Picture Pages: ND Shift, Belly Defeat Comment Count

Brian September 26th, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Notre Dame has a very good defensive line, possibly great. If they still had Aaron Lynch holy pants man. They don't, but Tuitt is a 300 pound pass rusher, Nix is hard to move, and their Kapron Lewis-Moore/Prince Shembo combo at the other DE is a quality option. They've been making a lot of plays so far, and some of them against Lewan, who has a bunch of NFL hype and has shut down virtually every DE he's ever gone up against, including guys like Adrian Clayborn.

So Michigan was up against it against the Irish. They compounded those troubles with a spate of seemingly bizarre play calls that made it even harder for Michigan to execute since they often left key players unblocked, with the results you saw.

Here's a two yard run in the second quarter. It's first and ten on the first play of Michigan's first drive after the Smith interception. ND comes out showing a four-man front with one-high coverage, but will shift into their standard 3-4. Zeke Motta, currently 16 yards off the LOS, will approach the LOS for an eighth run defender against eight players in the box.


Post-shift, this is about standard for ND. Note that the secondary is showing extremely soft man coverage on the receivers, which is par for the course when you are in cover zero with three converted offensive players. Or at least, I'd imagine it's par for the course if anyone else ever did this.


Now, you may be thinking "AAAAAH DAMN AAAH BUBBLE." I am too. The defense is allowed to align like this because Michigan won't take a shot at that gooey soft edge. Constraint plays constrain what a defense can do, simplifying life for QBs. Here we've got a play, and it's a run despite the D showing a cover zero look.

On the snap it's revealed to be an inside zone play…


…but Lewan does something unusual by flaring out to go block Shembo as Denard reads Lewis-Moore. Meanwhile, look at Toussaint's upfield angle of attack:


This was supposed to be a midline type read. When ND showed a four-man front, Nix was shaded outside of Mealer. He would hit the frontside A-gap, allowing Barnum to release into the second level. Instead he's head up on the center and fights back, forcing Barnum to try and deal with him.


What Michigan thought it was doing

Meanwhile, Lewan's flare out on Shembo was supposed to be useful. Instead he's blocking a contain guy on a run up the middle. Lewis-Moore is not tearing up in a gap like a one-gap DL would but coming upfield under control.

So instead of a quick hit that got Michigan past the DT they get this:


Which is two yards thanks to an unblocked LB in the middle of where your belly is supposed to go.


This Looks Familiar

Denard's second interception is a terrible throw helped along by a totally unblocked Te'o as Barnum tries to help on Nix.


Terrible throw and all that but also not a shining example of coordinator mastery. This is a position to fail in, when you can't step into your throw because you'll get hit if you do so.

Things and Stuff

RB angle gives you the intended hole. Look at how vertical Toussaint is going. This is designed to go backside.

Checks: none. Once ND shifts to the three-man front, this play is in trouble, and once Motta slides down you're up against zero safeties. This would be a nice time to check. To what? Well, you are maybe probably getting some yards if Lewan changes his assignment and releases directly into that LB, or, you know…


…that OLB has eyes only for the backfield, so you've got one guy within twelve yards of the slot receiver. Who isn't a slot receiver, sure.

Since this was the first play of the drive I assume there was time to do this after the shift; nothing comes. This might be on Denard, or there just might not be a check for this. Rodriguez took that check burden onto himself with those plays where Michigan would call for a snap and then everyone would look to the sideline.

Constraints: none. A little later Michigan will block a QB sweep well but Motta will show in the hole as an unblocked eighth guy. Denard will abort and get three. ND again went cover zero with pudding soft outside coverage:


They're sitting out there waiting to give you their money! It's not the stupid little bubble itself that helps—though the yards from 2-8 averaging about 6 aren't bad—but the things that the defense can't do because they can't align with their secondary in Bolivia and bring down a run defender that erases your numerical advantage.

This alignment cannot be allowed to exist without a quick easy throw that invalidates it. Have we mentioned that both corners are converted offensive players? And one is a freshman?

Oy OL. Note that Nix not only drew a double but ripped through it to the backside hole, and that Tuitt has gotten inside of Schofield with ease. It may have been possible to get some yards here by getting Nix sealed and hitting a gap further to the playside, but none of that happens. I haven't gotten to the bit where Michigan just grinds on them yet, but so far there have been a lot of plays like this where Michigan OL get nowhere with their guys.

Why are we running a play that seems designed to go at a 4-3? ND will go to it but they are a 3-4 at heart and when they show a four man line it's usually short yardage or a passing down. I would expect an incoherent play like this to fire off when ND is giving Michigan a 4-3 curveball instead of the 3-4, especially after Michigan spent two weeks preparing exclusively for this defense. That Lewan flare-out is deadly to this play because Barnum has to help on a NT who is not shaded—and is rarely shaded. Meanwhile that guy on the edge is not a threat to Toussaint. RPS –1.



September 26th, 2012 at 12:19 PM ^

I think it's important to remember that for all the debate this week on if turnovergeddon was on the shoulders of Borges for poor play calling or Denard for poor execution the fact remains that BOTH men answer to someone else - Hoke.  The proverbial buck stops there and it would seem he has neither an issue with Borges refusal to call constraint plays or Denards refusal to "live for another day" and throw the ball away or take a sack instead of an interception.  

Because if he did he would do something to stop it and to date he has not.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

I feel like Hoke is very involved on D knowing that is his specialty and pretty much tells Borges do whatever the hell you want. Basically what RR started out doing on defense. Now if things really start going wrong with the offense, will Borges and Hoke do a better job fixing it than RR and Gerg? My guess is absolutely they will, especially as we get more personell in to run an offense Borges is more comfortable with.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:13 PM ^

I'm beginning to wonder if this just isn't blind optimism.  "Oh, Borges will show he's a good OC when he has players that fit his system."  A good OC should be able to call plays and take advantage of mismatches regardless of personnel.  So far, we have plenty of evidense that Borges refuses to do any of that.  Do we really think the play calling is going to change when he gets some "system" guys in there?  These "bad play call leads to unblocked rusher in my QB's face" examples will exists regardless of who's on the field.  And Christ, by the time he has people in there that fit his system that aren't true freshman it'll be 2014.  That's an eternity in sports.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:45 PM ^

On that first play when the weakside DE moved off the line, if Fitz had taken the ball around the strong side (the soft gooy side) he would have gotten at least 20 because our line had sealed their 3 remaining D line out.  He had the right idea when he decided to bounce it into the line, but if he'd just kept bouncing it ala Cox it would've been a big gain.  Obviously not be design, but could be in the future.


September 26th, 2012 at 10:40 PM ^

Official MGoStance on blame for the turnover plays:

Hoke gets judged on the big picture, but with the offense really since he leaves it to Borges we are judging him based on hiring Borges (like we judged Rodriguez for his defensive staff). I think it's understood that Hoke is being evaluated when we zoom in on his assistants and his charges. What I don't want to see is Hoke step in and change the offense to what he wants--a la RR telling GERG to run a 3-3-5. Ultimately I think we are going to be much better sticking it out with Borges until the offense comes to him, since he's a smart guy thrown into a weird situation. I wish Borges could be a great spread OC too, or Denard was a Tom Brady passer, but that's not what those men are.

Focusing in on Borges's culpability is useful mostly because it's the most changeable thing. Making Denard a better passer, improving the blocking, or not playing defenders on the level of Te'o are kind of harder things to do.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:22 PM ^

As far as checks go, that is the responsibility of the QB to check out of a play.  For whatever reason, Denard has never checked out of a play.

On the Toussaint run, if he cuts out to the strong side this could be a huge gain.  Instead, he runs right up the middle (where the play was designed to be run) and is tackled after a 2 yard gain. 

Finally, on the interception, if Denard simply takes one step to his right and sets up his blocker (Smith), he would have had all day to throw.

I agree that Borges did not call his best game, but all three of the plays could have went for positive yardage if the individual player(s) would have made a smarter decision.

MI Expat NY

September 26th, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

There's also the possibility of a middle ground.  Denard may have the ability to check but he is limited to what he is allowed to check into.  If he's not allowed to check into the bubble screen, which is an excellent possibility with Borges' known feelings on the play, he may not have had a better option to check into. 


September 26th, 2012 at 1:19 PM ^

And then that leads to the assumption that he is only limited to 1 or 2 checks because they tried to give him more responsibility in practice and they came to the conclusion he doesn't have the mental capacity to make more than 1 or 2 checks. 

Would be nice to get a former offensive lineman, or even Schofield's dad who visits forums frequently, to comment if Denard is allowed to make audibles and if so, are his reads limited?   Oh how I wish some answers were that easy to obtain

MI Expat NY

September 26th, 2012 at 1:46 PM ^

Why are you so focused on his mental capacity?  Lots of coaches limit the amount of audibles quarterbacks are allowed to make.  The trend of having the checks called in from the sideline is common across the country.  Other coaches want plays to be run as called because they set up subsequent plays and it creates a rhythm to the offense.  I don't see why you'd assume that Borges wants his QB to be able to make multiple audibles on any given play.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

I don't think Denard can make one correct audible. 

Reverse question.  Say Borges calls the Bubble screen pre-snap and the Defense is taking it away.  Do we just sit back and enjoy the Interception Denard is going to throw?

Face it, Denard cannot read a defense.  It is what it is.  3 years of making excuses for the kid is tiresome.  I get it he loves the University, he is a great human being but the man cannot read a defense to save his sole.

With all the above being said, he is still talented enough to lead this team to a B1G championship this year given how down the league is.  I'll take it.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:02 PM ^

It's on Borges, not Denard. Let's assume you are correct in that Denard does not know how to read a D and therefore cannot check into a bubble screen (even though a blind man could see the DBs playing 10 yards off).

Why not do like RR and have the team look at the sideline to check into the bubble. Borges can still stay in the box and we can have the backup QB hold up those picture card signs that coaches tend to use.

The issue is that 1) Denard cannot throw the bubble screen (which is false, given his sophomore year with RR) or 2) Borges does not want to check into the bubble screen (although I have no idea as to why).

I think Borges has no experience with a RR type offense and has 30+ years running his kind of O. He's like that dude in Finance (or IT) that has been doing the same thing for 20+ years (and is great at it). That dude hates change.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:17 PM ^

but Borges can do the damn check himself if he so choose (and have somebody relay it in).

It's on Borges to either

1) allow Denard to read the D and check into a bubble

2) radio the check to a coach on the sideline and have the team look at that coach before the snap.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:25 PM ^

Yes, Coach Borges could do it himself if he were running someone else's offense (Coach Rod's) but he's not. Now, what we need to figure out is whether or not the bubble screen is in the audible package that Denard is working with. If it isn't then I agree we have a problem with Coach. That should be automatic.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:11 PM ^

Why should he change to a spread concept?  Many around here take it for granted that Borges is "stubborn" because he won't adopt spread principles.  Not every team runs the spread.  It's acceptable not to run the spread.  "The dude hates change."  Maybe we can assume that Hoke likes Borges' offensive philosophy; maybe that's why he hired him, when Borges has 20+ years of a track record.  So much of the sniping around here assumes that Borges is somehow wrong for not being more like RR.  An accompanying assumption is that many of the current players, b/c they were recruited by RR, are only capable of playing in a spread O.  I find that silly.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:57 PM ^



It has absolutely nothing to do with Denard's "mental capacity". Quite frankly, I find that suggestion from you to be absurd and borderline racist. Denard spent his first two years in an offensive system that required very little from him pre snap. The audibles came from the sideline from Coach Rod himself. Under Coach Borges, he is being asked to read certain keys on his own. He has much more responsibility in this offesne than he had under Coach Rod. Reading defenses is a skill with an instictual component as well. If you want to say that Denard is lacking in instincts, then I would agree. Landry Jones would fall into that category too. It has absolutely nothing to do with the young man's smarts or mental capacity however.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:37 PM ^

No idea where else to put this, but it bears mentioning: offenses frequently do not have QB checks installed. Drew Henson did not change a single play in 2000; he ran whatever they had.

Checking into different plays involves specific skills and training which take time and resources from the coaches and the players to learn. When you're teaching Denard to make reads *during* a play using keys that he has to read *before* a play, and you aren't breaking NCAA practice rules, you aren't going to spend extra time teaching him to change plays. 

The reason changing plays works so much more frequently in the NFL is that NFL quarterbacks have the time to study to understand the schemes and the gameplans to a far greater degree. In college, only the coaches have that kind of time. 


September 26th, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

Denard is given a run/pass option on almost every playcall. He is asked to read a couple of keys and is given the freedom to audible based on what he sees. He almost never checks out of a play. When your QB isn't comfortable audibling on his own, the OC is left with having to come with the perfect playcall and then need damn near perfect execution from your players on every snap.


Perhaps Borges needs to be on the sidelines so he can call the audibles himself? I don't know the answer to that but what I do know is that you are very limited as a playcaller when your QB can't (or won't) check out of a play, even when he has the freeedom to do so.




September 26th, 2012 at 1:43 PM ^

it's possible that denard doesn't have the green light, but he has shown a stubborness in general to follow a play through. just think how many times you have screamed at the television for him to run when he has sat in the pocket for a seeming eternity! he has not shown an ability to improvise from the pocket the same way he improvises when he runs


September 26th, 2012 at 1:07 PM ^

to a bubble or laser or whatever the hell you want to call it when teams give you that kind of look defensively. the question is why don't they check to it? that might be a good question for the next borges presser, if you want heiko banned for life.

borges and denard aren't the only guys at fault here. on the smith INT, i think barnum should have pulled out in front of smith. that way, Te'o is at least slowed down and smith has an easy throw to dileo. Lots of line issues the first half. much better in the 2nd half though.


Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 12:34 PM ^

Smith has to come off the PA fake and pick up the blitzing LB. The PA is just an added benefit to the play, but if the LB is already coming then they've done half you're job for you. Denard's motion will get the other players biting regardless of what Smith does, the fake is mostly to draw people that have a clear view into the back field. That play is on Smith for not getting to Te'o.

And before you say "it's still a bad play design because you have Smith picking up the best LB in the country", he doesn't need to maintain the block for an extremely long time. He just needs to slow him enough to allow Denard to step into the throw. It's a fairly quick pass off of the PA action. And at some point you have to trust your RBs to pick up this kind of thing (especially when they've been good at it throughout their careers).

In fact, the play design on the second play is very good. It gets it's intended reaction. Both MLBs suck up into the wash and Smith fails to make the correct play. Even the OLB steps up into the play giving a big gap behind him for the anyone that direction. There is no video connected that I can see, so I'm not sure how the safeties reacted, but I'm guessing they did a bit as well.

 I think people tend to be quick to blame the OC because that's easier to do. It's easier to blame a coach than a kid. But these guys have been doing these things for a long time, and while they occassionally make mistakes, and it much more often about execution. Execution is the culprit here.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:37 PM ^

I agree. I don't see how the second play is Borges' fault at all.

The PA should give Teo pause and allow the RB to chip him. It is a quick pass and that is all that is necessary. In any case, all Denard has to do is shuffle to his right and then he can reset or take off through the huge whole left as Teo screams past him at MACH 6.

The play design is fine. If you can't expect PA to slow the LB or the RB to block him at all or the slightly pressured senior to QB to avoid throwing a terrible pass then no play design is good.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 12:45 PM ^

And I'll say this may be on Borges for not coaching it up to Denard, or it may be on Denard for not doing it, but Denard has terrible pocket movement. When have you seen Denard to a reverse spin to avoid pressure? When has Denard shuffled right or left to avoid pressure, or even simply to make it slow down and attack him at a different angle, thus allowing him to step into throws. Tom Brady, one of the slowest QBs in the NFL, is a master of this. And while I don't expect Denard to be that good, at some point he needs to be able to do these little things to give himself better throwing windows and to allow himself to either avoid the rush while maintaining a pass threat and then take off, or to simply give himself space to step into throws.

And it's easy for me to say from here, but at some point Denard can't be afraid to step into a throw and take a shot. I know he already takes a lot of hits, and he is typically a fairly physical runner for his size on designed runs, but when vulnerable, he steps away from it. The best QBs will take a hit, and Denard doesn't seem to be willing to do that.

Now knowing that, you don't call naked boots for Denard and other things, there are things as an OC you can control. He's good with his feet, but you don't put him in open space to make a throw, you give him someone to pick up someone in front of him. This play was designed to do that and should have worked. There is lots of green for the DBs to have to match up with the WRs with no underneath help. Should have been a successful play, and it's mostly on Smith, but there are things Denard could have done to help out.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

I agree with this. Borges should know better by now than to have bootlegs incorporated into the gameplan. This is stubbornness on Coach's part, still thinking that maybe he can turn Denard into Michael Vick or Charlie Ward. It's not going to happen.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 1:31 PM ^

I don't have a problem with half-roll outs or, to a lesser degree, full bootlegs (I don't really like them too much with Denard because his footwork gets really bad with them). What is bad are the naked boots with defenses so focused on stopping Denard running. They are going to keep a man on him instead of bite on the run because Denard is such a threat with the ball in his hands. You need to pull or use a RB, FB, or TE to stay back and essentially lead block for Denard when you roll him to prevent that immediate pressure and allow him to be able to set his feet and comfortably step into his throws.

coastal blue

September 26th, 2012 at 2:36 PM ^

The PA doesn't give their LB any pause because there is no threat. 

Let's say you're playing basketball against Steve Nash. If he fakes a three-pointer, you might attempt to block it, because there's a good chance if he's actually shooting, its going in. If its say, Joel Anthony, you probably aren't going to give a damn because he can't shoot from any sort of distance. 

Play-action for Michigan is the exact same concept. There is no threat AT ALL from our running backs, so why would any blitzing LB even bother caring about the hand-off? Chances are, even if the hand-off is real, its not going anywhere and if its not, you've got a QB who isn't great under pressure. So it makes more sense to continue to charge the QB. The fake in these cases only serves as taking away time from Denard to survey the field. 

Denard's first pick was just a terrible throw. The next two plays which resulted in picks, while still poor throws, should have never been called by Borges. 


September 26th, 2012 at 2:46 PM ^

I don't buy this. The whole point of PA is to freeze defenders and use their brief confusion to give the pass play the time and space to to work. LBs and DBs are supposed to read run keys and pull themselves out of position on at least one receiver.

Time is key here. You don't usually run PA for a 1.5 second quick pass--receivers must have time to get behind their defenders, or in the case of FB Waggle passes, roll out into the flat. That's the Borges paradigm. 

A linebacker charging straight at the quarterback is either doing so because he is assigned to do so, ignoring the RB (and should therefore be blocked) or because he has not been fooled by the PA. Or because the play is so badly designed that he is in position to pressure the QB even when making an attack on the RB.

In any case the coach is responsible when a defender is instantly in the face of the QB. Some QBs respond better than others in that situation; Denard is not one of them. 


September 27th, 2012 at 2:17 AM ^

If you have, I am certain your teams would be awful.

"You don't usually run PA for a 1.5 second pass". Why not? What if the idea of the PA is to influence a linebacker and hit the area he just vacated?

"A linebacker charging straight at the QB...play is so badly designed..." Back this claim up. What sort of protection would you call with this play? What are your thoughts on play action in general? Should Barnum crash down with hard action as he did, or should he perhaps work on a softer sell and keep his hips open to the line, to pick up an attacking linebacker? Wouldn't that possibly tip off the LB you are trying to influence? If you are going to critique play design, do it. Don't just make shit up.

Most egregious: "In any case the coach is responsible when a defender is instantly in the QBs face." have you ever heard of a missed block? Would it be on Borges fault if Mealer whiffs on the nose? How about missed assignments? would it be on Borges if Barnum's job was to block Te'o? Execution is 99% of the game, perhaps more. But because you know next to nothing about playing the game you are watching, it is easy to blame the coach, and some vague notion you have of play design.

M Wolve

September 26th, 2012 at 4:26 PM ^

but we have to try to see why the execution was poor.  I doubt it was Freddy J's fault since he has been her since the 18th century, meaning the man has kept his job because he is a damn good coach and will instruct a RB when to stop carrying out a fake.  V Smith is a senior and has shown he is fully capable of pass blocking (possibly even great at it), but it's probably on him here.  Borges was fine (on this play at least); I think Boobie just missed this one. 


September 26th, 2012 at 1:55 PM ^

Ha!  I agree.  Smith misses a block.  But a day or two ago we were informed that "blaming execution is bulljive!!"  Remember, in these parts it's only acceptable to blame Borges.  For not calling bubble screens.  Because that's what the players were recruited for.  And stuff.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:34 PM ^

You know, at some point the question has to be asked why Denard, as a fourth-year QB, cannot read a defense and check to a play.

Even if you want to call him a second-year QB in Borges's system, I cannot recall one audible in his two years as a "second-year QB" while at Michigan (2010 and 2012).

We can all think of many QBs down the years at Michigan or other places (Barkley does this a lot, for example) who would check to a quick hitter for those WRs.

We either are forced to believe that Borges doesn't have this in his playbook (but I've seen quick hitters this year), or Denard cannot read defenses as a senior and thus isn't allowed to stray from the called play.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 12:48 PM ^

There have been several times where defenses have shown their blitz,especially with edge pressure or A gap blitzes, and Denard should be able to check out of the play by this point. Clearly they are not comfortable with him doing that too much at this point. This could be on Denard not having a strong grasp of how to read defenses and understanding the game fully, or this could be on Borges for not fully coaching not just what is happening, but why, which allow your QB to have a better understanding. At some point in the future we will probably be able to figure this out (when Michigan plays other QBs).

Either way though, the second play is a play Denard should not have checked out of. He got the exact look that they wanted out of that play. It was execution that caused it to fail.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:50 PM ^

We don't know if he has the option to check to another play, let alone a play like a bubble or an immediate throw to the outside receiver. If there is no such check, then this whole argument is irellevant.

I have a hard time believing that Denard has the option to check into all of these plays that we see as being obvious and is just failing to do so. The reads are very basic.


September 26th, 2012 at 12:56 PM ^

History has given us a QB who started for three years under Borges (at Auburn).  His senior year he completed less than 60% of his passes, had a TD-to-INT ratio of 9:13, and put up worse numbers in all categories compared to his junior year.  (And worse numbers in almost all categories compared to his sophomore year.)  Given Borges' history of teams and QBs doing worse over time under his watch, why are people surprised that Denard is not making progress?