[Ed-H: Bump. There, I did it. No more Urban Meyer.]
I got a little busy at work during the winter, and then recruiting magic was happening, and then I figured it was too late for this post. But finally I got a day off, and it's raining, and I've had these screencaps online for 6 months, and I've got literally nothing better to do for a few hours on this sunday. So here is the Nebraska game wrap (with pics!)
That was kind of unexpected. AND AWESOME! It was without a doubt our best game of the year. Heck it was our best game IN YEARS. It was maybe the best team performance since the 1997 PSU game, although I'm probably forgetting some good ones in between.
During the game, I remember thinking the score was pretty close and anything could happen until the turnovers made it a laugher. But after watching it a few times since then, we really did dominate in all phases of the game.
By the end of the 3rd, the stat sheet was pretty one-sided. They really only had 2 great plays all game. (Two plays that I highlighted in the preview post.... so maybe I'm not completely stupid. Still, I did rag on MSU's O-line which gelled pretty strongly by mid-season. ooops.)
Defending the option
Like most of the Michigan fan base, I have huge man crush on Mattison. The things he and his staff are doing, and the performances they're getting from our players are out of this world. I would love to just sit at his feet, follow him around, and absorb as much football knowledge as possible.
If you've accomplished as much as this man, people won't make a big deal out of you using your moobs to signal the playcall. (This GA knowns that peripheral vision is sometimes a weird thing.)
Defending the option is so simple, yet so hard. You need your players to know their assignments and play with decisiveness.Here is Jake Ryan demonstrating the textbook definition of "forcing the pitch".
Nebraska has this play blocked pretty much as you would draw it up. Ryan is the 'optioned' man who is unblocked. Martinez doesn't see the whole open up on the backside, but he's running to where the play is called. He's supposed to read Ryan and "make him wrong".
Jake's first step is lateral as if he's going to squeeze the zone on the slot receiver. But when he sees the option motion coming towards him, he cuts upfield with authority. Martinez reads him correctly, and it looks like this should be a decent gain for the Huskers.
Meanwhile, Mike Martin has beaten his block and is pursuing to stop cutbacks, and the secondary is coming up in run support.
Ryan's change of direction is so fast that Martinez can't get a good pitch off with his left hand. Burkhead managed to fall on the loose ball, but if he hadn't we had two guys coming up quickly and there would have been no way for Martinez to get it with his face planted in the ground. The moral of the story is that one way to defend the option is to make those options keep the ball and get killed, or pitch the ball and get killed.
Another way to stop the option is to get an unexpected defender free. Nebraska comes out in a 4-wide set to try to get a good personnel matchup. But we just stay in our base 4-3 so it doesn't matter when the TE comes down to the line of scrimmage.
Mike Martin explodes through the line and forces the pitch FROM THE BACK SIDE. That's impressive.
Meanwhile, Kovacs is up in run support and all over his assignment as you would expect from a player of his intelligence. He reacts so quickly that the blocker whiffs on him. And the pursuit isn't giving Burkhead anywhere to go.
Getting a 5 yard TFL on first down against your opponent's bread and butter play ... that's a good a thing.
Getting off blocks
One of the stark differences between last year's defense and .... uh ... others... was how well they were getting off blocks and getting to the ball. I don't want to disparage former defensive coaches...BUT the improvement was remarkable.
We're in our zone blitz package with Martin dropping and Demens rushing. Demens gets doubled. That's a pretty big weight disadvantage for him.
So he squares up and gets some arm's length separation from the defenders, one of whom starts looking for someone else to block.
Martinez decides the coverage is too good and thinks he can squirt through that passing lane. But both Demens and Ryan see it, react to it, and clamp down on that hole.
Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.
One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..
And lets not forget the good hustle and technique which caused the fumble in the first place. Strip that ball!
(The other 85% after the jump)
The Love-Hate relationship with Al Borges hit its zenith in this game. After the debacle of the MSU and Iowa games, he finally fully embraced the idea that these athletes were best suited to the shotgun zone offense. And he straight-up punished Nebraska's defense for being too slow to adjust.
The thing that I and many others keep harping on is the fact that with Denard in the shotgun, he's a threat to run, and that gives us a numbers advantage. We're 3 wide, so Nebraska responds with the nickel.
Well, thank you very much. The H-back crosses, the split end cracks down on the safety, and Fitz gets to pick his hole.
So that's a nice little gain on first down.
And a pretty clean hole to run through too. So what should we call on the next play Al?
We come out in the same formation. Okay, the H-back is about a yard and a half deeper. But Nebraska is still in the nickel. Their safety does cheat down a bit, so there's that.
How about we run the same play!? This time, the DE tries to cheat into the hole and Fitz easily reads it for the bounce.
Taylor Lewan stays engaged on his man, giving Fitz the corner. The safety has taken himself out of the play with his run blitz. We get 10 yards plus a late hit out of bounds.
So what should we run on the next play Al?
Well, Fitz is tired, so we'll put in Hopkins. Maybe we'll come out in the same formation, but Nebraska will have adjusted by now, so we can't run the same play. They'll come out in a different defense. Or ... not.
Ok. RUN THE SAME FUCKING PLAY!!! Hopkins takes it more up the middle, because he's built more like a bowling ball. And he bowls his way into the endzone.
But there was a facemask on us, so the TD is called back. However, the penalty doesn't diminish the fact that those three plays were awesome, and at a critical point in the game. This wasn't the 1st quarter where the coordinators are feeling each other out. This was after halftime, after the adjustments have been put in. And our adjustment was to fuck them right up their nose.
There are so many cliché to describe that drive: "Take what they give you." "If it aint broke, don't fix it." "Keep running that play until they make you stop." Al is well versed in all of those.
The penalty did stall the drive, but Hoke and his big balls called for a fake FG (more on that below) and Fitz ended up with a walk-in TD to put us up by 21 and pretty much end the competitive portion of the game.
That felt pretty good.
And Borges deserves a ton of credit for his goal line play calling in general. Denard also got a walk-in TD on roll out.
I don't know if Denard pays attention to what is said about him, but those announcers, especially Spielman were on his case all game.
BTW, really ESPN? You're going to let a Michigan game be announced by two former buckeyes? ಠ_ಠ
I'm so glad Denard spooned them up a nice steaming bowl of "STFU!"
This 3rd and 1 in the red zone was vintage Denard. It's a great call by Al and even better blocking by the O-line.
It's just a QB wham and Denard gets to pick his hole. Nebraska looks to be in good position with 5 defenders playside. Omameh pulls to help even out those numbers.
Molk and the LG (Schofield?) do a great job of riding their slanting defenders. Nebraska was a little late getting lined up and were caught flat-footed by the quick snap.
And the red sea parts in front of shoelace.
And it's clear sailing to the endzone. Freaking Dilithium.
And I love how much of a team player Denard is. As I talked about in the QB comparisons, he is so patient waiting for his blocking to develop. He not a freelancer, no matter how many times uninformed announcers call him that.
Here we've got a sweep play but the DE has done a good job of establishing the corner and taking on Fitz.
That screws up the pulling linemen making their route longer than it should be.
But Denard just patiently stays with them and picks up 7 yards. If the linemen had had a straight path, Denard would have been able to see the huge hole to his right, but it's a decent gain for first down. If he had cut back at the first sign of danger, #34 would have had him for a loss or short gain.
And there was more evidence of progress in his passing game.
Yes, his reads and his decision making in the passing game still needs improving. He needs to cut down on interceptions and make his footwork more consistent.
But if the O-line can give him this kind of time,
And he gets his feet set,
He's got the arm to put the ball 55 yards in the air and on the mark.
He also needs to work on his touch on screen passes. He underthrew a sure TD in the Sugar Bowl on a throwback screen, and he wasn't able to get it over the defender on this play.
Although, Lewan is also to blame. He's not staying engaged on his rusher.
So the guy manages to tip it up for the interception. Give him a little elbow or shoulder to the stomach next time and that'll keep him from jumping up.
We can has good special teams?
Could you believe that our special teams would ever, EVER, play this well?
- Two forced fumbles and recoveries on kickoffs
- A blocked punt
- A successful fake FG
In one game.
I wouldn't be surprised if we've gone full seasons without getting all that.
We did miss a chippy FG late, but we more than made up for that in the Sugar Bowl.
The 1st kickoff fumble was caused by guys staying in their lanes.
Terrance Robinson has this guy lined up and nails him from the blind side.
That's a pretty good way to start the 2nd half, unless you're a Nebraska fan.
The bad snap was fortuitous on this punt.
But you still have to make an effort to get to the spot.
And yeah, Brady calls a lot of fake FGs. But when you see something like this on tape, it's not really that big of a risk.
That's a lot of open space.
No problem. Don't even need a measurement.
The 2nd Kickoff fumble was more about sloppy ball carrying by the returner, but a good hit and rake by #4.
Holy Freaking Fitz!
But the star of the game had to be Fitz. I don't know if I gave him enough praise during the season, sometimes he looked to be lacking a slight bit of top end speed. That might have been injury or wear related. He certainly showed all the tools in this game.
The two things he's always had are good vision and lateral movement. But in the past, for whatever reasons, he wasn't getting as much upfield as this past season. On this play he demonstrates a great ability to pick his way through the muck.
We've got good blocking and the linemen have reached the 2nd level. But Molk seems to be losing his leverage, so this play only looks like it's going to gain 3 or 4 yards.
But then Fitz makes a hard cut and squirts between two blocked defenders away from the free man. Reminding me of Gayle Sayers and his 18 inches of daylight.
And the cuts just keep coming!
Even Spielman was gushing after this.
When a safety has you lined up and dead to rights, and he ends up laying on the ground hugging air, that's a good cut.
From the back you can see that Hopkins, Lewan, and Schofield get good blocks at the point of attack as Fitz makes his first cut.
His second cut gets him away from Molk's man, who Molk might have been holding a little bit.
The third cut is amazing because he's making it with his inside foot and still getting good traction. That is wow.
The next cut is the coup de grace on #3, who had to spend some time after this play finding his jock strap.
At full speed. (Sorry about the audio synch problem, still looking for a good avi to youtube clip generator if anyone knows of a good free one.)
The final TD run was just a thing of beauty.
We start with a numbers advantage again.
Nebraska's adjustment is to run blitz with the safety and middle linebacker.
This is practically the same play as the earlier series of three, we've just moved the H-Back to a TE spot on the other side and instead of crossing, he runs a short out/drag whatever you call it. Fitz sees the huge hole left by the vacated blitzing Mike, but the safety is in good position to make a tackle.
But Fitz jukes him out of his shorts. He's now 2-for-2 on the safeties' shorts.
The linemen keep driving their blocks and Fitz is so Zen. He's like a fish swimming up the rapids.
He lets Molk push his guy right past him with a little jump cut. Meanwhile, Grady is staying with his man.
Fitz gets his wheels turning again and Molk gets a two-fer block by taking out the deep safety who had gotten lost in the wash.
Grady pushes his man past the play, but Schofield's man has come back and looks like he's going to make the tackle.
But Fitz powers right through that.
And then runs SIDEWAYS, at FULL SPEED!!!?!!??? He's accelerating sideways!
The endzone view gives a better shot of his amazing cuts.
And sideways accelerating!
That's just incredible.
Here it is coming at you.
Their Two Plays
So the one play where Martinez wasn't throwing like a little girl...
And getting clobbered by various wolverines., he hit a wide open guy on play action.
They're in the Inverted-T and had just gotten a first down near midfield on two consecutive running plays. If you remember the Lloyd years at all, you know that's primo time for a deep pass or trick play. We've got 8 in the box and the DBs are selling out on the run.
They show the double option look with the short man taking the mesh and Burkhead deep to take a pitch.
But Martinez sticks his foot in the ground and rockets backwards to give the deep post time to come open.
Kovacs is in no man's land and still hasn't reacted by the time Martinez has his plant foot down and is getting ready to launch. (That's not his fault, I'm sure the call was for an 8 man front)
The real blame goes to the corners who were both playing bump and run and both got beat badly.
And then the remaining DBs collide. So, ... yeah ...TD.
When they finally did run the double option, it was from split backs instead of the inverted - T (The deep tailback has split out). We're already fucked because we've got a D-lineman in the wrong place.
I doubt we'd ever see this play again, but the read is the nearside HB #8 who takes a flare route to get into pitch relationship. The corner who has flat responsibility has to go with him. So while most teams don't have a TB that can read an unblocked defender and make a good pitch, most teams have a QB that can hit that flare pass off the playaction. I'm not sure which of our two guys circled there is in the wrong place, but with two receivers to the top of the screen, we're outmanned on that side.
It really is a nice play, simply because it's something you never see. Like a fumblerooskie.
Once Jake got blocked, there's no way for the corner to stop 2 men by himself. If Demens had been lined up wider or reacted quicker, he might have had a play on Burkhead leaving Abdhullah for the the corner. Jake's inexperience shows here. If he hadn't given up the contain, he might have been able to turn the play back to Demens.
But it's just a good play call.
From the back, you can see how the initial mesh freezes RVB and Demens. If that had been Jake Ryan, he might have had the speed to get in there and cause havoc.
But Jake is getting cracked down on by the WR.
Hoke and Mattison weren't even mad.
I have nothing to add about this following play. I just think it's funny.
Oh, BWC finally joined the play!
"I did not have sexual relations with that coaching job!"
"Several reports and rumors indicating that you've accepted the Ohio state coaching position."
"Well there's NO TRUTH TO THAT. I have not been offered any job, I have certainly not accepted any job." BUT MY AGENT HAS.
"Well there's NO TRUTH TO THAT. I have not been offered any job, I have certainly not accepted any job." YET
"Well there's NO TRUTH TO THAT. I have not been offered any job, I have certainly not accepted any job." I mean, unless you consider multiple discussions and an agreement in principle without a finalized signed contract, as having been OFFERED a job... well uh, you know, hey look, IT'S TEBOW! (runs away)
"Well there's NO TRUTH TO THAT. I have not been offered any job, I have certainly not accepted any job." I like blonde chicks.
The refs were pretty good, even if they missed this play.
That's what the kids call pass interference.
Mike Martin, Goodnight sweet prince.
It's been an up and down 4 years, but Mike was always a bright spot. You'll be missed. Even moreso if we can't get your replacements to perform at an acceptable level.
This is where I reiterate my comments about Will Campbell. Feel free to stop reading if you already know what I'm about to say.
Dear Big Will,
You've had some great plays, and done some good things. But you've also had plenty of screw ups. And I'm not talking about denting a car. I don't care about that. I was a drunken college kid once and that type of thing is perfectly understandable if not advisable. On the other hand, I didn't have 100,000 people following my every move on twitter. So maybe you should be careful, you don't want to end up like D_______l S__________m. But, that's not the point.
I'm talking about your play on the field. You've got some big shoes to fill. You've got a lot of potential you've yet to fulfill. But what I saw from you in the spring game was very disappointing. I don't care what your newspaper clippings say. The way you were getting pushed around and loafing around during the spring game will not be enough to earn the starting job, let alone help us defeat the likes of Alabama, Notre Dame, MSU, and Ohio.
I want you to spend all summer working on your stance and explosion in your first step. I want you to dog crawl up and down the field, from endzone to endzone in 10 yard bursts. But mostly, I want you to have that fire and drive where you're at full speed with a motor that never stops. Maybe that's too much for a lowly fan to ask from an actual athlete.
But think about this. You've got one year. One year to prove what you're made of. One year where you teammates are going to depend on you more than they ever have before. And at the end of that year, you might have the opportunity to be a multi-millionaire. he power is in your hands. One year, or the rest of your life to think about what could have been.
Props to the band.
I can't wait for September 1st!