Picture Pages: Misaligned, Temporarily

Submitted by Brian on November 7th, 2012 at 12:08 PM

[PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to a three-pronged failure in various systems I lost the first half of UFR and had to re-do it. I tried, but couldn't get it done for today. 2x UFR tomorrow.]

Minnesota's offense struggled to move the ball most of Saturday. When they did move it was often because Michigan was in a difficult position against spread principles. For example: on Minnesota's first snap, Michigan slid their linebackers way to the field against a trips formation and gave up five yards when the tailback cut all the way behind the defensive line.

I'm not sure if this is actually a problem Michigan should fix or if they're taking away certain things that would otherwise be open and will just open up another hole in the dam. In certain cases, anyway. I caught a second-quarter run—at twelve yards, Minnesota's long run of the day—on which Michigan's alignment had them in trouble from the start. Since the Big Ten Network was running an uncommonly large number of useful replays, we can take a look at it from the end zone.



From the dead center of the field Minnesota comes out in a pistol formation with two backs flanking the quarterback. Minnesota has two WRs not shown. When Blue Seoul was pumping out With Pics on the regular he would often point out presnap alignment issues, and Michigan has one here.

This is a balanced formation right smack in the middle of the field, but note that the linebackers are shifted to the left—Demens is left of the center; Morgan is inside the tackle to the right while Ryan is well outside. The line is also shifted left: Washington is inside the guard, Campbell outside. As a result you can draw a line with five Minnesota players to one side and three Michigan defenders:


Minnesota will run at this, running the back on the left across the QB and pulling a guard to keep that two-man advantage as the center uses his angle to take care of Campbell.


Before the mesh point a few things are clear: the three backside defenders are basically nonentities. Demens has a shot, maybe, but he's getting a free release from a tackle with an excellent angle and is in tough. The two backs are available to take on Clark and Morgan.

At the mesh point and just after, two things. First, Clark:


Clark dives inside the pack trying to get him, which could be a valid move. The second frame there has a pulling guard; if Clark hits him that's two blockers on one guy. Because Michigan was badly aligned that still won't matter, though. Minnesota will run this later at Keith Heitzman; Heitzman will do the same thing and peg the QB, so this was what Mattison wanted… sort of. I'll explain below what he actually wanted, probably.

Second, Demens:


He eats a block, but I'm not even mad when he eats a guy before it's even clear who has the ball. Even if he reads the play on the snap this guy probably gets him since he's got a great angle; if the tackle doesn't the pulling guard literally has no one to block so Demens will again feel the wrath of two different OL on the same play. If Demens is at fault it's for presnap stuff involving this alignment that gets him in trouble.

By the time the back breaks outside, it doesn't really matter what Morgan does, the play is getting yards, whether it's inside or out.


But man you still shouldn't get hewed to the ground like this and give up the edge:


It was faintly possible that Washington, who beat a down block, gets in some sort of tackle attempt, and you also wouldn't be forcing Kovacs to get on his horse outside like he does. Note that Raymon Taylor is also on his knees after eating a cut block:


Kovacs has to take an awkward angle around that block and misses the tackle as a result. He does get the guy off balance; Taylor recovers.


Twelve yards.



Things And Stuff

I don't really have a big theme here. Often these posts are attempts to explain a general trend—like Michigan not blocking anyone against Nebraska—with some concrete examples. This is just a thing that happened and probably doesn't mean much of anything. These things pop up from time to time; the defense is still really good.

If there is a theme it's that these things tend to get fixed, as we'll see in the next bullet.

Clark is less good at defending the run than other folk/Mattison adjusts fast. There are two main differences between this and a –1 yard run later in the game off this same play. One is Heitzman. Watch the defensive end to the bottom of the screen:

That may be a different playcall that causes Beyer to move down on the tackle and prevent him from releasing. It is more useful than what Clark does above. While that's not a two for one the guy taking Demens is now the pulling guard, who takes a lot longer to get out on him. That allows Demens to get outside of him; a gap further inside James Ross is also playside of that tackle when he finally releases.

The other difference is of course JMFR, who demonstrates what the coaches are talking about when they call him an "unorthodox" player by taking a cut block hard and still managing to fling his off-balance body at the RB for a TFL.

Even if that does not happen Michigan has this covered as this chain…

  1. Beyer holds up T
  2. Demens beats pulling G to outside
  3. Back bounces it outside
  4. Gordon runs past RB with no angle now

…has an unblocked guy waiting to clean up if'n Ryan isn't a wizard or something.

These things tend to get fixed. Note that Michigan's alignment above is even instead of slid to one side or the other.

I am sorry to remind you of our shared, dark past, but remember the GERG defenses when Michigan would frequently get annihilated by the same thing over and over again? In the Oh God Justin Siller game (to be fair, a GERG defense only in spirit, not in letter) it was ten yard outs over and over. In the 2010 Wisconsin game I think the Badgers ran power 28 straight times in the second half, and I am not even sure that's a joke. One of the most frustrating aspects of Michigan's terrible terrible defenses pre-Mattison were the times when the same thing just kept working.

Here Michigan gets burned for a first down. The next two snaps they see out of this formation are runs that go for zero and –1 yards. That's why there's not a theme, because the things that seem to be dodgy with this defense are pure talent issues. Michigan doesn't have an elite pass-rusher or a lot of speed in the secondary. This leads to lots of attempted deep bombs that have not come off yet, mostly.

Minnesota backs and receivers can really cut block. Seriously, our guys could learn something from the Gophers in that department. Michigan CBs and LBs hit the ground a lot in this game, even if sometimes they got up like an unkillable zombie and made the tackle anyway.

Washington: pretty good. He couldn't do anything about the 12 yarder above; he did get off a block and pursue in case he could.



November 7th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

"That's why there's not a theme, because the things that seem to be dodgy with this defense are pure talent issues."

Can't wait till M has a fully operational Deathstar with no F^%king vents or openings.


November 7th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

Funny you should mention the 2010 Wisconsin game.  I don't think i've every been more frustrated than I was the second half of that game as I watched them literally run the same damn play 28 straight times and we lined up in the same damn defense against it 28 straight times.  Every man, woman and child knew what was coming EXCEPT our defensive coordinator who remained surprised that they kept calling power and didn't have the intellectual capacity it seems to change his defensive sets.

What a difference a DC can make.  Not only are the players coached exponentially better during the week on technique and alignment, come Saturday he sees what's working and what's not and makes adjustments.  What a novel and refreshing concept.

Horace Prettyman

November 7th, 2012 at 1:46 PM ^

With Minnesota's balanced formation and Michigan having 7 guys in the box, no matter what you are going to have 3 defenders on one side of the play and 4 defenders on the other.

Unless Michigan lines up a guy over the center, they are going to be at a disadvantage on one side of the formation or another.

Blue in Seattle

November 7th, 2012 at 3:07 PM ^

The only difference on alignment is that Minnesota ran the play to Michigan's strong side, so instead of attacking the WLB and WDE they were attacking SDE and SAM, aka JMFR.  also Thomas Gordon coming up to LOS seems like an advantage over Kovacs coming up late and getting blocked by the blocked pile of corner back.

Against that formation, if the CB's shift to man coverage, then it's 9 on 9, but if Minnesota makes sure they run it to the weak side, then the Free Safety has to book it in from Deep Coverage town, instead of the creeping up strong safety who should be thinking, "only two WR, screw it, I'm flowing down to contain run.

And Ryan was getting blocked by a RB or Slot receiver, so while he did lose his one to one batttle in that he was successfully cut blocked, he was still able to crush his enemies, see them flee before him, and then listen to the lamentation of the women.

I would try to run that play against Michigan's weak side.  Although Minnesota was on the left hash, and the wider side with more space happened to be Michigan's strong side.  I think the first play had the ball spotted in the center of the field, thus giving a better choice to attack Michigan's weak side, with more room than typical for that alignment.

I guess I don't see this as proof of misalignment, or correction.  It's just one of those things where Minnesota had an advantage in the first play, and Michigan lost multiple one on one battles.

Guess that's why they actually play this game on the field instead of just mailing in the plays to each other.




November 7th, 2012 at 10:23 PM ^

I noticed how badly they stoned this play when Minnesota tried to run it again when watching live.  Another thing I noticed live was that Kovacs walked down into the box making an 8 instead of 7 man box, probably why the linbackers could shift over a bit.  The other thing I noticed just now while watching on slow-mo, Gordon flies down into the box as soon as he sees what's happening, which is why even if Ryan can't make the play it's still dead to rights. 

I doubt this is Gordon being that much better instinctually than Kovacs (he's probably worse), both these things seem to suggest that Mattison spoke to the team regarding this specific alignment from Minnesota, especially the safeties because it seems pretty clear they were expecting exactly what happened.