Four Plays - UM @ UConn 2013

Submitted by EGD on July 11th, 2013 at 12:49 AM

This series examines the probable individual matchups Michigan would face against particular 2013 opponents on one of Michigan’s key running plays and one of its key passing plays, as well as defensively against a couple of the opponent’s key plays (assuming first-sting personnel in a base defensive alignment).   This is the second installment of the series; my debut edition was on Michigan’s marquee non-conference game against Notre Dame.  Today, I look at Michigan’s trip to East Hartford that completes the home-and-home against the Connecticut Huskies of the Big East. 

Both coaching staffs have turned over since the 2010 edition of this game in A2, a 30-10 Rich Rod gem that christened the renovated Big House.  For Michigan, as you know, the spread & shred is out and Manball is in.  For UConn, however, we can only speculate. 

Last season, UConn struggled mightily to move the ball. The team ranked 110th in total offense and managed only 24 touchdowns all season.  So, it shouldn’t be any surprise that Offensive Coordinator George DeLeone is what’s out at UConn.  He’s replaced by T.J. Weist, erstwhile Michigan G.A. (1990-903, under Moeller), who spent most of the 2000s coaching various offensive positions at FCS Western Kentucky.  That included OC duties from 2003-06, before shifting back to a position/assistant HC spot for the rest of his tenure.  Significantly, Weist was there to see WKU adopt the up-tempo spread offense in 2008, before Brian Kelly hired him to coach receivers at Cincinnati in 2009.  Weist stayed with the Bobcats under Butch Jones, and finally makes the jump to BCS offensive coordinator starting this fall. 

So, what kind of attack will he deploy?  Weist’s own description is not very enlightening:

“I believe that you win games running the ball and throwing the football.  I’m not going to characterize us as a run the football or throw the football team, but I want to be an aggressive play caller.  I want to spread the field; vertically and horizontally.  Based on personnel, I want to be able to attack and have a physical offense with a balance to it.  We can throw deep; no question.  We just need to get the ball to our playmakers.  I think we’re going to put our players in the best position to make plays.”

But while we’re waiting for Heiko to penetrate Weist’s offensive soul, the smattering of speculation from the two UConn blogs and the Hartford newspapers, Weist’s extensive work as a position coach for wide receivers, and the presumption that Weist will run something similar to that preferred by the head coaches he worked for all suggest that he’ll implement some kind of up-tempo passing spread. UC blog Down the Drive did a nice three-part series on the differences between Brian Kelly’s offense and Butch Jones’s; whether Weist opts for the more free-form Kelly model or the west coastish Jones version remains to be seen, but either way it looks like we can count on seeing lots of 3- and 4-WR sets and a zone-heavy running game.

The Huskies also lost their defensive coordinator, Dan Brown, who moved to Boston College.  Unlike DeLeone, the loss of Brown could be a true setback for the Huskies, as they finished in the top-10 in total defense last season.  Brown is replaced by long-time UConn assistant Hank Hughes, who evidently runs some kind of 4-3 front.  I haven’t been able to find any more elaborate description of the scheme, so for this exercise I will presume it’s a 4-3 under, like God runs.  Now, on to the diagrams.

When Michigan has the ball…

1.       26 Power L

Last time, we looked at UM’s matchups running Power O to the right side against the stout Notre Dame front.  That play design called for Ben Braden, M’s likely starting LG, to pull across the formation and lead the back through the hole.  But as d_ronii pointed out, practice reports suggest M’s projected new RG, Kyle Kalis, is the team’s best puller—meaning it might be preferable to run Power O to the left side behind Kalis and all-American LT Taylor Lewan.  Here’s what that would look like against Connecticut’s 4-3 base front:


LT – Taylor Lewan: double-team (with TE) SDE B.J. McBryde

LG – Ben Braden: downblock NT Shamar Stephen

C – Jack Miller: downblock 3T Angelo Pruitt

RG – Kyle Kalis: pull and lead RB through 6-hole, block MLB Yawin Smallwood

RT – Michael Schofield: downblock WDE Jesse Joseph

TE – Devin Funchess: double-team McBryde, move to second-level and block WLB Jefferson Ashiru

FB – Joey Kerridge: execute kick-out block on SLB Graham Stewart

RB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: follow LG through 6-hole, cut off LG’s block.  Note that when running power from I-formation, the back must execute a counter step (toward the backside) before receiving the handoff.  This is to allow the LG time to execute his pull.

Advantage: Even

Taylor Lewan gives Michigan a fearsome presence at the point-of-attack.  But with a veteran front, including a preseason All-American of their own at MLB and a highly-regarded 315 lb. player at SDE, UConn has to like their chances defending plays like Power O.  They will need to, if UConn wants any shot at upsetting their storied visitors.

2.       Play-Action Deep Flood

Two years ago Brian picture-paged a very frustrating play in the 2011 Purdue game on which Devin Gardner, despite having a couple hours in a clean pocket to read and throw, missed a wide-open intermediate receiver and chucked the ball deep into double-coverage for a pick.  While DG’s subpar execution proved he wasn’t then ready to command Michigan’s offense, the play design was flawless—and got a 225 lb. YAC machine free twenty yards downfield against cloud coverage.  Gardner has had almost two years to correct his mistake on that play, so I’m thinking it’s probably only a matter of time before Al Borges calls it again.

The play involves pre-snap motion to help the QB diagnose the coverage. In the Purdue game, Michigan ran the play against Cover 3, which is a pretty common coverage, so I will assume UConn has a Cover 3 package and is in it on this down.  The play features two play-fakes: an iso fake to the tailback, followed by an end-around fake to the slot receiver.  The run action helps the receivers get past the linebackers, who ought to be dropping into their zones.  The long development also enables the receivers to get great depth in their patterns; by the time the fakes are completed, the quarterback should have a deep option (the corner, at about 40 yards) and an intermediate option (the arrow/drag thing the flanker is running) at about 20 yards.  Importantly, both receivers will be in the same deep 1/3 of the field (i.e., thus “flooding” the LCB’s zone), and the routes are designed to gain leverage on the safeties.  The QB reads the LCB, who—being responsible for that flooded deep 1/3 (in Cover 3)—finds himself in conflict.  If the LCB comes up to play the intermediate receiver, the corner route should be open, and vice-versa. 


LT – Taylor Lewan: pass protect vs. WDE Jesse Joseph

LG – Ben Braden: pass protect vs. 3T Angelo Pruitt

C – Jack Miller: pass protect vs. NT Shamar Stephen

RG – Kyle Kalis: pass protect vs. NT Shamar Stephen

RT – Michael Schofield: pass protect vs. SDE B.J. McBryde

TE – Devin Funchess: pass protect vs. SDE B.J. McBryde

SL – Dennis Norfleet: execute end-around fake, then run wheel or quick-out

SE – Jeremy Gallon: run deep corner (7) route

FL – Amara Darboh: motion toward formation (to help diagnose the coverage); run drag (I think) route

TB – Fitzgerald Toussaint: execute iso fake, then pass protect

QB – Devin Gardner: pre-snap, recognize Cover 3; on snap, execute iso fake, then end-around fake; next, read LCB (UConn’s probable corners are Jr. Byron Jones and Sr. Taylor Mack; Jones, who played safety last season, appears the more boundary-ish corner and Mack the more field-ish); throw to whomever the LCB leaves open   

Advantage: Michigan

Part of the reason this play worked so well against Purdue in 2011 was because that end-around fake went to Denard Robinson.  While it can’t go to him this year (*sniff*), a dynamic runner like Norfleet—or even Justice Hayes—probably still presents enough of a threat to command respect from opposing defenders.  More importantly, the QB on this play would be the mature RS Junior version of Devin Gardner, rather than the jittery sophomore edition.  And across the ball, UConn’s front may be stout against the run, but they will likely struggle to generate much of a pass rush—that means M should have time to run slow developing plays like this one.  And UConn also lost arguably the Big East’s best CB duo to graduation this offseason, about which USA Today says “[t]heir departures lend a sense of doom to the proceedings in the secondary.”  We all know too well what that feels like, so better them than us. 

When UConn has the ball…

3.       All Curls

If we proceed on the assumption that T.J. Weist’s offense will look a lot like Butch Jones’s offense at Cincinnati looked, then it makes sense to look first at the play Down the Drive has identified as the base of Jones’s attack—the All Curls.  This play stretches the defense horizontally.  Before the snap, the QB chooses one side of the field to attack (based on the defensive alignment).  At the snap, each receiver runs a 5-10 yard curl, attempting to sell the defenders on vertical routes before curling into open areas.  The quarterback reads outside-in, and has an outlet to the releasing RB in the flat.  

In Cover 3, there is probably no reliable way to stop this play, as both corners would bail at the snap and leave only four underneath defenders to cover five receivers.  So to make this exercise more interesting, let’s presume Michigan is running a Cover 2 Zone scheme on this play.  In Cover 2 Zone, the safeties each play a deep ½ while the CBs and LBs defend five underneath zones (other versions of Cover 2 include “Man Under,” in which the safeties play zone in their deep halves while the underneath defenders play man-to-man, and the famous “Tampa 2” defense, in which the MLB drops into a deep middle zone rather than a short underneath zone).  It is pretty easy to see from this diagram that Cover 2 Zone is a pretty good coverage to deploy against All Curls:

With the Cover 2 Zone scheme at least giving the defense a chance to stop the play, now we can look at the individual matchups.


BCB Raymon Taylor: Defend the short (<15 yards) zone on the boundary side from the numbers to the sideline against SE Geremy Davis (curl route) and RB Lyle McCombs (releasing to flat)

NCB Dymonte Thomas: Defend the short zone on the boundary side from the numbers to the hash against SL Deshon Foxx

MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend the short zone between the hash marks

ILB James Ross: Defend the short zone on the field side from the numbers to the hash marks against TE Mark Hansson

FCB Blake Countess: Defend the short zone on the field side from the numbers to the sideline against WR Shakim Phillips

SS Thomas Gordon: Defend deep half (TE side)

FS Jarrod Wilson: Defend other deep half

WDE Frank Clark: Rush the QB, defeat LT Jimmy Bennett

3T Jibreel Black: Rush the QB, defeat LG Gus Cruz

NT Quinton Washington: Rush the QB; defeat C Tyler Bullock, RG Steve Green

SDE Chris Wormley (why not?): Rush the QB; defeat RT Kevin Friend

Advantage: Michigan

UConn returns a shaky offensive line and graduated both its TE and two best wide receivers from 2012—hardly a recipe for success against a Mattison-coached line and an experienced group of underneath defenders (save the gifted, if young and unproven, NCB Dymonte Thomas).  UConn has a veteran QB in Chandler Whitmer, but I don’t see a favorable matchup for the Huskies anywhere on the field.

4. Four Verticals

One good reason to run All Curls is, establishing that play can force a defense to cheat against the short/intermediate passing game and create opportunities in the running game or for big plays over the top.  One way to attempt the latter is Four Verticals, a Cover 3 beater that targets the free safety patrolling the deep middle of the field (>15 yards, between the hash marks).

Remember that Cover 3 gets its name from the three defenders (i.e., both CBs and the FS) who play the deep zones over top of underneath defenders.  Four Verticals attacks this scheme by forcing those three deep defenders to cover four receivers.  The outside WRs occupy the two cornerbacks, leaving just the FS to deal with the two inside receivers.  In more advanced versions of the play, one or more of the receivers will run option routes, adjusting their patterns after the snap to exploit the holes in the defensive scheme or coverage techniques.    

The simplest way to defend Four Verticals out of Cover 3 is for the underneath defenders need to jam the inside receivers and disrupt their timing, while the FS “splits” inside receivers and stays in a position to defend a throw to either one.  I’ll assume for purposes of discussing the assignments that this is the approach Michigan takes, even though the alternative method (having each of the three deep defenders split the two receivers on either side of his 1/3 zone) might be wiser given Michigan’s personnel.


BCB Raymon Taylor: Defend the deep third (>15 yards) zone on the boundary side from the sideline to the hash against SE Geremy Davis

NCB Dymonte Thomas: Defend the short outside ¼ zone on the boundary side

ILB James Ross: Defend the middle short ¼ zone on the boundary side; jam SL Deshon Foxx and carry him 15 yards downfield, pass him off to FS Jerrod Wilson

MLB Desmond Morgan: Defend the middle short ¼ one on the field side; jam TE Mark Hansson and carry him 15 yards downfield; pass him off to FS Jerrod Wilson; pick up RB Lyle McCombs on his angle route

FCB Blake Countess: Defend the deep 1/3 zone on the field side from the sideline to the hash against WR Shakim Phillips

SS Thomas Gordon: Defend the short outside ¼ zone on the field side

FS Jarrod Wilson: Defend deep middle 1/3 zone; split (i.e., keep equidistant from) inside receivers (SL Deshon Foxx and TE Mark Hansson), be a star

WDE Frank Clark: Rush the QB, defeat LT Jimmy Bennett

3T Jibreel Black: Rush the QB, defeat LG Gus Cruz

NT Quinton Washington: Rush the QB; defeat C Tyler Bullock, RG Steve Green

SDE Chris Wormley: Rush the QB; defeat RT Kevin Friend

Advantage: Even

Jerrod Wilson is a talented young player, but until he proves himself in deep coverage it’s a pretty sure bet that opposing offenses will put him to the test.  Whitmer seems to be a competent senior QB, but I won’t call an advantage for UConn’s because, as above, I still think M’s line will get pressure and can’t find any other personnel matchups that favor them.  


Based on the foregoing, Michigan will win obvs.

P.S. – I want to take a moment here to point-out that I am not a football coach or any kind of expert on football schemes.  I am really just a casual fan who is fascinated by the tactical aspects of football and is very eager to learn more about the game.  Most of what I am presenting in these diaries is material that I either just learned, or about which I previously had superficial knowledge and just recently deepened that understanding.  But there is much that remains above my head, and undoubtedly much more still that is entirely off my radar.  I say this because I am very aware that there could be flaws in my analysis, and hope enlightened readers will not hesitate to point out any mistakes or differences of opinion they may find in my work.  A number of commentators were extremely helpful in this regard on my last diary (Space Coyote in particular), and I am very appreciative.  As much as I hope I haven’t gotten anything wrong, I fully welcome any such discussion and hope to see it continue.  Thanks for reading.



July 11th, 2013 at 2:17 AM ^

Sorry about that; try it now.

The images worked fine when I created the diary in Chrome.  But then I checked back an hour later using my Android tablet and the images didn't come up for me either.  But I think I have now fixed the problem.

Wee-Bey Brice

July 11th, 2013 at 6:48 AM ^

Good post EGD. You shouldn't have to feel the need to add a disclaimer about your expertise or lack thereof, some of us aren't as anal as others and don't complain about the efforts of those who try to help keep us entertained during such a boring time of year. Keep it up!

Sextus Empiricus

July 11th, 2013 at 7:27 AM ^

Great diary. If the OL steps up vs. ND this is likely to be a poll setting game for Michigan.  I like the offensive matchups.  This should be a good defensive test of the younger talent on the road.

Space Coyote

July 11th, 2013 at 9:30 AM ^

Play #2. Here's a smart football link that goes into depth about the deep crossing route seen in the second play.

A lot of teams will run a post pattern to suck in the safety that side too (you see it in the smart football post), and there are lots of ways to take advantage of the deep crossing concept, play #2 being a good example of one.

Play #4. South Carolina essentially ran a 3 vert (they hitched the outside receiver) against Michigan for the game winning TD. The corner failed to release deep quick enough (keeping his eyes and keeping too flat anticipating the throw to be short) and Kovacs didn't reroute the inside seem. The backside post held the FS. This shows why verts are very difficult to cover from cover 3 unless everyone does their job really well.



Etc. Even with the difficulty in gleaning a ton of real opposing team concepts from this (not necessarily to the OP's fault by any means), I like these diaries. It gives the readers an idea of what the coaches are looking at and how each assignment is vital to the success of the play. Even if you don't see these exact concepts (which are all fairly typical in most offenses, so if you don't see them you'll likely see something like them against UConn), you will surely see them elsewhere and this is a good demonstration and gives the reader a more "real" feel for how everything works. Keep it up.


July 11th, 2013 at 11:23 AM ^

I would like to see a variation of the flood look with either a backside TE check-releasing to backside flat or deeper - or a front-side TE crossing to the backside - or even the RB hitting a backside wheel route....

Apparently I am obsessed with backsides. :P