Upon Further Review 2017: Special Teams vs Minnesota

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on November 10th, 2017 at 3:30 PM



Formation/substitution notes: Michigan decided to double the gunner when Minnesota opted to put them to the short side and only use one.

dbl gunner

[After THE JUMP: many punt returns, many yards]

Kickoff Return
Play Qtr Time Score From To Player Rtn Rlt
Left 1 1:20 7-7 35-M M5 Thomas 18 M23
Slow this down from 00:05 to 00:07 if you want to see the kind of twitchy cutting I didn't know was physically possible. The yardage here (+9yds) comes after Thomas is a little late seeing Mason's missed block; it is his and his only.
Left 3 15:00 20-7 35-M M5 Thomas 27 M32
Almost gone up the middle. Wangler (+8yds) gets the one block Thomas needs to take it up the middle; Thomas outruns the one free defender at the first level. Looks like he hopes he can split the two tacklers by outrunning them up the middle, but they converge and #35, who has done a nice job not getting too deep and coming over the top to meet Thomas, tackles him.
Middle 4 1:45 33-10 35-M M3 Thomas 16 M19
The hands team is out (hence why Garrett Moores posted this and why you see DPJ in the frame near the end) but Minnesota kicks it deep aaaaand this causes all kinds of confusion. Kinnel and Thomas have very different ideas, and Thomas ends up returning it with little blocking help. At least in front of him. Peoples-Jones does a nice job keeping a guy away from Thomas that Ben Mason subsequently thumps because, you know, Bench Mason and all.
Play Qtr Time Score Kicker From To CvrTeam Rtn Rlt Tackle
Left 1 15:00 0-0 Foug 35-L O1 ~O25 16 O17 Glasgow
Minnesota's two-man wedge goes left, and Michigan gets two players past it into the hole in the middle. The one man left as a first-level blocker has to pick one of three guys to block; Wroblewski gets an arm on the return to slow him as he cuts, then Glasgow gets a foot and pulls him down.
Middle 1 7:43 7-0 Foug 35-L EZ O30 TB O25 n/a
Couple yards deep in the end zone. McCrary forms a f'n wall in front of Smith to make sure he doesn't even think about taking it out of the end zone.
Left 1 00:58 14-7 Foug 35-L O10 ? 15 O25 Mason
Hewlett (+3yds) comes in off the far edge unblocked and does a nice job going outside to inside and getting an arm on Smith. He causes Smith to stumble, and from there Ben Mason emerges from the mass of bodies near the hash to pull down the runner.
Right 2 7:00 21-7 Foug 35-L O4 O22 14 O18 Glasgow
McCrary gets no help from his fellow returner, who breaks down and misses J'Marick Woods. McCrary cuts around him, though, then runs through a Schoenle arm tackle (both -5yds) before Glasgow, who cuts around Schoenle, wraps him up.
Left 3 3:27 27-7 Foug 35-L O7 O26 Fmbl O14 n/a
Thomas and Schoenle do a nice job squeezing through the middle and around a blocker, and Glasgow launches himself and comes up a half second short of a fumble recovery, but none of that is the direct cause of McCrary's fumble. He just bobbled it, and he's really fortunate to have recovered his fumble after it dropped straight down and he accidentally kickedt the ball ahead.
Left 3 1:35 27-7 Foug 35-L O12 O30 11 O23 Wroblewski
Seems like more of a line drive than usual, and it's certainly placed further upfield than is typical by about 10 yards. The coverage team does a nice job of getting to the ball quickly, though. Wroblewski reads the ballcarrier's path and steers inside his blocker, moving from the hash to halfway to the numbers to make the tackle. Glasgow shakes his defender and is right behind to help.
Field Goal
Qtr Time Ln Dn Ds FGDis Hash
2 0:11 O31 4 49
Punt Return
Play Qtr Time In-Air Yd From To Player Rtn Rlt
Left 1 11:40 41 O42 M17 DPJ FC M17
Two Minnesota gunners get off the line really quickly and force DPJ to call the fair catch. To put their speed in context, they see the FC signal and have run nine yards past DPJ by the time he has the ball in his hands. No qualms here.
Middle 2 13:45 52 O17 M32 DPJ FC M32
Michigan sends three and the one unblocked guy the shield chooses not to pick up is Hudson. As on defense, not blocking him is a bad idea. He somehow goes over the ball. There has to be about a 98% chance this gets blocked if a guy is similarly fast and unobstructed. DPJ has a gunner right in his face and calls the fair catch.
Left 2 9:03 62 O19 M19 DPJ 21 M40
Peoples-Jones reads the kick and rocks back a yard before pushing ahead and just far enough left that he's out of the reach of the outstretched arm tackle attempt. The way he breaks down and stares to the interior before bouncing out to the sideline is masterful. Hudson stays on his block for as long as he can but eventually releases the tackler. If he doesn't get DPJ then #42 will in the same spot, so no negative yardage applied here. Definitely some negative yardage on St. Juste (-31yds), though. He's hit for holding, which wipes out the return and moves Michigan back 10 yards from the spot of the reception. To make matters worse, the hold is about 30 yards away from DPJ and inconsequential to the return.
Right 2 5:15 68 O1 M31 DPJ 7 M38
DPJ shakes one defender, then breaks down with a hard look to the inside to freeze two more. He slips here; I think he goes at least seven more yards if he keeps his feet.
Right 3 11:10 62 O15 M23 DPJ 0 M23
This is the hardest anyone has worked for no yardage since Barry Sanders was a Lion. At least no one blocked anyone in the back.
Left 3 1:48 67 EZ O48 DPJ 8 M23
Another 60+-yard punt. It's not like Santoso isn't getting hang-time, either; I timed this one at 4.76. He's just really good. Here he hits one to the left that keeps drifting, which works to DPJ's advantage. He's able to catch it on the move, and as he accelerates he's been carried far enough over that he can outrun the nearest defender. He doesn't run into anyone until midfield, at which point he very literally runs into them. Kinnel (-21yds) gets called for holding, though that never shows up in the frame.
Right 4 15:00 51 O10 M39 DPJ 14 M44
Hudson beats his man off the line and from there it's a numbers game, with him lined up outside the two-man shield and two rushers with him to occupy said two men. Hudson dives and almost blocks another punt. From here Peoples-Jones goes walkabout, fielding the punt off a bounce and with his back to his coverage. Shakes two defenders and takes an angle that gets a third off of him.
Right 4 10:18 64 O26 M10 DPJ 10 M20
There's one guy whose number I couldn't see after the angle switched to the zoomed out one, but it looks like they lifted Hudson here. St. Juste isn't able to throw a block because he's going step for step with his man, but then he slips and his man is able to get a free shot at Peoples-Jones. I don't think St. Juste should get negative yardage because he picked this guy up in the middle of the field and never got a step on him, so it's not as though he missed a block as he was never in position to throw a non-penalized one.
Play Qtr Time Kicker In-Air Yd From To Rtn Rlt Tackle
Right 2 11:48 Robbins 58 M32 O9 OOB O9 n/a
What a punt. Direction and distance are both present. For once the behind-the-back camera angle works, as it allows us to see Robbins hit it off the edge of his foot. The returner sees where it's headed and clears himself out, stepping up and letting it hit and go out of bounds.
Left 3 12:55 Robbins 44 M20 O36 FC O36 n/a
Ambry Thomas as a gunner is a good idea. Metellus wasn't far behind, either. Speed forces a fair catch.
Middle 3 9:04 Robbins 42 M12 O46 FC O46 n/a
Short, but what it lacks in distance is made up for in security. Lots of room for error, of course, but I hand-timed the hang-time at 4.3 seconds, which is massive considering how short the punt was. The coverage team is all over the returner, so his only option is to fair catch.
Right 4 12:45 Robbins 57 M27 O16 FC O16 n/a
First field-flipper in a while. Robbins does a really nice job forcing the returner to the sideline; the returner misreads it by a yard and has to reach back to field the fair-caught ball.
Middle 4 8:08 Robbins 50 M16 O34 Fmbl M33 n/a
Hits Hmielewski right in the hands and somehow, despite Hudson and Thomas and Watson forming a three-person wall directly in front of him, bounces past them and to the returner's left. Wangler dives and is a second away from recovering, but Swenson, the guy Thomas beat to the returner, is standing in the right spot to fall on it.


Please stop.

That nickname’s a little on the nose, isn’t it.

I—yeah, it does seem that way the last few weeks. Harbaugh said he thought Nordin picked his head up early on the extra point he missed, and he added that they thought that had been corrected in practice the week prior.

And the field goal?

Not entirely sure. The answers there haven’t been as technically-inclined—I asked about it last week—and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m gonna need an offseason to study kicking technique before I feel qualified to comment on a guy’s form. Clipped this for future reference and in case there are any kicking technique wonks that want to contribute in the comments.

Did you see that some of Foug’s kicks were not placed at the one-yard line?

I, uh, make the charts so yes, I did.


It did seem weird to see multiple returns on which the yardage was in double digits, but their longest return got them to the 25. The coverage team was about where they usually are (the 25) when the ball was caught, so hats off to them for another week of excellent work.

You mentioned charts. You can’t just leave people hanging, you know.

Not that charts I was referring to but sure, let’s take a look at yardage added and lost.

KO Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds
Team 24
Schoenle 0 5 -5 64
Woods 0 5 -5 -5
KR Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds
Crawford 0 -17
Hawkins 0 43
Thomas 2 9 109 (6gms)
Hewlett 0 -10
Wangler 0 8 8 8
PR Summary
Player Returns YdsGained YdsLost TotalYds SsnYds
Peoples-Jones 6 62 62 141
Hewlett 0 0 0 0 -10
The ball 0 8 0 8 -11 (4gms)
Refs 0 4 0 4 4
St. Juste 0 0 31 -31 -31
Kinnel 0 0 21 -21 -21

FWIW, I don’t think the kickoff chart tells the full story because of the coverage team’s coverage. It’s easy to figure out yardage on a missed tackle and it’s even possible to extrapolate a run when a guy in coverage makes a great play and figure out yardage saved, but when there are three guys converging on every play it’s tough to give out positive yardage because the runner was never going to get past them.

As for the big negative numbers on the punt return chart, those are the result of a couple of penalties that wiped out nice returns by Peoples-Jones. Both penalties were out of the frame and I didn’t happen to catch them live, so unfortunately there’s no way to decide whether they were warranted. I’m just going with them and deducting based on how far back it set the line of scrimmage.

Speaking of big numbers, how about Peoples-Jones?

Hold on. We need to talk about Ambry Thomas first.

I don’t think that’s allowed, you didn’t run his picture at the top.

Watch this return.

Ah, so you’re pointing out that you only credited him with yardage added for this return and not the one at the end of the game and by virtue of this you’re a pretty big jerk.

That’s not the point, and I didn’t credit any yardage on the last return because he ran through the open area and got hit by the first guys in. Here, click on settings, switch the speed to 0.25x, and watch this part of the return.

Oh okay so he’s not a human.

Exactly. It wasn’t long ago that Michigan had their very own ManBearPig. I guess they have a ManBugDeer now. Yeah yeah yeah, he’s a freshman and all that, but even if you can teach that kind of squirminess there aren’t many guys who can pull it off. And you aren’t gonna teach it, anyway; that’s running to the highest order of instinctiveness.

On that note, let’s begin our analysis of Donovan Peoples-Jones’ returner-as-modern-dancer game.

There are two times he faces the coverage time with his back and yet somehow this seems completely fine. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that he fields the punt like this:

DPJ over shoulder

He tracks the ball off the hop like it’s a deep throw, but he’s able to do so while keeping track of the nearest Minnesota player; this is evident in the way he runs to the sideline to get that player to slide past him before turning back downfield. Other notables parts of the run: getting enough width at 00:09 to run past the defender who’s gotten away from Woods, then lowering to take out the so-called soft shoulder of the first arm tackler at 00:12.

Come for the crazy hold on Glasgow, stay for the hard-sells on the return. Glasgow was excellent in this game on kick coverage and punt return, and here you can see that he got the Gary treatment to avoid the block.

I credited Peoples-Jones with all 21 yards of this return because there is no return if he doesn’t take that one backward step to set up the defender before running it out to the left. He then outruns the guy Bush let up, jukes another, and is taken out by the one Hudson had to let go.

Peoples-Jones’s running is really interesting because it has none of the slitheriness of Thomas. Where Thomas contorts his body and seems to accordion up and down to change the angles of tacklers, Peoples-Jones looks right into his fake and then drops almost to the ground to sell the cut before heading the opposite direction.

It’s especially evident in the clip above. He tries to sell the fake so hard here that he slips and loses out on a few extra yards, but you can’t fault a guy for trying to set up defenders in a position where he knows he can get around them. Someone in the comments mentioned his propensity for holding the ball away from his body and that’s in play during this return, but I think it’s playing off of the defender’s ingrained see-ball-hit-ball mentality. He doesn’t just look and try to physically get into a fake cut, he pushes the ball that direction before bringing it back in. It’s an interesting move that’s something to keep an eye on to see whether that gets coached out of him or whether they let him do what he thinks works best.

This was Peoples-Jones’s most productive game I’ve charted on a yardage-added-per-return basis since the first game I did, and I was likely far too generous in that outing. He’s seeing the field really well, and the schedule (and defense) are getting him plenty of opportunities to work on when to clear guys out versus when to fair catch it versus when to play the ball. Some of the things he does (i.e. fielding it over the shoulder) could easily turn into trouble. The story of this game, though, is that his running style is becoming more apparent, and it’s more apparent that he’s stylistically on the opposite end of the spectrum from Thomas but has found a way to make that similarly effective.

You always talk about the punt return team and never the punter.

Thank you for that clunky segue into the last thing I wanted to mention. Robbins has obviously been learning on the job, and while there’s still a ways to go before the meh punts are completely erased, he did an excellent job on three of his five opportunities. On two of them he not only booted over 50 yards in the air, but he was able to pin the returner on the sideline. Both of those balls forced the returner to do something he doesn’t want to; in one case he fair caught it, and in the other he let it go out of bounds behind himself. Robbins also had a relatively short (mid-40s in-air yards) punt but put a ton of air under it such that the returner had no choice but to fair catch it. Seems like he’s gaining command over directionality and hang time as tools.

What does it mean for Maryland and beyond?

Possibly another week of Peoples-Jones clips. Seriously, have you seen their offense? Then again, might just be a lot of fair catches.

AHHH U PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS but ideally in a low-stress situation that allows Nordin to slow things down and get back into a groove.

Ambry Thomas is a touchdown waiting to happen. He’s also the Director of Santana Guitar Solo Deployment with Tarik Black on the shelf.

Brad Robbins: good. I think he’s tracking well for a freshman. The one thing to watch is where he places it if they ask him to punt from around Michigan’s 40, as those have tended to just barely squeak past the 20.



November 10th, 2017 at 3:53 PM ^

Robbins inability to pin teams deep has been pretty annoying.  He is clearly worried about putting the ball into the endzone and leaves everything short. Seems like mental thing rather than a physical thing so trust it to get worked out but against good teams flipping field position is an important part of the game and there is a huge difference between a team starting at their 9 vs their 19 let alone inside the 5.