Picture Pages: Learning As You Go Comment Count

Brian September 16th, 2014 at 4:58 PM

Michigan's run game started out with a thud, with a series of short gains and even the occasional Dread Pirate TFL rearing its ugly head. As with the Notre Dame game, the problems due to were a mélange of errors from lots of people. And as you might expect against Miami, most of them were mental issues.

People have asserted that Miami was dropping an eighth guy in the box and that guy was blowing up the Michigan run game. That's simplistic; these days spread-oriented offenses are looking at one or zero deep safeties on every play. The eight man box is something you have to deal with as a coach, and anyway when you're playing Miami it shouldn't matter.

Michigan's issues were largely assignment-based, with the occasional bad block thrown in; the tailbacks were better but still had issues. The nice thing is that as the game went along we saw Michigan correct some of those those problems and start moving forward. Mason Cole in particular was evolving right on the field, hampering two plays with errors and then executing in near-identical situations just a few minutes later. One was mostly executing a block; this one was about IDing the guy he needs to address.

Which Guy Needs Help? Not That One.

This is actually the first play of the game. It comes from the 50 after the least interesting successful Dennis Norfleet kick return ever (run to the right until the kicker stops you), and Michigan comes out in an ace set. Miami has a 4-3 under on the field (sort of; their SAM is 190-pound Lo Wood) and will roll a safety down for guy #8.


Michigan's going to run inside zone and things are going to go pretty well all over the field with the exception of Mason Cole and AJ Williams trying to handle the backside DE.

This is your presnap setup:


There's a one-technique NT and a five-tech SDE. The SDE is splitting Cole and Williams down the middle, and the play is going to the top of the screen. It is very hard for backside blockers to do anything with a guy who is 1) lined up playside of him when 2) they get no help. This is about to happen to Williams.

I'm not entirely sure why this guy is free to fly down the line and blow this play up. The other DL are handled by Michigan's OL driving guys lined up a half-step to the playside of them. It seems like he figures that the OLB is going to be there to clean up anything that breaks behind him, so gap integrity is for suckers. (Michigan will get a bunch of waggles off this tendency, as Miami isn't using that OLB to contain hard upfield.)

On the snap Magnuson hops over a half-gap to get the nose; Cole goes to his zone a gap over without touching anyone and then starts helping on Magnuson's block. Williams is going for this DE:


Williams does not get the DE even a little bit, and with Miami DL set up to the outside on the frontside of the play Green is correctly going right up the gut, something that looks promising as Michigan gets movement on the DL.

The problem:


Williams was put in a tough spot here; even so this feels substandard. Annoying the guy, pushing him so that he's on the correct side of the LOS, maybe cutting him: all of these things are better than escorting him to the RB.

A yard later it's clear that Michigan has cleaned out the DL; one linebacker shot a gap and is going to help tackle here but without the space constriction provided by the Williams block-type substance shooting that gap is a dangerous game to play that is 50/50 to put the tailback one on one with the safety for all the yards.


Green falls forward for two as Magnuson finishes pancaking the NT. Cole ended up not really doing much of anything on the play.



And the slow version:

[After THE JUMP: something that goes better]

Backside combo

Michigan converts a third and five, waggles themselves another first down, and ends up just outside the ten, knocking on the door. They come out with the first of their Tiny Tight Ends formations when Chesson motions into this spot presnap:


Michigan now has an extensively overloaded wing here with Williams, Kerridge, and Chesson all to the field. Miami lines up the same way they did on the first play, with two guys rotated down to the overloaded area to compensate.

Again, the DE is splitting Cole and Williams:


This time Cole fires off into that DE along with Williams; everything else is similar; you can see Magnuson and Glasgow taking second level blocks as Miller moves to the second level; Michigan hands the ball to the back to the backside of this play, so maybe this is a semi-designed cutback.


But the thing about zone is that things only get semi-designed; if the DE goes one way you do one thing; if he goes the other way you do the other thing. Here he goes inside again as the initial action looks like inside zone to the left. Williams bashes him, Cole seals him, and there's your crease:


This is actually similar to what happens to the DE on the previous play except Michigan's moved the decision point for the back and given him an angle to go around. They've also fixed their unblocked  backside guy problem by moving him another couple of gaps outside with Kerridge and Chesson.

Green sees it and hits it; by the time he arrives he's got a straight shot to the secondary, with Kerridge and Chesson fending off DB types.




And then Green gets submarined by a safety and flips over.



And the slow version:

Things and stuff

This is the same numbers setup; one has success, the other does not. Michigan had enough guys to execute blocks and get a chunk on the first play; they just didn't execute those blocks. I might be irritated by running at an eight-man box against a real team; against Miami I'm just looking to see them hit their marks.

That goes double when the eighth guy is not facilitating hard-to-deal-with blitzes. On the first play he stands around on the frontside of the play and a wide receiver gives him the business; in the second it's hard to tell who he is but he doesn't prevent the play from getting to the safety.

There wasn't really anything Miami was doing to hurt the Michigan ground game, and throwing around on waggles didn't open anything up. It was there; Michigan just took some time to get their assignments right. Not a surprise when Michigan goes from a game in which they're looking at a bunch of over fronts in a spread to a 4-3 under they haven't seen a lot of since last year.

Zone is malleable and it's hard to look at and be certain about things. I think that Cole needed to chip that guy on the first play to help Williams out. That play is likely to go vertical since it's inside zone, Williams doesn't have much of a chance if his guy does what he does, and Cole has the time to give that guy a shoulder and then go for the linebacker.

But I also think that the second play is something of a variant and may not be just Cole figuring it out. For one, tiniest tight end seems there to facilitate this cutback. For two, Michigan hands Green the ball to the backside of this play. This may be a version of the RR belly play where the design is to go in that hole, though Green's cut to it implies otherwise.

So, like, I don't know yet man.

I will get better at this as I see more reps and get a feel for what Michigan wants to do. Right now I'm data deficient when it comes to deciphering exactly how Michigan wants to run things. I've found that when I ask about this I get a blizzard of conflicting opinions.

Michigan was mashing these guys off the ball. Not a major accomplishment, I know, but even when the run game was not working it was because of blocking errors and some goofy decisions from the backs; by in large Michigan was getting plenty of the proverbial push. There are pancakes on both these plays.

It only takes one error to blow that up and make it feel like defensive tackles are holding up; they were not.

Derrick Green was better; I still am a bit skeptical. He cuts to both these holes; on other plays he's been hesitant when guys are upfield and he needs to make a decision. And on the second play here he lowers his head into the safety only to find that the safety's gotten even lower. Any one play you can get tackled by a guy and it's just a good play by that guy. Green doesn't seem to make anyone miss, or even make them make a glancing tackle. Activating the truck stick is good for gifs; I prefer not getting tackled for yards.



September 16th, 2014 at 5:19 PM ^

I really hope Jake gets back (all the way) soon, we could really use his blocking. probably more than his receiving abilities.

I think along with the O-line the past couple years, bad tight end play has really hurt us. Bad.

By next year, hopefully we will have Butt, Hill, maybe Clark. All being able to do a better job than williams. Nothing against Williams, but the kid just can't block. I defintely understand how hard it is to block a guy shaded on your inside going towards the play, but damn. Hold him up for 2 seconds and that would help so much.


September 16th, 2014 at 5:42 PM ^

Yeah I was thinking about Bunting, I just have no idea where his blocking is currently at right now. Wasn't the best in high school. If he blocks like Funchess then we need to make him a wide receiver ASAP.

Either way, as long as we progress in that position this year and can take another step I think that position will be excellent for us. Would be awesome if Clark sticks with us and enrolls early! This team can be something really special, not just talking about next year, because this year is far from over.

Blue NY Gold

September 16th, 2014 at 5:55 PM ^

I completely agree,

And as far as Bunting, the consolation prize is a 6'6-6'7'ish WR with great hands according to his HS evaluations. I'll take that with Butt and Clark at TE...

That's all assuming he can't add the weight and the blocking ability with 1+ yr in a college prgm. So who knows.. I think Bunting was listed at 219lbs in HS.

Space Coyote

September 16th, 2014 at 6:32 PM ^

Most teams, especially on IZ, do not teach cut blocking anymore. They feel it's best to stay on your feet and try to make a play that way. Not only is cut blocking dangerous when not done correctly, but you either get a guy on the ground (after which he can get back up) or you miss and you're alone on the ground.

Some will still do it on OZ. We all remember the Mason Minnesota teams. But even then, most teams are going away from it as agility and movement have become a greater emphasis for OL.

Not sure for certain if Michigan teaches it on the backside, but I don't think they do.

Eye of the Tiger

September 16th, 2014 at 6:48 PM ^

All we really need from an RB on Inside Zone is:

1. Get to the LOS quickly

2. Choose the right path (frontside or backside).

3. Fall forward when tackled.

Do those three things and we will consistently gain 3-5 YPC, and not produce TFLs. The rest is awesome but is less important than doin these three things consistently.

FTR, Green did that against Miami (NTM). He did not against ND (nor did Smith).



September 16th, 2014 at 6:57 PM ^

This is pretty much exactly the thinking from both Brian and Balas when they discussed the offense in August in Chicago. Hopefully, what we are seeing scheme wise in the first three games is what we will see all year and execution will do nothing but improve. I am encouraged by the blocking schemes and potential. It will get better. The X factor is Green (or Smith) and the light going on or not. I don't think I've ever given so much consideration to the quality of RB play before. With Hart, Chris Perry or Thomas you just figured they would do what they do. With these guys it seems like they need to execute with their brains as much as their instincts.


September 16th, 2014 at 8:28 PM ^

But the penalty on Brown was 100% worth it for future intimidation value.  Who is going to want to tackle this dude in space, ever?  

"Who else wants some?" sayeth Antonio.  Opponents clasp their hands around their precious larynxes and shuffle away quietly.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:00 PM ^

Man, poor Derrick Green can't win.  His first year + a couple games here, everyone said "Green doesn't welcome contact like Deveon, never tries to run people over, goes down too easy"...and then when he goes to try and truck someone its "I wish he would try to make someone miss."

Blue NY Gold

September 16th, 2014 at 7:11 PM ^

I think the main problems I've heard against green where his vision and that he goes down on first contact...
Not sure I've heard much about him "not wanting contact or not running people over". They are all very different things.

Anyway, the vision was not great, but def a lot better. And the stiff arm comment above would help address the "going down on first contact". I think I might have seen him brake 2-3 tackles last weekend, which is improvement from the 0 I've seen before. But still could be improved!


September 16th, 2014 at 7:41 PM ^

To be fair to Brian, he's never called for Green or anybody to 'try and run people over'. He's always advocated the 'juke people' first and the truck stick as a last resort when there's nothing else. The people calling for the truck stick are, at least inY opinion, idiots who think a 'bowling ball' is he best option at running back, as if it actually worked at an elite level except for rare exceptions. Those people probably think Mile Hart's best trait as an RB was pushing the pile, while probably not paying attention to his ability to juke guys in a phone both. It is true that Smith is like a weeble wobble and just stays upright whenever someone hits his legs, which Green has not shown yet.


September 17th, 2014 at 1:40 PM ^

Truck stick is great when you get swarmed and want to grind out a couple yards / fall forward. One on one with a safety, changing direction and trying to make the guy miss / forcing him to arm tackle would be the higher percentage play. Heck, in this particular play, Green would have walked into the end zone because the safety went real low real early. Funchess would have hurdled the fool.

The knock against Green wasn't that he wasn't a bowling ball, it was that he's had a bad habit of going down to weak arm tackles.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:05 PM ^

The problem with young players isn't that they don't get better.  The problem is that they get better in games where you'd prefer the load be carried by 4th- and 5th-year players who've left little room for improvement because they already know what they're doing.

I like what I see in the sense that I like seeing a festering wound finally stop oozing pus and turn into a weeping scab.  I'd rather it not be there at all but at least it's progressing in the right direction.  Three weeks in and we've yet to see any sort of dramatic regression like we saw by same time last year where our tailbacks got a whopping 74 rushing yards and our D coughed up 418 yards against Akron.  We haven't seen the dramatic otherworldly production of Borges' best either, but I'll take it.  Yes, we were 3-0 same time last year, but the Akron win was downright Pyrrhic.

Now we just gotta fix our QB.  The pick wasn't completely DG's fault but he's still staring down receivers like a creepy Sting song.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:09 PM ^

That second play is a strange one. Based on the line's footwork, I'm not even sure that's an inside zone. Braden takes a little step back with his right foot (gotta be a mistake) and looks like he's trying to kick the end out. Not what the front side (or even back side) looks like on IZ.

Glasgow steps with his right, but its a really short step and it's vertical. He gets his head inside.

Miller steps right and combos the 2i to the LB. He gets his head inside.

Because Miller is gone, Mags has the 2i on his own. This block makes it look more like an old fashioned dive (man blocking) than IZ. He's not really fighting to get his head across the defender, and his feet look like a traditional down block.

Cole is working a combo with Williams from the 5 to the LB. It looks like he steps left. This is out of sync with the rest of the OL - I think the designed hole is here, between Mags blocking down and Cole blocking out. Cole is also the first guy from the top of the screen to get his head on the right side of the defender. Williams is probably supposed to work right through the 5 and allow Cole to get up on the LB and seal a lane.

Kerridge also gets his head inside and blocks out. Again, this doesn't look like the front or back side of IZ.

Looks like a dive. Looks like Green sees Miller get a clean release and wants to follow him to the backside, but realizes late that Mags in crushing his guy across the formation. His final cut looks like it gets him into the original designed hole.

Space Coyote

September 16th, 2014 at 7:41 PM ^

This is a gap-man blocking scheme. I'll be looking at it later this week on my blog, but you'll note later in the game they ran it from I-form with a counter-step. I've been calling it gap-counter and belly-counter, not quite sure what Nuss calls it, but that's essentially what it is.

It's designed to look like inside zone right, but is designed to give the OL down blocks mostly. From the I-form, the FB will kick out the the DE. This helps sell the IZ because typically that FB seals the backside DE away from the play on inside zone. I'm guessing there is no counter step here simply because Michigan is in pistol rather than in an Ace set. And the H-back has the kick out block in place of the FB here.

FWIW, and I watched quite a bit of Bama games, I only saw Nuss pull this out against ND in the national championship game. I thought, because of that, it wasn't something we were going to see this year. So I was surprised to see it pulled out already.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:49 PM ^

How would this look like IZ right? The line doesn't sell it at all, and the back takes the handoff left. I can imagine it with a counter step from under center, but this doesn't look like a counter at all.

Unrelated, but Chesson and Kerridge fucking own on this play. Chesson impresses me more every day with his blocking. Look at how he works through the muck and gets perfect position. And then the block itself. +++.

Space Coyote

September 16th, 2014 at 8:39 PM ^

But here is Michigan running it with the counter step at 7:24 (note it utilizes an H-back, not a FB). I don't think they utilize the counter from pistol because I think the timing and mesh point are off then.

It's not supposed to be a hard sell, aka, the OL isn't going to have the same footwork at an IZ. It's only supposed to replicate the flow. So each OL is stepping right at the snap, replicating the flow of IZ to the right. With the counter step, the RB's first step is also right. Instead of the OL trying to win it's head across, they down block, so footwork is a bit different, but again, they aren't trying to sell footwork, they are trying to sell the flow to get the defense to commit to the initial play direction (in the case above, to the right). That little bit of flow from the defense puts them at an adventageous angle to get into blocks for the OL.


September 16th, 2014 at 9:50 PM ^

Oh yeah, that's a gorgeous run. Just like Nuss drew it up. I see that the pistol might make the counter step impossible, but how about running it from the gun, with the RB to Gardner's left. Have him take a step right, take the handoff, and aim off LT? Do we run IZ from the gun with the back set to the backside?


September 16th, 2014 at 9:22 PM ^

The role reversal between Devin Funchess and Jehu Chesson has been a weird tale.  The TE converted to WR, and now the WR lining up as a quasi-TE.  I wonder how we would've fared if the coaches read these kids earlier?

You can coach technique, but you can't coach the desire to destroy people.

Chesson the Destroyer uber alles.

P.S. Chesson is becoming every bit the monster JMFR is, but the kicker is they're both very well-spoken off the field.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:19 PM ^

Did anyone notice the umpire on the 2nd clip? If he wasn't in the way I wonder if Green tries to cut it right (left is blocked off by a defender being blocked) instead of just go straight into the safety.


September 16th, 2014 at 7:24 PM ^

The first play is most certainly IZ to the right. You can see the OLs footwork and their helmets all want to get to the right side of the defender.

Miller is the C and always makes the first call. He calls for him and Glasgow to work a combo on the 1 to the Mike.

On old M teams, that would mean the left tackle would make the next call, knowing he's got both the guard and the TE to choose from. I don't know if they're letting Cole call. Either way, the call that gets made is a G/T combo through the 3 and up to the LB. That's not a good call here.

The play is going right, so Mags has positional leverage on the 3 already. He should handle that block easily. That means Cole and Williams are responsibe for the 5 and backside LB. Cole should help Williams; its IZ. On the stretch, they might want the call they ran, the RBs angle is farther right so the backside pursuit shouldn't kill the play.

Looks like a bad call on the backside, perhaps confusing IZ and OZ.


September 16th, 2014 at 8:07 PM ^

We have been running the ball off-slant with some degree of success. Utah is going to stack the box and force Gardner to throw quickly else scramble. Shhhhh. This is all very confidential-like and all. I pray our tight ends are applying hand conditioner so their hands get creamy soft this week. 'Cause all soft hand r belong to us, hopefully. Six yards to tight ends, plus deepballing when invited and solid defense will win this one provided kicking doesn't screw the pooch. Which it could.