Picture Pages: Denard Tacopants INT Comment Count

Brian October 11th, 2011 at 11:17 AM

So… it wasn't necessarily as crazy as it appeared when he threw it. Is this good news? Maybe. It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot.


Those passes:

  1. Inaccurate but complete TD to Watson
  2. Interception #1
  3. Interception #2

Robinson had time to step into the some of the above throws throw but did not. Other times he didn't read the play fast enough and got pressure because of indecision. When not throwing off the back foot he was his zippy 2010 self; when he did it was armpunts away.

Sometimes you have to throw it off the back foot. These times are when there is a guy in your face and you have a really wide open receiver. None of the above are events that fit that profile. On the first he does have a guy really wide open but also has time to step into the throw. On the second he also has time to step into the throw. On the third he doesn't, and that's what this post is about.

Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer but it still should have been a touchdown. Michigan has a second and six on the Northwestern 16 after Devin Gardner's tricky rollout of the Denard jet action turned into a scramble. They come out in a common set for them, shotgun with twin TEs:


On the snap Denard moves towards the LOS and Schofield pulls. This will turn into QB Oh Noes.


As Denard withdraws into a passing position Koger releases downfield; Smith will head out on a wheel route. Both of NW's linebackers are headed upfield:


At this point you have two guys trying to cover two Michigan players, One of them is Koger, who will run a post. The other is the flat-footed corner on the LOS.


This is the key frame. Smith is gone past the blocker. The safety is similarly flat-footed against Koger, and Schofield has run past the blitzing SLB to double a defensive end:


This is all kinds of touchdown except for Schofield running past the gap in Michigan's line:


Without this linebacker getting in Denard's face the safety faces a choice between leaving either Koger or Smith wide open for six points.

But linebacker is in Denard's face, forcing an early throw off the back foot…


…that does not end well.


I think there was a bust in the Wildcat secondary, possibly by this safety, because Koger is open for an easy TD and the pressure cannot be anticipated. If the safety is going with Koger this is still incomplete. Denard overthrew it by five yards because he chucked it off his back foot.


Items of interest

This is definitely a protection the pulling guard is expected to make. On fourth and one later in this half Schofield will pull and correctly read this gap, then fill it, opening up the first down.

When Denard throws off his back foot, rivers of baby blood flow from my eyes. This was a thing that Michigan evidently got fixed in the second half when Denard was 8/9 for many many yards, but it threatens to pop up whenever the opponent gets a little QB pressure. The Watson one is the worst: no one is even in position to hit you after the throw.

This is not actually an insane read. I think his assumption was that the S, being the only guy on that side of the field near Koger, would go with him and this would leave the wheel open. The key moment:


He's not staring Smith down. He's looking at Koger and naturally assumes the only guy with a shot to cover him will take the hint. This was wrong in the same way it can be difficult to play poker against someone who doesn't really know what they're doing—they do something very very bad that turns out well because you didn't expect them to have a pea-sized brain.

Again, because of the back foot stuff this was five yards long and would have been incomplete in a best-case scenario. Robinson should probably just take off when things like this happen instead of doing this.

Needs moar play action. The super aggressive Northwestern defense was super aggressive, as you can see here. When Michigan went to QB play action it invariably got dudes vastly wide open, and while Michigan didn't have much luck getting these things completed, the passes are easy (seam to Koger is too high) or the problems easy to fix (block that guy, Schofield). A good chunk of the issues running the ball were on these aggressive linebackers—Michigan doesn't seem to make them hesitant. Maybe right after scoring 42 points while turning the ball over three times isn't the best time to bring this complaint up.



October 11th, 2011 at 11:41 AM ^

I don't know if it was the 10 beers and wings I had prior to the game starting, but I had some serious heartburn after watching this live. 

Rivers of baby blood from my eyes and plenty of sharp burning chest pain. 


Blue boy johnson

October 11th, 2011 at 11:44 AM ^

Where did Denard go after the INT? He is nowhere to be seen on the return. If the Lindbacker tackled Denard it would have been around the 25, and around the hash mark, but Denard isn't there, he vanished.

Great hustle by Smith to make the tackle. Nice elbow by Lewan at the end of the INT return.


October 11th, 2011 at 11:49 AM ^

I don't think it's a coverage bust by Northwestern so much as a really nice play by the safety to maintain discipline, not bite on the playfake (compare him to the corner that Smith runs past) and to get into his zone drop so he can read Denard's eyes. If Denard can hold the ball a second longer, or if he looks the safety off, the safety's going to face an impossible choice between Koger running to the post and Smith, whose wheel route has taken him past the corner who did bite.

But because of the pressure, Denard can't hold the ball and doesn't look him off, leaving the safety in good position to make a play on either the throw to Koger or Smith. And then Denard floats the ball rather than driving it, because he's throwing off his back foot and, perhaps, because he's not reading the coverage as zone.

Blue boy johnson

October 11th, 2011 at 12:05 PM ^


Guys, we have been saying it for eons, when Denard throws off his back foot he is bad, and now Brian Cook agrees with me! Not that Brian Cook always agrees with me, sometimes we disagree.

Don't even think of criticizing me for this self serving post, because if you dare, I will report you to the authorities. Thanks Guys


It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot


October 11th, 2011 at 12:08 PM ^

on the first interception (the second picture) it actually looks like he is stepping forward and not throwing off his back foot. Am I just seeing it wrong? I think he just overshot Hemingway on that throw. The other two though... Yikes.

Sextus Empiricus

October 11th, 2011 at 12:14 PM ^

Denard has also thrown some of his best passes off his back foot...the throw to Gallon in the ND game comes to mind.  I'll take my chances with Denard regardless of his footing.

Some NFL QBs still throw off their back feet (Cutler was doing this in the Monday night game.)


Sextus Empiricus

October 12th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

Cutler has done this his entire career...as do other professional and collegiate QBs. 

Changing your motion is not an easy thing to do especially when you are thinking run.  In fact it's very hard to not throw off your back foot when you are on the run - which is likely where DR gets this habit - that he has had since he came to Michigan.  He is likely to leave Michigan the greatest rushing QB the game has ever seen afterall.  The focus on his footwork is misplaced.  The real issue is whether he can win big games.

One might also ask if DR played for Georgia Tech would there be such a focus on this (and yes Tevin Washington throws off his back foot as well.)   It's really the same old story of Borges meets Denard - Pro Style meets Spread.  The take away there is Borges is learning faster than Denard.  Denard's motion certainly is an issue but not the make or break for this year.  This is Denard's team.  It is what it is.


October 11th, 2011 at 12:40 PM ^

I think the difference right now with Denard and a pro QB doing this is that the pros usually are better at reading the D and putting the ball where only their guy can get it.  In this instance if he puts the ball outside of Smith there is no way the safety gets there in time.  It's very difficult to do that with a LB coming anyway, and Denard is still unseasoned as a passer so it's not at all surprising he didn't see this.  Unfortunately throwing inside plus an overthrow is an interception.


I agree with the previous poster that said it's just a great play by the safety though.  He stays with Koger right until he sees it thrown then breaks on it to pick it off.  Unluckily for us that fraction of a second before Koger is too far away and he has to choose doesn't come and he is able to play both men.


October 11th, 2011 at 12:28 PM ^

Nicely done. Hoke and Borges have been pretty good about saying the bad plays tend to be one of three things:

-Lack of execution (Schofield on this play)

-Poor route running (not an issue here AFAIK)

-Denard not using proper technique

Two of the three factor in here. Once Denard gets better at the technique or just bails on plays when necessary he's going to be unstoppable. And gues what folks? 42 points with three INTs while damn impressive is still just scratching the surface for Denard and Big Al.


October 11th, 2011 at 12:51 PM ^

When Al and Denard talk about bad footwork, it's not just about throwing off the wrong foot. A pro quarterback in this situation (facing a free rusher charging up the middle) moves laterally in the pocket to buy an extra second for the receiver to come free, and also to get a clear view of the passing lane. The chuck-it-up reaction from Denard is basically panic. If Denard scrambles a bit first, the safeties are the ones who have to panic and come up in run-support; if that had happened, Koger would have been hand-wavingly open at the back of the end zone. Fortunately this is something that is correctable with time and practice; it's not a systemic problem and it's not beyond Denard's abilities.


October 11th, 2011 at 12:55 PM ^

In the 4th and 5th pictures after Denard stops and sets up in the pocket, it's pretty obvious that the middle of the field is wiiiiide open.  Shouldn't Denard's read be to Koger?  If he leads Koger a little to the middle and lofts it so it's a jump ball, the only way the safety intercepts it is if he makes a All-American type play.


October 11th, 2011 at 1:20 PM ^

How is this not a bad read when he throws it directly to the guy who's covering the covered receiver?  It's a bad read.  It's a bad throw.  It's bad everything.

I know we like to canonize Denard Robinson, but there are times when he is a shitty, shitty passer.  Tom Brady is a very good passer, but that doesn't mean every time he runs we have to "ooh" and "ahh" at how good of a runner he is or say that his running was a good choice.  Tom Brady's not a good runner, but that doesn't mean he's a horrible player.

It was a bad pass, a bad read, and a bad time to make a bad decision.  It sucked.  No ifs, ands, or buts about it.  I bet Denard would tell you that, I bet the coaches would tell you that, and I bet experienced observers would tell you that, too.  That play sucked, and that's all there is to it.

Denard is not a saint.


October 11th, 2011 at 1:41 PM ^

The way a lot of fans refuse to admit Denard's shortcomings as a passer is infuriating. Look, every single team we've faced going back to State last year has game planned the exact same way against Denard - force him to make throws and wait for the inevitable turnover. It's like there's some kind of psuedo-random number generator in his head that every so often turns off his decision making ability, and no amount of coaching or experience can fix that.

Denard is a unique player, but unfortunately that means dealing with this uniquely heartburn inducing turnover problem for as long he's the starting QB.


October 11th, 2011 at 1:51 PM ^

I don't know that that's true.  To me he often looks like a guy who's trying to do something that he's not very familiar with - put simply, to be Tom Brady after spending two years training to be Pat White.  

Borges has said that he's generally had a big jump for his QBs from the first to second year in his system.  I think we can't know if your verdict is right until the end of next year. 


October 11th, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

refuse to admit Denard's shortcomings, which is a response to Magnus, which was a response to Brian, it makes me think you were referring to Brian refusing to admit to Denard's shortcomings. If so, did you choose to ignore the part of the article where he says "Interception #2 exposed some of Robinson's flaws as a passer." If not, then ignore everything I have just said.


October 11th, 2011 at 1:31 PM ^

on Breakdown last night on BTN.  Denard needs to be patient, step into throws, and buy some time if his intent is to throw and not take off running.  All things that should come with experience.


October 11th, 2011 at 1:33 PM ^

What about a third option?  Instead of making a bad throw (Option 1) or tucking and running (Option 2) he could always throw it away!!!  Chucking one OOBs is not a bad thing but I don't think I have ever seen DRob actually do that?  

Anyone, else?


October 11th, 2011 at 2:51 PM ^

Strangely enough, after looking at the pictures, I wonder whether this throw wasn't largely intended by Denard to be a throw-away (with a vague possibility of getting it to Smith) that was both wildly errant and unlucky in that the safety, for whatever reason, was nowhere near where Denard expected him to be. Based on the circumstances at the time Denard would have had to decide to throw, it seems to me that he probably assumed that Koger would take longer to come open, and would be a riskier throw. Since he knows Schofield has missed the protection, his thought may simply have been to put the ball in the general vicinity of Smith but high to eliminate the possibility of Smith's pursuer making a play. Third and six is very manageable, and the play was already something of a loss with the missed protection, so he may simply have decided that the better part of valor was to live to play another down. Unfortunately, the throw he makes is so wide left that the oddly-positioned safety has a play. Indeed, if this was basically a throw-away in Denard's mind, that fact could perhaps account for some of the bad mechanics--I wonder somewhat whether, on a different down and distance, this goes better because he's putting more effort into getting Smith a catchable ball.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:09 PM ^

Yeah, that guy is me.  I will crack your aces because I got lucky as hell and got a flush on the river but won't even realize it until someone says something.  Oh, yeah, I totally knew I was on a flush draw.  I mean, like, I always play 7-2 that hard.

I suck so hard at poker.

This is Michigan

October 11th, 2011 at 3:01 PM ^

Denard at some point needs to be looking down field to read the coverage, but off of the play fake why isn't he reading the right side of the defense which in this case is the corner playing up or the defense of end? As soon as he sees the corner run with Smith and the end being pushed inside, he could have continued to sell the fake by sprinting out instead of dropping back, This would have made the safety bite more on the run essentially leaving both Smith and Koger wide open. Am I totally off on this analysis?


Also, I don't think this really influenced Denard's read because he threw it before it happened, but why did Koger turn inside? On the short side of the field and with a play fake to the right, I would think Koger would turn outside to prevent Denard having to throw back across his body. Maybe this was an example of Hoke describing how all three facets broke down that led to an interception.


Ultamately It came down to a really poor throw by Denard who probably needed to thread the needle but I could definately notice some other things that may have influenced his decision making and throw.


October 11th, 2011 at 4:28 PM ^

I think the proper throw was actually to Koger, who was at least isolated on the deep safety and was in the process of crossing the safety's face. If Denard leads him to the post, it's likely either a TD or incompletion, as there was no help inside. If Smith is the primary read, Denard has to come off that when he sees the safety giving help over the top.

And Koger's turning inside because he's running a post. Ideally, that should pull the safety away from the wheel route, but Koger just doesn't get far enough into his route before Denard throws it, thus the safety's just sitting there. 

It was also a terrible, terrible throw to float it up like that. My only guess as to what Denard was thinking was that he read man coverage, thought the safety would follow Koger and that Smith had beaten the biting corner back. But he's got to read that coverage better.


October 11th, 2011 at 4:34 PM ^

I look at this from a different point of view.  The play might have gotten exactly what they wanted - Koger one on one with a safety in the middle of the field. 

When Denard stops, Denard is actually closer to the hash marks than Koger so Denard wouldn't have to throw across his body.  If Denard had a second more to wait he's got Koger one on one with a safety and the safety has no help in sight.  I'm guessing most OC's drool over that situation. 


October 11th, 2011 at 5:22 PM ^

"It seems that Denard had one major problem in the Northwestern game, which was throwing off his back foot."


This didn't start in the NW game.  DRob has been doing this all year.