Neck Sharpies: The Whack-a-Trap Counter

Submitted by Seth on October 6th, 2015 at 10:44 AM

This was boss from Harbaugh; Smith ignored it then got 10 yards with his own thing.

One of the plays from Brian's BYU Edition 11,000-word tome on De'Veon Smith we ended up discussing in slack chat for awhile. Brian covered what happened in that play in the UFR:

Ln Dn Ds O Form RB TE WR D Form Type Play Player Yards
O44 1 10 Ace twins H 1 2 2 Base 3-4 Run Counter trap. Smith 11
This gets jammed up on the playside and is gloriously ridiculously wide open on the backside. Glasgow is the guy releasing immediately and he has to go out to a guy lined up directly over a slot receiver to get a block. That's a trap pull behind Kalis. A cutback is a massive gain. Smith doesn't see that despite it being the play design but I still like what he does on this play. Hill can't get a seal on this because the DT is heading right at him inside; that's one reason the backside gap is so massive. Braden(+0.5) gets caught up; forms up, and cuts the guy off. Kalis(+1) doesn't have an angle unless this goes backside and still buries a linebacker into the mess w Braden and Hill. Cole(+1) gets a yard of depth; Smith(+1) spots the tiny crease and does a hard out-in cut. Three BYU players take a false step and Smith bursts upfield for near first down yardage. RPS +2.

And he had a breakout discussion on what Smith did with his cut. So that's what Smithg did but what about the RPS +2 part that Smith ignored. I'd like to show you what Harbaugh did to break that backside wide open, because it's a good example of atypical wrinkles he can pull out to mess with teams overreacting to the base power plays.

[after the jump I draw it up and try to figure out what was supposed to happen]


That's the all-22 shot so you can see how the safeties plus the field CB and BYU's version of a hybrid space player (labeled "SLB") were aligning. When Khalid Hill went in motion the free safety on top of him bailed to deep coverage and the SS ("Kat" in BYU terminology) came down hard for an eighth man in the box. Here's a closer look at what's going on in there:


So you, and presumably the defense, have seen something that looks like this pre-snap motion quite often, especially if you watched football in the 1990s. You swing a lead blocker to the other side of the formation and hope to catch the defense in the middle of adjusting when you throw all of those dudes at the point of attack. Lots of stuff in a base power/iso offense will see this FB in motion to the opposite edge.

But this time he stops a little early. Again, not all that weird, but it did mean the SS—the eighth man in the box—is just coming into the picture at the snap.


And now the going does get weird. Rudock gives Hill a little handoff fake to help convince the nose to get lined up perfectly for Khalid to block. Glasgow (the red route above) runs a little pull behind a releasing Kalis.


And here's what it looks like:


We were a bit confused on what Braden is doing. He will wind up sealing the NT but we wondered for awhile why he's not firing at the MLB. I finally watched it enough times to see he's supposed to have a timed block; he kinda shuffles through his release and then was about to lunge for the MLB after all until that guy bites on a subtle outside step and abandons his gap entirely.

This gap is the failsafe; if the MLB reads the center's pull and hightails it to where Glasgow is going, you have nice frontside hole to run into (Smith would run into that hole for 11 yards). If the MLB instead moves up to pop Braden it opens up the counter side. [Update: this is a point of contention—it's possible that Smith's first read is this gap and the counter side is his second read. Either way he chose the wrong one since the MLB is right in this gap until the stutter-step)].


Magnuson's end wants to keep the edge and widens; that's a sign the defense has the safety or someone else eyeing that B gap. It was probably the backer Kalis is having for lunch (that dude ends up pancaked about where the ball was snapped from). Glasgow then has to seek either the free safety (who's still back at the 30 yard line) or—wisely—the SLB who was lined up on Perry and wasn't fooled.

From here Smith doesn't execute the play; instead he took his stutter-step to the left, which got the MLB to jump right out of his gap. Braden turned around to seal the nose, which is helpful since that dude is blocked by a tight end remember.


But the counter is open for yards. Having the H block the nose is a changeup—you're not going to get away with that consistently. But it was enough of a surprise here to get all those defenders overreacting to a frontside attack and ignore a pulling center. Think how often offenses have to spend a guard and a center blocking the NT and here Michigan neutralized him with an H-back. That means you have a mismatch somewhere else, in this case Michigan's best offensive lineman versus a safety-sized linebacker.

Michigan didn't bring this out against Maryland, but now that it's on film it's another thing that defenses have to practice. I thought power football was going to be boring. It is the opposite.



October 6th, 2015 at 10:50 AM ^

It's really fun learning about a new offensive system while watching the team play well. When Harbaugh gets his guy at QB this offense will be a monster.


October 6th, 2015 at 10:58 AM ^

He played to his limitation (read: he's slow) and gap concept and took the nearest gap that was open.  If he follows Glasgow's pull then yes there's a huge gap but to get there he has to shuffle around a pile of bodies and with Smith that'll take about thirty-eight minutes.  The mike and safety can flow there and beat him to it.  The cavernous gap is asking for a nuclear-powered icebreaker to make a Drake-esque cut outside.  I don't know what he was coached but Smith isn't Drake Johnson and shouldn't try to be like him, so that was probably the best result.  It'll be interesting to see if they run this again straight-up with either Isaac or Johnson.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:20 AM ^

Agree with this take mostly. Johnson likely would have zoomed backside for a big gainer. Probably 25 yards.  But I think Smith would've gotten a big chunk too if he goes right.  The right end of the line is sealed by Glascow and Smith wouldn't have to go far to get around it. It's basically the right side B gap, not an edge run.  The counter step likely wouldve allowed Smith to beat the LB and safety through the line such that they'd have no angle to take down him down.  They'd have to chase him down from behind.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:49 AM ^

At this point we can have infinite fun with what-ifs, but here's what I was thinking:  If Smith goes for the cavern either takes a straight line there, in which case the second-level defenders (in which I'll include the mike) will easily read and flow to the play, or he feints like he did and you say.  If he DOES take a step, let's compare what he did vs. what if:

What he did:  He made a feint as if to bounce outside to the left.  This single false step causes three defenders to shuffle around to that side.  It was an overreaction by BYU, but the point is, he got a lot of bang for his buck.

What if:  Again, I'm creating my own reality here, but if he's following Glasgow's pull, then his false step would be for that crease he actually went through -- I doubt a feint all the way to the outside is effective on this track.  In which case the mike's already in the gap he's feinting for, and in reality vacated it pretty easily, so I'm guessing all he gets for a false step is the mike stays in the gap a split second longer and then beats him to the spot anyway.  Maybe not, but even tackled from behind he might only get 5-6 yards instead of 11.  Which, still, not bad.

In reality, he got BYU's second-level defenders to put a mass of bodies between them and him.  If he goes for the super-gap then I don't think a feint is any more effective than just booking for it and either way I doubt he'd beat the mike and safety because there isn't as much traffic preventing them from getting there.  I think Smith's feint was far more effective in getting yards out of what he did than if he took a different path.

All that said, it sure is nice to have multiple good options for a play, instead of none.


October 6th, 2015 at 10:57 AM ^

The All 22/schematic pictures work really well with the screenshots to tell what happened on the play. These would be a great feature to continue and I'd love to see lots more of these (what happened on Smith's beast-run?)

Make MORE free content! and a bicycle clown!

Space Coyote

October 6th, 2015 at 11:02 AM ^

This looks like a standard influence wham. The influence block (Glasgow pulling) is designed to influence the offense into thinking it is Michigan's standard outside run play; it pulls the defense to the top of the screen. Hill is then asked to Wham block (an H-back version of a trap block) the NT. Smith hits this play correctly, exactly where it is supposed to go.

Now, that doesn't mean that cut to the backside isn't wide open. You'll notice that Kalis lunges to try to cutoff the LB, but he misses, and once he misses he decides it's time to just drive. That's the correct reaction to initially missing the block, at least drive a guy somewhere so things can open up elsewhere. The cut all the way across the formation is in the event that the NT wins against the Wham block, then the HB can just flip and arc that guy back to the bottom of the screen and the bounce is the way to go.

But the NT never did win across Hill. Braden (I think you are correct in that he is supposed to get MIKE, but he gets occupied a bit and then sees the MIKE vacate and just sticks with blocking the NT). That means the NT is sealed away from Smith's hole that he hits. Smiths first read is that NT. He reads it correctly and attacks downhill for a nice gain.

As a side note, this blog should really start differentiating between a trap (an OL pulling and blocking an interior DL) and a Wham (an H-back blocking an interior DL), because Michigan does both, and otherwise they are often confused.

Space Coyote

October 6th, 2015 at 11:52 AM ^

Smith's read the whole way is the NT:

  1. NT gets sealed on the backside, Smith hits the frontside A/B gap.
  2. NT wins his hat across Hill's hat, Smith bounces to the backside.

Braden doesn't get out to the MIKE, but he helps Hill seal the NT to the backside. Thus, Smith has read the play correctly.

Kalis keeps blocking because, despite not getting into his initial assignment, he can and does still have an impact on the play. In this case, he occupies a defender so that he doesn't make a play. In the event the NT wins across Hill, he has now opened the cutback wide open, as is seen above.

As far as the Wham/Trap difference, they are different keys for the defense. Sometimes the FB will block where a pulling trapper is vacating, and the OG is the key for the defense. Sometimes the backside OG doesn't pull, and the FB is the key for the defense. The difference is in that it's a different key for the defense for what is essentially the same play for the RB. They mimic other plays and force the defense to do/read plays differently, and pulling or not pulling an OG has different strengths/weaknesses for the offense. It's a small difference, but it's a difference; and those small differences and adjustments are details that are often missed, especially when looking at pro-style schemes, but they are important.

I detailed the trap/wham play a while ago, FWIW. 

I do like the format of this though (show the video, show schematically step-by-step through the play, combine with actually pictures). Only advice (that I don't follow enough in my breakdowns) would be to show a video again at the end, maybe in slow motion so people see it again (of course, they could just scroll back to the top and do that themselves). I'd also like to clarify that while I have a different perspective of this play, I really, really love this feature, Seth. I am an X's and O's junky, I love reading this stuff and love when others have the opportunity to learn about this stuff, and I always enjoy reading these and the fact that this blog takes the time to go into this level of detail. Not many fanbases get the opportunity to learn the game in this depth.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:59 AM ^

Could you please break down who this play is supposed to influence with Glasgow's pull?

It looks to me like it is supposed to influence not only the Nose, who will follow the puller for a step before being whammed thereby creating a big hole, but also the Mike, who will flow right expecting the sweep, before being blindsided by Braden. This might explain Braden's deal here as well -- he's expecting the Mike to have vacated a bit and is planning a point of contact more towards the top of the screen. Anything to that, in your opinion?

This is also Exhibit A on why people shouldn't really yell at the TV about RBs missing holes. They are often a mirage. Only a crazy RB would try to run across the face of the man being trapped/whammed. Hill would be pushing the defender into the runner. By the time that block turns into a seal, Smith has to be somewhere, not waiting for it to develop. These are quick hitters, by definition.

Space Coyote

October 6th, 2015 at 12:12 PM ^

Which is an interesting wrinkle. I agree with your assessment. I think the Nose gets influenced (Block-Down, Step Down rules) and both LBs are supposed to be influenced (the MIKE and the Buck in the diagram above; the MIKE more so because the Buck's initially read is likely the OG in his line of view to the RB, but he should still see the Center crossing his path). I think that's a big reason why Kalis misses his block (he expects the Buck to step with the pull, he doesn't) and Braden doesn't get out as fast (he's expecting the MIKE to step with the pull, he really steps forward and then attacks fast to the front side).

To me, this shows that the BYU ILBs were missing their keys, or simply keying the RB, which is not optimal (and this shows why). If they were keying any of the interior OL, they would have stepped to their left, if they were keying through to the HB they'd step to their left. Neither really do, so they are really playing fast and loose, which is why wham and traps and counters break off for 11 yard gains.

Also agree on the missing holes assessment. Yes, certainly the backs miss holes at times, or don't read the play appropriately. But when you have the ball and all the action is going on in front of you, you have a read that you make as the ball carrier for how to attack the play. Certainly, there are times when doing something outside of that would be the better option, but 9 times out of 10 you follow the blocking and you'll be better off, especially at avoiding negative plays.


October 6th, 2015 at 3:14 PM ^

I think this one is particularly informative:

"Certainly, there are times when doing something outside of that would be the better option, but 9 times out of 10 you follow the blocking and you'll be better off, especially at avoiding negative plays."

We have been so much better at avoiding negative plays compared to the last few years.


October 6th, 2015 at 12:13 PM ^

I think it would be an interesting if this blog/space coyote/Magnus, to give a break down of basic Dline technics when playing a power run team. This might better explain to people on how Harbaugh's offense messes with the defenses. For example trapping the trapper, and like you mentioned following the trapper. I love the double trap play he runs, I think we saw it against unlv or OSU. A dlineman that gets through unblocked is taught to look inside for the guy to trap him, and all of a sudden he gets blindsided by the H back.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

Ron Utah

October 6th, 2015 at 12:44 PM ^

First, great breakdown by Seth, and I love the format (and title).

What I would at to SC's remarks is that one of your best clues for play design are the steps the RB and QB take.  In this play, Smith's steps (and Rudock's) are telling you where this play is going: exactly where it went.

If the play was designed to go to the backside, Smith would have taken a counter-step and received the hand-off on the other side of the QB, heading for the backside hole.  In this play, Rudock is obstructing the backside cut, which tells you that is NOT Smith's first option.

Here's a good video of what a true counter-step (and handoff) looks like:

In the play Seth diagrammed, Smith fakes an outside, or toss step, then immediately cuts toward the hole he chooses.  This play was not designed to go backside.


October 6th, 2015 at 12:44 PM ^

Man I called it a wham and then got "corrected" by a certain former lineman who shall remain nameless.

It's hard to tell with this play but I think your analysis could be correct except I disagree about whether he's reading the NT. Maybe he should(?) be, but he's definitely watching the MLB because that's whose eyes he grabs, and that's whom he stuttered out of the hole.

And it makes sense from a play design angle. The NT could stunt or shoot into the wham block to cause all sorts of ruckus, and given he's lined up in a zero tech in a real 3-4 you're not going to get a lot of information about what gap he's going into--it's likely he has both of them and is just responsible for controlling his man.

On the other hand if as you say his first read is the gap he chose, he can watch to see if the MLB follows the center's pull (because that's a common enough key). If the MLB ignores the pull hit the backside; if he bolts to the backside you've taken care of the MLB. Instead he created option c: make the MLB do a stupid thing.


October 6th, 2015 at 1:05 PM ^

I think you're right on this. It's unlikely that the RB is supposed to read the Nose.

The play was designed to influence the Nose, using Glasgow to move him to the offenses right side. And so, because all of that was set up to help Hill block him across the formation, there is no reason to have the RB read that block. That hole was made by scheme, not by the block itself. The scheme removed that read from the play. The RB still has to have his wits about him, but that isn't where his eyes start.

Don't feel too bad about the wham/trap thing. Your OL friend is gonna call it a trap because, damn it, it is a trap. Just because a skinnier guy does it doesn't mean it needs a fancy name. (It probably does, but I never think to use it either.)

Space Coyote

October 6th, 2015 at 1:20 PM ^

I said the RB reads the NT the whole way, which is incorrect. That's the read the RB makes to determine whether or not he's keeping it front side or cutting it all the way back across the formation.

The first read is likely the same as inside zone.

As for trap/wham, a wham is a type of trap block, so it's not incorrect to call it that. But "wham" is more specific, and I think the details there are important. Guess on why the OL friend didn't call it a wham is because it's most likely still a gap/man scheme, rather than a zone scheme, which is what wham is typically associated with.

It could also be the more specific difference between a "wham" and a "T" block from a FB. A wham block seals the backside DT to the backside. A "T" block seals the frontside DT to the front side.

So, in reality, you can call this a trap block, wham block, or T block, and be correct in each case, but are being more specific as you work more latter.

Harbaugh will utilize every type of back block he can to gain an advantage.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:09 AM ^

"It is the opposite."

Agreed; as you all mentioned earlier this year re: Harbaugh "screwing with the defense's run fits", it is beautiful to watch it unfold, even if it isn't always successful (first year and all). The commentary on the myriad tweaks and subtle adjustments has been extremely entertaining, and considering how Harbaugh adjusts according to his talent, we're certain to continue to see more.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:41 AM ^

Is it possible that the apparent backside of the play was actually playside, and Rudock turned the wrong way? It seems like Smith would power through the hole to the weakside if Rudock turned the other way for the handoff, but I am not a trained observer.


October 6th, 2015 at 11:48 AM ^

Great job, Seth.

I agree with Space Coyote's analysis, but your take was really, really good for a layman. That's not meant pejoratively, by the way. Influence plays are THE most difficult thing for a non-coach/player to discern because they are intentionally fucked up.

Keep up the good work. You are my favorite contributor on a blog full of really, really good writers. Keep filling this niche.


October 6th, 2015 at 12:15 PM ^

Seriously.  I've read a few pieces on influence plays this fall--every time, I kind of understand them while I am reading the piece, but then an hour later the knowledge has totally left my brain.  So that's why I have decided to stop worrying and love the Harbaugh.


October 6th, 2015 at 12:48 PM ^

Influence plays are really nice to discuss because it shows the OC thinking two steps ahead in the play design. Not just what the offense wants to do, but what he knows the defense will do with presented with certain things. Its just great chess-match stuff.

It's also fun because the play just looks kinda stupid. One guy will be doing something that looks like it does not fit. It's sort of equivalent to the EMLOS being unblocked on the zone read. He is essentially "blocked" by the threat of the QB keep. Influence plays don't necessarily leave a guy unblocked, but they move him into a position more favorable for the block you eventually put on him.

I'm glad MANBALL isn't a four-letter word around here anymore. That criticism was really, really shallow kind of exposed it's user as someone who didn't care to look close enough.


October 6th, 2015 at 3:12 PM ^

Hoke was MANBALL. This is Renaissance Manball.

MANBALL thinks the "expectation is for the position" and any valid play can work as long as it is EXECUTED.

Renaissance Manball realizes that sure, that may be true, but a smart coach can put his players in advantageous positions by playing to their strengths and playing off the defenses tendencies. By making it easier for his boys to execute and harder for the other guys.

MANBALL is "We're gonna run POWAH because dammit that's what REAL FOOTBALL is, not that basketball on grass crap, and we ain't playin' chess with the defense."

Renaissance Manball is "We shall run a myriad of power variations at you because we are thinking 2 steps ahead of you, I know how to beat you with it even if I can't win every block everytime, because I will make you question your keys and your sanity in the moments before a very large young man stiff arms you in the face. Also my FIDE rating is 2680".

MANBALL is Burnside at Fredericksburg.

Renaissance Manball is Napoleon at Austerlitz.



October 6th, 2015 at 12:15 PM ^

I think at this point Harbaugh knows his backs, and knows them well.  He calls plays best suited for who is on the field, and we saw a lot of that last weekend when the power runs were all but totally eliminated from the gameplan.  Just as you mentioned that this is a variation designed to keep the defense honest against the power run, Harbaugh has multiple variations to all of his base run plays, that is why he is so damn good at every level.  He can keep 31 year old Frank Gore looking like 21 year old Frank Gore because of the play designs and his expectation of find that running late, put your foot in the ground and get yards.  Both Isaac and Green do not run consistently behind their pads and that is why you see them get brought down by the first guy consistently and why they are falling farther and farther behind Green and Johnson.  


October 6th, 2015 at 1:05 PM ^

Harbaugh isn't running the ball late for any reason other than he's had insurmountable leads the past few games (hell, 15 points might as well be 50 with this D & ST) and doesn't want to play all his trump cards.  It's clear he's got a bag of RPS+3 wacky stuff to roll out when he needs points and honestly against Maryland I think he used a few more tricks than he would've liked to.  Post-game he's going to wax about being happy (but NOT satisfied) with the win, but when the camera was on him during the game he seemed irritated and it's plain to see why.

But to agree with your main point, yeah, the plays are built around the players, which is a nice change from before.  It's kind of frustrating at times but even the "bad" plays fit within a scheme of keeping the defense off-balance.  OK Rudock and Chesson have yet to complete a deep ball but they're going to keep throwing it because they get close enough that eventually they'll complete it and that forces safeties to respect Chesson's speed.  That keeps things open underneath.

I think as the season goes on, if Smith doesn't have an epiphany the runs will be increasingly designed to get him running straight to a safety in a gap for some YAC because we all know he can do that.  Better that than RPS the defense only to have Smith run into a pile of bodies at the LoS.


October 6th, 2015 at 8:05 PM ^

I think that they are showing/doing just enough on offense to win the game.  They might show a few things just to give the upcoming defensive coordinators something to waste practice time on but, once the game is in hand, there is no need to get fancy.


October 7th, 2015 at 12:15 PM ^

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