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 3:20 PM ^

Thank you thank you thank you Brian, for mentioning the epic squared Funchess whiff on the interception. Couldn't believe all the tongue baths his blocking was getting around here on Saturday evening. I possess only a fraction of the live observation skills some have here. Couldn't understand why I seemed the only one to pick up on it. Was afraid my eyes deceived.


September 3rd, 2013 at 3:32 PM ^

where DeBordian stretch zone running plays gradually (or quickly) wore down big DLs like Nix and Tuitt by the 3rd and 4th quarter?

I don't doubt this offensive approach can work, but I just don't remember such Michigan games against big, talented front 4s where it did.  



September 3rd, 2013 at 3:44 PM ^

I'm still learning this, but in the second video posted (after "I also liked Glasgow's immediate release on another stretch"), did Lewan make a mistake by not engaging the DE there and letting him into the backfield or is that by design?


September 3rd, 2013 at 3:50 PM ^

that changes everything. We may be jumping the gun since we have 1 data point, but if he is good then Bryant may be fine and just not as good as Glasgow and the move for Braden to the outside may have been because we had two perfectly good bodies at LG and not a solid #3 T. I want to believe it so much. Can't wait for the UFR


September 3rd, 2013 at 9:07 PM ^

I thought we ran zone really well, probably better than our gap blocking on Saturday.  One other factor why they will probably bring it out against ND: the 3-4 front is different from what they will see most of the season.  Probably is easier to run simple zone plays into that and avoid confusing any of the gap blocking responsibilities.  Also, instead of having to control the nose by himself, Miller will have a big buddy to help him out.