Picture Pages: Snap Timing Death Comment Count

Brian October 19th, 2011 at 3:20 PM

[Ed: commenter wile_e8 makes a great suggestion: check out the earlier ND Check Yo' Self Picture Page for everything Michigan wasn't doing against MSU.]

One of the main issues with Michigan's offense was an inability to adjust to Michigan State's constant double-A-gap blitzing. BWS has an example where it ate up a Smith run; this post has two more focused on the precise timing MSU used to shoot into the backfield untouched on multiple plays.

Two plays in this one. The first is actually a 25-yard run on Michigan's first drive on which Vincent Smith breaks a tackle when the WLB gets too far upfield. It would be a disturbing omen.

It's second and one; Michigan is in a three-wide shotgun set and MSU in the 4-3 they'd run all day. Don't bother screaming that the bubble is open.


All right, so Molk starts to put his head down; when it comes back up he snaps immediately.

Molk's head starts down…


And by the time it's completely down Allen is nearing the LOS.

Bullough is next; the blitz seems like it is designed to have Allen pick off Molk while Bullough gets a free run:


But Molk snaps the thing so quickly that he doesn't even get his head up before the play. Instead of blocking Allen he goes to double the playside DT. He does not see the blitz at all:


Allen is through untouched.


Schofield actually does a nice job to adjust and kick out Bullough, giving Smith a crease when he breaks the tackle.

The video:

So that's a problem. Michigan endures another half-dozen of these throughout the game, gets the ball back down seven with under five minutes left, and comes out empty.


Molk head down, Molk head up…


…instant snap with two LBs running straight up the middle of the field. This time Molk does block Allen; Schofield does not slide over to get Bullough, which would put someone else through but someone else not running up the middle at the snap.


Denard throws a slant; Smith runs a hitch. Ballgame.

Video of that:

The timing of the snap is the same, the result different.

So what's going on here?

While some of the timing issues may have been playclock related, neither of these are. Michigan snaps the ball with around ten seconds left on the first play and while there is no playclock listed on the second it was the first play of a drive and I don't remember being upset about getting the play in. This is just… like… voluntary.

Once or twice Michigan did go to longer counts and got the opponent to jump, but one of those was a hard count from under center. The fact that they could get the jumps meant MSU was timing the snap; the fact they could continue into the fourth quarter meant Michigan was using the long counts too infrequently. Michigan

  1. consistently tipped their snap count
  2. never motioned for the snap to reveal what the defense planned
  3. didn't even bother to pause after Molk got his head up so he could evaluate the guys coming hell-bent up the middle of the field
  4. did not check out of plays
  5. did not execute what looks like a hot read here

This is not a toughness issue. Air cannot block people even if you're the Clint Eastwood State Fightin' John Waynes. It's an inability for Michigan to deal with a simple, grandiosely unsound defense that leaves simple throws in the middle of the field wide open*.

All of this is coaching at some level, but we can separate out getting execution out of your players from strategy. On the interception Michigan had an answer that they did not execute, which can reasonably be chalked up to transition/mindflub/one of those things. Michigan QBs passing up wide open guys on that second quarter drive is execution, not strategy. Those are costs of installing a new system, especially one with a lot of post-snap reads for the WRs, something I don't think Rodriguez ever did. On some level that's understandable.

However, they failed to adjust their strategy to help the offensive line out. MSU is running full speed at the line on the snap; varying the count would make those well-timed blitzes poorly timed, allowing Michigan to slide the protection and letting Denard know what he's in for pre-snap… or forcing MSU out of the play. Michigan State timing these snaps so precisely puts immediate pressure on Robinson, robbing him of a half-second he needs to maybe see Koger on the other side of the field or the actual route Smith is running. It gives Smith more time to read the play and understand his hot route. Even if you want the double LB blitz on the INT because you think you have it beat, waiting that beat lets everyone on the offense know it's there without letting MSU check. At the very least make your standard count long enough for Molk to look at the situation in front of him before he doubles on a guy who's going outside because of a blitz.

I find this incredibly frustrating. This was an inexplicable Rodriguez-era problem canning him was supposed to solve. Instead it got worse. Hoke tried to explain away the snap issues

Did you notice that they were jumping your snap count? “I think everyone has an idea of snap counts from guns, because there’s a mechanic that every team has. We have a silent count, and we have a double silent count. I don’t think that’s all the way correct.”

…but clearly there is something there that is bloody obvious to the opposition that has destroyed Michigan's offense against MSU on their last two trips to East Lansing. (Michigan moved the ball fairly well in last year's matchup only to be undone by turnovers.) The next time Michigan visits they'll presumably be in more of a MANBALL offense with Gardner better equipped to go under center and a line that probably reads Lewan-Bryant-Miller-Kalis-Magnuson, so we may have seen the last of this.

*[I was just reading that Smart Football post he linked about matching short passes with runs, which would have been perfect here. A-gap blitz? Immediate toss to slot/TE. Still need to block up the middle to get the QB some time.]



October 19th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

I have to believe, though, that Borges's offenses haven't always had this weakness throughout his career.  Surely someone would have noticed it long before the 2011 MSU coaches did.  I say that to make the point/express my hope that it will be fixed by him and that it's only happening now because...I don't know. 

Ed Shuttlesworth

October 19th, 2011 at 3:35 PM ^

On Sparty's game clinching pick-six, Denard was blitzed, got happy feet, and threw the ball quicker than he was supposed to.   And the pass was very inaccurate.   (I hope that's the ultimate meaning of "Denard throws a slant; Smith runs a hitch.")

That's a safety (or nickel corner) running forward to cover a smurf-back.  A polished, more accurate passer eats Sparty up on that play.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:13 PM ^

I dont get this (and this is directed not just at you but everyone else making similar comments).  Which is more likely:

People on message boards are seeing problems/opportunities that Borges doesnt see

Borges sees and understands all this stuff, and has a reason for reacting/doing things the way he does that people on message boards dont understand/arent privvy to

For any given complaint I suspect that the likelihood is about 95% in favor of the latter

Which is not to say that the coaches dont make mistakes or are above reproach.  There are certainly legitimate complaints (dumb punting by joepa is a good example of this-it does happen).  But I'm not sure anyone here, even the people here who do this for a living, is qualified or has the information needed to identify which particular complaints are legitimate.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:31 PM ^

Oh, trust me, I'm also 95% sure Borges sees and understands this stuff and has his reasons. I was more trying to jump on the bandwagon with a funny comment. I probably should have ended it with a /s tag.

I mean, it just seems too obvious (with an obvious fix ala ND)for an experienced coach to not notice and adjust to. I'm sure he has his reasons and he sure as hell won't tell the public them.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:37 PM ^

I have often wondered this same thing.  But I think the real question is why Borges (or whatever coach that does, in fact, notice these glaring issues) is unable or has been unable to solve the problem.  This is where judgment lies, I think - not in issue-spotting.  Because if Borges is simply not spotting the issue then WE're all in trouble.  I

don't doubt that Sparty spotted the weakness and was able to exploit it but after 1, 2, 3, 4, hell even 5 times it falls on the coaches to fix the problem.  And the fact that it wasn't fixed is tell to me.  At least in this game.  And this was truly the first real test of Borges's system.  Not that it won't get better, but the blinders came off a bit for this viewer.


October 19th, 2011 at 5:16 PM ^

Molk's comments about this leads me to believe that the rest of the O-line keys off his head movements. The problem is this was a road game, and the crowd makes verbal snaps from the shotgun difficult. So Molk looks back at Denard who gives Molk whatever signal, and the key to the rest of the line is the movements Molk makes as he picks his head up.

Borges may have simply decided the risk of an offsides penalty was worse than dealing with the blitzes, given the noise environment they were in.

Enjoy Life

October 19th, 2011 at 5:04 PM ^

Yes, I do believe Brian can pick up on things the coaches do not.

I've worked for several companies as an employee and as a consultant. There are dozens of cases where I saw problems that had existed for literally YEARS that none of the "experts" were aware of. In one case, it literally took me 3 months to get the experts to acknowledge the problem and fix it.

Don't be naive -- the "experts" are often wrong and can't see the forest for the trees.


October 20th, 2011 at 4:33 PM ^

the same thing. I don't understand why we didn't start running some tunnel screens or RB screens agianst the double A gap blitz? In general I have liked Borges, but I think he had a bad game. I am sure he had his reasons or maybe he tried to adjust, but it did not work out. The D played well enough to win and the O did not get it done. Sure some of it was execution but a lot of it was poor calls/ adjustments against the blitz. I hope we have an answer for it next week because I have a feeling that every team will try this blitz strategy.


October 19th, 2011 at 6:20 PM ^

If Borges/Hoke et al saw them jumping snaps, their response to it was piss poor.

Consider this: which is more likely?

1) Borges didn't see/recognize the snap jumping problem.

2) The Borges reaction was tied to so much football knowlege/experience that there is absolutely no way the simple blogger/message boarder could understand.

This snap timing problem is not complex and has several easy, obvious fixes.

This was a horrifyingly poorly coached game. Hoke said so himself immediately afterwards. Of course, he also says: "I think everyone has an idea of snap counts from guns, because there’s a mechanic that every team has."  If he is to be taken at his word, then he believes that one of the shotgun drawbacks is tipping the snap and there is (according to his knowlege) no way around this. Yikes.

Unfortunately (again), this makes me question his overall coaching ability and reaffirm my skepticism in his hiring. If he or his staff can't figure out a way to disguise the snap timing out of the shotgun (one would think that Greg Mattison might have some ideas) that only reinforces the possible reasoning for his sub-.500 record at the time of his hiring and makes me even more sick that Jim Harbaugh didn't want/get the job.

This snap count issue is glarinly obvious now and was equally so at game time. Especially that MSU has done this to Michigan for the past 3 years. This coaching staff demonstrated no preparation for this issue pre-kick, no adjustment to it during the game, and could not provide any reason post-game that it would be resolved in any future games.

No panic button here, but, this does not inspire hope or confidence for the future. We are getting beaten by simple, sell out blitzes that "people on a message board" can recognize. What's the coaching staff response? Probably to be more physical...tremendously so. Yeesh.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 20th, 2011 at 7:53 AM ^

everyday of the week. There is no way MSU beats UM five out of five times. I don't think they are that much better than we are. They showed they were better coached during this game, but that is about it IMHE. The offensive play calling for us in this game was abysmal and I would bet pretty good money that if we had an OC for that game who knew how to run a spread offense we could have came out on top without much problem. Hell, we had a chance even with how badly the OC play calling was. No, I think given 5 games it would be more like 3-2 for either team. 

Yost Ghost

October 20th, 2011 at 7:31 AM ^

Just a couple thoughts. First he did say they have a silent count and a double silent count. This would appear to be their solution for the double A-gap blitz. So either it wasn't executed by Molk or it wasn't effective. Secondly the sub 500 record is a bit misleading since quite a few of the losses are attributable to the time it takes to shed losing programs of their losing mentality and bring in better talent.


October 20th, 2011 at 9:24 AM ^

You're right about the silent and double silent count strategy. My next question would be, if it was operator execution error on Molk...why wasn't this addressed during the game? The coaching staff is just going to keep letting him make that mistake all game?

I see teams out of the gun all the time (Oregon, for example) get all set, center looks back, QB claps hands/signals and then....nothing. The whole team seems to stop, look at the sideline for direction and then reset and go.

How hard can this possibly be? This whole thing reeks of coaching failure.

P.S. His sub-.500 record is what it is (was).  Either you are judged by your record or you are not. A similar argument could be made about Rich Rod here at UM (I'm not making it, by the way). Hoke had a sub-.500 record prior to being hired at UM. That was a negative, in my book.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:43 PM ^

Anybody see the blantant one by Dileo (I believe) on that first run?  Nice to get away with that.  If Smith could only get to his top speed a little sooner - he would've been gone.  The snap count issues are infuriating yet seem easy to resolve.  Hopefully this will be the last we hear of them.

Yost Ghost

October 19th, 2011 at 4:29 PM ^

the score doesn't show it but you're right, one or two plays and that game has a very different feel to it. Obviously the big one is the 4th and 1. There were lots of plays like that where a few inches could have made a difference. So being able to jump a snap count is a huge advantage. Clearly Molk is very aware of the issue but my concern is, based on his comments, that Hoke may not see it that way. If so now there's a blue print for Illinois, Nebraska and tsio to use. However, Hoke is no dummy, so maybe he's playing it close to the vest. I gotta believe he's gonna make some significant adjustments with the gun snap.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

Very nice write up of a very frustrating problem.

I know that recievers have a difficult time learning pass routes for Peyton Manning for this very reason alone - they run their route based on how the defense lines up.  We wouldn't need an offense nearly as complex as his to help Denard out, but some hot reads would have helped slow down the blitzing for sure.  For a game that we were so close to tying and then lord knows what, these seemingly "minor" things could have been all the difference.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:46 PM ^

That pick-six on totally on Smith and not Denard. Denard saw the blitz, and threw his "shit, I'm getting blitzed" hot read ASAP. Smith was supposed to run a hitch, unless there was a blitz. with a blitz he should check to a slant to bail out the QB.

Denard checked, Smith didn't. Thats what #5 is talking about. Improper execution of a hot read.

Kilgore Trout

October 19th, 2011 at 3:54 PM ^

I think the point of the whole thing is that the lack of adjustment on the snap count made that almost impossible.  If they delay the snap count a beat and State tips their blitz, then Smth can see this coming and adjust accordingly.  Denard knows it's coming because it's right in his face.  Smith meanwhile is running a route and I don't know that he can necessarily be expected to look into the backfield and adjust that quickly.  Watch it in real time.  It all happens so fast that I don't think expecting Smith to change his route mid stride is realistic.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:07 PM ^

If you're right it's a miscommunication, QB thought one route, WR thought another. My counter to your (very good) argument is that Smith is looking at the ball for the snap so that he can start running. He sees the instant blitz (or should see it I guess.) I guess in my opinion Smith should switch his route/see the blitz before he starts running it. I guess what we can agree on is what Brian wrote above- Denard threw a slant, Smith ran a hitch. Unless we know exactly what their responsibilities are from the coaches or them, we won't know the call.

/no sarcasm here, good point. These Auto-checks with blitzes are things NFL teams struggle with. Look at my Bears, and we know we cant block anyone

Kilgore Trout

October 19th, 2011 at 4:14 PM ^

Him watching the ball for the snap is a good point.  Given that, he had to have at least peripherally noticed the blitz.  It does happen really fast though, so the adjustment almost literally needs to be reflexive and can't involve any thinking at all.  There's no time for thought.  Maybe if it's Roundtree or Gallon or Odoms or someone who is normally in the slot instead of normally a RB, they made the adjustment and get a 20 yard gain.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:21 PM ^

Doesn't this whole discussion beg the question of why there are no pre-snap read/audibles?  Or at least not on these two picture-paged plays?  SOMEone had to see the blitzes coming, at least on one of the numerous plays they came, no?  Frustrating is an understatement - I can't imagine how frustrated the players must have felt.



October 19th, 2011 at 4:30 PM ^

Last year the offense would line up, then look to the sideline for the adjustment based on how the defense lined up. We did that because Denard wasn't ready to make the read himself. Now, it seems Denard will make a check at the line maybe a couple times a game. If Borges wants Denard doing that, he has to coach him up, and the rest of the offense. If not, we should go back to calling audible from the sideline.

Of course, getting lined up earlier in the playclock and getting the initial play call in earlier are a necessity. And changing the snap count, having a counter to the blitz is essential as well.

MI Expat NY

October 19th, 2011 at 5:30 PM ^

I'm not sure it was a "Denard wasn't ready" thing last year, as much as a general philosophy of spread coaches.  It seems that lots of coaches around the country pull the same move with all skill players turning and looking for the call in after the defense gives an initial read.  I'm not sure it's a good thing, but Coaches like to maintain that control, and with the explosiveness of some of the offenses that do this (Oregon, Oklahoma State) I can see why.

I would imagine that even if Borges wants to do more of letting Denard check in and out of plays at the line, it has to be a difficult transition.  You can only learn so many new things in a year, audibles may be one area where we've sacrificed to learn more of Borges' system.

Greg McMurtry

October 19th, 2011 at 6:09 PM ^

Denard's pre-snap read and Molk's timing of the shotgun snap.  There has to be a pre-snap read on every play, unless the clock is about to hit zero(which it was a lot in this game.)  Also, Molk has to switch up his timing on shotgun snaps because it's his snap rhythm.  Is this coaching?  I suppose it is.  This is, however, different from a spread where the coach makes the read.  Maybe it's relatively new and the guys aren't used to it yet?

turd ferguson

October 20th, 2011 at 12:46 AM ^

It seems awfully risky to me to be so confident that your RB will notice this that you instruct your QB to just throw the slant and hope for the best (without some kind of communication between them or instructions for the QB to pause for a second to make sure the RB runs the correct route). 

I don't necessarily disagree with you; it just feels like this play begs for an interception.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 20th, 2011 at 8:03 AM ^

First I will say I agree iwth you that it is risky, no arguement here on that, but the "hot" reads are timing routes were the receiver makes his break and the ball is there. This is a quick slant so Denard is supposed to throw the ball before the receiver makes his break and the ball gis supposed to get there as he's doing so. If DR waits another second for the communication you are talking about he is sacked for a 6 yard loss.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

but we were in with a chance to the end. . .' Player for player, they are NOT a better (or even tougher) team. But this game was lost up front.  

Half-time adjustments, hello! Dullardry, thy name is loss.


October 19th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

I think this is one of those mysteries that will never be solved.  Molk's quotes in your UFR were mind blowing.  Here is the logic in order according to Molk's quotes and game events.

1. It's MSU week(we have a clock you know) so we prepare for snap jumping

2. It's game time and they are jumping our snaps, because the fans are too loud we can't adjust.

3. We have no other options except death.  Just continue on.


 So do we think the coaches and our 5th year senior center are complete morons or something is lost in translation to a journalist.   I go with the latter.   When something makes no sense I tend to try and fisk it instead of believing people who are experts in their field are morons. 

I just refuse to believe because to believe this means our coaches aren't very smart and that is tough to stomach.




October 19th, 2011 at 3:51 PM ^

Hoke got outcoached in all most every phase of the game.  And the play calling was horrible.  The UM coaches knew MSU would load the box and make Denard throw the ball and they still couldn't stop it.  Very frustrating to say the least.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:01 PM ^

That's definitely something they need to get fixed.  That center drops his head and those guys are coming full bore.  They need to come up with a new rhythm or whatever since it's probably a silent count being on the road.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:00 PM ^

"I find this incredibly frustrating."

= Understatement of the year

I know, blockquote fail, whatever

Nice writeup Brian. I don't know what's tougher to swallow: The fact that this was not corrected, or that this was not better prepared for. Answer: They are both incredibly tough to stomach and massively infuriating. aaarrrggghhhh


October 19th, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

One of the main reasons I find this frustrating is the fact that Hoke has said a few times that they don't practice with loud noise because the offense has good communication and is prepared for it.........I didn't see it, did you?


October 19th, 2011 at 4:08 PM ^

Maybe this is a question that everyone else knows the answer to but, why does Molk lower his head and then raise it right before snap every time? This seems like a giant tip off to all the defenses on the schedule. Is this a bad habit (if so he needs to break it immediately) or is there a purpose to it? I am lost as to how a Defense can jump a silent snap count.




October 19th, 2011 at 4:24 PM ^

And looks for a signal from Denard. Denard drops one hand down, molk sees that, looks up and snaps. In previous years/other teams will clap their hands, lots of pros lift a foot, some sort of signal.

The ways to keep it a truly silent snap count are to vary the amount of time between when molk gets the signal and when he snaps. So in the huddle you can say "on two" give the signal, molk head up, 1, 2, snap. Everyone just has to count together/have the same internal clock. We didn't vary the amount of time between head up and snap (or signal and snap) all game.


October 19th, 2011 at 4:35 PM ^

I think we may have varied it a little. We did get a couple off sides calls, but we didn't do it enough. And we also should have gone through the motions of a snap but held it to let the defense reveal itself. I mean, head down head up, look to the sideline for an audible.

Eye of the Tiger

October 19th, 2011 at 4:12 PM ^

Problem: Michigan's offense

Solution: Stack the box and blitz a lot

This worked against us last year against MSU, PSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio and Mississippi State--oh wait, and Purdue too, even though we won that one.  I'm sorry to all those who think our offense was awesome last year, but even though it was awesome for 5 games, and then awesome again in several losses after the outcome was no longer in question, it also stank at a lot of the most crucial moments, i.e. when the aforementioned teams that beat us were amassing large, mostly insurmountable leads. 

So it worked against us again this year against MSU.  That's bad.  But it's not a departure from last year; it's a continuation.  It's also just something every good defense is going to do to us until we figure out how to stop it, or at least mitigate it.  



October 19th, 2011 at 4:38 PM ^

"It's also just something every good defense is going to do to us until we figure out how to stop it, or at least mitigate it."

I think it is what every good defense does to a good offense. That is why defense wins championships. Even the best offense in the nation will score way below their average when they play a great defense.

Eye of the Tiger

October 20th, 2011 at 10:32 AM ^

Especially for a talented offense like ours.  One of my pet peeves about the RR years was the lack of in-game adjustments when we came out flat.  I thought we were getting that from Borges, but Brian spilled cold water on the theory after the NW game, and it's clear we didn't adjust last Saturday.  

That said, the best solution is the one we used against ND--deep passes.  Unfortunately, that was impossible in the wind.  But I refuse to believe there were no other possibilities.  I was hoping Borges would aggressively attack the perimeter to stretch MSU's defense horizontally.  Given that this is a staple of the West Coast Offense he specializes in, I've been particularly surprised to see how little of it we've used.

[Oh, and to whoever negged my last comment...really?  Guess you don't like carefully-stated oppossing opinions, whoever you are.  Enjoy the echo box, then, I guess.)


October 19th, 2011 at 4:15 PM ^

Please stop linking to Dr. Saturday when he shows examples of bubble/look screens executed well that gain lots and lots of yardage.  It makes my heart hurt seeing those "uncovered" WRs actually getting the ball thrown their way . . .

Also, Dr. Saturday's discussion of the stick/draw concept really intrigued me.  Is there a way to run that from the traditional "spread" look with the RB next to the QB (rather than only out of the pistol)?  It looks like Denard could get extremely comfortable in the pocket with those quick throws where he hardly even has to move his feet.  Making Denard comfortable in his throws should be job #1 for Borges the rest of this year.