Picture Pages: Fourth And Fun Comment Count

Brian October 11th, 2011 at 1:52 PM

Last time we saw Michael Schofield run by a blitzer coming up an interior gap. That combined with a panicked back-foot throw from Denard to result in an interception on a play that had otherwise opened one of two receivers up for an easy touchdown.

This time we're going to get an almost identical play from the offense, except instead of play action is it QB power. This is the fourth and one Michigan converted en route to the endzone.

The setup is the same: shotgun with twin TEs and twin WRs. Northwestern lines up in an even 4-3 with one of the linebackers over the slot and a safety rolled into the box. For fourth and one this is fairly conservative:


With Denard running the ball Michigan has a blocker for every opponent.

On the snap, Schofield pulls…


…and the SLB blitzes, hell-bent for the gap between the playside DE and DT, both of whom are doubled:


Faced with a similar situation on the last play, Schofield ran by the linebacker:


This time not so much.


With both linebackers gone—the other one ran into the line on the backside—and a double on the playside DE, once Smith kicks out the corner it's an easy conversion.



Items of Interest

Being the pulling guard seems a lot more complicated than you'd think. A lot of power blocking is derp simple: block down on this guy. By contrast, everyone who runs a zone system talks up the need for their linemen to be intelligent because to run the zone you have to make a lot of split second decisions about who to block and when to release.

On these two plays we've seen what happens when a pulling guard gets challenged from a gap he doesn't expect to be threatened. He can miss it, at which point rivers of baby blood, or he can adjust, at which point your unsound defense has put the QB one on one with a safety for bonus bucks. He's got to have the vision and agility to pull that off. That's tough.

This seems like one of the major problems with the pulling scheme: the guards are crappier at it than the defenses are at defending it. Last year when they pulled out power blocking, defenses were trying to defend the zone and often got caught off guard. This year Michigan does not have that luxury. As a result we've seen a lot of plays on which the pulling guard gets caught up in some wash or just takes a bad angle to the hole.

"Adjustments." Is this an adjustment, or is it just telling the guard what he did wrong and not to do it again? In my view, an adjustment is changing your scheme to combat something the other team is doing—like throwing Ryan out on the slot to prevent argh bubble death. Telling your players how to stop screwing up is coaching, but it's not adjusting. What I was trying to say in the game column was that because of the nature of the offense they didn't have to do much adjusting, they just had to stop screwing up, at which point points fall from the sky.

This is not black and white. Borges did bring out some actual adjustments, like using Shaw to get the edge on theses aggressive linebackers, but I think the second-half turnaround was less figuring out what Northwestern was doing and stopping it than having a few specific players fix things the scheme is already telling them to do.

Short yardage numerical advantage. Not running Denard on short yardage is a goofy idea. Here you'd have to be nuts to not run the guy. He gives you the ability to double the playside DE and still block everyone except a safety rolled up. He has to be cautious because if he misses it's six points.

Handing it off, even on a zone read that should occupy some defenders, runs the risk of the defense selling out and Denard missing a read. Going under center takes away one of those doubles and turns the read into a call-and-hope situation.

I can see running conventional stuff in a low-leverage situation like first and goal from the one, sure. Keep the wear and tear down. When it really matters, this is the way to go.

Perfect mirror. This is a perfect mirror of the play that Denard got intercepted on, which is why the latter suckered Northwestern so badly and would have likely resulted in an easy TD if Denard can buy some time or Schofield makes the adjustment.



October 11th, 2011 at 2:24 PM ^

Another possibility is that due to the timing of the play, Schofield didn't really have the chance to over run the SLB in the 2nd case.  On the interception play, Schofield would've had to look through the gap to see the LB coming, in the 4th and 1 it appears the LB came through the gap at the same instance Schofield got to it.

While I don't doubt the idea that the coaches pointed out what he did wrong the first time around, the timing of this play may have made it easier for him to fix his initial mistake.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:38 PM ^

I don't think so. I went back and watched it five times after reading this just to see if it was true, and you can see Schofield stop and turn upfield to face the LB before he gets through the hole. He could have kept going to the DE like in the first picture page but didn't, he waited for someone to come through the gap.


October 11th, 2011 at 8:02 PM ^

Schofield saves this play in my opinion.... In highschool our team pulled a ton and on the playside where the double team happens... on this play the TE and Slot back double the DE and put him on skates... At this point the TE being on the inside of the double team should be looking for a linebacker to block... If this happens the way it should Schofield should be the lead blocker for Denard through the hole blowing up the saftey and we are all Singing the Victors.... But the TE dosn't get off his initial block and allows the linebacker to shoot that gap that should not be there Schofield has to block him and allows Denard to be one on one with the saftey and gets the first down.

I don't know what blocking schemes they are running but if i was coaching that play thats what i would like to see.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:28 PM ^

While I agree on the "always run Denard from the shotgun on important 4th-and-short situations", there is one downside you didn't mention: specifically, that another team will not be quite as conservative with their alignment.  If that safety had been aligned closer to the line of scrimmage and been more aggressive flowing downhill - less risk of an "oh noes" on 4th down - the conversion would have been dicey.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:57 PM ^

I'm not sure we're clear on Borges' comfort with Denard checking in and out of plays on fourth down but if that safety rolls up and the LB is cheating up it seems to me Lace checks into a TE pop pass or some such play.


October 11th, 2011 at 3:05 PM ^

The trouble is, as Brian mentioned, there's no one beyond the safety - anything that gets behind him is six. It would be an easy counter to have a short pass ready if the D looks hyper-aggressive. Even if they just run Denard anyway, there's the danger that the safety overshoots or otherwise misses his tackle, and you've got Denard going all twirly roadrunner legs in an empty secondary till he hits the endzone.

It is very, very, very hard to tackle Denard behind the LOS on a designed run. For most Ds, discretion is the better part of valor and starting over with 1st and 10 against Denard is probably less risky than selling out to stop 4th and 1. Keep in mind that NW was up at this point - no reason to risk it all when we still had a ways to go and hadn't exactly been stellar on offense upf to that point.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:33 PM ^

Is it possible that the coaches, and not Schofield, made the coaching determination that Schofield was to double that DE regardless of the SLB's decision to blitz?

What I'm saying is, maybe we shouldn't be so quick to claim Schofield screwed up on the INT play if he was in fact following Borges and FUNK's directions on that particular play. It might just be that Northwestern broke a tendency by rushing the SLB at Denard. Or, perhaps Borges and FUNK instructed Schofield to let the SLB go, making the determination that in that instance Denard could get the throw off before the blitz or that Denard would make enough space to make a play?

I guess my bottom line is that while Hankwitz (that's Northwestern's DC, right) made a very good call in rushing that SLB, I wouldn't necessarily dock Schofield for this play, especially if he was following coaches' orders on blocking priority. If anything, Northwestern "RPS"d Borges and FUNK, to me. It was simply a good play by Northwestern, and Michigan adjusted at the next opportunity. However, without knowing Michigan's playcall on the INT, I don't think it's fair to downgrade Schofield's performance.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

That's an argument you can make about many seemingly busted assignment, and it's a correct one. Without knowing you have to go on context and in this context it does seem like that's a block he's expected to make and did not.

We are guessing, but it's educated guessing.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

keep in mind that regardless of coaching, the guard knows where the play is going. on the pass, he. knows that the typical reaction will be for that lb to recognize and drop while the single blocked DE is a threat. no doubt he should have recognized and picked up the blizter, but those are not easy reads, especially while pulling. on the other hand, when you're the lead blocked on 4th & 1, you lead through the hole unless the ball carrier is immediately threatened by that DE defeating the block.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:49 PM ^

keep in mind that regardless of coaching, the guard knows where the play is going. on the pass, he. knows that the typical reaction will be for that lb to recognize and drop while the single blocked DE is a threat. no doubt he should have recognized and picked up the blizter, but those are not easy reads, especially while pulling. on the other hand, when you're the lead blocked on 4th & 1, you lead through the hole unless the ball carrier is immediately threatened by that DE defeating the block.


October 11th, 2011 at 2:42 PM ^

I back up my comment even more after looking at the still shots on the INT play again. Schofield has NO intention of blocking that SLB, none at all.

Furthermore, the blocking assignments ARE different on the two plays. On the first, Schofield and Watson are double teaming the DE to the outside while ignoring that SLB (also, look at Molk with nothing going on). On the second, Koger and Watson are doubling the DE to the inside, with Schofield specifically looking for that SLB.

It just seems like a Borges/FUNK adjustment more than a Schofield adjustment to me. I am an amateur, however. I just don't like blaming the players when we don't know the playcall or the adjustment and, given the formation changes, it seems the TE/Schofield responsibilities changed on the two plays as well.


October 11th, 2011 at 3:05 PM ^

Did anyone notice on this play, Vincent Smith staring down the linebackers and pointing his hand pistols at them and pulling the trigger.  Then Michigan ran right at them and picked it up.  Loved it!


October 12th, 2011 at 10:19 AM ^

nearly always (I say nearly because I haven't seen every snap) pistol shoots the LBs when he's lined up even with Denard in the shotgun.  I forget which game it was from, but I've also seen LBs shoot him back pre-snap.

Is this functional in some way?  Like reinforcing his knowledge of where a potential blitz is coming from?  Or a signal to Denard maybe?  Anyone have any ideas on this?


October 11th, 2011 at 3:49 PM ^

The irony (is it actually irony or just Alanis Morisette irony? Who can tell anymore) is that as obvious as it is to run Denard in big short yardage situations, why was RichRod caught so often handing it off to Vinny Smith or Stephen Hopkins?


October 11th, 2011 at 4:00 PM ^

I speculate that agile, quick, adaptable young linemen in high school are now made left tackles, when, during the heyday of the power sweep and the inside trap in the sixties and seventies they would have been pulling guards.