Picture Pages: Predictability Comment Count

Brian October 23rd, 2012 at 11:50 AM


oh good this again

The great unresolved question we batted around Monday on the podcast was the perpetual great unresolved question of the last year and a half: "quien es mas falto, Denard o Borges?"

I'm not done with things yet but am I leaning Borges, except since Michigan went into a shell against a good defense and won the game instead of throwing five interceptions and losing it, by "blame" I might actually mean "credit." Michigan won, and outgained the other offense by about 50 yards, and was only about 50 yards short of the output spread genius Urban Meyer managed against the MSU D. In terms of the OH MY GOD TOTAL DEBACLES that have speckled the Borges/Denard partnership, this ranks much lower than having under 200 yards of offense before you're forced to chuck the ball all over the field. See: Iowa, ND 2011, etc.

That said, a quarter into the game, Spartan safeties have made tackles at the line of scrimmage twice, Chris Norman is regularly meeting lead blockers two yards in the backfield, and the only significant gains Michigan has acquired are on a Gallon throwback screen on which it looks like Norman busts hard and the ten-yard Kwiatkowski out. Here's an example of the first two phenomena:

This is a super-aggressive quarters defense that Indiana exploited against both MSU and Ohio State—which is attempting to run the same scheme—with various cover-4 beaters. Michigan elected for the shell, and won.

Even so, man. Michigan has spent weeks setting things up as they played Bye, Virtual Bye One, and Virtual Bye Two; Michigan State is coming off three consecutive hard-fought games. I'm not sure if Spartan Overpreparation is a real thing or not—I hope so. Otherwise we're putting all our chips on the idea that Borges really doesn't have the faintest clue how to run a spread offense and that things will get better once a Real Quarterback™ is in place*.

*[If you've ever made this assertion I hate you.]

An Example

Okay. So here's Michigan's end-around version of the veer that they've been putting on the field for a few weeks now. It looks different; it's really just the same thing as the veer, though.

[Please forgive the crappier than normal image quality—the BTN was taking wide shots, which is generally good for this sort of thing, but this week's torrent is bleah for whatever reason.]

Anyway: Gallon in the slot, Michigan in a Borges-standard three-wide pack. The alignment of Gallon hints at the end around motion, BTW. MSU is in their standard 4-3 even. The guys at the top of the screen are going to be the relevant ones. Gholston is the DE, Denicos Allen the LB.


As Gallon goes in motion, Allen—and only Allen—moves to the LOS outside of Gholston. Live this gave me a sense of disquiet. That's not sliding some linebackers over. That's an awfully specific thing to do.


A  couple of moments later, the snap has been made and Denard is in a quasi-mesh point with Gallon. I say "quasi" because the action here is so fast that it's hard to believe there's any real read component.

Anyway. Four MSU players are relevant here.


  1. The boundary corner blitzes. He is the contain guy if Gallon gets the ball.
  2. Allen is now the End Man On The Line Of Scrimmage—EMLOS(!). His goal is to get the two-for-one that allows Bullough to be the free hitter, or at least foul the hole and thus rob whoever gets to Bullough of his burst of impetus.
  3. Gholston is the main cutback defender. Once Allen is the primary hole he's got to prevent anything from cutting behind it.
  4. Bullough is the guy MSU would like to be the free hitter a la Demens. Bullough's ridiculously good at football and sheds blocks like whoah; having him as a free hitter is a luxury few teams have.

On the Michigan side of things, Lewan is adapting to the play as it develops and pulls out some of the old zone playbook. When Gholston dives inside of him he goes with it, using his momentum to take him past the point where he wants to go. Toussaint also reads the funny business going on and heads straight for Allen. Omameh is pulling; his eventual destination should be Bullough.

This is hard to see in the next still, so watch for it in the video: the legs you see poking out here like the Wicked Witch of the West with a house on her…


…are in fact the remnants of a killer cut block on Allen by Toussaint. But Allen has still gotten his two for one:


Omameh is literally hopping outside that block. A moment past this and the two players will be even, which means Denard can't follow him, which means he's not blocking anyone, which means two for one, which means Max Freaking Bullough is a free hitter.

Michigan's one saving grace on this play is the Lewan-Gholston matchup. Denard gets a cutback lane because Lewan has blasted Gholston to a point on the field even with the playside and backside DTs. Bullough is surprised by Denard's attack angle, as is Norman, and both have a tough time cutting back as fast as Denard can.


They're unblocked, though, and there are many of them. Denard can only squeeze out four yards…


…as Gholston lies pancaked underneath Lewan yards from the play.



On separate run-throughs check out:

  1. Toussaint chopping Allen
  2. Lewan dominating Gholston
  3. Denard picking through traffic
  4. Michigan getting four yards off of two great blocks.

Things And Stuff

UNLEASH THE EPIC RABBLING COMMENT THREAD. Guys, I'm totally sorry, but sheeeeeeeeeeeeit. This is happening all the damn time. The play above is MSU knowing what's coming as soon as Gallon goes in motion and having a plan to combat it. The plan works—pretty much, anyway—despite the playside defensive end ending up on his stomach eight yards away from the play.

Michigan's not getting anything of the sort in kind, and the first play on which Joe Reynolds makes an appearance features this defensive formation:


filed under "lol 100% run" in the MSU playbook

That wasn't a fakeout, man, those jakeryans came at the snap, leaving one corner anywhere near a simple curl/flat or smash combo with the twinned receivers.


This was a run. A –3 yard run. Yeah, sure, opposing defensive coordinators don't know about Michigan's substitution patterns. Probably just a coincidence.

That cannot happen. You cannot allow the opposing defense to align like that. Michigan allows it all the time.

Okay, okay, is going away from all run all the time a danger that makes Denard chuck interceptions? Possibly. I watched Denard make those curl/flat throws as a clueless sophomore, though, and you just can't let the above happen. I'm finding lots of wins for MSU based on their prep for this game, and few for Michigan. The throwback screen that worked was more Norman busting hard than anything schematic working.

I know they got some stuff later, so I'll probably be less peeved about this when the UFRs come out. I am pretty disappointed that M spent the first quarter running absolutely nothing new against Michigan State of all teams.

Lewan vs Gholston is no contest. It was no contest a year ago, it's no contest this year. He made a couple plays that didn't show up on the scoresheet when he was well-schooled on Michigan's sweep play and used his athleticism to shoot a gap—and Funchess took out Schofield in the process—but once he gets locked up, game over man. He did himself a disservice by not playing for a 3-4 team. He'd be a terror in ND's scheme. As a 4-3-even DE, he's the third-best player on his own defensive line.

Toussaint got a win here. This went a lot worse for him when he was trying to lead Denard into iso runs and Chris Norman was tearing ass at him. The lack of Rawls was pretty weird given the context.

Players don't really matter here except at the margins. Gholston got annihilated and Michigan got four yards. That was MSU's worst case scenario on this play.

Michigan's counterpunches to this sort of thing are not even really the Dileo completions. Dileo catches his first two balls on second and eleven and third and six; the last one was clearly not a play action situation, so all you've got to show for this is the single catch and run from the second quarter.

You should be able to punish the level of aggression shown by the MSU defense in some way. Michigan could not last year and could not this year—at least not in the structure of the offense. Last year, Roy Roundtree broke a tackle to turn a slant into a touchdown. This year, Denard juked and juked and juked to get his 44-yard run towards the end on a QB draw that had absolutely nothing to do with the base rushing offense.

The most alarming thing so far: Michigan's first pass on first down is three drives in. It has a play action mesh point of the sort MSU has been tearing after all game, and no MSU linebacker takes a step to the line of scrimmage. Why? The line sets up to pass block immediately, without anyone pulling. Michigan has not had a run play yet without a pulling lineman.


Denard doesn't have anyone open and ends up throwing his worst pass of the day, a near-INT that was so bad two MSU players had a better shot at it than any Michigan guys. Clearly he has not gotten through all his bad decision mojo, but I'm mystified that Michigan would not even try to draw those linebackers up by running plays that look like the ones they've already put on the field.



October 23rd, 2012 at 12:04 PM ^

Vincent Smith in the I formation = Throwback Screen that Works Everytime, that didn't work this time. If I can call the offensive play from the formation/personnel while sitting in Section 8, I'm guessing opposing coaches can too.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

since the ND fiasco, Borges is playing not to lose, rather than take chances.  He's banking on the fact that his players will execute, and that he will continue to call the same plays till someone stops it.  I think Borges would call that Denard run for 4 yds a success, even with MSU overplaying it.

I Like Burgers

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:26 PM ^

Playing not to lose was the #1 thing that drove me nuts about the Carr era.  Rather than trying to close out teams, he played it safe.  Drove me nuts, and was reason #1 I was excited about RichRod's take no prisoners offense.  Playing it safe worked about 8-9 times a year, but generally cost us a few games every year, and IMO kept us from being a top program.  This time around, the play it safe approach vs Sparty came damn close to not working.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:30 PM ^

"Play it safe" means your QB missing a wide open Gallon in the end zone, and having Gardner drop a long pass, and Schofield penaltying the team out of FG range in the 4th quarter?

Michigan left 10-12 points on the field, I suppose that is Borges's fault.

Here's the point - you can call a conservative (and ultimately successful) offensive game plan to minimize your senior starting QB's propensity for turnovers, when your defense gives up 10 ppg in B1G games.

The Squid

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

There's conservative and then there's just being stubborn or lacking imagination or something. Conservative is refusing to take silly chances chucking the ball around (which Michigan kinda did anyway - Denard threw 29 times). Conservative is not running a QB draw right into MSU's obvious double A gap blitz for like the 4th time in the game.

I Like Burgers

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

If Denard truly has all of that freedom to opt out of plays, and the plays he has at his disposal are better alternatives, and he's NOT doing it, then its on the coaches to either make it clear that he should have audibled out of the play, or just call better plays for him.  Watching the games, I haven't really seen either happening.


October 23rd, 2012 at 3:55 PM ^

What proof do you have that he can't do either of these things?  Because he doesn't do it, which could be due to myriad of factors both in and out of his control?  i mean, it is fashionable to knock Denard's playcalling, but sometimes people treat him like he's a barely-functional human being at the line.  I'm fairly certain that he is able to read a defense and make play changes, but if the coaching staff limits that ability I'm not sure what can be gleaned from dumb playcalling. 

the unsilent m…

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:56 PM ^

at Notre Dame and he was lambasted for it.  "He's not playing to Denard's strengths" was the collective cry from commentators, media, and some on this board.  Saturday, Borges played to Denard's strengths and now he's being called too conservative.  Bottom line: if the defense is capable of taking away the read option we do not have a passing game to fall back on.  Saturday, as in years past, MSU d went straight up the field and took away the run option, daring us to drop back and make them pay.  Simply put, we can't.

I Like Burgers

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:14 PM ^

Its one thing to do things that Denard is comfortable with, but another thing to actually take advantage of those talents and find good ways to maximizing those skills.  Michigan is just calling plays that Denard is comfy with.  But, we've all seen that he's capable of doing so much more.  I think that's where a lot of people's (myself included) frustration comes in.

the unsilent m…

October 23rd, 2012 at 1:48 PM ^

when he's not facing a defense that can neutralize his run option.  Notre Dame, like MSU, would play their backers up the field on early downs, forcing a pass play, i.e. LOT of 2nd/3rd and longs.  Borges then has to make one of two choices: stick with the run and try to make up the big yardage, or; do what makes sense to most of us and throw the ball.  At Notre Dame we threw the ball on those long downs.  Saturday, we didn't. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 3:50 PM ^

Maybe....but I was suprised to not see Funchess in more. With all the A-gap blitzes coming, you'd think the short middle of the field would be open all day to a releasing TE, no? Or a few more bubble screens...or just short quick strikes in general? I'm not opposed to Denard passing more....just would like them to be of the short/quick strike variety.


October 23rd, 2012 at 4:13 PM ^

"Playing to Denard's strengths" and (a) calling passing plays when your QB was rattled in lieu of a rushing offense that ND couldn't stop, or (b) running the ball into the teeth of the defense when they are broadcasting their intent from the first play of the game are not the same thing.  Listen, I've been super-critical of Borges because he feels a little like GERG or Herman to me - a guy who had some nice offensive numbers because of superior talent (Jason Campbell at Auburn) or mediocre defenses to compete against.  He doesn't seem capable of responding to good defenses taking away what he's good at; he's a basketball player who only uses his right hand - he can get by you, but if you are good enough to take away his dominant side he struggles without a counter-punch.

I'm not absolving Denard of wrong-doing this season, but we've seen Denard put up good numbers in an offense despite few skill position players; I'm still waiting for Borges to highlight his abilities with the players on this roster.  My guess is that we'll know next year (or more likely the year after, once Morris gets up to speed), but I hate relying on wishes and forecasts with an OC who'll be entering his third year with a program.

the unsilent m…

October 23rd, 2012 at 6:55 PM ^

There seems to be a consensus on this board that 1) Denard is probably the most gifted in space runner in CFB history; 2) he has a strong arm; 3) he does not make good decisions with the football; 4) he does not make good reads; 5) he is not accurate. For those clamoring that Borges needs to play to his strengths, Ive got to know which one(s) am I missing!? What other quality is there in any quarterback!? And therefore, which one(s) are we supposed to be catering to?!


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:00 PM ^

which I totally admit.  I just really, really, really, really hate low-scoring football.  I'm glad we won on Saturday, but I just found it terrible to watch.  I don't want a coaching staff that knows 14 points will win a game and shoots for that, but that's completely dictated by my hatred for games where a team wins by scoring 14 points.  


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:21 PM ^

for the simple reason that a team that wins games 39-10 is less subject to luck/variance/whatever you want to call it than a team that wins 12-10.  Bad bounces happen, and they have more of an impact on a team that generally wins close games.  That was one of the fundamental frustrations people had with Carr (who was an otherwise great coach): his conservative tendencies opened Michigan up to a greater risk of losing games than they would have faced otherwise.  


October 23rd, 2012 at 4:48 PM ^

But this mindset is what gets teams in trouble.  Sure, Borges doesn't need to score 50 points, but the goal in most circumstances should be to accumulate as many yards and points as you can per possession.  UM doesn't need huge offensive outputs to win, but it certainly doesn't hurt.  And as we've see with Borges the past two years, he seems fine getting those points against the Minnesota's and Illini's of the world; against better defenses, though, he struggles to scratch out 10.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

Why do you think it makes sense to seperate the offensive and defensive performances like that?

Michigans offensive gameplan was to minimize risk and not give MSU free points. That was never the RichRod offensive gameplan.


October 23rd, 2012 at 8:02 PM ^

And there is nothing your defense can do to minimize the damage when you throw a pick-6.

I don't think it was an accident that so many of the throws in this game were deep middle. You can control the damage when that goes wrong--there's not much you can do when somebody steps in front of a quick out.


October 24th, 2012 at 12:29 AM ^

Yes, because the number of pass plays that a coordinator calls is in no way influenced by the success of the run game, or any other variable. Coordinators just decided before the game how many passes they are going to call.

Last year, we went 5-20 on first down passes in the State game on 20 plays. This despite the fact that State was doing everything in its power to stop our running game. Borges had a good gameplan designed to surprise State by going against tendency and passing the ball on early downs. A few early completions might have served as a constraint (something you guys love, but only when it's in the form of a bubble screen) and opened up the run game. Or, as it did late in the game, it could have led directly to points, with only one deep safety to help the corner. It didn't work, but it was not the fault of the coach. Denard couldn't execute (again, despite State packing the box), so we were in bad situations all day.

Borges, knowing our defense had a good chance of containing State's poor offense, and having the comfort of playing at home, decided to play it more close to the vest this year. This game plan was just as good as the one from last year, perhaps better, or at least more informed and certainly more realistic.

He can't win with you guys. The good news is that he doesn't have to, he only has to win actual football games.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:41 PM ^

I like it a lot.

Not losing means people can speak to me Saturday evening without getting snarled at. Not losing means I wake up with a smile Sunday morning. And Monday morning. And Tuesday morning. Not losing is the best thing that happens all week, until we again fail to lose the next Saturday.

A Saturday without losing is a week of sunshine.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

I remember when Tabb used to come in the game for what was almost invariably a run.  I remember Reynolds on the field for at least one pass play on Saturday, but I now see the No. 85 instead of the No. 17 as a sign that says, "Hey guys, we're running!" 

The FannMan

October 23rd, 2012 at 12:21 PM ^

Brian - maybe its me, but In the first clip [Edit - meant the play you picture paged - forgot about the actual first clip], Allen seems to move to the line of srimmage before Gallon starts to go in motion.  Maybe they move at the same time.  Either way, I don't think Allen was reacting to Gallon's motion.  This was a pre-determined defensive switch by MSU that would have happened no matter what Gallon did.  I think this proves your point even more - MSU knew what was going to happen without even waiting for Gallon to move.  


October 23rd, 2012 at 3:36 PM ^

I was going to say this and say you're wrong before I finished reading your post, but yes you may be right.  The formation alone was signaling what a play was going to be.  They watched the tape and saw what this formation is likely to create (play-wise).  This similarly happenend in the Illinois game for Michigan where Thomas Gordon is moving across the LOS even before the H-back went into motion (it was a 3rd and short and Michigan stuffed it).  Except this past weekend, I have a feeling MSU knew many times in this game what play we were destined to run based on formation.