One-Play One-on-One: Karan Higdon

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on November 1st, 2016 at 10:01 AM



In yesterday’s press conference, Jim Harbaugh said that Karan Higdon gets to the hole faster than any other back on the roster. He received more touches than any other player in the fourth quarter, and Harbaugh said that was in large part because of State’s edge pressure. On his longest carry of the game, Higdon showed that he, too, can exert some pressure on the edge.

In the third quarter, Higdon took a toss on 2nd and 11 and dipped and ducked from the edge to the inside for 11 yards. I had the opportunity to ask him about that particular run:

With the initial motion on the play and then motioning back across the formation to the right, do you think you got them out of their run fit?

“Yeah. Yeah, I definitely think the double motion threw the defense off. We have a lot of different plays that come out of that same exact type of motion and formation, so it definitely threw them off.”

It looked like a pretty vanilla front at first, just a basic 4-3. When you lined up, what were you seeing?

“I just look at the ‘backers, the ‘backers and the safety rotation because they’re trying to dictate where I go.”

As the ball’s pitched, what are you looking for?

“How the defense flows. If they flow over the top, I can cut under. If they underpursue me, I can outrun them.”

As you got to the edge you have Magnuson there and you cut off of him. How are you coached to do that? Is there a certain depth you’re supposed to be at or are you waiting for him to initiate the defender?

“Trusting my instincts. Just trusting my instincts and reading his key block.”

And as you cut there, a safety shows up in the hole. What do you remember thinking in that moment?

“I don’t think. If you’re thinking, you’re not playing, so I just react. Run to react.”

So for you, you’re in that moment just making a cut off instinct rather than knowing you want to go outside to inside or inside to outside?

“Yes, sir.”

How do you learn to do that? Is that from live reps?

“Reps, practice, trusting yourself, and having confidence.”



November 1st, 2016 at 10:12 AM ^

Other interviews have been longer, obviously, but I really enjoyed his brevity on this one. His acknowledgement that this has to be instinctual is consistent with the way he discusses it. Read and react. Great piece today.


November 1st, 2016 at 12:32 PM ^

Smart answers, dumb job.  Nothing wrong with that.  I agree; this interview was short but exactly as long as it needed to be.

As explained ad nauseum here, running back is very much an instinctive position.  Wheatley has done great work coaching the RBs what to react to, but this isn't like O-line or QB where it's full-contact chess at 100mph.  Understanding how the play's supposed to work is only so useful because almost no play is blocked perfectly.  Better to have the RB just react to the mess in front of him.

Not that RBs can't be smart, as Higdon seems a bright enough fella.  But some of the flat-out pants-on-head dumbest football players you'll ever see are running backs and receivers, not because being stupid helps, but because other positions require at least some brains whereas smarts aren't necessary for a position heavy on instinct or repetition.


November 1st, 2016 at 10:54 AM ^

I'm reminded of a Seahawks game when Pete Carroll was trying and trying to explain to Marshawn Lynch exactly how the blocking for a run play was going to develop.

Lynch just kept saying "I just read it" until Carroll gave up with a laugh.


November 1st, 2016 at 11:04 AM ^

After the Higdon run, it shows Harbuagh giving several signals.  Does he signal the plays to the QB or do the backup QBs do it?  I have seen multiple QBs in the past with a couple dummy signals and one being "live".  I haven't paid attention this year.  I have also seen timeout sideline huddles where Harbaugh doesn't even attend.  The play calling is a mystery to me!


November 1st, 2016 at 11:29 AM ^

I've been comming here since '05/'06ish and I got to say this is an all-time top 3 feature:

  1. UFR
  2. Brian's feelsy Monday/Pre-season/Post-Season posts
  3. 1-on-1

Great stuff Adam.


November 1st, 2016 at 11:36 AM ^

I don't think Bullock does a terrible job knifing to the ball. Cole cuts him but he essentially forces Higdon to continue to the outside.

Frey and the corner do a TERRIBLE job, though... that's why the play is so successful. As a playside backer, your first step cannot be backwards. He sees all action come his way and his first step is back. He gets himself blocked downfield rather then whamming up into Amara and Chesson and allowing his safeties to fill and make the tackle. 

The corner doesn't come up and force action either and takes himself out of the play.

#44 had to go inside of the block and come back around to the outside to make the tackle. If he doesn't do that quickly, this play honestly goes for 6. 


I think this play shows a huge difference in the MSU defense between last year and this year. Last year they had hyper-aggressive players who were not afraid to fly up and cause piles at the point of attack. That made them somewhat succeptible to getting beat deep but they stopped the run well. Now, they're very passive and are allowing people to get 10 yard chunks on them with simple toss plays and they STILL suck at pass coverage. 


November 1st, 2016 at 11:53 AM ^

I find it very interesting to watch MSU's defense almost not react at all to the motion. When UofM motions two guys across, the MLB taps one of the down lineman and moves him over a little. When UofM sends one guy back in motion, State doesn't react at all. They are basically playing vanilla and not reacting at all to our motion. This post highlights that. I wonder if Seth will be writing a neck sharpie about additional plays where motion set up a weak spot in the sparty defense.

Very nice article. Great stuff I only find at MGoBlog.


November 1st, 2016 at 11:55 AM ^

It's remarkable how well this team runs outside pitches. I felt like they never executed these very well under Carr, and of course nothing worked under Hoke. 

A lot of this must be a credit to Isaac and Higdon, who seem to be the preferred guys for these plays. The blocking and defensive action features a lot of bodies in a chaotic jumble, and it is impressive how well these RBs can resolve the chaos into a lane with a well-placed cut or two.

Higdon just seems to have a great natural sense of how to cut and accelerate at the right moment to make space.


November 1st, 2016 at 1:20 PM ^

I love the way that Higdon runs.  He is like Mike Hart with a more explosive 1 cut burst and more top end speed too. When put in to that context, it makes one appreciate just how good Mike Hart was. 

That first 6-8 yds at the line of scrimmage though, is where Higdon really shines.  A Tenth of a Second.  He can take it to the house too.

“I don’t think. If you’re thinking, you’re not playing, so I just react. Run to react.”

There was an interview that NFL Films did with Barry Sanders a couple of years ago after he had been long retired. He said pretty much the same thing...that he just ran on instinct and had no conscious idea of what he was doing. He just did it.

I was hoping that they would get Higdon in to the game earlier but appreciated his carries in crunch time. The staff has a good feel for what back works at a particular time of the game.