Picture Pages: Throwing Rock Against A Slant Comment Count

Brian November 17th, 2010 at 1:33 PM

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.



November 17th, 2010 at 1:54 PM ^

What's the utility of the slot in this situation, then? Why not throw to him in the flat or switch him for Webb so you have either an extra blocker or one on ones with the outside receivers?

Blue in Seattle

November 17th, 2010 at 3:30 PM ^

We are complaining that Coach Rodriguez went conservative on offense when he had the lead, it was pouring rain, and his QB demonstrated that any passing play had a good shot at being points for Purdue.  Oh wait, and clearly Purdue's offense was being out performed by our defense.

We really have our priorities screwed up.

My conclusion from Brian's analysis is that, despite having the odds stacked heavily against ROCK, we still managed to pound it forward against this team!  IN the driving rain!?!  Maybe you guys haven't stood in the pouring rain for 3 hours at Fall Temperatures, but even with gloves on your hands stop working.  You literally lose the ability to grasp objects with your fingers.

Now I never played QB in High School, but I have thrown and caught a football before, and if my memory serves me well it required use of your fingers gripping the ball to work well.

Bottom line is, if it's a dry day in Ann Arbor Saturday, expect the Wisconsin Game to be an Illinois shootout.

I'm even thinking that Wisconsin might make the mistake of using less than 7 people to stop the run game.  Well maybe just hoping.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:01 PM ^

This does seem weird.   I don't care if they were throwing ducks or there was sleet, those are some pretty safe passes.  Unless they were setting something up for this week, I don't like it.  

It does seem to explain why guys were wide ass open 2 yards downfield in the 1st half and it was an easy 10-15 yard gain.   Sitting in my living room I couldn't figure why we went away from it.  I guess this explains some of it.

Enjoy Life

November 17th, 2010 at 2:03 PM ^

The weather was a factor but it is hard for me to believe any coach (especially RR) would be comfortable with less than a two score lead precisely because of the conditions. One turnover deep in your own territory and, poof, there goes the lead and potentially the game.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:05 PM ^

the Rod was deliberately limiting his playbook so as not to give Wisconsin and OSU too much game film to peruse.  My guess is that we'll see some significant new packages in the next two games that the defenses won't have prepped for.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:15 PM ^

If RichRod has dared limit his playbook much this season (with all the external pressure) and held back outside of necessity (e.g., because of Denard's inexperience), then he's got some *huge* ... equipment.

I can't see how he wouldn't have pulled everything out of the bag by now.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:08 PM ^

If it wasn't safe enough to throw bubble screens, then why were we throwing the ball down field on every 2nd and third and long when our opponent has one of the country's best pass rushers?  Those are the down and distance that gave Denard all of his problems.  His two picks came on drop back passes when we were badly behind the chains.  I only counted two plays where Denard pump faked it and took off with it.  He got 11 yards once and 17 yards the next time.  Where was that play in the entire second half? 

I guess I don't really care what the answer is as long as this one game was an outlier.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:21 PM ^

I didn't like the 2nd and long 3rd and long drop backs either....with Denard I like the ISQBD and then see where we are.  We had a lot of these type situations near midfield or on their side of the field where I thought ok it's 3rd and 15 let's do the qb draw or a screen and see if we can't pick up the 1st that way.  If we don't get it maybe we're close enough to go on 4th.  

The pick 6 was a perfect example 2nd and goal from the 18 up 11 I was thinking don't do anything stupid.   Let's try something safe and at worst we're at a chip shot fg.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:11 PM ^

looked like Purdue stayed in that base defense as long as it wasn't an obvious passing down.  So it was a dare to throw and we couldn't execute.  Overthrows, drops, fumbles, penalties, inexplicable picks.  I thought the OL would prove to be the major culprit, but even with a bit of a down day, we should have had 4 TDs on offense.  Maybe 5.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:23 PM ^

Granted it was against Purdue, but it was nice to see Smith have a good day.  I know he hasn't had quite the season we all thought he would, but the ACL injury rule of thumb was always a full year to be back to 100%.  He's coming up on almost exactly one year now and the last few games he seems to be making more of the cuts and little bursts we saw last year.  I think he can have a real strong finish to the season.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:50 PM ^

I know at least one play that we have yet to see from Rich's Offense and that is the Triple-Option. This play was the backbone of Rich's West Virginia team.  We have yet to see Denard even do this but If Denard can run the Triple-Option like Pat White did  Look Out!!! their we be nothing stoppin this Offense except itself because Rich's West Virginia teams never had the passing game Rich has in Michigan.


November 17th, 2010 at 5:26 PM ^

seems to know why we don't do this (or maybe I don't remember). This isn't any more difficult it seems than doing the read handoff and then throwing, yet we do that all the time. It seems like Denard would be absolutely deadly running that way with a pitch option, but I'n sure RR is smarter than I, and for some reason doesn't want to do it.


November 17th, 2010 at 2:56 PM ^

Back to the idea of the bubble screen, that play is WIDE OPEN here once Denard gets into the mesh point. And if that is the defense Purdue was running all game, its hard to believe we didn't exploit that more.

Now I know some of you mentioned the risk of a fumble on a backward pass, but as you can see from the pictures, Roundtree is well in front of Denard by the time he hands off to Smith. 

If DRob pulls that ball, #32 on Purdue would have bitten hard (in fact he was already in the process of doing so), allowing Denard a very easy throw to Roundtree for a big gain. 

There would have been almost zero chance of a backward pass, and the only risk is that a deep player comes down fast and pick sixes it. 

I don't quite understand why we didn't do this a ton, especially since its a much safer play than many of the other passes we attempted (ie the TE seem late in the game). 

But I'm just a guy on MGoBlog, so I'm sure the coaches knew much more about what was going on then I do. 

Kilgore Trout

November 17th, 2010 at 3:39 PM ^

I agree with your point that the backward pass is a pretty minor concern.  I don't think they ever intentionally throw that pass backwards (probably exactly for that reason.  It usually comes out of the shotgun with the receiver staying put or sliding out and slightly forward.  You don't often see the WR take significant steps backwards.  This concern is overblown.

Its All About …

November 17th, 2010 at 5:17 PM ^

Re: reverse scoop on the DE: 

What if Lewan just passed off the DE to Schilling in this case, since thats where the DE wanted to go and Schilling looks like he was in a better position to seal him, and then Lewan could get out on an LB?