UFRing the Purdue game was a blast from the past, and in a frustrating way. After the first drive Purdue spent much of the day with eight guys in the box, and Michigan ran at them anyway. Since Michigan's always based out of a three-wide formation this is the equivalent of having nine guys against a tradition I-form; Purdue spent the day showing really soft man zero that may have morphed into cover three after the snap but still should have provided Michigan ample opportunity to exploit the big chunks of space Purdue was leaving open.
Look at Roundtree here:
That was his whole day: sitting by himself and never getting a bubble. There were a lot of reasons for this—primarily the weather and Michigan's reluctance to do anything risky against a Purdue offense that's much worse than Michigan's defense—that were in retrospect correct. At the time it was very frustrating.
Anyway, this Picture Pages is about what this eighth guy in the box allowed Purdue to do. Going into the UFR I was hoping I'd see something that would explain why the offensive line seemed to get whipped so badly, and I think this is it. So that's the setup above. It's Michigan's third drive of the second half. They start on the twenty, it's first and ten, and Purdue has eight in the box. Michigan runs a basic stretch at them.
A moment after the snap you can see that the Purdue linemen are slanting away from the stretch instead of flowing with it. This is not something you see often:
At the mesh point Robinson sees the slot guy containing and Kerrigan moving upfield past Huyge, who's releasing, so he hands off.
A moment after the handoff we see that Molk has completely sealed the playside DT. Normally on a stretch play this means the opponent is dead meat. That's because the playside DE has to maintain contain and sets up outside the OT, which means running a good distance outside, which means there's a huge lane for the tailback and whichever guard is playside gets a free release at one linebacker in a lot of space.
Here the DE has not maintained contain. He's slanted inside Lewan and threatens to get upfield for a TFL. Also the MLB is driving hard to the outside. Schilling either aborts his release to rub the DE or just gets caught up on the Lewan block in an effort to get out on the charging LB:
A moment later we see that Molk has erased both DTs with the seal but the playside DE is sitting in that hole. Lewan knows he's lost the battle and starts shoving him past the tailback. Smith has to go outside, where he's got a lead blocker in Hopkins against two Purdue linebackers. Schilling has no chance on the MLB since he shot for this exact hole at the snap:
A moment later Hopkins kicks one guy, Lewan shoves the DE, and Schilling is following the other linebacker into the hole. Smith's cutting up because he doesn't have much of a choice.
Linebacker is now the blur between Schilling and Smith. Schilling's managed to get him to run past the play a bit and he's got to make a diving ankle tackle…
…but he does:
Michigan receives zero yards.
Object lesson type objects:
- Purdue can only do this because they have eight guys in the box against six blockers. One goes with Denard, so that's seven on six. Normally you see playside DEs set up outside on the stretch because if they don't that lead blocker to the outside threatens to pound a single linebacker and send the tailback into the secondary. Here Purdue outnumbers Michigan, which allows them to slant that DE inside and still get two guys on the perimeter when Lewan pushes the DE past the back. Purdue consistently answered the "one safety or zero" question with zero, and these were the results. Here they get the play to go exactly where they want to and kill it.
- I don't think anyone blocking did anything wrong. The only block in question is the one on the playside DE where the guy gets under Lewan because he's slanting inside. If that DE gets past Lewan into the backfield that's a major issue but a main principle of zone blocking is you take the guy where he wants to go faster than he wants to go. Guy wanted to go inside, Lewan shoves him inside and opens up a crease at the LOS. Extra linebacker makes the play. The only thing I think Michigan could have done here is a weird anti-scoop where Schilling shoves the DE outside of Lewan instead of shoving the DT inside of Molk. I don't know if anyone's ever tried that so it's hard to blame the players.
- This is actually close to breaking for some yardage maybe? Despite all this Schilling's good-faith effort to do something with that filling linebacker and Lewan's ability to create a decent hole sees Smith almost cut past the charging LB, whereupon he'd get somewhere between five and many yards. He can't.
That's not a serious knock on Smith on his most effective day as a Wolverine. A back with the ability to make the cut he does on this sloppy field and the speed/power to run through that ankle tackle attempt would be a special guy indeed; hopefully Demetrius Hart can be that guy.
So, yes, I think I did find an explanation in what Purdue was doing that partially exonerated the offensive line. Michigan saw this front all day and kept running into it, which resulted in a crappy day on the ground. In this case the "crappy day on the ground" is 4.3 YPC excluding sacks, which is basically what good DeBord teams averaged on the ground. Since DeBord absolutely loved to run "away" from the extra guy and out-execute in the face of herculean odds, this makes sense.
Michigan's offense is going to net a huge RPS minus in UFR because of this rock, rock, rock playcalling, but don't take that too seriously. I get why they did it when Denard threw two horrible interceptions and a lot of his simple hitch routes to the sidelines were fluttering ducks. The conditions affected his throwing significantly, and allowed Purdue to spend 80% of the game running cover zero. When they stopped this on Michigan's late third-quarter drive from their own four, Michigan went right down the field until a clipping penalty on Lewan put them in second and forever.
More tomorrow when the offense UFR drops.