Hokepoints: Third Play Guy

Submitted by Seth on September 10th, 2013 at 11:46 AM

Al Borges CMU press conference:

"He's a third play guy. You guys have heard me talk about the third play, right? He's a third play guy."

Devin Gardner's ridiculous redzone efficiency last year has gone to ludicrous this year. The standard answer we've been giving for this is "well his legs and size" but there's been more to it. I grabbed this one play from the ND game because it shows several things that Gardner and Borges have been doing to defeat what should have been one of their toughest redzone opponents.

The play:

What you saw: Michigan gets a 1st and goal from the 2 yard line after a pass interference. They line up in…is that an unbalanced formation? Then Devin checks out of it, runs what seems like an option play, then dives through the whole thing suddenly for the score. Afterward we learn Hoke was trying to call timeout.

Play the First: Ace 2TE Twins Unbalanced HB Dive:


It is unbalanced: Funchess (on the l.o.s. just outside the left hash) is covered by Reynolds, and Schofield is an eligible receiver would be eligible if he had a non-OL number on. There's also some epic space between the end (Sheldon Day) and the linebacker to his side (Shembo).


The middle linebackers are seeing this and pointing. Let 'em; we're motioning to something else anyway.

[after the jump]

Play the First B: Just kidding it was an ISO!


Michigan motions Butt to fullback so now he's in a better position to be a lead blocker (this is one example of why you want your U-Tight End to be fullbackian). Boom: ISO to the face.

ND has already been shifting down to defend the dive. As Domers do, the DOG (their version of SAM--actually he's on the weak side but whatever) puts his hand in the dirt and they're in a 4-3 under.


As a result an ISO here would end up as one of those goal line plays where there's a wad of bodies all shooting for the same spot and whoever gets there first and has more size and momentum gets to decide where the pile goes. In this case the key matchup is slanting Nix versus Glasgow (Miller's block wouldn't be able to do much in that case), which is a bet ND will gladly take. After this fun stuff there are 7 seconds left to snap it.

But screw it; let's audible anyway.

Play the Second: Pistol Sprint Right Option



Gardner backs up, says "you go over there Jake." Butt runs to the Y, gets set, snap. Off screen I'm guessing Reynolds has backed up off the line so it's not an illegal formation (WR isn't going to get to hear the audible well so it's good to have a guy like Reynolds with a head on his shoulders over there to prevent that). As some folks have pointed out to me, it's not an illegal formation if he stays put.

ND is in a total clusterf— trying to realign again. MLB Tyler Plantz is telling Nix he needs to scoot over. Shumate was having a conversation with Shembo about how weird it would be if there was a tree right there (I'm guessing) and then realizes his man (Butt) is on the complete other side of the formation. As a result, at the snap the Irish are aligned in a defense that's like a mirror I-formation.


The efficiency with which Michigan gets into this play shows it was quite practiced (Borges red zone coaching FTW). Funchess is pulling right across Sheldon Day's face and is in position for a reach(!) block if anyone were to show up there. Lewan is holding the backside, Schofield is releasing downfield, and everyone else is zone blocking. Gardner is optioning the middle linebacker, Plantz, who was caught out of position and is now booking for the outside. Actually they're all booking for the outside. Omigod ND defended this!


Play the Third: Fake Sprint Right Option QB Dive

Here's where Devin's quick thinking and athleticism make him the ultimate redzone trump card. Everybody's momentum is taking them outside, so Devin quickly cuts inside, where Funchess has walled off the EMLOS without realizing it, and that gaping hole between Lewan and Glasgow at the snap is now a clear shot to the end zone. Nix and Shumate read the backside cut and try to get back but now it's Gardner forward momentum versus hopeful diving attempt. Touchdown.


Oh and Hoke was calling a timeout: d'oh well.

Things: Gardner's redzone efficiency is on display here, and it's not just about athleticism. He saw the Irish react well to the motion, got into the checkdown play, put the freshman where he needed to be, and then cooly went off the page with his option when the defense over-pursued the play. Michigan may not package plays offensively like most of the other great offenses in college football do these days. However whatever they lose in not packaging looks and stuff they make up by having the ability to attack in so many places after the snap. And if you're a defense there's just so many possible things that can happen to you so quickly there's still plenty of room to wind up confused as hell at the snap.


Mr. Yost

September 10th, 2013 at 11:58 AM ^

Borges has done a great job with motion this year and no offense to Denard, but Devin is just a smarter QB at the LOS to read the defense and get in and out of plays.


September 10th, 2013 at 3:35 PM ^

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September 10th, 2013 at 1:06 PM ^

It seemed that Borges wouldn't let Denard option to a different play at times last year.  The MSU game was extremely frustrating when they would load the box and we'd just run into it, even when a receiver was basically left uncovered.  Sparty is going to have a much tougher time holding down our offense this year.

Space Coyote

September 10th, 2013 at 1:13 PM ^

But I don't think they were comfortable tasking him with calling different types of audibles. The speed option is a fairly easy play to audible to: can you seal everyone besides the EMOL? Within the design of the offense, I'm not sure they really felt comfortable having Denard call many audibles out of the gun and I'm not sure they were comfortable themselves telling him what to call. FWIW, Denard did switch formation sides when he was running plays from under center.


September 10th, 2013 at 3:11 PM ^

could not agree more on Devin being a smarter QB

I cannot remember a time when we saw a defense overload to our play and Denard called an audible to get us into a favorable play, this play plus a few more last saturday are great examples of Devin getting it and then also being able to ad-lib.

he does not have the overall running ability of Denard, but he is so much better at overall QB play in his seventh start it isn't even close.

ND Sux

September 10th, 2013 at 12:02 PM ^

"without realizing it" indeed.  He clearly has no clue where the play is going to go.  When in doubt, JUST BLOCK SOMEONE FERGODSAKES! 

Great breakdown Seth.   


September 10th, 2013 at 12:39 PM ^

You know what, I think you're right. I was about to say "re-watch the play you dummie," but then I re-watched it like 10 more times myself, and now I don't think he's as lost as I initially thought. It looks like he knows where he's supposed to go off the snap, but then nobody's there to block. At that point, I'm guessing he should probably find somebody to block, and you can see he kind of backs away from Tuitt (who actually was free because it looks like Glasgow loses him on his block) toward the end of the play, but Gardner was basically in the end zone by then. If you watch Lewan through the play too, he doesn't really do much either. He basically protects the backside, but nobody really challenges him.


September 10th, 2013 at 12:11 PM ^

But one small point, Reynolds doesn't have to get off the L.o.S. to make a legal formation.  The rules state you need at least 7, with 5 having inelligible numbers.  You can have more than seven, but only the ends will be elligibile to go downfield on a pass.  On a run play, it doesn't matter. 

Blue in Denver

September 10th, 2013 at 7:49 PM ^

I don't know if the rule has changed since then but here is the rule from the 2013-2014 NCAA football rulebook (rule 7, section 3, article 3) (apologies for formatting)

  Eligibility To Touch Legal Forward Pass
  a. Eligibility rules apply during a down when a legal forward pass 
  is thrown. 
  b. All Team B players are eligible to touch or catch a pass.
  c. When the ball is snapped, the following Team A players are eligible:
     1. Each lineman who is on the end of his scrimmage line and who is 
     wearing a number other than 50 through 79.
     2. Each back wearing a number other than 50 through 79.
There is no provision for declaring eligibility.  Based on this Jake Long wouldn't have been eligible, so either we got away with one or the rule has changed.  (or, I suppose, if Jake didn't touch the ball it would have been ok)


September 10th, 2013 at 9:36 PM ^

According to David Nelson's "Anatomy of a Game" the tackle eligible play was finally killed at a 1968 rules meeting at the behest of Mississippi coach John Vaught, who'd lost two games to Bear Bryant on the play.


As the meeting moved to a close and no action was taken on the tackle-eligible pass John left the table, went to the door, put a chair under the door knob, and said "We are not leaving this meeting until we do something about that damn tackle-eligible pass."


The rule requiring interior linemen to wear particular numbers was passed that day. They'd been arguing about it for at least a decade.

There's never been any provision at college level or below allowing someone wearing an interior lineman's jersey to report as eligible. Only the NFL has ever had that rule.



September 10th, 2013 at 12:15 PM ^

I really liked Denard and I am proud as Hell that he represents my Alma Mater but I think it's pretty clear now that he didnt possess the greatest of decision-making abilities.  We wondered why he didnt have audibles available to him - now I think we know why.  We couldnt understand why he would never scramble out of designed passing plays, throw the arm punts or even pitch the ball on speed options and I, at the time, thought it was the coaching staff being over-controlling but don't anymore that's for sure.  

The coaches trust Devin to make the right decisions under pressure and with one big exception on Saturday night he did.


September 10th, 2013 at 12:27 PM ^

I don't think that this is what Borges means by having a third play guy. (Also, I wouldn't consider keeping on the option a true third play. Either the audible was called as a pure QB dive with a fake pitch look, or it was called as an actual option where Gardner decided to keep.)

"I know when I started studying what is commonly called the West Coast offense, you don't catch me using that term very often, I talked to Bill Walsh. I asked him 'What makes a good quarterback and what makes a great quarterback?'": Walsh responded by telling Borges that it's the third play that makes a great quarterback. System quarterbacks can make the first and second play, but when things break down on the third play, that's when you know whether you have a good quarterback or a great one."


I think what Borges (and Walsh) means is this: e.g: if you have a two-man route combination in the West Coast short passing game, the timing will not be right to routinely find a third receiver on the other side of the field. The great quarterback can still make the third play by buying time, taking off, or otherwise overcoming the limitations of the system.

We saw it many times in Borges' playcalls vs. ND--the defense guessed right or sold out to stop the main option on a play, but Gardner was still able to make them pay despite what should have been an RPS win by the defense. I think this goal line play is more having the right audible installed to get ND lined up completely wrong, combined with great execution by Gardner. It was an RPS win for Borges to begin with.


September 10th, 2013 at 12:29 PM ^

The aubible that I am interested in is the one on the final drive when Michigan came out in an I form and Devin immediately audibled to a power left type of thing that sprung Fitz for 22 yards.

That play was huge. It got Michigan out of their end and maybe got some mojo back.

I wonder what Michigan was in originally and what Devin saw?

I love this audibling thing. I guess now we know the Borges offense includes audibling it was just that Denard didn't use it very often or something

Space Coyote

September 10th, 2013 at 1:11 PM ^

I think the U-back motion is part of the design, not sure he checked from inside zone to iso, and obviously not sure if it's inside zone or Iso. What Gardner does see is 5 defenders on 4.5 blockers, which means you're beat to that side everytime. On the flip side he sees 4 defenders. So he attacks 4 defenders, but he only has 2.5 blockers. He needs Butt on the right to get 3.5 blockers + 1 for the option. 4.5 blockers beats 4 defenders.

Now, I also don't think Gardner is reading the MLB. Michigan is trying to wall off everyone but the outside most defender. When Butt doesn't seal the EMOL, it would mean two defenders for the option, whcih isn't a win, so he's supposed to cut it up to open grass. Typically, that means cut up just inside the tackle, but DG reads fast flow from the LBs, and cuts it back in the middle. It's all part of the speed option rules. If you watch, you can literally follow his eyes reading his progression.

FWIW, this is one of the few plays Denard was tasked with calling an audible to. He did several times. The reason is because it's a simple read to audible to. 


September 10th, 2013 at 1:14 PM ^

Lulz. ND had one of the best defenses in the country last year and they simply had no idea what the F was goin on on that play. Gardner is one smart QB. I'd take him over Manziel any day.

Tator Salad

September 10th, 2013 at 1:30 PM ^

I love it!!  Watch their MLB for the whole play (#44), by the end of the play he is so lost it's funny. He totally went goofball and sprinted to the outside while DG cut up the middle.


September 10th, 2013 at 2:46 PM ^

Space coyote Is correct.  Fitz runs straight for the side line with his head turned back looking for a pitch. DG pulls the ball up high spining it in his hands to get it comfortable into his pitch hand.

Then it appears both DG and Fitz read this play quickly because Fitz hands go up as if to say "Pitch now or we are going to get killed out here to the right."  DG reads the same and decides to dash inside to green grass from the over pursuit of the D. 


September 10th, 2013 at 3:03 PM ^

I'm not sure we were set for 1 second before the snap. We may have gotten away with one there. Also, Lewan rocks a little bit at the start of the video, which could have been a false start.