Picture Pages: Denard Three-In-One Threat Comment Count

Brian November 15th, 2011 at 2:37 PM

You know the drill by now: always Denard's legs always. Michigan went away from using Denard's legs as a threat against Iowa and suffered through a day where their tailbacks averaged 3.6 yards an attempt. Against Illinois virtually every play saw Michigan threaten a Denard run, often with the additional threat of a triple option from a motioning slot receiver or fullback Stephen Hopkins

Additionally, Michigan brought back Rodriguez's old offset H-back formation. This allowed Kevin Koger to either flare backside and open up the designed cutback runs Toussaint had success with or attack the frontside of the play on QB draws and the like. This stretched Illinois out and gave Toussaint some extra creases.

Toussaint's 65-yarder on Michigan's second play demonstrates both of these changes. It's second and ten after the NT jumped he snap on the first play and Denard missed a keep read on a triple option. Michigan comes out in a formation that could be a shot from any of the last three years but for the WR tight to the line at the top of the screen, who isn't actually a WR but is TE Steve Watson. Illinois responds by shifting its linebackers to the field and half-dropping the free safety.


There are five second level defenders on this play: the three linebackers, the overhang corner, and the rolled-up free safety.

On the snap Koger starts to head backside. The slot LB charges on an exchange as the backside DE comes in unblocked:


By the mesh points defenders one and two are dead on a handoff.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 1: Scrape exchange designed to contain threat of a Denard keeper; Koger's backside block.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 2: Drop into zone designed to combat the threat of a mesh point oh noes play-action pass (that still does nothing to combat a bubble screen or quick out by Hemingway.

Denard sees the DE containing and hands off. Koger comes backside to prevent #1 from running down the line and making the play from behind. Defender three is blitzing up the middle…


…he manages to get through the small gap beween Huyge and Omameh but the two guys combine to slow him down long enough for Toussaint to hit the hole.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 3: Blitz picked up by Huyge and Molk.


The Illinois line creases between Schofield and Molk. With the Illinois line clearly slanting to the playside this is mostly thanks to Molk controlling the NT well enough to prevent him from getting upfield. This defense is clearly designed to get Fitz cutting to the backside of the play; Molk's block means he doesn't have to.

By the time Fitz is hitting the line, the gap is obvious.


When he's two yards past it Illinois is done.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 4: General uselessness of one guy in twenty yards of space against a blocker; need to maintain leverage.

CAUSE OF DEATH, DEFENDER 5: Derp. He's containing Denard Robinson, who doesn't have the ball and was never going to have the ball on this play, or he's anticipating a cutback that he doesn't wait to see develop.




Toussaint gets tackled by his shirt tail because that's what always happens to Fitzgerald Toussaint.


He manages to pick up another 15 yards after the initial contact, but someone needs to get Fitz a slippery jersey.


Items Of Interest

Denard's legs: all threaty and stuff. The zone read fake eliminates one linebacker, which helps the run game but isn't a miracle. When Michigan operates from under center they still eliminate a guy because all defenses leave backside ends for potential bootlegs.

Where operating from the shotgun helps Michigan is with defender #2, who has to back out into a short zone because of the threat of a quick seam over the top. The quick PA ability of the spread 'n' shred means any linebacker who sucks up and reacts is DOA.

This is enough to put Toussaint one on one with a safety. Since that safety derps it's one on none. That's a third player the threat posed by Denard in the gun eliminates. That's their starter and fourth-leading tackler, by the way. Don't know what it is about Illinois safeties and massive breakdowns on Michigan's first possession but I like it.

Molk's block: key. Illinois is slanting the line hard and trying to funnel the play back to their backside blitz. If Fitz has to cut behind Molk that blitz may or may not get home. Since he's got a crease to the side where the Illinois line slanted it has no chance. 

This isn't entirely up to Molk. Zone blocking is frequently about taking the guy where he wants to go, then taking him past that point. You can see on the replay that the backside DT is slanting, then stops, then tries to extend as Fitz hits the hole. He waves an arm at him but can do no more.

If the NT pushes hard to the playside Molk is tasked with kicking him past the point he wants to end up at; with the MLB handled by two guys Fitz likely has a cut either way. But not getting blown up/shoved back/chucked provides the crease.

Flinging Koger backside: nostalgic. Michigan also did this with Hopkins when they aligned with two backs. This is likely because of a heavy dose of plays like this where Illinois takes a quick linebacker and shoots him down the line.

A few years ago Calvin Magee said he'd worry about the guy crashing from the end "when he makes the play" on stretches; Illinois's goal with this exchange is to make the guy left unblocked a quicker player with a running start. On inside zones blocking the backside guy is mandatory because all possible creases are in the danger zone.

The bubble: screamingly open here. The slot LB will blitz as the MLB drops into coverage, so… yeah:


On this play the threat of the seam still eliminates the linebacker that the bubble usually forces out of the box*. I am still in favor of at least throwing a few bubbles because they will pick up big chunks if the defense plays like this.

I'm in favor of them generally because they put pressure on the defense by restricting the ways they can align without either getting 8 yards in their face or playing games that end with Worst Waldo passes. I mean, by the snap there isn't a guy on the field with a prayer of defending a slot bubble here.

*[When it doesn't it's forcing a safety either to the line or into a dangerous game of jumping the bubble route and opening up wide open bombs.]



November 15th, 2011 at 8:01 PM ^

look at brian's last pic. if denard could audible (or have a signal, ie. tapping his helmet) where he could change the play to a bubble, that set up could be a huge gainer.

WR steps back for pass.  slot guy goes hard to block the deep corner. if the WR can make the slot defender miss or beat him, he's gone.


November 15th, 2011 at 3:15 PM ^

Brian, last week you hypothesized that the Mich offense was running the opposition's offense to prep the D. Since we played IL last week with a spread type offense, do you think the Borges play calling was related to IL or really playing to Mich's strengths?  And as noted everywhere, prepping the D is really working, whatever they're doing!

In either case, I'm glad Nebraska and Ohio run spread/running offenses so we can maximize the Denard.

Go Blue!


November 15th, 2011 at 4:45 PM ^

I've gotta believe the triple option stuff was directly related to playing Illinois just as the I-Form Iso's were a function of prepping for Iowa and the inverted veer was installed because of Purdue.

As for the bubble screen, it would seem it's just not manbally enough for our staff.  The same can be said for outside zone blocking.  Having Denard wait for his blockers on the QB Sweep and Pin & Pull is just painful.

I'm curious to see what Brian says in the UFR about the triple option stuff.  I'm wondering if the motioning slot was ever an actual read for Denard or just a decoy.  I'm guessing just a decoy but it would be nice to see Tay/Gallon/Grady get a shot or two to carry the ball from the backfield in the next few games.


November 15th, 2011 at 3:15 PM ^

I have to believe that Hoke & Co have been saving the bubble screen for these last two games, or at least for OSU.  Is it really possible that this playcall is not part of the offense this year?  If so, how can that be??



November 15th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

Its not like I'm willing to sacrifice my first born for a bubble screen.  Its an available strategy that depending upon defensive alignment can be a free 5-8 yards and if you use and make the defense respect it that can open up other things.  If you make the defense have to respect Denard and the bubble and Tous, etc that puts more pressure on different areas of a defense.  That's all, not claiming it to be the magic 40 yard guaranteed play that will bring us out of darkness or anything.


November 15th, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

I think asking for bubble screens in the context of a play that failed due to the defense granting us a cushion would be a better place to ask for a bubble than a play on which we gained 65 yards.

Also, a genuine question? Is there no other way to punish the defense for playing like this? Do we employ any of these means? Or is it bubble-screen or die?


November 15th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

I don't think it willbe a go-to play that Borges would use "somewhere" during the game, but more of a situational thing that would take advantage of the way their D is lining up or playing off on the receivers.  I wouldn't expect seeing it until after he's got a good feel for the way the D is playing us....and even then, make sure DRob has a solid option to check out of it if the line up isn't favorable.


November 15th, 2011 at 3:48 PM ^

You may be missing something and you may be certifiably insane.  Not sure about those two . . .  But I was just asking the general question as to whether Hoke & Co. would have really eliminated the play from the offense entirely or if they could just be saving it.  It seems like it would work on downs where they are not getting 65-yard runs, for example.

IMO, I'm thinking we're going to see both the bubble screen and the diamond formation used a lot in these next two games.



November 15th, 2011 at 3:58 PM ^

I genuinely would like it to be pointed out. Bubble screens are held up as a panacea of sorts: as I asked, are there other ways to accomplish what they are supposed to accomplish? Do we currently employ any of these?

You pointed out that a bubble screen was open on a play that resulted in faaaaar more than a bubble scree would have. What does that say for their efficacy? Clearly, Borges doesn't decide between "the big gain play" or "the bubble screen", but why do we care it was open on a play that worked better?


November 15th, 2011 at 4:14 PM ^

It's just another thing the offense can do to put the defense in a bind, one which is relatively safe and productive. It literally could not go for less than 6 yards on this play if the ball is caught.

Meanwhile the Toussaint run is a big gainer thanks to a safety busting and may have been held down, as several other plays were. It's a safe, effective play that stresses the defense in ways they are not being stressed now. The choice here is between 100% good gain and an inside zone that is not guaranteed. When the bubble ceases being a good gain it means the defense is vulnerable to things they were not vulnerable to before.


November 15th, 2011 at 3:28 PM ^

If Borges is saving the bubble for The Game, I gotta believe there is more than just the bubble coming.  I would expect Borges to completely throw off OSU's defense with stuff they haven't seen from us before.  The bubble isn't gonna be a world-killer if and when we bring it out by itself.


November 15th, 2011 at 4:48 PM ^

The other part that frustrated me about the tackle was that it didn't seem like Toussaint shifted into that extra gear or burst to get more separation from the defender. It seemed like he was running very relaxedly. Did he not see the defender or does he just lack the burst? I feel like that should have been something he should have powered through. Perhaps even a spin move to shake off the defender? I guess he was slowed down enough for the other defender to catch him too. I like Touss as a runner, but he seems to lack that extra gear.


November 15th, 2011 at 5:06 PM ^

Notice that the right side of the O-Line managed to combine to slow down a blitzing linebacker.  If the zone blocking happens optimally, Huyge cracks down on defender #3, and Omaneh disengages when Molk controls  the tackle and turns to #5.

Now if Michigan had shown a bubble screen a few times this season, the nearside cornerback would be up at the line and out of the play until it gets 40 yards down field if he can even get back in it at that point.

While having Molk, Schofield, and Lewan create a crease with each in a one-on-one matchup helps a bunch, but this play doesn't need the safety to over commit to containment to go for a bunch of yards.