Picture Pages: A Final Adjustment

Submitted by Brian on November 11th, 2010 at 11:42 AM

This pair of plays is striking only in comparison to the defense. They're both inside zone runs Michigan gets about a yard on, but one's a third and goal from the one so that's all you can get from there. The first is in the second overtime; Michigan has just executed a throwback wheel of its own for a first down at the eleven. They come out in a three-wide.


Illinois does their usual bit with a linebacker over a slot receiver, but this time he's going to walk  down and blitz:


Michigan's running an inside zone. This can go anywhere but on this play the hole opens up behind everything as Illinois is slanting away from their blitz. By the mesh point something odd is happening:


The backside defensive end is headed directly upfield. Most of the time the DE will either sit and contain, shuffle down the LOS, or roar down it. Here he's getting way upfield. Two reasons for this, I think: 1) he really really has to contain because of the corner blitz and must not let the QB outside of him, and 2) by doing this he guarantees a handoff.

Meanwhile, Webb's pulling to the backside of the play to get a block on whoever the cutback guy is for Illinois. Because of the switch this is not the DE but the slot LB. Webb does not realize this:

[Update: commenters point out this is actually Koger, which it is. Apologies to Webb.]


Oops. With Webb blocking the guy who the zone read is supposed to option off Michigan's left a free hitter on the backside. He tracks…


…and hits:


Michigan gets two yards and eventually has to resort to a Houdini escape when Terry Hawthorne jumps a third and eight slant. The deflection miraculously bounces to Hemingway.

The second play is Michigan's second to last play of the game. It's third and goal from the one. On first down an inside zone run was stuffed when Schilling got slanted under. On second down a QB lead draw was stuffed when Forcier went airborne unnecessarily. On third down Michigan comes out in a three-wide package. From the one.


Before the snap the corner walks down again:


Illinois runs the same curve, shooting the DE directly upfield after several plays where he was tearing downhill at the RB; he made the tackle on first and goal. Webb, however, is taking a much different angle:


Huyge and Omameh are blocking downfield but not that well. Spence chucks Omameh to the ground and shows up in the hole; Webb is still headed for the slot LB:


Shaw hits it directly upfield in this useless screenshot and does get the ball over the plane, but here's Tate celebrating:


So… that's an adjustment to an Illinois adjustment. After getting fooled by this the one(!) time it came out earlier, Michigan goes to the sideline for mere moments—the offense has to come right back out. In these moments someone grabs Webb and says "if the DE goes straight upfield your assignment is the linebacker crashing in from the slot." Then Michigan seems to invite that very play by coming out in a three-wide formation on third and goal from the one. They want that DE to erase himself and for a LB to get singled up on the 260 pound Webb. His block provides the extra momentum that barely gets Shaw over the plane.

The reason I'm so down on the defense and high on the offense is that these things seem to happen on one side of the ball but not another. It should be clear that no one's on the keeper when Scheelhaase takes it for big yardage, but then he does it again on the exact same play. It should be clear that something's not right in the way you're defending the option but nothing really changes. Etc. Michigan's offense adapts in ways the defense doesn't, and I don't think it's youth when the players who can't contain a keeper are Roh and Mouton.

Chitownblue asked about an RPS plus on the final play of the game, but that's an example of what I'm talking about. Illinois runs the same play they got their earlier conversion on and Michigan runs the same defense. You've got a rub route against man coverage and a seven-man protection you're blitzing into. If Illinois had gotten to pick Michigan's defense on that final play, they would have picked a man-zero all out blitz. They got it, but Jonas Mouton saved the day by making a great play. If he gets cut or just blocked Scheelhaase rolls away from Roh and has a receiver wide open for a score.

It is in these ways that Michigan's defense is different from its offense.

Bonus: you know that corner who jumped the slant in the second OT and should have had Michigan in fourth and long but for some Notre Dame-level BS? Michigan ran a circle route (a fake slant to an out) on the two point conversion and got Hemingway wide open.



November 11th, 2010 at 12:08 PM ^

i still don't love that play call from the one yard line.  i'd like to see them work on a package under center from inside the 2.  the webb block helps, but shaw barely makes it in.  though i guess that's all we needed from the 1.

Captain Obvious

November 11th, 2010 at 12:23 PM ^

We are not an I-formation team.  Almost nothing we have run under center has been effective.  It's unnatural to both the center and the QB (bonus: backup QB in) and the OLine, who are used to running shotgun.  The playbook is limited under center because we run a spread offense.  Run what you know.  If Denard's in a QB draw is almost guaranteed the TD.  The ZR works well with either QB in short yardage.  We have a lot of ZR variations in the playbook.  The shotgun gives you fast developing play action passes if you want them.  It's easier to roll right with a run pass option out of the gun.  etc etc etc.


November 11th, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

On a hand off from under center, they don't have to account for the QB because he's running away from the line and they can react if they need to. In this play, the read option takes exactly one guy out of the equation for the QB. That essentially is better than what an extra blocker can do.

I look forward to numbers proving this theory.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:14 PM ^

My intuition agrees with this.  Normally on 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, or (whatever) and goal I'm always yelling for a Power-I formation to just BEEF it over the line, and I get very irritated when the offense attempts fancier plays (unless they work, of course).  However, it seems to me that we've been getting a very high percentage of conversions with Denard in the shotgun in those situations this year.


November 11th, 2010 at 12:41 PM ^

Tate only has one option on the roll out. Hemingway doesn't get open we come away empty. I like the rollout but it's gotta be with a couple wr/te options along with the potential to run. Illinois d playcall prevented the run option. Thankfully hemingway busted open.

Blue in Seattle

November 11th, 2010 at 1:40 PM ^

I don't like play X because when one player fails to do his job the play doesn't work.

I think this is the fundamental point everyone is dancing around but not focusing on properly in their discussion.  A play is a successful RPS if it finds an advantage hat for hat, or big player on smaller player.  The TE adjustment is exactly that, "don't block the heavier DE, let him take himself out of the play covering the QB, instead go smash the lighter OLB/SS hybrid.

Now if the QB fails to hand off, or the TE fails to notice the blitzing LB then the execution fails, but this is still a +1 RPS and therefore a good call by the coaches.

Brian's overall opinion, and highlighted in this piece is that the Offense is tactically managed well by the Coaches and results in positive RPS.  The defense does not.

My contention is that the blame on the coaches is NOT their failure to recognize the situations and offer guidance, but that they've felt they had to patch up talent continuously throughout the year, meaning very few players have been able to hone down on their positional duties to actually be in a mental position to take adjustments well.

Consider that this offensive team is in it's 3rd year of consistancy as a unit, especially the OL, and 2nd year at it's QB talent/RB talent.  And what has performed the best out of the entire offense?  The blocking!

So my conclusion is that the TE adjustment is absorbed quickly because everything else has been drilled in and practiced to a high level of competence.

That is not true for Roh, for anyone in the secondary outside of maybe Kovacs, and somehow someway Obi and Mouton seem impervious to the mental aspects of the game, and Obi doesn' t have the raw athletic talent of Mouton.

that's what I'm seeing on the field.


November 11th, 2010 at 12:27 PM ^

Probably already been mentioned. but Hemingway's fake slant to an out? Matthews' exact route to beat Notre Dame last year...Forcier's gotta love that play by now....

Blue in Seattle

November 11th, 2010 at 1:45 PM ^

You have to have incredible talent miss-match on a corner for them to be able to defend that route.  The only way for a CB to prevent that is they get a hellacious bump at the line to delay the WR, or they are quicker than Woodson on the refelxive reaction.

Maybe you get to the QB and disrupt his throw, but that's the advantage of the shotgun.

The only other way to play it is pull people off the line and be weaker against a run.

I've seen that route a lot in NFL games.


November 11th, 2010 at 2:07 PM ^

which is why I LOVE that route...the corner HAS to play the slant because if he doesn't, its a conversion, so as long as the QB has the time (last year, thank you Brandon Minor RAGE blitz-pickup and this year, dominant O-Line), that throw is going to be open...and Tate has made those money throws, so it's a thing of beauty to watch...


November 11th, 2010 at 12:29 PM ^

This is the kind of excellent breakdown of real things that help us formulate our opinions on our beloved Wolverines.

Instead of just posting shrill complaints or gushing praise, you break down the game and explain the reasons why something is good or bad. Love it.


By the way, BWS is following in Brian's wake.  That guy is worthy of his website's name.


November 11th, 2010 at 12:36 PM ^

The quick adjustments on offense are great, but wait until we get D. Hart in next year, we won't even need to make an adjustment, he'll simply jump cut to the outside and its a TD. How do you make a top 5 offense better, give it a Hart Transplant and watch it shine.

Bielfeldt's Calves

November 11th, 2010 at 12:42 PM ^

I think someone pointed this out on some board post somewhere, but why isn't GERG in the booth? Seems to me that having the top view he'd be able to make adjusts like this by seeing the whole field.

Magee is up there? Why not GERG?

Blue in Seattle

November 11th, 2010 at 1:51 PM ^

I'm confident that someone from the defensive staff is up in the booth.  It's obvious that the booth provides a valuable view of the action.  I think DC's are commonly on the field to make sure they can adjust the players by direct shouting after seeing how the offense comes out, but everyone with a headset can hear what the guy in the booth is saying.

Being in the booth or on the field is really a more preference type of decision.

For Offense Magee definitely sees it and is likely the one directing all adjustments, but Coach Rodriguez is controlling how the signals go in to the team on the field.

But all the coaches are a team, so it's not like no one is watching the defense from the booth.

And what I remember from the Presser's was Coach Rodriguez's comments that Hopson and GERG made the call to "bring the house" on the last play.  Is Hopson in the booth?


November 11th, 2010 at 1:14 PM ^

I think your point is valid about offense vs defense, but its hard to get worked up about it considering the defensive personnel.

The TE in question is a) a senior b) big and athletic c)fundamentally excellent as a blocker d)beating out 2 other qualified players on the depth chart and e) has had the same system and coaching for 3 years.  He is both talented and experienced, so you can make on-the-fly demands on him that slow/small/inexperienced players can't handle.  We don't blame the offensive coaches for Denard's tendency to throw doomed INTs into coverage or Tate's erroneous zone reads -- they're sophomores.

The defense is mostly guys like Rogers, Avery, Kovacs, Vinopal, Gordon.  You can only force so much on guys who are deficient either physically or mentally (due to inexperience).  If your head is already swimming you can't make effective use of additional inputs.  Even Roh (like our QBs) is still just a sophomore, but on top of that is undersized and changing positions.  Not sure you can place the same expectations on him that you can on Webb or Mouton. 

Your argument implies that, even if you had a team full of Senior Mouton's, the D wouldn't make adjustments.  Yet we've seen Demens seem to make adjustments and reads that Ezeh could not - so maybe its not all coaching.  If an OLB equivalent to Demens existed he might replace Mouton -- or not, since Mouton still seems to make big plays as often as he makes big mistakes (unlike Ezeh).  For all we know, the coaches ARE telling Mouton these things.  Maybe he, like Ezeh, just doesn't have it.  Or maybe he's trying to overcompensate for his teammates weaknesses.

Not saying the defensive coaching has been or is good, but its simplistic to blame coaching adjustments when there are so many other issues.  The offense has a firm foundation.  The D is a crumbling mess.  Its hard to suggest effective little tweaks in the midst of rubble.

Blue in Seattle

November 11th, 2010 at 1:59 PM ^

and you beat me to making this point exactly.

So instead I'll praise Brian and the collective brain tank of MGoBlog for not only providing excellent analysis, but allowing thoughtful responses to guide the next examination.

The examples posted by Brian are great for carrying this discussion forward intelligently.

And a big example of that is Mat's response on exactly why we can't know for sure if it's weak coaching or weak players.  But my experience from the Navy in training people to respond to emergencies with a practiced plan, yet the intelligence to make adjustments say that we are just watching a Decimated Defense go through it's paces.

Kudos to this community, I don't know how else to express my enjoyment of arguing with all of you.

I'm voting for GERG consistancy next year, so when the defense is improved, he can claim a little of that reward for his efforts these past two years.

And hell, who's to say that the Illinois game didn't provide the Gel that was needed to get this crazy bunch of kids past the tipping point?

As usual, can't wait for Saturday.


November 11th, 2010 at 3:38 PM ^

we should run one base defense, not three.  Install a scheme and do it well, like Iowa or Penn State. Multiple schemes has contributed to the younger guys' confusion.

GERG, over several years, with several different schools, has never proven he can build even a mediocre COLLEGE defense.  (He inherited a good Texas D for 1 year and even that year he was the co-DC.)

Why should we believe he is suddenly going to accomplish something he has NEVER DONE BEFORE?

And this just in: he had a bunch of upperclassmen at Syracuse and their D still sucked.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:11 PM ^

Center-QB exchange is something that requires an amount of practice that M probably doesn't have time for. A few goal line fumbles would probably change people's tunes when it comes to our short yardage O. I accidentally tuned in to sports radio on Monday, just in time to hear a caller mentioning his only impression of the game how UNACCEPTABLE it is to use shotgun at the goal line. After that W, that's what really stuck with him.

Captain Obvious

November 11th, 2010 at 1:32 PM ^

OMG it creates 5 extra yards to go!!!  UNACCAEPTABLE!  These people are idiots.

How often are we dropped in the backfield for a loss on a ZR or QB draw?  I'm pretty sure we are a top 10 team in the country for least TFLs.  If anything, if gives the QB/RB time to spot the hole that are awesome OL will almost undobtedly create or at least give the RB a head of steam to get a last second push.  It also makes the defense defend the whole LOS--our spread runs can end up in any hole with equal likelihood, while I-form runs are going to the loaded side 95% of the time.

Or we could just look at stats.  How many times have we been stopped with 1 or 2 yards to go this year?  Practically never.  The only time that jumps to mind is the fumbled exchange that led to a TO...under center.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:22 PM ^

I'm not a fan of our DC - GR either but does would we be really better switching to another DC next year with a possibility of confusing the players again? Seems like we need to just stick it out and wait. Although i suppose the defense can't become any worse than it already is. Thoughts?


November 11th, 2010 at 1:40 PM ^

Brian, I think it's highly probable that this was not a realization/adjustment made by the offensive coaches as much as it was Koger missing his assignment (that they had likely already discussed/practiced) and Webb not.

I know it's popular to pile on GERG for lack of defensive adjustments, but I don't think this is as solid an example of the offense adjusting as you think it is.

gpsimms not to…

November 11th, 2010 at 2:02 PM ^

By mistaking Koger for Webb, Brian is illustrating a point exactly opposite of what he intended.  "See?  This is what a truly good coach does.  Something goes wrong, he adjusts.  GERG never does that arrgh."

In fact, it now appears that BRILLIANT ADJUSTMENT is actually one player executing (the older TE, by the way), and another player not executing.

Funny how guys making plays can make people look genius?

Funnier still how true freshman everywhere not making plays can make people look dumb.  Seriously, except for the personal attacks, this GERG hunt is approaching Rosenberg levels.  And I hope Brian does take offense to my saying this.

Other ridiculous things Brian has said about GERG (from the podcast):

Something or other about poor roster management and Emilien leaving.  Wha-whaaa!?!  People have been leaving this team en masse since Richrod got here, not since GERG got here.  Not to mention poor roster management also includes decisions like:

*Starting McGuffie

*Starting Marrell Freaking Evans against Utah.

*Starting Sheridan

etc.  These mistakes did not begin with GERG.

Brian also mentioned how all the terrible moves we made for the Penn State game were GERG's fault.  Then, in this week's podcast he said something along the lines of "Everyone knew Cam Gordon was a linebacker, why didn't GERG?"

Again, wut?  Our deep safety is now Vinopal, who like, wasn't on the team in the spring.  Somehow I'm guessing he's improved since August and he took the spot when he was ready.  It was unanimous at the beginning of the season that Cam was at least physically ready and was our best option at the deep safety.  Also funny how moving Cam for Penn State was GERG's worst decision eva and now having him at deep safety to begin with is the, like, forreal worst decision eva.

/rant.  Also I know disagreeing with party line is grounds for negging straight to oblivion.  But I have fallen for GERG's majestic silver mane, so I must defend his nose-picking honour.


EDIT- I should add that I was listening to the podcast while working, and I hope I am not going off on a misquote, or something I heard incompletely, or missed the spirit in which it was being said.  The point is still the same, complaining about defensive coaching is not unlike complaining about Rodriguez's play calling in the 2008 MSU game or something like that.

Oh, also, as a highschool teacher I can vouch for the fact that just because there are people running the wrong way all the time, GERG didn't necessarily tell them to do that.  I have many a student who has seen a quadratic equation solved by completing the square 1,000,000 times, and swear to me they understand the reasoning behind each step, and get a complete the square problem correct 10% of the time.  But it must be my fault.


November 11th, 2010 at 1:54 PM ^

While I agree with the general premise that the offense has certainly improved and adapts to opposing defenses better than the offense, I think we are all forgetting just how bad the offense was in 2008 and parts of 2009 in adapting after a couple of drives.  In the second half of 2009, the splits by half for the offense were as follows:

Opponent First Half Scoring Second Half Scoring
PSU 10 0
Illinois 13 0
Purdue 24 12
Wiscy 17 7
OSU 3 7

Now, I know there are a million reasons for this discrepancy, but last year's the offense's relative lack of experience and talent at certain positions led to them trying "A", it working for a bit before the oppositon compensated, then UM not having a "B" to go to.  I see the same issue in some respects with the defense this year.  They have even less talent and experience, but they tend to show reasonably well early on but then the opposition makes adjustments and they can't do much else.  Some of these are missed assignments and bad plays, but at some point we can't just dismiss the fact that this is a limited defensive playbook and mistakes or "bad" defensive calls to one may be simply the opposition making the defense look bad. 

Still, I'm no fan of GERG and want to either see him gone or a massive overhaul of the defensive coaching staff made, but I don't see him working with an immense amount of resources.


November 11th, 2010 at 2:19 PM ^

I think Brian's point is that the offense seems capable of adjusting and using opposing defense's tendencies against them while the defense defends an option pitch that gains at least 10 yards every time, the same freakin' way.

It is a valid point when you break down exactly what each side of the ball is doing and realize one unit isn't holding up.

Could it be the players? Sure. But to claim that GERG sees that his unit isn't defending play x properly and then doesn't tell his players because they aren't able to process the info is ludicrous.

"Jonas, scrape when you see that option, don't just run headfirst into the line" isn't exactly asking a kid to diagram complex coverage schemes on the fly.

So to clarify...it's the lack of simple adjustments that should be relayed to players causing concern. And if GERG doesn't feel comfortable relaying simple adjustments to certain players, they need to find players that can handle such things.

gpsimms not to…

November 11th, 2010 at 2:23 PM ^

Lots of students struggle with even the most basic instructions, again and again.  Sometimes it eventually clicks, sometimes not.  The point it that it hasn't clicked for Jonas or Ezeh.  We had enough depth/talent to eventually replace Ezeh, we didn't have enough depth/talent to replace Mouton.

So you are seriously saying that GERG never says something along those lines?  Here are the alternatives:

"Great work out there.  Continue to do exactly what you are doing"

"Man.  I'm stumped.  Just keep trying hard."

I think anything along those lines is actually more implausible than GERG saying something exactly as you say and his players failing to understand/execute.


November 11th, 2010 at 5:03 PM ^

Yes, exactly.  We don't know what is happening on D, all we know is that the result is terrible.  Almost precisely as you described above, my college students have seen examples of completing the square 1,000 times and yet a lot of them still can't manage to do it on a test.

Secondly, my tennis coach has told me a thousand times to start my backhand lower.  When I do shadow swings I am 100%.  When he's feeding me balls, I'm usually around 80-90%.  When I'm playing a game, my success rate sometimes drops down to 50%.  Now I am nowhere near a scholarship level tennis player, but it's not because my coach isn't telling me the right things to do.


November 11th, 2010 at 2:30 PM ^

I find this defense interesting. It's sort of an inverted scrape exchange. Instead of having the DE crash in on the RB and then scraping a LB, S, or CB to take the QB, it's the opposite. In a traditional scrape exchange, RR has had the QB make the bubble screen or post route as the third option ( or pitch option at WV). With the inverted scrape exchange, since they've forced a handoff - there's no third option..... Unless the offensive read could have been - pass first - bubble screen on the first play ( safety covering slot has a huge cushion), or slant/fade to short side on second play (single coverage). Thoughts????

Ed Shuttlesworth

November 11th, 2010 at 2:48 PM ^

We shouldn't, but we often lose sight of the key reason the offense has performed so much better than the defense:  the offense has much better players.

Sometimes things aren't particularly complicated.