Over the past five years I've watched a lot of football plays over and over until I understood them (or threw my hands up and asked the peanut gallery). The play I've seen more than any other in that time is the zone stretch. DeBord ran almost literally nothing else, and it was the most common play in the RR offense's first two years. Though Michigan's gone away from it with Denard, boy do I have the zone stretch down.
This is not a zone stretch. It's a power off tackle QB run where the nearside guard pulls (AKA "down g") and the guys on the outside block down. But it does demonstrate a key element of defending outside runs of any variety where cutbacks are possibly lethal.
It's the first play of Michigan's fourth drive of the day. MSU has just scored a 61-yard touchdown on a zone stretch cutback that we'll address later. It's first and ten; Michigan comes out in a three-wide package with Stephen Hopkins as the back. The first shot is a little early; Robinson drops back so Hopkins is at stretch depth.
The key guy here is somewhat unusual given the play: the backside DE. He's to the top of the screen:
On the snap Michigan sends Robinson to the strong side of the formation:
Key bits in the frame above: Webb and Lewan are blocking down on the playside DE and DT as Schilling pulls around. Hopkins is sprinting out as a lead blocker, leaving Schilling and Hopkins taking on the two playside LBs; Molk has to cut the WLB.
In the next frame Molk has gotten out on the WLB. Schilling has gotten shoved back by that playside DT, which we can't see yet but will in the next frame. The backside DE has read the direction of the play and is in the process of releasing from Dorrestein:
Molk chops the WLB. He's dead. Webb has crushed the playside DE inside. There's major gap. Problem: Robinson has basically caught Schilling already because of the shove from the DT:
…he's now a yard in front of Denard and not moving forward. This is the equivalent of being behind Denard.
Meanwhile, the backside DE has totally disengaged from Dorrestein by giving ground and is taking a pursuit angle slightly downfield. Dorrestein is caught up in the wash closer to the LOS, demonstrating why you give ground in pursuit. You can watch him get slightly further and further from the LOS as he flows down the line:
In the next frame Hopkins gets a good block on the OLB. Schilling is now a yard behind Robinson and useless, leaving a one-on-one matchup between Denard and Greg Jones:
Robinson jukes past the over-pursuing Jones. He has room to do this because the playside DT is off the screen upfield and the playside DE is still trying to get off Webb's excellent block. He is one step from cutting back outside and turning on the afterburners when…
The backside defensive end, now four yards off the LOS and running his ass off, makes a desperation lunge. Robinson trips and the gain is held down to seven yards.
[No video yet since I'm still converting.]
- Denard: pretty good at running. The vaunted Jones looked like Ezeh here.
- Backside DE pursuit is important. It goes like this: diagnose run play headed away from you. Get playside of your blocker by releasing from him and flowing down the line of scrimmage at an angle that takes you about three yards downfield by the time you hit the point of attack. Hope someone funnels the ballcarrier to you and tackle.
Without the backside DE doing this correctly, Denard has 15, 20, maybe 60 yards.
- Why no cut from Dorrestein? In frames two and three it seems obvious that Dorrestein can get an easy cut block on the DE, eliminating him. Instead he tries to flow down the line with him, gets caught up in the wash, and loses the guy who eventually makes the tackle. I'm sure he's coached to do this, but I can't understand why the play doesn't call for an easy cut block on this guy. Even one step of delay and Robinson is off.
- Webb is a major component of the run game. He's got a fairly easy block since MSU is intent on the inside zone and the belly and whatnot so the backside guys are attempting to slant into the gaps inside of the blockers. Even so he drives the DE way, way inside and holds that block long enough for Robinson to make up for the shove that eliminated Schilling from the play.
- This play is a counter to the inside zone. I stole my thunder on this one in the last bullet but to reiterate: Michigan was running a ton of inside zone on which the backside DE was contain and the backside DT was blasted off the ball by double teams. MSU made an adjustment on Michigan's previous drive—the three and out on which Smith was stuffed on an inside zone on third and one—and Michigan comes out on their next play with this. They get the playside linemen blocked way out of the play and the WLB cut; they should have two lead blockers for Robinson against two guys but for the shove on Schilling. Even though they lose one of the lead blockers the linemen have been bludgeoned out of the play to the extent that Robinson can juke Jones to the inside and still pick up a good gain.
- Hopkins pops guys. This is not a surprise since he's 230 pounds of near-fullback, but Stephen Hopkins has displayed superior blocking ability in his brief cameos. He gets in people and shoves them back; Smith and to a lesser extent Shaw get in the way of people and hope it's enough. I want more Hopkins. He makes Denard better and provides a thunderous counter to all that dilithium.
- This was the story of the first half. This is one of maybe a dozen plays on which one player fails to execute and costs Michigan a touchdown. Here it was Dorrestein and somewhat Schilling; Robinson made up for one of them but not the other. Other times it was Lewan or Robinson or Roundtree or Grady. I think this was just one of those days. So far I've seen mostly domination from the offensive line. I wonder what changes in a rougher second half.