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 2:47 PM ^

Ehh, are we concerned that Mattison is still "only" a coordinator at this point?

I'm not even defending Borges, except from the terrible complaint about QB development registered by the anonymous internet genius above. I have no idea if these calls that Brian is pointing out are bad or not. I lean toward thinking that the playcalling is suboptimal based on how choppy things seem on offense this year, but I don't really know shit about football, so what do I know?


September 26th, 2012 at 2:21 PM ^

Your mistake is assuming that Denard isn't allowed to check out of a play, which again is incorrect. Just a little tidbit...the speed-option is one of the plays that Denard has the freedom to check into, on any snap, depending upon the alignment of the defense.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:53 PM ^

Maybe so, but, it won't happen. That's not how Borges and a lot of pro style coordinators run their offense The most likely outcome is that Denard will no longer have the option to audible.



BTW, Gordie Bell makes a very good point about the whole picture pages thing. It often comes off as a way of publicly "pantsing" the coaches, even if that is not the intent. We don't have nearly enough information to make an educated guess on many of these things. You need real, actual game film and a detailed explanation from both the coaches and the players before any of these questions can possibly be answered.


I enjoy the picture pages and the UFRs but also think of them to be "for entertainment purposes only"...




September 26th, 2012 at 12:42 PM ^

Is there a reason that on both plays Barnum collapses to help the center double team the nose tackle as opposed to taking on the blitzing linebacker. It seems like Lewan was expecting him to cover that man while he took on the edge man, whoever that may be. Was this poor execution by Barnum (who's collapsing opened the hole for the linebackers) or was this was part of the plan due to how good Nix is?

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

You want to sell the run, you have a RB there for blitz pick up, and you don't want Nix (who is really good) to get easy penetration to quickly blow up the play. On the run play it is failing to read the run blitz correctly. My guess is he was going to double to at least get Nix moving backwards and then release to Te'o. Te'o flew by the play. That's my guess, I'm not quite sure who Denard is reading (usually you read a D-lineman on these plays, but I think Denard has been reading LBs on some because the coaching staff doesn't like leaving unblocked linemen).

m garety

September 26th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

This is going to be the worst bye week I think I've ever encountered. Not only did we have a bad showing saturday and have to look at Brian breaking it down for an extra week, it has to be followed up w/ ND bailing on us and scrambling to fill schedule spots.  I'm hopping we can get Georgia or Oregon, but I have a feeling we'll probably end up w/ a Delaware State again or even worse.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:55 PM ^

...by all the hair pulling and sobbing at my desk that used to occur on a weekly basis when the defensive UFRs came out during RR's era, but as far as offensive UFRs were concerned,  I was always left with the impression that RR was anybody's equal in the chess match/RPS aspect.  He just didn't always have the kids to pull it off, but if it was constraint plays you were looking for, man, the dude lived for constraint plays.  His whole offense was designed around that concept.  When the offense would break down, I rarely thought to myself "RR has a design problem" or "he's not taking what the defense is giving."  


September 26th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

On a midline, the read key is the first man on or outside the guard. When there's a zero tec, the play won't work unless its an auto-keep. The problem is there are 3 unblocked defenders. The play is doomed.

Wtf man. This is infuriating to think that A) our OC is too god damn stubborn or B) not crafty enough to diagnose the obvious problem.

Fuck me.

Space Coyote

September 26th, 2012 at 1:27 PM ^

Notre Dame did something to stop it because they couldn't stop it with their base. RPS+1 for ND's DC.

Borges countered with something to take advantage of ND's counter. He wasn't just switching play calls, he was literally taking advantage of ND being forced to put their players in a position that isn't ideal. That's why they ND doesn't just run this defense every time, they check to it because what was ideal for them to stop the play wasn't stopping it. So now Borges is taking advantage of what ND is doing. Execution is poor. RPS+1 for Borges.

These games go back and forth throughout the game. The same was done with the HB pitch and HB pass (I will be discussing this on Tremendous either tonight or tomorrow). Teams react to what the other is doing. But, as proof by the HB pass and by this play, execution is, above all, the most important thing. When you don't execute, you don't succeed. Not coaching up the players to react to the things they are seeing is an argument that could be made about the coaching staff. An argument could be made about the timing of the play calls. The actual X's and O's of both plays were good. The X's and O's aren't really what differentiate OCs for the most part (there is a little, but not much), it's the timing and coaching that is different (and potentially the Jimmys and Joes if you want to go there, but I don't think that's too much of the issue here). Same can be said for defense (example: Alabama).


September 26th, 2012 at 1:11 PM ^

I don't understand why this play isn't used more. Seems like a short pass like that is much easier for Denard to throw.

Just use it already. Especially when the defense is flat out giving it to you. And Al, stop being so cranky in news conferences when asked about it.


contra mundum

September 26th, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

IMHO, the problem with the run is, the shjift of ND's DL confuses our OL..Barnum and Mealer should have combo'd the NT...Barnum should have slid off to the LB on his side, while Mealer gets Nix under control.

Denard should option off the DT.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:56 PM ^

A combo is exactly what they did, and quite effecitively - look at Mealer pop free at the end.  They just did it to the wrong side.  Any combo to the offense's right is going to pop the center free on the right side of the formation (which it does), and given Omameh is on the LB (Teo), there's no reason to combo that way if the play is supposed to go over Barnum's butt.

It almost looks like those two (Mealer/Barnum) were blocking for a belly right, instead of left.  If they thought playside was to their right, the actions make sense.  Either way, it looks like blown assignments on the OL.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:13 PM ^

There's nothing the NT does that forces him that way.  Maybe the shift messed up the blocking assignments, but Barnum doesn't look the least bit interested in the LB.  Seems like a blown assignment.  If Barnum blocks the LB, that can get some yardage.  Omameh does a nice job on Teo.

Now maybe if Barnum isn't doubling the nose he comes free, but that's an unknown.  And the play is dead because the safety is up, and that's a constraint problem.  But the problem you're referring to doesn't seem to be the problem here.  Looks like Barnum thought he was supposed to combo on the nose (maybe he thought Lewan would pick up that LB?)


September 26th, 2012 at 1:22 PM ^

And the pseudo-analysis, the "analysis," shows exactly why this site has degraded so much.  A manic fixed idea -- Borges is pooh, "let Denard be Denard...Free my people, Borges!"

The LB on that "poorly designed play" runs straight past Smith, who is supposed to block.  Smith didn't block.  Hence the pass was rushed.  And why couldn't Barnum have enough alertness to pick up a blitzing backer instead of locking on to a double-team.

Nope.  Far easier to make the knee-jerk, reflexive criticism of Borges.  And the obligatory, juvenile aside: "Dangit and dong-punch me!  There was another chance for a bubble screen!!!"


September 27th, 2012 at 10:26 AM ^

I didn't neg you, obvs.  But I'm giving my view here of what I believe happened.  I'm not saying the coach is always right (and the coaches are to blame if the blocking assignments were blown). 

Brian is saying Barnum has to help out on the Nose because he's not shaded (and because he's head-up he's more of a threat).  That is, the shift forced Barnum to leave the LB on his side because the NT moved toward him.  But Barnum is clearly going head-on after the nose without a thought for the LB on his side.  It's not a "he looks like he's coming to this gap, I've got to help out and if Mealer's got him I'll flow back to the LB, but we've got to take care of this NT first and foremost" thing.  Again it looks like a combo block to the right, which doesn't make any sense if the play is going right over Barnum. 

EDIT: I think you were replying to a troll that was subsequently booted.


September 26th, 2012 at 1:49 PM ^

The bubble/laser screen issue is very interesting to me.  Denard ran that play countless times in games and practice with Rodriguez just two years ago, so he's obviously got to be familiar with the play and identifying when its going to work.  But for whatever reason its either not an allowed option or he's failing to deploy the screen option.  It doesn't infuriate me as much as it puzzles me.  Coaches see the same things we see but there must be something that they see in addition that takes the bubble/laser off the table.  But why?  It was on the table in the past few games and it worked every time.  Why not have it be an option this past weekend OR why does Denard not recognize it and use it (if he has the option)?  Its all very strange to me.

Blue boy johnson

September 26th, 2012 at 2:11 PM ^

It's nice and comforting to focus on this play as exemplifying Borges shortcomings, but overall, I saw a Michigan team that marched up and down the field when not forcing passes, and doing so against the second best D they will see all year. From my vantage point, Borges picked apart a very good defense from start to finish.



September 26th, 2012 at 2:44 PM ^

You could find just as many plays that worked perfectly in that game, or many a loss. And likewise in a monster win vs. say, Nebraska, you could find some plays and didn't work, and if you just highlighted them it would look like bad coaching or a bad game.

The methodology might be sound enough, but the motivation and selection seem fraught with perception bias.


September 26th, 2012 at 8:16 PM ^

stretching it a bit. The offense was able to move the ball well at times, particurly in the second half, but 299 yards or whatever they had at the end of the game is still not great offensive output by any stretch. Like others, I am just confused on why Borges seems to hate the bubble screen so much. At this point, the bubble screen is an staple of most offenses across the country, spread and prostyle alike. It is a simple counter when a defense is stacking the box and playing soft coverage, and more importantly it is an easier throw for a QB when they are struggling throwing it downfield.

Look, we all know Denard's limitations as a pure passer at this point, there is nothing Borges can do to magically fix those. With that said, there are ways to work around those limitations and Borges so far has not done a very good job in this department. Personally I think Borges will look alot better as cordinator when the staff has the prostyle players it would like to have, for the time being though it is frustrating watching this particular offense be limited by a square peg round hole situation. At the end of the day, if the goal is to win the Big Ten this year, the staff and players better figure out to handle this particular gameplan as they will see it again.


September 26th, 2012 at 11:51 PM ^

with 6 turnovers is pretty good.  If you look at UM's drive chart, with the exception of the drive where they missed the FD, when they didn't turn the ball over they were successful moving on ND's defense.

They had 10 possessions:

1 ended the first half

1 went backwards for a missed FG

4 more of 10 plays or more and covered anywhere from 42-78 yds

1 was 7 plays for 32 yds (first drive of the game)

3 others were possessions where UM had the ball 4 plays or less before an int was thrown (and even on one of them they had already gained 34 yds)

The offense wasn't a juggernaut but they were their own worst enemy. 


September 26th, 2012 at 2:28 PM ^

It's not hard to figure it out. Borges is philosophically opposed to the bubble. Probably too "basketball on grass" and horizontal for his and Hoke's taste.

I think they installed it hoping that just showing it and running it a couple times per game would prevent teams from aligning like this. Defensive coordinators aren't buying it.

It's not a read for Denard or even a built in check and probably never will be since Borges took a full year to even allow it to be deployed in the first place.


September 26th, 2012 at 2:41 PM ^

Whether or not Denard can check, on that second play, isn't it the RB's job to block the blitzing LB??  Or at least get in his way so the LB has to go around him giving Denard a chance to set his feet (yeah, right).

I'm not football savvy enough to comment on the play call given the D alignment, but I know a missed block when I see one.

coastal blue

September 26th, 2012 at 2:47 PM ^

I'm glad someone confirmed that pick being somewhat on Gardner. It looked like a lazy route when I re-watched it too. 

Edit: This was supposed to go under the Mailbag, but sort of applies. 


September 26th, 2012 at 3:12 PM ^

I have two questions, particularly about item 2.

1. Kind of been answered, RB needs to take on the LB blitzing up the middle. This does not seem like a playcall problem to me, but I also wonder if Barnum can't take this guy as well? It turns out the other LB for Notre Dame runs up into the line, but really he is effectively helping double a guy. Is this a playcall thing? Can lineman in college change their blocking on the fly? You see this in the pros all the time, but I honestly don't know how this works in college. Does the PA largely prohibit this?

2. What do we do against this in general then? Let's say ND's corners are respectable and have tighter coverage. There is no lazer (bubble) available really. Is the only counter to this to run? I mean, if ND is going to fire their linebackers up the middle, we cannot really ever have enough guys unless we do max protect right?

I feel like ND watched MSU footage and realized all you need to do is blitz up the middle over and over, because Borges can't plan for it and Denard cannot handle it. What is the solution? The only way to make them pay over the middle for this is with passes. I am seriously worried this is what every team will do to us now. 


September 26th, 2012 at 4:22 PM ^

Wow, that was a fantastic read. If I could up vote you I would. That pretty much nailed all my questions. It does seem like max protect is the way to go. A couple really interesting things pertaining to us in particular:

1. Shotgun with a RB off to the side is apparently easily exploited by the double A gap blitz. No wonder it seems to work so well against us.

2. Conversely, the best counter I saw on those pages is what Wisconsin did which was running I-formation. 

3. A couple of the pictured instances against Michigan show Denard not seeing the wide open slant because of the vacated linebackers. 

In conclusion I think Borges does carry some more blame than I initially thought. The problem I see though is that the best way to combat against this is to put Robinson in the formation we generally don't like to see him in, which is under center. Which is preferable?


September 26th, 2012 at 11:24 PM ^

for Vincent Smith not getting his head up and picking up that blitz. Just based on scheme, the block should have been made. That is the definition of having a "hat for a hat". If we hadn't recruited a very good (and Tiny) D2 player at TB a few years ago, that block may have been made. The whole, "let's blame Borges" thing may have legs and some merit when it comes to halfback-pass-drive-killers and way too stationary Denard, but this is not an example of a poor scheme.

Space Coyote

September 27th, 2012 at 1:41 AM ^

Or if he hasn't been one of the best backs in Michigan history, to call Smith a DII back is ridiculous. The man has 12 starts under his belt at Michigan. He has been a regular contributor the last two years without starting. Smith is a solid part of the Michigan team and would be a big contributor to a starter on many non-AQ teams. He isn't a starter at this level, but he is easily a DI player. Saying any different is stupid.