Hokepoints: Spring Snapshot

Submitted by Seth on April 9th, 2014 at 9:40 AM


Extremely tentative starters/base alignment

Michigan's spring game happened. As per usual, there were things to generate text about, e.g. Gardner going 2/8 with two interceptions was tailor-made for lazy columnists hoping to get some play from a false QB controversy. Actual information-like-substance is somewhat less available, and even the things that are trackable are not to be trusted.

But this is Spring(!), when we take the selective, incomplete microcosm that they deign to show us and extrapolate from it the meaning of the universe. So I decided to go one step further, choosing a single play to make sweeping judgments about Michigan's new offense, the 2014 defense, and the future of human civilization that hangs in the balance.

The screencap above was from the first play that was broadcast, following Gardner's interception, a play with Morris and the twos, and a run with the 3rd stringers. Let's pick it apart.

Offense: Houma lined up as a U-back and then motioned into an offset fullback or H-back position on the strongside, strongly suggesting a run to that side. They instead ran a quick curl to Funchess. The line pass-blocked, with just Deveon Smith staying in to help them.


Defense: The good ol' 4-3 under. When the U-back went in motion, Clark spread out a bit to give him better leverage for a supposed one-on-one battle with the RT—if Houma hadn't gone in motion Clark was going to be responsible for him. The play is zone blitz; Ryan is coming, Wilson comes down to a robber zone, and Clark dropped into a zone on the backside. The corners and FS are playing a Cover 3. This is "aggressive" defense only because the DL's gaps are not in front of them, and there's five guys coming. The frontside "C" gap will have Jarrod Wilson, and all other gaps are covered. Or should be…


What happened: You'll note that Glasgow and Ryan ended up in the same "A" gap. That wasn't by design; Jack Miller was looking for the 3-tech or a WLB blitz, even after it was clear Godin was stunting and Bolden wasn't coming. With the OL pass-blocking, Glasgow abandoned his gap and ran unblocked to the quarterback.

This means Miller was right where Glasgow was supposed to go, but blocking nobody. Since that is Glasgow it was enough time to get a quick pass off, but if that was Mike Martin (or Willie Henry) it would have been a spectacular sack. Cole handled Beyer, and Bosch actually got a good sideways kick at Ryan that knocked him into Glasgow, giving Garner just enough time to get rid of the football. Since the CBs were in cov 3, Funchess was open underneath.

Also: RJS was playing SAM right, setting up to take on a fullback block in case of a run, then attacking when Houma didn't seem interested in contact. De'Veon Smith was set up to block him, but the play was over before we got to see how that went.


Offensive line: As expected, just as frustrating as it was last year. Miller didn't adjust to what was in front of him and that gave the nose tackle (of all people) a clear path to the quarterback despite good blocks. This play is a good example of how a good offensive line's communication and experience could bail them out against weird things, and vice versa. The more snaps Miller and Bosch see together, the better they'll be able to wordlessly shift their pass blocking assignments when they see a blitz is coming at the gap between them.

Routes: The frontside was a triangle with Canteen squatting between zones, Heitzman running the seam, and Houma leaking into the flat. The backside curl was an outlet pass. The frontside guys ran good routes—notice how Houma broke a bit more to the sideline when he saw Raymon Taylor had his zone. That widened Taylor and provided a spot between his zone and Wilson's for Canteen to settle into. Funchess's route was an outlet

How'd they get the 1st down: Experienced senior quarterback Devin Gardner recognized he needed to get the ball off, saw his outlet open underneath, and got it to Funchess with time to turn; big Funchess versus a cornerback means there's gonna be YAC.

How Borges is this? If that personnel seems not very different than what Michigan did a lot of last year, that's because it isn't a very big departure from it. Having guys like Houma and Heitzman in there as opposed to NORFLEET!, or just about any receiver, was a constant complaint with Borges. It's more defendable given that Darboh (and Drake Harris) were unavailable, so after Chesson you're getting into the Jones/Dukes/York/Dever receivers who aren't any more of a matchup problem than the catchy-blocky dudes.

This Ace 2TE thing was the base formation. Often both TEs would have their hands down to make a truly balanced formation. Heitzman and A.J. Williams traded off first team duties, and your second-team catchy-runny-blocky guys were Khalid Hill at Y-tight end and Joe Kerridge at U-back. Almost every running play was zone blocked. If Nussmeier's plan is to go back to his Washington offense it wasn't evident here; this was the same offense Bama ran in its bowl game (my UFR of that).

A run look to a side with Heitzman/Cole/Bosch is going to be even less scary than it was last year with at least Lewan in there, but I was still encouraged by the show. For one, these guys are all doing something their skill set suggests they should, with the exceptions of Heitzman's unknown quality as a receiver and De'Veon Smith's as a blocker. And for once they decided to do something catchy-blocky with Houma. Putting him in motion effectively changed his matchup from the WDE to the SAM, which isn't much of a change against Michigan's 4-3, but could be a mismatch if the SAM, as is often the case these days, was more of a safety-like object. And it also changed a balanced Ace formation into an offset I-form, which screams a run in that direction.


Space Coyote

April 9th, 2014 at 11:22 AM ^

I think the better term is that Funchess is a "Hot". By only keeping 6 guys in to block, Michigan requires someone to be a hot receiver (though in this case, the defense didn't bring enough guys to require it necessarily). It's hard to say if Funchess broke off his route or if that was the hot was pre-installed, but Gardner did shorten his drop (3-step, when for the triangle to develop he probably needs a 5-step). Borges ran some triangles and liked triangles, but it is probably more of the base concept for Nuss than it was for Borges.

My guess is that Funchess has an option based on the look from the CB. CB drops he runs a hitch, if CB stays up in leverage he runs a fade/fly route instead. My guess is also that Heitzman's route has some adjustability, namely, that it's a streak against a single high defense and a corner route (which Nuss loves) against a 2 high defense.

Ron Utah

April 9th, 2014 at 11:24 AM ^

For Nuss, you'll see him use the five yard hitch as a hot route A LOT.  He loves to have this plugged-in for a WR that is alone on one half of the field.  It was very successful for Alabama, and it's an easy read-and-throw for the QB.  With an athlete like Funchess, it has the potential to be a huge play for us this year.

As for "How Borges is this?" I think the answer is "medium."  Houma is sent on a route instead of blocking, creating mismatches for the cover three on that side of the field.  But we have two OL blocking no one, and that feels an awful lot like 2013.


April 9th, 2014 at 10:33 AM ^

Not only is the defense ahead of the offense, we knew going in the offense was basically starting over.  The defense isn't pulling punches and they shouldn't.  Every time the defense wins, the offense learns something.  The defense's job (aside from improving themselves) is to give the O-line all the looks they're likely to face over the course of a season.  The positive here is that presumably Nuss is repping a small number of schemes ad nauseum, so there'll be better retention than Borges' Cheesecake Factory menu.

Let 'em get beat.  It's spring ball.  You don't learn if you don't lose.

I'm actually more worried about the D-line.  The problem with two straight years of gooey-soft O-line is that there isn't anyone for our DTs to spar with.  There's no excuse for our edge rush last year considering they had Lewan and Schofield to practice against, but this season, who's going to push the D-line?


April 9th, 2014 at 11:01 AM ^

This team goes as far as the trenches take them. I think the DL will hold the defense just on the wrong side of the elite line. And without major improvement from the OL, Michigan will be lucky to get to 9 wins. 

Just show continual improvement throughout the season please. That is all I am asking for. If by the end of the year we have a team that could have competed for a Big Ten title, but a couple early season mishaps caused us to miss out, I think I could live with it. 

Ron Utah

April 9th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

This is the key.  If the OL is really as bad as it looks right now, 9 wins is probably spot on.  But how we get those wins is very important.  We need to show improvement and look like we're on our way to being a B1G contender, even if we don't get there this year.

We need to beat MSU and/or Ohio, and if we do that and get eight other wins while looking like an improved team, I'll be happy.


April 9th, 2014 at 1:37 PM ^

Yup, I agree. I want to see at least 9-3 with one of those wins against MSU or OSU.


8-4, only if both OSU and MSU are victories.

For me, beating MSU should be goal #1 this year.


April 9th, 2014 at 2:38 PM ^

I was thinking about this scenario yesterday when someone posted something similiar.  While the victories against OSU and MSU would be great, the 4 losses though would be head scratchers.  On paper the 2014 schedule isn't very daunting.  Take out OSU and MSU and the remaining schedule is:

App St

@ ND

Miami, OH



@ Rutgers



@ Northwestern



I can see @ ND as a loss but where are the other 3 losses?  I realize this isn't the UM team that a lot of us grew up with but if they go 2-1 against the 3 rivals and end up with an 8-4 record, I don't know how good that really is.  To me 8-4 should be the floor for this team - lose the 3 rivalry games and stub their toe somewhere else.  You start talking about winning a game or two against the rivals and the victory total should be going up, not staying the same.


April 9th, 2014 at 3:51 PM ^


Take out the ND, OSU and MSU games and the 9 remaining seem very winnable.

So, 8-4 would mean a loss to ND and three losses to borderline teams. I just really want to beat MSU and/or OSU.

But I do think that if they are good enough to beat those two then they are probably good enough to win 10-11 games.


April 10th, 2014 at 3:31 AM ^

NU and PSU will probably be tough games that will be close, so we could lose one those. I'm not sure Utah will be an easy win. I just don't see us beating ND, MSU and OSU on the road, so that gives you 3 losses, some of which may be near blowouts? May be I'm wrong and we will improve enough to have a chance against MSU and OSU. I hope so!


April 9th, 2014 at 5:12 PM ^

Though I might be accused of wishful thinking, I don't believe the OL looked as horrible as the confirmation bias consensus opinion would like everyone to believe.  There were flashes of very good things and player development, and there were mistakes to be sure.  But it isn't like Saturday Michigan will be playing their season opener.  No, Saturday is for Azaleas, Dog Woods, and Carolina Cherry.

Personally I'm not worried so much worried about the final record as I am that on November 29th Michigan has already wrapped up the B1G East, or they are playing to win the B1G East.


April 10th, 2014 at 2:23 AM ^

As long as the team improves through the season. If we go down to Columbus and give OSU a close game, I will be pleased. If MSU and OSU blow us up again, I will be depressed wondering if Hoke can do it in 2015? My guess Hoke is safe with 6 or more wins next season but in 2015, I really think he will have to make a strong run for the east division and or win 10 or more games. It will suck only wining 7 games again this coming season and getting dominated by our rivals on the road and having to suffer through Hoke on the hot seat in 2015. I'm hoping we can win 9 or 10 games and show good improvement through the season.


April 10th, 2014 at 1:35 PM ^

"If MSU and OSU blow us up again, I will be depressed wondering if Hoke can do it in 2015"

If MSU and OSU blow us out, I won't be wondering if Hoke "can do it" in 2015. I'll be wondering if he should be here at all for that season.



April 9th, 2014 at 11:06 AM ^

I love breakdowns like this, where we get to see exactly what was intended and how each player did.  If you want to do any additional plays that might give us a look at the Nussmeier offense or the new "over" defense, I woudl love to see them!


April 9th, 2014 at 11:25 AM ^

I'm convinced the defense is going to be special this year.  There is too much talent at each level not to be.

If the offensive line comes together, this could be a really good football team.  It is way too early to tell if that is going to take place.   There are a lot of talented recruits that need to step up an coaches that need to coach them up.


April 9th, 2014 at 12:22 PM ^

football guru but the base problems last year seemed to be too many different schemes, young interior line unable to pick up blitzes and essentially one primary receiver limiting passing options. Defenses teed off on blitzing and double coverage on gallon. Michigan couldn't answer against average or better teams. How to fix it? I don't know an A gap from a wet nap but this would seem to make sense: 1-teach basic pass blocking (zone?) meaning how to block 3 rushers-4 rushers-5 rushers etc. 2-develop more than one receiver option. 3-develop a short passing game, dink and dunk. Football has a lot of jargon but it's not that difficult conceptually is it? So going to more basic plays that fit your personnel should result in some improvement instead ramming the manball/Auburn running scheme down players throats and using the excuse of we aren't tough enough implying it's not the coaches but the players fault they aren't winning. A new OC and possibly a transfer or two sounds positive to me. Mattison took essentially the same personnel from the RR team and turned them around. Why can't that be the expectation here for the offense this year? I understand and share the disappointment/frustration but not the pessimism.


April 9th, 2014 at 12:30 PM ^

the more I'm convinced Miller has no business snapping the ball.  When he doesn't block air and allow the NT through (he did it at least twice), he's just not able to hold a block by himself.


April 9th, 2014 at 1:00 PM ^

The bad thing is and I'm refrencing 2013, is that Miller wasn't the only only one who couldn't hold a block. It seemed on multiple occasions and throughout the entire year, no matter who was in, the middle of the line would get blown up. As soon as the ball was snapped you'd see someone getting pushed back 3-5 yards.

It looked as if those guys weren't physically strong enough to be playing at this level yet. But that's the situation this team is in and we can only hope that 2014 is better.


April 9th, 2014 at 1:22 PM ^

I privately hope that COLE can snap the ball and play center.....but probably won't happen... It is true, that he'll be our best lineman by midseason...  I'd like to see the OL as follows..

Magnuson   ---     Cole  ---    Kugler    ---   Glasgow   --   Tuley-Tillman

Braden isn't ready...Kalis cannot pull and is slow,  Bosch is slower and should really lose weight.... Miller is just too small.

Dawson I predict will be starting next season.




April 9th, 2014 at 1:08 PM ^

After re-watching the spring game for the third time, I am become much more enthused....  things are in fact looking up.    Some notes of mine:

-I was the guy last year who said Gedeon would be the man this year... well, Houma just absolutely annihilated him on a block......wow.... knocked the guy who is called a man-child, off his feet.... is Houma getting enough respect here?

-regardng the OL.....  Braden and Bosch seem to blow lots of run block assignments... Miller is just too small and ineffective.    I saw the potential of LTT, Dawson, and Kugler.    Kalis is getting better but I'm not a fan of when he pulls...     I do not believe that Miller, Braden, Bosch, are in our top five OL.....       

-Cole is in fact our best lineman.... yep....   he will be starting at either LT, LG, or RT

-Im hoping Kugler advances enough by opening game, to start....  

-I wont be surprised to hear, if it happens, that Braden is benched for LTT... He just blows assignments... LTT is a better player from what I saw... maybe its due to the new zone scheme. Pretty clear to me that he'll be alot better without the club hand.

-Kalis really needs coaching up on pulling.

- a side, irrational thought....many of the players, except the linebackers and CBs, seem out of shape...   ironic that Bo used to stay in decent shape and that Hoke couldn't care less about his own... I don't like this at all.... sends a message.

If Magnus is reading this, I'd really like to hear his input on the OL....




April 9th, 2014 at 1:24 PM ^

I agree about your point with Kalis in that he doesn't look the best when pulling.

I'm of the theory that based on their performance last year they should put any plays with pulling, trapping, countering, etc. on the back burner and just focus on making a successful block straight ahead.


Ron Utah

April 9th, 2014 at 3:31 PM ^

Eliminating pulling, trapping, countering, etc. sounds good, but it's very tough to do.

For one thing, your running game now consists of just a few plays and is predictable.  This means you need to be able to execute those few plays nearly flawlessly.  This seems unlikely for this group.

For another, you are taking deception out of passing game in a big way.  All of those blocking techniques set-up LBs for play action passes in a way that zone runs simply don't.

Stanford, Wisconsin, and even Alabama use pulling.  I would like to see Michigan go to the "square shoulders" method of pulling, and I'd like to keep the playbook limited, but pulling should not be eliminated.


April 10th, 2014 at 3:53 AM ^

Lindsay picks Michigan after visiting Oklahoma and Louisville. My guess is that Lindsay would be in a starting battle at Oklahoma and he should pick Michigan over Louisville due to Nuss. A bit worried he may attend OU even though he may not start since he was from TX and it would be closer to home.

We could really use Lindsay at center this season! He would help a young line.


April 10th, 2014 at 2:21 PM ^

RS J would have a definite say in things.  He has playing experience at C and by all indications is the heir apparent to Gabe Ikard.  After having a four year starter at C, OU might be hesitant to bring in a one and done player


April 10th, 2014 at 8:09 AM ^

And PLAYSIDE, not frontside, C gap are uncovered. Gap assignments were a major issue last year and it doesn't look like much has improved.Clean up your terminology a little Seth. Otherwise good analysis by someone who probably never coached or played the game.

Space Coyote

April 10th, 2014 at 9:05 AM ^

With football, you can't be that picky about terminology. Go anywhere and you'll here it called ten different things in ten different places. While playside is probably more common, frontside is easily understandable and not completely uncommon.

FWIW, frontside is typically more associated with passing plays. The "frontside" of the play is where the QBs initial or nominal progression will begin, or where the primary route concepts are run. This is to distinguish it in the case the QB throws to the backside, which would make "playside" confusing because the "playside" would never be the side of the play.

I've also heard U-back before. Again, people call things a lot of different stuff. You can call him H, U, H-back (Gibbs), U-back, U-TE, W, W-back (Initially an offense with a wing RB), F-back (Norv Turner), A-back (single wing offense between the OTs typically), LB/RB (offenses with two wings, labeled by left/right), etc. The letters are common on play diagrams, but you'll hear coaches talk in to differentiate from the type of player it is. It all depends on where the coach learned his terminology first for the most part

I feel like this post is generally much more insulting than is necessary besides.


April 10th, 2014 at 9:51 AM ^

Thanks for the assist. I haven't coached or played the game so I've had to pick things up from lots of myriad coaches who, as SC pointed out below, call things all sorts of things. "Frontside" makes more sense for a passing play, is why I used it, since "Playside" suggests the direction the play went (which was to the backside). I've given up on ever having one set of lingo for things and just go with whatever will convey what I'm trying to communicate to lay people.