Why can't Michigan run the ball without Denard? As with anything in football, the answer is "it's complicated" but against Nebraska the pendulum swung decisively towards an inability to block anything.
There were two primary ways in which things went unblocked, one of which we'll cover in two posts.
Ain't Nobody Trying To Block Important People
The first were either busts, play design errors, or combo blocking errors that left totally unblocked linebackers in the hole. A here's a third-quarter iso on the penalty fiesta drive that resulted in a field goal:
The highlighted guy is Nebraska's WLB. No one even tries to block him.
Unsurprisingly, this doesn't go well.
I'm not sure who this is on. I don't get the blocking. If Mealer releases directly downfield in the second frame in an attempt to get that WLB he does not have much of an angle and probably doesn't do much. I would expect Michigan to double that DT, leave Mealer behind on the DT, and then have Omameh pop off.
That doesn't happen. Did someone screw up? Is the play design bad? Is it Schofield moving to the second level poorly? Things are so confused I don't know.
If this was a one time thing you could chalk it up to a guy busting. It wasn't.
[AFTER THE JUMP: more unblocked guys! Like, so many you'll freak! They're coming out of holes in the ground like the Viet Cong!]
Oops I Didn't Do It Again
Nebraska MLBs were hanging out unblocked in the hole a lot. Here's a second quarter iso against a straight-up 4-3 with the same problem:
I expect double teams on the LOS, and you do see Mealer doubling a DT, hopefully sealing him inside before he moves to the second level(1). To the bottom of the screen(2), though, is a one-on-one block from Barnum on the other DT. Lewan moves to the second level…
…and is a gap away from the play with no angle on the LB.
Note that to the top of the screen, the other DT has come through the attempted double by Mealer and Omameh, so they didn't even do the bit that made sense well.
That play was the second of three consecutive first-down runs that gained two yards.
Safeties Get In The Act
This wasn't just an I-form iso problem. Sometimes it's the play design, like the end around fake to start the game.
That may have held the linebackers a fraction; it also robbed Michigan of anyone to block the safety with.
The result was three yards on a play where everyone who Michigan tried to block got blocked.
Looks Like An Option, Probably Isn't Since Michigan Never Runs Option
Michigan brought out some option action that may or may not have been a real read and was definitely not respected by Nebraska since Michigan hasn't run an option more than a couple times all year. Michigan's in a two-back setup with a TE.
They send Kerridge in motion around Denard, with a corner threatening blitz.
At the mesh point Denard is looking… somewhere. He's not looking at the end, who's getting blocked anyway. He's not looking at the MLB, who's well inside. Is he checking that corner over the slot for a potential packaged play where he just hits Roundtree as the corner comes up reading run?
Nope, Roundtree is blocking. Poorly, as the corner is past him and he's peeling back and won't end up blocking anyone. Meanwhile in he middle of the field the option fake did not pull out the MLB, Michigan has no one to block him, and that's the same story.
Michigan is again optioning no one here. They block the end. This play works if Michigan runs a basic zone read and gets out on that LB; instead they're relying on the idea Michigan is going to run an option with the fullback as their pitchman to hold the defense outside.
Sometimes Michigan did get blown up spectacularly…
not going on Barnum's favorite play reel
…but far too often the Cornhusker making the tackle didn't even have anyone assigned to him.
Things And Stuff
I don't get it. Nebraska isn't running something weird here. They're shifting their linebackers sometimes, sometimes they're just playing it straight up, but these aren't blitzes or getting rock-paper-scissored by Pelini's playcalls. I get that sometimes you're just going to get caught in the wrong play. None of these are the wrong play except possibly the option, if it's actually an option.
So why the hell can't Michigan block an ILB on multiple iso plays? That's the most basic play in football and Michigan can't get anyone out on a linebacker. A lot. Not once. A lot.
The option thing is just… come on man. I'm not sure who the "come on man" is for. They have to be optioning off the MLB on this play, but Denard's not looking at him. He's just handing off and faking a pass to a guy who is not running a route. If it's just a straight handoff—and yeah guy in the comments you don't believe that Michigan's coaching staff is stupid enough to do that, and probably still don't believe Michigan had no audibles in the MSU game—then you're relying on the threat of an option that Michigan does not run with a fullback pitch man to scare the MLB out of his gap.
I don't think it's an option. Otherwise Denard would probably be running out the speed option fake instead of pulling up to fake a throw. (To a guy not running a route.) And he'd probably be looking at someone who is being optioned, which he's not. I mean, do we really think Denard is so bad at football that he can't even figure out how to look at the guy he is supposed to look at and instead stares into empty space?
Options not taken. It's not just the option that's not taken. The throw fake to Roundtree is a really good idea to make not a fake. Oklahoma State and West Virginia have deployed that with great success and if Michigan packaged a quick throw with this read they might have it too, as that nickel corner is reacting to the Kerridge motion. (He's the only one.)
Denard is pretending like they're running a stick route based on what the LB does, which would be nice if they put it in the offense but they won't because Michigan can't even block an iso right.
You've got to run it or the threat is not credible. Michigan's run this option action several times this year and handed it off every time—another indicator that this is not actually a read. At some point you have to actually run the other thing, whether it's a call or a read, because "oh the fullback is in motion" is not getting it done.
This would be a nice package. Here is a series of plays that would be hard to defend in concert off this motion:
- speed option / lead blocker
- inside zone w/ unblocked DE
- inside zone w/packaged stick route
- triple option off the MLB's motion
- backside iso
Michigan's run one of those plays, except they're not actually reading their triple option off the linebacker's movement.
Poor damn Fitz Toussaint. I have some still from a play on which he screwed up, but that's the only truly negative play I have for him. I've got plenty of the above, where he's got no space and an unblocked guy in his face. Poor damn Fitz Toussaint.