Hokepoints Gets Nothing for the Spread, Thanks Borges for Trying

Submitted by Seth on November 26th, 2013 at 12:04 PM


Note: Most of of my long "here's a handy guide for Borges complaining" post got deleted. Here's a few bits of it.

So I did the thing where I update (finally) the UFR database, then self-UFR the last game because this damn column comes before Brian does the UFR for the latest one, and then I say things about all the things. Let's just cut to the things:

Yards per play (# attempts in parentheses) of normal downs by formation.

Opponent Shotgun Ace I-Form Pistol Tackle Over Goal line Total YPP
Central Michigan 6.7 (17) 7.7 (21) 7 (19) 3 (2) - 1.5 (2) 6.8
Notre Dame 7.4 (14) 10.6 (22) 3.2 (13) 4.4 (14) - - 7.0
Akron 21.8 (11) 5.6 (19) 4.5 (18) -1.8 (5) - - 7.6
Connecticut 5 (25) 2.8 (19) 1.8 (12) 3.5 (4) - 4 (1) 3.6
Minnesota 6.1 (9) 4.9 (7) 1.7 (7) - 5.8 (20) - 5.0
Penn State 3.6 (16) 7.7 (22) 3.8 (9) 6.4 (7) 0.8 (11) - 4.8
Indiana 7.2 (34) 14.1 (14) 8.8 (16) 4 (1) 11 (8) - 9.2
Michigan State 5.3 (23) 7.4 (7) 1.8 (4) 0.1 (12) - - 4.0
Nebraska 4 (23) 0.3 (7) 1.8 (12) 6.3 (6) - 0 (1) 3.1
Northwestern 5.4 (16) 4.7 (21) 5 (24) 11 (3) - -1 (2) 5.1
Iowa 2.7 (23) 1.2 (9) 5 (13) 4 (2) - - 3.1
Total 6.1 (33%) 6.7 (27%) 4.6 (23%) 3.6 (9%) 5.5 (6%) 0.8 (1%) 5.6

What's left out are 2-minute drills, 3rd/4th down and longer than 6, and any short situations.

And yards per play by how spread, i.e. the  # of receivers in formation, they got each game, with % of plays they lined up that way in parentheses:

Opponent Avg WRs None Big 2-wide 3-wide 4-wide Empty
Central Michigan 2.33 1.5 (3%) 2 (3%) 8.1 (56%) 7 (33%) -1.3 (5%) -
Notre Dame 2.29 - -0.8 (6%) 8.6 (59%) 5.5 (35%) - -
Akron 2.23 - 9 (4%) 5.5 (70%) 13.5 (26%) - -
Connecticut 2.33 4 (2%) 2.5 (7%) 2.9 (49%) 4.5 (43%) - -
Minnesota 1.70 2 (5%) 4 (35%) 5.4 (47%) 7.7 (14%) - -
Penn State 2.14 - 5.7 (14%) 5.2 (58%) 3.7 (28%) - -
Indiana 2.66 -0.5 (3%) 16.2 (7%) 9.7 (40%) 10.7 (23%) 6.5 (27%) -
Michigan State 3.00 - -8 (2%) 4.1 (26%) 4.8 (41%) 3.6 (30%) -
Nebraska 2.47 0 (2%) 3.7 (6%) 0.5 (43%) 6.3 (41%) 1.3 (8%) -
Northwestern 2.15 -1 (3%) 2.2 (8%) 4.9 (64%) 5.7 (23%) 18.0 (3%) -
Iowa 2.91 - -1 (2%) 3.6 (38%) 2.1 (30%) 3.8 (26%) 3.5 (4%)
All games 2.38 0.8 (2%) 4.6 (8%) 5.7 (51%) 6.2 (30%) 4.8 (9%) 3.5 (<1%)

My base assumption was that when Michigan goes more spread they're putting the B+ receiving threat of Dileo, or the C+ receiving of Chesson on the field, and usually moving the C- blocking/D- receiving of A.J. Williams or Joe Kerridge off of it.

The Fetal Position Theory of Offense

However going to wider looks didn't seem to do much good against Iowa or Michigan State (that one at least M was behind for a good portion). That's because of a lot of things, one of those being that despite spreading it out, Michigan's been leaving those guys anyway. Both players are probably the best blockers of their position groups, but that's not saying much. Meanwhile they give up pretty much any threat of doing something other than blocking, and opponents have used that opportunity to tee off. Since neither is good enough to pick up a majority of those blitzes, there've been a lot of messes in the backfield as a result.

Iowa blew up Michigan's penultimate drive with back-to-back A-gap blitzes. On the first Kerridge was in to pass block and got lit up by the blitzer, who was immediately into Gardner. On the second they had Green in there and had him run a pattern that the defense ignored. With immediate pressure Gardner ignored Green and chucked a pass into an unready Funchess's back. That is progress, but the lesson is just doing the thing you ought to be good at doesn't fix the problem; you have to practice doing it as well.

Execution Issue

But even when they do spread like a boss, there's a lot of things going wrong. Look that this play, the penultimate (so rare you get to use that word twice in a day) offensive one of the game for Michigan:

Starts at 0:53:38 if browser player isn't working.

There's so many ways to win here, but nothing comes of them.

1. There's bubble action. Though of course they don't throw it despite it being open because this isn't a check (Michigan's checks are only to ISO or the pistol speed option). And Funchess, not Gallon or—infinite ARRRGHHH—Norfleet, is still the designated bubble screen guy. Anyway with the safety deep and bailing, the bubble is 7-12 free yards if Michigan can recognize it and throw it, but that has to be built into the offense. The way Borges has been using the bubble screen is on called plays. It was cool that he threatened it out of a more open look—previously it seemed his capitulation to this one play was predicated solely on its usefulness for running from heavy sets. The way Rodriguez used—and the way Urban will deploy it against us on Saturday—is it was as an instant check to things opponents did to hamper his zone read game.

Fuller captured one of the ultra-rare instances of a shotgun-Kerridge play that wasn't him blocking.

2. Tipped zone blitz. That end spread out and the obviously blitzing linebackers suggests there's going to be a zone blitz pre-snap but there's just 6 seconds on the playclock at that moment so they don't really get to adjust to that. Still, this is a win for an outside run, since that DE is going to drop back and stand where a great block would normally deposit him.

3. Center and guard versus linebackers. This ought to be a win. Those LBs stunt their blitz a bit so that the first gets a 2-for-1 and the second can slice in free. By coming up pre-snap they made it harder for Glasgow to get off the combo and pick up his guy, but he just has to come off the double and take a half-step sideways to block that gap. Here's where agility in a spread center helps you, and where the lack of it hurts Glasgow, even when he knows what he's supposed to do.

4. Magnuson starts the play far to the playside of that tackle. That's a big advantage for the offense. The DT indeed slants into Mags, then chucks him and gets to the outside, totally blowing that advantage.

5. It's Devin Gardner and Fitz Toussaint in the backfield, so chances of a missed tackle are pretty good. However Gardner is at about 45% right now because he's been beat up so badly in the last few weeks, and Toussaint's pass blocking problems are part of what's inviting these interior blitzes, since the downside for the defense (having that guy violently cut to the ground while a receiver slants into the unoccupied territory) is unlikely from Michigan's offense.

Also Jackson's is hesitant with his block, and is set up to spring Funchess to the outside, so that nickel guy is going to be free to tackle after just a few.

So going to a spread isn't going to fix everything. The formation did give them more room and opened up the bubble, but Michigan can't access those yards because they come to the line too late to see anything in the defense and adjust to it, and hasn't practiced doing that. The defensive playcall made Glasgow's athleticism the key to the key block, but that's not Glasgow's strength. And crappy blocking elsewhere meant this play was still dead in four ways. Such is Michigan's offense. They're not all good at any one thing, and they don't do the things that some of them are good at, and the end result is a lot of plays where guys are forced to execute the things they're bad at.

The Little Bubble Package: Dead?

Here's how the Bubble-or-Run package has fared:

Opponent Runs Bubbles YPA
Michigan State 0 1 8.0
Northwestern 7 3 5.4
Iowa 5 2 2.4

They've adapted.


Iowa was crashing the backside SAM and had their safety ready to pounce on the bubble (even if Funchess didn't drop one). I think there's something you can do about that (dare I say rollout?). Running it against Northwestern was cool, but I would have expected Borges to know by now that's it's scouted and lead off with that third counter. Or add it to the scrap heap with the rest of the fancy things he's tried. I'm sure a picture pages is coming so I won't get further into it.



November 26th, 2013 at 12:45 PM ^

Why Gardner threw a strike into Funchess' butt.  The Iowa defense didn't buy what Green was selling them.  And Gardner stayed with his #2 go-to guy instead of adjusting with a quick toss to Green.  Which is consistent with Gardner's lack of vision/awareness.  Thanks.  


November 26th, 2013 at 1:00 PM ^

...of the Borg (plural form = Borges???), resistance is futile. The big Buckeye machine is ready to obliterate Michigan in front of their home crowd with superior weapons.

Can Captain Hoke keep the shields up long enough to launch a few successful Funchess torpedoes at their vulnerable spots??

That's the question.


November 26th, 2013 at 2:31 PM ^

It seems the criticisms have evolved from "stop running into a loaded box," to "why aren't we doing X?," to "we just suck and we shouldn't," as the season has gone on. We did stop running into loaded boxes (for the most part) and we tried "X" along with "Y" and "Z" and a few other things (bubbles, screens, spread, draws, etc) and yet we still can't scrape together a decent drive to save our lives.

There are limits to what you can do mid-season due to the practice time constraints and I think what we're seeing reflects that. You can't re-install a new, coherent system, there just isn't the time. You can add adjustments piece-meal to address certain deficiencies, but once the defenses figure it out, or predict it before it happens, you're back to square one. Now, Borges deserves some criticism for not getting some of the adjustments in sooner, and certainly for hanging on to some too long, but at the same time, the multitudes of deficiencies this team has to plan around is staggering. People are acting like this is an A- team playing at a D level because of one guy not doing his job, but we're probably more like a C- team playing D football.


November 26th, 2013 at 7:29 PM ^

Not sure your conclusion follows from your argument. If installing piecemeal offensive schemes long enough to get them on film before having install a different one is a huge problem (and I agree that is is), then the solution would seem to be the installation of a single system with a sufficient number of constraints that it doesn't matter how well-scouted your system is.

I'm very annoyed at the board in general and hate all the mindless Fire Borges parroting, but right now it really does seem like the answer is to install a coherent offensive system, and I'm not sure Borges can do that.


November 26th, 2013 at 9:58 PM ^

A coherent system is absolutely the answer, I'm just arguing that it can't be done mid season. The system they installed in the offseason didn't survive 4 games and they've been in band aid mode ever since. That's not absolving blame, they're the ones responsible for knowing the personnel well enough to decide what system would work. Still, the fact remains, there's precious few options for fixing it before at least bowl practice.


November 30th, 2013 at 9:40 AM ^

I made a reference to this in dear diary yesterday. They changed up the strategy from one stupid thing to another. This year:

CMU/Akron: 2/3rds under center, 1/3 shotgun, try to establish manball.

ND: Spread it out, 20% pistol. (THIS WORKED WELL THEN WAS ABANDONED)

UConn: Back to CMU/Akron strategy until that wasn't working, then back to ND strategy but Gardner had an awful day.

Minnesota/PSU: Response to Devin's bad day is panic and go to that Tackle-Over crap. PSU adjusted.

Indiana/MSU/Nebraska/NW'ern: Changed up O-line, tried to do max protect, using lots of AJ Williams and Joe Kerridge blocking and going to very simpleton blocking that puts more emphasis on everyone doing their jobs. Indiana left Gallon open, MSU and Nebraska and NW'ern blitzed their safeties like crazy, taking advantage of the blocking schemes to make Lewan and Schofield irrelevant.

Iowa: Tried to make a game out of that bubble/zone paired play but never showed a counter and shotgun 3-wide passing. Day of receiver dropsies and bad downs/distances from tiping the under-center stuff hid the effectiveness of the 3-wide game. 

Opponent Shotgun Ace I-Form Pistol Tackle Over Goal line
Central Michigan 28.57% 31.43% 31.43% 2.86% 0.00% 5.71%
Notre Dame 29.87% 29.87% 20.78% 18.18% 0.00% 1.30%
Akron 30.16% 30.16% 28.57% 9.52% 0.00% 1.59%
Connecticut 45.83% 27.78% 16.67% 5.56% 0.00% 4.17%
Minnesota 27.78% 12.96% 14.81% 0.00% 44.44% 0.00%
Penn State 36.36% 25.00% 12.50% 7.95% 12.50% 5.68%
Indiana 46.43% 16.67% 21.43% 1.19% 10.71% 3.57%
Michigan State 57.89% 14.04% 7.02% 21.05% 0.00% 0.00%
Nebraska 59.38% 10.94% 18.75% 9.38% 0.00% 1.56%
Northwestern 39.33% 24.72% 30.34% 3.37% 0.00% 2.25%
Iowa 53.33% 15.00% 21.67% 5.00% 0.00% 5.00%
Season 41.00% 22.24% 20.69% 7.46% 5.66% 2.96%

The Iowa gameplan was the best since ND, with the caveat that there were about 50% of downs burned by totally tipping things the opponent has on tape, and there were zero counters to opponent adjustments, so once Iowa saw what we were doing it was dead.

Running into stacked boxes wasn't the only problem. It was one problem. There are many, and a good number of those are Borges's terrible playcalling.


November 26th, 2013 at 4:54 PM ^

Is it acceptable for Hoke and Borges to have a C- offense in year 3? I don't agree with that. But even if one accepts C-, then why are we playing D football? That's a reflection of the coaching performance.


November 26th, 2013 at 5:48 PM ^

Interesting I read looking back at the 1996 and 2005 seasons were both disappointments and in both 1997 and 2006 Michigan had new coordinators for both offense and defense.  The two best years the team has had the last 20 years.

In 1996 Fred Jackson and Greg Mattison were in their 2nd years as coordinators and were replaced by Jim Hermann and Mike Debord respecrtively.

In 2006 Mike Debord took back over for Terry Malone and Ron English for Jim Hermann.

This gives me some hope for next year.

I was also looking back at Al Borges success at UCLA and Auburn, his two longest stays.  After McNown left the UCLA offense nosedived and what happened at Auburn is eerily similar to Michigan's prediciment.

I don't think they need to replace Mattison but do think they need to find an up and coming OC from say a MAC school and inject some new life into the offense.  I think mentally the offense is just beat down and needs a change.


November 26th, 2013 at 7:18 PM ^

But it looks more like a D+ team failing, plain and simple. It would be laughable if it weren't so so sad. It may be year three for the coaches but the players are playing to their experience level, more like year 1 and 2. Speaking of this what has happened to Lewan & Mags? I mean they (coaches) should at least be able to count on them for a play or two when in dire need. Is it possible to take thier ability out of the game and use it against us? My Gods. The luck factor is perposturous, how did Gardners fumble stay in bounds? The missed blocks are indeed epidemic and it only seems to get worse with time.


November 26th, 2013 at 8:31 PM ^

People don't give Al Borges enough credit. 

Yeah, we all know his play calling is pathetic.  But there's more.  Al Borges is destroying the mental toughness and competitive spirit of these young players.  Al has no swagger; they have no swagger.  Al is confilcted about his strategy; they get confused.  Al is not a tough man; they lose toughness.

Watching the MGOBLUE clips, you can see these kids bring a good attitude.  You want to see them do well.  They deserve a coach who will give them the opportunity to enjoy this once in a lifetime experience and accomplish the best they are able to do.  Al is not living up to his responsibility.

We hear all the time about how players must compete to be on the field.  While this football fiasco is a bummer for alum and football fans, it's worse for these kids who work so hard, risk injury and play their hearts out.  Al Borges is not doing his job at a competitive level.  There is no reason for him to be anywhere near that field of honor.