This is belated, but still relevant since I just saw Michigan run this play with Denard Robinson as the tailback in the Purdue game. This is a staple of the Illinois offense but it's something Michigan hasn't run yet in the Rodriguez era. I assume Michigan decided that the best way to practice it was to install it, and once it's installed you might as well run it.
It's Michigan's first drive of the day. The setup is a standard four-wide set on which Michigan is in a stretch setup with the quarterback behind the tailback:
On the snap it looks identical to the stretch in the backfield, with the running back coming across the quarterback's face to take a handoff, or not take a handoff. The line, however, is doing something completely different. They're blocking down:
On a stretch the line would be moving the same direction as the tailback and leaving the backside defensive end unblocked. On this play they block the opposite direction and leave the frontside DE unblocked. This is a veer.
Michigan's run a different sort of veer earlier that looks more like a traditional stretch with the tailback attacking upfield and the quarterback the player that needs to be contained. That touchdown against Purdue last year where Minor ran untouched into the endzone was a veer. On this play, the upfield threat is the QB and the RB needs to be contained.
On the exchange the Illinois line has slanted in anticipation of a stretch; they're reacting to the line. The backside DE is shuffling out and Koger is immediately releasing to the second level to pick up a block on the MLB:
Forcier keeps it. I think he keeps it incorrectly given the DE's reaction to the play:
Oops. If that DE had taken off for the tailback this is a good gain. Look at that crease up the middle. Since Forcier isn't Denard Robinson he probably gets tracked down by a safety—they're off the screen deep—but Illinois has gotten fooled by this play. Everyone except the DE, that is:
He cuts off that crease.
Forcier's a slippery bugger in space, though, and this DE is not nearly as agile as he is. As we've seen all year, dude can make you miss. He manages to get around the DE and to the outside. This delay has allowed opponents to converge, though:
Forcier gets down voluntarily:
It's four yards thanks to the mismatch between the DE and Forcier, but he had to make a guy miss to get it.
- Forcier's freshman status is much more pronounced on the zone read. Forcier's made a lot of poor decisions this year when it comes to handing the ball off or taking it. Most of the time his error is keeping the ball, but when Robinson came in to run the veer against Purdue he handed it off as the DE was running right out of the play and Robinson got nailed for a three-yard loss.
It's not just the passing game which should improve as Forcier gets more experience. Michigan's run game is being hampered by Forcier's youth as well. This is why the quarterback is even more important in Rodriguez's system than others.
- The veer is an excellent counter to Michigan's usual zone stuff… To the line it looks like a stretch and will draw stretch responses. As you can see in the frames above, the Illinois line has crashed itself out of the play, helping Michigan down-block it. There's a big damn crease if the DE heads out for the tailback. If the DE is on a scrape exchange and crashing for the QB, the handoff read is a potential big gain because the scraper is going to have to deal with a blocker and you have a tailback in a lot of space for cutbacks. Michigan tried it a couple times against Illinois; Illinois, unsurprisingly, reacted well to it. It's their base running play, IME. They've seen it.
- …but it requires far more precision on the read. Watching Juice Williams in detail the past couple years has given me an appreciation for how difficult it is to perceive the DE's intent and momentum, and how your fakes can drag him out of position. Williams gets low and extends the ball and holds it there almost impossibly long, then drags it out after the DE commits. Forcier does not have that patience yet.
This read is also more important to the success of the play. If the DE crashes down on a stretch he may get to the tailback if other people on the DT cut off creases. Fundamentally he's a cutback defender and a play can still work if the QB is not contained and gives it off. Here a missed read is probably going to be a loss, Forcier jukes notwithstanding.