Picture Pages: Scraping, Bubbling Comment Count

Brian September 11th, 2009 at 3:04 PM

Picture Pages: you see, Rudy, sometimes you just need to break down a play that's representative of a larger trend. This series picks out a play or two per game that seem significant in the grand scheme of things, Theo, and attempts to explain why. Vanessa.

I brought this up in UFR and wanted to make it clearer so here goes. This is a first and 15 on Michigan's first drive of the day.

Michigan lines up in one of their common sets, a three-wide shotgun look. Here the tight end is lined up as an H-back. Michigan often used the h-back as a pass blocker for Forcier rollouts, but this time he's going to go with the play. Western aligns in a 4-3 look with the nickel back shaded inside of the slot receiver. Michigan will run a zone read, and Western will do a version of a scrape exchange. In brief: in a scrape, the backside defensive end will take off after the tailback instead of maintaining contain. A weakside linebacker or corner will provide QB contain, thus hopefully minimizing or eliminating the quarterback's athleticism edge over the defender he's dealing with.


Below is the handoff point. As Western did basically the whole game, the unblocked backside end takes off after the tailback. Since this is the guy Forcier is reading, he pulls the ball out. A couple points: Michigan has six blockers against six defenders here and should be content to hand the ball off. As we'll see, Brown's going to end up with a lot of room.


A few moments later we see the scraper coming in: he's the corner/LB who was lined up over Grady. He comes flying in and threatens to tackle Forcier in the backfield. The scrape exchange Michigan saw a lot last year saw the WLB head outside; this one is less vulnerable to the veer or other quick-hitting backside plays that exploit the fact that your WLB is flying around the edge. But there's an obvious cost: HOLY GOD LOOK AT THE SLOT RECEIVER.


Forcier is, in fact, looking at a spectacularly open guy on a bubble route. One of the Western safeties is coming up but he's inside of and ten yards away from a guy who's quicker than him. At best he squares up and holds the gain down. If he misses a tackle Grady is born to run.

Also note the line moving to the second level and sealing those defensive tackles. Michigan had three or four plays like this where the tailback shot up to cavernous gaps in the line of scrimmage without the ball. And this isn't a reaction to Forcier's decision to pull the ball yet; only the WLB has seen that. The frames above make it pretty clear that if Michigan had handed the ball off Schilling was going to cut this guy off.

Forcier, unfortunately, decides against the bubble and cuts directly upfield:


Molk has finished burying the playside DT and if Brown had the ball he'd be cruising, as the WLB who peeled off to Forcier was about to get his clock cleaned by Schilling. But Forcier pulled the ball and then made a poor read, so he's got one option:


Four yards.


  • Just because the backside DE is crashing down doesn't mean you have to pull the ball. This would have been a big gainer if Forcier handed it off.
  • Scrape exchanges are not a magic pill. They pull defenders out of position and the right play call—or read—can exploit them.
  • Forcier is, yes, a freshman. He made a number of mistakes against Western of this variety.
  • But even so it's nice to have a guy like Forcier who can turn his mistake into positive yards. Michigan had a lot of screwups in game one but most of them still went forward. That's a huge difference from last year.



September 11th, 2009 at 3:15 PM ^

Of what is essentially our base play, (I would imagine.) I fully expect Tate and DRob to make a lot of misreads this year, but I think I'll be fine with it as long as no fumbles or picks ensue. However I don't know if I'd call a 4 yard gain a mistake either. This offense has a lot of options, and when Michigan started throwing to the slotback out of this formation last week, I thought "wow this is going to lead to a ton of yards on several occassions with this new wrinkle." But it's easy to breakdown 5 still photos and play Monday morning QB. Unfortunately for our QB's, the play moves a lot faster than that. As my high school coach said "give me three yards a play, and I'll take my chances with the one yard on 4th down." Tate can absolutely take the 4-yard keeper everytime, and I will be satisfied.


September 11th, 2009 at 3:37 PM ^

If it was DRob or Brown or Minor or someone who's (basically) a running back I'd say I'll take those 4 yards every time but when the guy running is the only viable pass threat on your entire roster I think he should avoid contact when there are other options that can yield the same, if not a better, result. I know spread guys don't get hurt any more than pocket guys but I think we can all agree that the fewer times The Forcier gets hit the better - especially if we can get big gains out of the non-hit.

But still - I'm with your HS coach - if you can get 3 or 4 yards on a play where nothing spectacular happened that's more than likely a recipe for success.


September 11th, 2009 at 3:53 PM ^

Forcier did this

if (WDE.IsCrashing == false)

When he should have done this

if (WDE.IsCrashing == false)
else if (WLB.IsBlitzing)

As you can clearly see, the execution does not yield the intended results of the play and should be fixed.


September 11th, 2009 at 5:05 PM ^

... made me so happy!

Nobody ever explained the decision making process of QB this succinctly before.

and BTW - today I wrote a program that solves god-awful-hard Sudokus for me! Yay!! If we beat ND tomorrow then I will put it up on the interwebs for free rather than distributing it on iPhone App store for $0.01 and hence earning more than Brian earns by providing more than the whole front page of sweet content in a single day! Or maybe not - Brian these days have additional revenues from MGoTShirts and all those ads for Evony I clicked on.


September 11th, 2009 at 3:42 PM ^

It's funny that this exact play is 4 yards. One of the main coching points for this staff is exactly that. All the qb's are told to keep the ball if they can pick up 4 yards.


September 11th, 2009 at 3:46 PM ^

I'm going to think that if/when Tate is in a difficult situation, he'll go into "safe" mode and do what he feels most comfortable doing. In this case, it was tuck & run. When the game starts to slow down for him, he'll relax and see the other options that are available. If the worse case scenario, in this instance, was +4 yards, it'll be awesome to see it when Tate throws to Tay-O (or other UM folks) and max. yardage is gained. Trust your feelings Tate, use the force!

Thanks for the Picture Pages, Brian!


September 11th, 2009 at 3:46 PM ^

which is the better option for the outside reciever if Tate were to option to the bubble screen?

a. block the quicker cornerback downfield.

b. block the safety inside and allow Grady to get outside and build up a head of steam before he meets the cornerback.


September 11th, 2009 at 3:51 PM ^

It's analysis like this that puts the MSM outlets to shame.

Yeah, a lot of generic fans probably don't care. But for the superfans among us (probably a good portion of the mGoCommunity) this is just one more step to understanding what's going on on the field. Beyond the WWL's superficial level, that is.


September 11th, 2009 at 4:08 PM ^

First off, great work Brian. Your analysis of UM football is the best IMO. Secondly, it seems as if the scrape exchange actually opens up more devastating holes if read right by the quarterback. More and more I'm thinking that ND is going to have to guess defensively with Tenuta's style and there will be opportunity for big plays come game time. Option offenses are difficult to defend, because you either have to commit defenders early which can take them out of position, or you sit back and play "bend but don't break" defense and hope to be able to tackle in space or that the offense implodes (like we did often last year). I think the Michigan defense will determine whether we win comfortably or not, because I'm confident in our offense vs. the ND defense.


September 11th, 2009 at 6:09 PM ^

This is definitely my favorite part of the site -- I consider myself more-knowledgeable-than-average about football, but anytime I come here I'm at the back of the class. These kinds of frame-by-frame walkthroughs are *extremely* helpful to understanding a bunch of the more technical posts here (both articles and diaries).

If I could make a single, hopefully simple request: Would it be possible to label the important players in any of these pictures, perhaps as a hover image replacement to avoid annoying those that can already tell the players even from the side/without visible numbers?

I'd be happy to do the (Paint-level) work, even; it's just that several times in the past week I've found myself puzzling over a screengrab going "Okay, that's Molk, which I guess makes that Moosman...". It's never been insurmountable, but it's a small thing that might (read: might) make these even easier to understand for those of us stuck permanently in Football 101.


September 11th, 2009 at 4:25 PM ^

this week and some more triple option plays. I don't want Forcier or Robinson to get killed, but Forcier was sort of optioning a corner by photo no. 4. If he had a trailing pitch man then he could have run, chucked it to the slot, or pitch it back for some more decent yardage.

RR had WVU run two back sets more frequently, even with Beer Trucker at FB. Having Minor plus Brown back could make this arrangement a possibility on more than 1 down.

Again don't want Forcier getting nailed, but at the same time Michigan needs to get the running game going inside and outside.

Rush N Attack

September 11th, 2009 at 4:27 PM ^

"I disagree Homeboy!"

Just because the backside DE is crashing down doesn't mean you have to pull the ball.

Yes. It does.

If the "real time" read on this play for Tate was actually whether or not the DE is crashing, then he absolutely should not have handed the ball to Brown. That's the whole point of having that read: so the RB doesn't get tackled by the unblocked crashing DE.


September 11th, 2009 at 4:39 PM ^

The problem is the first read isn't during the play, it's before it. When you see 3 guys line up on two WRs, something is probably amiss, especially when it's to the side the QB would be running during a typical zone-read. The CB and S are lined up in man, along with the other CB/LB/NB/S (whatever that player might be). I have to doubt that they are doubling our slot guy, and the way the deep safety is creeping in should signal he is either covering the slot guy so the CB/LB/NB/S is blitzing, or the S himeself is blitzing to that side.

All that should have been recognized pre-snap, telling Tate/OC that there is an extra attacker coming from that side. If you make that read early, you should know to hand off the ball regardless of the DE, or at least check to a different play.

Rush N Attack

September 11th, 2009 at 10:15 PM ^

post so it doesn't get too confusing.


I understand the pre-snap read. However, Brian clearly states that he thinks this is a "live play" read: "As Western did basically the whole game, the unblocked backside end takes off after the tailback. Since this is the guy Forcier is reading, he pulls the ball out."

He later stated: "Just because the backside DE is crashing down doesn't mean you have to pull the ball."

Do you see the contadiction?

It's the reading of the crashing end that determines whether or not you hand it to the RB on this particular play. (Not whether a hole would've opened for the running back, or if we would've ended up six on six)*.

Think of it in reverse. If Tate's read is the DE, and the DE end does not crash, Tate should hand off right? You can't have it both ways.


I'm not going to argue whether or not "there would have been a large hole" for Brown to run through. It looks like there would be.

However...look closely at the third slide and you will see that the DE is already starting to turn his pursuit to Tate (having noticed that the RB doesn't have the ball), which is contributing to the distance between he and Brown.

In the fourth slide, if Brown had been handed the ball, the DE would've continued to trail the pulling tackle and been much closer to the lane that Brown is now being forced up into. Notice the defenders taking outside angles in order to funnel the ball carrier back into their help.

In short, in slide 4, the DE would have been closer to Brown if he had actually been handed the ball. Why? Because that is the intent of the defense. As Brian states: "...the unblocked backside end takes off after the tailback..."

That is why the end is crashing, that is why the qb is reading the end, and that is why Tate keeping the ball on this play is the right read every time his key is the DE. If that's not his key, then fine.

*The answer to this should come from the booth. It's the OC's job to notice the pre-snap defensive alignment and get Tate into the right play call.


September 11th, 2009 at 11:06 PM ^

If that's not his key, then fine.

That's essentially what I was saying with this:

They're going to have to come up with a different read and blocking scheme if ND scrapes

Tate can't just read the DE, because it's going to lead to trouble against teams with better linebackers if they know he'll keep it any time they crash and scrape. As it was, he was lucky to get four yards against a MAC team. Go check out the Smart Football link Brian put at the start of the post, it pretty much says this.

If the offense knows that the defense is shifting to this (a big if), what is the adjustment? Tell the tackle to block the defensive end, and the quarterback to read the linebacker. Often the linebacker will take himself out of the play, and with good blocking, the offense should be able to get a good run play, or a big play if the runner can cut back.

FWIW somehow my ability to remember useless information that makes me great at trivia also helped me remember this post. Check out the second video, the first half of it is full of RichRod going over his spread-to-run philosophy and how they look to run any time there are only six defenders in the box. Since he counts the QB as a blocker due to the defense needing to have one of the players in the box (usually the DE, yes) account for him, leaving the five other defenders in the box to get blocked by the five O-linemen. Well, with the scrape exchange it's just the LB getting "blocked" by the QB when he goes out wide, and this means that there should still be enough linemen to have one take care of the crashing DE.

Rush N Attack

September 12th, 2009 at 12:30 AM ^

You went a little too far past my original point. You are absolutely correct in what you are arguing...it's just that that wasn't my point of contention.

Go back and watch Video 1 in your link (starting specifically at the 3:22 mark).

He basically describes this exact play. He says it is "a called pass play", with a "50/50 chance to run", and that they are reading the DE. If the DE crashes and the qb breaks contain, then the qb should tuck it up field and run. (In video 2 he is actually describing the inside zone/trap/running plays which IS NOT the play Brian is describing above).

Which leads to your next point. Yes, defenses have a counter for this (your Smart Football link). And yes,the offense in turn has a counter BUT it's only "if the offense knows that the defense is shifting to this (a big if)".

However, the offensive counter IS NOT happening in this play. How do we know this? Because the tackle isn't blocking the DE (he's blocking down to the right), and because Tate is reading the DE (according to Brian).

So, they are simply running the play exactly as RR is describing in his video at 3:22, and not the counter described in the Smart Football link (which ideally, they would be running). Therefore Tate is making the right read, and it will continue to be the right read, when this exact play is run in the future.

In short, when you say: " They're going to have to come up with a different read and blocking scheme if ND scrapes."

I fully agree.

But when Brian says: "Just because the backside DE is crashing down doesn't mean you have to pull the ball. This would have been a big gainer if Forcier handed it off."

I still disagree. Until his "key" changes for this exact play, this will always be the right read.

Anyways, I'm going to bed. Excellent discussion though. GO BLUE!


September 11th, 2009 at 4:42 PM ^

If the "real time" read on this play for Tate was actually whether or not the DE is crashing, then he absolutely should not have handed the ball to Brown. That's the whole point of having that read: so the RB doesn't get tackled by the unblocked crashing DE.

Except, as pointed out on this play, Western is trying to confuse the reads for Forcier and get him to pull the ball and run when they'll have a defender there to stop him. And, as shown on this play, there would have been a ton of running room for Brown despite the crashing DE, because he well ahead of the DE getting lost in the blockers. So this is part of bullet #3: Forcier is, yes, a freshman. He made a number of mistakes against Western of this variety.

They're going to have to come up with a different read and blocking scheme if ND scrapes, because they'll have a numbers advantage in front of the running back the despite the crashing DE but better-than-MAC-level LBs filling in behind the DE if Forcier holds. Sadly, defenses have adjusted to the zone-read play and don't give such an easy read every time anymore.


September 11th, 2009 at 4:41 PM ^

Since this is early in the game, Forcier keeping that ball is NOT such a bad thing because:

It sets the defense up for later.

Later in the game, Forcier did toss that ball out to the slot guy who was open and got yards. Eventually one of those is going to pop for huge yards...

but you cant do it if the defense is looking for it...you need to set them up in to thinking that Forcier is going to keep it every time....

Its not only a game of matchups, but tendencies as well....

Now, Im not saying that this was a setup by design (in this particular case), it was a Freshman QB as you mentioned...however it could have been by design as RR and Magee are certainly aware of setting up a defense for later...

Even if this was a mistake on the read by Forcier, it did serve another purpose as we saw later


September 11th, 2009 at 4:49 PM ^

I was thinking along similar lines. I believe that Tate said that a certain number of plays were scripted (or was that just one of the announcers talking through his butt?). Anyway, if so, my question is how scripted are the plays? Would Tate have been told something along the lines of, "If the DE is crashing, don't worry about the scrape and hitting the slot guy yet. Just keep it and get a few yards and we'll exploit that later" Or is that level of planning just too absurd to try to script in the first place?

Nick Sparks

September 11th, 2009 at 4:54 PM ^

Thank you for that Brian!

And if we can get Denard really mastering this that would be a - I wouldn't use the clishe' "unstoppable", but pretty tough to stop - compliment to what Tate can do with our offense.

El Jeffe

September 11th, 2009 at 5:57 PM ^

As good as these picture pages are, they don't show what a massive gain this would have been if Tate had dumped the ball out to KG-19. Check out the vid from the Western offensive UFR, first series, fifth play.

Note that KG is moving laterally toward the sideline, and by the time Tate would have thrown him the ball, the safety who was filling the OLB's gap would have been waaaaay out of position, with Hemingway ready to block the CB.

I really hope that Tenuta thinks this defensive call worked, because I'm damn sure RR went over the third option with Tate. Mmmm... uncovered slot receiver...


September 11th, 2009 at 6:48 PM ^

If you look at Frame 3 and didnt know any more than that...one would think that Tate threw the ball to Grady... he is looking that way and even appears to have raised the ball as if to throw...clearly Tate knew of that option but chose to run it instead...

the fact that Tate recognized it as an option is a good starting point for a Freshman QB...

Durham Blue

September 11th, 2009 at 6:00 PM ^

Considering the injury risk with Tate running the ball, option 1 should be hand off to RB, option two should be throw the bubble screen, and the very last option should be to take off and run with it. IME...

GREAT pics, Brian.


September 11th, 2009 at 6:02 PM ^

Wow, fantastic break down of the progression of that play. Been watching Michigan games my whole life and never had this level of understanding of the QB's decision making in reaction to the defense. Thank you. I agree with bigmc6000 on wear and tear but I guess that is why RR wants multiple QBs ready to play. Stupid question, how likely is it for the DB to jump the throw to the slot for a pick 6?

El Jeffe

September 11th, 2009 at 8:05 PM ^

I think that's what Smart Football and Steve Sharik have been talking about in various threads that I'm too lazy to look up--the fact that in certain sets the QB has two post-snap reads--the backside DE, natch, but then whoever keeping is contain(ment?) on the backside--usually a nickel or LB--if the DE just has an auto-crash call, as is being shown in these pages. If the nickel sells out to stop the QB run, then dump it off to the slot. If the nickel goes with the slot, then, assuming the QB hasn't handed off to the RB, then run it.


September 11th, 2009 at 8:09 PM ^

You definantly know what you are talking about with that breakdown. I completely agree with you that Tate made many mistakes but hopefully he fixed those errors and is ready to go this week. I can't wait for this game. Go Blue!


September 12th, 2009 at 1:19 AM ^

"have a guy like Forcier who can turn his mistake into positive yards. "

This, a thousand times this. Steve Threet, bless the kid, just didn't have the quickness to make up for a bad read. Tate and Denard do. The fact that Forcier got 4 yards on a 'bad decision' is great news, if our QB's can make sub-optimal decisions and still advance the ball we'll be doing just fine, thanks.

Also keep posting explanations like this. Great stuff.


September 12th, 2009 at 11:41 AM ^

Great breakdown Brian. The future is very bright for Michigan. The potential of this team is very high. I know they played WMU, but I saw better execution, hunger, and atheletism from the Wolverines. I'm looking to see the growth that occurs from game one to game two. Forcier made some bad reads for sure. All of that is fixable. If Michigan can stay unpredictable, and healthy this is going to be a really fun year. Yes, UM could possibly beat OSU this year and go to a bowl. I see that nothing is impossible for this team.