Zach Gentry
Run-Ent Option? [Bryan Fuller]

Neck Sharpies: High Leverage Comment Count

Seth November 6th, 2018 at 11:19 AM

It's the last minute of the 3rd quarter. Michigan has dominated in just about every phase of the game. They're winning the turnover battle. They're quadrupling in yardage. They're converting 3rd down. They even have a huge advantage in special teams—despite a nearly disastrous blocked kick—because of DPJ's punt returns. And yet it's only 14-0. Michigan's at the PSU 7 with 2nd and 6 on a 13-play drive that's just murdered most of the third frame. A field goal and it's probably over. A touchdown and you know it's over. Nothing…well, Penn State knows a thing or two about losing games that Bill C's numbers say they won handily.


Michigan's in a 3-tight end shotgun. The day so far has seen a lot of split zone and zone reads with a crossing TE to the backside of similar formations, and Penn State's having none of it, getting into an Under formation with the backside reinforced and no safeties deep. Michigan likes to run, huh? Well We Are Penn State. We're Unrivaled. We brought the BLUE band and they're hanging out by the sideline over there. James Franklin's Pennsylvania boys. And Michigan's about to see what they're made of, especially if the Wolverines try the middle.

Penn State's inviting Michigan to try that gap between the Bushell-Beatty's right shoulder, where the strongside end is lined up, and two gaps over where the DT has shifted to Ruiz's right shoulder. Remember back to the Neck Sharpies after Northwestern, how your defensive linemen are your fortresses and the weak spots are the gaps between them? Look at PSU's front and where they want Michigan to go:


I don't remember the Sun Tzu quote for this. If your enemy shows you a weakness, use it? Or is it never do what your enemy wants you to do? Or is it when facing an irrational man never rationality? I'm sure it's something.

[After the Jump: The Art of War.]


So yeah, Penn State is inviting Michigan to run into that frontside B gap. The plan here is a "pinch blitz." Basically the line all slant toward the middle, stuffing up all of the interior running lanes and throwing off whatever blocks were planned.


The ball is snapped.


The center and right tackle are pulling. Ah yes, Michigan's base-ish play. Down G. With an extra tight end to the strongside but Down G nevertheless. The pinch blitz ought to take care of that. It's not easy to see in the still but when you draw it up it's pretty clear. Just look at what's happening to the guy Ruiz was over and Onwenu is supposed to downblock. Then see where that strongside defensive end went.



Those downblocks have no chance against guys slanting inside of them. Onwenu is about to be sideways to a guy with a free run up the middle. Ruiz is going to run into the guy Eubanks was supposed to handle. But then, this isn't attacking inside, so if Michigan can survive a couple of guys flinging upfield past their downblocks the play might still get numbers outside.


Ruiz lets the DE in—nothing he can do about that. JBB gets out to kick the cornerback, who's got to set the edge against the big fella and forms up to not have that be a blowout. If Higdon can get around the DE there could be a lane. Except, well, except Penn State has an extra guy in the box, don't they? The free safety blitzed off the edge but Penn State has their MLB on the 5-yard line, reading the play, and just one Ruiz to block that guy plus the strong safety hanging out at the hash.

That's what you get for running into a stacked box, right? That's what you get for playing with 10 guys and having a quarterback just to hand off.


Wait, DID he hand off? Ummm…


image image

[Eric Upchurch]

So yeah this was a Run-Pass Option off of Michigan's first-half-of-the-season base run play. Watch it in its glory. Revel in its slow motion-itude.

Gfycat called this "HastyGivingCats"

So let's break this thing down.

The Read

I went with the long, drawn out introduction because I wanted to drive home a point about RPOs: these are run plays, just like a zone read is a run play. Like a zone read, an RPO finds a way to make the quarterback a guy the defense has to defend, while also having to respect the threat of a receiver in his route. It's not play-action. There isn't a progression. The quarterback is merely optioning a defender, and like any other option, the easier the defender makes that read the more open the play becomes and the faster it can hit.

This play—which the Eagles ran in this year's Super Bowl—read the middle linebacker.* With Penn State's safety hanging off the edge, the LBs obviously are going to be responsible for coverage on the tight end, and that MLB is almost certainly in zone. The quarterback reads the LB's reaction to the run action:


If—as PSU's LBs are wont to do—the MLB fires down against the run, Gentry has a major leverage advantage over the other linebacker, who's supposed to get help inside on any pass. If the LB had stayed back to defend a pass, Patterson's read is to give the ball to the running back.

In that scenario the LB isn't going to be on time to stop the run. With his front pinching that way it probably wouldn't matter if he was, but as far as the offense is concerned if they can consistently make that linebacker hang back in his zone drop when all he wants to do is get to the run gap, the offense has just won the battle over the key, unblocked defender. It's option ball: rather than just handing off and watching the play, the option makes the quarterback relevant to how the defense plays.

Except given the risk-reward, if you're a defense facing a team known for RPO'ing, you know you have to leave guys back in coverage. Which means either they get players who can sit back in a zone drop and still fire into a run gap (hi, Michigan LBs) or live with the damage. Teams are good at that, and Penn State certainly knows how to defend a key part of their offense, but Michigan kept RPOs shelved all season. I'm sure Brian will give this an RPS+3 despite the pinch.


* (IE the guy whose position is called that. As it's drawn up the read is normally a WLB, i.e. whoever lines up with inside leverage on the intended targetimage)


What Was With the Extra Puller on Down G?

I'm more convinced, given that it became part of this play, that Michigan's Down G look is like the old Packers Sweep: they change up who pulls and blocks down based on the way the defense aligns. Earlier in the season when Michigan faced a bunch of 3-4 teams they were playing Down G against those odd fronts with a covered nose by blocking the backside like outside zone and pulling the guard. Michigan also kept a fullback back there to play games, either shooting through the gap as a lead blocker, then shooting backside to Wham block a DT.


The "Under" front provides a bit of a different danger because these blocks are not going to go well:


You're asking the center to reach block a guy lined up playside of him, and when a strongside end sets up on the tackle's outside shoulder (5-tech) like that, it's really hard to get him dislodged from that gap unless he goes willingly. But you've still got a couple of frontside defenders who can block down on dudes. So Michigan has them do so, and replaces the fullback's original block with one of a short pull by the center around his guard's downblock.


And since the fullback is now hunting the MLB, you can put him in a better position to do so:


It's the same play, but run differently depending on how the defense aligns their fronts. Being able to make your good plays reactive to the defense is the key to having them remain effective. Michigan continues to install more things off the Down G package to force defenses to play the play Michigan is good at like they would any other.

Adding a run-pass option was inevitable. Saving it until last week was smart, given PSU is the last tough opponent before Ohio State, and they play a lot of 4-3 under defense, and the Revenge Tour had a lot of PSU 2017 touchdown celebrations left to imitate this late in the game, it was the perfect time to bring it out. Michigan's future opponents now know they can't just fire the backside linebacker into the places we want to run.

And Penn State found out what they're made of.



November 6th, 2018 at 11:41 AM ^

This is why that David Jones article in PennLive was so full of b.s. Harbaugh is a ZEN MASTER at using a whole farking season to lull opposing DCs to sleep. 

Sun Tsu, indeed.

Ali G Bomaye

November 6th, 2018 at 12:07 PM ^

In case you're wondering, he doubled down on his stupidity this week:

But here's the thing: You could not win a national title these days with that 2002 OSU offense. Nor can you now with Michigan's current offense. It's just as predictable and conservative as that Craig Krenzel outfit, but the game has changed. You can argue that Sharkface knew he needn't pull any tricks to beat Penn State and you'd be right. All he had to do was load up his jumbo formations and methodically wear down that already weary and overworked PSU front. But I think that's not just the method he used on Saturday in the 42-7 rout of the Lions. That's who he is. He's a throwback who doesn't just want to win, he wants to see the enemy physically submit. Fine. It'll work against the carcass of a hollowed-out Big Ten. I'm not optimistic about the CFP.


November 6th, 2018 at 12:40 PM ^

And what is it exactly that this Michigan offense is doing that's so pedestrian? More importantly, what is it that they think Clemson or Alabama is doing that is so earth-shattering, 27th-century football? 

Leverage, speed, strength, RPS. Use any combination you want, but at the end of the day, that's what football is. We use a bunch of big dudes. You use wee sprites.

Same dif.


November 6th, 2018 at 6:05 PM ^

I watched several games from 97. God love and bless him and his family, but his offensive scheme and play calling was painful to watch.  It worked because of an excellent O-Line, Chris Perry and Anthony Thomas, and a good, usually careful, QB, but it would not work today with all the blitzing and emphasis on speed.  Too many of the runs would be stopped cold or thrown for losses and blitzes would come hot and heavy on the resulting passing downs.  But then he had a great D just like H did.

Even calling 80% runs, that was not the offense run by Harbaugh vs. PSU.  What will happen when they go up against Clemson and Alabama is anybody's guess because it's clear that Shea is improving and Harbaugh has many more plays in the playbook that he'll use only if and when needed.  


November 8th, 2018 at 8:44 AM ^

You just listed everything Bama has done before Jalen Hurts.  They overpowered you on the line, 1 dynamic receiver, a good tight end, fullback and running backs who were more Emmitt Smith than Barry Sanders. I think you're absolutely wrong that that style doesn't work today.  Modern football has become more intricate, but you can absolutely win like that, just like you can win with a triple option. 


November 6th, 2018 at 2:02 PM ^

WTF is he talking about?

  • 2017 Alabama's offensive S&P+ score: 33.6 (23rd overall)
  • 2018 Michigan's offensive S&P+ score: 34.2 (24th overall)
  • 2017 Alabama's defensive S&P+ score: 13.8 (1st overall) 
  • 2018 Michigan's defensive S&P+ score: 10.0 (1st overall)

Michigan is basically a replica of 2017's NC team in terms of style and advanced stats.


November 6th, 2018 at 1:01 PM ^

FYI the actual Sun Tzu quote, as I remember it translated, is:

Appear weak when you are strong, and strong when you are weak.

The principle is get your opponent to commit their resources in the wrong places.  It's every bit as relevant to modern warfare, and even formation sports such as football, as when it was first written.

Truthfact, I sent this quote to Borges after his disastrous run/pass tip OSU game.  He actually replied and was. . . not amused.


November 6th, 2018 at 1:39 PM ^

It was the '12 OSU game when Denard had a bum elbow so Borges rotated in Devin, and whenever Denard was in it was a run, and when Devin was in he called pass:

Gardner: 11/20 passing, 7 carries (sacks included)
Robinson: 10 carries for 122 yards, no passes attempted.
The RBs combined for 10 carries, 14 yards.

OC-ing doesn't get any stupider than this.  OSU players said postgame that they keyed on it, because Borges is literally that stupid.  As in, not only did he telegraph his intentions, there was assurance he had no plan for a long con.


November 6th, 2018 at 11:46 AM ^

Harbaugh must really hate opposing linebackers. Like, REALLY hate them.

It seems like much of our offensive philosophy is designed to fuck with LBs' reads.

First it was the guards pulling to the front side. Then it was the center pulling. Then the FB runs away from where the RB is going. Then TEs actually AVOID crashing DEs to gain leverage on LBs. 

Now, it's the G and C pulling while the RB heads toward a gap that shouldn't be there while the TE avoids the rush end and the QB options the MLB. And the FB is resting so that he can blow through three blocks to shut down the ensuing kickoff.

We are a fully armed and operational battle station, taking aim at the Mon Calamari cruisers that are opposing LBs.


November 6th, 2018 at 1:28 PM ^

I see that more as respect for their importance, though it doesn't sound like we disagree.  If the D-line is the fortress wall, the DBs are the artillery, and the linebackers are the garrison.  You don't have a victory if you haven't dealt with them.

It's literally impossible to block all 11 defenders and even when optioning one the DC will often accept a downside somewhere to free up a hitter, be it a blitzer to wreak havoc or a deep safety to hold things down.  But linebackers are almost always there to fill interior gaps, set the edge as needed, and cover the short middle.  If you're able to remove a linebacker from the play, especially without using up a block, you're getting at least 5-6 yards unless a D-lineman blows up the play.  Especially against a defense with a good front and a squishy middle like PSU, it's a high-return gamble to pick on the linebackers.

If anyone here is just getting into MGoBlog's UFR during the Don Brown era, the numbers put up by Brown's LBs (especially Devin Bush) are kind of a new thing.  Brian had historically maintained that linebacker scores will normally be around 0, and was convinced that "linebacking is hard".  Bush may be the best linebacker Michigan's had in a decade so it remains to be seen if Brown's schemes have shifted the paradigm or if we're spoiled by an All-American MLB.  It could be both.


November 8th, 2018 at 9:29 AM ^

That's quite true. And if you can't block them, how can you remove them from the play but still give yourself an advantage?  It's really brilliant. I think some of the nuance gets lost with many fans though, so when they see a run play for 4 yards, they don't really understand how many individual roles were executed and the brilliance behind that playcall.


November 6th, 2018 at 12:37 PM ^

Seth, if we're pulling two linemen, is this really a "Down G" play anymore? 

The part I like is that there's a nice crease for Higdon even with the LB moving down. It probably would have been a good play even if Shea hadn't thrown it.



November 6th, 2018 at 12:49 PM ^

The part I like is that there's a nice crease for Higdon even with the LB moving down. It probably would have been a good play even if Shea hadn't thrown it.


I'm not sure about that. At full speed, it seems the Mike has Higdon pretty well covered if this is a give. Because Shea pulls, the Mike's hands go up in an attempt to bat the ball down, but if it's a give, Higdon has to get the edge and I don't know that he has enough space to do it. Also the Will MIGHT be able to save this play too if he's super fast? 

I don't know?



Space Coyote

November 6th, 2018 at 3:23 PM ^

It's not traditional pin and pull. In that scenario, the Wing would be responsible for the edge player. This is still a down scheme, but the "covered"/"uncovered" applies to the front side of the play still the same, just the first puller always kicks the defensive EMOL and the second one pulls up and through.


November 6th, 2018 at 1:48 PM ^

The new-world triple option is the RPO.  Shea's threat to run also helps freeze the back-side LB in contain which opens the free-running TE.  That is maybe just as important as anything to make the third leg of the RPO wide open.

Harbaugh has been building to this point all season.  Expect more pieces of the RPO package to be unleashed at Columbus.  Go Blue !!!


November 6th, 2018 at 2:21 PM ^

Harbaugh's self control to set up kill plays on a seasonal basis, as opposed to just an in-game basis, is one of the more delightful subplots of this incredible run


November 6th, 2018 at 2:37 PM ^

That play was right down in front of me, so I had a good view.  Being an educated MGoBlog reader, I immediately yelled out “RPO” when Gentry caught the ball.  I felt like I was in on the secret and knew this was the first time we had done this.  Did it impress anyone around me?  Or course not!


November 6th, 2018 at 5:35 PM ^



Did anyone else notice Michigan's D fake a blitz with Hudson in the A gap pre-snap, back out, rotating Bush to Safety, then walking him up into the A gap and fake blitzing him.  Late 2nd Q, Early 3rd I think.

I'd love to know what the hell Michigan was doing on that play other than just completely screwing with McSorley's reads.


November 6th, 2018 at 5:53 PM ^

Ahh, the season is far from over.  If Shea continues to steadily improve and especially if he plays an important part in  M winning the national championship, then he might find himself in the first or second round.  Of course, he's welcome to leave in the latter case with many thank you's.

 I'm told that one knock is that he's really closer to 6 foot than 6 foot 2 inches.  That's legitimate to a point, but Drew Brees and Russell Wilson (?) prove that paying too close attention to such statistics only proves you don't know as much football as you think you do.  If he were 6 foot 5 inches, I bet there would  be some team willing to take a chance on him in the firs round.  So often qbs with great measurables and a big arm get picked in the top 10, only to bust.