Picture Pages: Return Of The Stretch Comment Count

Brian September 3rd, 2013 at 12:04 PM


GOOD? I think probably yeah. [Bryan Fuller]

You know that basketball game column after the Wisconsin halfcourt shot game where I laid out a scenario in which Bo Ryan was the vanguard of the bug people from Rigel? I disclaimed any belief that was actually true but asserted that if it was, Wisconsin basketball would be exactly the same as it is today.

So… Al Borges's gameplan. Michigan came out throwing from the shotgun, and that caused me to tweet out that this newfangled offense looked a lot like the oldfangled offense. I didn't yet perceive that Michigan's first four handoffs to Toussaint were zone stretch plays, i.e. the very foundation of Michigan's offense under Rich Rodriguez. I'm pretty sure that Michigan ran fewer than four stretches all of last year. Al Borges isn't trolling me, but if he was nothing about Michigan's gameplan would have changed. (Bubble screens are now trolling Heiko.)

Evaluating the stretch is like getting back on a bike for me. It was also Michigan's base run play for the last two years of DeBord, so for the five formative years when I was learning to say more about runs than "that's a big ol' wad of bodies" the majority of plays I was looking at were stretches. I'm still much better at figuring them out than any other run play.

This is relevant in a credential-establishing fashion: I've seen a lot of these and now I'm going to say something that might be a little out there. I think Graham Glasgow might be quite good. He and Miller consistently crushed the playside defensive tackle on scoop blocks throughout these four carries, which is a good sign to begin with. And on one I think he did something advanced.

The setup: first and ten on Michigan's second drive of the game. They come out in a 2TE set with both TE's to the boundary—the boundary is the short side of the field. Central is in their standard 4-2-5 personnel.


Funchess motions to the top of the formation; Central slides to that side. The aggressive posture of the safeties likely indicates cover four, which sounds conservative but isn't really. For our purposes that means that either or both can charge hard at run action to his side.


On the snap, the telltale tilt of the center sideways that indicates a zone stretch. On inside zone the line goes more vertical, attempting to blow the DTs back with doubles. Here they're trying to shift their line a gap over.


Lewan immediately crushes the playside end inside, which is bad for defenders. Glasgow bangs the playside DT as Miller tries to scoot around him in time to pick him up when Glasgow leaves.


This is all working just fine. The situation:


  1. The end is bashed inside and has given up the corner. Toussaint will go outside.
  2. The backside DT is headed to the ground on a cut block.
  3. Miller and Glasgow have gotten some push on the playside DT and threaten to cut him off.
  4. Funchess is releasing downfield.

The issue is the red line. That is the middle linebacker on his horse, headed for the backfield.

Funchess is about to violate a fake cardinal rule of football that I made up: never turn upfield on a run play. When someone runs by you, they're gone. You may have screwed up, but you can't fix it by turning around. Go further downfield and hit someone else and hope to God it all worked out okay.

Well, go ahead and violate it.


And of course the thing is you can see in these stills that Graham Glasgow has seen this linebacker charging, disengaged from the scoop block on the defensive tackle, and successfully engaged him. That wasn't even Funchess's dude. Funchess can't feel the play like Glasgow did.

In the wider view you  can see that Michigan has a a hat on a hat except for one guy:


That DT that Miller's handling gets sealed away:


The upfield guy is actually a linebacker Kalis is chasing. Miller has stepped around to get his helmet playside of the DT, though, which means he's done.

Toussaint hits the hole, getting hewed down by that filling safety as Funchess realizes his error, turns around, and tries to get downfield:


Glasgow's guy is on the ground. Safety tackles as Toussaint runs inside of the Jackson block; five yards is the return.



Items of interest

Man I like this play from Glasgow. I suspect this is a very bad player they're doubling here and blowing him up is no great accomplishment. Level of competition disclaimer applied. But as mentioned, I have seen an awful lot of zone stretches. It is very rare to see a guy with the speed of thought and fleetness of foot to both decide he needs to get on that guy right now and actually get there. That reminds me of David Molk.

I also liked Glasgow's immediate release on another stretch when Central's slanting away from the play:

That is decisive recognition of the fact that the DT has stepped away and he's free to climb to the second level. He goes out, he gets a block, he does not hang around wondering what he should do. It's not a miracle or anything; it is an easy thing to see a first-time player screw up. So far Glasgow has been consistently executing his assignments and throwing in flashes of serious promise like the play above. I don't think I could be any happier with his performance in this game so far.

That is a great, great sign. Obviously. It changes the entire tenor of the offseason competition on the interior of the line if Graham Glasgow is just good.

And he can pull! Should have sent a poet.

This was one play after Lewan pulled and ended up four yards behind the line of scrimmage. That is the fastest dang pull I've seen while doing this. This is saying very little, of course. Even so this is a good thing to see from a first-time starter at guard. He can zone. He can pull. He seems to be consistently executing his assignments. His skill level seems very high, and if he can physically match up with Notre Dame you should prepare for a barrage of Glasgow == Kovacs, "don't you dare call him a walk-on" stuff.

Funchess is still a work in progress. While he is trying his darndest with the blocking, he is just not a natural. Here he gets lost and blocks no one. Worse, on the second Gardner interception he does not pick up a guy that Williams is passing off to him, and that guy gets into Gardner's feet. As a result Gardner's throw is way long and intercepted. If Gardner understands the coverage and is trying to back-shoulder that throw, he could get a nice completion there, and FWIW he did mention that in the presser:

The next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went [farther than I intended], and you can kind of control that, but not as much as you'd like to. via Heiko

He did some good things with his blocking, but that wasn't a one-year reclamation project.

I do think this is an unnatural thing, for guys to let it go when dudes flash by them. But once you turn upfield you're done. If Funchess had gone 90 degrees and then continued downfield he probably still gets the block. It's not the thought he should take this guy that dooms him, it's how long he takes to decide that he actually shouldn't.

You're done now. The weirdest thing about these stretches was what happened on the end. He got obliterated inside by Lewan every time. That gave Michigan the corner easily. Bad player, surely. Also one unprepared for Michigan to run the stretch. I never saw that in the DeBord/RR days no matter who they were playing. Those guys were hauling ass to stay outside the tackle every time.

That's actually the easiest read in the book for a guy running the stretch. Rodriguez had three rules for the tailbacks that went by "bounce," "bend", and "blast." Bounce was the first one and that was simple: if the end gets sealed go to the corner ASAP. This was handled in about fifteen seconds because it never happens and if it does it's yards every time.

Why would they be running the stretch all of a sudden? Well, they seemed pretty good at it. Michigan was one block/step away from busting some long ones. It may be hard to remember this, but Jack Miller was a Rodriguez offensive line recruit more in the mold of agile bastard David Molk than someone that is going to excel at blowing guys off the ball. But I think the main reason is:


NOBODY fripperizes facemasks like the Notre Dame Fig Things

That's 322 pound Stephon Tuitt hanging with 340 pound Louis Nix, except this is probably a shot from last year's Michigan State given the background color. That's 15-20 pounds ago for each. Tuitt's backup is a somewhat touted redshirt freshman who is not Stephon Tuitt; Notre Dame lost Nix's backup to a season-ending injury and now the man behind him has a Notre Dame bio with an impressive set of accomplishments that happen to belong to Prince Shembo. Kona Schwenke is a senior with seven tackles to his name who was an obvious downgrade when Nix was out with the flu last year.

Stretch plays are good for getting rid of planetoid defensive tackles and making them run down the line in a futile chase to the ball. Notre Dame fans also apparently think their starters in the middle these days (Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese) are uninspiring plodders after the Temple game, so Michigan would like to make them run, too. Hypothesis: the stretch is something Michigan thinks will beat ND.



September 3rd, 2013 at 12:30 PM ^

Funchess did that thing where he missed (probably not the right word) his block, and turned around to pursue something that was already missed. Thus taking himself out of the play for future blocks he may or may not have missed. 

this is bad, and if he is rotated 180 degrees, this run could go for 20. Hopefully this is something that they can fix with film. 


September 3rd, 2013 at 12:32 PM ^

he buries the LB charging up the field.  Should Fitz have bumped it a little more to the outside?  It almost looks like he cut it back into traffic.  He may have had more room by cutting it outside after he got past the other LB that came up to fill.




September 3rd, 2013 at 2:28 PM ^

He will be corrected for not taking a more downhill path on that pull.  If he does this then he meets the tackler at a better point of attack and allows Fitz to see the hole quicker.  But for goodness sakes, that is knitpicky for the first game!  He showed some great footwork!


One Inch Woody…

September 3rd, 2013 at 12:34 PM ^

Brian I'm afraid you're wrong - see, Notre Dame probably is thinking the same thing you're thinking - that the stretch is going to counter ND's size up the middle. However, in a totally unexpected move, diabolical Gorgeous Borges is going to run power left over and over again as a surprise tactic!!


September 3rd, 2013 at 1:42 PM ^

Text from a friend mid 1st quarter:
"So 7 minutes into the season, we have a QB that is a mediocre passer but an awesome runner, and he has not taken a snap under center. What has changed from the past three years?"

I basically joked/responded that we were screwing with ND's practice week by doing this.

Now I'm worried.




September 3rd, 2013 at 1:21 PM ^

On a ND site, they seem to think that after ND was up 14 to Temple, Kelly went vanilla and didn't show anything that Michigan (and other opponents) could use.

What's interesting is that Hoke and Borges did almost the opposite in bringing out a very plausable (and smart) strategy of zone running the week before the ND game to practice and work out the kinks.

Obviously, there are merits to both strategies, but it's interesting to see Hook vs. Kelly.


September 3rd, 2013 at 1:39 PM ^

Poor logic. Kelly is too smart to take the foot off the gas only up 14 early in the game. Not to mention that they hardly ran up the middle the entire game. They very much unleashed the dragon. And Kelly has been there for 4 years with a QB of limited skill set. The base offense is already very well known, what's there to hide? Maybe a few wrinkles, but this sounds like rationalizing for a less than expected performance by ND.


September 3rd, 2013 at 2:06 PM ^

Despite the overall nice breakdown I disagree with Brian's conclusion.  Well, only slightly.  They think it might work against Notre Dame, yes.  Prepped it just for ND?  Maybe.  What I disagree with is that they exposed their go-to plan for ND.  It's a bit of a nuance thing, but I really think they just ran zone stretch to see if they could execute it in a game.  After all, they mentioned they opened the game in hurry-up.  Why do that?  Central Michigan runs an anti-MAC 4-2-5.  They're weak against power; why run hurry-up zone stretch?

Because Michigan was up 7-0 before the offense even took the field, that's why.  The defense had made its statement to the coaches; this was going to be a blowout.  And so it made a bit of sense to try out something unexpected in the "worst" conditions; in this case while the young starters had first-game jitters.  CMU was a petri dish.  Hoke of course would never say this; not because he's playing intel games with Kelly but because he never denigrates how an opponent plays.

As for the result?  I think they got the intel they wanted on their own team, and the game was never in danger the way the defense was playing.  They nerfed their running game but they did wind up with two early picks and some QB scrambles (probably not what they wanted to see).  Put that in context.  If they hid the zone stretch and kept it just for ND not knowing whether the team was ready, Gardner's first two picks might've been in the 1st quarter against ND!

And there's the rub.  Whether they run zone stretch vs. ND or not is really going to be decided by the little experiment they tried in the opening drives of the CMU game.  If they decide it's too risky because Funchess, Gardner et. al. just aren't ready, we may have seen the last zone stretch play this team will run all season.  If they think they can work the kinks out in a few days, it could be the bread-and-butter play that beats ND.  If there's one thing I know about Borges by now, it's that he firmly believes a winning offense relies far more on flawless execution than exploiting the opposing defense.  This is often much to MGoBlog's chagrin, but the way Borges sees it, we could make those ND giants run sideways all day with zone stretch but if someone misses an assignment and Poor Damn Fitz gets tackled in the backfield, what weakness did you exploit?


September 3rd, 2013 at 2:26 PM ^

Totally agree. I think they're going with what works. They might move to other schemes through the year as those succeed, but this is not a gimmick.

It is inconceivable to me that they would, after two years of trying to establish a power running game with very little success, avoid executing their favorite running concepts in favor of a "trick" scheme just to fool with a future opponent. That's not how this staff works. They ran zone stretches because it's a part of the game plan, and it's a part of the game plan because they think that they will gain yards running it.


September 4th, 2013 at 7:13 AM ^

I don't mean it as a gimmick and if anything I created more distance between the decision to run zone stretch and prep for ND than the OP.  My point is that they tried running it in a game situation to see if it'd work in a game situation, which is rather intuitive.

Zone blocking isn't something you coach during the offseason to abandon after the first game, but if the players can't execute a certain play like zone stretch, well. . . again, Borges hates nothing more than a play that fails due to execution.  So it wasn't a litmus test so much as busting right out with it to see what needs to be fixed, because if it didn't work Borges has a LOT of work to do.  And it looks like he does.  ND won't give up the edge nearly as easily as CMU, and Funchess' blocking still needs a lot of work.


September 3rd, 2013 at 4:55 PM ^

is a good idea against a stout ND DL, he better have his head examined. There's no way in hell that the interior OL can block Nix.  Nix has been super impressive with his combination of size, power and surprising quickness. He is the one who stirs the drink for defense. If Nix have a great game, ND defense will be difficult to run against.


September 3rd, 2013 at 12:35 PM ^

Listened to the one foot down podcast today. Of note, as Brian touched on, they thought Nix was getting frustrated and worn down by the double teams and such from Temple. I did not realize that the primary NT back up went down. So with minimal depth, perhaps ND is leaving Nix in the field more, thus affecting his performance. Lord knows we rotate our NTs a lot. Teams may also be less worried about the LB play behind Nix without Teo and this focus on Nix even more.


September 3rd, 2013 at 12:35 PM ^

to see the stretch return all of a sudden...anyone think they can/will run it out of the shotgun with a read? Doubtful but that would also be useful against ND.

Sad that Borges never allowed Denard to run the QB stretch...oh well.


September 3rd, 2013 at 12:36 PM ^

The anecdotal evidence in favor of Glasgow as a legit contributor continues to mount. My personal observation came from a goal-line play where, ironically, Fitz got stuffed. Ace tweeted that the interior of the line was demolished, and curious guy that I was I used my DVR to replay the scene several times during the commercial break. Conclusion? Glasgow pulled around Lewan and got a great block; Miller just got blown by.

This is great news on Glasgow. Miller is still a concern in my opinion. We'll see how things move the rest of the year.

I am encouraged that Borges is running stretches. Not because I think they are inherently superior, but because it suggests that the coaches are primarily interested in finding schemes that work according to their personnel, rather than running a specific power-type scheme because they like it. And, given the results, it seems that they can coach it well.


Prince Lover

September 3rd, 2013 at 12:44 PM ^

The recruits who will be on campus, a game under the lights, the last time Fighting Chickens will be in town, I just hope the coaches do one thing and one thing only.....take it from here Al:


But after reading this, I do have a little more confidence.

Space Coyote

September 3rd, 2013 at 12:57 PM ^

Was thinking about looking at the zone stretch for my personal article, glad I did not. I think a lot of the confusion about Fitz ("he's to tentative", "he's not hitting holes hard enough") are a lack of understanding of his zone reads. Fitz hits the hole he's supposed to hit. I think he needs to get his feet up a bit more, but I don't think he was dancing against Central, I thought he did a pretty good job.

Re: the power play. That play also gets blown up for reasons you would expect: the down blocks kind of suck. This is a bit of a problem that I touched on briefly in one of my tweets. When Michigan finally did get a good pull, they often got beat straight up on some of their down blocks.


September 3rd, 2013 at 1:02 PM ^

I just got done defending Glasgow over at TTB, based on my initial reaction watching live. I'm glad to see you post some actual examples.

Also, I thought Funchess was a work in progress still but much improved. I really like how Gardner pulled him aside after the scramble where Funchess kinda jogged laterally instead of coming back to the QB. The next time that happened on the other side of the field, Funchess came back and decleated a Chip defender getting Gardner a few extra yards.


September 3rd, 2013 at 1:51 PM ^

Nice to see Borges leveraging one of the strengths of the offensive line. I was wondering how we were going to counter the strength of ND’s defensive line.

It will be interesting to see how Borges uses Gardner in the ND game. It is a match-up that is very different than last year with Gardner’s ability to throw.

Good to see that Borges has the ability to adapt. Very encouraging.

Ron Utah

September 3rd, 2013 at 1:59 PM ^

I've watched it a few times now.  Here's my three cents:

Glasgow was a pleasant surprise, as was Miller.  Kalis was good, as expected.  Lewan was very good (duh).  The O-line appeared to be a strength, but we'll learn a lot more on Saturday night when they're playing elite competition.

The RB position looks strong.  Now that Smith's RS has been eliminated, I think he'll end-up as the #3 RB behind Green and Fitz.  Rawls and Hayes are going to be role players by the time conference play rolls around.  It's too bad we lost Drake; he looked capable and contributed in lots of ways.

The WRs didn't look that great.  It seems pretty clear that Gallon is our only real outside threat right now.  We need Chesson/Reynolds/Jackson to make some plays on Saturday.  Funchess better be okay.

Norfleet was a pleasant surprise as a receiver, and I think his role will grow as the season continues.  His run was awesome, and probably caused Brian's heart to burst with joy.

Morris looked comfortable and capable.  He's a gunslinger, so he will throw some INTs, but I actually believe he would be okay if he had to start.  We'd lose DG's uncanny scrambling ability, but I don't know how much we'd lose in the pure passing game.

The safeties looked okay, IMO.  Given we were without our experienced starter (Gordon), I thought it was a pretty good day.  I'm looking forward to the UFR.

I thought Countess looked a little tentative.  He played further off the line and more conservatively than he did his freshman year.  We need him to be aggressive and confident against ND.  To be honest, I thought both Taylor and Stribling looked better from a man-to-man coverage standpoint.

Frank Clark had a below-average game.  Ojemudia and Beyer were beasts, and Gordon can blitz.  The DTs were good, but weren't on the field much as run-stoppers.  Heitzman/Wormley/Godin appeared almost completely interchangeable; I look forward to someone grabbing that job as the season goes on.

The LB position is the strength of this defense.  Beyer and Gordon aren't JMFR, but they are both damn good players.  Beyer might be our best pass-rushing DE.  He appears to have taken a huge leap in the off-season.  Morgan and Bolden locked down the middle, and there wasn't much for Ross to do coming from the weakside.  I expect we'll need much more from him vs. ND.

Overall, I'm most concerned about our WRs.  I think the defense will be fine, even against ND.  


September 3rd, 2013 at 2:08 PM ^

Regarding Countess, I think both guys were playing not to get beat deep because of the untested safety situation behind them. Fortunately Central wasn't able to capitalize on this by dinking and dunking us to death on slants and bubble screens (though, not from lack of trying, their QB and receivers seemed out of sync all day).

I thought Clark did fine. He didn't show on the stat sheet as much as some guys, but considering Central game planned for quick throws and we had such heavy rotation it's not too surprising he didn't have a ton of production. I think he got robbed on at least 2 more QB hurries and he got initial penetration a couple other times that disrupted the blocking on a couple other run plays. He did have his customary play where he lost contain by rushing too far upfield, allowing a run to go between him and the NT for a big gain. I think he'll hover somewhere between his hype and his previous performances, but it'll trend closer to the hype.

Ron Utah

September 4th, 2013 at 10:49 AM ^

I do think Countess was playing deeper to help out the safeties, and CMU didn't really seem able to take advantage of the underneath stuff very well.  That said, I was still disappointed that Blake seemed just a step behind the play.  It looked a lot like Floyd from last year--not bad, but not very good either.  ND will be a better test.

As for Clark, I have to respectfully disagree.  I did not see a strong performance against an inferior opponent; I saw an average performance, especially when compared to what Ojemudia was able to do against the same player.  Clark wasn't bad, but he was closer to his '12 form than he was the hype.  Again, ND will be a better barometer, but I think Ojemudia may just be a better pass rusher.

Finally, the WRs/Chesson...I completely agree with the comment that even when they had catches, they just weren't very open.  That is a red flag against an opponent like CMU.  Football is indeed a game of inches, and if can't get much separation against CMU, it's hard to imagine getting any against the NDs, MSUs, and Ohios of the world.  On the bright side, Funchess made space for himself, and DG's legs are an obvious threat against man coverage, but of the WRs not named Gallon, I didn't see much to be encouraged by, other than some great blocking.

I can't wait to see how we perform against a top tier defense.


September 4th, 2013 at 11:44 AM ^

The problem isn't the speed to get the separation. The problem is that Enos came in with a very conservative game plan to shut down the long passes and use a short passing game/running game to control the game. He wanted to avoid big plays for the offense and for the defense. For the most part, he succeeded. The only long pass they allowed was that play action pass to Joe Reynolds, and the only long run was that 30-yarder to Green after the game was decided. And on offense, the quarterbacks only threw one pick.

It's tough to get separation on deep passes when the opponents are playing off and expecting them. Michigan could have taken advantage of shorter passes and creating some running room underneath, but both Borges and Gardner like the long ball.


September 3rd, 2013 at 2:22 PM ^

I enjoyed your analysis. I will be watching the Offensive Line closely, to see what happens with Glasgow, Miller, & Bryant.

I would like to see what happens with Funchess and blocking.

Regarding the wide receivers, I have many questions. For instance:

  • Why didn't we see more of Jehu Chesson against CMU? Did he just not get free?
  • Will Gardner have the "chemistry" and timing needed with Chesson?
  • Is Jackson really ahead of Chesson?
  • What will it take for the receivers to develop space and get free?

Will be interesting to see what happens with receiving corps. Am a bit concerned. I think the combination of losing Darboh and general overall receiver depth not yet having Harris or Campbell on campus all together will make for a challenging season, as regards the passing game.


September 4th, 2013 at 1:01 PM ^

It was from his radio show "Inside Michigan Football" on 8/28.




About the 9:00 mark


Being questioned about who stepped up after the Darboh injury -


Hoke: "The three J's, really - Jeremy Jackson's had a really good camp, the best, probably, football that's he played during camp.


Joe Reynolds, Joe is one of those guys who we awarded a scholarship to as a  walk-on -- and Joe has earned it... way he works every day and what he does...


...and I think the other guy whose... I'm forgetting..."


Interviewer: "Jehu?"


Hoke: "Jehu, yah, Jehu Chesson. You know, Jehu, we were really close, No. 1, to moving him to corner. Because he does such a good job, and  such a good athlete... and secondly what he did during his time on the scout team, the look team, all fall and all during the bowl. You can tell that he can be special."


We Do Not Sow

September 3rd, 2013 at 2:37 PM ^

I ran the stretch in HS (cool story bro, I know) as both G and T, and from what I remember, Glasgow played it perfectly.

With the DT lined up between Glasgow and Miller, Glasgow had to chip him on his way to getting the Mike LB, who was ultimately his responsibility. As Brian pointed out, this was a great scoop and release to Miller. The problem was that Funchess incorrectly saw the charging LB and freaked out that it was his guy when in fact it was not. In film he will likely be told to either chip him on his way to the safety, or let him go as that was Glasgow's responsibility on the play.

The stretch play is probably the hardest on the guards because it often requires perfect angles be taken to reach the LBs. This especially goes for the backside guard, which is Kalis did not execute well enough. He needed to go flatter down the line to get a better angle on the backside LB. Glasgow played it perfectly.


September 3rd, 2013 at 2:44 PM ^

so, where is that vocal group of people on this board who were predicting doom if glasgow was the starting left guard? people need to cut out the obsession with rivals stars.