Picture Pages: Circle Routes

Submitted by Brian on September 8th, 2015 at 12:17 PM

Despite some post-burial kicking at the ceiling, Jake Rudock's pick six was the final nail in Michigan's coffin against Utah. It came on a route that I've called a "circle" for a bit now. The idea is that you run a slant, then abort that halfway through into an out route. Corner jumps the slant, you get some nice separation and hooray beer. Or you run an out, corner jumps the out, etc.

The general idea is that it is a horizontal double move. I've called it "circle" probably because NCAA football did back in the day; you can see that on a successful one the WR does tend to run in a little circle after his first break:

Both Utah and Michigan tried to run these routes on Thursday, with different results. Here are those plays… AT THE SAME TIME.

On the left will be a Utah throw on their first touchdown drive. It's second and six; Michigan is in the nickel they ran the whole day, showing press coverage on the outside.

On the right, Michigan attempts to convert a third and three halfway through the fourth quarter while down a touchdown.


As far as we're concerned these plays are completely identical to start: we are looking at the slot receiver to the bottom of the screen with a corner who is locked up in man coverage three yards off the line of scrimmage.


A couple moments after the snap both WRs have crossed the LOS; the only difference in the corners is that the Utah guy has taken a step forward, perhaps anticipating this route.

[After the JUMP: everything goes fine because HARBAUGH? Probably!]

Next, a crucial difference:


These guys didn't start at the same exact point on that down and distance effect; Perry started at the bottom and Utah's guy was a step further inside, so this looks more different than it actually is: it's still way different. Utah's WR has taken a step and turned his body, causing Peppers to react. Probably over-react since this slant is headed right into those linebackers.

Meanwhile Perry is offering a vague hint of a slant only. The cornerback is not reacting; Perry hasn't given him anything to react to.


By the point at which these guys stop to circle, Peppers has turned his hips to the inside; the Utah nickel has barely taken a step. Peppers has momentum he has to deal with. Perry's route has not done the same thing.


The difference here is a step, maybe two, from both defender and wide receiver.

circle-6     perry-6circle-7     perry-7

On such steps empires rise and fall. DUN DUN DUN.




Fox also provided a replay of the second:

Things and stuff

Routes, man. UFR sucks at routes. I tried to branch into that last year but the primary limitation is that it's hard to see most of 'em. I ended up with a few minuses, the occasional plus, and nothing approximating a take on anyone's skills in that department that doesn't fall prey to Hitchens's Razor.

It bothers me even more since in this game we got assertions from Harbaugh that Jehu Chesson slowed up on the first deep ball that went just over his outstretched hand, and if you squint on a replay it certainly looks like he downshifts slightly once the corner bites on his out route.

I mean, probably. But probably he should do that since he's open by yards and he doesn't want to run out of real estate? I don't know; if WR and QB know what's going on with each other that is the TD is so badly wants to be.

Routes are a great hidden thing that only stick out when they are totally obvious, and about 80% of them never get tested. They are destined to be a feelingsball kind of thing.



This is a route against man coverage on which no fancy robber zone is ever going to impact you. The only guys looking at the QB have no shot at defending the pass. Stare away.

HE SHOULD HAVE USED THE INFORMATION FROM STARING. This I will go with. Rudock's presnap read was correct. A circle route that catches pure man coverage is a tough cover. Often you're going to get a safety matching up against a much quicker guy. It is one of those things that makes a HSP like Peppers exciting: he can and should cover that. (I mean, eventually, right?)

So there is a natural inclination to think the throw you are making is a good idea. It should be discarded when the receiver ends up with a gentleman in his breadbasket. Polished offenses don't ask their QB to make this decision much, if at all, because the guy is open; this is an offense in Hoke rehab.

FIRE GRANT PERRY. This goes back to FIRE BRADY HOKE, man. Hoke recruited zero slot receivers after Dennis Norfleet, and barely any receivers, period, after the Darboh/Chesson class. Thus your two slots in this game were both true freshmen.

Perry looked exactly like a promising freshman in this game, which is to say he looked pretty good when not making boggling errors. I do not know why Hoke thought he could create a football team that never needed a little receiver to pick up third and medium. You'll have to tune in to SiriusXM to find out.

/shorts SiriusXM stock


I THOUGHT HE WAS SUPPOSED TO BE CHARLES WOODSON. Life as a nickel guy is tougher than life as a boundary corner, because as a boundary corner you can just line up and—if you are as athletic as Peppers is—put them in the, you know, boundary. Having to go both directions is more difficult, and Peppers could have done better with it in game one.

Also: game one. He'll get better. Probably with rapidity. Meanwhile, can I interest you in some screens?



September 8th, 2015 at 12:22 PM ^

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September 8th, 2015 at 12:28 PM ^

Fresman mistakes will be corrected (I hope) and we will be better for it down the road.  I hope it is a short road.

Hoke's recruiting, in spite of some highly ranked classes, left an awful lot to be desired.  The cupboard was close to bare in many important categoriesl


September 8th, 2015 at 12:39 PM ^

IMO what Hoke's recruiting classes lacked was speed.  RBs are slow, LBs are slow, QBs arent terribly mobile (at least the ones he recruited) and we don't appear to have a WR who has the top-end speed to take the lid off a defense outside of strong play action.  This isnt terribly surprising to me as Bo's teams (and that's what Hoke was trying to recreate) were never accused of being terribly fast which is one big reason he struggled so mightily in the Rose Bowl.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:06 PM ^

We muttered about this when the good classes were landing, too, but it was quiet muttering because we hadn't jumped ship on Hoke yet. Pretty obvious that it was an issue, though--Hoke did get the occasional fast receiver (Chesson, allegedly Drake Harris) but not very many of them.

The issue isn't speed per se; whenever a B1G team plays an ESS EEEE SEEE team it is supposed that it is a brawn vs speed matchup, and that is a big oversimplification. The issue is explosive playmaking, which Michigan doesn't have right now. Speed is a big component of that, but only a component.

When Michigan's offense has been stacked with playmakers, the "speed" comments are still there because people don't think for themselves, but the facts don't back it up. People weren't exactly marveling at Michigan's team speed in 2004, for example, but that team had guys like Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston outrunning big-time defenses into the endzone. In 2006 we had Breaston, Arrington, and Manningham--all of them faster than USC's Dwayne Jarrett, but USC was "the speed team." (What about defense? Leon Hall might've been too slow for USC but he was fast enough to be a vital NFL cornerback. Eh.)

All that said, you are correct here: Michigan doesn't have much speed, because it doesn't have much playmaking talent. Hoke seemed satisfied if there were one or two guys that were fast on offense. What's perverse about this is that pro-style teams that succeed in college today, like Bama, have tons of explosive guys on the roster; and Bo's last gift to the program was a roster that included Jon Vaughn, Derrick Alexander, and Desmond Howard. The Michigan teams of the 90s and early 00s that Hoke was emulating had explosion all over the roster.


September 8th, 2015 at 3:33 PM ^

correct.  pro style Os will struggle to consistently succeed / score points at acceptable rates without constantly reloading every position with explosive athletes to win 1v1 matchups.  very few teams, like bama, can manage year after year w/o making any dramatic schematic changes.  some programs like stanford or msu can occasionally make it work when firing on all cylinders but its tough to sustain over time at championship level given inherent advantages of spread systems.  hopefully m will be one of those teams since harbaugh will not dramatically alter his approach.

and circle route works just fine though most squads refer to as a pivot (and perry obviously failed to properly run pivot, "he just made something up" or whatever harbaugh said)


September 8th, 2015 at 1:21 PM ^

People seem to overlook that area with those bowl game losses.  Our best play in the Rose Bowl we lost to Washington in 1992 was essentially Tyrone Wheatley outrunning the entire UW team to the end zone.  After that season, finally people realized that we needed to get faster.  I mean, they tried to get Felman Malveuax more looks as a result.  Fast forward one year and we won the Rose Bowl because of Wheatley.

It looks like we're playing slow.  RBs not sure where they're going.  LBs not reacting quickly to plays.  If you're already not fleet of foot, that thought process slows you down more.  Once they understand/trust the system more, they should at least play faster.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:11 PM ^

I don't think York was gonna be a messiah here. Not having Campbell, Treadwell, or a healthy Harris definitely hurts but all of those guys are primarily outside receivers. Even Grant Perry was a Harbaugh recruit, not a Hoke one. It speaks to Hoke's stubbornness that he had guys like Odoms, Gallon, and Dileo and thought that he didn't need similar players going forward.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:42 PM ^

Freddy canteen was recruited for slot specifically. We also went after Artavious Scott and came up empty.

I don't think it's stubborn as much as recruiting to the offense you want to run. Grabbing a bunch of slot bugs makes as much sense to Hoke as getting a bunch of full backs would have for RR. I don't think Harbaugh is going to be much different than Hoke in this regard either, FWIW.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:35 PM ^

Hopefully this is a one time thing, Perry works on his routes and Rudock maybe realizes there could be other options?  I get that the route is usually open, but a one route choice just doesn't seem like a great designed play.  The biggest thing to me was that when Isaac motioned out wide, the CB was like 10 yards off the LOS.  Just thow him a quick screen or an easy slant or something.  That was a seemingly easy first down on that side of the field if someone saw it.

Honk if Ufer M…

September 8th, 2015 at 2:04 PM ^

"I get that the route is usually open, but a one route choice just doesn't seem like a great designed play. The biggest thing to me was that when Isaac motioned out wide, the CB was like 10 yards off the LOS. Just thow him a quick screen or an easy slant or something. That was a seemingly easy first down on that side of the field if someone saw it."


What frustrated me at the time, and still does, is that they sent 5 guys out and he never moved his head an inch to look at anyone else! What was the point of having all those options if they're not options?

We were sold on, and still are being sold on, his experience and knowing the plays, his smarts, good decision making, making good reads, going through his progressions, checking down to get completions, and throwing the ball away, all instead of making int's, instead of tunnel vision on one target, instead of trying to force it too much.

If this play was really designed to only go to Perry and he was supposed to lock on to him, as was sort of implied by another poster, then Isaac in motion the other way and the 2 other receivers to the right are just moving defenders away from the play then why is there another route so close to him on the same side?

Butt specifically said everyone is a potential target on every play. Ty could've stayed in for extra protection and still taken a man away from Perry and he would've been an option to release for the outlet if he wasn't even going to be looked at going out wide.

Even if everyone else was supposed to be a decoy why not look off his defender by scanning the other way before turning back to throw to your man? That would only help him get open and if you saw a sure thing before that you do it and get the first down.

I'm sorry, but to me it looked like he froze, he choked. He didn't see the field, or try to, and didn't see that his man was covered & threw it anyway on the biggest play in the game in a do or die situation.

As you can see in this view, as was posted above, at the top of the screen, Darboh is open, a number I can't see is open, and Isaac is open. 3 guys open but that whole side of the field wasn't seen.


I think if Morris had had the same game but made that play & thrown three picks he'd have bled to death on the MgoCross days ago and the good parts of his game would be ignored.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:38 PM ^

As Harbaugh said about OL leverage and how getting embarrassingly beat during a game is the fastest way to learn not to do something anymore, I gotta think causing 2 INTs will light a fire under Perry to clean these things up. His HS career and recruiting scouting report certainly suggests that he's someone capable of running clean routes, so I expect pretty rapid improvement from him in the next couple games. 


September 8th, 2015 at 12:47 PM ^

OL leverage

I posted this in another thread, and I'll post it again here:


The problem of offensive line leverage is illustrated quite a bit in the breakdown of some of the plays.  On a couple of plays they stop the video and speak of how high the OL's helmets are.

What's a little disconcerting here is that this is supposed to be a semi-veteran OL on the cusp of gelling and being pretty good. 


September 8th, 2015 at 12:52 PM ^

It seemed like it was the same guy on the Utes doing the damage, so I'm holding out how that guy was just really good, or at least or guys weren't used to someone playing that low after practicing against our own defense for 10 months. It did seem to get better as the game went on.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:54 PM ^

My personal favorite was getting them mad enough to grab your facemask and shake it back and forth while tobacco spit flew directly into my eyes.  Ah, high school football in a small town.  

All that said, it is a little concerning to hear that a veteran line were getting their asses kicked on pad level, although I guess with a 6'7" guard in Braden is to be slightly expected.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:57 PM ^

On the very last 4th and 1 play that they broke down. Did anyone else notice Darboh wide open with Utah's DB 10 yards of the ball? Awful run blocking but I would think an experience QB like Rudock would audible to a quick throw out. Utah literally has 9 guys in the box. Darboh gets by that DB and it's a touchdown.

Football is a lot simpler than people think.


September 8th, 2015 at 2:22 PM ^

Either that was a rare instance where they had to run the play called or Rudock didn't like his chances with the pass.  I didn't have an issue with the sneak.  I had an issue doing it in an obvious run formation.  I'd rather spread out the defense with some WRs to force them out of a 9 man box. 


September 8th, 2015 at 12:40 PM ^


I've called it "circle" probably because NCAA football did back in the day


FWIW We called this route the noodle back when I was playing because it looked like a wet noodle when drawn on the play sheet. But that may have just been a local thing not used by anyone above my small town high school glory days.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:41 PM ^

While Perry could have run a much better route (the utah receiver compared against is also a freshman unless my memory is failing me) Rudock was brought in specifically to read what happened and not make that throw.  He watched the entire route occur and when it is covered that is what going through your progression is for, he isn't about to take a sack.  We brought in a fifth year guy who is  low on interceptions to avoid not just forcing the ball into your primary read and he did just that.

This pick is more disturbing than the overthrow interception because it shows poor decision making rather than a bad throw, regardless of the route being run effectively.  It also isn't that isolated of an incident.  Does pretty much the same thing vs maryland in this highlight at the 2:05 mark. 


Michigan Arrogance

September 8th, 2015 at 5:09 PM ^

but there were 2 decisions: 1 what coverage do we have? man to man = throw to Perry running the circle  route. good decision, or recognition anyway.

the bad recognition re: the tight coverage but given that decision one was right, it's tough to come off that. especially if you are trusting your receivers.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:41 PM ^

... and if you squint on a replay it certainly looks like he downshifts slightly once the corner bites on his out route

At the 12.  About two steps, then back to high gear.  The ball is likely already in the air at that point.  To my eye Chesson mis-judged the ball.  By the time he realized his mistake it was too late: he couldn't catch up.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:44 PM ^

Rudock still over threw him by a mile. Even if he never slowed the ball landed in the far back of the endzone. 

Given that Rudock struggled with the deep ball at Iowa and his 3 misfires this game, I'm worried this is just something he's not going to be able to complete with consistency.


September 8th, 2015 at 1:05 PM ^

I said the same thing to a friend last night as I re-watched the game: I'm not at all confident that Rudock can throw a deep ball. And Utah spent much of the game looking like they thought the same thing...playing the "Denard Defense": Stack the box, stuff the run, and dare the QB to pass. And look: It worked. They won on three interceptions including a pick-6.

And that will, I think, be the recipe that every team we play this season employs, until we show that we can take advantage of it. So far, not.

Edit to add: As I rewatched last night, at least up to the pick 6 when I fell asleep, I think Rudock overthrew every deep ball, each one, all of them.


September 8th, 2015 at 6:11 PM ^

I was thinking about this during the game - my view is that it definitely could have contributed, though I've never played collegiate quarterback.  It seems like a decent QB would be able to sort it all out in warmups though.  

Hitting a golf ball at 4,500 feet is VERY different than hitting one at sea level.  That matters for driver down to a 50 yard pitch.  

Bring in the stats experts to try and determine whether visiting QBs miss materially more throws at altitude.  Would have to adjust for defense quality.

Honk if Ufer M…

September 8th, 2015 at 2:13 PM ^


" I really want to see them play around with some deep passes against these lesser foes, just let chesson and harris and mone loose on each set of downs to develop timing."

So you're saying the best way for a 300 pound defender to heal a serious leg injury is by running deep pass routes for the offense on game days. Harvard medical you said?


September 8th, 2015 at 1:21 PM ^

Good points, but this flies in the face of evidence as well as Harbaughs (and Brian's) own assessment. Rudock threw 5 picks all last year with arguably worst talent around him. There is video (on this blog) showing Rudock completing a few deep balls quite accurately as the starter at Iowa. We from the beginning he doesn't have an elite arm but just good enough. There is still good reason to believe this was an anomalous performance and that Rudock and the whole offense will improve.  I don't see any other options at this point anyway.


September 8th, 2015 at 12:45 PM ^

He slowed down a bit because of where he was on the field.  That ball landed about a foot in front of the back of the endzone, in a full sprint Chesson would have had to worry about dragging his back to make sure stayed in bounds, taking a half step to be in the middle of the end zone was the right move, Rudock just threw the ball too far.  It happens but I think Harbaugh is mostly trying to defend his guy from receiving all of the backlash for the loss.