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 1:14 PM ^

GERG is probably a better football coach than Brian too (or, on the offensive side, Greg Davis).  You've been making these types of comments for a while, and I'm trying to understand where the line is short of "bloggers aren't football experts, so any criticism of a coach's scheme (no matter how terrible  the coach) is suspect."


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:20 PM ^

Saying it's suspect is not the same as saying it's wrong. "ReadYourGuard's" comment was that "it's amazing that Brian can see this and Al Borges can't!". That implies that:

a) Brian is inherently correct

b) Borges is ignorant of the criticism

c) Borges isn't balancing the pro's of "throwing the simple curl" with the con of "Denard throws lots of interceptions, particularly against MSU, historically".


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:39 PM ^

I will accept my own limitations and not try to argue scheme but what I saw is this:

An offense that scored 12 points, and left 10 point at the very least, possibly 18 points on the field due to execution errors.

Don't believe me?

-Prior to our 3rd FG, our plays were thus: Bad Denard throw to Funchess in the end-zone (he threw a fade to a 6'7" TE that was low enough that a 5'10" DB broke it up), bad throw to Gallon in the end-zone, miscommunication with and open Roy in the endzone (not sure who's at fault). That cost us 4 points.

-On our drive prior to the game-winner, we were comfortably in FG range due to a long run from Denard. We then had a Roundtree false-start (a WR false start!), and a completely needless, back-breaking hold from Schofield. That cost us at least 3 points, as many as 7 points.

-Earlier in the game, Devin Gardner dropped a long pass deep in MSU territory. That cost us 3 points, as many as 7.

What that means is that the plays Borges called, assuming our offense doesn't screw up, were good for 22 points, bare minimum, possibly 30. How many of you would have expected to beat MSU in a game we scored 22-30 points? I know I would.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

I tried to avoid saying things like "what if instead of overthrowing Jeremy Jackson by 10 yards, he completed it", because long passes are hard, Denard often overthrows them, and Jeremy Jackson doesn't do much.

I think that sort of "what if" is different than wondering "what would happen if Gardner caught the ball that he got both hands on?" and "what would happen if the two blindingly open receivers in the endzone, both of whom Denard found, had vaguely catchable balls thrown to them?"


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:21 PM ^

It seems likely to me that Michigan felt MSU couldn't score on them, and their offensive strategy was to minimize the chances of the offense handing them additional opportunity, as they did against ND. I'll put it this way: if our offense did this against ND, we're 6-1.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:55 PM ^

But you can't blame the OC when a WR drops a ball or the QB misses his throw by a foot. If the play call got the man open and the only failing was the execution, that wasn't on the game plan.

Did Borges design/call a game to score 50 points? No. Did he have to? No. Did the team execute his calls perfectly? No.

Results based charting. We left points out there and we still won.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:47 PM ^

We left points on the field. Also, to add on to what you said:

Borges knew he was in a puntosaur game with the superior defense. This is the opposite of the RR years where the offense had to put up 50 to give us a chance to win. We'll need this offense to win us some games like they did last year, but this was not one of those games.

Also, MSU's defense is pretty good. Let's not forget that. Borges has a mistake prone QB vs. the best D we'll the rest of the year, in a game in which he knew he didn't need to put up 50 points.  

If we wanted to see an aggressive gameplan, that's what he did against Bama, where we were just out executed by NFL DBs.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:58 PM ^

Minor quibble. The play sequence before the 3rd FG was Toussaint dive for 5, incomplete fade, miscommunication with Gallon in end zone (I think Denard expected Gallon to sit down, he did throw it too hard, though). The miscommunication with Roundtree was just before the 1st FG.


October 23rd, 2012 at 12:59 PM ^

That's all well and good, but it still doesn't explain how and why it seemed like MSU knew exactly what play we were running.  Look at the picture pages Brian utilized in this thread.  Unless Narduzzi is the world's greatest Rock, Paper, Scissors player, he easily figured out a way to prevent us from doing what we like to do.  Also, how is it that Indiana and OSU were able to tweak their spread offenses just enough to exploit MSU's aggressiveness, while we simply to tried to match it, punch for punch?


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:23 PM ^

OSU short circuited with some Miller turnovers or it would have been a lot uglier in that game -- Borges may be playing to prevent the INTs but can't do anything about fumbles, really, of which IIRC OSU had two painful ones. They did do a better job overall of moving the ball, and they're in year one of a Meyer offense with a sophomore. 

Of course, they had to because they never know when their defense is going to punch itself in the face. I don't think the criticism of Borges in this post is particularly harsh -- I mean, the first section is all about how they, you know, won. Instead of lost like against ND. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:31 PM ^

Hey, I don't think you're being harsh here either. This was a SEC-style game. Michigan won. Borges's playcall sprung Toussaint for 37 on the same play that ended up -3 in the second half (the second play you cited). 

Ultimately, these were good coaches in a chess match. When they only get 5 seconds to choose their cards, I ultimately think many do a really, really good job. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:51 PM ^

Chitown I applaud you for sticking to your guns on Brian's post the same way you ripped mine after I told you Brian was going to have a similar post.

You are right in saying that execution errors cost us points and I hear you that we don't know what the coaches called/planned for and how the kids are screwing it up, but you cannot look at Brian's points objectively and say he doesn't have any valid criticisms.    It may be Denards fault for not being able to read things better, but when you look at that play at midfield where they left a WR unguarded and we ran right into it  and you say well the coaches are smarter than an engineer I think you are stubbornly sticking to a point.   

I did the same thing with Gerg and I had a million excuses for the guy but finally I had to say WTF?

Borges is nowhere near the Gerg stage, but his inability to get players wide open when you have a player like Denard Robinson is a shame.   Brian made a great point on the linemans blocking giving away the pass because those plays should be open.   The plays are all right there just use them.  

On the play to Gallon where he comes in motion for the veer if he just continues up the sideline on a wheel route and Denard does a qb oh noes it is easy points.   MSU should not be able to have 2 safeties repeatedly tackle guys at the LOS and not be burnt by it. 

No one is calling for firing, but we got out coached by MSU again and it is frustrating.

This is down the line from Lloyd to Rich to Brady.    Every big game when we have time to really prepare for it we come up small and the other team comes up big. 



October 23rd, 2012 at 3:16 PM ^

While the game may not have been pretty and as armchair coaches we can find many things about which to complain, the simple fact is that Michigan won the game, remains undefeated in conference play, and still has total control over their championship and bowl prospects. 

PERIOD. If that is getting out coached the opposition can out coach us every Saturday. 


October 23rd, 2012 at 8:22 PM ^

You are being "objective"?

Your point that there was an "inability to get players open" is amazing as a response to chitown whose point was the many times guys WERE mind bogglingly open and Denard missed them (or other errors, drops, etc).

And the last paragraph is ridiculous hyperbole. Considering the last game of the first was beating Florida, the second even found a way to beat ND twice, and last year we somehow went 11-2 getting out prepared against everyone even though we had a team whose highest draft pick was a 3rd rounder.


October 24th, 2012 at 1:15 AM ^

"On the play to Gallon where he comes in motion for the veer if he just continues up the sideline on a wheel route and Denard does a qb oh noes it is easy points. MSU should not be able to have 2 safeties repeatedly tackle guys at the LOS and not be burnt by it."

For the play that you made up on the fly to work, it would have to be called against this particular defense. How do we know when State is going to be in this exact look? We can't. We could try to set them up by running this play a few times, but that would be a crime.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:08 PM ^

I'm sure I'll get negged for it, but Denard is not great at running the offense.  

It's frustrating to watch Michigan fans go back and forth between loving and hating Borges, as well as loving and hating Denard.  Borges tried to do complicated things early in the year, Denard threw a bunch of interceptions, and we were 2-2 at one point.

Then Borges simplified the offense, limited the turnovers, and now everyone's on Borges to change things up and be "unpredictable."

We can't have it both ways, people.  Denard is limited.  Borges has taken that into account.  Sometimes it's not sexy, but a win is a win.  


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:30 PM ^

Damn your intelligence and lack of emotional response!

Do you also think that Denard would be bad at running a true spread offense because he does not have the ability to read defenses or make tough throws like some people say?  Or do you just think that the Borges-Denard combo don't mix all that well and that Borges is trying to play to Denard's strengths (to the detriment of more interesting and mixed playcalling)?



October 23rd, 2012 at 1:45 PM ^

I think both of those things are true.

Denard is not a good passing quarterback.  There's no getting around that.  He's been bad every single year, including the 2010 season when Rodriguez gave him just about the simplest possible throws in existence.

Denard probably tore up Michigan's scout team secondary in the off-season, and maybe Borges thought he had improved.  But after a few live action games, he apparently figured out that they should simplify the offense, hang onto the ball, score a few points, and let the defense hold the opposing offense to fewer points.

When Michigan asks Denard to be Superman against good defenses, he struggles.  He can be Superman against the mediocre or bad teams; otherwise, Borges needs to protect him from throwing the game away.


October 23rd, 2012 at 1:48 PM ^

Okay, it hurts to read that Denard is not Superman but I can digest it.  The next question is this:  Why not at least take advantage of the short throws (like bubble screens) that Denard can make and have worked in the recent past?  Is that a factor of Borges simply preferring to not run those kinds of plays?  It just seems like there's a lot of yards (and points) being left on the field by failing to take advantage of what the defenses appear to be giving the offense.



October 23rd, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

I think you speak the truth here Magnus, but I think Brian's frustration is that the plays he wants them to run are not complicated but extremely simple.  

I'm sorry but if Denard as a senior can't look at an unguarded guy and make an adjustment that is either a poor design by Borges or just sad that Denard can't make that read.  That is safe and easy not complicated.  

Brian is asking for Borges to design a few passes that when safeties make tackles in the backfield they have to pay because they might be overreading the play just a touch.

Watch Hoke in the press conference you can see his frustration...."Well MSU plays a defense that is high risk high reward".

The coaches aren't dumb they see the plays to be made.   How they get there may not be effective or the players have not earned their trust in practice.  Either way it is inefficient offense.


October 23rd, 2012 at 2:07 PM ^

I agree that they're simple, but I don't think the plays early in the year were extremely complicated, either.  Denard can throw a pick on virtually any play, complicated or not.

Look at the throws to Jeremy Jackson downfield.  You want to beat the safeties?  Okay, we tried that.  He overthrew Jackson twice.  Now I'll admit that Jackson isn't fast (and I've never been a fan of him, but that's beside the point), but he was wide open and Denard couldn't hit him.  Why?  Because Denard isn't a good passer.

If you want bubble screens, I like bubble screens.  They're wide open sometimes.  Let's throw bubble screens.  But outside of those passes, there aren't many ways Michigan can hurt teams downfield without putting the ball at risk.