Play Calling vs. Scheme

Submitted by Ron Utah on November 20th, 2017 at 2:01 PM

It finally happened

Lots of folks out there interpreted the "Persistent Underachievement" diaries as a call to fire and replace all or a portion of our offensive staff.  That is not the case.  You can criticize a person or group and still believe they are good at their jobs.

After watching this weekend's game live, I thought the playcalling was terrible.  After a rewatch, I actually believe the playcalling was pretty good.  But the scheme was not.

What I mean by that is that, given the set of plays we came prepared to run, I like that the play calling was more pass-oriented and aggressive.  The deep shot to DPJ felt like a long-delayed relief, like that bathroom trip after too many hours in the car.  McKeon dropped a big-gainer from JOK.  Gentry had a long completion dislodged by a big hit.  DPJ had a TD erroneously called back (though he could have done better with his feet there).

That said, I noticed some fundamental flaws with our scheme.  Before I list them, please know that I understand and sympathize with the predicament we face--very young team with insanely young receiving options, young OL, freshman (or 3rd string) QB, etc.  Even knowing these limitations, and perhaps even because of these limitations, I do not believe our scheme is giving us the best chance to win.

  • The early wrinkle was having McKeon on the outside.  Presumably the coaches saw match-ups they liked with him against the UW CBs.  It had some success, but it was clunky and did not help us score.
  • The reverse to DPJ was a great idea.  Why not more of that?  One jet sweep to McDoom was the only other play I noticed that really moved the ball aggressively horizontally.
  • Their CBs were frequently giving healthy cushions.  Where are the WR screens?
  • The empty wildcat was silly.
  • UW's hyper-aggressive LBs (like ours) shoot gaps early in a play.  They attack quickly and aggressively, often arriving in the gaps before the pulling players can get there.  We did not run away from flow nearly often enough in this game, nor did we use horizontal attacking plays to force their LBs to think twice about blizting gaps.
  • UW's TD on the end around is a prime example of exactly what we need more of: a play that punishes the defense for using discipline and reading their keys.  Both guards move towards the RB's lane while the center and weakside tackle move out into space to wall off the pursuit.  It is a beautifully-designed play, and they have scored TDs off of it at least two weeks in a row.
  • In summary, there is not enough deception in our offense.  Whether we are running or passing, we fail to use many of the staples of successful college offenses to confuse our opponents.  Even 3-star athletes are fast enough and strong enough to disable an offense that's predictable.  We don't use RPOs, QB option (we run these but the QB never keeps--a keeper was open for a big gain this week), and we rarely use jet motion, WR screens, throwback screens, or run away from the line action/pull.

I don't want to fire Harbaugh.  To borrow from Craig Ross, I want Michigan to stop playing like Red Coats and start playing like Revolutionaries.


Darker Blue

November 20th, 2017 at 2:08 PM ^

Michigan is not a good football team this year. We've got two games left to improve for next season. 

Thats all I've got. Not good, but its okay, they'll be better next year. 


November 20th, 2017 at 3:01 PM ^

That's what we all knew coming in.  We didn't expect our starting QB would get knocked out for the season on a dirty play. 

Based on how the season has gone, if the only thing that would've changed is Speight's health, I think we'd only have one loss (@PSU).  

If everyone knew before the season that we'd lose Speight when we did, 8-3 would be considered about where we should be in the toughest division in CFB.


November 20th, 2017 at 3:36 PM ^

Had more impressive throws than I’ve ever seen Speight make. Speight May or may not be better than Lewerke, but he would have needed to be Hercules to lift up the shit play around him. Speight getting injured didn’t change the trajectory of this season. It was pointed at suckitude ever since the Cincy game.


November 20th, 2017 at 2:22 PM ^

I want everyone on their feet bashing the calls and maybe we wouldn’t get screwed like last year. Also this is are bowl game, time to leave it all out on Saturday. Let’s not let OSU in the CFB playoff. #fuckohio

Ghost of Fritz…

November 20th, 2017 at 2:29 PM ^

puts it very well. 

Is there any reason to conclude that the Drevno/Pep/JH this year deserves an A grade?  Even a B grade? 

Many opponents used plays specifically designed and then called to exploit M's defensive tendencies.  Ron Utah's example of the UW end arond run is just one example. 

Have seen very little from Michigan this year in terms of creative plays that exploit a defensive weakness.  Everyone knew that UW was going to have LBs shooting gaps with abandon.  So where where the plays to expoit that? 



November 20th, 2017 at 2:52 PM ^

I'd give the entire offensive staff a C- minus for this season.  Less talented teams do more because they adjust the gameplan for their players.  JOK is better out of the pocket.  How many designed rollouts or RPOs did we have when he started?  Maybe a handful.  We have athletes at WR (Crawford, DPJ, McDoom).  Where's the quick passing game and WR screens and reverses to try and free them. 

I have a feeling that at some point on Saturday, we're going to say, "Where has this offense been all season?"  It'll be like Lloyd's last game where he just started throwing the ball around like he was Spurrier.  We'll finally get our athletes in space with the ball and watch them put in some work.

Occam's Razor

November 20th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

Probably not going to happen. Nothing from this season or last season suggests Michigan under Harbaugh saves plays for "big games or rivals."

This comment is like going right back up the imaginary "empty the playbook" myth that Brian and Ace fell for last week. 

More likely scenario is we will do what we've been doing and hope it's "executed" properly, which it probably won't against OSU's DLine. 


November 20th, 2017 at 2:33 PM ^

Play calling against bucky was probably the best this year outside of the Florida game but I think we are really just having a bad year because of youth, injuries, and inexperience. I am thinking a healthy Peters moving the offense as he has shown he can and keeping the defense off the field for prolonged stretches may help us eek out a win against OSU this week (yeah i said it) but really I am waiting for next year when we will be a playoff team. Face it, this was a year of youth and injuries.

Mr poonsniffle

November 20th, 2017 at 2:55 PM ^

Our current play calling scheme would be great with the mauling offensive lines that we had in the ‘90s and the first half of the ‘00s.

We don’t have that type of line that can dominate the line of scrimmage any more, so our man-ball is not successful against physical teams. Many good thoughts above for dealing with this.

I suggest that we get better at completing the forward pass downfield. I offer no suggestions on how to achieve this.


November 20th, 2017 at 2:59 PM ^

Youth limits your options. With that said, Michigan has some really incredible athletes. DPJ and Evans to name two obvious ones. It seems the best thing to do with those incredible athletes is to make a concerted effort to get them out in space. Screens, quick and short passing game, jet sweeps, etc. Anything to create open space with them, and that really hasn't happened much at all, which is perplexing. 


November 20th, 2017 at 3:06 PM ^

There are many variables to solve to be in the "right" play in any given situation - agree that more deception is warranted, but making sure your center/QB and receivers are familiar with all the checks based on front/tendency etc. is much easier with experienced players. For example you don't want to run that reverse play into an edge blitz (see Hudson vs. Gophers) and would Peters know enough to recognize and audible out of it? Failing that, would the line/receivers be saavy make-in play adjustments required to adapt to that situation? Seems like they are reasonably incapable of that given all the issues we see with protections.Agree that there should've been more variety in the game plan/play calls  to keep the badgers on their heels, however, with a young team there is only so much you can install in a given week, especially with Peters in his second start in a truly hostile environment against a real team (sorry Terps).  


November 20th, 2017 at 3:21 PM ^

rabble rabble rabble, we can't pass block, 2.5/3 qbs can't pass, wrs are young and inexperienced or (crawford) can't catch. There are 0 schemes or playcalls that work in that situation. Furthermore everyone considers a good playcall one that works and a bad playcall one that doesnt. Once again, nothing works considering the above, therefore all playcalls are bad. Harbaugh has shown plenty of good offensive playcalling and innovation in all his other stops and even here in the last two years. It ain't the playcalling or scheme. The only argument you could make is that we're bad at recruiting/developing olinemen and qbs. Anything else is failing to look past your fingers.


November 20th, 2017 at 3:26 PM ^

is a play I brought up yesterday.  That one play can be used to possibly show the difference in their O coaches being superior to ours(in this game)  They have scored off that play 2 weeks in a row, they switched the formation up vs us but it was the same exact play.  Michiga ran a version of the same play the drive before Wisconsin scored on it, that was the DPJ reverse.  On Wis play, they are basically showing RB counter and then running a counter to their counter.  It is extremely hard to stop it with the reads their oline show.  But Bush is actually in position to have the play stopped, which is an amazing play by him, except for one thing. Wis designed every detail of this play perfectly. THe RT climbs like he's blocking down on counter but he isn't trying to block any interior guy on the climb and he isn't trying to get outside to a safety. He is climbing and then peels back to block the MLB which was Bush. Bush did an amazing job reading the Guard's false pull, treading water, finding the ball and then attacking the ball aggressively. The Wisconsin RT was in position and just clipped Bush to stop him from getting to the ball carrier.  If that RT isn't there I 100% believe this is a 5-6 yard gain at best. That is designing a blocking scheme to every detail.  Contrast that with the DPJ play, first off Wisconsin got 2 down blocks on Mich DE and OLB. Mich had McKeon try to base/kick out the Wis OLB (17) which is a hard block to make on a reverse that is a slow developing play. Cole pass set and then pulled outside to get to the edge to block the CB.  17 beats McKeon (who has to hold to stop it from being a 5 yard loss) and gets in Cole's way to slow him from getting to the edge.  DPJ makes a good play for a 1st down but the blocking idea and scheme is inferior to the way Wis drew up bascially the same play.  That one play where Wisconsin coaches were superior in play design to ours is basically the game.  The life and momentum of this team was finished after they scored that TD.  That being said this coaching staff can coach, i've sat with Drevno and talked XandOs, the man knows his stuff.  But as a coach you have to trust your players to run the schemes you put in.  I truly believe they don't trust them as much as in the past.  Because Harbaugh has one of the most complex and amazing run packages in all of football.  We just aren't seeing much of it this year.


November 20th, 2017 at 5:36 PM ^

but how can it be that 3 years into a regime that we still do not have a go to bread and butter play that works?

To me it seems all our playcalls are 100% random. It also seems like we do not do any self scouting. If we did, we would have trashed the "pepcat" or whatever that abomination is a long time ago.

When we line up in that formation, the other teams DC goes for a hot dog because he knows he doesn't have to do anything and we will be punting in about 30 seconds.


November 20th, 2017 at 6:56 PM ^

We have a go to bread and butter play, it's Power. But the issue is in today's age of football, you need to have the OL to successfully run power down a defense throat if you are running it out of 11,12,13 personell.  We don't have that. I am a spread power coach, that's what i run and prefer. It is actually hard to watch Michigan at times but it is what it is.  Harbaugh's basic plan is power, power, power, counter, PA pass.  He is banking on the play action pass being there, due to the defense overplaying the run.  The issue is we don't have a QB who consistently hits the open WR/TEs on play action off of the run game. Thus the offense is very mediocre.  It's not fun to watch at the moment and it's not my preferred way of attack, but it's what Michigan fans screamed for after RR. Now you got it!!!  Now the offense we will see on Sat is Spread Power run team. They use spread formations, which can be 4 wide, 3WR, HB, TB (The most powerful personell grouping in footbal today if you ask me), empty. THey will spread you out and run the same power scheme down your throat.  They also mix in RPO, Bubble/Now screens all the elements of the spread offense that are easy to teach and execute.  There are tons of kids coming out of HS who can run that offense. There are a handful of QBs that can run what we are running. Until we can get one of those QBs we will continue to stumble on offense. It sucks too because our defense is pretty amazing. 


November 20th, 2017 at 9:21 PM ^

During the RR years there were a lot of discussions and people pointing out that there is a difference between his spread and spread power.


My biggest grip with that offense is that I'd prefer my running back running downhill into the line more; pistol has helped to mitigate that some.


My high school (a long time ago) when I played ran a Wing T and I still to this day love that offense. When I was still coaching we had a lot of elements of it and then built out into some shotgun combo routes when we had a QB who could understand and execute them. It was also helpful with smaller offensive linemen in a smaller, rural school. 


Assuming O'Korn is QB on Saturday, we need to see some similar things to what we saw at Purdue. Shorter timing routes to try to control the ball with the short passing game and "bigger targets" to throw to, hitches, curls, etc. Because we've seen enough to know that O'Korn isn't going to "throw a receiver open."


November 20th, 2017 at 8:49 PM ^

100% random is 100% accurate.

It's a grab bag. Might as well put 75 plays into a bingo caller, spin it for 20 seconds and radio the play in.

I I think it is next to impossible because of the salaries paid to the assistant coaches, but Drevno needs to be a full-time ol coach, and the team needs a dedicated offensive coordinator who knows what the hell they're doing.


November 20th, 2017 at 9:03 PM ^

That is not the case. You can see them build on things and set things up. They just don't have alot of bullets.  And it's not like the coaches just got stupid. Look at the first 2 years and watch Michigan's opening and early drives. They were some of the best scripted drives in America. And then second half they would call constraints off of those.  This year, it's just a very small limited playbook. 1. Due to an average OL, 2. Very young WR core, 3. Inconsistent QB play. I mean it's tough to call certain plays when you can't trust the players to execute it right.  I totally agree that there are things they should be doing to make this easier, but 100% random is not what's going on.


November 20th, 2017 at 5:36 PM ^

but how can it be that 3 years into a regime that we still do not have a go to bread and butter play that works?

To me it seems all our playcalls are 100% random. It also seems like we do not do any self scouting. If we did, we would have trashed the "pepcat" or whatever that abomination is a long time ago.

When we line up in that formation, the other teams DC goes for a hot dog because he knows he doesn't have to do anything and we will be punting in about 30 seconds.

Crisler 71

November 20th, 2017 at 4:30 PM ^

If you can't get five yards between the tackles when the defence has nine men in the box and knows you are running betwen the tackles, you don't deserve to win.


November 20th, 2017 at 4:59 PM ^

Forgive me if my recollection is off, I was increasingly intoxicated during the game: I wasnt a fan of our offensive playcalling at times. The deep lob 50/50 jump balls on critical downs instead of on 1st, the wildcat fake with Peters lined up super early that was just a wildcat, seemed pointless, then on that drive it's 3d and 5 in Wisconsin territory, our line is pushing there's all over the place, my mind says "4 down territory, run it twice" another 50/50 deep lob jumpball, and a punt.

Fast forward to the Patriots in Mexico City, their play calling was excellent. Playaction, then dump off to the RB up the middle anyways, TE and Slot double crossing routes, pick the open man. Easy chunk yards.


November 20th, 2017 at 7:21 PM ^

In that respect, Harbaugh is exactly like his old mentor Schembechler, who worshipped at the altar of Holy Execution. Under Bo, deception was regarded as sinful and when he did resort to it, it consisted mostly of a ridiculously long-developing reverse that was obvious to everyone in the stadium where our WR would run about 75 yards laterally but gain about 5 yards vertically.

I'm not knowledgeable enough about the details of line play to know how different our blocking schemes are today, but in terms of what seems to be our general offensive scheme and attitude, it really reminds me of about 1980, but without nearly as much of the talent or any of the coaching.


November 20th, 2017 at 8:35 PM ^

I believe that we are running the same power offense that was run at Stanford.  However, back then, I think Stanford was the only power running team in the PAC 12.  They were the anomoly offense in a league of soft run defenses that were built to stop the spread offenses of the day. 

Fast forward to running that offense today in the Big Ten.  Almost every team is built on the power running game.  Defense are built to stop the power running game that we use.  Running this type of offense is this league means they are the norm and not the anomoly. 

I think this coaching staff needs to reasses this scheme.  It isn't working.


November 20th, 2017 at 9:09 PM ^

The offensive scheme is totally disjointed this year.  We have two position coaches for O line, one for C & G, the other for T (and TE).  One is a zone blocking guy; the other is a power blocking guy.  We have a run game coordinator, and we have a passing game coordinator.  In other words, we have too many coaches with overlapping responsibilities; therefore, we have NO O line coach or offensive coordinator.  A clown show on offense is not a surprise.

I don't blame the players, and I only blame the position coaches for their inability to set their egos aside and communitcate effectively.

Jim, I love you and you are clearly the best coach for this team, but put your staff in a position to succeed!  Stop trying to be so GD clever and give them clear areas of responsibility.


November 21st, 2017 at 9:16 AM ^

This is about the most disjointed thread I have seen on mgoblog in years.  We love our coaches but think they suck because a 3rd string QB who is a red shirt freshmen can't be on the same page and run nuaned RPS with his freshmen receiver and freshmen TE, hoping the freshmen guard can just figure out the basic blocking scheme.  This is not a movie where the script writer works everything out.  This is a very young inexperiencd team that barely knows the basic plays much less be in a position to play RPS.  If the staff spent all of practice putting in three Al Borges plays and not work on the basics which they do not have they would get murdered even worse.  This board is unbelievable.  We are complaining that we can't implement the most subtle counters to the opposing teams when we are on our 3rd string QB.

If anyone wants to truly see what happens when your starting QB goes down, look at FSU.  A BCS team absolutely loaded with talent at all levels may not go to a bowl game because the backup QB could not run the offense.

What I think we really need to do is take some of these former coaches on this board and give them a bunch of 15 year old kids.  Then put them up against a bunch of seniors and pundit them on why they could not out scheme them.  

I think this staff has done a marvoulous job putting a competative product out on the field despite a massive failure by the Hoke staff to properly identify offensive talent.  Where is this team if Harbaugh and his staff do not pull a rabbit with 2 grad transfers and Speight who was lowly regarded.  

We live in a society that requires instant gratification.  You build a foundation one brick at a time.  When you have everything in place then you can do what Wisc does and spend half your time on RPS.  What this team needs to do first is getting the basics which they do not know.  The 1984 Tigers and the 1989 Bad Boys could never be because the groundwork from suck in 1975 for the Tigers and 1980 for the Pistons was an eight year process, something this board has no paitence for.  Both teams would have been torn apart three times by this board.  College football is a four cycle.  Until I see what Harbaugh and his staff can do with his seniors verses other teams seniors, I withhold my judgment.



November 21st, 2017 at 10:23 AM ^

I'm sorry but look at MSU, they have two true freshmen and two sophmores starting on their OL, and can still pass block.  News flash, this is 2017 a lot of freshmen start these days even at QB (hint, hint).  

I know I'm going to catch shit for this, but O'Korn was fed to the Lions agains MSU, PSU and Wiscy.  These are all excellent defenses that gang raped our OL and had O'Korn running for his life most of the time.  It wasn't his fault he was asked to throw the ball in a monsoon with defenders all over him against MSU.  He didn't drop two first down passes late against Wisky. 

O'Korn is not that good but he's not that bad either.  However, he has a ton of experience, and I think  gives us a better chance against OSU than Peters.   He can at least scramble, and we know against OSU our QB will not be able to camp out in the pocket and wait for receivers to get open.   

Peters is a big tall and lumbering QB just like Wilton   If you put the same uniform on Wilton and Peters, you could not tell the difference on and off the field.         


November 21st, 2017 at 10:53 AM ^

MSU put up only 14 points against UM despite a +5 TO margin.  In their last two games they were blasted by OSU and completed two passes against Maryland.  MSU has a horrible Oline and has many of the same problems.  Their advantage is they have a NFL caliber center and a QB with some experience.  Other than that their problems are similiar in that they have functioning tackles and their receivers are young.


November 21st, 2017 at 9:19 AM ^

People can blame the assistnat coaches all they want but they are running the offense the boss is telling them to run.  He is also making all these personell decisions so the buck starts and stops with him. 

Everytime they cut to Jim on TV he has a headset on and can over rule any play call or call any play he wants at any time.  He is also the guy that recruited this QB mess. 

The bottom line is this offense has several issues that need to be addressed and Harbaugh needs to look at everything, including himself.  


November 21st, 2017 at 3:29 PM ^

O'Korn -  the tranfer he brought has been a bust and not even on the same planet as Wilson.   

Gentry - Playing TE,  QB recruiting bust.

Malzone - QB recruiting bust.

Peters - He's proven he can hand the ball off to runing backs and that's about it.  The jury is                    still out but nothing to get excited about so far.

McCaffery - Freshmen who can't beat out Peters and O'Korn this late in the year. OK, OK,  I know he is a freshmen, but it's not like freshmen don't start on teams with QB issues midway or late in the season.  That's not to say he can't be very good someday, but the coaches must not see rock star or else he would be in there. 

That's five QB's that he has brought in and things look pretty damn bleek.