Hokepoints: The Key Plays

Submitted by Seth on November 27th, 2012 at 8:57 AM



Last Saturday Michigan ran 51 offensive plays. Of those the Big Ten's best rushing quarterback ever participated in 19. Two of the sans-Robinson plays were on the goal line; here's how Michigan fared on the other 49:

Denard Plays Run% YPA YPA-Adj.* 1st half* 2nd half* In box
As QB 13 100.00% 9.7 6.1 11.8 1.1 6.9
As RB 6 33.33% 1.6 1.3 1.3 - 6.4
On Sideline 30 21.88% 4.2 2.1 1.2 3.1 7.1
Total 49 43.14% 5.4 3.0 3.7 2.5 7.0

Yards per attempt-adjusted (*) means I capped maximum gain or loss on a play at 20 yards so the outliers don't throw off the rest. It's not a quotable statistic but I think it provides a more accurate apples to apples comparison of the offense with Denard under center and without. It shows how Ohio State's defense seemed to have every part of Michigan's offense pretty much shut down except Denard running. Then they shut that down too.

Success rate is a thing they use at Football Outsiders at the start of their S&P+ calculations, and measures how much of the distance needed for a 1st down was achieved given the down. On 1st down you need to get 50% or more, on 2nd down 75% or more, on 3rd down or 4th down 100%. It doesn't account for the time of the game, so running for 8 yards on 1st and 10 from your own 25 with 75 seconds left in the half is considered "success" here. Here's the four quarters by success rating:

Denard 1st Q 2nd Q 3rd Q 4th Q Total
As QB 100% 100% 17% 0% 54%
As RB 50% 25% - - 33%
On Sideline 50% 13% 60% 27% 33%
Total 60% 38% 36% 25% 39%

For all the Borges carping from the 2nd half, Michigan's ability to get chunk yards with Denard's legs despite having to double Hankins and the entire world knowing what's coming was some Level 4 Rodriguez 2010 stuff. Then the bad guys did something at halftime to shut it down and it went to 2008 Rodriguez stuff and Denard Robinson's Big Ten career ended with 9 minutes left in the 4th quarter down 2 points.

A lot of folks have taken the "keying" quote to mean Meyer did something by alignment to take away what Michigan was doing until. I don't think this means what you think it means.

[See THE JUMP for a Picture Pages of the Keying]

"In box" in the above table is how many guys Ohio State put there. Yes they stacked less for Devin than for Denard, but that was more of effect of going to a spread when Robinson was in:

Denard 1WR 2WR 3WR 4WR Avg
As QB 9.0 6.9 5.5 - 6.6
As RB 8.0 6.5 6.0 - 6.7
Out 7.7 6.9 6.3 6.0 6.8
Avg 8.0 6.9 6.0 6.0 6.7

Meyer seemed determined to take away Gardner's scrambles and make him hit receivers in single-coverage before the pass rush arrived. On the other hand he put 9 in the box just once—the 4th down attempt that was an obvious run.

Stacking the box wasn't Meyer's strategy for stopping Always-Runs Denard in the second half; "keying" was. On re-watch I saw a few plays where the defense lined up in a pass protection formation, but then reacted to some sort of key in the backfield remarkably quickly and made for their running lanes.

Here's a play mid-way through the 3rd. Gardner has just thrown the most accurate pass in history to hit Gallon for 30 yards. Ohio State comes out in a nickel (!), and puts six in the box with a tight cornerback just outside it and a nickelback shaded far enough inside the slot to trip the bubble screen wire in spread brains.


Meyer can get away with this because 1) Al Borges has no spread brain, and 2) Denard Robinson's nervous system currently does not extend to his throwing arm. Even so the safeties are 10-12 yards off the LOS and the corners are playing off as well.

Anyway ignore the open bubble at the bottom and see Mr. Highlight. That's Christian Bryant. In HTTV this year Heiko wrote that Bryant is the anti-Kovacs and this couldn't be more true: Bryant's concept of tackling is to hit the ball carrier with a fast-moving projectile, preferably head-first. OSU fans complain that he takes a long time to diagnose plays, but makes up for that with Ed Reed speed. And yet here he is on the handoff.


That's full body sent in the direction of the run. LB Boren and nickel Orhian Johnson moved forward as soon as Omameh began coming across the formation and Bryant reacted right after they did so I'm betting that's their key. They're taken care of by the play but Ed Reed speed plus his decision made for him has Bryant streaking in fast enough to close off both holes either side of Barnum's block.


The second annoying thing here is the Omameh block. This has been a persistent Borges battle in that zone reading is made to get rid of a defender without wasting a blocker on him, and Borges grew up believing linemen are there to be blocked and safeties are there to be run over by a back with a head of steam. This brings us to a moment of truth:


Here the DE forms up inside and then Omameh's pulling block arrives to blast him into…the same direction he was going anyway because he thought the running back had the ball. That's fine; the handoff was most likely a fake and the quick key by the nickel has shoved Roundtree's block five yards into the backfield and into Smith's lane so had this been a real read that's dead too from the keying. Show a thousand Borgeses this cap and they will all giggle with anticipation at the idea of a pulling lineman with momentum hitting a stationary DE at full pop. In MANBALL Russia, every comrade gets blocker.

It just goes to underline again that if you mean to run Rodriguezian spread-'n-shred to the point where the defense is keying for it, you've got to option off that end and save the guards for picking off screaming head-first safeties. Except for the bowl game this is moot.


Things and stuff:

The quick safety fill is what busted this play up. That Barnum block is skating toward the bottom of your screen so this isn't a given for big chunks of yards. Borges could be credited for the play design, and the blocking was good, but the context of the play in the series of what Michigan was doing all day is what makes it an RPS thing. Devin Gardner just threw one of the most perfect balls in the last five years, yet he (along with our team's last functional passing arm) is on the bench. If Denard could throw—or had at all in 35 previous offensive plays—then you're forcing Christian Bryant to use his head for something other than spearing the football, or taking the free yards on the bottom of the screen and sniffing go-ahead field goal territory.

This is the frustrating thing about this offense. We have the tools to do incredibly mean things, to emphasize obvious weaknesses of theirs and exploit our strengths. Instead we have a telegraphed running play that sees Denard eating safety a yard out of the backfield on a play that had good blocking and a DE high-tailing after a fake handoff.

Thank DGDestroys for putting that Every-Snap video together for me. Keep watching and see if you can pick out they keys and reactions.


I made a mini-UFR to gather all of this so I figured I'd share it. Broken up by drives. Click the times to pull up the video.

Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
1 12:41 M35 1 10 Fritz QB 302 7 Run 30
1 12:13 O35 1 10 I-form Out 203 6 Pass 7
1 11:49 O28 2 3 Shotgun RB 122 6 Run 4
1 11:20 O24 1 10 Fritz RB 302 7 Pass 2
1 10:40 O22 2 8 I-form Out 212 8 Pass 0
1 10:35 O22 3 8 Shotgun Out 104 6 Pass -6
Fumble. Michigan 7, Ohio State 0
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
1 8:12 M17 1 10 Ace Out 131 7 Pass 0
1 8:04 M17 2 10 Shotgun QB 113 6 Run 8
1 7:28 M25 3 2 Shotgun Out 113 7 Pass 75
Touchdown. 7-7
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
1 0:32 M30 1 10 Ace Out 122 8 Pass 12
2 15:00 M42 1 10 Shotgun QB 112 6 Run 6
2 14:21 M48 2 4 I-form RB 221 8 Pass 0
2 14:16 M48 3 4 Shotgun Out 113 6 Pass 33 (Pen-15)
2 13:44 M33 3 19 Shotgun Out 113 6 Pass 0
Punt. Michigan 7, Ohio State 10
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
2 13:25 O25 1 10 Shotgun RB 212 7 Pass 6
2 12:41 O19 2 4 I-form Out 212 7 Run -1
2 11:55 O20 3 5 Shotgun Out 104 6 Pass 0
2 11:50 O10 1 10 Shotgun QB 113 5 Run 9
2 11:14 O1 2 1 Goal line Out 230 11 Run 1
2 10:48 O1 1 G Goal line Out 221 10 Run 1
Touchdown. Michigan 14, Ohio State 10
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
2 7:35 M13 1 10 I-form Out 212 7 Pass 0
2 7:29 M13 2 10 Fritz RB 302 6 Run 6
2 6:46 M19 3 4 Shotgun Out 113 7 Pass 4
2 6:13 M38 1 10 Ace Out 122 6 Pass -9
2 5:28 M29 2 19 I-form Out 212 7 Pass 5
2 4:43 M34 3 14 Shotgun RB 203 6 Pass -10
Punt. Michigan 14, Ohio State 10
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
2 1:30 M25 1 10 Fritz QB 302 7 Run 8
2 0:53 M33 2 2 Fritz QB 302 6 Run 67
Touchdown. Michigan 21, Ohio State 17
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
3 15:00 M25 1 10 Shotgun QB 113 5 Run 6
3 14:25 M31 2 4 Shotgun Out 122 7 Pass 7
3 13:52 M38 1 10 I-form Out 212 7 Run 1
3 13:08 M39 2 9 Shotgun QB 113 6 Run 6
3 12:30 M45 3 3 I-form Out 221 8 Run 0
3 12:00 M45 4 3 Shotgun QB 221 9 Run 0
Turnover on downs. Michigan 21, Ohio State 20
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
3 8:07 M14 1 10 I-form Out 203 6 Pass 30
3 7:35 M44 1 10 Shotgun QB 122 6 Run -7
Fumble. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. Picture Paged above.
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
3 4:12 M22 1 10 Shotgun QB 212 7 Run 2
3 3:35 M24 2 8 Shotgun Out 122 6 Pass 6
3 2:54 M32 3 2 Shotgun QB 221 9 Run -2
Punt. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. ARRRRGH Vincent Smith short yardage 1.
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
4 13:50 M36 1 10 I-form Out 212 8 Pass 8
4 13:25 M44 2 2 Fritz QB 302 9 Run 1
4 12:40 M45 3 1 I-form Out 221 9 Run -2
Punt. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23. ARRRRGH Vincent Smith short yardage 2.
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
4 9:18 M8 1 10 I-form Out 221 8 Pass 11
4 9:14 M19 1 10 I-form Out 212 7 Run 0
4 8:31 M19 2 10 Shotgun Out 113 7 Pass -2
Fumble. Michigan 21, Ohio State 23.
Qtr Clock Ln Dn Ds Formation Denard Personnel In box Type Yds
4 6:19 M31 1 10 Ace Out 122 7 Pass 0
4 6:13 M31 2 10 I-form Out 212 7 Pass 0
4 6:07 M31 3 10 Shotgun Out 122 7 Pass 10
4 5:39 M41 1 10 Shotgun Out 122 6 Pass 16 (Pen-10)
4 5:08 M31 1 20 Shotgun Out 122 7 Pass 0
4 4:58 M31 2 20 Shotgun Out 122 6 Pass 0
Interception. Michigan 21, Ohio State 26.



November 27th, 2012 at 10:43 AM ^

...to see what Borges pulls out for the bowl game.  I recall Carr's last game where UM did a lot of things it did not do during the regular season, opening things up a bit.  It was very refreshing and a satisfying win over Florida.  I hope we get to see more of the prominent features that will be part of next year's offense. 


November 27th, 2012 at 10:51 AM ^

IIRC, Carr's biggest problem in the 2007 season (apart from The Horror) was the incredible number of injuries to his star players. Those who did manage to see the field (Henne, Hart, et al) weren't playing anywhere near 100%. He simply didn't have the skills/health required in the offense for most of the season to pull off the plays that he could in the Capital One Bowl when everyone was at or near full strength. 


November 27th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

had plenty of star players before and never ran anything as wide open as he did in that Capital One Bowl.  He had never given QBs, including the likes of Brady, Griese, and Henson the type of autonomy he gave to Henne during that game.  I loved me some Lloyd but that Capital One bowl was Lloyd just getting the hell out of the way and letting the players get loose and they did.  Really makes you wonder about what some other offenses in the past would have been capable of.


November 27th, 2012 at 1:32 PM ^

I've always wondered if that whole gameplan wasn't really Carr just thumbing his nose at everyone who was calling for him to step down because his offense was archaic. I don't know if he would actually have done it for that reason, but I wonder. He could be a pretty spiteful guy when it came right down to it.


November 27th, 2012 at 2:12 PM ^

was going to use it would have been ready for the opener, or the game after that.  I don't believe for a second that Lloyd would have gone shotgun 3-4 wides all year if everybody was healthy.  Hell, he would have done it in 06 with the same personnel if he was going to do it.  I think there was a little spite in there, and I also think that he just really wanted to beat Urban Meyer.  Meyer and Florida approached that game like it was beneath them.  Carr despised being disrespected, by the media, by refs, by opposing coaches, etc.  I think Carr wanted to beat Florida (and win his final game) very badly and coached like he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. (As opposed to coaching like the next terrible thing was right around the corner and sure to impart doom upon everything and everybody at any time)


November 27th, 2012 at 5:31 PM ^

The staff had gone in the off season to the Indianapolis OC Tom Moore to find out about his offense.  A guy named Manning has had a lot of success using his schemes.

He wasn't going to unvail it against App State and then Henne got hurt early against Oregon and the rest is history.

Ron Utah

November 27th, 2012 at 10:39 AM ^

Is a cutback to the right; with that safety gone, everyone else on the right side is adequately blocked, and if Denard cuts back, that could easily be 6 points.  I know play design takes the ball the other way, but we need to be able to read that space and react.


November 27th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

Noticed that too.  Not sure if the play is designed to go to the left, but if Denard goes right the blocking is set up pretty nicely.  Even if the DE can slip past the lineman Denard can probably get by him and then he's more than likely one on one in space with the safety.


November 27th, 2012 at 3:23 PM ^

This is one of the things we'll have to get used to next year.  Not having someone with the speed and vision to find holes where there shouldn't be any will put a crimp in our running game that we'll have to iron out with serious blocking.



November 27th, 2012 at 11:30 AM ^

If Omameh releases imediately to the second level and gets away clean from the DL over him, the first guy he finds is that LB. All the zone read diagrams and plays I have seen have Omameh blocking the LB or the first second level guy he finds.

That safety is a mile from the line of scrimmage. He is certainly not walked down into the box in run support. There is no way Omameh is going to jump immediately to the second level, getting a clean release, then ignore and cleanly release the LB to block a backside safety that he has no idea is coming prior to the play.

I understand the philosophical differences in blocking schemes discussed but doubt that is what ruined this play.

What ruined this play was Denard's inability to pass, OSU's reaction to it, and the safety's excellent execution of the play call. The counter to this is to do playaction and burn the safety for his aggressiveness. But we all know Denard couldn't do that.



November 27th, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

the only sensible option was to have Denard in the game as a RB for a majority of the offensive plays we had. He was the only remotely effective guy running the ball that we had available, and has shown during his entire career an ability to make use of smaller creases than any of our other RBs could. Since our OL has had a problem all season long with opening up running lanes of any size, you'd think we'd want a RB in the game who had any shot of getting positive yardage. Combine that with the obvious defensive concern with his presence regardless of what position he was at, and we had the potential to do what we showed against Iowa. Whether that would have worked is impossible to prove, but the fact that Borges had Devin and Denard on the field at the same time for a total of 6 plays out of 51 is bizarre.


November 27th, 2012 at 12:48 PM ^

I was really surprised that they could put together Devin=WR but they couldn't put in to practice Denard=RB until the Iowa game. I was very surprised he was healthy by all accounts, but couldn't squeeze the ball with his right arm, and he sat for 2 1/2 games. The emergence of Devin as a successful qb option made that possible, but why they didn't play him more is beyond me. 


November 27th, 2012 at 12:56 PM ^

And I have to ask, because I've never seen it talked about, and not trying to be a smart ass...but is Denard incapable of catching a pass?  I've seen him run away from DBs carrying the ball from scrimmage before, why can't he run a fly pattern and get a few steps on them in the secondary?  Again, just trying to see where the thought process was on this.  I have to imagine that lining up at receiver or slot would demand a double team? 


November 27th, 2012 at 1:35 PM ^

Eventually I thought they would do that. Not last year when he seemed to be improving as a passer, but after his bad start to the season I thought theyd excercise both qb's as athletes. Partly to get defenses on their heels, but especially to highlight his other skills to NFL teams who might want to play him in the slot, returning kickoffs, or as a combo back a la Darren Sproles, CJ Spiller, Josh Cribbs, ect. After 2 games I wondered what in the world they were saving an otherwise healthy Denard for.


November 27th, 2012 at 12:52 PM ^

It would be interesting if somebody asked Mattison if he feels his defense has an advantadge if they which play is coming in advance.  After Mattison got done laughing and finally answered "yes, of course" I would love to see a follow-up to Brady asking "then why doesnt your offensive coordinator seem to care enough to stop tipping the play to our opponent?"

I was shocked when I heard that MSU last year knew our freaking snap count by watching Molk pick up his head prior to the snap.  I guess we didnt learn from that experience after all.



November 27th, 2012 at 2:09 PM ^

I can't start a thread yet, but if I was going to start one about the game, it would be similar to MGrowOld's idea. As I watched the game, I realized that OSU didn't have a big talent advantage. Given the field position we gave them in the second half, they should have been ahead by 13 points or more. No, what killed us, as many people have said, was an OC who didn't put our players in the best situation to succed - and it wasn't the first time.

Without being able to get inside Borges' head, I'd say he's like James Ross. He needs "one step" - in his case, one step back, in his own head. I think his mantra is something like, "well, that play worked, so now we'll create a surprise play off of that". Unfortunately, his "one step too far" goes back to a play that doesn't work, which is why the first "surprise" was used in the first place. If running wide is working, you don't assume that the defense won't be able to defend the middle if you can't run there, ever.

The other problem is see with Al is a lack of ability to make in-game adjustments. If Denard has trouble blocking in pass pro, you don't keep him out of the game -- and in the process making yourself one-dimensional and predictable -- but rather you run plays that counter blitzes and aggressive pass-rushing. Rollouts, screens, misdirection plays, QB draw plays - these seem to be viable options, and Borges seemed to do none of it. It's either a lack of ability to adjust, or the stubbornness that characterized a lot of the Carr era. Neither are good.

Borges seems little better than DeBord, but he's not going anywhere. That makes me shake my head, because it seems after our post-Carr experimentation, we're headed right back to Carr-era Michigan. Some good teams, to be sure, and a bunch of two- to four-loss seasons, with us settling near the top of the "second-tier" of teams. As a fan, I'm not happy with that, especially with the potential to have a top-5 defense every year under Mattison.


November 27th, 2012 at 1:52 PM ^

and no longer used Denard at RB after the sack late in the 2nd quarter.  Must have assumed they would always go blitz afer that because Denard can't block.  Gee...don't we have some plays to use against an A gap blitz?  It's not like any other team likes to do A gap blitzes, so we only see this when we play Ohio, right?  (Argh!)



November 27th, 2012 at 2:53 PM ^

Llloyd Carr won 75% of his games, won a national championship and never got Michigan into any NCAA trouble.  He is the third winningest coach at Michigan and during his last year, he was amoung the winningest active coach in the D1.  He only had one unranked team, 2005 and came back in 2006 to challange for a National Championship.  Constant discussions around here about how bad he was do not ever seem to point out that you are saying he was bad while reality shows he was one of the best.  Everything you say about Lloyd could also be said about Saban or almost any successful coach.  Good defense, limiting mistakes and win football games, but that isn't enough, he should have done it with fireworks and big explosions. 


November 27th, 2012 at 7:25 PM ^

Great points...except I don't care about fireworks, etc.

The Carr era did have a winning percentage of slightly over 75% (122-40), though Lloyd was under .500 (6-7) against OSU. I'd like better than an average of 9-3. And I'd like to beat Ohio State more often than we did under Lloyd (yes, we are technically doing that right now).


November 27th, 2012 at 3:43 PM ^

That seems pretty clear, and even as a decoy it seems like that's worth RPS -1 to Borges after the first play or two.  If he can't throw and we can't block, there's really no point.

This also points out an excellent halftime adjustment by OSU's coaches.  They were able to discern a key to what play we were running and get their guys to adjust.  That is going to be a long-term problem for us, and it's yet another bit of supporting evidence for Meyer's coaching excellence.

I am curious if OSU made the same adjustment when Gardner was in.  IIRC, we pull a lineman on one pass play (the throwback screen) so I'm guessing they did.  One way for us to keep others from keying on us like that is to have either a package play set (or give our QB more freedom for freeze plays and LaZer screens; Borges seems open to that).

The more I look at this the more I realize just how handicapped we were without Denard's arm.  He can't play running back straight up since he can't block; we can't really run inverted veer since Gardner isn't as big a running threat (and if he gets hurt we lose the game); if he always goes out for a pass then we can't reliably run four verts or anything else.

Gardner's emergence masked the extent to which we were hosed with the containment breach, but hosed we were.