Picture Pages: Resistance Is Futile, Your Plays Will Be Assimilated Comment Count

Brian November 5th, 2013 at 5:29 PM

As I'm going over the film here something is resonating that I read from Ace's VEQ last week.

I cannot tell you how many times in the last three years I've watched an opposing offense go for 50, 60, 70 yards on their first drive, kick a field goal, score a touchdown, flip field position, whatever, and then absolutely get downloaded by this defense. It happened just this last weekend at Illinois. Sometimes it takes more than one drive, some days it takes a half of football or so. But I, for example, watched Purdue experience some early success throwing little 12-15 yard out patterns beneath MSU's retreating zone cornerback on two third downs in quick succession to keep drives alive, and then the third time Purdue tried it, not only was the corner right there in man coverage, but there too was safety Isaiah Lewis flashing in front of the receiver and nearly collecting a pick-six. Stuff like that is a joy to watch.

That was the story of this game, as well. Michigan found snatches of success early, whereupon MSU adjusted and that was all she wrote. A play that finds success has been followed by a nothing play that MSU crushes with a creepy consistency so far. Without the context of MSU's stats this year it feels like Pat Narduzzi is the luckiest guy in the world for a while, and then it's like he's Doyle Brunson.

In one instance, it seems like it took MSU one play to assimilate something Michigan was doing. M debuted a run play that is basically power from the playside guard gussied up to look like inverted veer. The first instance of this sort of worked. The second did not. The yards were basically the same, but that's because Toussaint managed to evade a TFL on the second.


It's Michigan's first drive; they've hit a couple passes to Gallon to open up with 46 yards on their first two plays. They come out in a 2TE set featuring Paskorz and Butt with Funchess in the slot. Unusually for MSU, they flip a corner over Funchess. Both safeties are hanging out where they usually do: rolled up tight.


Butt will release. Lewan will block down on the playside end; Bosch will pull around. Since the end doesn't  get an initial block and Michigan makes its mesh point look like an inverted veer, he reads that and hangs outside, creating a wide crease for Toussaint to explore.


The design basically works. Lewan turns his guy inside and the veer appearance means Bosch isn't seriously challenged by the DE, who is trying to maintain outside contain.


Meanwhile, Butt and Glasgow release immediately into the playside LBs. This gives Magnuson an impossible task on the other DL, but I think they figure that guy's not going to make a play on this play and that a significant percentage of the time he will get hung up on the other DL getting smoked. Either that or it's just another assignment screwup; in UFR I thought Bullough was more dangerous than the DT and passed on a minus.


By the time Toussaint gets the handoff there's a nice gap that is unfortunately being rapidly filled by that DT, but there's so much space that he can run away from it. Meanwhile, Funchess has come down and blocks… uh… Butt, kind of. He eventually does shove the corner on him back but that looks bizarre to me; seems like he should be carrying to the safety. In any case, gap is extant.


This is looking rather promising.


But MSU holds the damage down, as Calhoun comes off the Bosch block easily and spins Toussaint around, allowing the safety to come down and tackle after a modest gain.


Three yards is a win, I guess?



Items Of Interest

It's new, and shiny, and created a hole. Hoorah. This play uses Lewan's strength to bash open a hole and while it doesn't actually option a guy off it uses the threat of a veer to make Bosch's job considerably easier.

I still don't understand M centers shooting to the second level immediately despite guys basically over them. It happens with such consistency that it might actually be the plan, but it drives me nuts every time it happens. Here Michigan issues Magnuson a blocking assignment that is flatly impossible and sends Glasgow out immediately; meanwhile on the back side of the play Schofield and Paskorz do combo the end, getting him sealed away. You can see the cost in the linebacker blocks: Glasgow gets into Bullough and gets him moving hard, providing a nice cutback lane… that the back cannot take because there's a DL flowing down the line. Meanwhile Allen gets playside of Schofield and is filling that hole.

To me it seems like you'd want to reverse this: shoot Schofield out immediately and say damn the backside end while getting that DT sealed away. It seems like whenever a M C or G ignores a nose tackle and gives someone else on the line a difficult task it results in doom, but it's happening almost all the time, and this doesn't seem like rocket science. The guy is in alignment X against you, you chip him so your partner can get around.

Michigan isn't doing this with a regularity that makes me think it's intentional, and the results are underwhelming. FMK: goofy assignments or guys who can't execute rule one of zone running.

Tight end blocking again an issue. Butt's block here gets hardly any motion and does allow the LB to slide off, or would if Funchess didn't add himself into the equation. Funchess, meanwhile, brings his corner into the fray and since the general rule of running when you suck at it (and probably even when you don't) is that most blocks are just opportunities to screw up a play, that is a negative.

I know what Funchess is thinking here, because Michigan would run this again against a more typical MSU D:


His job is to go get that slot LB. Here his job is to… run the corner off or something, go bash the safety, but he screws it up, probably because Michigan was prepping him to run it against a gray area LB instead of a press corner.

MSU's alignment throws this off. Compare the screenshot right above with the presnap setup here:


Note the relation of the LB Butt is going for relative to himself. On this play, he's even; on the other play he's a player and a half inside of him. Much easier angle for Butt, more likely there's a gap away from the DE and a nice gain. That's why the linebacker blocks here don't really get Fitz a hole he clearly expects to be outside. (And maybe why Michigan's okay with leaving the DT: they expected a different D.)

The download. The next time Michigan ran this they got the above formation. Aaaaand:


Slot LB rips down, Funchess has no shot, Toussaint does well to bounce around it and gets eaten by a safety after a similar gain. Is this sheer luck? On some level, sure. But the creepy mind-reading tendencies of the MSU defense are so consistent that it seems like something more. Could Narduzzi have executed this inference chain?

  1. Michigan has a new run play on which Funchess accidentally doubled a LB in a defense we don't run much.
  2. He's probably supposed to block the slot LB in our usual stuff.
  3. It's first and ten from the nine, probably a run.
  4. If it's the new toy, blitz slot LB.

I wouldn't put it past him. Seems hard given the chaos of football but if you're a DC with tons of experience and have a feel for this live, well, you might be quite good at your job.



November 5th, 2013 at 5:50 PM ^

Narduzzi and Dantonio must be on something good.  It's obvious State has built up a nasty D but when you analyze it like this it almost rises to the level of mad scientist guru.


November 5th, 2013 at 5:51 PM ^

Butt really needs to hit the weight room and work on his blocking in the offseason. I have a feeling Ian Bunting is going to have the same problem next year too. But just weight when we can roll out Funchess,Butt and Bunting out on a goal line play all 6'6 and above. Should be nice

Painter Smurf

November 5th, 2013 at 9:33 PM ^

It's unfortunate that Butt was pressed into action this year. I am not a big redshirt advocate, but it makes sense to redshirt most TE's because developing both blocking and receiving chops is a tall order.  But that's a resut of Funchess not taking to blocking and Williams not taking to receiving or blocking.  There's a good chance that Bunting plays next year too, unless Shallman and/or Hill become viable TE's.  Agree that these guys are going to be a dangerous group with time.  Both Butt and Bunting both are nifty receivers with huge frames.


November 5th, 2013 at 6:06 PM ^

Pretty interesting that Brian's analysis of Funchess on the first play - run the cover guy away in an attempt to remove him from the equation - is EXACTLY what would have made a good constraint on the second play.  If Funchess drifts to the left instead of trying to execute an impossible block, then Gardner has a receiver with at least 10 yards of open space.

The thing that Narduzzi knows is that we don't run a real option and doesn't have to worry about QB oh noes.  We haven't done it all year, and he confirms it by watching Funchess, who makes no attempt to create a constraint on the first play.

I'm really curious to see what would happen when this MSU defense matches up with an offense that can actually execute these constraints.  Say, Baylor.


Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 6:55 PM ^

Michigan has run the pop pass off of shotgun play action, in fact they ran it with success last year against MSU (and I'm pretty sure have run it, although rarely, this year as well).

As Brian notes, on the first play it's likely just Funchess confusing his assignment. The second play he gets it correct. FWIW, the down G look (which is what this is), is very easy to PA off of because your OT and OG are essentially just switching gaps, so it does set up well for pass pro to an extent as well.

What is likely the case, and it's because of how MSU's defense opporates, is the LBs are simply supposed to attack any pulling OL and try to meet them in the backfield. This is regardless of if it's play action or what, their defense is designed to operate with their LBs over commiting to plays by allowing safeties to pick up their coverage on the back end.

Yes, a pop pass would work there if Funchess sets down in that void between the safety and where the LB vacated. You'll find packaged plays that do that to an extent, and maybe that's the next step. But that takes a lot of practice time that maybe they haven't used to develop that package play, maybe because they think it's more beneficial to develop other things, like Gardner's pocket precense and ability to read defenses in the pass game, as well as get the OL into correct pass protections, so on and so forth.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 10:11 PM ^

It doesn't have to be, and usually isn't, hard run action. It's only enough of a look to temporarily freeze the LBs or safeties into their spots and attack the tight void. You won't see them hard sell, but they'll at least stick the ball down or something along those lines just so the defense has to respect it.


November 5th, 2013 at 10:27 PM ^

SC, what's your take on the blocking scheme issues Brian is confounded by? It seems like "guy forced to make a really hard block because guy who could have made easy block immediately released downfield with nary a chip" has cropped up more than once.

It seems like it's one of 3 things:

1) We're running a bad scheme that makes things harder than they need to be for the OL.

2) We're running a good scheme, but our players are biffing it repeatedly

3) We're running a really basic scheme that doesn't adapt well to anything out of the ordinary from the defense, perhaps because our line can't yet effectively adjust protections.

Somewhat related issue, there was one play where a big Spartan came screaming in off the end of the line and Fitz had to try (and fail, badly) to slow him down. Meanwhile, Lewan was literally standing around looking for someone to block and eventually doubled a guy the LG had under control. Yeesh.

Youth and strength and technique and all that, but if our guys could just figure out who to stand in front of for a blitz or even a simple stunt, we'd be miles better.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 10:45 PM ^

I've seen Brian reference this a few times. The players are attempting to execute it the way it's taught, but it is a very difficult assignment. The reason you run it this way is because there is even less chance of the backside guard getting out to the LB than it is taking over the DL. The problem is how the blocker heads up on the DL is handing the guy off. He's basically not pinning him back well enough to allow the OL to the backside over take the block.

I have a post going on my blog tomorrow about Iowa's zone blocking scheme against Wisconsin's 3-4. Here's a clip I'm showing that shows Iowa doing what is being asked of Michigan's OL

Now note that that is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it is expect to be done, or needs to be done to be able to run this scheme against any front. Also note that this was picked as a demonstration of good defensive play, so it doesn't exactly show it being done to perfection, it only shows that it is a common thing that is asked of OL.

As for the thing where Lewan was just standing there and Fitz picked up a DE, I explained that in a post previously so I'll just cut and paste

"That was a slide protection that was called because the offensive line was struggling with their man pass protection schemes. So they went with a more general gap blocking scheme which slides the OL one direction and has the RB fill in the gap behind it all. This is easier, but often times less effective (as seen). The hope there would be that Lewan would see that there is minimal threat coming around from the inside, pivot, and help Fitz while keeping his eyes inside incase he needs to peel back for some sort of twist stunt.

But those are the kinds of adjustments that need to be made when the OL isn't getting it. You have to do things that are simpler but often times less effective. That's probably not the answer he'd give in a presser, but if he actually sat down with you and you discussed football, that is likely the answer he would give."

In the first half, they were running 2-on-2 man blocking schemes, which identifies every defender and has a blocker assigned to them. If the LB doesn't come, it just means the DL gets doubled at the point of attack. This is more effective (or theoretically is) at forming a pocket and getting better match ups, for example, putting Fitz on MSU's smallest LB. But they had trouble passing off and making the right communication and things of that nature, so they reverted to a simpler scheme that is probably less effective, with the hopes that at least they'd pick up the bodies. They did pick up defenders, but it left Fitz on a DE.

Space Coyote

November 7th, 2013 at 2:18 PM ^

It's not really a block as much as it is just kind of popping and holding off with your arm. You aren't losing any forward momentum really by doing it, but it at least stalls the DTs forward momentum.

I did think Brian had said have the uncovered guy go straight to the LB, but I probably read that wrong. That's not an option only because there is no way for him to catch up. So it needs to be that the covered OL needs to do a better job passing off, which isn't easy to get right, but clearly our OL is not at this point.

From my experience, the cover OL should almost treat it like a DL treats a rip move. You fight through with your backside arm and rip the DL up, trying to raise his body and slow his progress before ripping through as the backside OL takes over the block, complete with leverage because of the initial rip.


November 6th, 2013 at 9:21 AM ^

Based on what you've seen this year, what is your "Not a Michigan Football Coach but smart football guy" take on this team's development? In your opinion, are a lot of the problems the team has faced this year in fact due to youth?


What would you like to see from this team to take the next step? 


I'll take my response off the air, thanks!

Space Coyote

November 6th, 2013 at 9:33 AM ^

Unfortunately, both are fairly major factors, the OL on the interior and then the non-NT interior DL (3-tech and 5-tech) which has forced Michigan's nickel package to struggle, particularly against the run. Other than that, I don't really see a youth issue, and I honestly don't see a large issue from the other units (having your third CB be a true FR isn't optimal, but I think for the most part those guys have played relatively well and beat out the guys in front of them).

The other thing that, for a few games, hurt this team was DG's confidence. I think DG is fine now (or was coming into the MSU game). To me, in my opinion, DG has improved leaps and bounds fundamentally since the 1st bye week. 

I wrote an article after the PSU loss that I am still pretty confident with and comfortable with as far as player improvement. The only area that I think has stalled or slowed below the pace or trajectory it should is OL. That could be because youth, as in it's not clicking for whatever reason when it normally would, it could be because they are pressing (I think this is what is happening to Kalis, he's pressing and getting frustrated), it could be because they aren't getting the coaching. But that's the area that hasn't taken a large enough step forward.

Here's the article


Anyway, I really do think if this OL was even marginal you would see an explosive offense and it would really help out the defense. Even a marginal run threat and push and pass protection would take this team to another level completely. They have the players at each position to do very good things, and when they do get time and they can run, you see games like Indiana. That is seriously how big of a difference it is (it's not really quite that much, Indiana's D is still Indiana's D, but it isn't far off honest). So I really think what it takes to take the next step is fielding a decent OL. How they do that... well, that's a more complicated matter, but I have confidence and have seen improvement from the other areas on this team.


November 6th, 2013 at 9:52 AM ^

That's a great answer. There's that saying that time cures all wounds. I'm hoping that given another year, this OL can turn the corner. As you said, its not because the pedigree isn't there. Bosch, Kalis etc etc... I'm hoping to see a better OL in the future. Just how far into the future remains to me seen.


Also, this is me coming BACK on the air to respond. Thanks again.


November 6th, 2013 at 10:32 AM ^

and I was wondering in the following weeks if he was hurt, or if the one endzone guffaw in the ND game had gotten into his head.

He seemed to have purged whatever demons after the first bye week as you said - hopefully last weekend won't be a setback.

Man what a heroic effort in both ND and the MSU game.

Michael Scarn

November 5th, 2013 at 6:06 PM ^

I don't think that's quite the design of the blitz in the second play - the linebacker is gunning for Gardner with little to no regard for Toussaint (I admit it's possiblebthe chip Funchess gets on him may influence his decision of who to try to tackle). This play is really blown up because that safety comes screaming down to the line of scrimmage with reckless abandon. If Funchess realizes blocking that linebacker is futile (I doubt he's allowed the decision) and blocks that safety, this is 6. Or, if that safety is a step later because he actually waits to read the give and respects play action, Toussaint has him one on one with space to make him miss.

As I look at it more, maybe that's Narduzzi's plan - let's not let M play action off this - Gardner will have to deal with the blitzing linebacker, and that will allow the safety to come barreling down in run support after he reads Funchess blocking.

What is Schofield doing, by the way?


November 5th, 2013 at 6:18 PM ^

"If Funchess realizes blocking that linebacker is futile (I doubt he's allowed the decision) and blocks that safety, this is 6."

That's a good point.  Probably easier to execute then using him as a pass threat as I suggested below. If he were allowed the decision, then what's the easy rule that makes him block the right guy, though?  "Block the guy in front of you?" 


November 5th, 2013 at 9:33 PM ^

The rule I have always been taught, is that if the LB or whoever youre supposed to block blitzes, you let him go and go get the next guy. It is useless to try and block the blitzer, so you mine as well go block the next guy.


November 5th, 2013 at 6:24 PM ^

It could be much simpler: he could just be predicting the same play, and blitzing a secondary player into where he thinks the run will be going. I doubt he's analyzing it at quite the mad-scientist level you seem to think he is.

That having been said, it's still a very good adjustment to make, and obviously it worked.


November 5th, 2013 at 6:38 PM ^

This play could so easily option off that slot LB. Have Funches run a slant or a hitch, give Gardner an actual read at the mesh point. If Gardner pulls on the second play, any throw to Funchess is at least 5 yards with a single safety to beat. There's got to be something in place to punish that blind aggression.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 6:58 PM ^

Yes, some teams run it. It may be run by this team at a future time when they get more practice at it. Plays like that take a lot of practice so you don't get suckered into making an awful read (an awful read in a packaged play is significantly worse than one in a typical read option system). You only get so many hours to work on things. Some college teams feel that they want to spend their time on packaged plays, which is fine. Michigan has spent most of their time working on other things to date, possibly trying to stress other aspects of playing QB to Gardner rather than more of the read-option type things.


November 5th, 2013 at 9:28 PM ^

I really don't think it would be that hard to read this play, especially with the LB flying to the LOS so fast. But even if you don't want to read the play, asking Funchess to block an LB lined up 3-4 yards inside of him is absurd. There is no way he can possibly make that block.

I am also not sure on this, but do we have any PA passes off of the inverted veer look? I don't remember any off the top of my head. If we don't we absolutely need to. Inverted Veer is our most effective run play out of shotgun. MSU has destroyed us the past couple years on this play. How have we not run some sort of PA off of it against them?


November 5th, 2013 at 10:22 PM ^

Here is a link to a smart football post about pulling gaurds in PA.


At the bottom it has a video of RG3 destroying teams with the inverted veer play fake, and also a scheme that would look like our QB counter off of inverted veer.

If the inverted veer is going to continue to be a big part of our offense (and i assume it will bc its our best running play) then we absolutely have to start running PA passes off of it like this.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 10:34 PM ^

At the same time, because it opens up the QB for hits, I'm also not sure the coaching staff is completely comfortable implementing a PA package off of it when shooting LBs has left the QB more dead to rights with standard blocking schemes.

But I do agree that they should utilize at least a pop pass off of it to attack defenders running down the alley.


November 6th, 2013 at 10:56 AM ^

So if you are not practicing or stressing it in practice, why do you put in the game plan.  It sounds to me like a receipe for failure.  If you are giving the opponents easy keys to read to shut the play down with no out on the play why did Borges put it. Why just stay in what you tought them.  I am wait for you bitching me out

Space Coyote

November 6th, 2013 at 11:28 AM ^

So they didn't put it in the game plan. I have no idea what you're getting it. They didn't practice a packaged play (which, probably 90+% of college teams don't), so they didn't use it.

And every play has keys to shut it down. Every single run play has keys where it can be stopped, and they're fairly universal. Zone blocking: you try to beat hat on first movment. Man blocking: you follow the guard. So I guess no team should run the ball.

Every pass has keys for it to be shut down: 3 step drop, find receiver and undercut. There are route patterns that exist in every offense.

So, yeah, Borges is staying in what has been taught to them. I have really no idea what you're complaining about unless you just want to punt on first down, then walk off the field, because the other team can possibly read keys correctly and react to it. Did you ever play football at all?


November 6th, 2013 at 11:51 AM ^

I got confused by your amazing detailed analysis and though you were talking about the funchess play as the package play.  and thanks for your sarcasm, no i dont suggest punting on first down and I do understand every play has a key to stopping.  I was complaining, which I will admit to you all might god and know it all that I was wrong, about borges putting this package when he doesn't practice it enough. Sorry O GOOD ONE - JUST JOKING YOUR AND ASSHOLE

Space Coyote

November 6th, 2013 at 12:21 PM ^

Such as "I'll wait for you to bitch me out" as if I wouldn't have a civil discussion unless you essentially tried to call me out. I'll have civil discussion with people that want to have civil, reasonable discussions, but when I am simply talking technique, X's and O's, and so forth and you come at me with that kind of flame, well, it's not the first time you've done it, eventually people are going to retaliate in kind. This will be the last time I do so with you.

This is how this is going to work from here on out. I'm going to continue to have discussions with people about X's and O's, techniques, schemes, etc. Those discussion will remain civil, we may have disagreements, but we'll hear each other out and it'll be fine (IndianaBlue and I had one of these last night, and that was great). But if I get snark, I'm going to give snark back. Of course, I'll mix in some actual analysis that makes sense and stuff too, but I'll give snark back. If you can be an anonymous internet tough guy and act like you can back me into a corner with that talk, then I can be an anonymous internet tough guy back. If that makes me an ass hole, that only makes me an ass hole to ass holes. And then I'm going to be done with it, I'll ignore you from then on because I'll have made my point.

The rest of us will continue to debate and have civil arguments and life will go on and we'll probably all learn something, myself included. As for you, you didn't understand my post, which is fine, sometimes I'm not the clearest in my writing or sometimes this isn't the easiest stuff to pick up through this medium. We can be civil here and get things cleared up. But when you instead don't understand and decide to be snarky, decide to call me out, well, I guess you can be pissed when I give it back, but realize how that makes you look.


November 5th, 2013 at 7:16 PM ^

Coming out of fall camp is that Narduzzi had mentioned he'd installed the entire defense prior to breaking camp. He'd never done that before.
They're clearly operating at a level beyond most offenses and can react accordingly.


November 5th, 2013 at 7:36 PM ^

New here so I don't know who cuts the video for MBlog but whom ever pulled that duty this week I feel sorry for you.  Watching it once was painful enough. Going through it clip by clip and then still frames...damn that sucks.   


Deep Under Cover

November 5th, 2013 at 10:29 PM ^

Nice breakdown.  I can't help but think, though, that this play goes 8+ if Toussaint doesn't get spun around by the guy who was blocked (that, to me, looks like a "good enough" block).  Its a theme I see consistently with him, that he need acreage to do anything, which any running back could.  A guy getting a single arm on you as you sprint by should not mean the end of your run.  Sure, it slows him down, but to do a full spin seems a little bizarre to me.... How little does Toussaint weigh?  I think he runs smaller.


November 6th, 2013 at 6:31 AM ^

Brian, have you told Heiko to ask about the center going to the 2nd level immediately? That seems like a harmless question. Something along the lines of "The center is often shooting to the 2nd level immediately without bumping the DL to allow the guard to scoop him. Is that by design?" I certainly may not have my terms right. No need to correct me; I'm not that knowledgeable anyway about X's and O's. Apparently from what Space Coyote said, they're doing this by design and it's just really difficult. But it wouldn't hurt to ask.


November 6th, 2013 at 9:13 AM ^

I am not at all an expert but I am a coach and have studied Narduzzi a bit- we run something similar:

I don't believe this to be any kind of a blitz- its what we call a read force out of a variation of Cover 4. Narduzzi may call it something different. Basically on a TE down block or cloudy base block the LB is hot on QB and $ is hot on deepest back which is what I am seeing here. If TE were to reach (arc release) the $ would fill in our system while LB is on pitch (probably why he is aligned the way he was and $ eyes angled in at TE). Of course I could be completely wrong and it could be some sort of run blitz- its just my best guess and yes it is tough to beat- that's why we started running this stuff a few years ago.

How do you beat it? Off the top of my head I hate TE inside releases V this- something that pulls the $ down a bit (because of his read force responsibility V run) before he realizes its a pass and then you pop it to the TE for a decent gain. If Funchess could block better with his hand down (or at all I guess) this would be a real threat in M's offense.