Picture Pages: The Dumbest Play In The History Of Football Comment Count

Brian 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 3:48 PM ^

I conceded an OC changed doesn't have nearly the impact a HC change would have, but it doesn't have no effect either. Also, Al may not be in living rooms and on the twitters but that doesn't mean he has no part in recruiting. I'm guessing Shane and Wilton both had a conversation or two with him before signing their LOIs


October 15th, 2013 at 3:06 PM ^

But the issue highlighted here is not "system". It's just being dumb. There's nothing wrong with being a power run team, and we have the bodies coming in to run it. But we're doing it very, very poorly. One poster mentioned that they had this check in HIGH SCHOOL. Does Gardner make poor decision sometimes? Yes. But he graduated Michigan in 3 years while playing QB - all indications are that he's a very sharp guy. All of the QB coaches (and Peyton Manning) he worked with this summer raved about his skill and coachability. A smart guy with his insane physical tools ought to be able to make checks like that a year into his career as a D1 starter - of course, that assumes he's being competently coached.

It is the height of lunacy to run into a stacked box when there is no possible way to avoid at least 1 and often 2 unblocked defenders even if you block perfectly, which we don't yet have the skill to do (and may never have, given how our OL appears to be poorly coached).

We don't need a spread guy. We just need a pro-style guy that's willing to take what the defense (and his talent on the field) gives. That does not appear to be Hoke/Borges.


October 15th, 2013 at 3:53 PM ^

I agree it's not system, it's individual plays being called. I don't think Al is very good at calling plays anymore either. We've had a grab bag of plays that don't work off each other or try to force a defense to do a certain thing. I'm just saying you have to consider the negative effects of firing a guy too and not let it just be a purely emotional decision.

Also, a lot is made of running into a stacked box, but the thing is a lot of times, Michigan has a lot of guys in the box on the offensive side too so there's not an automatic numbers advantage for the defense. I do agree that it relys on perfect blocking from more pieces than a running from a spread type scheme, but I think people seeing 8 in the box and automatically getting angry about running it aren't considering that we often have 8 blockers too (5 OL, 2TE, 1 FB)


October 15th, 2013 at 4:01 PM ^

Yes, you do lose something when you switch OCs - but if the problem is that we lack a coherent "identity" (the "he had to adjust for Denard" argument is often deployed), isn't the best time to make a change now, before we establish an "identity" as an incoherent offense with poor fundamentals?

I Like Burgers

October 15th, 2013 at 4:05 PM ^

Look at what LSU did.  They dumped their OC, brought in Cam Cameron, and now they are better on offense.  Similar offensive systems.  Hoke just needs to dump Borges and bring in someone that actually knows what they are doing when it comes to calling a pro style offense.  

We don't need a wholesale prostyle to spread shift that'll turn off recruits. Simply getting someone that knows you should take advantage of bubble screens and not run into a pile of bodies 25-30 times a game would make the offense hugely improved.

WNY in Savannah

October 15th, 2013 at 8:46 PM ^

I worry that the complete mess that this offense has become will turn off Michigan's potential recruits.  What receiver will want to play for a team that won't even try to throw to them when they have no defender within 15 yards at the line?  I am foolishly and unrealistically hoping that Michigan's current commits and targets aren't watching any of Michigan's games.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:23 PM ^

I admit, I can't in good conscience do that anymore.  I have no idea, not the vaguest idea, of what he MIGHT be wanting to do.  Really, I can't even glimpse something that resembles a coherent offensive strategy.

One Inch Woody…

October 15th, 2013 at 2:25 PM ^

Imagine if we had an offensive coordinator that *actually* wanted to implement the west coast style offense and kept Mattison. And an O-line that could execute basic plays. And for Gardner to stop throwing 3 ints a game. Then Michigan would be one of the best teams in the country. Alas...


October 15th, 2013 at 11:38 PM ^

It's Hoke that wants to keep running it up the middle, not Borges.  If he fired Borges, he'd make the next guy do the same thing.

Hoke has decided in his mind that he is going to perpetually recreate the 1997 season Rose Bowl where we kept ramming it into the line for little gain, but then hit them over the top to score.  We pretty much had only three effective plays that whole game, but they went for 21 points.

Here's the however . . . it ain't 1997.  While you're fiddle fucking around wasting three or four drives so that you can set up the other guy and finally get a TD over the top, he's already scored 17 points on you because he's not playing along and wasting his drives.




October 15th, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

I spent most of the last 2 years deep in Borges-apologist mode. That ended after OSU last year, when the parade of excuses I kept trotting out just no longer held enough weight to excuse what I had seen. Since then I have been mostly neutral and undecided, taking the good games (still love the gameplan and playcalling in the bowl last year) for what they're worth and hoping for better things to come once the right pieces were in the right places.

I think this game has pushed me over the edge. I don't necessarily disagree with the larger strategy. As others have said the punt at the end of regulation was probably the right call, and playing conservative for the FG in OTs 1 and 3 was the right move and probably works 9 times out of 10, we just got unlucky with Gibbons' misses/blocks.

But saying the conservative strategy makes sense is a completely different thing than saying repeatedly running the same utterly futile HB power runs makes sense. This post is the nail in the coffin for me. The only reason you can possibly present to continue running your HB into a never ending wall of bodies is to set the defense up for a counter of some kind. The play highlighted above is THE time to run said counter if you're ever going to do it. Including the safety overhanging the formation, there are 9 guys lined up over 8 guys. The other safety is shaded toward the formation as well, leaving ONE defender lined up over THREE WRs, with only one other defender in position to provide any kind of help.

If you have a counter for this play, if you have the thing that you're "setting the defense up for" by running these futile tackle over HB powers over and over and over again, RIGHT THERE is the time that you run it. By simply pounding pointlessly into the line yet again here, Borges basically admitted that there was no greater purpose to this running scheme and he was just doing it because he thought it would gain yards on its own. And after he received definitive proof that it was not going to gain yards, he assumed that the evidence was wrong, his original plans were infallible, and if he just kept calling this play over and over and over again he'd finally get the fantastic results he'd been so sure would be there from play #1.

In summary, I still don't have much of a qualm with the overall conservative offensive strategy in this game. The problem comes from the plays that were called in an attempt to implement said strategy. I think Borges has a well deserved reputation as a tinkerer, mad scientist, evil genius, whatever you want to call it. However, in the greatest tradition of all of the above descriptions, he has no real idea of whether or not his plans will succeed until he puts them into practice. That's how we end up with OSU 2011, Iowa 2012, and South Carolina 2013, yet still get stuck with MSU 2011, OSU 2012, and PSU 2013.

To me, this is an unacceptable tradeoff. It's taken me a while, but I'm ready to say it: Fire Al Borges.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:29 PM ^

With all of the negativity about the coaches especially on offense, I would like someone to explain how our defense is soooooooo bad at disguising blitzes.  How come every other defense makes adjustments on the fly when we are on offense yet when we show blitz 10 seconds before the ball is snapped, the other team looks to their sideline and adjusts their play accordingly.  How can we play a team with a true freshmen at QB, and not throw everything in the book at this kid.  2 of the sacks were due to their offense completely blowing their assignments and our guys having free shots at the qb.

The offense is just frustrating to watch.  I can hear all the coach speak in the world about how we need to execute and this and that, but at the end of the day, PSU is an awful team, and we should have wiped the floor with them.  We never change the tempo, and we never make adjustments on the fly to what the defense is doing.  I can't remember an audible or even a look to the sideline to change the play.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:34 PM ^

Michigan made the same, utterly pointless FB/WR switch on the very first play from scrimmage.  I wondered at the time if this seemingly meaningless switch was meant to set something up (although what, I can't imagine) later in the game, but no.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:36 PM ^

Reshp1, my question is how much of the decision to go super conservative at the start and end was from Borges and how much from Hoke.  It seems to me Borges's preferred approach is still bombs away (to his dettrement sometimes, like with Denard in trash tornado) and when the game situation neccesitated he open in up, he did to good effect.  But this was a Carr era scoring offense v. non scoring offense thing and does Borges decide that or does Hoke?


October 15th, 2013 at 2:48 PM ^

The strategy, at least for the end of game was ok. Keeping it safe and on the ground to keep the clock running is smart there. What sucked was the implementation, the tactics. I-formation up the gut isn't the only way to keep the clock running. We ran option really well most of the game. We have a jet sweep in the play book, even just jet sweep motion. Lining up tackle over when the reason you even came up with that play (Lewan) is sitting on the bench is asinine. If you suck at run blocking, the last thing you want is to tell the other team where you're going to run it, with no consequences for guessing wrong. That's on Borges, IMO.

coastal blue

October 15th, 2013 at 3:44 PM ^

To some extent. However, when we got inside the 30 and they were still handing the ball off to Touissant, that was ridiculous. Put the ball in Gardner's hands, whether it be a running play or a passing play. At that point, inside the 30 with less than three minutes left, a score wins you the game, so play for the touchdown. Considering Penn State had been unable to stop Gardner the last three drives, it was truly amazing to watch Touissant run up the middle three straight times at that point in the game. 


October 15th, 2013 at 2:55 PM ^

By Brian's second screenshot after the snap, Bryant and Schofield are already a full yard past the LOS.

So yes, it was a serious question, but meant to be somewhat rhetorical. If the line doesn't even have to check in order to run the screen, that's all the more reason that Borges is being an idiot by refusing to run it.


October 15th, 2013 at 3:07 PM ^

This post in SmartFootball mentions how the ineligible receiver things works on bubble screens:


But as has been mentioned on this site and in a few other places, as long as the linemen stay within a few yards of the LOS, the refs won't call it. I think this was covered extensively in a post by Chris Brown on Grantland regarding Dana Holgorsen's offense, but I can't find it at the moment.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:38 PM ^

I seriously have the same feeling watching this offense that I had watching the defense under Rich Rod. That no matter what players they put out there, it isn't going to work because the play-calling and the scheme are terrible. In the off-chance something good happens, it is typically the result of a great play by an individual.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:43 PM ^

that Hoke can justify keeping Borges after this season. He doesn't recruit. Both Denard and Devin have regressed as quarterbacks under Borges (Devin files as incomplete for now). Now it appears that his gameplans have to be completely original to be successful, while his own stubbornness won't allow him to use constraint and counter to give the players the best chance to succeed.

Granted I didn't follow the game all that closely, but I had originally formed the opinion that the loss was essentially a fluke.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:44 PM ^

That last pic is painful to look at knowing the futility of whatever was called.

How much freedom does Devin have to change the play at the line? I know he has called some audibles that have worked but I don't remember seeing any against PSU.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:52 PM ^

Harder to audible on the road.  But that's hardly the point: asking Devin to audible is asking our QB to paper over the dumb playcalling decisions of our OC.  I know you're not saying it's Devin's fault, but he shouldn't have to smarter than the coordinator.  So many things wrong with that.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:45 PM ^

biggest receiver, Megatron, lined up in the slot and the safety 15 yards off and wonder. Why are you even thinking about a run play? You don't even have to hold a block for a quick slant or out as Gallon  runs a vertical and clears out the area. Who is going to tackle Funchess when he is running downhill? 

It's mindboggling to look at a defensive alignment and know how you would attack it in a sandlot game with pickup players and figure out a mismatch, and guys wo are getting paid to win games, act like handing off in OT is the best option because its the best way not to mess up, even when that strategy hasn't worked game long. 


Indiana Blue

October 15th, 2013 at 2:47 PM ^

please get a pre-snap picture of EVERY play starting from 1st and 10 at the PSU 27 3:46 remaining in the game and all snaps in OT ... and then list what play was run.   Seriously - how could ANYONE defend a position of calling a run against 8 man fronts on EVERY 1st down play ... unless YOU ARE NOT TRYING TO SCORE A TD AND WIN THE GAME.

ARGHHHH  -  gotta go hit the bottle ... AGAIN!


October 15th, 2013 at 3:34 PM ^

Those runs don't bother me that much.  We did not need a TD to win the game there.  The runs did accomplish the basic goal of running the clock down to under a minute.  I don't think many people thought PSU was going to be able to drive 80 yards in 50 seconds.

coastal blue

October 15th, 2013 at 4:31 PM ^

In the previous three drives, we scored 17 points. Toussaint had 3 carries for 5 yards. Gardner had 6 carries for 47 yards and was 5/8 for 104 yards and two touchdowns. 

If you're talking about worry, there wasn't much worry that Penn State could drive down the field from anywhere in their own half. So why not give the ball to the player who had completely taken over the game and let him win it? 

Also, if a first down in that situation wins you the game, why are you handing the ball off to Toussaint? Gardner was the only effective runner we had all game. Running the ball there may not bother you, but how the ball was ran definitely should. 

steve sharik

October 15th, 2013 at 2:47 PM ^

...called wonderful games against South Carolina in the bowl game and against ND, yet horrific games against inferior competition with only a week to prepare suggests that there is some stubborn arrogance going on.

As was pointed out above, NFL teams do have checks to throw a quick screen out to a WR.  I've seen a current NFL QB who recently addressed our team do this a zillion times.

And for those apologists who suggest we can't throw it more b/c we have a QB prone to INTs, there isn't a safer pass in the book than 3-step drop hitch/slant/quick out/quick in on 1st and 10.  I would be doing this about 5-8 times per game with our skill players and OL combo.  Devin is tall so batted balls shouldn't be a huge issue, and Gallon, Dileo, and Funchess are all good YAC guys.  That would force defenders out of the box to soften it up for the run, in which case outside zone with this crew is something I would never, ever do.

With this team I would want to have offensive tendencies that are just about 50/50 on every down and distance from non-red zone or backed up field position.


October 15th, 2013 at 2:51 PM ^

I have no idea what [Coach X] is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as [Coach X].

Brian wrote that in a November 3, 2010 Picture Pages. It's about shoddy allignment in some misguided attempt to gain an advantage that, instead, plays into the hands of the opponent. Sort of RPS -3. Does that sound eerily familiar?

The coach? Greg Robinson, of course. If you can't stand to read Picture Pages from deep in the 2010 B1G schedule, or don't like watching kids get run over by trucks, I'll summarize: it's about Kenny Demens lining up 2 yards from uncovered Penn State interior linemen. This was not Demen's fault. He was coached to line up that way - not just once, or in one game, either. He was engulfed by uncovered Wisconsin linemen, too.

Same with this oddball offensive lineup - it's guaranteed to fail against that many guys in the box. And that's not on the players, or the execution - it's on the coaches. The players were told to line up that way, and had no options but to run it. Makes me think of a 19th century debacle:

'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldiers knew
  Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
  Rode the six hundred.