ND vs MSU gamewrap (with pics!)

Submitted by SFBayAreaBlue on September 24th, 2010 at 2:22 PM

After the positive response to last week's diary, I thought I'd do another.  But I couldn't compel myself to breakdown our game with Umass because really, what would be the point?  There's not a whole lot to learn from that game that we didn't know already. i.e. Denard is teh aweseom, mike martin is a beast, craig roh is evolving into a beast, but our LB's and secondary are uggghhh, but that has been expected.

So instead, I thought I'd breakdown the ND vs. MSU game because

  1. It was a more interesting game that doesn't make me want to reach for massive amounts of alcohol
  2. I can continue my analysis of ND's personnel problems
  3. ND runs many plays that are similar to ours, so breaking them down will actually be transferrable to our team's scheme
  4. It'll be good for when I write up a scouting report for the MSU game
  5. I really hate ND and hope they lose the rest of their games, so if I can give any of their opponents some insight, yea! (btw, stanford will blow them out)

So let's do this:

Notre Dame's screen game

As noted before, ND's linemen are not a good fit for what Brian Kelly wants to do.  I feel a little bit silly criticizing an offense that is putting up nearly 30 points a game and a ton of yardage. But they're really failing to live up to their full potential. 

Here's ND's first screen. 


They split Armando Allen up to the top of the field with the ball on the hash, so it's a much shorter distance for the linemen to run. I like this adjustment by kelly.  Get the ball to one of your best players in space and make things easier on your slow linemen.


With three WR on the other side of the field pulling 4 defenders with them, this play should really go to the house. 


But look how close to the LOS Allen has to go to get behind his linemen.  Faster D-linemen or even a d-line spy will completely blow this play up. 


Anyway, ND manages to get 2 linemen in front of Allen and there's a blocker for every defender,  but BOTH linemen miss their blocks and this play only gains about 7 yards instead of being a 60 yard TD. 

Here's the other play from the same formation.


The formation is flipped because the ball is on the other hash.  Rudolph will run the bubble screen to the top of the field


With a normal slot receiver, like odoms, or steve breaston, this play is an automatic 7 yards against this defensive alignment and maybe breaks for 20.  All the slot receiver has to do is outrun the LB to the corner.  The safety is unblocked, but if he gets caught up in the wash or takes a bad angle, this could be a big play.


But Rudolph is not exactly nimble and Crist doesn't put very good touch or placement on this ball since he's used to being a downfield gunslinger instead of a spread and shred point guard. And so it's just an incompletion and a waste of what should have been a decent gain.




They followed this up with the third option from this formation which was crist running up the middle on a QB draw, but he's not exactly denard and only got like 3 yards.  All of this was on the first series, so it's probably scripted, and it wasn't really setup well.  You don't run that QB draw until you see the LB's are bailing out to cover the screens, but since ND's wide screens didn't pose much of a threat on the first two plays, the LB's were sitting at home and gobbled him up.

Later in the game, crist missed riddick on a bubble, cause he doesn't have the touch for the flare pass, so they came back to the screen to riddick on the other side, again to the short side of the field.


The play starts with crist either misreading he RB bubble to the top of the field, or it was a called screen to riddick all the way


One linemen does manage to get a block. He's too slow to get downfield, but at least he's being useful.  You can't say that about the other two linemen who are BEHIND riddick.


If not for riddick's nifty spin move, this play gets destroyed for a minor gain. 

Here's the fake screen slant.  This is the play that we sprang odoms on for wide open TD's.


The problem with ND's execution is that they're not selling the fake very hard. 


Combine that with their ineffective previous attempts and the fact that Crist isn't much of a threat to run, and it's easy for the safety to stay at home.  He has no reason to bite on either the bubble screen fake or the qb run.  When Denard takes one step up into the hole, the safeties panic and you get easy TD's


The result is a tough throw for crist to fit into a tighter window, and the safety breaks up the play for an incompletion.

Here's MSU showing the proper execution of the bubble screen.


ND shows 2 deep, but rolls up late just before the snap


But with a fast enough slot man it shouldn't matter. The ball is placed in front of the receiver so he can make the catch with forward momentum.


And even if the safety hadn't missed the tackle, it would have been an easy 7 yard gain. It's like stealing. 


MSU did this many times for a lot of yards.

Here's virtually the same play, but to the other side. 


The OLB has all his weight forward and the safety is in no position to do anything on the bubble option. 


The handoff fake holds the OLB even more.


Resulting in a wide open keshawn martin with a ton of room to make an easy first down.

When you've got a new coach and a new system, and probably new jargon, you expect there to be a few clusterf*cks.  Here's ND totally screwing up a screen just before the half.


So MSU is doing their 3rd and long thing by having one of the extra DB's bail out into a really deep third just before the snap.  Again, the OLB are blitzing.  


It looks like the two slot receivers were on the wrong side.  There's two linemen releasing, but they're on the wrong side for riddick's screen action.  Crist is looking at rudolph the whole way, but rudolph thinks he's blocking.  And the amazing this is that this gem of an f'up came after a timeout.

Late in the 4th quarter, Kelly decides he's had enough of the cutesy screens and goes with something a little more tradition that his lineman can handle.


The left tackle pops up for just a brief moment to show pass blocking, but then hauls ass downfield to lead the play.  


The tackle doesn't really get much of a block on the safety, but at least he's out in front of the play. 


Rudolph gets away with a slight hold. Good pursuit and the lack of the spread option fakes results in Allen only getting about 10 yards. But it's a positive play, just with a lower ceiling.

Armando Allen

I'm going to keep harping on this; until crist really settles down (which may be very soon, and ND's offense will be scary when that happens), stopping Allen is the key to stopping ND.

Here he is on a simple shovel pass. ND ran this twice to great effect.


MSU is bringing pressure from the edges. The slot receiver is pointing out that 'his man' is blitzing allowing the qb to change the play.  MSU's defenders start off in a cover 2, but one of the nicklebacks bails out at the last second to take the deep middle. 


This is meant to give the qb, an automatic check down to the slot receiver who will be wide open, but only for a gain of 7-10 yards with the 2nd line of defenders holding at the sticks. This is a staple of most defenses these days, where you show one look, wait for the QB to change the play, and then switch into a different defense.


Kelly should get an RPS +2 on this because with both OLB's blitzing, they take themselves right out of the play. The middle backer is covering one of the seam routes, but the seam route on the bottom of the field would probably have gotten a first down, or close to it. If you weren't running the shovel pass, the proper thing to do against this defense is to attack that deep safety who a) is playing out of position, b) just had a 20 yard sprint to get into position and is still moving backwards, and c) is 10 yards beyond the the 1st down marker.


The blocking is set up ok, but ND's linemen can't maintain their blocks.  It doesn't matter as Allen eludes them and picks up about 20 yards with some nifty cuts.


But WTH, refs?  Is it illegal to call holding against ND?  sheesh!

Here's Allen on a counter trap from the shotgun


Notice he's aligned even with the QB.  This indicates a lateral mesh.  


But instead of the normal motion, the LB's need to key his feet, as he does more of a choppy step mesh so that he can bend it back against the grain. The line blocks down on the nose, the tackle lets his pass rusher go upfield, and the pulling lineman is isolated on the LB.


Floyd doesn't know his assignment, leaving the safety unblocked.  Had he done his job Allen would have been able to cut to the sideline.


Instead he's forced into a safety sandwich.

Here's the straight play from that same alignment.


For some reason, Floyd has decided to take this play off. 


The slot man is always wide open for 5 yards against this alignment if the LB doesn't cheat the flare.  Allen goes through the mesh quicker to get around the far tackle.  ND gets a nice lead block from the guard who twists around the tackle into the hole. 


Floyd just kind of ignores his man and wanders into the middle of the field. Contrast this to the guard who is on his horse to hit someone.


So guess who makes the tackle.

Here's yet another way to give him the ball.


It's shotgun, trips right, Allen is also to the right of Crist


At the snap, both Allen and Crist sprint to the right, but Allen will peel back to take the handoff.


With all the action going to the right, and the formation strength that way too, the safety and LB are both sucked in and Allen gets over 10 yards on this carry.

One way to stop Allen on the zone dives and inside traps is to blitz the corner.


After Rudolph finishes his motion, the corner shows blitz and the safety slides over to 'cover' his WR.


This is a similar play to something we run.  And it's up to the QB to see the blitzing corner and audible out or throw the checkdown to the WR. Here Allen just gets gobbled up.

The kid from Hawaii

Here's MSU running a sweep.


Teo reads the action flowing with the line


When he sees the ball, he's just gone.


That's impressive.  To get that big of a TFL when you're not even blitzing takes some crazy speed.

In the 4th quarter he made a similar play


The H-back and FB are leading around the corner on the sweep.


But this time the OLB is doing a slightly better job of extending the corner, if he doesn't really have contain.


Teo just shoots through that tiny gap with blazing speed.


Making the fullback's head spin.

But he still needs to learn to wrap up better.


On this 3rd and long, he's spying the RB.


MSU manages to get 3! linemen out in front of the RB.  (Hey ND, what a novel idea!) Teo reads the screen and gets on his horse to lay some lumber on Bell.  


He reacts so fast that he beats all three linemen to the punch and gets a good pop on the ball carrier.


But Bell is strong enough and has good enough balance that he shakes off the hit, spins around and heads upfield.  And because all 4! of ND's linemen have been fooled on the play, Bell manages to get 1st down yardage even though Teo completely confused MSU's 3 lead blockers, otherwise this play might have gone the distance.

Dayne Crist

When he's not blind in one eye and thinking he's batman, he can be a very effective QB.  Just not a spread QB. It'll be interesting to see what kelly does with him in the future, especialy if Floyd or Rudolph or both are in the pro's next year. Already he is very strong at the intermediate routes and hitting receivers that are moving across his vision.  He has a lot of trouble with overthrowing flys and putting touch on flares as documented above.

But they did manage to hit some bubble screens in the second half, and when he underthrows Floyd for jump balls, it's a deadly combination.  Of course we saw the one time he connected on a fly with rudolph, so the future is bright for him. 

He's never going to be a one step darter like denard, but other than mike vick, who can be?  Teams are not going to respect him on the zone read option, or they'll hope he keeps it and gets his head knocked in again.

He did throw one bad interception, but I credit MSU's defense on that play. It was an interesting play for many reasons.


Before the snap, crist reads man coverage so he changes the play.  The MSU LB's see this and they change the defense.


But it still looks like man coverage


The only giveaway is the two deep safeties, but sometimes teams will play man underneath the 2 deep.


The far right WR runs a little hook, and crist is trying to hit the corner route thinking he's got a LB on his slot receiver.


But the corner comes off his receiver to make the interception.


This was well disguised by MSU.

And it got another classic reaction from Kelly


In nearly an identical situation in the 2nd half, crist again audibles thinking it's man coverage


Which it is.


MSU is in an all out blitz.  But the line blocks down as crist rolls away from the unblocked blitzer.


The big change here is that the two outside receivers both run square in's taking their men with them.  This eliminates the possibility of a corner coming off his man to get the pick.


Rudolph beats the man coverage from the safety and crist hits him in stride for the TD.

Notes on MSU's offense:

Keshawn Martin, has some good moves on the bubble screen, very dangerous, tall, fast, and he's got some shake n' bake to him.  Made a bad decision on one kickoff return.

Cousin's looks very sharp, but he did totally favre an interception in the endzone by rolling left and throwing back to the right very late when nothing was open.


They like to run a lot of I slot and double tight formations.  The counter quick pitch works well for them, they get decent blocking from their WR. 

Here we have MSU in a doubletight formation and an H back in a power set to the left.


ND is seriously misaligned  against this formation.  Because the replay was still showing, I don't know if MSU motioned to this formation and ND didn't adjust, or if they just screwed the pooch coming out of the huddle. 


The H-back has no one to block because the OLB is on the wrong side.


So he just goes looking for someone to hit, which ends up being one of the safeties and it's an easy 15 yard run on 1st down. 

Here's another example of the shifts and motion MSU will use to try to get teams out of alignment.


It starts as a double tight ace set. ND is in a base 3-4 instead of their usual 4-3.


The flanker moves up and the TE drops to an H-back position.  ND is doing some WEIRD corner blitz.  Weird because they're showing it very early, and inviting the qb to throw to the uncovered man.


The H-back ends up in an offset I. This is a strong indication of a run to the left.  A good checkdown would be a 3 yard sitdown to the uncovered WR, anything longer will be vulnerable to the sneeky safety who is 'covering' him. 


Both the corner and the OLB come hard off the edge.  This is an assignment run blitz with the corner responsible for the QB and the OLB for the RB.  But the play is going away from them, so they can't do anything.  The playside OLB has lost contain almost immediately


The guard get's just enough of Teo to trip him up and prevent him from blowing this up for a TFL.  The H-back is now just a lead blocker and he gets a great seal and the play results in another big chunk of yards for MSU

On this next play, MSU is in an unbalanced line.


Both the TE and WR are on the same side making the TE covered and inelligible.   The slot man goes in motion but comes back to the heavy side.  From this formation, this indicates a run to the left 99.99% of the time.  There's a couple ways to deal with an unbalanced line.  One is to just shift the entire defense over and pretend that the left guard is the center.  Instead, ND rolls up a safety to maintain contain.  The weakside corner backs off, and the remaining safety moves over to give a 3 deep look (on what is obviously a running down).


At the snap, the right guard pulls and the line blocks down to the right.  For some reason, the D-line is slanting to their left. I have no idea why.  (This play was going to the D's right from square one.)  It might be because the FB takes an initial step to the right as the QB gives a cross buck handoff to the TB who has what amounts to 3 lead blockers on this play. (The pulling guard, the slot man, and the fullback)


This leaves a big crevice in the front seven that MSU runs right through. The slot man kicks out the safety playing contain.  The TE just takes his slanting OLB away from the play. The pulling guard gets a great seal on DE, leaving the FB looking for someone to block.


That someone ends up being the remaining safety, TD MSU.

Baker, Bell, Caper

Their RB's have deceptive speed.  You don't expect men that big to have such a good initial burst and acceleration. On Baker's long TD's this season, safeties have taken bad angles on him.

This play starts as a zone dive to the right from a double tight, double flanker right formation.


There's an option to throw the bubble to the top, but it's pretty well covered with 3 defenders.  The playside OLB is unblocked.  The sneaky part of this play is that the left tackle just pushes off on the man lined up on him and releases to the 2nd level.


A gaping hole opens up for the cutback as baker bends it back against the grain because the backside DE has gotten way too far upfield and gets sucked in by a good QB rollout fake. QB fakes are one of my pet peeves.  They seem like such small things, but they can make the difference on a lot of plays.  Denard has been great at this. Crist, not so much.


The safety is in position to stop this play after 10 yards, but he misjudges Baker's speed


He doesn't breakdown, gets his feet tangled, and Baker is off to the races (thanks to some good downfield blocking by the WR). And as anyone who's been watching Michigan football the last few years knows all too well, when the safety misses a tackle, the result is usually DOOM.

Here's another play that either shows the speed of MSU's RBs or the lack of speed by ND's safeties.


The formation is a simple I slot left. The OLB is in good position to defend the bubble screen.


On the snap, the QB reverses out and the left guard pulls.  This is in the 4th quarter and the entire front seven gets sucked into this power iso dive look. 


The tailback takes one plant step to the right and then cuts hard left to take the quick pitch.  The slot man needs to get a block on the OLB, but the safety is unblocked.


But he takes a terrible angle.  The DE has no hope of catching Baker.


The result is a 15 yard gain.

Karma is a bitch

Ok, ND fans have a right to some whining this week, sort of. 

Yes Cunningham was out of bounds on his tying TD catch, and yes it should have been a flag because he wasn't really pushed out. 

Yes, the play clock was at zero on the fake field goal.


Yes, there could have been holding or offensive pass interference called on the fake field goal.


ND just got spartied in spartan stadium by the spartans.  We feel your pain, domers. It is written somewhere that every signature MSU win must come on a controversial play.  Like when Desmond was interfered with in the endzone. Like when TJ Duckett scored thanks to spartan bob and a blatant hold that wasn't called.  

But after the last century of favorable calls, phantom TD's, and other crazy BS that has gone ND's way, it was bound to balance out eventually.  Just consider the last two decades as balancing the preceding one hundred.


"Little Giants" was a ballsy call, nearly as good as Texas's fourth down 'roll left', and the football gods reward gutsy moves. 

So hopefully Dantonio will continue to make them, if it doesn't kill him first.   Get well soon, and thanks for an entertaining game coach D. 



September 24th, 2010 at 3:13 PM ^

Yes, there could have been holding or offensive pass interference called on the fake field goal.

Maybe I just don't see the holding, but as far as pass interference goes the ball isn't in the air yet in that picture.  So I'm pretty sure Bell is free to run over the two defenders going "?" and "?!?".

EDIT: I suppose it could be an illegal pick, but that wasn't what it looked like when I saw it on TV or in that picture.  Just seemed like a collision between a guy trying to run his route and defenders caught flat-footed.


September 24th, 2010 at 4:45 PM ^

it's designed to be a 'pick your poison' proposition.  If the man covering the slot cheats the flare, he's useless in run support.  I think USF had the best scheme against them when they were going up against RR at west vahjinya. 

They did alot of complicated switching after the adjustments were sent in from the sideline.  For example the OLB would forget about the slot man coming down hard to stop the run, the corner looks like he's playing soft but rolls up quickly to jump the bubble screen, and the safety slides over to play a deeper zone. 

A good passing QB can take advantage of this and hit the outside receiver in the soft spot of the zone, but that's a hard thing for a QB to quickly see all that if he's not expecting it.  It probably only works for about a half, and then you have to play the 2nd half more vanilla

Or if you have denard, you just bust the QB up the middle between the splitting safeties.

You can never defend Everything, so it's just a guessing game about what adjustments you can make and when. 

A shovel pass would also take advantage of this type of aggressive assignment football. 


September 24th, 2010 at 4:49 PM ^

Great breakdown.  You definitely see how dangerous MSU's offense can be, but for some reason it also looks like the type of offense that UM can slow down enough to be manageable.  They are dangerous through the air, but Cousins does look like the type of guy who could be rattled into throwing a couple of bad picks. 

After seeing these pages, I have even more respect to Te'o at ND.  He's making plays with little help around him, similar to BG last year.  Not looking forward to seeing him the next couple of years.


September 24th, 2010 at 8:07 PM ^

Now this type of analysis is why I come to mgoblog. Interesting analysis the Crist isn't a prototypical spread QB.  Do you think Kelly could mold him into one however? Since it's a passing spread, I would think he could learn to put more touch on some of those throws and be very effective in that type of offense.


September 24th, 2010 at 9:26 PM ^

crist already makes like 65% of the throws very accurately, and he has the speed to keep the ball on the zone read option and pick up good yards if the end is crashing down hard on the RB. 

I'm sure the touch passes will come eventually, it is only his third game starting.  But for the run game, i think kelly just wants to recruit a more athletic QB to handle that part of the game.  If he'd had more time, I'd expect him to use a player like riddick in a wildcat type formation on running downs.  But it takes a while to teach players one position, let alone the 2 most pivotal and complicated parts of the offense.

The bigger problem for kelly is the O-line and that might take more than a year or 2 to really sort out.


September 24th, 2010 at 9:13 PM ^

Do you currently reside in Seoul?  If you do, how do you watch the michigan games?  I live in Seoul and am having hard time watching the games.  Please let me know.  Thanks!!!


September 24th, 2010 at 9:33 PM ^

I got a nice connection at my house so I can stream the games, usually from ATDHE.com or myp2p.com.  Your best bet for watching the games live on a TV is to make friends with some military personel who's got the AFN cable box set up. 

streaming quality isn't great, so i usually download the torrent from tenyardtorrents or bigtentracker a day or two after the fact and then I can hook my computer up to my TV to watch it. 


September 25th, 2010 at 9:14 AM ^

do you think ND this year with Crist might be a proxy for year 1 of RR with Mallet might have looked like?

Not that it matters, and not that Crist was quite as highly regarded as Mallet out of HS, but it seems like an intriguing parallel.


September 25th, 2010 at 10:59 AM ^

we were in much worse shape at WR and RB, O-line, and like the entire defense outside of brandon graham.  Maybe if mallet, manningham, and arrington had all stayed and we could get an extra year of elligibility for mike hart, it would have been closer.  But it looks like ND is going to be 6-6 7-5 at best. So if we had kept all those guys, our record might have been similar. 

You can argue the guys we had were somewhat talented, but much less experienced.  even best case scenario is:





Our O-line with Boren < ND's current O-line

Our Dline<= ND's D-line

Our LBs<ND's DBs

(But here's the kicker)

Our secondary <<<<<<<ND's current secondary.

So we would've needed to keep a whole lot of guys and even then it would have been a struggle to get to much better than .500

Last year a lot of the games were much closer, so you could argue that a junior mallet would have led to a few more victories than a Frosh tate.


September 26th, 2010 at 11:32 PM ^

Great analysis!  Please continue the effort if you have the time.  I actually prefer that you focus on our upcoming opponents rather than our games.  There is a ton of informaiton out there about the UM games, but it is nice to get a heads up about who we're playing in the future.