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.