Picture Pages: Reach For The Stars Comment Count

Brian October 23rd, 2008 at 12:31 PM

On Saturday, Michigan faced third and three and, for probably the first time in 20 or so years, called a designed quarterback run. Here it is:


Okay, empty backfield and wide splits on the defensive line. Seems like a pretty good setup, but there is one issue: this play is designed to go between the DT to the right of your screen and the DE to the same side. Without a lead blocker one of those linebackers will nail the slow-ish Threet before the marker.

To allay this, Michigan is going to try a reach block by Molk on the DT, which will allow Moosman to head downfield on the linebacker.

What's a reach block? Uh… well…

Using the left guard again, to “reach” would be to get around the defensive tackle, and use his right shoulder to pin him to the inside, so that a ball carrier can go around you to the left. Again, it is about getting the face mask in “front” or beyond the defender to get the shoulder pad in position. Seriously, line up with a friend sometime and try to reach block to your outside, you will appreciate linemen athleticism much more.

The idea is to get Molk around the defensive tackle so he can seal him, creasing the two defenders, as Moosman heads downfield to take out a linebacker. If this sounds hard, it is. I lost this in the ether, but at one point during my research for Hail To The Victors 2007 I came across one coach's description of a bunch of different blocks, ordered by difficulty. "Reach block by the center" was #1.

Real UFR diehards may remember a common bitch from the last couple years that usually went something like "Kraus attempts to block a DT lined up playside of him, but he shoots into the backfield/flows down the line to tackle/eats a baby." These were all attempted reach blocks gone bad.

(A "scoop" block, as I understand it, is basically an assisted reach block. Moosman banged the DT back and helped Molk get over, that would be a scoop.)

And all this stuff is supposed to be hard when the DT is lined up to your outside shoulder. Here the DT is lined up slightly outside of the guard(!). How is this going to work?

The snap:


You can see the line shifting to the left here, and you can see that the DT is now between the two OL. The wide splits were a pass rush gambit—tougher to block outside that way—and the first step of the DT is upfield, not down the line.


Molk makes contact and he's in decent position here given the relative momentum here, but he's still got to get his helmet across the player, then anchor as well as he can to preserve the crease between the two OL. Chris Spielman, by the way, is currently doodling on the DE, who is still in pass rush mode.


Molk is now full of win, playside of a guy who lined up a yard outside of him at the snap. Moosman is in great position to block the MLB, but doesn't have to because he's getting cut to the ground. Minor is about to block the safety-type object.


Woop! Open spaces, first and goal, and a one-yard Minor touchdown follow.

Object lessons. I picked this play out of all the various things for a variety of reasons. To wit:

I think Molk might be pretty good once he is enormous-er. I brought this up earlier in the year, but Molk was a fringe top-100 guy who was the only real OL recruit brought in after the shift to zone blocking. He got dinged later in the year for being small, but in a system like this where he's reach-blocking all day his agility is an asset. Time and again against Penn State he successful executed these blocks, springing people into the secondary. Against Notre Dame he did the same thing.

The issues are obvious, though: too many missed blocks, and too many blocks where he's just not strong enough to deal with his man. But he's a redshirt freshman; strength should come.

(This is the long way of saying I think GS was unduly harsh on Molk this week in the Run Chart; he should get more credit for these reach blocks.)

You can only make a reach block if the defense lets you. I'm not a coach or an expert or anything but over the last three years I've watched a ton of stretch plays and have come to the conclusion that if the DL steps the right way and you have been tasked with a reach block, you lose.

And the thing is, either way can be the right way. Last year Penn State's Ollie Ogbu had three TFLs and a half-dozen more plays he forced into unblocked defenders because he was shooting behind the attempted reach block. Penn State slanted their DL all day, and if they got a zone left they strung it out and if they got a zone right they came under it and did even more damage.

Diversity. The reason Michigan's run game was so successful against Penn State was because of its diversity. For much of the first half, Michigan had Penn State defenders expecting stretch and getting something else.

The results are, for the first time, encouraging. The rushing game against Penn State this year and last, sacks excised:

Year Carries Yards Avg. Opp Rush D
2008 43 219 5.1 22nd
2007 54 172 3.2 7th

Some of that improvement is the decline in Penn State's defense, but raise your hand if you think the Penn State defense declined more than the Michigan offense.

Right, no takers.

How? Well, I found a three-play sequence on Michigan's first touchdown drive interesting. Michigan had been moving the ball and found itself in fourth and one. Penn State slanted into the backfield and should have had Minor(+2!) dead; Minor squirmed out and got the first. On the next two plays, Penn State went back to the slant—back to the successful gameplan from a year ago—and got cut for a total of 14 yards and a first down because Michigan ran the same play you see above and that backside veer play. Michigan had Penn State guessing in a way that Carr never did, IMO, and that's a large reason why WVU's ground game was near the national  best in YPC.

Of course, all that died in the second half, but there's only so much diversity Michigan has at this point. If they had a reliable passing game (read: Threet with elbows) or a better offensive line or some rocket quarterback they'd be able to punish Penn State's adjustments to their run game; as it was they just ran out of things to do.



October 23rd, 2008 at 1:21 PM ^

This is the reason why this is not only one of the best college football blogs but one of the best in all of football.


How does that play workout if say Beaver is running it? 


October 23rd, 2008 at 1:35 PM ^

Looking at picture 4, as the play develops, I see some things I don't understand.

-Why are both the left side linemen making cut blocks?  Seems kind of risky, since they could miss, when all they need to do is slow those two PSU guys down a little to open the play?

-  Against a 4 man line, wouldn't it make more sense to go off the center?  The blocking looks much easier for the guards, and the center is free to head down field with no one in his way?  Running off tackle seem like it's running into the strength of the defense and making things harder than they need to be.  Can Threet audible into something like that?

- I see the value in the QB keeper.  It freezes the defense momentarily as they expect a pass.  But shouldn't the line be moving forward on the snap regardless?  If the DE starts a pass rush, there's very little hole there and we're left with Threet's  "bounce outside" speed.  Same reason I hate the shotgun delay handoff.  And why I love screens.

- Why doesn't Moosman double the DT briefly to let Molk get into position, then head downfield?  Wouldn't that make the block easier to lock up?  He's got a couple seconds to get out of the way before Threet hits the hole, anyway.

Btw, I realy like Picture Pages.   Great feature, Brian.

Mountaineers Fanatic

October 23rd, 2008 at 2:49 PM ^

I think you are right about Moosman...he should have double teamed the DT then shed off of him to pick up the LB. That is usually how the zone blocking scheme works. Normally, two OL will double team a DL then one of them will break off to pick up a LB. That's the basics for zone blocking


October 23rd, 2008 at 3:02 PM ^

Just a couple of things to address your points

the LG/LT are cut blocking because its one of the simpler blocks to make.  They don't have great position on their respective men.  If you look carefully you can see the LT is actually cutting their DT who was lined up on the guard, and the LG was cutting the MLB who was shaded on the other side of the C.  The only other alternative would have been a harder and riskier reach block.

Running off center would be disadvantageous when you consider that your 2 Tackles would either need to block the DE or the S/WLB.  2 guards take on 2 DTs, C takes MLB.  That leaves potentially 4 defenders and 2 blockers to take them.  It's not a good scenario.

Yeah, if the DE crashes down this play is toast.  Michigan was probably expecting that the DE would try to pass rush to the outside as opposed to run crash inside.

I'm not sure, but it looks like Moosman stayed 1-2 seconds and made sure that Molk had the reach block before leaving.  I'm sure if Molk started failing Moosman would go for the DT instead of moving to the 2nd level.  Or at least, I hope thats what it was.


MI Expat NY

October 23rd, 2008 at 3:26 PM ^

- Cut Blocks:  I'm fairly certain the only way the strongside DT was going to be slowed down was to attempt to cut.  It looks like the DT either was slanting playside or got an insanely quick read on the play.  If you watch the video in UFR you will see that he wasn't really cut, just slowed down a bit like you said.  As for the cut on the MLB, i'm not sure what danger there is since Moosman was there to clean him up if he wasn't cut to the ground.  Plus, if for Moosman had to help double the DT, the MLB would be able to blow the play up.  The Guard needed to get him on the ground.


-I think the hole chosen for this play was absolutely the correct one.  This play works because Minor is able to seal the safety/lb guy, meaning if blocks hold the only people running free are the strongside LB and the safety who was shaded well to the strong side.  If one of those two guys makes a tackle, it will be at least a few yards past the first down marker.  If you were to run this play up the middle Molk would be free to run downfield and attempt to clear the MLB.  The problem would be with the other LB and the safety/lb guy.  On the weakside of the formation, the T would have to at least slow down the DE before trying to seal the safety/lb guy, who Minor would be unable to get inside of.  Getting to the strongside lB could also be a problem.  Kroger could probably let the strongside DE go as he is ligned up so far outside, but he's not going to get inside of the LB, leaving the T to do this, which certainly can't be guaranteed.  Plus, even if the T is able to get his head inside the LB the Safety would likely be able to use that block as a shiled to come in uncontested to the QB.  The numbers and Molk's great block made the sweep to the right side the optimal play here.


- I think the DE was rushing the passer, which allowed the T to use the DE's natural momentum to take him out of the play.  Sure if he had slanted in that would be a problem.  Just like if the safety/lb guy had blitzed into the hole it would be a problem.  Sometimes those things just happen and it doesn't matter how well you execute.


- I think Moosman was prepared to help but he read that Molk had his helmet on the playside of the DT.  Instead,  thanks to Molk's tremendous play, he was free to clean up on the MLB if the cut wasn't succesfu.


October 23rd, 2008 at 3:45 PM ^

The UFR video isn't working at the moment.  I was looking at the big hole that appears in pic 2, and figured that for 3 yards, that would be an easier way to go.  Cut blocks seem like they would be hard to do, relative to "get in someone's way for a second," but I see that those two guys are kind of out of the play already and aren't really a problem anyway.

 The other comment makes sense too.  If Molk hadn't been able to seal his man, Moosman could have helped open the hole (zone block).  As is stands, great block by Molk and Moosman is looking for someone to hit.

I need to go buy Madden and try some of this stuff out.  It really is a different game with a mobile quarterback, isn't it?


October 23rd, 2008 at 2:10 PM ^

How long does it take to install a full playbook?  Will they be ready by next season to go to other looks when their first gets shut down?  Or is the playbook thin because the talent is too?


October 23rd, 2008 at 2:44 PM ^

Brian - since you've broken down every Michigan play this season (well, all of the relevant ones), do you have an opinion on whether certain elements of our offense would work better with use of the Pistol formation, with the RB lined up directly behind the QB?  I'm interested to know if our current one-back formations relay too much information to the defense, when the RB is lined up to one side of the QB.

I imagine this would require some research on your part, but take this as a suggestion for a future article-type object.

Oh, and great work.  That last picture is beautiful.


October 23rd, 2008 at 2:49 PM ^

for saying this, but Brian, when are you going to stop giving this site away!  Just kidding - that's what the paypal link is for!.  Picture pages is awesome.