This Week's Obsession: Over-Under on Over? Comment Count

Seth June 6th, 2014 at 10:44 AM


This here Friday because not enough for Dear Diary.

What do you think of the transition to a 4-3 over? Who else is running it? Is it so much of a shift?

Ace: While I was skeptical at first—it felt like a bit like a panic move—I've started talking myself into this being a positive change. The main reason is that it should allow Michigan to generate more of a pass rush, and in less predictable ways. Seth pointed out the benefits for both Frank Clark and Brennen Beyer in his post—they slide into roles more suited to their abilities in a way that gets them on the field at the same time. Add in the ever-present threat of Jake Ryan blitzing up the middle and I think the pass-rush will be improved thanks to this switch.

When you have Clark and Beyer (and Ojemudia and Taco etc.) available this isn't the best use of Jake Ryan [Fuller]

The defense should also be better suited to go against spread attacks by keeping Ryan in the middle. He no longer has to worry about playing over slot receivers or being the primary defender against bubble screens, and when Michigan goes to a nickel, they'll most likely lift James Ross for a defensive back—adding coverage without losing much from the pass rush.

Keeping the linebackers clean against the run is also easier in a 4-3 over; Iowa's linebackers were very successful last year in part because their alignment allowed them to roam free sideline-to-sideline—I was dumb enough to confuse "DTs aren't making plays" for "DTs not doing their job" in that post, when it turned out Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Passat were really good at holding up against double teams while the Hitchens/Morris/Kirksey trio combined for 35.5 TFLs despite rarely blitzing. I highly doubt Greg Mattison's defense will be as passive as Iowa's, but the Hawkeyes still provide a solid blueprint for how to get better production from the linebackers.

That brings me to my biggest concern, however, which is the defensive tackles. I believe the Henry/Pipkins combo will hold up fine at the nose, but the lack of experience at 3-tech is worrisome. The good news is both Chris Wormley and Matt Godin—the likely rotation there, along with Ryan Glasgow—were tweener DE/DT recruits with large frames, solid strength at the point of attack, and some concern about their edge-rushing ability; the last part matters much less now, and as long as they're not ceding ground with regularity, the experienced linebackers should be able to work behind them (Northwestern's linebackers managed to stand out in their 4-3 over even though their DTs routinely let the seas part).

My other main concern is how Ryan will handle more offensive linemen releasing to block him at the second level, but I have the feeling he'll figure it out. It's clear the coaches have been planning this shift for a while—see: Noah Furbush, MLB recruit—and despite a few minor bumps along the road I still have a great deal of trust in Mattison. If, as advertised, this shift allows the defense to be more aggressive in general and more adaptable against spread attacks specifically, I'm on board.

[Jump: Brian and BiSB go over this more. HA!]


Brian: For Michigan the switch to the over is about figuring out what's more awkward: Jake Ryan, MLB, or Brennen Beyer, strongside end in an under? They've clearly decided on the former, and after some time to think about it (I seem to recall calling the Ryan move "pure nonsense" on twitter when it was announced), I see the coaches' point.

Beyer was listed at 256 this spring, barely up from the 250 he played at last fall. Despite that weight, Michigan felt he was their best option at SDE after Ryan's return. And... sadly, he probably was. Michigan doubled down on that evaluation by moving Keith Heitzman to tight end, another trouble spot, this spring. Once it became clear that Beyer had no shot at coming anywhere near the 285 pounds Craig Roh managed to get to as a senior, let alone the burly defensive-tackle-ness Ryan Van Bergen operated at in Hoke's first season in Ann Arbor, the over looked a lot more attractive.

DSC_6247 - Copy
I mean…pick one [Fuller]

Beyer's actually a great fit for the end spot now. He's got the quick hands and size to defeat a ton of tight end blocks, and he's agile enough to drop into a short zone for a zone blitz chance of pace. When opponents go spread, he's performed ably against tackles in one on one matchups where he's supposed to hold the edge. It was just the doubles he really suffered against last year. Meanwhile, the roles of the other three guys on the line don't really change that much. Clark picks up some extra run support, but he's big and experienced enough for that.

I don't think Ryan is going to be particularly effective at MLB, but he's at least approximately the right shape and size. That could not be said for Michigan's projected front seven in the under.

Ace left out a potentially key guy that makes me feel better about things: Maurice Hurst. The redshirt freshman was underrated as a recruit and impressed a bunch of people this spring. He has that first step that Mike Martin did, and while he's not the slab of muscle Martin was, he promises to be tough to handle.

I'll also disagree with Ace about the duration of this change: I think it's a one-off based on their defensive ends. The chances Noah Furbush sticks at MLB are minuscule... but once you start eyeballing him as Jake Ryan 2.0 things make a lot more sense. With Poggi, Godin, Strobel, and Wormley around you're going to have a set of upperclass DE/DT types who make a ton of sense as an under SDE. Mattison clearly has a preference, and a dollar they pop back to it next year.


BiSB: You guys covered it pretty well. It's adds a little bit of uncertainty with Michigan's best defender in the name of eliminating a known weakness on the line. The one data point I would add in Ace's favor is Jared Wangler, SAM linebacker

Big picture, though, I don't know how big a deal this is. Michigan spent quite a few snaps in an Over front in the last couple of years anyway.


Brian: There's being in an over *front* and being in an over *defense.* An over front still has SAM Jake Ryan. An over defense has him at MLB. Michigan aligned mostly to field last year, which put them in a number of over fronts, but this is a different ball of wax.


BiSB: It makes a big difference in terms of personnel, especially for position switchers like Jake Ryan and to a lesser but non-zero extent James Ross. But this isn't a re-invention of the wheel, and shouldn't be a terribly traumatic transition.


Formation % of plays
4-3 Under 22%
Regular nickel 21%
Nickel over 15%
4-3 Over 13%
4-3 Even 12%
Heavy stuff 5%
3-3-5 5%
Okie 5%
Dime/Prevent 2%

Seth: You guys just hit on it. Here's Michigan's formations in UFR last year (through Nebraska game)--->

They ran their "base" thing less than 1 in 4 times. Those "nickel over" things from memory were oft something Michigan was forced into by the offense's formation, i.e. a nickel with 4-3 personnel (Brian charted them as 4-3 nickel over).

The over and even formations wound up being more common than the base because opponents saw what Michigan was trying to do and said "let's make Jake Ryan a Spur (or HSP) or a defensive end, then attack the young middle linebackers in space." So rather than be a 4-3 under that opponents will continuously force into being something else with the wrong personnel, Michigan's just going to line up with the right personnel.

You have to be constantly evolving in this game, both to your own talent and to what opponents try to do to you. I'm for this, even if it puts Jake Ryan in a position where he can't be JMFR anymore, because nobody but Minnesota last year let us do that anyway.

It does put some guys in bad spots, specifically Tom Strobel and Matt Godin, two tall dudes who were evolving into useful 4-3 under hybrid DE/DTs, (or to simplify, 3-4 defensive ends) and now seem to be caught between not being tackle-ish enough for the "3-tech" of the over, and not being end-ish enough for the ends.

Except I doubt Michigan has scrapped the thing they've been doing for three years and the thing Mattison knows best. That's why I'm not even thinking about the young LBs who were recruited for this, that, or the other spot in a 4-3 under. No matter when or how far the pendulum swings next, Michigan should have the talent to adjust without massively changing who they are, and that's pretty much what this is.


Space Coyote

June 6th, 2014 at 11:02 AM ^

Though by permanently, I mean essentially switching your 4-3 Under with 4-3 Over on the chart above.

Michigan will still very much be multiple, and they'll still run fronts based on offensive systems. But I don't think you focus on something as much as they're focusing on the Over (they did run quite a bit of Under in the Spring Game too, IIRC) without planning to invest in it for more than a year. Just like you don't intend on switching to an offensive system just for the sake of one year. It loses too much practice time for players growing up.

Instead, you either scrap the old thing and go with the new (RR going to the spread and eventually to the 3-3-5) or you ease your way into it over the course of some time (Hoke going from spread to pro-style). But switching around almost and not figuring out what you are always has negative consequences (Michigan is a 4-3, no 3-3-5, no 4-3 with Robinson, no 3-3-5 with Robinson). An exception to that rule is when Michigan went to a 3-4 for one year and then came back with a 4-3 in '06 (though they had dabled in a 3-4 before then as well).

That's also not to say there is anything wrong necessarily with being multiple. You don't need to stick to one scheme completely. But you should have a base you're building to and from at all times, and identity as they say, on both sides of the ball. I don't believe you scrap that for one year's worth of Over front.

Space Coyote

June 6th, 2014 at 11:12 AM ^

Violent, quick hands is essential for a fewreasons: 1) Initial punch gives you inside, underneath leverage with forward momentum; 2) makes it difficult for opposing OL to latch on and drive in run game (when they try to close the gap and control) or hold at bay in pass pro (when they try to prevent you from being able to control their body); 3) it allows you to disengage blockers to go make tackles; 4) it allows you to use various moves to get linemen off balance such as swim much, rip move, etc.

It all starts at the base through to the core, but if that power, speed, and quickness isn't translated up through the hands then it's hard to be affective on the DL. Great hand work means winning that punch and contact and getting off blocks to allow DL to be disruptive on top of just plugging and keeping LBs clean.

Indiana Blue

June 6th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

if the defense doesn't become MUCH more aggressive this year.  We need to forget the "bend don't break" theory.  We actually have some experience of the defensive side of the ball - so it is time to go after the 3 and outs.  Yes that will rely on tight man coverages - but a repeat of last year's scheme will be inexcusable.

Go Blue!


June 6th, 2014 at 11:58 AM ^

What people often neglect in this type of discussion is James Ross.  Last year we had hoped he would be the dynamic and elusive tackle machine his profile suggested.  Yet we saw almost zero in the way of big play from him.  It wasn't that he was bad, but he wasn't dynamic.  Now we have two big burly linebackers in the middle and the smaller/quicker Ross will deal with TEs and Slot types on the edge while occassionally blitzing and using his athleticism and quickness.  I admit to being totally naive with regard to the details of this defense, but it seems to suit Ross more than people mention. 


June 6th, 2014 at 12:05 PM ^

is not seeing Jake Ryan completely own everything from the gaurd to the slot reciever. On the whole, though, I think this is a reaction to the lack of a pass rush the past few seasons, and the desire to generate that rush organically rather than by blitzing. 


June 6th, 2014 at 12:08 PM ^

My guess is that this season will hinge more on player development than scheme for the D.  It will be worrisome if we don't see some fairly big improvements among the defensive players.  Ross, Bolden, Clark, Henry, Wormley, etc. - it's time for those guys to show what they've got. 


June 6th, 2014 at 4:04 PM ^

yep this squad desparately needs the big bodies from hokes first few classes to take that next step (or two)  in order for team as whole to take the next step.  obviously OL must drastically improve for them to see success but DL not too far behind.  beyer and clark will never consistently make those splash plays, they are what they are.  those core guys from hokes initial classes like wormley, godin, stroebel, charlton, ojemudia, henry, pipkins, etc (contributions from hurst and mone would be bonuses though i think theyll both be solid in long run)  need to show up this fall and impact games.   unfortunately this squad will still really struggle to pressure QBs with 4 since no one on current DL can consistently win 1v1's.  dominant front 4's who opponents must game plan around are vital for bsc type teams and um has ways to go in that regard.  but if they can consistently play faster and more disciplined up front and limit opponents ability to run it down their throats, thats an excellent start - and those core guys at DL will be relied upon


June 7th, 2014 at 12:45 AM ^

Our DL has one senior and two juniors, one of whom was injured for a good portion of the season last year whose return to full health is not guaranteed. The rest are redshirted Soph/Frosh or pure Soph/Frosh.

I don't think we've seen enough from them to simply assume they won't be able to do what you're looking for in 2014.


June 6th, 2014 at 12:09 PM ^

What confuses me as much as anything (and I wish we had Heiko-like access to Mattison) is the strategy of the DL for 2013.  When we had a dynamic duo of Martin and RVB on the DL it made sense to let them slash into the backfield while the LB cleaned up.  But we seemed to have success in 2012 when Washington and Campbell ate double-teams and allowed the talent at LB to make the plays.  But what happened in 2013?  It seemed like we played a small DL with players somewhat out of position and put more of a burden on the LB than any season preview predicted.  Washington barely played, Black and Beyer played at positions where they were undersized, there was a ton of rotation from play to play unlike the steady usage of guys like Campbell, Roh, RVB, and Martin in previous seasons.....  It doesn't add up.  So maybe the coaches realized this but also realized that they don't have two space eating monsters at DT right now and thus feel the 4-3 Over is the best way to free up the LB to make plays.  Just one random and mostly uneducated opinion on the topic.  I would love to hear what Mattison had to say about the 2013 DL rotation.

Space Coyote

June 6th, 2014 at 12:15 PM ^

I think it's as simple as the fact that they finally had a lot of bodies, and no one was really performing consistently. You'll note that Black (who was undersized but pretty consistent) didn't rotate out as much. Neither did Clark toward the end of the season as he improved. But 3-tech and 5-tech were areas of big time inconsistent play, likely due to youth, lack of experience, not grasping many of the mental aspects (both of those positions are hard without having a grasp of all the things that get thrown at you), and not being physically ready yet to stand up to a ton of snaps.

I think as players step up, you'll see less rotation. I think Mattison still likes rotation to keep people fresh (he rotated a lot at Florida IIRC, and so do many successful teams), but people need to step up to earn consistent playing time. Didn't see that last year.

steve sharik

June 6th, 2014 at 12:32 PM ^

...between playing an over front occasionally and having it as the base defense, I hope Brian doesn't mean to suggest that switching to an over front necessitates moving a strongside overhang/wide 9 LB to a MLB.  That the coaches want to get him involved in more plays by positioning Ryan at MLB has nothing to do with scheme.  Whether it's a 3-3-5, 5-2, 4-2-5, 4-3 over or under, moving a guy from an overhang/force defender to an inside linebacker is a philosophy switch. 

We didn't switch to the over in order to get Ryan inside--he was going inside no matter what (given they didn't want opponents neutralizing him by going multiple width to his side).  We switched to the over b/c we don't have a stud who can play in the C gap to the strong side and defeat doubles by behemoth OTs and quick, strong TEs.  In the defense I ran, we called this end the "Stud" and that wasn't by default.


June 6th, 2014 at 1:05 PM ^

Considered every remark, each angle, all the relevant points; and, well, ...

(Actually, I have no opinion. I was just waiting to use that gif.)


June 6th, 2014 at 2:27 PM ^

"And after some time to think about it (I seem to recall calling the Ryan move "pure nonsense" on twitter when it was announced), I see the coaches' point."