Mailbag: Unbalanced Lines, Turkmenistan, The Nature And Purpose Of Slanting Comment Count

Brian September 7th, 2012 at 10:58 AM

In re: "who are you optioning?"

This is a weird formation, right?  Lewan is eligible receiver, Kwiatkowski is not?

It's a little weird. Neither Lewan or Kwiatkowski are eligible in that formation. Lewan wears an ineligible number; Kwiatkowski is covered up by a receiver outside of him. I call these formations "unbalanced" when I talk about them.

They're not that weird, though. Teams do it to screw with the defense's alignment, test various things, etc. If the play ends up being a pass you've declared that you've only got four receivers, but since the tight end can pass block you're still playing 11 on 11.

Occasionally you'll see Michigan line up with two receivers on the line of scrimmage to the same side. This drives me nuts since the slot guy may as well not exist. This was more common under Rodriguez but IIRC Borges did do it a couple times last year. These are always runs, and usually short ones if the defense notices the alignment, which it seems like they always do.

Why do coaches do this? They're trying to mess up a defense's alignment keys and get easy yards. It's the same principle at work whenever a wide receiver lines up at fullback and motions out to the flank, or when a running back ends up lined up way on the outside.


welcome to turkmenistan

Join our flaming crater!

What effect do you think the 'Bama game will have on recruiting? Much to my surprise many fans think neutral or positive.

Peter F

I don't think it will have much, if any. Michigan's down to a couple of scholarships in the next class. By the time the 2014 kids start committing in numbers, Michigan will have played 12-13 additional games and the Alabama debacle will be a lot less relevant than it seems right now.

If it's going to hurt, it'll be with Derrick Green and LaQuon Treadwell. I don't think anyone was optimistic about Green after Auburn popped up even before Saturday; Treadwell is more of a mystery. We'll see.

In general, short-term results are not the be all and end-all in recruiting. See Charlie Weis, Ron Zook, etc. You either have it until such point as your job is under threat or you're at Kansas, or you don't.

An update on the Stubhub thing.

Hi Brian,

Just a quick heads up that UM still appears to have their relationship in place with StubHub.  I received an email on Friday from the Michigan Ticket Office proclaiming, “Don't forget to use our online Marketplace (in its second successful year in service) to easily resell your tickets electronically.”  I know you mused about whether this relationship was still in place after StubHub referred to UM as a former partner, so I wanted to pass along.

Take care,


False alarm. Still amazed at that MBA who managed to make counterfeit tickets incredibly easy to manufacture unless you were selling through Stubhub. Probably laughing moooooohahahahaha right now in a lair somewhere.

fbz3gg[1]Inversion. Also, this section sponsored by Slanty the Gecko, inexplicably the first hit in Google Images for "line slant football," or at least it was a year ago.

Steve Sharik, a former high school who you may remember posting some great diaries a couple years back, sent me an email about what happened to the defense; I responded with a question, and he answered. So let's put me in a yellow box:

It looks like Michigan is slanting the DL a lot to get their guys in gaps between the massive OL and set up an obvious cutback lane in which the LBs are supposed to be 2v1, but rarely do both of them get there. It's so consistent that it almost seems like I have to be wrong. I want the LBs to absolutely tear ass for the gap behind the slanting DT (usually they leave the DE to contain the backside). Instead they check up for cutbacks constantly that seem like the DL's job. Am I crazy?



Slanting does two things to zone blocking:

  1. If I'm an OL zone blocking to the right, and the guy on my outside who I'm supposed to block goes left, there is a natural tendency to go after my guy.
  2. More importantly, slanting the DL gets penetration, which wreaks havoc on zone blocking.

Recall how effectively OSU slanted against us in 2007 (yes, that screen shot).


the most infamous

What would continually happen was the ball would show in a hole a LB was supposed to fill, which was done fine, but the hole was created so well that there essentially are two gaps where there was once one: there is space on both sides of the lead blocker, so the filling LB has to pick one, meaning the extra LB/S/C has to fill the other one. Consistently this second, unblocked defender was late and too far away, creating a seam in the run defense.

[ED: This came up last year too. I complained about Brandin Hawthorne not getting past a blocker against EMU. Michigan has been short on free hitters.]

BONUS: we also had a discussion on that seam route Alabama hit early and Floyd tackled immediately on. I am still in a yellow box.

Sharik: Even the normally reliable Kovacs was bad.  Demens was in the wrong gap a few times, Morgan doesn't have a great feel for when to attack now or where to fit, and Kovacs and JT Floyd were very tentative.  In other words, our extra run defender (when the QB is turning around and handing it off, they're playing 10 v. 11, so we should have an extra, unblocked defender vs. the run) was late to the party or in the wrong gap, creating the huge seams you saw.  Even vs. the pass, on their conversion on a 3rd and long, Kovacs went to wide and too aggressively to re-route a seam, and ended up being outside the numbers and too close to the LOS, thereby giving up the seam right behind him.

I caught that Kovacs thing, but thought the problem there was a crappy chuck on the guy. If he really jams him there the blitz should have time to get there or Floyd has time to get over. yes/no?

Against the pass, the defender responsible for the seam must stay on that seam--reroute the receiver off the seam.  You do this with both your horizontal and vertical position.  When Kovacs was so aggressive he took himself outside of the seam and stayed too close to the LOS, creating an open window for the seam.  The technique is to not gear up to hit the guy, but to shock, catch, and run.  If a guy is running in the seam, it almost looks like man coverage if the defender is playing his technique correctly.  (Actually it does look like man, the way to tell man or zone is by what other defenders are doing.)  Also, Floyd can't come over b/c he has deep 1/3 and the outside receiver was running a go route.

If Kovacs stays in the seam window, he doesn't have to take his eyes off the QB and he can eliminate the possibility of a throw without touching the WR.  And if their QB holds the ball b/c the seam isn't open, the blitz gets home (or at least has a better chance).

Actually, I think the designed route was an inside skinny; designed to be behind the Mike and in front of the Free.  The WRs job is to clear the seam defender, then post to the middle at about 10-15.  (Different coaches teach different depths, and different defenses command slightly different depths, as well as the drop of the QB--3, 5, 7 step.)


I am now out of a yellow box. When Steve mentioned that the slot defender on the seam often looks like man coverage, it made me think back to Courtney Avery consistently carrying receivers deep on similar routes, and wondering if that was what the intent was. We eventually figured it was—this was a BWS debate—and then last year Mattison flat out said so after Avery carried a seam route deep and Iowa got a 44-yard gain out of a simple crossing route; we asked what happened there and he said Countess got out of position.

Thanks to Steve for the input. Long way to go.



September 7th, 2012 at 11:39 AM ^

Can you post the email in question in its entirety?

Steve Sharik, a former high school who you may remember posting some great diaries a couple years back, sent me an email about what happened to the defense


Nick Sparks

September 7th, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

[QUOTE]If it's going to hurt, it'll be with Derrick Green and LaQuon Treadwell.[/QUOTE]

I have to ask, why do you feel this way?

I mean I understand how getting throttled last week could turn off these, or any recruits, but couldn't they just as easily say, "they just didn't have the personnel to run what they want to run, I could play immediately, that's a big plus for me".

I just don't understand why you think the game would negatively affect our chances with Green and Tredwell any more than any other recruit unless they specifically said something along the lines of 'wanting to play for a national championship contender' that I completely missed.

Also, please excuse me for an unhealthy level of attachment to everything you say regarding M football.


September 7th, 2012 at 12:11 PM ^

Do I want to be a star on a meh team or do I want to play with other elite players and dominate everyone?

Dee Hart could have come here and started. Instead he's on the kickoff coverage team at Bama. The concern is elite players may now think of us as a "meh" team they don't want to join, as opposed to a very good team, on its way to being dominant, who isn't quite there yet.

snarling wolverine

September 7th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

I think that's doubtful.  I just don't think recruits live and die with individual games the way fans do.  Most of them do not go undefeated on their HS teams.  They know that a team can have a rough game.  Besides, most figure that they'll be the missing link anyway (we are talking about teenagers, who can be a tad egocentric in their thinking).  

Hoke started recruiting like a demon as soon as he got here, even when we were coming off a 7-6 season.  He didn't need to show anything on the field to start having recruiting success.  The two are only tangentally linked, IMO.

Nick Sparks

September 7th, 2012 at 1:12 PM ^

I don't dispute that some elite players want to play for a powerhouse. 

My confusion comes because Brian seems to indicate that Green And Treadwell are those type of elite players, rather than the type who would rather help a 'lesser team' get better.

I'm just wondering why Brian made that assessment of these two particular recruits, when I never saw a quote from either of them indicating that a powerhouse program was a higher priority than playing time.


September 7th, 2012 at 1:26 PM ^

Brian didn't mention anything about either favoring a powerhouse program.  With Green in particular, he's been quoted as saying he was impressed with how Auburn used their RBs -- even in a loss.  With Michigan's soul crushing loss to Alabama, even us fans have to dig DEEP to find some silver linings.  There was little in that game that could make you, as a recruit, say yes, this looks like something I want to be a part of.  I think that's more of what Brian was getting at.


September 7th, 2012 at 1:50 PM ^

You're reading way too much into what Brian wrote.  First, he said he didn't think that this game would negatively affect recruiting.  Then he said that it shouldn't affect 2014 guys because they won't start committing until we've played a bunch more games.  

He then said that if it affects anyone (meaning it might not) guys like Green and Treadwell would be the most affected.  This has nothing to do with Green and Treadwell as individuals, just that they are uncommitted 2013 recruits who have offers from everyone.  This is not a statement regarding them as recruits, just the situation that they're in.  

He could have said "any uncommitted elite 2013 recruit" to get his point across, but there are really only two of those at this point (that we know of) so he mentioned them by name.


September 7th, 2012 at 12:57 PM ^

With Green, its been reported that he was impressed with Auburn's running game last weekend. Michigan's running game was impressive to no one.  For a kid that's already been reportedly leaning heavily towards Auburn, things like this aren't helpful.


September 7th, 2012 at 12:37 PM ^

Turkmenistan and Mongolia are weak, you should spend your reinforcements there or I will crush you from Irkutsk and Kamchatka.

I was also wondering why they tried, not just so many VSmith dives up the middle, but even consecutive ones. Maybe I miss some of the subtleties of the game, but by the 3rd quarter it seemed like it wasn't working.


September 7th, 2012 at 12:46 PM ^

Edited for upfront caveat: Kovacs played worse than usual.

I think part of the problem with the Michigan safety/corner late fills is that Mattison is pretty clearly a MOF safety guy.  He prefers C1/C3 coverages, at least with this team.  That inevitably leaves you with 8 run-first defenders when Bama pretty much always had 2 TE and often times 2 backs in the game. 

Any time they were in 22/31 personnel, a 3-deep pass-first alignment means you are going to be missing a free hitter at the point of attack if the deep third guys are all playing pass first.  Whether they were actually playing pass first or just not used to having to come up and support the run with such vigor, I don't know.  I do know that I don't love the idea of JT Floyd/Kovacs/Gordon taking on a Bama TE as often as they were forced to.

TCU now and VT back then used to counter such formations by making their corners responsible for deep halves and giving their safeties run-first reads.  With 9 run-first defenders, you're guaranteed to have what you need at the point of attack.

Mattison's adjustment last year was to go to his Bear front, which he used a bit against Bama I think(?) but I was surprised he didn't go to it more.  His gameplan suggests he was very worried about getting beat deep.  Since we pretty much didn't even get to play the game with Countess, that loss might have very well put him in a lose-lose situation.

In any case, somebody said Saban hit up Dantonio in the offseason for tips? Their gamplan looked like they doubled down on what they saw in that game that worked.  Until our safeties and JT Floyd learn how to attack downhill, beefy teams will probably go that route in attacking our D.



September 7th, 2012 at 10:21 PM ^

I recall a play that we ran in the CapOne bowl against Florida that was a throwback screen to Jake Long out of a similar formation. He was uncovered and there wasn't a penalty on the play. Lewan and Long both wore 77 - have the eligibility rules changed since then?



September 8th, 2012 at 9:07 AM ^

I had the same question.  I looked quickly on the googles, and found a wiki page, which states:


The NCAA rulebook defines eligible receivers for college football in Rule 7, Section 3, Article 3.[1] The determining factors are the player's position on the field at the snap and their jersey number. Specifically, any players on offense wearing numbers between 50 and 79 are always ineligible. All defensive players are eligible receivers and offensive players who are not wearing an ineligible number are eligible receivers if they meet one of the following three criteria:

  • Player is at either end of the group of players on the line of scrimmage (usually the split end and tight end)

Not sure if/when this changed, i think the rule is quite silly.


September 8th, 2012 at 2:27 AM ^

In college I played on the d-line in a 4-3 under scheme and when we slanted it was not always necessary for the linebackers to go the opposite way of the slanting d-line. There were two different slant techniques.  One type was to get the d-line into a different gap.  We ran a one gap run defense.  So when the d-line slanted, all that was really changing was the front that the defense ended up in.  But everyone still had one gap to defend. The second type was slanting with an added blitz.  When this occurred it was then necessary for the linebackers to go the opposite way of the line so they could cover the proper gap and replace the blitzing man.

The last thing I wanted to add about slanting the line was how if the line went the opposite way as the run it was going to be an automatic win for the offense.  From first-hand experience I would have to disagree with this assumption.  If you are slanting right and the run is going to your right, then it is necessary to beat your man to the next gap.  The comments I have read would agree that this is true and the slant has been successful because it has given the d-line a start in the proper direction. When you are slanting right and the run is going to your left, you are again given a chance to use you momentum to make a play using proper technique.  Mattison stressing the need for proper technique really made me want to voice this comment.  By getting in the space from the lineman moving to block where the d-line was, it is very possible to get in behind the lineman and get up field.  Slanting throws off the timing of the o-line and makes combo blocks on the d-line harder. This allows for those creases to occur even if the d-line slants away from the run.  As long as the d-line uses proper steps and leverage, there is no reason that slanting away from the run is less effective than slanting toward the run.


September 8th, 2012 at 3:59 AM ^

Nice post.  Glad you spoke up.  Sounds like you have some knowledge in your system; let it out.  Always great to have more input/opinions/etc. especially from those with experience or coaching or just a general knoweldge of the game.