Picture Pages: Maybe A Third Of Why We Suck At Running Comment Count

Brian September 24th, 2013 at 5:01 PM

Estimates are approximate. Michigan's spent maybe half of their snaps in the shotgun/pistol on running downs this year, running about five things: jet sweeps to Norfleet, QB draws, speed option, the inverted veer, and a kind of alternate to the inside zone called "belly" that Rich Rodriguez was fond of during his brief spell in Ann Arbor.

Oddly, Michigan hardly runs anything like a base play from the shotgun. They don't run the stretch, they don't run any iso or power type plays. There is a faint smattering of inside zone, but that's it, and that's not anywhere near established. In their first three games of the year I've got them down for three inside zone runs from pistol or shotgun; they went for a total of three yards. Nobody's cheating to a base run play against Michigan.

This allows opponents to tee off on the things Michigan is kind of good at. More importantly, it often seems like they're going up against opponents who are better drilled at defending modern offensive concepts than Michigan is at running them. Here's an example:


Michigan's in the pistol with Kerridge as a fullback, Williams the tight end, and both WRs to the field. It's first and ten. UConn responds by shifting their line to the strength (an "over" front) and aligning their linebackers about evenly with a safety rolled up over Williams.

Michigan wants to read the end to the bottom of the screen. That will allow Michigan to blast the playside end off the ball with a sustained double; Williams will head for the safety as Kerridge deals with the playside linebacker. If the end crashes, Gardner pulls. If he contains, Gardner keeps.


Snap. You can see Williams release, Lewan and Glasgow begin to bash the playside end off the line, and the frontside UConn LBs react to gaps that may need to be filled.


Gardner is now considering the end, who does what ends are supposed to do these days: try to split the difference so that they can be useful on a handoff and still contain the QB. Gardner's trying to figure out what to do about this:


(Note that Lewan and Glasgow are battering their guy inside effectively.)

Now, I think that's a pull. I gave Gardner a minus for that, because I want Gardner to test the edge against a defensive end who's standing at the LOS. But it's a gray area for the quarterback. The end is neither flat-out containing or crashing down; this is a situation in which errors are common.

At the decision point, Gardner gives. Kerridge is staring down two defenders, doesn't know which one to deal with, doesn't really deal with either but it doesn't matter because whoever he does in fact block is just going to funnel to his buddy.


Poor Damn Toussaint, 2013 edition.


That's a loss of two yards.



Items Of Interest

Remember the wheel route from the Notre Dame game? That's the opposite of this. Borges saw the wheel open, gave it a try once, and then pulled it out in a similar situation later for a big gain. Here Michigan just abandons these runs. How is this a similar situation? Like ND, UConn is playing this play in a certain way. If they play it in the same way again, you can alter what you're doing to bust it open. But Michigan hasn't done this, and so rarely does things that are misdirection that twitter blows up about it when they get five yards on it.

Arc, arc, arc, arc. Nebraska demonstrated the tweak against Michigan a couple years back on an almost identical play. Michigan shuffled Jibreel Black down, planning to contain with Kovacs on the outside. The fullback approached the end, and then…


Black could not recover in time to get out on Martinez, Kovacs got a guy in his face, and Nebraska ripped off a 23-yard gain.

Here it's a little different because the end does have contain on Gardner, but if Michigan pokes at that belly play again they can do something similar. Instead of having a true read it's a designated Gardner keeper on which Kerridge's job is to get outside and block whoever that contain guy happens to be, Michigan can burn the shuffle.

This is a paragraph of disclaimers and explanations. That's my thought process when I see things like that on the zone read, because that was Rodriguez's thought process. He probably forced defenses to create the shuffle a few years back when he started blocking backside ends trying to crash down and shooting Carlos Brown or Brandon Minor through the gaping hole scraping linebackers would leave. That burned scrape exchanges hard for a while, and then the cat and mouse game moved on.

Michigan is deficient at cat and mouse in the run game. I'm not trying to suggest that Michigan has to be a spread option team for their offense to work better; I am pointing this out because it remains my wheelhouse and it's a good example of the things Michigan doesn't do because they are a jack-of-all-trades offense that doesn't see how a defense is responding and do something to break it. Because to do that Nebraska thing above your fullback has to rep it and sell it, etc. It takes practice time.

Michigan's not thinking the zone game well at either the field level or the box level because they're not committed to it, and that extends to everything from stretch to power to iso.

Also maybe chalk that up as a missed read for Gardner. Because Michigan doesn't rep it consistently enough? I don't know. Has to be a consideration.

In other sad runs Michigan got out-schemed on. UConn was sending guys off the corner with frequency, but Michigan did not recognize it despite UConn tipping it hard. This inverted veer featured the dead giveaway of a safety moving down to line up directly over a wide receiver:

And on this one, how would you describe the playside corner's presnap technique? Is "right angle to wide receiver" a thing?

Michigan just gets lined up with 14 or so seconds on the clock and thus doesn't have much time to recognize what the defense is doing and adjust, like you saw Notre Dame and Akron do to Michigan's detriment several times. They're just eating bad playcalls. That's a natural consequence of spending 25 seconds in a huddle and not recognizing that one of the most common responses to spread stuff is to send extra guys off the edge.

None of this has anything to do with the offensive line. These are two TFLs and one miraculous Gardner escape wiped out by a Funchess holding call (which, BTW, ugh) on which the offensive line plays no part. The problems go deeper than their issues, which we'll get to later. This is Borges and to some extent Gardner—I don't know if he's got checks here—getting beat by the defensive coordinator. They got some back with the speed option, FWIW.

Who's up for a tedious 150 comment thread questioning whether it's worthwhile to read this? I certainly am! I hope there are content-free arguments. Let's make sure to ignore Ka'Deem Carey's 2000 yards last year when we're incensed at the idea Rich Rodriguez might be able to coach a run game.



September 24th, 2013 at 5:16 PM ^

Rich Rodriguez is not going to walk through that door and coach the running game.  Robert Parish is not going to walk through that door and play center.  Bootsy Collins is not going to walk through that door and lay down a funky bass line.  We have to move on. 


September 25th, 2013 at 11:22 AM ^

Ahhhh, the old Rodriguez discussion rises again.  Oh how I loved those times.  So much fun.  And this was the best discussion of all - disrespecting M tradition.  Thanks for raising that again, as it is so useful to rehash at this stage (where most all of us appreciate the current staff and where Rodriguez is doing just fine at Arizona).

French West Indian

September 24th, 2013 at 5:45 PM ^

...not be coaching the running game anymore but it is time to start the Hoke Hot Seat gossip.

If Rodriquez only got three years because of his discombobulated defense then why should Hoke get any more than three with his discombobulated offencse?

With conference play starting, it'll be interesting to see if Hoke can post a winning conference record.

Ron Utah

September 24th, 2013 at 5:57 PM ^

Hoke on the hot seat?

Undefeated at home, BCS Bowl win, amazing recruiting...am I missing something?

RR got fired because in three years he was 15-22 in three years and got embarrassed in the only bowl game in which he appeared.  Hoke is nowhere near that level of suck, and comparing the two is pretty silly.

Now, if this team ends the regular season 6-6 and loses a pathetic bowl, I'll say he's on the seat in 2014.  But on the hot seat now?

Under Hoke, Michigan's offenses have been good, but certainly not great.  Under RR, the defense was TERRIBLE.  There is no comparison.

snarling wolverine

September 24th, 2013 at 6:22 PM ^

Not to mention that we landed on probation for the first time in program history and had such horrible roster attrition that even now, after steady improvement under Hoke, we still have the worst APR score in the Big Ten.  RichRod's a creative offensive coach, I'll give him that, but he was a total disaster in pretty much every other way.

What's the worst we can say about Hoke?  His offense doesn't always look sexy enough for our tastes?  He's still won 77% of his games.


September 24th, 2013 at 7:36 PM ^

You could say that Rodriguez inherited a smoking crater on offense and a defensr that was one deep and good for one year before graduation reduced it to rubble. He then built it into a winning team.

Hoke took that team and took advantage of the players and schedule to win 11 games and inexcusably lose two games (MSU where he had to prove he could beat the Spartans by passing in a tornado and Iowa where he thought it was a good idea to play Denard under center). While recruiting looks promising, the fact is the team has regressed from the level RR built it up to.


September 25th, 2013 at 3:08 PM ^

The facts speak for themselves. Don't let the overall 3 year RR record distract from the fact that by his third year he had put together a winning team that was on the ascent. It was RR's players who went 11-2 in 2011.

Last year the team fell off to 8-5. This year may be worse, judging by the Akron and UConn games. As Brian points out in this column, the offense is worse than it was under RR. Arguably, the same is true of the defense. Akron was able to score only 7 points against Central Florida but had 24 against us. Connecticut scored 18 against Towson State but 21 against us. That type of comparison can be misleading and there is a lack of data this early in the season, but when the cupcakes on your schedule are this competitive you have to wonder if the team will be able to reach 9 wins this year. That is a regression from where the team was when RR was shown the door.


September 25th, 2013 at 5:20 PM ^

RR built the team that went 11-2 even though he wasn't there to coach them. 11>8 or 9 wins.

It was disgraceful that Dave Brandon undermined Coach Rodriguez in 2010, leading players like Jake Fisher and Anthony Zettel to commit elsewhere. That certainly set the team back.

I stand by my statement: RR rebuilt the team and it was on the ascendancy. It no longer seems so promising.


September 24th, 2013 at 6:27 PM ^

Not so fast.  Rodriguez's recruits were true sophomore / RS-Freshman when he was shown the door.  

Rich's firing had mostly to do with what he could do with the final years of Lloyd's recruits, plus a few of his own recruits mixed in at the positions a freshman can kinda play (WR,RB,DB, QB).

Just as Hoke is making the best he can with a roster that is still mostly RR recruits with some of his mixed in.

A roster isn't 100% a coach's recruits until year 6.


September 24th, 2013 at 6:13 PM ^

Yes, it's possible Rich Rod had a worse hand than Hoke did coming in (not sure how much weight to give the rumors of Carr telling players to transfer or w/e, but I suppose maybe there's some truth to it). Nevertheless Rich Rodriguez still boxed himself in by not wanting to use some sort of a hybrid transition offense that utilized Mallet or at least didn't turn the whole thing into a tire fire.

At the end of the day, RR went 3-9 and 5-7 in his first two years and that's why his third year was do or die. Even so, he still probably would have made it another year if the team had put up a respectable showing in the last three games instead of finishing up a 7-6 season losing 48-28 to Wisconsin, 38-7 against OSU, and then 52-14 against Mississippi St. RR didn't get fired for his bad defense, he got fired for missing two bowls and then getting annihilated at the end of 2010.


September 25th, 2013 at 12:54 PM ^

other than 10X better recruiting and actually beating some good teams?

not getting blown out of bowl games, not getting blown out of games period?

We are now headed in the right direction in every part of the program

except offensive scheme.

whereas the previous regime had us going down, down and down in all areas except QB rushing offense.

Space Coyote

September 24th, 2013 at 6:21 PM ^

The block of the LB should essentially seal the other LBs inside without being blocked. They are not doing a combo block to a backside LB here, but are rather straight doubling. They are attempting to expand the area the optioned DE is having to cover, making it more apparent what he is committing to or forcing him to risk being committed to nothing.

Ron Utah

September 24th, 2013 at 5:33 PM ^

I rarely argue with Brian on Picture Pages, as I think his diagnosis is often correct.  However, on this one, I think he missed it.  The "give" to Fitz is the right decision, but Fitz is supposed to run up the gut, and Kerridge did block it.

Fitz lost us yardage on this play, and could have had a decent gain.

The Squid

September 24th, 2013 at 6:04 PM ^

Totally not seeing that. Kerridge is 1 on 2 against the end and the backer. Whoever he doesn't block is there for the tackle no matter where Fitz goes.

Watching this play live, I thought it was a misread by Gardner all the way, and I don't see anything in the clips above that says otherwise. He pulls, Kerridge blocks one guy, Fitz blocks the other and Gardner probably gets the edge if Funchess manages to occupy his guy for more than a second.

Hugh White

September 24th, 2013 at 6:12 PM ^

I think a part of the problem with this play is that Gardner's execution of the "meshpoint" is too quick.  His first step backwards needs to be deeper so that he can immediately put the ball in Fitz' gut, allowing him more time to ride through the meshpoint, and consequently giving him more time to read the end.  If he had done so, he would have seen Kerridge running into the option man on his way toward the LB -- a clear sign that the option man had let himself get too far inside, and a sure cue to pull. 

As the play actually unfolded, there is virtually no "mesh" at all.  It looks, well, like a handoff.     

Indiana Blue

September 25th, 2013 at 9:49 AM ^

There is clearly a hole up the gut and to the right and is very well blocked.  It is also a hole that Fitz would NEVER see.  Geez - we really need to play Green and others.   RB's have instinct  -  and Fitz's is is to stutter and run outside.

Go Blue!


September 24th, 2013 at 5:45 PM ^

The LB who was coming to fill that gap took his foot off the gas before FT started his little stutter step. FT could have easily powered it up the gap and gotten a couple of yards...or a return to the LOS at a minimum. Pick a direction and hit it!

Probably easier said than done in the heat of the moment.


September 24th, 2013 at 5:17 PM ^

And Toussaint missed a large hole in the middle of the line with a small cut to the right.  Could have made a 2 yard loss into a 6+ yard gain, likely more.


September 24th, 2013 at 5:42 PM ^

Look at the way lewan and glasgow are blocking the dlineman and the linebacker funchess is going after.  Touissant is following the direction the play is supposed to go I think.  

yes, maybe he could have gotten better yardage by improvising, but then on other plays he kills it by not following his blocking.  I personally prefer for him to follow his blocking and get that sorted out rather than have fitz looking to bounce every single carry.

Ron Utah

September 24th, 2013 at 5:59 PM ^

I don't think so.  This is an option play, so it could go in two different directions.  Look at Fitz's first step (right after the snap, before he gets the ball), DG's body position, and where DG runs after the give.

This play is designed, IMO, for DG to go outside and Fitz to go inside.  Fitz bounces and loses yards instead of going up the gut.


September 24th, 2013 at 7:35 PM ^

It's not an option to just run wherever. The blocking is for the edge, the end is being optioned. Once the end is dealt with (correctly), if everyone did their job it's open running. Unless a safety comes up hard, or a LB scrapes down. 

Now, Fitz very well could have gotten positive yardage on this one if he did a lightning quick cut to the right, but I understand why he didn't. It does look like he considered it.