1st half vs.OSU: Zone Read FAIL

Submitted by caup on November 30th, 2010 at 9:05 AM

We're all frustrated by the lack of first half production from our incredibly talented group of players. I figured the OSU game would be the game where RR finally broke from tendencies.  That didn't happen.

I have a huge problem with his incredibly predictable use of the zone read and I think this greatly hindered our success in the first half.

Michigan ran designed  zone read runs 13 times in the first.  Every single time it was a give to the RB.  The backside DEs did not even bother containing Denard because OSU has scouted us and seen that Denard never keeps it on ZR.  All of their defenders flew to the RB every time.  This is like taking 13 snaps and throwing them out the window! 

If you remove Shaw's 39-yard run, the other 12 ZR plays reulted in 32 yards with 1 fumble.  That's 2.67 YPC. Terrible.

Watching Denard run out his ZR fake without anyone so much as looking at him makes me want to vomit. 

In the post-game presser, instead of those stupid-ass questions by the MSM about RR's future, how about asking this question: 

"Rich, you ran zone read run 13 times in the first half against OSU.  It was a hand-off to the RB every single time, even though the backside DE never even attempted to contain the QB.  Aren't you coaching Denard to keep that ball at least some of the time to keep their defense honest?"

Why not THAT fucking question? Gah!



November 30th, 2010 at 9:13 AM ^

Excellent question.  I would like to know if that was be design (many Denard runs have no RB option) or simply Denard not "seeing" what's out there.  If the latter you have to believe coaches see the same thing and will work on it for the bowl game.  If it's the former then maybe the Magee Florida rumors aren't as scary as one might think.


November 30th, 2010 at 9:56 AM ^

Brian charts the ZR  and has given Denard pretty good marks throughout the year.  It may look like he is running free on the fake, but the scraping LB would have already moved playside if that was the read.  Obviously the coaches are disecting every play so it is not as simple to analyse as it looks to us on TV.  All of that said, I would rather see Denard one-on-one with a LB (Woop!) than the numerous RB handoffs with clogged running lanes.


November 30th, 2010 at 9:22 AM ^

Been sayin' this for a while now.  Seems like the only DRob run is a designed QB lead with the RB blocking in front.  No attempt at deception like Oregon does.  There is almost always a fake in the Oregon offense, it's very difficult to find the ball.

My guess is that Denard is a little banged up and is minimizing some contact on his own. Otherwise, he's just making the wrong read. 

Mitch Cumstein

November 30th, 2010 at 9:38 AM ^

Makiing the wrong read would be indicative of a young QB against an experienced D.  But making the same read everytime is either a QB not learning or adjusting as the game progresses, or a young QB doing what he is told.   Its also the last game of the season, while still only a sophomore, the young QB excuse gets weaker and weaker with each game.


November 30th, 2010 at 10:10 AM ^

It's more about a very good defensive performance than it is about getting the read correct. Denard should probably be a redshirt freshman and this is his first season starting. So yes, he is a young qb. This is a fact not an excuse. I know we all expect to score 30 to 40 points a game but it isn't going to happen all of the time. I suspect that most of the people wanting Denard to take off running with the ball were probably the same people complaining about his durability and having him running 28 times a game earlier in the season. This is still a young offense and should only get better..


November 30th, 2010 at 9:25 AM ^

worried about. Yes, he is the innovator of the spread offense. But time--and innovation--do catch up with people. Much of the rest of the football world has come to understand how his offenses work. Most "geniuses" have one or two early bursts of insight, then work through the implications of those ideas as life-long projects. 

There is a very real possibility that Rod is stuck with some thinking that the world has caught up to. That doesn't mean he can't succeed--run it right, with the right personnel, and the spread works because several key players CANNOT be covered. Maybe it means getting a great back in there with Denard. Maybe it means Denard a year older and more confident--he is still really, really young. And let's not forget that despite the tendencies you i.d. we STILL had the best QB in the Big Ten, one of the best in college ball. . . 

Personally, D or no D, I am just praying that Rich can GET to next year, because even if the D still sucks the O will be accomplishing amazing, amazing things. Harbaugh can wait until we have a more definitive read on RichRod. 


November 30th, 2010 at 12:54 PM ^

There is also a limited amount of practice time. Especially since I believe we are already taking part of the NCAA penalty this season by lopping off a couple minutes here and there.

There are lots of adjustments that can be made, but Denard is the third straight first year starter in this system. Every year the whole offense has had to practice first to get the basic plays down and successful while substituting personnel for graduation, injuries, etc. before trying to add a wrinkle here and there. With time and consistency in the program, you will probably see more stuff like the midline option, different reads and directions for the plays. I think the reason you haven't seen it all yet is because it would be just too much for a still young offense, and Denard especially, to handle.


November 30th, 2010 at 9:34 AM ^

the fastest player in college football, and you see him running without the ball around an uncontained edge, time and time again.  And it doesn't occur to RR or Magee that hey, maybe Denard should, you know, actually keep the ball one of those times?


November 30th, 2010 at 9:55 AM ^

Once it's a handoff, shouldn't the contain guy stop paying attention to Denard? What we're seeing as a bad read could just be a good reaction by the defense, because they are, you know, good, and make decisions faster than Obi Ezeh.

2 seconds after a handoff, there's usually tons of room for the QB and open men downfield - does that mean he should have thrown?


November 30th, 2010 at 10:07 AM ^

mind you this is mostly uneducated speculation.

I start with two premises:

1.  Denard is banged up

2.  Denard struggled with the read early in the year.


Because of 1 and 2 you have to take the read away from Denard to protect him.  However, you know he's the most dynamic palyer you have, so the designed runs for him have to be done with multiple lead blockers.  This leads to the lead draw and the stretch keeper.  Second, I don't think you can call a designed keeper off of what looks like a zone read because of No.  1.  A called keeper puts Denard in space with no protection.  If the one time you call it, the DE stays home or you have a LB scraping around, Denard is dead. 


So in my mind the question, is not "why is Denard not keeping it more" but "why did you run the zone stretch 13 times in the first half with minimal success?"  Becuase at the end of the day, I think that's what the play is, not a zone read.  Because there is no longer any read.


November 30th, 2010 at 11:12 AM ^

It is possible to call a designed keeper with out leaving the DE unblocked. All you have to do is pull the backside gaurd and run a QB trap. Or you can fake playside to the RB and run a QB power to that side like Auburn does with Cam Newton quite a bit. Both are designed QB runs with play fakes that I never see us run with Denard.

Blue Bunny Friday

November 30th, 2010 at 9:31 AM ^

You sure that he's reading the DE? Teams have used the 'scrape-exchange' for quite a while now, and the read is on the LB, not the DE. I only had time to look at one example (Shaw's big run) and on that play it looked like OSU brought a safety from the edge. Denard, obviously, made the right read on that.

Anyway, I think the point is that you're not really reading the DE on every ZR.

Blue Bunny Friday

November 30th, 2010 at 11:11 AM ^

The Shaw run was opened up by the H-back counter to the scrape-exchange.

11:25 in 2nd Q. 2nd and 5 - DE stays home (he actually shuffles outside a step after the first pic below), Denard makes correct read, HUGE hole, V.Smith gets 11, and Heyward runs him down.

On a 3rd and ~6 (4-down territory) the DE's job was to crush Dorrestein into Molk. It looked like a ZR, the LB was scraping, but read pass pretty quickly. OSU did multiple things to try to slow the offense down. That probably led to some bad reads, but I don't think I'm seeing the FAIL you've described.

EDIT: Added pics


November 30th, 2010 at 9:38 AM ^

I don't have a problem with how the game started.  It seemed like the same thing a pro-style offense would do to open, especially with a young quarterback on the road in a big game.  Somewhat conservative, run until they prove they can consistently stop it, expand from there.  The biggest problem we had was ball security - fumbles and dropped passes.  Without them we are close or ahead well into the 2nd quarter.


November 30th, 2010 at 9:44 AM ^

I would have to look at the tape to see that Denard was wrong (could have been a LB containing, maybe he's open carrying out the play fake because there is no football in his hands) but take issue with this:

If you remove Shaw's 39-yard run, the other 12 ZR plays reulted in 32 yards with 1 fumble.  That's 2.67 YPC. Terrible.

Why does Shaw's run not count?  What you're telling me is we ran 13 Zone Reads for 71 yards, at 5.5 YPC.  That sounds good to me.  And our first half total offense was in the neighborhood of 250 total yards.  Against a top flight defense that does not suggest schematic stupidity.  We should have been on pace for 600 yards?

And even if you restrict the sample the way you want, 2.67 is not terrible.  Not good, but not terrible.

Greg McMurtry

November 30th, 2010 at 10:29 AM ^

people remove the one big gain and then re-calculate the ypg. But I've been wondering why Shaw has been getting so few carries. Sure he was banged up for a couple of games, but the speed is there and he has more big play ability than Smith as evidenced by the only big run and only TD against OSU.


November 30th, 2010 at 9:43 AM ^

I think the issue is twofold: 1) our RBs are not nearly the threat that Denard is - because of this, good defenses will set up deliberately to make sure "hand off" is always the "right" read. 2) Denard is still a first year starter - he's not going to be 100% comfortable with the zone read at game speed against a good defense, so it would be asking a lot of him to expect him to make a double read, e.g. "do A if player X does this, but if that's what they want you to think, do B".

I would have liked to see what adjustments they came up with at halftime, but unfortunately Denard was injured at that point and didn't play much of the second half. It's worth remembering that we actually moved the ball quite effectively in the first half, racking up well over 200 yards. It was unforced errors and dumb penalties that kept us out of the endzone more than playcalling.

Indiana Blue

November 30th, 2010 at 9:44 AM ^

this appears to be an anti-RR post.  Who are you questioning RR's offensive scheme ?  Don't you KNOW that RR is an offensive genius ?  

Geez  -  if you going to flame the offense ... what possibly is left that's positive to discuss ?  (OK  -  other than GERG's hair !)

Go Blue !


November 30th, 2010 at 9:49 AM ^

You are spot on in your analysis.  It seemed as if OSU had us scouted and knew what we were going to do.  To me, when the opposing defense can successfully predict what our offense is going to do, this is a RPS FAIL on our part.

And you don't need the Vest's obvious coaching mastery to figure us out.  By the end of the first quarter, even my wife - MY WIFE! - who has been watching football for all of 7 years said, why does Denard keep giving it to Smith or Shaw on the zone read - why not keep it a few times to throw them off?  I just don't get this. 

All season, RR defenders have said that the main reason to keep RR is because of our offense.  Many have said that it is not fair to blame RR for the struggles on defense because he is less involved there, the youth, the injuries, the attrition, etc.  They have said that RR can't be blamed for  the special teams because we are the only D1 team that does not have a kicker (I actually agree with this defense, but only wrt the kicking).  But the offense, well that's RR's baby - nobody disputes that.  The problem is that when we play the Indianas of the world, we can be predictable, because our offense just simply out talents their defense.  But, every single time we have played a good defense, our offense has sputtered, largely because of predictability. 

Blue Bunny Friday

November 30th, 2010 at 10:56 AM ^

You're really just trying to turn this into another FIRE!RR!ARGH! thread, and there are plenty of those on the board already. Bring some new information. Blindly agreeing with the OP based on your ANGAR! version of the events Saturday and turning that into another reason is just you being an asshat.

His Dudeness

November 30th, 2010 at 9:56 AM ^

I agree that giving it on all of those plays was not the correct read every time, but those are Denards reads. RR can only do so much to prep Denard on the reads, it is up to him to make the proper ones. I remember reading that it takes a while for the reads to be instinctual rather than just a guess.

Also this only adds to the lore of Denard. He is a first year starter in an offense that puts tons of pressure on the QB and he was making a good amount of poor reads and he still put up one of the best statistical seasons in NCAA history. Wait until it clicks and he "gets it." That will be a fun year.

Tim Waymen

November 30th, 2010 at 10:27 AM ^

Hopefully with bowl game, spring, and summer practices, Denard can become a zone read machine.  With his work ethic and talent, he should get better and more comfortable as a QB.


November 30th, 2010 at 10:43 AM ^

Because it was working. The first drive went 49 yards on twelve plays, in which they passed three times.

The second drive was stopped by a fumble, but the rush game was working.

The third drive, they tried to pass and failed.

Okay, on the fourth drive in the second quarter, went eighty yards on an eleven drive play where they passed THREE TIMES.

So, what's the problem?


November 30th, 2010 at 10:47 AM ^

We had 238 yds in the first half on the Big10 #1D (?). Failure was no kicker (3pts), fumble (3-7pts), two motion penalties (drive kill shots), drops (more kill shots), sweet 18 yd punt (-7pts), Kickoff TD (-7pts) . If we take care of these issues, halftime score looks around 17-14/10 UM.


November 30th, 2010 at 11:06 AM ^

I never said the ZR failures were the only reason for our lack of scoring in the first half.  Michigan used many wildly successful offensive plays. 

I'm just stating that 12 of the zone read plays accounted for a total of 32 yards.  That's not good.  We moved the ball up and down the field in the first half in spite of our many ineffective ZR plays.


November 30th, 2010 at 11:13 AM ^

Why should the media be blasting RichRod about ZR offensive failures if you agree that we moved the ball?

Who knows, you could be right as well. The thing with RichRod that bothers me the most is consistency. I have to admit that Smith up the middle drives me batty as well.

I think at this time we are all searching for something...