Picture Pages: Scrape Counterpunch Comment Count

Brian September 17th, 2009 at 11:56 AM

Last week in Picture Pages we saw one of Michigan's counters to the "scrape exchange" that Western ran constantly last game. Michigan ran a ton of bubble screens or "long handoff"* routes and gave Forcier another option after he decided to pull the ball out: run or toss it to a (usually) wide open receiver. Once Forcier got over some early jitters, this worked well.

Notre Dame was determined to take that away:


This is Michigan's first drive of the second half. Michigan's moved the ball and just got a gashing Brandon Minor run on a zone stretch. They're going to play off that success here.

You can see Notre Dame's response to what they saw in the Western game: line up in press coverage all day, including over the slot receiver. There will be no bubbles here. To prevent Notre Dame from being outnumbered in the box, 80% of the time Notre Dame walks one or both safeties up just before the snap. And to deal with the zone read, Notre Dame is running a scrape exchange every play. (Reminder: on a scrape exchange the backside DE just hauls ass for the tailback and a linebacker pops out to contain the QB.)

Notre Dame has countered Michigan's counter to their counter and pretty much shut down Michigan's rushing attack in the first half. But it's time for the counter-counter-counter-counter.

Here's the snap as it approaches the handoff point. Note that 1) there's no bubble available and 2) Kevin Koger is pulling across the formation. Oh and 3) Moosman, who is the second OL from the top, is just drive blocking his guy instead of taking zone steps to the left in an attempt to get his helmet across. His ability to shove the DT back a yard or two is key to this play.


A couple of moments later, Michigan's diabolical plan is revealed:


Points of interest:

  1. Kevin Koger's pull block pops the backside defensive end, providing a lane between that guy and RG David Moosman.
  2. Mark Huyge gets a free release on the linebacker, who you can see moving upfield and to the outside to contain Forcier. When he realizes Forcier does not have the ball he will have run himself into a spot where Huyge has a great angle to block him.
  3. Molk and Moosman have terrific angles to block their guys. Why are these blocks so easy? Notre Dame is anticipating a stretch play, which is what Michigan usually runs from this formation, and if it was a stretch play it would be imperative for them to get playside of their blockers. On this counter, that expectation runs them into places where it's easy to seal them away from the play.

This is basically over. A moment later, you can see the motion of the scrape linebacker has taken him into Huyge's block and that Moosman and Molk have locked up their defenders. Brandon Minor doesn't even have to cut:




The play ends at the one yard line. Watch it in glorious Youtube-o-vision:

Minor misses a cut on first down, Forcier fumbles on second, and a pitch gets blown up on third; Michigan misses a chip shot field goal, providing yrs truly with a wave of despair. But it ended well: Michigan was provided a short field on the next drive after a Notre Dame fumble and went from the 26 to the 7 with a six-yard stretch and 13 more on this play; that drive ended in a touchdown.

*(I don't have good lingo for that. Basically, the outside receiver stands there.)



September 17th, 2009 at 1:27 PM ^

I learn a lot about football here. I do have a question though: Is this an option? If so, what is Forcier reading here? Would it be number 2 to see if Huyge can get a block inside there? If the scrape doesn't sell out wide for Forcier, he tucks it and goes around to run?

If so, he's rolling to the side, so why is Stonum bubble screening? I don't see how the play could go his way on any kind of read, in which case he should be blocking.

By the way, these features are very, very cool. As is our offense.


September 17th, 2009 at 2:15 PM ^

I don't think this is an option...just a set handoff to mix things up out of a formation the defense thinks will be an option play. Stonum is only feigning the bubble screen to keep his cornerback from racing down the field to make a tackle. This is an expertly designed play. Coach Rod is a smart guy.


September 17th, 2009 at 3:20 PM ^

I see how it happens so fast that it's probably not a read, but Forcier is clearly faking going around the right side after handing the ball off. I guess it's really pretty close to a moot point, but I feel like in press coverage the corner isn't going to be remotely scared of a bubble screen and Stonum would be better off engaging the guy. I suppose hindsight (from above!) = 20/20.

Again, all the checks and balances of this are very cool, and this isn't a criticism of this play so much as trying to understand it. As a former hs receiver I remember that on running plays my coach would often give the option of trying to fake like I was running a route or just block the guy if it was an up the middle play anyway. I assume in college they are less loose, but maybe not. In THAT case Stonum should be slightly less lazy :p


September 17th, 2009 at 12:06 PM ^

I love it when the picture pages have pretty pictures.

Question- What would this play be called? Is it a zone read dive? If so, is there really a read option for the QB here? Or is this the veer?


September 17th, 2009 at 12:08 PM ^

I love the way they've used Koger in that H-Back position. I think the versatility he provides there is going to be a defensive nightmare all season.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:18 PM ^

The question will become does RR use this formation only for zone read? Did we see him line Koger up like this and not run the read? Just asking. Don't want any Carr "this formation means we're running this play" like scenarios.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:25 PM ^

Remember how we used to say Michigan receivers were great blockers? If Stonum gets even a touch on his corner on this play, Minor is in the end zone. He's the only one on the offense that makes no effort here.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:43 PM ^

that is kind of disappointing. although his reaction at the snap seems to be to fake like he is waiting for the bubble screen, which puts him a number of steps behind his defender. i don't know if that was intentional or not. in any event he still isn't running hard at any point on the play.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:49 PM ^

I'm not sure what you expect him to have done. I mean, I agree he didn't run hard. But even if he did, you can't block from behind. You can't even block from the side most times without getting flagged. To help Minor, he'd have had to get to the other side of that corner. Unlikely.

I think maybe he could have sold the screen fake a little better. He went downfield too far, not sucking his guy up into the short screen play.

Other than that, I don't see this as Stonum's fault.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:54 PM ^

I can't speak to Stonum's responsibilities on this play specifically, but I have noticed he is not a particularly willing blocker. I don't mean to be negative, but I have noticed repeatedly that he does not give a real strong effort in this area.

It is particularly noticeable on kickoff returns - if Odoms receives the kick, Stonum jogs towards the wedge but never makes an effort to engage with anyone. I realize that blocking is not his primary responsibility on the return team, but when you compare his effort to what Odom does in the same situation, it's pretty disappointing. RR really emphasizes blocking skills for his receivers, so I suspect this is one of the reasons that the coaching staff has at times moved Savoy or Roundtree ahead of him on the depth chart - looking for a way to light a fire under him.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:26 PM ^

Go ahead everybody, neg me to death for the following.

I've really had a hard time understanding what "side" is what -- back, play, weak, strong.

I assume the offensive alignment dictates all of the above. My visually challenged brain is at least good enough to see that Michigan has more helmets to the right of the center/QB (5)than left (4) in this formation. So, if this formation is nominally "strong" right, then I would have thought that the "back" of the defensive formation would be opposed to the weak side of the O, but apparently, I'm wrong on that. Can somebody make this simple to my four-year old intelligence?


September 17th, 2009 at 2:24 PM ^

When the offense lines up in balanced formation, say two tight ends, a split end on each side, and one back, the "strong side" can't be determined by the # of people.

Most teams then use the rule that if the offense is balanced, the strong side is the wide side of the field.

The Strong Side is where the offense is strongest, either by having more blockers on that side or by having more of the field to run to. Different defenses have different rules.

The real fun begins when the offense is balanced AND the ball is in the middle of the field. Then the defense usually has no clear rule. That's why sometimes when the offense breaks the huddle the defense looks confused about where to line up.

Add to that how some teams flop their TE after the teams get lined up (change the Weak Side into the Strong Side) and the defensive plan becomes even trickier.

Why does this matter so much. Two reasons (1) Many defenses use strong/weak side players - like Stevie Brown being the Strong Side LB - so they have to figure it out each play in order to know where to line up, and (2) defenses are often designed to overplay to the strong side. Michigan vs. ND was "slanting" to the Strong Side in the first half. Obviously you have to determine which is the Strong Side for that to work out.


September 17th, 2009 at 1:50 PM ^

As I understand it, the strong side is simply the side with more hats, which is usually the side with a tight end (if one is employed). With 11 players, one side of the center will almost always be lopsided, even in a two tight-end set (a fullback or halfback will shade to one side or the other). The only real exception I can think of is a two-tight-end wishbone set.


September 17th, 2009 at 12:28 PM ^

I'm wondering if anybody else has noticed something I've seen that seems to be an indicator of which direction the running back will be going. On the play above, Forcier lines up a yard in front of Minor. This lead to the inside zone/dive/whatever you want to call it. On last week's picture pages, Forcier lined up a yard behind Brown. On that play, Brown faked the outside zone.

I've just been casually observing this, but it seems like you can guess inside/outside zone pre-snap by looking at the relative positioning of the quarterback and running back. Has anybody else seen this, and does this seem like something that can be exploited in the future (based on the above play, it looks like ND hasn't figured it out yet)?


September 17th, 2009 at 12:46 PM ^

comes up to plug the hole, does Tate then have the option to pull the ball and take it around the end? This would seem like the logical counter to the counter correct? If you look, the corner has already bailed and is heading after Minor, leaving at least 10 yds. of green if Tate were to keep it.


September 17th, 2009 at 1:21 PM ^

At first, I was going to say "I think this is only a pre-snap read for Tate. If they are in press coverage, if the safeties are cheating up again, it's a run play all the way."

Then I went back and watched a few more times. I think you have it right. The QB read on this play is not the blocked DE but the LB that Huyge is stepping out to block. If the LB was NOT in QB contain (crashed into the hole, like you said), Tate would have kept it for 6-7 yards, tackled by the far side corner's angle.

HOWEVA, that pulling corner leaves Odoms wide open on a wheel route. So Tate's read after keeping the ball is the safety. If the safety steps up to cover the run, then the wheel is wide open.

Wow. I love this.


September 17th, 2009 at 9:46 PM ^

If the DE on the side they don't block down on (so if the entire line goes left then the DE on that side (right end)) chases the RB there is no containment so the QB holds the ball and runs to that new openings. If the DE sits outside he takes himself out of the play and the QB hands it off.

If a team then brings down a LB, S, or nickel/dime CB to contain the QB (and the DE chases the RB) then MI throws 1. the bubble to the open slot WR 2. the TE on the counter breaks off the block and goes to the flat (TD by Koger against ND) or 3. If the outside CB moves down to cover the bubble then the outside WR is open for a flag/post/hitch, etc.

If people don't get this offense they need the following articles. The first one is an amazing article basically explaining the fundamentals of the Constraint Theory and the second one rips Tressel and shows how much more advanced our offense is.



the second one starting the paragraph above the U of M pic


September 17th, 2009 at 1:06 PM ^

are the kind of offensive adjustments that made me really excited when richrod first got hired and I was watching old WVU games.

The level of depth and consistency of the plays and how they work off of each other and what the defense does, it's mind boggling.

I'm so glad that its beginning to show now that we've got slightly more experienced players. I already can't wait for next year and years beyond when we've got veterans all over the field.


September 17th, 2009 at 1:26 PM ^

This goes along with what Brian had said last year: the coaches are adding wrinkles all the time, we just weren't ready for the next step in 2008.

This play is a great example of the progress of the team:

We've now countered their counter to our counter for their counter to our initial play.

I'm loving the Picture Pages series, and it's encouraging to see the team's progress in understanding the schemes of the coaches.


September 17th, 2009 at 1:45 PM ^

That play looks freaking beautiful.

My memory is that we only used the I-formation at the 1 yd line. The second time we got that close (and scored a TD) we ran our plays out of the shot gun. ND seemed to know what to do against the I, but was clueless most of the day against our base set.