I know Hoke said they spent the bye week on Michigan's "identity," by which we're pretty sure he meant scrapping any semblance of sense again in favor of slamming fullbacks into people and praying for the turnover fairy to stop hating us. But for those people actually interested in how to defeat Michigan State's lauded/loathed defense, it appears to be vulnerable when you spread 'em out and test them deep.
Red: #2 receiver goes vertical. Blue: #2 receiver doesn't go vertical
With that many guys reading, the defense can play "9 in the box," by which they mean the safeties are part of the run fits. Their run D is gap-oriented.
Just an example. They change up who's got what
Note that screens and such are treated as runs.
[After the jump: tripping them up.]
You confuse these simple reads by putting three deep threats on the same side, and sacrificing your self-respect and manliness by spreading them out.
Note that the boundary cornerback, #15, now has a read on the other side of the formation. In practice, he'll play man to man on his guy (zone life on the boundary is like that anyway) and the safety will call out whether he's got help over the top (i.e. Cov 2) or no.
Doing this can get confusing, though. What if the slot receiver motions from the backside to the hash at full speed right before the snap? Is everyone going to recalibrate their reads that fast? What if the slot is right behind the Y receiver when it's snapped? If you haven't practiced shifting reads it's easy to screw up.
Here's a coach's explanation:
I started it at the 9:19 mark because that's when he explains MSU's style of defense. His own answer is to play man to man on the outside trips guy, and then have the nickel and safety play two-read.
If the Y (tight end) goes vertical, the free safety Drummond (#27) has him. Nicholson (#9, the strong safety) has to get the RB if he goes vertical but since that's rare he'll already be thinking run or Cover 2.
But that puts your cornerback 1-on-1 with their top receiver. MSU's corners are big dudes who are hyper trained to prevent a guy getting off the line of scrimmage; if you have a Woodson out there you can get away with this. You can also get away with it if you're not that worried about their outside receiver. Funchess: no. Darboh?
Either way, you can see they're getting stressed by having a guy cover both sides of the formation. Oregon and Purdue are two teams whose offenses are based on inside zone running and keeping that clean by stressing the outsides. They attacked MSU pretty effectively by adding stressors to those safeties.
This is from Purdue's first drive:
Here's a pic of what MSU is seeing pre-snap and what Purdue is planning:
The slot (Y) receiver is covered by X so I put Y in black. The defense doesn't have to account for him in the passing game
The reads are based on where everybody is at the snap, so Purdue is planning on having that information not available until basically the snap.
Knowing your quarters rules as you do, you can see how this gets confusing. Is it trips? Wait no the slot (Y) is covered, so gear for run; the RB is the read. Wait the OTHER side's #1 is coming across the formation…now he's outside of the other guy. Is he the guy I'm reading now? Omigod now it IS trips WIDE X! WIDE X! What the hell is going o…HIKE!
Confusing is death to quarters since the whole idea is everyone knows what they're doing. MSU's guys have practiced this defense so much that they have to know everything that can be thrown at them by rote.
And they do. Even with all the weird, everybody casually adjusted to a third receiver threat on the field side. In particular, the "Star", their term for hybrid space player (#45, Harris) saw the Z come across the top of the formation and recognized his role: cover that guy, and get ye to the D gap.
But that is hard to do. Harris has to maintain outside leverage and he's got a receiver in great position to block him. Ultimately he beats that block, gets outside, and allows Drummond to clean up, but the receiver still got 6 yards off of a defense that did in fact MAKE a PLAY. So even if MSU doing everything right, Purdue made it hard on them, again by spreading it out and attacking huge run gaps.
They did this all day: run play-action off of simple zone read on the inside to keep the front seven defenders locked in the box, then stretch the safeties (by which I include the SAM/Star/HSP/Harris) horizontally and vertically.
Another play from that drive:
Purple still means #2 (read) receiver
That was a vintage zone-read/bubble screen packaged play right there. Again you can see MSU's Wide X system working against them, as the HSP and the field cornerback are put into man coverage with the guys about to block them. Drummond has to zip up into a widening hole that the slot receiver is skipping through, and ultimately misses the tackle.
Last one (still Purdue's first drive):
The setup is nearly identical to the first play I showed, except they have stacks instead of trips. Notice though that Drummond has gotten sick of being picked on in the flats all drive, and he's now sitting just six yards off the line of scrimmage. Whatever shall he do if that slot receiver, a pretty fast dude, gets that free release he can get because he's shielded from any harassment at the line of scrimmage? This:
Ian Boyd last week wrote an article about how spread teams are now using slot receivers as vertical death threats more commonly. They're doing it because while Kurtis Drummond can be a lot of things, he can't defend all that horizontal space and all that vertical space and still keep his eyes on the run game.
Moral of the story: Dantonio is a mean guy. We should be mean back.