Mailbag!

Submitted by Brian on October 15th, 2009 at 11:56 AM

Or, a selection of emails that are sort of old:

Brian,

I noticed something potentially of interest in the Hennechart.  There's an absolute lack of batted balls.  There are ZERO and Tate's reputed to be a midget.  By comparison, Navarre was a giant, and I seem to recall that one of the most frustrating things about watching him was that he would seemingly fire at will into the raised arms of D-lineman (I don't have a Hennechart reference to back that up because it hadn't been invented yet, right?).

So, questions:  Is this schematic?  Does our offense now somehow help our QBs avoid the batted ball in ways that the previous offense did not?  (A comparison of Tate vs. Death last year might help as a reference, but Death wasn't very good, so…)  Does Tate have a special knack for avoiding batted balls?  He's always been short and Navarre was probably always tall, so maybe it's something he developed by necessity, whereas Navarre never had to worry about that sort of thing until he reached college.

Thanks,

Ryan

Forcier got his first two batted balls of the year against Iowa, and both were on third down when Broderick Binns just sat back and waited for Forcier to throw his way; he wasn't even rushing. Even so, the batted ball phenomenon is seriously reduced from past years. The reasons are partially schematic, as Michigan runs a lot of rollouts that open up passing lanes, and partially Tate creating his own fake rollouts by bugging out of the pocket after his first read is covered. As Michigan moves to more pocket passing they'll see the batted balls creep up, but it's not likely to ever approach the frustrating levels it did when Navarre was the statuesque Michigan pocket passer of choice.

Brian
Are Kovacs and Leach on scholarship?  I know they are referred to as walk-ons but are they now on scholarship?

If not, what are the odds that Kovacs and possibly Leach earn scholarships this year?  Kovacs is appears like he is going to be a major contributor the rest of the year with Leach seeing some time too.

I realize that there aren't many scholarships left, but RR also wants to develop a solid walk on program.  I've always figured that one of the ways to make sure you have a good walk on program is for the walk on's to know that there's a chance, albeit very slim, that you could earn a scholarship.

Obviously, the fans and I'm sure RR would like to use the scholarships on incoming fresh but if Kovacs keeps up his play and isn't on scholarship, how do you tell him he hasn't earned one?

Scott

Michigan's only got 76 scholarship players on the roster now, but teams always hand out bonus scholarships to their walk-ons when they end up short. I'd assume Sheridan, Kovacs, Leach, Heininger, Olesnavage, and Pomarico (the long snapper) are all getting this year of school for free. Three other guys who are less obvious are also getting money.

Those scholarships—all scholarships, actually—are one-year deals. If Michigan fills out its roster next year the walk-ons will be out of luck; usually what happens is Michigan fills up in February and then sees some offseason attrition that opens up a couple slots, but not nine, for the top of the walk-on crop. Kovacs, who looks like he'll start the whole year, might be an exception to that.

Brian,

I am curious to hear your thoughts on whether or not Tate and Denard have been making the right reads on the zone read option.  I've seen a lot of criticism directed at these two indicating that they are keeping it too often and making the wrong read.  I know RR has said he'd like to have them not have as many carries.  My question is this - are they actually making the wrong reads?  On the zone read option, Isn't the correct read against the scrape exchange for the QB to keep it?  Or do they need to read the scraping LB/DB (the guy filling the hole vacated by the backside DE)?  It just seems a little knee-jerk to say that they are keeping it too often.  I know we've come up with a set of plays to counter the scrape exchange, but I'd be curious to hear how the scrape exchange has impacted the reads on the bread-and-butter zone read option play.

I realize it's difficult to assess whether they are making the right reads as we have no idea if a play was a called run or keeper but it might be interesting to try and track whether it appears the correct read was made when you are doing the offensive UFRs.

Tony Sinicropi

This was before the Iowa game and an interesting development in that game: Michigan blocked the backside end frequently and, I believe, had Forcier read the appropriate "scrape" linebacker if he read anyone at all. It looked like Michigan took away many of Forcier's reads in the run game and just told him to hand off to the back, because Iowa frequently left no one for contain on him and he did not keep the ball.

The one time he did, though, he made a wrong read, pulling the ball from Minor when the backside DE was keeping contain; he managed to juke the guy and pick up six yards anyway. This has been a frequent occurrence, which isn't unexpected when you're dealing with a true freshman adjusting to a ton of backside games.

The thing I'm wondering about: where is the zone read with Denard Robinson? He's run a ton of draws and called runs but other than a reverse pitch here and there, there's been precious little misdirection from the Robinson package.

what’s the difference between the zone read dive and the zone read veer? is a “veer” just the term for any play that reads the frontside instead of the backside?

- bml

The "zone read dive," or zone counter dive, is not a read play. Michigan pulls the TE to the backside to block the DE back there and always hands it off with the intent of hitting the gap between that DE and the rest of the line, which down blocks. The play gets rid of the extra defender that read plays get rid of by assuming a linebacker to that side of the line has containment on the QB and will run himself out of the play. While it looks like Forcier has an option on the play, he really doesn't.

The veer is a true read play on which the tailback's desired hole is between the backside tackle and the backside DE*. If Viddler had any idea what fair use was I could show you some killer examples from Brandon Minor a year ago, but alas it is not to be. But the idea is this: you block down.** This looks exactly like a stretch play until it's too late and all the DL have slanted past the OL and out of the play. The QB reads the backside DE like a normal zone read, but the tailback cuts hard and swift upfield behind everything, hitting into the secondary immediately since the DE's been dragged outside. Minor had touchdowns on it against Purdue and Wisconsin where he ran virtually untouched into the endzone.

Opponents took away the veer most of the year by crashing the DE down and scraping, which necessitated Michigan's response to that. By the end of the Michigan State game it was clear they weren't scraping, so Michigan ran a version of the veer that was bleedingly open, but Forcier kept it and turned a lot of yards into four.

The key takeaway: any time

*(In Michigan's offense so far. It has a lot of different forms.)

**(Blocking down is the polar opposite of stretch or reach blocking. You basically shove a guy you started playside of; this always leaves an unblocked defender or two behind you. Power off tackle plays seek to get rid of him by pulling guards and tight ends around; the veer tries to do it with a read.)

You have mentioned a couple of times that the performance of the Michigan rush offense against Michigan State the past two years has been a statistical outlier.  I think you have also mentioned that this may be a result of State spending more than the usual amount of preparation time for this game.  If that is the case, how much more time do you think State is putting toward Michigan than a typical opponent and what kind of negative impact might that have on State since that would be time they are not spending on their current opponent?

Andy Heck

Steve Sharik has it from sources inside the MSU program that Dantonio came up with much of the defensive game plan himself, which is unusual. MSU blogs have been complaining about Pat Narduzzi all year. So, yes, Dantonio "gets the rivalry" and Rodriguez "has an injured freshman quarterback."

As far as the question: one thing I might have overlooked in the aftermath of the State game was State getting a test run against Michigan's offense when they played Central Michigan. That did not go well, obviously, but it did give State an entire game film with which to scout themselves and fix a bunch of their problems. Then they went out and laid an egg against Wisconsin in all aspects of the game… it's hard to not see the correlation. Too bad Illinois is such a debacle or we would have gotten some more interesting information out of that game.

Comments

steve sharik

October 15th, 2009 at 1:05 PM ^

...during the week against us than other opponents. They didn't. But during the off-season, every team has opponents that they prepare for more than others. MSU's obvious #1 target: Michigan. The majority of their off-season strategic planning had to be for Michigan. And when the HC (and ex-OSU DC) puts in the defensive game plan for the first time during his tenure as HC, you know they did something special for Michigan. This explains much of the discrepancy in defensive success from CMU/ND/Wisky and then, abruptly, Michigan.

While there may be some similarities b/w CMU and us b/c of the Rich/Butch connection, CMU is more of a throwing spread and not much zone read. We are the opposite. I don't buy the CMU-as-scrimmage theory.

LVS

October 15th, 2009 at 7:42 PM ^

Steve:

"And when the HC (and ex-OSU DC) puts in the defensive game plan for the first time during his tenure as HC, you know they did something special for Michigan."

Completely aside from the rivalry aspect, this was a pretty freaking important game for us (MSU): a loss, and we would have been 1-4 (0-2). That was an unprecedented situation under Dantonio, so I don't think it's any less implausible that he took personal control over the defensive planning in an effort to, you know, save the season.

Two other thoughts, briefly: playing well against Michigan and very poorly against Wisconsin doesn't mean that we prepared for Michigan at the expense of Wisconsin. If the defense played like garbage against Illinois, for instance, the week before the Michigan game, I might buy it. But Wisconsin is a good team -- at this point, clearly better than Michigan -- and we played them at Camp Randall (where we've won once since 1993) the week after a semi-heartwrenching loss to Notre Dame. Under any other circumstances, this would have been an understandable performance, though certainly a disappointing one. But because it was the week before Michigan, somehow it's major evidence that we neglected planning for Wisconsin to look ahead to the rivalry game? To me, that proves waaaaay too much.

And in any event, at the basest level, the charge is that, for the second year in a row, we prepared too thoroughly to play our biggest rival. And, um, that's all right with me.

matty blue

October 15th, 2009 at 3:00 PM ^

...specifically "they spent too much time on us" and "they were better prepared" are not mutually exclusive. if anything, they are directly related. they were better prepared because...they spent so much time preparing.

look, i don't know if it's true or not - but it's certainly plausible, isn't it? at the very least, some of the circumstantial evidence over the past two seasons - the timed snap counts are a perfect example - might suggest it.

that, and the fact that they have a freaking clock in the locker room that counts down to the next michigan game.

i don't know why anyone would have a problem with it, either...i want our team to be thinking about ohio state every day of the year, in-season and out, whether it's ohio state week or not. what's the problem here?

zoltan the destroyer

October 15th, 2009 at 12:24 PM ^

I saw Dantonio struggle with rotating QBs, the same defensive problems they had against ND and CMU... but nothing that would suggest they hadn't prepared. They were flat out beat by a better prepared team.

If people want to whine about other teams spending more time planning, that's fine. I just think it's a lot of sour grapes.

[email protected]

October 15th, 2009 at 12:58 PM ^

FWIW, from a Spartan fan:

MSU's defense was victimized by CMU (Lefevour was moving the ball 5 yards at a time, at will). What galled me while watching the game was MSU's steadfast refusal to show anything but a soft 4-3 base or 4-3 nickel against CMU's 4- and 5-WR sets, their zone reads, etc. The only "adjustment" made seemed to be dropping the LBs and CBs back into deeper-set zones.

My theory after the fact: MD didn't want to gameplan for CMU's offense, because that gameplan would be identical to the one for U-M--and then laid bare on tape for U-M coaches to prepare for. Ergo, State tried to beat CMU with one defensive hand tied behind their back--and if not for the best-executed onside kick I've ever seen, and a holding penalty giving their kicker a close-up re-do on the GW field goal, AND those darn meddling kids, it would have worked, too.

Peace
Ty @ The Lions in Winter

Nickel

October 15th, 2009 at 1:22 PM ^

Isn't there someone who does an MSUFR type thing for a Spartans blog who has addressed this? If I remember right he said it was the same defense they've been playing all year, they just executed far better against Michigan than they had in their first few games.

I think MSU's defensive success against us is probably better attributed to a banged up Tate and the extra emotion with it being THE game for them every year than it is because they kept all their tricks in the bag. The flop against Wisconsin could easily be attributed to looking ahead to Michigan week.

Again I don't doubt that Dantonio and State focus on Michigan more than other teams, but I have a hard time believing they're willing to keep things under wraps to such an extent that it costs them other games.

bouje

October 15th, 2009 at 1:31 PM ^

If you are playing Wisconsin in one week and then the next week playing Michigan. There is NO REASON EVER to overlook Wisconsin (or any opponent for that matter). It's not like Wisconsin is some scrub team. If you want to say that if UM plays badly against DSU sure I could believe that we were looking ahead to DSU, but you can not legitimately say that "we overlooked this very good team because we were jacked up about Michigan in 2 weeks".

DrDetroit

October 15th, 2009 at 2:21 PM ^

I do the MSUFR for defense at The Only Colors. MSU ran the same defense against everyone this year. And last year. And in 2007.

http://www.theonlycolors.com/2009/10/9/1077716/2008-defensive-scheme

From the MSUFR:

"Throughout the first 3 quarters Michigan was basically in yakety sax mode on offense. Forcier threw into the flat to a HB who never looked for the ball forcing Michigan to take a FG on their first drive. On Michigan's last drive of the first half, they ran a play that involved three players staring at each other in the backfield and pondering why Brandon Minor had the ball. That was followed with a bad snap that led to a sack/intentional grounding. Michigan simply self destructed in the redzone and got a FG. In the second half there was the play where 99 Worthy literally fell backwards on Tate Forcier and prevented him from getting a first down. Which was followed with the are you kidding me fake punt. Later, Michigan had a Denard Robinson drive end when Robinson decided standing in the pocket for 5+ seconds and seeing no one open required him to stand in the pocket longer. If he had tucked the ball and ran at any point he could have gotten a significant amount of yardage. We've all see the Robinson highlight against Western Michigan so we know what he can do with the ball on the run. There were other plays where open receivers simply dropped the ball. Through the first three quarters Michigan's mistakes on offense made the MSU defense look good."

http://www.theonlycolors.com/2009/10/6/1072368/msufr-defense-against-mi…

Throughout this year MSU has been adding small adjustments to the defense. Against CMU, the DBs were 10 yards off the LOS. Against ND, they would show press coverage and then back out before the snap. Against Wisconsin they actually had press coverage. I honestly don't recall anything new against Michigan.

Nick Sparks

October 15th, 2009 at 1:36 PM ^

The lack of much misdirection in Denard's shown playbook has been the biggest question mark for me so far this year.

People constantly talk about him needing to pass to open up the run, and this is true, however even having minor as an option to hand off to to take some pressure from the defense has to give Denard new available creases to work with. Even just using a roll out pass to set up a run would seem to have a lot of potential.

Is it still just that running these plays with effectiveness will take more time in the system for DR to learn everything?

It'd be nice to see us be able to deploy some of that stuff against PSU.

steve sharik

October 15th, 2009 at 2:12 PM ^

It's the base play in the offense. For some reason, Denard doesn't execute it well. Perhaps he doesn't read it well. Perhaps he takes too long to read it and doesn't pull the ball quickly enough, causing a lot of fumbles. Perhaps they're saving it for Penn State or Ohio State. Who knows?

One thing I do know: if we've thought about it, the coaches have thought about it a long time ago.

bml

October 15th, 2009 at 1:45 PM ^

But not quite. I'm having trouble with the very last bit. I get that on the zone counter dive the h-back or whoever comes across to smash the backside DE and that on the veer the QB reads him. what I'm not getting is the difference between the "veer read" and what I've come to think of as the "regular zone read." When I envision a "regular zone read" going left I imagine the RB coming from the QB's right and then heading outside left. When I envision the counter dive I see the same thing except he heads upfield immediately. Where does the RB start and finish in the veer, assuming the QB decides to hand off?

steve sharik

October 15th, 2009 at 2:10 PM ^

First, let's assume the RB is on the left and, therefore, the blocking scheme is going to the right.

Differences for the OL:

Regular zone read: OL zone blocks to the right, trying to reach (cut off) a defender no matter what.

Veer zone read: OL zone blocks to the right, but if they can't reach a defender, they block him to the right.

Difference for the RB:

Regular zone read: RB runs to the right and towards the outside while reading the DE to the right. If the DE is reached, the RB takes it outside. If the DE isn't reached, the RB cuts inside of him.

Veer zone read: RB runs downhill toward the *backside* B gap.

How you'll be able to tell pre-snap:

Regular zone read: QB even with or slightly behind RB.

Veer zone read: QB in front of RB.

steve sharik

October 15th, 2009 at 4:27 PM ^

...the QB will align normally and then quickly step forward just before the snap. The defense doesn't have time to adjust, usually. A well-coached and studious LB core will be able to account for this at some point, however. Since this is basically a backside play, the LB won't care if the D is playing scrape exchange. If, on the other hand, the DE is the "thief" (term for defender responsible for QB keep on the read play), then the LB being aware of veer is important b/c he can now meet the OT in the hole and closer to the LOS.

CWoodson

October 15th, 2009 at 1:53 PM ^

"...which isn't unexpected when you're dealing with a true freshman adjusting to a ton of backside games."

That's it - I'm officially not sending my daughter away to college.

CriticalFan

October 15th, 2009 at 2:54 PM ^

By comparison, Navarre was a giant, and I seem to recall that one of the most frustrating things about watching him was that he would seemingly fire at will into the raised arms of D-lineman (I don't have a Hennechart reference to back that up because it hadn't been invented yet, right?).

Even 6+ years later, those are still frustrating. More frustrating, I submit, was watching Navarre throw it into the back of his offensive linemen's heads.