Picture Pages: The Dumbest Play In The History Of Football

Submitted by Brian on October 15th, 2013 at 1:44 PM

I don't think I'm exaggerating. It's second and eight after one of Michigan's most successful RB runs of the night. Michigan trails 21-10 with six minutes left in the second quarter. They put some dudes on the field and move them around. When we come back from Matt Millen saying something about something, this process has already started.


Houma and Chesson are switching spots. What this is supposed to do to the defense remains unknown, because it did not happen. Now… there's something odd about this play. Since we don't ever see the outside WR, I don't remember if that's Funchess or Williams or whoever, but Michigan puts him off the screen to the field. Also…


They have no left tackle. They have put their left tackle at super right tackle.

I think this is a run.


Penn State thinks this is a run. They have eight guys in the box against six blockers.


ESPN's camera man thinks this is a run, zooming almost to the box before they even snap the ball.

It's a run. Specifically, it is a zone stretch to the boundary. Because this is the only run it could possibly be, Penn State is prepared for this. Kalis gets driven back. Bryant and Glasgow don't scoop the backside tackle (not that it really matters since there is an unblocked guy in the cutback lane and another unblocked guy checking Gardner).


This looks familiar.


Kalis finally finishes losing his guy, who pushes Toussaint to the edge of the field, where a ninth Penn State defender—a safety lined up over a formation that cannot have a tight end emerge from it to threaten downfield—comes up to tackle for loss…


…if Kalis's guy doesn't do it first.


Third and ten.



Items of Interest

This is the stupidest play in the history of plays. You can't pass because you don't have a right tackle and refuse to throw perimeter screens no matter how blitheringly open they are…


all of these occurred in the first 20 minutes of the game

…and Penn State knows this, so they put eight in the box against six blockers and have a safety overhanging who knows 100% that he has no immediate pass threat to deal with.

I mean, you can see the entire PSU D on the field here:


There is a wide receiver outside of Gallon. Only the dumbest playcall in history could allow a D to align like this and be successful.

You really confused them, though. Having Chesson and Houma switch places is the cherry on top here. Yeah, you fooled 'em up real good right there. Now Penn State's eight in the box against 5 OL and a WR is eight in the box against 5 OL and a FB. Green fields ahead, boys.

They're setting them up for something! If you don't have an automatic check to whatever your clever business is when you see two DBs on 3 WRs, you fail.

Line didn't do well, but whatever. Kalis gets blown up here, but since Michigan just told Penn State the play they were running it's not really the focus.

The bigger picture. This was insane and far from isolated. Michigan kept running tackle over stuff against a defense that was stuffing it even after Taylor Lewan went out. They asked AJ Williams to play left tackle, and because of Borges's increasingly legendary stubbornness they allowed Penn State to align in formations that doomed their crammed-together paleolithic run game without either testing PSU's young and not very quick corners or taking the buckets of free yards these alignments provided.

The bubble screen stuff took on a life of its own over the course of the last year, and it's come up again—a screenshot of Michigan's first snap of the first overtime screaming for a bubble has made the rounds of every message board. To reiterate, the bubble is a constraint: it prevents the defense from lining up in certain ways and thus simplifies your life as an offense since defenses can't pack the box as much without getting free yards on their face. Borges's allergy to getting the ball to guys in a ton of space went from annoying to crippling in this game.

How can anyone have faith in a guy who looks at this when he needs a field goal to win…


…and doesn't throw a bubble because it's not what Vince Lombardi would do? It boggles the mind. A lot of things lost this game for Michigan. Al Borges is high up on that list.



October 15th, 2013 at 5:55 PM ^

Pretty sure its 10 men. It doesn't make the running of the play any less stupid, but it does make the play qua play a little more understandable.

More to the point, though, that 2nd shot after the snap looks OK for us. All we need is Kalis not to stink it up and have the FB get a hat on the safety. Instead, Kalis stinks it up and Houma hits the end, who Lewan is handling.

As much as you want to make this a numbers game, we've got a man for a man to the play side. And the SAM is frozen by the boot fake. Will you look at that. The QB is an extra blocker.

Thus is absolutely fucking amazing, since one of our guys is presumably on the sideline. Penn State shat the bed here by having a 1-5-9 alignment to a side of the line with no tackle. They almost let us get away with it. WTF?

I don't think this is the dumbest play ever. I don't think its a bad play at all, assuming AJ Williams was, in fact, supposed to be in there. It is blocked like shit, for sure


October 15th, 2013 at 2:10 PM ^

One of the main arguments I have heard tossed about is that Michigan wants to run a pro-style offense, thus modeling their play calling after NFL offenses, thus eschewing the spread "fad." One thing I noticed watching the pro-style Lions on Sunday was their willingness to throw a quick out to their wide receivers when the DBs aligned well off the line of scrimmage. I counted at least 2-3 times where Stafford took the easy yards the defense was giving him.

If Michigan is running such a pro-style offense, why not borrow from what the Lions are doing and take what is being offered?


October 15th, 2013 at 4:16 PM ^

according to the plan, they were supposed to get gashed for 4 yards a carry through the first few quarters before selling out to stop the run. PSU sold out to protect the run way to early. And I'm pretty sure the offense had the game plan lamanated. You can't just change a plan once it is laminated.

Ron Utah

October 15th, 2013 at 2:12 PM ^

We don't really need to run a bubble screen out of this formation.  A quick pass to the outside WR (Gallon, I think) with the other WR (Funchess, I think) sprinting in front of him to block the CB is all we need.  The bubble screen would be great, but clearly this staff doesn't want to waste practice time on such things.

If this were done, it would be Gallon one-on-one with the safety.  If he beats him, he scores a TD.  If he doesn't, 5-6 yards is probably a worst-case scenario.

Not only should the quick pass be the play, it shouldn't require an audible.  This defensive alignment is so clearly begging for this play that DG, Gallon, and Funchess should immediately switch to it upon lining-up.

The best part is that this requires almost no practice for it to be successful.  DG has to make a quick, hard pass to Gallon, Funchess has to get to the CB, and Gallon needs to catch and run.  This is easy, backyard football.  The O-Line needs to hold their blocks for about one second, and can still run block, though on the stretch play Williams would need to occupy the EMLOS so that he couldn't disrupt the pass.

The point is that Brian is correct: this is easy yardage if we take it.  But we don't.


October 15th, 2013 at 3:01 PM ^

I think this is what I said on Twitter - we don't need a screen play at all.  Just throw it to the guy and let him run.  He doesn't even need one block to gain 5, maybe more.  Leaving guys open at the line of scrimmage is stupid.  Just dumb.  I don't care what kind of coach you are or philosophy you have.  Gallon and Funchess HAD to be telling Gardner in the huddle and coaches on the sideline that they're all alone on the LOS.  If not, maybe its their fault too??


October 15th, 2013 at 2:12 PM ^

What would happen if Devin was to go rogue and check to a quick pass? I mean Devin and Gallon have that mind meld going that it wouldn't take more than a wink or a nod between the two...

What are the repercusisons? 


October 15th, 2013 at 2:20 PM ^

But if we don't at least try to run the ball they can pin their ears back and devin...


On the other hand Michigan is 5-1 without any semblance of an offensive line. Gotta give Borges a little credit for that.
You can talk about the kicking game...Or the defense...But watching that OL...I have got to call out Darrell Funk. He needs to do his job...better.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 15th, 2013 at 2:51 PM ^

I don't think we need to give Borges any credit at all for our 5-1 start. We should be giving the defense credit for the start we've had, I can't think of anything that should be given to Borges other than his walking papers at this point. I mean, he didn't completely sh*t the bed against ND but still, it was nothing extraordinary. 


October 15th, 2013 at 3:08 PM ^

Agreed.  They had one very nice win against ND and the rest of the wins were ones that should be expected regardless of the playcalling - inferior teams against superior talent.  I do not see anything extraordinary (or even ordinary) about the offensive coaching staff to date.  They are winning games because of superior talent.  Big deal.


October 15th, 2013 at 5:28 PM ^

Because our RBs, while producing nothing and getting hit early on almost every play, at least haven't been fumbling. Gardner is a fucking turnover machine.

For the record, I agree with your sentiment, but that wasn't a well thought out question.

Ty Butterfield

October 15th, 2013 at 2:22 PM ^

This off season could make or break the program for the foreseeable future. If Hoke doesn't see the need to make any changes this may set the program back years. I don't look forward to wandering in the wilderness for 20 years like ND.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:33 PM ^

See, you actually bring up a point that really concerns me. It's kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. A big part of why ND was "wandering the wilderness" as you say is because they would run coaches out of town before they could get their system in place. I'm not saying that's what's happening with Al, but the same pitfalls remain. With coaching changes (less so with coordinators, sure) there are all sorts of negative ramifications and short term pain.

Recruiting goes to the shitter because guys want to know who they're going to play for and what kind of system they're going to play in during their entire 4 years. 2010 was a terrible recruiting year largely because RR's seat was so hot his ass was on fire already. A lot of our current success is because the "pro style" offense is attractive to many players, and also because it differentiates us from spread teams like Ohio. We're not competing for the same kids a lot of times due to scheme differences. All that would change with a new OC.

Any time you have a change in system, which almost always accompanies coordinator changes, you have to invest more time teaching and installing it. Borges may be an awful game day play caller, but a lot of our problems are the result of running a new system that players aren't used to or aren't well suited for. Start over with a new guy, and you have to start that process all over again.

I don't know when the balance tips and it's time to cut a guy loose, consequences be damned, but I think we'd do well to remember the whole picture when calling for someone's head.



October 15th, 2013 at 3:03 PM ^

Take a look at the diary I put up. Those aren't scheme related issues for the most part. Every one of those 5 plays has a chance to gain some yards, 1 might be a touchdown. Instead they all go for 0 or negative yards. That's a hell of a way to start 2nd down and handcuffs play calling from there on out. This last game was a hollistic failure and Al's stubborness is certainly to blame as well, but the OL problems are still the root cause of most of our issues as a team.

Indiana Blue

October 15th, 2013 at 2:55 PM ^

is simply getting in the way - because the issue is play calling.  60% of the OL are first year players learning the hardest positions in football.   Borges knows the OL is mostly newbies and yet will not get his head out of his ASS.  The proof is plainly visible for everyone to see.  

Consider - Brian didn't just single out a few snaps, this happened essentially every play from 1st and 10 at the PSU 27 until the end of the game.   Borges is PATHETIC, but credit to Hoke because he's not going to go public with this.  But it better be front and center with his coaching staffs.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:59 PM ^

I disagree. No matter what system you're running, you need guys in the trenches that can do their jobs reliably. Sure guys are missing assignments and reads, but a lot of it is just plain bad fundamentals. Is Borges calling the best plays for them to be successful as a group? Probably not. But on the other hand, shitty line play probably hampers play calling just as much if not more than the other way around.


October 15th, 2013 at 3:35 PM ^

There's a big difference between making a MAC or MWC capable OLine, and a B1G capable OLine.

I'm getting worried this might be an RR type situation as far as assistants go.  Loyalty to guys who were "good" coaches at lower levels isn't necessarily a good thing.

Talent exists in all walks of life, and there are limits to each and everybody's talent (I'm a good computer programmer / analyst / data guy but there's no way I could be lead dev at Google).  I fear a couple of these assistants are in over their heads.


October 15th, 2013 at 4:25 PM ^

Im telling u from my own coaching experience... its much easier to block spread concepts...

1) the misdirection makes it easier to leverage a block.
2) you get an extra double team because you have the ability leave a player unblocked (the handoff key)
3) most importantly... there are no keys for a DLine or Linebackers to read that will take them to the football..." oh, you think because the guard is zone blocking to the right, that you should fit your gap in that direction?" Go right ahead because the qb might keep out the back door... and if the safety gets too nosey we might just throw it in the vacated seam..... Now tell me who should a defender key on?... no key means slower reaction.
It doesnt matter how good of a defender u are if u are out of position

Blue in Yarmouth

October 15th, 2013 at 3:00 PM ^

On recruiting: for one AB doesn't recruit. Everytime the guys go out recruiting he's back home going over tape and has said before he doesn't take part in recruiting so losing him wouldn't affect recruits on a personal level.

sSecond, recruits watch games and see the same things we are seeing. How many of those guys do you think would be put off by firing the guy who is calling the plays on offense this season? If you say you think some would, I think you're kidding yourself. They have seen how unproductive our team has been on offense and I think a change would only increase recruits interest in UM (from the offensive side of the ball).

Next, your insinuation about learning a new system may have a little truth to it, but what difference does it make at this point. If our players have learned anything under AB to this point it is either a) not showing in their execution b) couldn't work even if executed properly or c) they haven't learned a damn thing because the offensive staff doesn't know how to develop talent. 

I could honestly see a decent OC coming in and making just as big a difference to this offense as Mattison did with our defense in just as little time. 

Firing the coach this soon is asking for trouble and would definitely put recruits off, but an OC (especially one who doesn't recruit and has put a product on the field such as Al has) can go without many ramifications if any.