Picture Pages: Whither Safeties Comment Count

Brian December 6th, 2011 at 2:01 PM

First: a confession. I really wanted to have the UFR's raring to go early this week. You must believe me. I wanted to play Fallout 3, which I'd saved as an end of the year treat, slightly more. So… yeah. I am through the main bit of that and am now plowing through the OSU game at all speed. I apologize for lackadaisical behavior and certainly hope Michigan is taking their film breakdowns more seriously than I am.

Second: a confusion. If you're like me, Michigan's inexplicable lack of a free safety was a surprising and disconcerting feature of the Akron State Golden Bobcats game. Before, Michigan had safeties. During… not so much. The reason for this was twofold. One:



Michigan spent a lot of time in formations like this with Kovacs rolled up to the line of scrimmage. This leaves just one deep safety.



The guy on the far right in this still coming over the top of a tight end that's pretty dang covered is Troy Woolfolk. Result:


Not quite an eighty yard touchdown. This was the very next drive after Woolfolk did the same thing on incredibly easy Braxton Miller touchdown one.

And then… I mean… WTF. It's third and twenty seven for OSU on their own three yard line, and despite having a mistake-prone Braxton Miller and third and a billion from the three, Ohio State throws.

The setup:


OSU's in an I, Michigan is in its usual under, albeit a nickel. You can see Kovacs rolled up to the line at the top of the screen; Floyd and Woolfolk are your two deep safeties.

OSU goes straight dropback. Michigan rushes three. You can see Ryan dropping off in the frame below; He'll set up to contain scrambles. Martin and RVB are doubled and get nowhere, but Roh got a speed rush on Mike Adams:


Adams tackles Roh and picks up the holding call that will give Michigan a safety. Huge play from Roh against a first round pick. But that's another Picture Pages. (It's not, actually.)


Given time, Miller sets up and chucks it. Where is Woolfolk?


On the 25, covering the slot receiver. Oh, balls.






54-yard TD on which Woolfolk and Countess jump the underneath route:

Near 80 yard touchdown:

Third and twenty-seven:

Items of Interest

WTF was this? The consistency with which Woolfolk was jumping the underneath route suggests it was part of Mattison's gameplan. Watch Woolfolk on the video just above: he is sitting on the slot receiver. But if Woolfolk is supposed to come up in a robber, why the hell is Countess playing outside of Posey on both of the latter two throws?

On the first one Spielman starts chattering about how Countess can't give up in the inside, and my immediate thought was "dude that is not on him, that is on the free safety losing his mind." Then the second one happens and… if it's third and twenty seven and your free safety vacates the deep middle for the third time in seven minutes(!) can it really be Woolfolk blowing an assignment? Probably not. I have not yet run across the sideline reporter screaming "OH MY GOD GREG MATTISON IS LITERALLY EATING TROY WOOLFOLK'S INTERNAL ORGANS FOR BUSTING SPECTACULARLY THREE TIMES IN SEVEN MINUTES AAAAAAAAAH THEY TOLD ME THIS WOULDN'T BE LIKE COVERING BRIAN KELLY NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN NOT AGAIN." If Woolfolk had not been doing what he was supposed to, this would have happened.

So. We think Michigan is playing a three deep coverage on which the middle safety is intentionally sucking up on intermediate routes and the corner is playing outside. That does not make sense. That throw in the middle of the field is easy relative to deep fly routes down the sideline—that's why there's always a deep safety—and Michigan is giving it to OSU all day. Even on third and twenty-seven.

I don't get it, man. Even if you assume Countess is a freshman and thus screwing up, you're still putting him one on one with Posey all game with no help at all over the top. That doesn't seem like a good strategy.

On the other hand. Maybe you can't blame Woolfolk for these plays because he was executing his assignment. I find it hard to believe he is not at fault on the 54-yard WTF on OSU's first drive and the half-ending corner route on which he reacted very late. If Michigan lost that game that was going to be the kid's legacy, sorry to say. OSU's gameplan was based around attacking 1) Morgan and 2) Woolfolk with a side of Floyd and Countess.

Braxton Miller problems. Putting Kovacs in the box on every play restricts what you can run in coverage and exposes the middle of the field; that spot Woolfolk keeps running into is the same one Stoneburner will exploit for a huge gain on OSU's disconcerting 82-second touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. On that play the safety (now Gordon) stayed deep and there was no one to tackle once Stoneburner found the soft spot in the zone.

[Update: you can see Gordon turn and run for the post, leaving no one behind Demens.]

So your choice is between opening that up and opening up the deep stuff; obviously neither of those is a great choice.

Hurray Roh. Roh has not developed into the devastating pass rusher Michigan fans were hoping for this summer. He's got four sacks, which is amongst the team lead but far short of the numbers an impact player would put up. Here, though, he beats a very good tackle and gets paid for his effort. Thumbs up.



December 6th, 2011 at 2:43 PM ^

Definitely preferred New Vegas myself. Obsidian is made up of guys who made the first two original Fallout games and they had a much more intimate knowledge of the Fallout universe they created than Bethesda.

Bethesda is great at what they do (massive open world sandbox gameplay) but as far as RPG's go, I like mine with better stories and more interesting NPC interaction.

Of course, Mass Effect blows them all away.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:50 PM ^

I could go either way on the 3 vs. New Vegas debate. On the one hand, New Vegas has a much better main storyline, with well-developed options in terms of which factions to ally with, and hardcore mode is pretty excellent. On the other, Fallout 3 has much better side quests, with more value separate from the main quest. Side quests in New Vegas feel like fetching duties rather than interesting tangents.

I've yet to play the Mass Effect series, and am waiting for a cheap bundle of 1 and 2 to show up on Steam.


December 6th, 2011 at 4:35 PM ^

because buying games at launch allows us to experience EEEEEEEEEEEEE immediately, but then we also pay out the ass for DLC and suffer through bugs that get patched eventually, while wise people like Our Host simply wait and get the whole thing, all at once, for a much lower price, while only missing the opportunity cost of having the game that much earlier.

EDIT: And if I'd read halfway down the page, I'd have seen him say basically that. +1 for psychic powers that no one will believe.


December 6th, 2011 at 7:58 PM ^

Seriously.  Skyrim is $60 right now, and I know I've heard about some major bugs (especially on the PS3).

On the other hand, I just got Fallout: New Vegas during the last Steam sale for around $15 for the base game plus all of the expansions.

Waiting definitely has its benefits, especially when you're as broke as I am.


December 6th, 2011 at 2:55 PM ^

I think it was probably the better decision, given what we knew (or thought we knew) then. Miller was a terrible passer, especially on deep balls, and our CBs had shown that they could handle good WRs 1 on 1. Turns out both of those things weren't completely true, and we got burned a fair bit by it, but I don't think it was a result of poor judgement on Mattison's part.


December 6th, 2011 at 2:46 PM ^

It's either a gameplan that went awry or historically poor FS play, so... yeah. I think the difference between post 1 (doom) and post 2 (PBU) may indicate Mattison expects Countess to be able to make that play consistently.

This may be because he doesn't know how good Posey is, thinks Braxton can't throw, or is trying some NFL stuff that doesn't work on this level. Or it just could be players messing up. If I get an opportunity Heiko (or I) will ask. I'm planning on hippie-bombing a couple of coaching clinics this spring.

One Inch Woody…

December 6th, 2011 at 3:52 PM ^

Personally, I'm leaning towards it being all 3 of those.

They had one game of film with Braxton + Posey. I think there were 8 total passes attempted by OSU in that game, so Mattison is naturally thinking that Bollman doesn't have faith in Braxton to throw, and most definitely not throw the deep stuff.

This is the same game plan that opponents use against our QB. Denard hasn't been great at throwing the deep ball, so they stack the box with 8 and the lone safety jumps short routes. An example of this is in the Iowa game: Roundtree lines up with Prater playing press. Roundtree PLANTS Prater on his ass and there's no safety help over the top. Denard proceeds to overthrow Roundtree. 

I don't think Mattison could have expected Bollman to all of a sudden come out with a pass-happy gameplan like he did. Even after the 54 yard WTF touchdown, Mattison kept gambling that Miller would not complete the deep pass, and unfortunately, he completed more than we wanted, but it worked for the most part.

- PS - 

Some more evidence for your analysis, Brian, as well as Spielman,  is the overthrown ball to Posey at the end of the game. Floyd was playing to the inside, forcing Posey to the outside. If Posey is allowed to run a post there, that's a touchdown. Similarly, Countess should have played Corey Brown to the inside on the WTF touchdown, allowing Woolfolk to jump Posey. Instead, Countess decides to take Posey along with Woolfolk and Corey Brown is left wide open.


After the WTF touchdown, Hoke took Countess and Floyd aside to talk to them about who messed up and not to be discouraged by it. He didn't talk to Woolfolk, so I'm assuming Woolfolk played it properly and Countess was the one who screwed up.

J. Lichty

December 6th, 2011 at 4:51 PM ^

I think the other issue is that the CB's were cheating and thus suceptible to Posey's double moves which were Manningham level good.  Posey is just better than the CB's and the latter felt they had to cheat on him and he took advantage.  So it may not necessarily been that the CB's were giving up the inside, but rather they were fooled into giving up the inside.

One Inch Woody…

December 6th, 2011 at 11:30 PM ^

Yep, after doing some more reading, it's clear that we were playing a Cover 1 Robber defense. Unfortunately, Posey ate our corners alive when he was sent to their islands. JT Floyd did a CONSIDERABLY better job than Countess, which is to be expected because Countess is a freshman and didn't have to cover Michael Floyd at the start of the season.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:00 PM ^

That's exactly what I was thinking.  Why was Woolfolk mysteriously missing in the second half?  Nagging injury or blown coverages?  Remember - he had limited experience as a deep safety and maybe it is possible that he blew it.  I don't recall seeing Mattison chewing anyone out all season, so that's perhaps not the best indicator - a benching would be.


December 6th, 2011 at 2:25 PM ^

Maybe the general idea of Mattison's game plan is to get Woolfolk closer to the line, however he needs to, to help in run support (Braxton Miller scrambling in particular).

The theme seems to be confidence that Martin and Van Bergen would get to Miller, or pressure him, before a 50-yard pass play could develop. With that in mind, having Woolfolk 25-30 yards downfield when Miller starts to scramble wouldn't be of much use.

It doesn't really matter, however. Mattison's game plan worked. Ohio State scored fewer points than Michigan, and that is ALL that matters.


December 6th, 2011 at 2:44 PM ^

It doesn't really matter, however. Mattison's game plan worked. Ohio State scored fewer points than Michigan, and that is ALL that matters.

I agree that Michigan winning the game is the most important thing, but when the defense gives up 34 points to anyone, it's hard to say that the defensive gameplan "worked" (putting aside the fact that OSU had a true frosh QB and a relatively middling offense coming into the game).  Dollars to donuts that Mattison wouldn't say that his gameplan "worked." 

OSU came out with a gameplan that we weren't prepared for defensively (throwing early and often), but fortuantely we were able to win the game nonetheless. 


December 6th, 2011 at 2:58 PM ^

In "results-based viewing" of football games, the gameplan works when the offense of the team I root for scores more than the opposition. Thankfully, as a fan, I don't have to bother myself with whether Mattison feels it worked or not, because all I care about is that 40 > 34.


December 6th, 2011 at 2:30 PM ^

Could this be Mattison being clever and Miller being so stupid/young he didn't fall for it and just got lucky?  

In poker this would be similar to Mattison being Phil Hellmuth trying to check raise representing a big hand  and some donkey calling and winning the pot because he just "likes action".

Woolfolk begins most of these sequences in the deep middle of the field showing 1 deep or 3 deep which would discourage any throws to the deep middle.   Maybe Mattison thought with Braxton being young he could discourage him from throwing to the deep middle by formation and then told Woolfolk to attack underneath.  Miller in the biggest game of his career with his head buzzing just started going Rex Grossman and it worked?

Just a theory, because as you point out not much else makes sense.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:03 PM ^

I'm wondering if this game was just the other side of the Illinois coin.  There Floyd looked like an all-world corner because he was able to jump every single route and Scheelhaus was running for his life rather than bombing down the field.  I wonder if a closer look at that game would reveal an almost identical plan, but with vastly different results thanks to some combination of Posey > Jenkins, high winds in Champagne, Fickell staff with more tape to prepare from > Zook staff, and/or Miller's arm > Scheelhaus' arm.


December 7th, 2011 at 7:40 AM ^

That's my thought.  The MVP of the defense against Illinois was the defensive line, really.  They were all over Scheelhaase the entire game, and that forced incomplete passes.  Floyd made a nice play on the INT of Scheelhaase, but other than that, he didn't do much that was spectacular. 

The defensive line was slightly less effective this game and Posey is a better wideout than Illinois had, so there were some scary and disastrous moments.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:17 PM ^

Apology for lackadaisical behavior not accepted!  You don't see the rest of us ignoring our jobs in favor of idle games and diversions, do you?  Uh, on second thought . . . .


December 6th, 2011 at 3:33 PM ^

when OSU kept coming out two to the wide side.  Floyd, as the boundary corner (cover 3) was consistently out of position.  For example, on the Posey TD, yes, Woolfolk got burned badly, but Floyd's only responsibility there is to cover that deep 3rd and he was nowhere near where he needed to be.


December 6th, 2011 at 3:39 PM ^

done the statistical analysis that exposes the type of long pass plays Akron State attempted prior to Posey getting back to the line up?  I'm sure its not the first time that either team has held small portions of special plays from the play book for The Game.  Mattison may have game planned for what he thought would be exploited in our defense, and guessed wrong.  Hey, he adjusted,....good on him....only 10 pts scored in the second half.