Bubble Screen

Submitted by Ziff72 on January 4th, 2012 at 9:37 AM

Did anyone else notice VT was just giving us the bubble screen?   I think they scouted us on MGOBLOG and said we'll just leave the guys unguarded because Borges is defiant in not doing it.  I think that was a big contributor to the running game being stuffed.  It seemed like several times we went trips they defended us with 1 guy out there.

I'm sure the blogosphere will have plenty of picture pages, but it seemed like VT had 15 guys out there.  While I was frustrated about the bubbles,  I do want to give Borges props for setting up 3 td's that were done in by horrid execution/luck/cheating.

Pop Pass to Hemmingway- Looked like a for sure six but Denard made a marginal throw that was batted down.

Screen to Smith- Denard with a bad pass.  That replay showing 3 Mich OL standing by themselves was depressing.

JR Stop and Go-  A great call as they were jumping our short  routes.   How it's not interference is a mystery to me.  He gave a Brad Marsh shove and knee trip as Hemingway was going by. 




January 4th, 2012 at 9:40 AM ^

This is about the 13th game in a row where bubble screens have been open and we haven't thrown it.

You're a little late to the party.


January 4th, 2012 at 10:22 AM ^

As a quasi-expert, what is your opinion on the bubble screen vs. the tunnel screen?  As a layperson, it seems to me that the tunnel is drastically more complicated for an offense to execute than the bubble.  If so, why go through all that work when you can just throw the ball to the WR and let him run?  In other words, how can a coach not like the bubble but run the tunnel?


Ali G Bomaye

January 4th, 2012 at 11:34 AM ^

The bubble screen is more useful against a team like VT, who is overplaying the run by packing guys into the box and not covering the slot receivers head-up.  The tunnel screen is more useful in passing situations where the defense is backed off a little, because it depends on the ability to clear space right in front of the OL, but if the offense can establish that space it can be highly successful because unlike the bubble it lets the OL block for the receiver.

I see the bubble screen as more of a quick-hitting constraint play, designed to prevent the defense from overplaying the run and pick up 5-10 yards.  The bubble can be run 8-10 times a game, depending on how the defense lines up, and can be an easy "check" play when a run has been called in the huddle.  The tunnel screen is more of a hit-or-miss play, because it depends on the defense either blitzing or allowing space near the LOS.  Since one observant DL or LB can destroy a tunnel screen, an offense probably can't (successfully) run the tunnel more than 2-4 times per game, but the tunnel has a better chance of picking up 10-15 yards in a long-yardage situation.


January 4th, 2012 at 12:17 PM ^

My personal opinion is that the bubble screen is superior, especially against a team like Virginia Tech.  If I were calling the plays, I would have called it several times.  I'm not a big fan of the tunnel screen, at least not the way that Michigan runs it (out of the I-formation, to Gallon every time, etc.).  It's essentially a run play and it's hard to stop for a loss.  It seems that unless the defensive backs are in press man coverage, the bubble should get 4-5 yards almost every time.

I'm not sure why Michigan doesn't run it.  Maybe Borges/Hoke have had bad experiences.  Maybe they don't think they have the right guys to run it.  Personally, I wasn't impressed with Denard's ability to throw the bubble screen last year, and that might be a reason why they've avoided it.  But he hasn't made any throw consistently throughout the year, so it seems strange that they would prevent him from throwing the bubble screen but still allow him to throw fades.

Michigan was having success on the edges when running the ball (jet sweeps, reverses, etc.), and I would have attacked the edge more with the pass, too.  But Borges just won a Sugar Bowl and I watched the game sitting on my couch, so what do I know?


January 4th, 2012 at 12:46 PM ^


If I were calling the plays, I would have called it several times.

This is a bad idea. You don't really call bubble screens, you check into them. If you called it from the huddle and the defense aligned with a man over the slot guy, you would have called a terrible play. This is why RR ran a no-huddle and had his players look to the sideline for the play. He could wait to see how the defense was lined up and check into the bubble accordingly.

Saying that you'd call the bubble essentially ruins what the bubble offers: a quick way to make the defense pay for their alignment by gaining a quick 5. I don't say this to be a dick, because you seem like a decent guy who knows football, but when someone asks you for your quasi-expert opinion, you should take care to not misinform them. That way we don't have too many NEEDZ MOAR BUBBLEZ!!!1!!1!

Also, I think your assessment of our edge running game is off. We didn't have much success at all. The rest of our post is spot on.


January 4th, 2012 at 1:03 PM ^

Right, but there are plays with the option to throw the bubble.  You can run a zone read with the option to throw the bubble.  Rodriguez did it, Oregon does it, it happens all over the place.

The majority of Denard's yards came on one scramble/draw up the middle, but other than that, Toussaint, Gallon, Smith, and Odoms gained yards to the outside.  Toussaint's 14-yarder was to the outside, Gallon gained 7, and Odoms gained 5.  That's 26 out of 56 yards on just three carries when most of the attempts were up the middle.


January 4th, 2012 at 1:25 PM ^

Plays with the option to throw the bubble is what I'm talking about. You mention zone reads in particular (because people run them with the bubble built in), but it is possible to have a bubble check on every single play. Just have the QB throw up a hand signal to the receiver and throw it. My contention is that these things are checks and not called plays. But to say that someone "call a bubble screen" in the same way that someone can "call an iso" is untrue and potentially confusing to someone who is trying to learn.

As for the edge runs, you're absolutely right. But you leave out the edge runs that didn't work (speed option went for 1, zone reads were generally handed off rather than kept). Just because a few outside runs worked better than the totally shambolic inside game doesn't mean that we were "having success with edge runs".


January 4th, 2012 at 1:29 PM ^

In my head, calling a play with a bubble screen option = calling a bubble screen.  If you don't agree, that's fine.

We ran the ball 30 times, and if my memory's correct, we seemed to be more productive on the outside.  We got 26 yards on the three carries I mentioned.  I'm not saying all runs to the outside were successful, but the middle was jammed up quite a bit.

We're nit-picking right now and I don't really think it's worth arguing about.  I'm gonna move on now.


January 4th, 2012 at 9:47 AM ^

has to be something schematic about the bubble screen that Borges does not like that is way over my pay grade.  Based on his interviews and pressers, my guess is that he thinks it is lazy and more "taking what the defense gives you" instead of making the defense take what you want them to.  His absolute distain for the bubble screen makes me believe he is setting up to run a really true pro-style offense, similar to SC under Carroll with Leinart, complete with frequent seven steps drops, heavy reliance on conventional screens, and not a whole lot of lateral action to gain "gimme" type yardage.  It is a lofty but admirable goal.


January 4th, 2012 at 10:20 AM ^

I sincerely hope that's not the case, that Borges has an ideological contempt for the bubble screen. Those are the types of easy passes that we ran last year to get Denard into a rhythm and they are effective when executed properly with downfield blocking and if there's a cushion. On top of that, if they're run on early downs, we are less likely to be in a 3rd and long situation. I really hope our coaches are practical enough to take what the defense gives us, depite it being "lazy" or "gimme yardage". If he were so against the bubble screen, we may as well say screw the slot receiver and run with a TE and fullback. 



January 4th, 2012 at 10:24 AM ^

not saying I am necessarily happy with my conclusion.  I just have to believe that if we were going to see it we would have already.  Al does do some things to work on soft edges, the jet sweep theoretically does the same thing as a bubble screen or is intended to.  Perhaps he is that concerned with Denard's accuracy that he does not want to mess with any throws behind the line of scrimmage.  That could be a possibility.


January 4th, 2012 at 11:51 AM ^

Perhaps it has something to do with Denard's mechanics/ the speed in which he is able to set up and swing the ball out with accuracy. Has Borges stated he hates the bubble screen? Has he used it in the past? I do not know the answer to these questions, but it just might have something to do with personnel.

Ali G Bomaye

January 4th, 2012 at 4:09 PM ^

A true pro-style offense, at least nowadays, contains a buttload of bubble screens.  Probably half of Nate Burleson's catches this year were on bubble screens, and Drew Brees just set the passing yardage record due in no small part to the Saints' frequent use of bubble screens.

Charlie Weis may be an arrogant slob, but he had a decent amount of success at the pro level, and he certainly has used the bubble screen in college:


El Jeffe

January 4th, 2012 at 9:49 AM ^

It's getting to the point where it's a little malpractice-y. Especially when Blackledge kept gushing about how stout VaTech was up the middle and how their defense was designed to stop things up the middle and how the best thing to do was spread them out and how we routinely had 3 on 2 situations on the outside and why does Borges hate the bubble so much exactly?

I feel like he should be forced to answer that question some time. I nominate Heiko to keep asking until either Borges answers or he disembowels Heiko with a ballpoint pen.

Naked Bootlegger

January 4th, 2012 at 10:03 AM ^

Let's just pitch in as a community and buy Heiko a Kevlar vest to the next Borges presser. 

This question must be asked again...or at least how to exploit the cushy soft coverage on the wideouts.     As the OP suggests, we had a few breakout plays that would've gone for huge yards if they were executed better, so we had at least a few tactical bullets in our arsenal to exploit the defense. (I will say, though, that the insta-pressure VT consistently generated definitely hurried Denard on the Vince jailbreak screen that would've gone for mega yards).  



January 4th, 2012 at 10:15 AM ^

Or maybe Brian, as someone who has never played a down of football in his life:

a) doesn't know what he's talking about

b) can't see these concerns being addressed with other plays

The single-minded focus on a single play says more about you (or your slavish repititon of everything on the main page) and Brian then it does Borges.


January 4th, 2012 at 10:23 AM ^

an award winning college football coach who is by all accounts a very good coach, made a very large error when he played for a long field goal in overtime against Michigan State.  I think it was a massively -EV play.  

I have never played a down of organized football.  Does that mean I'm not qualified to make that judgment?  


January 4th, 2012 at 10:25 AM ^

If you can't see the difference between questioning "is kicking a field goal here smart?" and analyzing the X and O's of how one specific play can or can't take advantage of a specific scheme, there is no point in engaging in this conversation.

So, I'm out.


January 4th, 2012 at 10:31 AM ^

I have played some snaps of football, which may or may not be good enough for you, and incorporating a single play into formations that we already run routinely is not a difficult task. I don't think this topic deserves the kind of controversy it gets one way or the other, but it is a bit of a head-scratcher. 


January 4th, 2012 at 10:27 AM ^

that Brady Hoke, who can level a man with a single point, made a very good move by doing the exact same thing that Mark Richt did to get the win last night.  Funny game.  Hey everybody, let's just have a good time.  Everybody on this board "won state," right?


January 4th, 2012 at 10:58 AM ^

I don't agree. I've been writing not nearly as long as Borges has been coaching but it has still been a good 15 years since I've been doing it on a higher level than the average adult, yet I've had a guy who grew up in France and never wrote more than a foreign language class paper in the language of Shakespeare correctly criticize something in my writing.

If you make a study of a trade you get better at correctly diagnosing mistakes made by others (and even the greatest practitioners of any trade make mistakes).

Borges hasn't been willing to address the bubble screen issue directly but the inferences we have -- from which coaches he has consulted with to what offenses he has run in the past -- suggest that one play's importance to spread packages is a lesson he missed somewhere.

The bubble is not just one random play in the pantheon of a thousand offensive plays run today. Offensive plays are not like that -- they're kind of like Lego bricks in that they have certain functions toward the building of an offense and some specific bricks are simply the best ones to use for a certain job. It just so happens with a spread shotgun offense a defense's best way to cheat you is to back into Cover 3 and keep the SAM linebacker/nickel nearer to the box. Tthe way you keep that nickelish SAM linebacker honest is to give him what's essentially a run responsibility as far away from the handoff as possible, which is the outside receiver. There isn't another brick that does this as well as a bubble screen.

It's not even just one play. You can bubble to a lot of different receivers with a lot of different looks. The premise is just to put a receiver horizontally far from the action and get him in space against one attacker, taking care of the other attacker either by alignment or a crack-down.

It's just an answer to alignment, not some fancy thing.

In this game however I think VT was tempting Michigan to throw the bubble because they have a 1st round pick playing corner over there, and they could trust Hosley to start in a deep zone yet still get to the bubble receiver and stop the play for minimal gain.

Watch the play in the 2nd half of this video:

Now imagine instead of OSU's corner that's Jayron Hosley making an immediate read and quickly closing the gap. That's why Virginia Tech could get away with that alignment and Michigan probably wouldn't have gotten as much off the bubble as we all think. This is what you should be arguing. The defense of non-bubbling in the Sugar Bowl isn't that Borges is unquestionable or that one brick is one brick; it's that we'd be gambling that VT's NFL-bound corner wouldn't be able to make an NFL-bound corner play.


January 4th, 2012 at 11:19 AM ^

Seth, a few items:

a) I think your analogy is pretty off, but it's not worth delving into in depth.

b) I don't want to argue specifics on X & O strategy with you (or anyone, really), because I know my own limitations enough to know that I don't know what I'm talking about and, no offense intended, but it's the only way I can say it - I'm not sure you do either. You can parse data like a motherfucker, but...

c) My extreme gut feeling regarding the bubble in this game mirrors yours, re: Hosley. That secondary was lightning fast and was, I'd argue, by far the best we've faced. I swear Hosley cloned himself.

d) My opinion on Borges' offense and the fit of the bubble into it is below: This isn't Magee's offense. If it was, everyone here wouldn't be talking about how all the adjustments Denard needed to make was what kept him inefficient early in the year - a point that is, I think, close to MGoOthordoxy at this point. You can't say "BUT THE BUBBLE IS PART OF RICH RODS OFFENSE AND THUS THIS OFFENSE" and then say "DENARD WAS BAD EARLY BECAUSE HE HAD TO ADJUST TO A COMPLETELY NEW PACKAGE OF ROUTE COMBINATIONS AND READS". Pick one, otherwise, it's a logical fallacy.

e) I think that because Brian (and many others on this blog) have attempted to become amateur experts on X's and O's, that a schematic explanation is often proffered for everything that occurs in a game - plays work because they are good calls or bad calls. People that know much more about football than I (the former contributor known as "gsimmons" for one), frequently said "it's jimmy's and joe's, not x's and o's". I think the largest, most obvious explanation for the struggles of the offense is simply that Virginia Tech's defense was just better. They stuffed the box, and we tried speed options, isos, zones, power, throw-back screens, and read options and couldn't break it. We couldn't even get a receiver open despite them stuffing the box, and we couldn't protect Denard that well. That was, simply, a very talented defense with premier-level coaching. That's why, in my opinion, we couldn't move the ball.

This "BUBBLE SCREENZ" is a facile, annoying method of ignoring that.


January 6th, 2012 at 5:08 PM ^

We got to agreement pretty quick this time.

b) No, I'm not a great X's and O's guy. The real thing with me is I learn by trying to saying/writing shit I think I might have figured out to bounce off of other minds. I won't throw hairbrained shit out there I can't defend, but I will say things I'm not 100% certain on in the hopes of reeling in some constructive criticism. I have to do this in the boards now because I can't be throwing trial balloons out on the front page.

d) That said I think I've got the bubble screen's concept down, thanks to copious amounts of Chris Brown. It doesn't belong to Magee any more than a Pro Set owns the delayed handoff or the West Coast owns a TE curl. I think it's simply a formation checker. Any team that uses a slot receiver out of any formation by alignment forces the defense to shift somebody from the linebacker count (an OLB or a nickel or what have you) out of the box. This is a boon to the running game since for a few seconds that guy is blocked by alignment. But if that guy creeps back into the box (or is blitzing) you need a way to punish him for that. Out of an I-form or pro set, the punishment is usually a back leaking into the flat because Cheaty McStrongside over there has to chase him. Out of a shotgun formation the bubble screen to the slot receiver (or the outside receiver) does the same thing.

The bubble screen need not be what it was to the RR/Magee offense at WVa, where it was the "candle!"  to the "rock or scissors" of the zone read and "paper" of play-action seams by preventing that OLB/CB from being a scraper or blitzer.

The reason I think Borges needs to implement it, in general, is that he is running WAY more shotgun than he is used to, and this means defenses are going to be changing up alignments to it. But then if the opponent has a guy like Hosley who can dodge crack blocks or line up 15 yards deep and still get to the slot before the ball does, well fuck, that's why great players can make an entire defense awesome.

On the whole, though, we agree on the Hosley thing, and that the bickering about this doesn't really apply to VT because of it. And agree that people on the board have taken the bubble calls beyond the level where they actually know what they're talking about, and into the range of parrotting the latest cause celebre of Brian Cook. So we basically agree and I like to type lots of words. WOoooo words.


January 4th, 2012 at 12:55 PM ^

I don't see how playing a single down, or even 100, would be enough to clear an imaginary hurdle of what is required to question a football coach's philosophy - especially one with 25 years experience.

And keep in mind there are a number of teams that use that specific play to great effect. It is resonable to ask why we don't run the bubble when given the opportunity using personnel with experience running that type of screen. 

It's not like our O was tearing it up and this is a stupid question. We couldn't move the damn ball and we weren't taking easy yards. Football is not rocket science - it's ok to ask questions.



January 4th, 2012 at 10:26 AM ^

For better or worse, our offense has evolved into a spread option offense.  Saying the bubble screen isn't an integral part of that offense because we're choosing not to use it leaves no room for the possibility that we're not optimally running the offense.  

You're essentially arguing that good offensive coordinators are infallible.  I think that's a mistake.  


January 4th, 2012 at 10:32 AM ^

I'm not arguing that they are infallible.

I'm arguing that 20,000 hits a day doesn't make someone an expert on football, nor does it make the parade of people that mindlessly regurgitate what he says.

The bubble screen is a play that, if I recall, lead our offense into getting annihilated against teams with a pulse for 3 years. It's not a magic bullet, it's a play that sometimes got us 6 yards, and with a secondary as fast and talented as VT's (I swear there were 8 Jayron Hoseley's on the field), could easily get swallowed up.

But of course, we don't allow for that possibility. A popular crochety blogger is upset that we're losing, tweets accordingly, and a tempest in a teapot is born.


January 4th, 2012 at 10:37 AM ^

there is literally no one on this blog who has ever argued that the bubble screen is a magic bullet.  It's not designed to be.  It's designed to get 6 yards and make someone cover the slot reciever.  It's simply a piece of a larger offense that lets you do other things easier.  

Calvin Magee (who I assume you think knows what he's talking about) says it's an important part of the offense that we have chosen to run this season, and he likely knows more about this specific offensive scheme than Borges does, since this isn't Borges's ideal scheme or what he's most comfortable running.



January 4th, 2012 at 10:40 AM ^

The degree to which it is alleged that Borges is committing malpractice by not running it (see: this thread), I'd argue it is being bandied about as a magic bullet. Running that play 3 times last night doesn't materially change a thing.

And again - you choose to keep saying that we run Calvin Magee's offense. If that's true, let me ask you:

Why does Borges keep saying (and nobody on this blog has argued with the contention) that Denard had many significant changes to grasp and gain a comfort level with before he could be effective? Why can we accept this explanation that the passing game changed so drastically that Denard lost the comfort level he had gained with the offensive scheme he played for two years, but then sit here, hold our (your) breath, and keep saying "BUT IT'S THE SAME OFFENSE!!!!" ?


January 4th, 2012 at 12:14 PM ^

I don't think the argument is that this is the same offense.  The passing schemes are clearly different.  One of those differences is the lack of bubble screens. One is the reduction in quick slants and three-step drops. I don't know how much of Denard's passing regression is due to change in scheme, but all of the talk from Borges about footwork and reads leads me to believe it's a contributing factor.

I'm not all "WHY U NO THROW BUBBLEZ?!" but saying this is overblown is different from the argument you're making.  We can agree that the passing scheme is different. We can agree that Borges has integrated a lot of spread concepts into the running game. Calvin Magee and SmartFootball both say that bubble screens are a critical complement to the spread running game because they keep defenses spread out.

What I think people are arguing is that the spread run game should not be paired with a purely pro-style passing game. What we've seen this year is a transition in progress, and the offense has been pieced together with a little of this and a little of that. I credit Borges for identifying the incompatibility of his available players with his preferred scheme and making the necessary adjustments. Long term, he will run what he wants to run, with players that fit that system, and I think it will be successful.  That said, I don't think it's unreasonable for people to question whether the transition-year offense was executed as efficiently as it could have been, or even whether it made sense to push the transition in the passing game with Denard still at the helm.


January 4th, 2012 at 11:43 AM ^

I'm going to stick with Borges over Calvin Magee--especially considering Magee's comments were non-specific and unrelated to Michigan or Borges or 2011.

This offense is better than the one Magee had last season even w/o the bubble screen.

I just think it's so weird that people would hold up a video that's several years old of an assistant coach from another team running a different offense talking about his offense as proof that Michigans very successful OC is wrong. Especially considering that same coach was just fired from Michigan for being worse than the present coach.

The proof on the field totally invalidates this non-specific crap about a different offense that Magee said when he was at another school.



January 4th, 2012 at 11:06 AM ^

I think you have to "take what the defense gives you". That's the beauty of any good offense, whether pro-style or spread. You can make the defense pick their poison. If the bubble screen isn't there, something else may be and you end up dictating the defense as much as the defense dictates what you're doing.