Picture Pages: This Is Not A Stack Comment Count

Brian November 3rd, 2010 at 1:50 PM

Note: no UFR today, as the torrent got down late Monday and I couldn't do the first half then. Hopefully both halves tomorrow.

You'll have to forgive the picture quality on this one—both of these are low-quality torrents. Just like Michigan's defense. AMIRITE!

So in the game column this week I complained about the alignment of the middle linebacker in this bastardized version of the 3-3-5. Michigan has him maybe a yard behind the nose tackle, like so:


This creates a major vulnerability against misdirection, as we'll see. This play is a first and ten on Penn State's first drive. They've driven it into the Michigan half of the field because of depressing things, and more depressing things will happen. This isn't one of them. Michigan shows a two-deep with six in the box, but moves Kovacs down late to add a seventh guy, which gives Michigan the formation above versus Penn State's ace 3-wide.

At the snap the offset fullback heads inside the tackle to his side. You can see the handoff is going to be made to the right side of McGloin. Linebackers start scraping as each and every DE attempts to take on two blockers:


Here's the handoff point. The fullback is hitting the backside B gap, which makes me think this is a called counter play. Where's Demens?


Demens has taken a step towards the line of scrimmage and has hit a guard. Now… he hit the backside guard, the one that PSU is cutting towards. He read the play, but he's a linebacker two yards from the LOS meeting a guard with a free release who's much bigger than him. Momentum means that the best he can do is bounce off it and attempt to flow down the line. (This is much more apparent in the video below.)


The play cuts back as designed. Roh has attacked a frontside gap. Martin and Demens are caught up in the wash on the interior, and Mouton, who was scraping along well back of everyone else, is going to eat the fullback four yards downfield:


The saving grace here is Kovacs, who sifts through the blockers and makes a mediocre ankle tackle that the RB (Royster, I think) steps through:


Demens and others finish it off but after four yards:


Michigan got away with this by putting an extra player in the box late. When Penn State was not caught in a bad playcall, counters like this gashed Michigan all night.

Here's the video:

I don't have an exact replica of this from Rodriguez's WVU days but here's an inside zone Rutgers ran in their 2007 game. Rutgers was no joke on the ground in '07. Ray Rice was around and the Scarlet Knights finished 26th nationally.

The first thing that's obvious is that the MLB is six yards off the line of scrimmage, not two. Also despite playing against a bigger set—Rutgers has a tight end on the field instead of a third wide receiver—West Virginia maintains two deep safeties:


At the snap WVU has shifted to an aggressive look with the OLBs and the spur at the LOS; the MLB has moved up a yard:


At the snap six players attack the line, giving all but one WVU DL a one-on-one matchup:


This is a similar setup, really: inside zone. Main difference is that there is an inline TE instead of a fullback on the backside, but they block the backside end above. The playside end is about to beat a Rutgers tackle to the inside. Note the MLB two yards away from the LOS now—where Demens started the play—after the handoff. He's scraping to the hole. A Rice cutback would be somewhat problematic for him but he's not likely to get a lineman in his face:


MLB has now engaged an OL at the LOS. Rutgers tackle is totally beaten and forces Rice to start cutting:


There are four WVU guys in the area:


And Rice goes down shortly after he crosses the LOS:


On the day Rutgers would get 183 rushing yards, but Mike Teel completed under 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions on a 128 yard passing day because WVU left the safeties back the whole time. West Virginia won 31-3. Their rushing defense was 18th nationally.

So, things:

  • It seemed like Michigan was using Jonas Mouton like WVU used their MLB in the 3-3-5. Except Mouton was four yards off the LOS, not six, and not aligned in the middle of the field. So if he's going to get to anything on the frontside he has to run hard, which means he is susceptible to cutbacks.
  • I don't think Demens ever had a prayer of dealing with a cutback or counter because of his alignment. One step to the playside and he's a yard away from the LOS about to get swallowed by a guard.
  • Michigan plays Demens at the same depth in their other line alignments. 3-4:
    Paired with the disconnect in WVU's 3-3-5 this signals shoehorning to me. Demens should be at a certain depth in more conventional sets and putting him six yards back would confuse him in pass drops, run fills, etc, but in the 3-3-5 he takes one step and there's a lineman releasing free into him. In these sets he's got a chance to scrape without dealing with an unblocked OL all the time. So…
  • Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5. I don't know what it is, but that whole attacking from everywhere, making different fronts, blitzing, getting guys through the line unblocked thing is something you can see on a fairly typical WVU play above. There are six guys on the LOS threatening and a dedicated cleanup guy behind them with the space and time to get anywhere along the line. Michigan is a passive three man line with guys you can easily single block (but get to double if you want) and linebackers who are living a nightmare. It's incoherent, and Michigan going back to it after having a fairly solid day against Iowa basing almost exclusively from traditional fronts is a miniature version of what happened against Purdue in 2008. Michigan's 3-3-5 is a 3-4 with linebackers in places that don't make sense.
  • Michigan only escapes the above play by outnumbering the offense. No one on the defense beat their counterpart. Everyone was blocked out of the play, which means you can't win unless you've got an extra guy, which means you can't play two deep without getting smashed.
  • I have no idea what Greg Robinson is trying to accomplish. This puts me in the same situation as Greg Robinson.



November 3rd, 2010 at 6:06 PM ^

It makes sense to me, and I can't argue with the analysis. Nor do I understand what GERG's trying to accomplish. But the reason I can't argue with it is that I am not a coach. And neither is Brian. Neither he nor any of us are in the room when these positions are designed. This is not a "coaches know best so STFU" rant. But the fact is that for this critique, unless you are in the coaches room and understand what they are doing positioning the LB's the way that they are, none of us are qualified to say that Demens and Mouton are positioned wrong IMO. Something is clearly wrong, and maybe this is part of it. But its all guesswork unless you know exactly what is in the coaches mind.

Greg McMurtry

November 3rd, 2010 at 3:37 PM ^

with my same name.  The link here is how a cover-3 is supposed to be played.  Floyd is playing too deep.  He should be 5 yards off the WR, knowing that he has deep third.  His coverage should be backpedal and turn hips once he knows it's a deep pass, not start 10 yards off and backpedal like there's no tomorrow.  Was he coached to do this?  I don't know.  If he was, then it's poor coaching.  Watch the CB in the link and watch the safety come up and intercept the ball.  I'm not expecting Vinopal to intercept this pass, but Floyd could have easily knocked it away if he's coached like the CB in the clip at this link.





November 3rd, 2010 at 4:05 PM ^

I think Floyd playing off and over backpeddling is his way of accounting for his lack of athletic ability.  However when he turns his back and runs the other way, this is just ridiculous and he should know where his help is.  The fact that he doesn't means it's on the coaches.  I dont know if Floyd can make the play here either way if he's playing so far off, but it's definitely possible.


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:15 PM ^

at the end of all this, I really feel sad for D-Rob and the offense. D-Rob does have heisman numbers yet no love from the media all because our track record. I feel irritated at the defense... I know the players are trying hard but when you make the same mistakes game after game (both coaching, where we run the predictable man coverage and players for some stupid decisions  in some cases) it sort of makes even the sane fans angry. I still like RR and I think he should continue next year. The major fault I find in him is a few clock management issues, but yet as a head coach I think he should get more involved with the defense.

Steve in PA

November 3rd, 2010 at 2:16 PM ^

What you describe has been my biggest complaint.  The coaches just are not giving these kids a chance to make a play.  Doesn't matter if they are fr/so or jr/sr, if the coaches can't give them a chance to make a play they won't.  

That's not something that changes by being a year older, wiser, and bigger.


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:04 PM ^

probably doesn't value a sack.  perhaps RR doesn't either.  having 5 or six on the line, rushing different guys in different directions is much more likely to produce negative plays (ie. sacks). 

sack = punt.  usually.  sure, it leaves the CBs on an island, but they've proven they can't play zone coverage anyway.  so is there really a risk at being more aggressive?


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:17 PM ^

demens' position makes sense if roh's hand is down.  otherwise he's essentially a delayed blitzer on a mission other than to blitz.


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:19 PM ^

I've seen a lot of comments here that boil down to "Wow I want a drink/to get drunk".  Until now, I thought they were facetous.  Until now.  It is a serious effort to not walk out of the office and into a bar after reading this and the BWS piece.

Huntington Wolverine

November 3rd, 2010 at 2:20 PM ^

"Michigan's deployment of the 3-3-5 isn't really a 3-3-5."

This is what RR and GERG said before the season isn't it?

It would be interesting to know if they are coaching the MLB to play that close to the line or if the MLB is choosing to do that in the game to try and gain an edge?  Is this where the quotes of "guys trying to do too much" comes into play?


Wolverine In Exile

November 3rd, 2010 at 2:26 PM ^

Is this coaching (which who's the LB coach again... let me see... could it be... GERG?!?!?) putting Demens in an incorrect pre-snap position if what they're trying to accomplish is a WVU like 3-3-5, or is it Demens incorrectly setting up? We'll never know to be sure unless there's a mole who'd like to divulge practice sessions and film room work. Based on seeing Demens setup close to the line on multiple picture pages, it seems like the evidence is leaning toward coaching.


November 3rd, 2010 at 7:46 PM ^

Well, since the MLB is always (okay, usually) only about 2 or 3 yards off the line of scrimmage when we line up in a 3-3-5, I'm guessing it's what he's coached to do.  Just like in 2008 when everybody got pissed that Morgan Trent was lining up 10 yards off the ball...over and over again.  If it happens once, it might be the player.  If it happens repeatedly, it's probably the coach.


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:25 PM ^

Wondering what if any kind of shakeup/adjustment is even possible before the Illinois game.  You have to assume the defensive coaches are poring over the films but you don't what the group dynamic is at this point. Are they together on this or have they already devolved into blaming and finger-pointing among each other?  RR says he is going to be spending more time in the D-meetings - sure that will be a happy situation.


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:33 PM ^

I hate Greg Robison so much. I feel like a child who wants to cry not because they are sad but because they are frustrated and just want to burst because the thing is doing bad thing and nothing makes sense.


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:37 PM ^

So if I am understanding this right, and its possible that I'm completely off but our run defense could be improved if Demens moves back 4 yards?


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:51 PM ^

Probably true, I wonder how far back most other teams keep their MLB and if there is any correlation between effectiveness and distance to the LOS.


I've watched a lot of football in my life and I seem to remember seeing most pretty far off the line.  Like someone said before, being only a few steps off the line, the MLB is essentially just a blitzer and can really only come downhill.


Maybe it is too simplistic to say that a linebacker should back up the defensive line but in regards to our defense, they don't really seem to be doing that in any formation or alignment.


November 3rd, 2010 at 4:53 PM ^

Is it possible to ask a question with charts and pictures (like the pictures in BWS) during a presser, so that we can find out why the defense was lined up as it was and reacted as it did on the 2nd and 21 play?  It would be useful to know how the coaching staff would respond to such a question.


November 3rd, 2010 at 5:33 PM ^

I don't know why you got negged for this because I wonder the same thing.  All this speculation about alignment and "is it coaching or is it the players doing things wrong" is just that - speculation - until someone specifically asks the coaches about alignment.  


November 3rd, 2010 at 2:47 PM ^

I think we've gone off the rails.   We don't run WV's 3-3-5.   So we don't know what is the point of having the MLB so close.  How about we contact someone who knows about playing up so tight and see what the pros and cons are?

I think you answered a key question Brian.  You said no one got off theri blocks so the only way to stop the was outnumbering them.   So what do you want GR to do?   Keep yelling get off blocks to guys like Banks and hope or do you play games trying to guess right and actually get a stop?   Not sure the answer, but it is a pretty tough gig. 


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:18 PM ^

It does seem like this is too obvious and egregious an error (if indeed, it is one, and not just a different flavor of the defense) for it to not be done for some possibly legitimate purpose. 

What Brian has pointed out is that we aren't running the defense the same way as WVU did, but if I was asked to run this defense, I would start studying it as much as I could, so either GERG didn't do that and is just winging it, or there's a legitimate reason he's trying this strategy and it's just not working.

If it's the former (didn't study), he should be fired.  If it's the latter, it bears more investigation.  Maybe they tried having the MLB deeper and there were other, more problematic flaws exposed due to lack of talent and/or experience.

Zoo Blue

November 3rd, 2010 at 2:48 PM ^

This is just another argument for the bad coaching camp. This is showing that GERG doesn't understad how to run the 3-3-5 and raises the possibility that if RR would just remove himself from the defensive scheme and allow GERG to run hs own scheme that he understands and has run before it may improve defensive play.


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:07 PM ^

Not sure what his responsibility is here. It's never good when linebackers play parallel to the line of scrimmage. He needs to play 'down hill'. He has zero chance against a FB/H-back. He's running laterally and has to stop and turn to take a blocker on. Notice he starts the play at a depth of 4 yards, and that's exactly where he takes the block on. The PSU blocker has 7 yards of momentum behind him by the time he reaches Mouton. It seems we're playing a 3-3 with a linebackers resonsible for contain. Perhaps Gerg is going with the philosophy this will confuse the blocking scheme because this is so dumb of a concept they will have never seen it before.


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:20 PM ^

and it's hard to disagree seeing it laid out like this.  What I've read about the 3-3-5 says that the point of the defense is to be multiple in itself.  So you create fronts based on what you know about the offense's plan of attack rather than actually changing up to a 4-3 or a 3-4.


If you want a 4-3 under, you line up your DL and blitz the appropriate backers to get the 5 man front and leave two to scrape.  4-3 over requires one blitzing backer.  But you're either on the line actually blitzing or far enough removed to be able to actually play linebacker. 


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:21 PM ^

Penn State had to be running these same plays in 2006, when we had our last really good defense. It would be interesting to see a similar play from the 2006 season picture paged to get a sense of how a "traditional front" defense with more experienced players would handle this particular situation, or at least similar situations. Wouldn't surprise me if there was more than one 2nd and long.


November 3rd, 2010 at 3:35 PM ^

Doesn't it seem unfair to criticize our deployment of the 3-3-5 when it in fact isn't a 3-3-5? The coaches were saying this before the season when everyone was like OMG 3-3-5 WTF - this was NEVER going to be a 3-3-5 stack like it was at WVU, so it seems kind of pointless to compare the two. Would I rather see that same scheme, yes, but that doesn't matter because that's not what it is. The depth at which the MLB plays is far from the only difference between the two schemes.

Frankly - and this is no shot at Brian - I think scheme is a little overrated when you have guys like Banks who can't get off blocks, Moutons who refuses to tackle with anything more than just one arm, and a secondary with no experience. Not to mention a Mike Martin who hasn't been healthy since the 4th quarter of the MSU game.

Do I think we need to make some adjustments on the defensive staff? Sure. But I think when we're at the point when the coaches are just running guys out in different positions to see what sticks, it's time to consider the fact that maybe no FBS team in the last 10 years has had such an uphill climb in terms of fielding a defense. And yes, a lot of that is on the coaches, but a lot of it is just plain old terrible luck.