Lewan instead of Butt, though, so Michigan was probably going to get something out of that block anyway; you still don't want to make it so easy.
The middle linebacker (#14 Curtis Grant) compounded matters by Obi Ezeh-ing his way to the hole, which gave Kerridge enough time to arrive and pop in an advantageous position. Finally, the safety (#3 Corey "City in Pennsylvania" Brown) took a long time to read the play, backing out a few steps before setting up at the 1st down line. He might have been run through if the other safety (#4 C.J. Barnett) hadn't made his way over, got depth with a neat little athletic step, and helped stop it.
So rock on rock nets a big hole and big yards, because Ohio State's defenders are something-something box of rocks. But they're not the only talent-deficient guys on the field. Michigan's OL screwed up rock on the third bubble package play of the game:
That's inside zone. With the Star taken out by the bubble fake, everyone is blocked except the safety coming down (#3 Corey "a Jewish suburb west of Pittsburgh" Brown). And he was set up outside so if Mags and Glasgow can hold their downfield blocks this could bust huge. However Glasgow and Kalis didn't do a very good job on their exchange—or else the DT (#63 Michael Bennett) just did a great job fighting through it—and the Buckeye DT ends the play with a mouthful. Bennett was bent back when Glasgow released so my inclination here is to point at Kalis and call it ten-man football.
In the Iowa play I wish I had video of, that DE threw off Butt, and the middle linebacker, despite drawing Lewan, managed to attack quick enough to cut off escape until everyone else arrived, which didn't take long since Iowa's safeties were playing with their ears back. However Green's momentum vs the size of those guys got an extra two yards. Here his 240 lbs. are irrelevant against a wall like Bennett.
[After the jump: other things you can make your fist into]
Here's the second time Michigan ran the package against Iowa:
This was a bubble screen that Gardner threw too low and Funchess dropped. But it wouldn't have gone anywhere because Iowa had its safety moving toward the line at the snap and committed to taking out Funchess while the strongside linebacker blitzed. If this was a run the RB would have eaten SAM in the backfield.
Ohio State used almost this same response:
Linebacker blitzing=run would be dead, but Michigan's coin flip victory there isn't going to get much because the safety (Corey "Monroeville" Brown) is going right for Funchess. This time he gets picked off by Gallon's block and the corner (#12 Doran Grant) is coming up for a free hit after just a few yards.
One of the extra bits of win Rodriguez used to get from his bubble screen game was to have a little jitterbug at slot receiver who could often get extra yards when isolated in space with a defensive back. That's exactly what this play does, except Michigan uses the very not-slot Funchess. You'd think he's not going to shake many guys—maybe plow them—but then on the Ohio side not lunging at a guy twice your size was always an "Area for Improvement":
Grant gets hurdled like a fool, and Michigan is awarded 20 extra yards for having the better football player. That's a thing to keep in mind about the bubble screen, or any play: it's not so much the design of the play but how the design of the play works with the talent of your players and that of thee opponents. When Brian gets around to UFR-ing Iowa (which he will now that his latest attempt to pawn it off on his employees was thwarted), making a play come down to Doran Grant's tackling can be an RPS win itself.
Since Michigan ran ten plays from the bubble bag against Northwestern we'll start there for the third counter:
Oh. Well I guess they didn't need one since Northwestern didn't see this coming and thus didn't prepare a counter. Against Iowa, then, because after putting it on tape of course Ferentz would have his counter prepared. Here's what Borges came up with to defeat that:
Right so Michigan didn't show a third thing and Iowa duly brought out paper. On the fourth bubble look, Ohio State did the same thing. Here's what it looked like:
Some of this might have been man or half-quarters but it's irrelevant. They rolled the coverage to the bubble side, blitzed the Star, and had the safety (Corey "Just off Rte 22" Brown) high-tailing toward Funchess the minute he saw the bubble; the cornerback as well. It was the screen, Gallon walled off Brown, and Grant arrived quickly enough to not be made a fool: 3 yards.
So on the very next play (3rd and 11) Michigan throws out a wrinkle:
(Funchess and Doran Grant are spread to the wide side)
A whole new formation! And instead of throwing the bubble inside-out to the slot (now Chesson), it's coming outside-in to the split end (Gallon)! And this time the run play is a zone read. To Kerridge! On 3rd and 11! So this is one of those things where Borges thinks he's got a paper and really it's just acting like the defense is completely stupid.
Ohio State has a wrinkle too: Shazier has his hand down on the playside, and Roby (the boundary corner) is right up in Gallon's grill. Notice how Shazier and Roby—their best defensive players in the back seven—haven't been very involved yet? Funny that. Well now they are, as is the nickel back Armani Reeves. These are big upgrades from the dudes we've been involving before, and it helps.
Shazier comes in as the option guy and only makes a quick feint toward Kerridge since lol handoff to that guy in this down and distance. Because Shazier's a ridiculous athlete he is on Gardner before the screen can be set up. Not that it matters since Roby wasn't letting Gallon get loose and Reeves is locked in on Chesson, and even the free safety (#4 C.J. Barnett) is coming way up to blow this up.
THIS is when Michigan should have used their timeout (or gotten to the line early enough to check out), because enough Buckeye talent to empty a car dealership lot was loading up to stop this playcall. OSU got the ball back and tied it, and Michigan got the ball back with a minute left in the half. I won't count this in the stats since it's a conversion down and OSU isn't playing a base thing, but I wanted it mentioned.
At this point it seems Ohio State has adjusted but Michigan didn't stop running it. Nearing the end of the first half, after getting a first down on a great Green run, Michigan ran the PA handoff, basically to run the clock out. and OSU ran their "rock", giving up three. On the first play after the half, we tried it again, it was the bubble screen this time, and OSU again went with their paper: the blitz/corner attack, except Doran Grant didn't even bother with a courtesy step back into coverage before firing at Funchess like a bullet:
About now we're screaming: THEY'VE ADAPTED, AL!!!! But of course he's not sure the paper's set up yet so:
This time the Buckeyes faked like they were going to do the paper bug-out again but did a different paper: slanting the line to the playside and otherwise doing rock. Michigan still had numbers but Mags didn't recognize Glasgow was going to be in a terrible spot and went to help Lewan wall off the 5-tech. Meanwhile the WDE (#8 Noah Spence) just pwned Jake Butt.
And then again on the last play of the 3rd quarter they lined up in twins and faked the bubble and…
The Real Paper
Jumpin Jehosaphat that's different! On the eighth bubble package look, down two scores, they finally pull out the counter thing. Again OSU was in the fake-paper rock thing so it didn't hit huge but this is what setup play action looks like: all the DL stay home to close running lanes and the quarterback gets to sit and consider how he would divide the land amongst his minions. Funchess actually had Tyvis Powell beaten if they wanted to go over the top but Gallon broke so wide open on his flag route that's where they hit. The linebackers, too, were sitting in against the run.
So now they've got the constraint set up and…and they put the whole package on the shelf. For the non-hurry-up drives in the 4th quarter Michigan didn't even line up in a twins formation, rather putting the receivers in a stack and running power and PA off of power. The PA bubble pass to Borges wasn't a constraint to make the defense play the bubble package honest; it was the coup de grace.
And thus we see how Borges sees paper: a thing to save to really nail your opponent, but not worth doing just for the sake of keeping the base thing clean. Ultimately Michigan hit big twice on this package because Ohio State's defenders screwed up. Then those plays went for 2, 3, 3, –1, and 2 yards on the next five attempts because OSU adjusted to stop the only pair of plays the Wolverines had ever shown. Then this burned them for 18 yards. What should have happened next is a string of 5-yard PA runs and bubbles with more passes mixed in.
So give Borges some credit for his OSU game plan. But I think we also have every right to be pissed that he thought he needed to let defenses tee off on the one thing his offense does well for 1.75 games in order to set up an 18-yard gain. They've finally found an offense that they're kind of good at and which they can force the defense to defend with their vanilla. And the second that happened, they scrapped it, because Borges doesn't get constraint theory.