Picture Pages: Iso Adaptation Comment Count

Brian September 15th, 2015 at 4:03 PM


[Bryan Fuller]

You're going to have to bear with me on the offensive UFRs this year. The last time I saw a traditional gap-blocked, regular-ol-QB offense for anything more than a one-game debacle was ten years ago. That was the first year I did UFR and most running plays of that sort were deemed "another wad of bodies" because I didn't know what I was looking at. Since then:

  • Two years of Debord running almost nothing but outside zone
  • Three years of Rodriguez running inside and outside zone with a little power frippery
  • Two years of Hoke trying to shoehorn Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense, giving up, and running a low-rent spread offense
  • Al Borges's Cheesecake Factory offense that ran everything terribly
  • Doug Nussmeier's inside zone-based offense.

I've seen plenty of power plays. Most of them were constraints that could  be run simply and still succeed because the offense's backbone was something else. The rest were so miserably executed that they offered no knowledge about what power is actually supposed to look like. I watched a bunch of Stanford but not in the kind of detail I get down to with the UFRs.

fbz3gg1_thumb[1]One thing that I am pretty sure I think is that the popular conception of power as a decision-free zone in which moving guys off the ball gets you yards is incomplete. Defenses will show you a front pre-snap. You will make blocking decisions based on that front. Then the defense will blitz and slant to foul your decisions and remove the gap you want to hit. If you do not adjust to what is happening in front of you then you run into bodies and everyone is sad.

What Stanford was great at was running power that was executed so consistently well that it was largely impervious to all the games defenses played. This requires linemen who are downblocking to think on their feet, maintain their balance, and stay attached to guys who may be going in directions they were not expected to. It requires everyone off the line of scrimmage (tailback, fullback, pulling G) to see what's in front of them and adjust accordingly.

Michigan did a bad job of this against Utah. They also got blown backwards too much, complicating decisions for the backfield. The latter was not a problem against a much weaker Oregon State outfit. The former was much better, and that's the most encouraging thing to take from this game.

Here's an example. It's a six yard run in the first quarter on which Oregon State sends a blitz that Michigan recognizes and thwarts. There's no puller on this play; I think it was intended to be a weakside iso that ends up looking not very much like iso because Michigan adjusts post-snap.

M comes out in an I-Form twins formation; Oregon state is in a 4-3 that shifts away from the run strength of Michigan's formation. They are also walking a DB to the line of scrimmage:


By the time Michigan snaps the ball this DB is hanging out in a zone with no eligible receiver while both WRs get guys who look to be in man coverage. This is not disguised well unless the highlighted player is Jabrill Peppers and can teleport places after the snap:


He's going to blitz and the DL is going to slant to the run strength of the line. Michigan will pick this up, and I wonder if they IDed the likelihood of this pre-snap. No way to tell, obviously.

On the snap both the FB and RB start to the weak side of the formation; you can see Erik Magnuson start to set up as if he is going to execute a kickout block on the defensive end:


With the blitz and slant from the Oregon DL that's not going to happen. Each Oregon State DL has popped into a gap. Kerridge is taking a flight path to the gap that would normally open between Magnuson and Kalis, the right guard, on a play without this blitz. Without the blitz the DE would be the force player tasked with keeping the play inside of him; Magnuson would have a relatively easy job as he and the DE mutually agreed on where he should go.

Here the DE threatens the play's intended gap. Magnuson can't do anything about that. The D mostly gets to choose what gap they go in, and it's up to the offense to roll with the punches.

Michigan does this:


A moment later Magnuson has changed his tack from attempted kickout to an attempt to laterally displace the DE using his own momentum. Kerridge has abandoned the idea of hitting the weakside B gap and is flaring out for the blitzer.



Now, this could be successful for Oregon State still. The slant got five Michigan OL to block four guys. Nobody got downfield; the slant got a 2 for 1. But their MLB has stood stock still for much of this play, and Magnuson ends up shoving his dude past the hash mark—+1, sir. This is a ton of space to shut down, and De'Veon Smith is the kind of back that can plow through you for YAC.


Smith fends off the linebacker with a stiffarm and starts gaining yardage outside; it could be a good deal more but Chesson misses a cut* and the DB forces it back, creating a big ol' pile:


Second and four sounds a lot better than second and eleven.

*[Drake Harris will later pick up a 15-yard penalty for a similar, but more successful cut block; the genesis of that flag is probably Gary Andersen doing some screaming at the official after this play.]



Items of interest

You don't get to pick the gap even if it's gap blocking. Defenses slant constantly, and often in a specific effort to foul the intended hole and pop the back out into a place where an unblocked guy can hit. Post-snap adaptation is a must for a well-oiled power running game.

Slants win if they suck away an extra blocker. I would be peeved at the MLB if I was Oregon State UFR guy. While Michigan adapts to the slant well enough to provide a crease for Smith, the blitz means Michigan had to spend a blocker on the defensive back and the MLB is a free hitter. He should be moving to this more quickly than he does.

Slants also tend to open up giant running gaps. Adjustments like the above will often lead to a defender running in one direction suddenly getting unwanted help from an OL. If the OL can redirect and latch on just about everyone is going for a ride here. Once Magnuson locks on and Kerridge targets the DB these are two blocks that are easy to win and Smith is going to have a truck lane.

Given how much space Smith has even a linebacker playing this aggressively who shows up in the gap might lose or get his tackle run through; Michigan's getting yards here, whether it's three or six or more if Chesson gets a good block.

In the past this site has seen arguments about whether meeting an unblocked safety at or near the line of scrimmage is a win for the offense or the defense. I have largely come down on the side of "that absolutely sucks," but when the hole is so big that the defender is attempting to make an open-field tackle it's a lot more appealing.

Michigan WRs need to be more careful with the cut blocks. You can cut a guy from the "front," by which the NCAA means the area from 10 to 2 on a clock. (Seriously, that's the way it's defined in the rulebook.) This was very close to a flag, and Michigan got one later.

I wish Michigan was running pop passes, as those are good ways to get defensive backs hesitant about running hard after plays like this. Maybe in a bit.



September 15th, 2015 at 4:27 PM ^

I don't like the WR cut blocking here. I mean it's great if Chesson started between where the ball is and the DB. Or it's great when the DB doesn't have his eyes in the back field. But that's not the case. Have to keep your feet and just get any block you can on this play, IMO.


September 15th, 2015 at 5:09 PM ^

Cut blocking is part of the game and is legal for a reason. We need to make sure we follow the rules, but there is nothing inherently dirty or cheap about it. Is it wrong to go low when trying to make a tackle on the ball carrier? I don't think so. And that's probably more dangerous than most cut blocks.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


September 15th, 2015 at 5:38 PM ^

When I played fullback in 8th grade, one of our 7th grade linebackers would dive at my shins to make the tackle in scrimmages. After the first few times, I wised up. The next time he tried that crap, I stiff-armed his helmet into the turf and kept running. My shins hated that guy.

/not so cool story bro


September 15th, 2015 at 7:29 PM ^

When I was in 7 th grade I made the 8th grade team and the coach would make us chase him around at the end of practice until all of us could tag him. He played RB in college and was in great shape. I tried to actually take him head on because I was pissed off about chasing him and he stiff armed me into next week. I can still feel that stiff arm and I loved every minute of it.


September 15th, 2015 at 7:35 PM ^

Blocking in 5 th grade and it's not illegal. I remember guys getting so pissed on the other team when I would cut block and they would call for flags, but it was perfectly legal. Cut blocks require timing in order to work. I loved using cut blocks on special teams when defenders were streaking down the field. I would take on the biggest dude I could find. I'm 5'7" now and haven't grown much since but it was a great tool for me to use because I was under sized.


September 15th, 2015 at 10:05 PM ^

in this situation. It seems like years since our WRs have been great downfield blockers and it's so critical for a good running game.

It's nice change to be bitching about a missed block on a 6-7 yard run. The coaching staff is going to keep coaching and refining the techinque. I really believe we will see significant improvement from this team throughout the season.


September 16th, 2015 at 1:54 AM ^

I think this might be Michigan's way to freeze the corners (for now). The receivers are, for a moment, faking a route and then chop blocking at the last moment. For now this is the only way they have to freeze the corners while the play developes. If these guys try to lock on right away, they will alert to the play call and certainly get holding calls all day. I think this is why Brian briefly mentioned the POP passes as another way to freeze the corners and keep them honest. Obviously a different formation is necessary to make a pass option read by Rudock.


September 15th, 2015 at 4:37 PM ^

Great write up. Despite all the sucess vs Oregon State, it's amazing how many yards Michigan left on the field Saturday. Drew Hallett also pointed this out in an article today. Makes me excited that this offense is going to keep improving. Potential for big plays is there we just have to execute.


September 15th, 2015 at 4:38 PM ^

it's a badly designed play. I mean, the WR has to block 1 on 1 for more than a couple of seconds and the MLB is matched 1 on 1 with the RB (yes Smith will bowl over undersized guys, but will likely get tackled by MSU, OSU caliber players).

I'm not criticizing the Power scheme or this play because this play may have been used as a setup to other plays, but I'm not sure I see the advantage schematically.


September 15th, 2015 at 4:44 PM ^

but actually that the slant and blitz was advantage Oregon State but Michigan's o-line growth and improvement has been enough that they properly adapted and set up Smith to get a positive gain still. One to two years ago that defense probably gets a free runner or two not blocked and hits Smith at line or backfield. 

It's not a poorly designed play but OSU defended it well, Michigan was still able to get 6, though. Michigan was able to get Smith 3ish yards before contact in a 1-on-1 situation with the MLB. That's not bad considering OSU called a good defense to stuff the play. 


September 15th, 2015 at 4:41 PM ^

I enjoy the picture pages, and the analysis of this play (along with a crapload of Michigan's plays). Several observations.

  • The last 7 years have made me much more appreciative of boring smash mouth power football.
  • I am so much hoping for consistency game in and game out.
  • I think the whole team is a work in progress, but especially the OL. They should only be getting better. The learning curve (and amount of improvement) is higher for them than it would be for most teams.
  • I also think the RB's are a work in progress, and the WR's will need to refine blocking of LB & safeties, etc.
  • One more implication of the learning curve is that Drevno and Harbaugh will probably be installing more and more of the offense as the year goes forward. I'm hoping that they really get the power football down, and save all the dazzling cool wrinkles for when they are necessary (MSU? OSU?)
  • The other thing is that the passing and running game complement each other. The running opens up the passing game, and vice versa. I hope that Rudock gets timing down with more of his receivers . . . I'd like to see Drake Harris shine, and Darboh, Chesson, Canteen, Cole and Perry get better. If three of the WR get it together, along with Butt and Bunting, that will have a huge impact on the run game.


September 16th, 2015 at 7:35 AM ^

I think your last bullet point is key.  It's becoming more and more evident as we see this team play that the ceiling for this team is going to be set by how effective the passing game becomes.  If Rudock starts dropping passes into the pickle barrel on deep routes and threading needles on slants, things are going to get very interesting around here.


September 15th, 2015 at 4:49 PM ^

Someone or Everyone needs to bring this up every chance they can get. In this first video and I remember this exact play.... d-train rumbles for a few yards before he is somehow stopped but guess which line Veteran immediately wraps up his own player in hopes of helping push d-train and the pile of bodies FORWARD. GLASGOW!! Why isn't this being practiced and instilled and beaten into every lineman's head?! If it's a running play, if once your RB is past the LOS, your ass better be chasing down your RB - so that if/when he hits tacklers, an entire offensive line (1756 lbs - avg 292.83 lbs) comes blasting through and pushes the tackle-pile at least 10 more yards?? Am I the only one that wants this to happen? We all saw the pile move several times when our line came running over to help push. Needs to be practiced over and over.

Space Coyote

September 16th, 2015 at 9:19 AM ^

SECTION 3. Blocking, Use of Hand and Arm Interfering for or Helping the Ball Carrier or Passer—ARTICLE 2 Approved Ruling 9-3-2 I. In trying to gain yardage, ball carrier A44 is slowed by defensive players attempting to make the tackle. Back A22 (a) puts his hands on the buttocks of A44 and pushes him forward; (b) pushes the pile of teammates who begin to surround A44; (c) grabs the arm of A44 and tries to pull him forward for more yardage. RULING: (a) and (b) Legal. It is not a foul to push the ball carrier or the pile. (c) Foul for assisting the runner. 5-yard penalty with three-and-one enforcement. (Rule 9-3-2-b)

You could make the argument that he's moving the pile or pushing him. Does he grab him? Yeah. But it'll never get called because you could make an argument that he was not; especially because he didn't grab him by the arm and literally drag him forward outside of the runner's will. The rule is more about preventing a runner from going down and allowing him to make progress without his ability to do so (basically, the blocker is doing all the work).

Part (a) of the above (the Bush Push) used to be illegal; it isn't any longer.


September 15th, 2015 at 5:10 PM ^

So, the cool part with this play is that Smith makes contact with the linebacker 2 yards past the LOS, so as you say, it's 3 yards minimum, rather than in the hole at the LOS.

Is Chesson being coached to cut block here? It looks like he takes the wrong route to the defender, running more or less straight at him rather than running at the spot the corner is going to be..

Pop pass: http://mgoblog.com/content/hokepoints-packages-and-pop-pass



September 15th, 2015 at 5:24 PM ^

Thanks Brian. It is encouraging to see the improvement. You can find things that are positive when others dismiss it saying it is only OSU. Technique is technique regardless of the opponent. Thann you. Looking forward to the next one.


September 15th, 2015 at 6:45 PM ^

Seems as if Power is a general concept based upon the initial defensive front followed by a series of {if then} statements which all players must understand. Reps + brains + brawn makes the machine hum.


September 15th, 2015 at 9:04 PM ^

Shouldn't somebody be combo-blocking the MLB? I know the WLB is the ISO'd guy and OSU just gets an RPS+1 with the safety blitz, but doesn't an ISO play usually feature either the center or a guard coming off a double team and whacking one of the LBs? Not sure how the slant and the shift of the SAM and MLB to the strongside (which ends up being away from the play) affects this. Does the slant just kill a shot at the second level by turning the whole right side of the line into a pile? I'm obviously a n00b, so input would be appreciated.

Other thing - it looks like Cole gets blow by, and then turns around to chase his man, accomplishing nothing useful. Had the play gone through its intended gap, couldn't he have been useful by hitting an LB or safety on the second level? 


September 15th, 2015 at 9:15 PM ^

should normally be the TE and sometimes the tackle.  we call it 'bowling for linebackers'.  the idea is to get both the tackle and TE on the DE and start pushing him back and into the flow of the defense coming to the play from the backside.   using either the DE's body or by disengaging either the tackle or TE, you would then scrap to block the LB. 

the fullback and sometimes a pulling guard will be assigned either the kick-out block in the filing defender (sometimes an LB, maybe a safety).   depending on your circumstances you don't always pull a guard to the play side on power.  it's nice to do, but it depends alot on your personel and who you're playing.

Space Coyote

September 15th, 2015 at 10:01 PM ^

According the the pre-snap alignment, OSU had 4.5 defenders for 4 blockers on the weakside. Now, the slant took the Nose to the backside of the play, so Michigan ended up having enough blockers, but Power O to the strong side would have killed on this play. Down TE/LT to MIKE, arch the CB with the FB, pull the BSG to the other LB and you're in business and OSU can't defender it even with their slant (the down blocks would take care of those).


September 15th, 2015 at 9:35 PM ^

I believe this is a weakside iso, not a power though, right? So the play is designed to hit either the weakside A or B gap, depending on where the defensive linemen line up and go, and the FB is always going to have a linebacker (in this case the WLB)?

So I guess my question is where is which OL has primary responsibility to get off the DL blocks and hit the LBs filling from the strongside? It appears Butt has the SLB from the get-go, but nobody covers the MLB. Cole could do it, but that would leave the DE free (fine in this case, but doesn't look like that is the design). Braden is 1-on-1 with a DT, so he can't release. Mags is also alone with his DE. Glasgow and Kalis are the only ones executing a double team, on the DT, so isn't it up to one of them to get off that initial block and keep the MLB from affecting the play (he can't anyway since he basically just stands there)? As it is, the DE and DT on the playside effectively neutralize Glasgow, Kalis, and Mags (though Mags does well to get the DE a lot farther inside than he wants to, but the resulting pile means no one can go second level). Not really a "2-for-1", but "3-for-2"


September 15th, 2015 at 9:13 PM ^

My next question is WTF is Glasgow doing on this play? He starts off doubling the play side DT with Kallis, which seems odd because the DT looks like he is lined up on Kallis's outside shoulder. The way the Dline is lined up presnap I think Glasgow should just release to the LB. If the DT is straight up or on Kallis's inside shoulder I can see them doubling and then Kallis releases to the LB.