Neck Sharpies: The Fullback Counter Trap Comment Count

Seth October 18th, 2017 at 12:21 PM

I used to be really good at slaps, that game where your opponent puts their hands over yours and you try to whack them before they can pull away. My best trick was I’d make my elbow twitch on one side then *WHAP* the other side. I’d get so many in a row with this that my siblings stopped wanting to play.

Tom Allen probably doesn’t want to play slaps with Harbaugh anymore.

This was a beautiful play. I thought so. Brian thought so. Jon Duerr thought so. James Light thought so. Harbaugh apparently liked it enough to call it three times in a five-play drive. We all guessed Michigan would have preferred not to put it on tape before the Penn State game but since it is let’s dive into it.


It’s early in the 4th quarter. Michigan is up just 13-10 over Indiana and gets the ball back on their 16 yard line after Indiana punts on 4th and 1. The first play is a split zone off the same look with which they’d successfully run a TE motion crack sweep, and it goes for 8 yards when Onwenu and Bredeson beat their respective DTs (Bredeson’s guy got up crying for a hold that was probably legit and is never called).

Then out comes this:

It’s a trap play, which itself isn’t very weird. On a trap the backside guard (Bredeson, #74) pulls and the frontside starts blocking down just like on a power play. But instead of having the DE kicked out by a tackle or tight end, they leave the edge guy for a moment and the puller then plows into him. The erstwhile kicker meanwhile is heading downfield hunting linebackers and safeties. The running back then charges through the hole, with a lead blocking fullback if that’s your style.

In this instance Hill didn’t even bother to block Tegray Scales, the WLB, because he’s stumbling over his buddy—Scales managed to right himself and make the tackle, else Higdon is following Hill into the secondary. That’s on Hill for going for a big gain and given the situation (2nd and 2) I’m fine with taking a shot when the worst result is still a first down. Anyway that’s not the interesting part.

The interesting parts are the path that Hill took, and the way they blocked the playside tackle. There are a lot of arrows in a tight space so let me show you who’s blocking whom with colors:


Let’s examine the two really cool wrinkles in detail.

[After THE JUMP]

1. Fullback split motion

This was the thing James Light pointed out.

Watch what happens to those linebackers when they see Khalid Hill going to the backside like it’s a dive or split zone.

They see the fullback go that direction and react. It’s several steps the wrong way before they realize their mistake.

2. The Combo That Wasn’t

The most important guy to move on on any inside run is the playside tackle. Traps and pulls work so well because you can block down on this guy. Zones work so well because you can double him off the snap then combo to the next level, with the running back going wherever that guy failed to close. This works because the DT is reacting to zone and THEN gets blocked down like a chump.

He starts in a 3-tech position, where he’s in the right spot to defend the B gap off Onwenu’s shoulder.


At the snap Onwenu hits him back a bit as Bushell-Beatty is exploring a move around him. This feels like a zone scoop: if Onwenu gets past him and JBB gets around him that’s trouble for a DT. So he starts giving up ground to work back across JBB. If this is zone and Onwenu releases when JBB is still not around this DT still has his gap.


Only JBB isn’t stepping around. He’s blocking down. DT just made that job super-easy: the right tackle needs only to seal to keep that “C” gap wide. Meanwhile Bredeson’s “pull” is really a kickout of the DE, who didn’t get to the hashes and set up low like the MSU dude did last week.


Anyway this really messes with a DT expecting a zone run. Here he’s battling to avoid getting scooped, and his battle to do so ends up putting him exactly where he’d be if JBB just demolished him with a downblock. If Michigan didn’t have their zone tendency established, that guy’s expecting a blockdown, so it’s a good example of how being a power and zone team opens up some neat tricks.


Run it again, Sam!

Yeah, so after an unsuccessful ISO run where the linebackers are still reacting immediately to whatever the fullback does, Michigan goes back to the trap play, this time to the strongside (still the right side) with Poggi and Evans. Indiana has now gone to a 5-3 look—doesn’t matter it works again!

It helped that Indiana was slanting away from it, but watch those LBs all still take false steps when the fullback goes to to the backside, giving everybody angles to make their blocks.


If the safeties hadn’t been playing at 7 and 9 yards (virtually in the box) this one could have broken huge.


Third time’s the charm!

Michigan lines up again right away and Indiana calls timeout. When they come back, in what must have been an homage to Mr. DeBord, the Wolverines run the exact same play to the exact same side. Again Indiana slants away from it:

This time the MLB (Carpenter) didn’t get as suckered by the fullback fakeout, but not so Scales, who then tries to make up for it by leaping back. That puts him a little off-balance when Poggi comes through the hole and finally it works like it’s drawn up, with Poggi sealing Scales outside. Higdon splits both safeties who’d come down too far, and it’s all over but the snowglobe (or whatever wacky M-IU finish the furies have in store this year).



October 18th, 2017 at 12:43 PM ^

Is this slight bit of misdirection common in these type of plays (it seems novel based on what I've heard)? If not, what has stopped it from being widely utilized until we saw it against Indiana? Did Harbaugh invent a successful play wrinkle that other power O style teams may now mimic?


October 18th, 2017 at 12:56 PM ^

Wrinkles to power play have been around for a long time. Power O was actually initially a wrinkle to the counter trey/gap play. Counter trey and Power O are essentially the same play but counter has both pullers coming from the backside & power O has the kickout block on the playside. They needed a more quicker hitting power play and this was the answer.

This play is really no different than the original counter trey play in many ways. And there are many more variations off of this. The counter lead is another variation that is designed to hit inside and not off tackle. Harbaugh and Drevno I'm sure have endless wrinkles to the power/counter game. I wouldn't be worried that they showed it or that someone else steals it.




Space Coyote

October 18th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

This is what is often called Counter F (counter F is like Counter Trey except the FB replaces the pulling backside Tackle, which as noted makes it like Power O with the roles reversed between the pulling G and FB), which is a base play in most offenses now. The relatively unique thing is the split flow from the FB. Typically he goes playside immediately, here his initial steps are away. That makes the timing of this play much closer to Counter Trey (FWIW the FB does go to the backside on counter trey). I say relatively unique because it isn't typical, but it also isn't new. And in fact it was used in the NFL last weekend as well. But it is a nice wrinkle.


October 18th, 2017 at 1:33 PM ^

Counter O.F. as Joe Bugel called it had the intial FB steps away.

Here is a link link to a Bugel clinic:

He starts drawing up Counter O.F. at about the 1hr mark.

Interestingly at about the 1hr 9min mark he shows them running it with the San Diego Chargers. Leaf is the QB in that clip but Harbaugh is on that team.

Later in the clinic I believe he shows some P.A. variations that have Harbaugh at the QB.

Unfortunately I can't listen to the sound or look too hard it now at work. But hopefully others can enjoy. The whole clinic takes you through the counter trey series and variations.




October 18th, 2017 at 10:54 PM ^

Its actually 50:11 when he begins explaining Counter O.F.

1:08:43 when he shows examplea from the 99/00 Chargers (which Harbaugh played on) 

Its 1:40:53 when he talks about "Jimmy" Harbaugh running the Fake Stutter Naked and shows clips (Stutter as explained earlier in the clinic is a power gap concept against nickel defense)

If anyone here is interested enough in the gap scheme, this is one of the very best to every teach and scheme it explaining everything you want to know about it and telling some great stories along the way. 2 hrs well spent, I promise. 




October 18th, 2017 at 1:52 PM ^

Yes, you finally posted. Wanted to catch you and get your opinion on M vs MSU game (you were one of the few who recognized that MSU was actually not a pushover). Also if you can give some thoughts on PSU and if you actually see M running game/ O line getting better the past two games. 



Cranky Dave

October 18th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

in the counter trey with both the backside guard and tackle pulling around the FB fills to occupy the backside DT.  We ran these plays quite a bit in my time as an OT in I-AA back in the mid 80s, so these plays have been around at least 30 years. 

As an aside, I had never pulled in HS and never really got good at getting around and into the LB quickly enough. 


November 7th, 2017 at 4:14 AM ^

From the I (as opposed to offset away) And note that the playside TE was going for the OLB/Safety, not blocking down. But it does initially look like a FB Trap, and if LBers are keying the TB or are waiting for the tempo of Zone or Counter, the FB trap is a quick change of pace to come back to.


October 18th, 2017 at 12:48 PM ^

Doesn't putting this kind of stuff on film help the rest of the run offense though? It removes the trick play aspect, but it makes the defense play more honest on every other play. PSU's DT may not overreact and try to jet back inside, but if he doesn't and we run zone, doesn't that help?

You may not have a play in your back pocket you know will get 8 yards and potentially break for a TD, but it could help you get an extra yard every time you run zone.

Space Coyote

October 18th, 2017 at 1:25 PM ^

It's also why you see these wrinkles added even in games where there is a blowout. You may not think a scheme will really be effective against OSU as it may be against UC based on a variety of reasons, so you bring out the wrinkle vs UC and force OSU to prep for something you have no intention of running later (think when Michigan pulled out the T formation against Maryland a couple years ago). As someone said below, this may not work against PSU, but now PSU has to prep for it. And the potential plays off of it as well.


October 18th, 2017 at 3:30 PM ^

This X's 1000. +1 to you sir. Penn State now has to sell out against the run. Hopefully JOK can put a nice touch on the ball and hit an open receiver on play action. He missed DPJ I think early in the IU game on a nice play action pass. I still think this will be a good game, and the offense will roll out some new wrinkles. 

SC Wolverine

October 18th, 2017 at 12:52 PM ^

The other detail is that the third time, JBB did not combo with Onwenu on the DT.  Apparently, they either figured on the slant or figured Onwenu could handle the guy alone.  So JBB came down on one LB, allowing the FB to take out the other LB and make a massive second level hole.  Great to see the Harbuagh running game tinkering at work.


October 18th, 2017 at 12:52 PM ^

Out against an overly aggressive LB group (and this is just hypothetical) if we were playing in a monsoon. Love it just wish we could have maybe used it a week prior?


October 18th, 2017 at 1:13 PM ^

Is it just RPS that Indiana keeps slanting away from the direction of this run or is it something else?  What happens if Indiana is slanting toward the eventual hole instead of away?  That seems like a critical element for the repeated sucess of this play.


October 18th, 2017 at 1:33 PM ^

Run lead zone to the front side. There's also a funny play that they brought out in 2015 where they pull to the backside and wham block the NT.

But this play is mostly a constraint against inside zone with a lead blocker.

By the way yes Indiana was trying to beat it by slanting into it but kept picking the wrong side to slant to, which made things even worse when their linebackers who are supposed to replace the slanters followed the fullback to the wrong side

Harlans Haze

October 18th, 2017 at 1:18 PM ^

was seeing Wheatley in there on each of the plays, getting after his man. I know it was a corner twice (DE once), but he's getting to his blocks, as he did the few times he was in the MSU game. I was also encourged that they completed a pass to him, which makes this formation dangerous to pass out of, as well. Not that they are gospel, but this is basically what analyts like Booger McFarland and even Huard have been arguing for Michigan to do; line up heavy and make the defense stop them. Obviously, PSU is a (slight?) step up, but when you have FBs who can block and TEs who can block and catch, it makes sense to use them. It seems the more WRs they put on the field, the less likely they are to have success.


October 18th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

I noticed when watching the highlights that they ran this three times on that series.  Unless I'm mistaken, it's also the play we ran on offense in overtime, though there was a missed assignment and it got blown up until Higdon magic ensued.


October 18th, 2017 at 1:34 PM ^

Someone on the team (Higdon, I think) said Kugler went the wrong way on that play. Not clear to me that it was the same call.

Academic anyway, thanks to Higdon. BTW, that was a play that demonstrated the value of his speed. Gains nothing on 5-10 yard runs, but in space he was able to beat guys down the sideline. Evans or Isaac making the identical cutback are tackled after 15 yards. Higdon wins the game.


October 18th, 2017 at 2:34 PM ^

Pretty sure that Kugler admitted to going the wrong way, but I don't know if Onwenu did the same.  Also, I'm not sure Evans gets tackled after bouncing on that play.  Who's out there to catch him?  He's still pretty damn fast!  I don't think Isaac gets up to speed quick enough to get the corner, but Evans does and probably wouldn't have been caught.

That said, I'm not sure Evans makes that bounce.  I haven't seen that vision from him - yet.


October 18th, 2017 at 2:00 PM ^

This is why I always chuckle at the whining about "predictable play-calling". This game is more about playing intelligent, disciplined football-execution...than anything else. There are 22 players on the field. Every repetition of the same play will have its own set of nuances. 


October 18th, 2017 at 4:51 PM ^

But aren’t we pulling guards quite a bit on pass plays to negate that?
A couple of questions on pulling guards. Kalis rarely was able to aquire his man to block. When I rewatch the game and look for that now, I caught Onwenu doing the same thing. Is this hard to coach? Other times he would get to the edge and run into Cole. On one play both he and the FB ran into one another and blocked nobody.
Should the pulling guard’s spread be further to the backfield to be able to get around the playside tackle?
Also, when the guard and FB hit the edge together who should take the edge defender and who is continuing to the next level? Assuming it is play dependent or if the FB is lined up to either side.
Thanks, I’ll hang up and listen.


October 18th, 2017 at 2:25 PM ^

This hopefully becomes the identify of the team until such time that any QB play develops. 

I think they went into this season with a lot of ideas of how to throw with a second year QB in Speight, 5 wide and all of that.  That's probably why Ulizio instead of JBB.  But now that's out the window, and the running game is getting all the reps.  JBB and Onwenu can really move people.  Even if there's 8 in the box, I think Michigan takes that given you can probably get to the safety at speed after 3 yards and either plow for another or juke it into a bigger gain.  This assuming the assignments are executed mostly correctly. 

And now the defense is in for a long day of cracking helments, can they keep it up?  The safeties must come down hard to get to 3rd and long consistently, and if the RB presses the hole (thanks for teaching me that term Brian) or just bounces outside their lane it can be trouble.  And as others have said, when you get to cheatin' there are opportunities up the seam or deep.  Hit the FB or TE in the flat.  Roll-out off play action. 

Expect a lot of 3 and outs.  But they can probably beat who they're supposed to beat and stay in the games with PSU, Wiscy, and OSU with this offense.  Given their defense of course. 


October 18th, 2017 at 3:55 PM ^

I'm sure too that Penn State will work on this so they don't get caught out of position three times in a row like Indianna.  However, that will mean that Penn State won't be using the FB as a key to find the point of attack.  The fact that it did put a LB as good as Tegray Scales, a potential All-American, out of position three plays in a row, the last one being an untouched 59 yard TD, shows how to use excellent defenders' strengths against them.

Now Penn State has a choice.  On the one hand, they can have their LBs spy the FB for run plays, and stuff them repeatedly for no gain.  But, when Michigan figures out that's what Penn State is doing, the Wolverines will give the Nittany Lions a snout full of FB split flow all the way to the end zone.  On the other hand, Penn State can play the run game straight up, but then their LBs won't have that extra step to the point of attack, and our beleaugered O-line has a better chance of executing their blocks.

It's called scheming to put your players in a position to succeed.


October 18th, 2017 at 3:04 PM ^

Poor linebacker play led to these gains. Linebackers are supposed to read their guards but had their eyes in the backfield the whole time. Backside linebacker should be following Bredeson to the plays side every time.


October 18th, 2017 at 8:48 PM ^

Ah but were they coached that way? It was all of the LBs reacting each time. Plus Michigan until now has been a very follow your fullback running team, and MSU was very reactive to that.

One of their favorite plays is lead zone and they mix in split zone and duo a bunch. Those plays don't tell you very much from watching the guards but the fullback gives it away. Once they noticed opponents were keying on the fullback it was time to Spring something like this that really punishes such Behavior.


October 18th, 2017 at 9:45 PM ^

I do not claim to be an expert of any degree, but I was always taught to read your guard and through to the backfield. I agree that sometimes the guard tells you nothing, but a guard will never pull away from the play (unless Onwenu is going the wrong way (facepalm)). The backside guard at the very least is doing it wrong I would say, but would he make the play if he read it perfectly ? I do not know....