What Went Wrong: Michigan State (from Maize n Brew)

Submitted by mnb zach on November 5th, 2013 at 3:13 PM

In the spirit of trying to figure out just how much Borges, Gardner, or the OL screwed the pooch in Saturday's game, I went through a few plays in the first half and pulled some pictures to show the breakdowns that it looked like were the biggest reasons Michigan struggled.


It is by no means scientific or complete, but I think it sheds a little more light on some of Michigan's offensive issues in this game and overall this season.

(Big credit to Space Coyote for talking me through a lot of these things, as well as Brian for years of UFRs)


mnb zach

November 5th, 2013 at 5:40 PM ^

MSU's defense is really good.  Sometimes a defense just makes a great play or beats you with RPS type calls. You could still have made a solid play call and just gotten beat by a great defense.

The thing is I wasn't trying to really establish blame here.  Just look at some of the things that went wrong and better understand them.

Assigning blame on the internet is a worthless endevour.  All we can hope to do is understand things better.


November 5th, 2013 at 5:09 PM ^

Why is our line so young inside?
What I mean by that specifically is: Why aren't Bryant and/or Miller and/or Bars and/or Braden and/or Kalis playing over a true freshman? Part of me says "obvs because they weren't getting the job done" but another part of me asks "is it them, or is it coaching?" Hoke's brought in quite a few guard/center prospects in some pretty loaded Oline classes, and Funks had years to work with average-to-top talent, and none of them are even remotely serviceable over a (now injured) walk on and a true frosh? Why? Why are so many kids still relatively incapable of blocking?

I know nothing, I freely admit that, but to me the best cure for our line would be lining up our best few together and running that-a-way, with max protect beefing up the weaker side. Lewan-Schofield-Glasgow-Kalis-Magnuson or maybe Magnuson-Braden on the right would've been preferrable in Lansing.


November 5th, 2013 at 5:07 PM ^

How many times a game do we snap the ball and immediately throw it to Devin Funchess, forcing a DB to tackle him in space.  Or Gallon for that matter.

I'll hang up and listen.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 5:12 PM ^

Michigan threw him a WR screen and about 5 pop passes, some of which were dropped. So, about 6 or 7 when they were given against MSU. And that's a lot, considering MSU typically tries really, really hard to take those things away. That might be more than any team outside Indiana has tried to throw on MSU.

Franz Schubert

November 5th, 2013 at 6:17 PM ^

There have been so many chances throughout the year to just snap the ball and immediately throw it to Gallon or Funchess in space, and it's as if they dont even consider it. You can say they ran X amount of plays attempting it but I watched the game and was regularly yelling throw it to gallon immediately only to see a slow developing drop back pass that was bull rushed. You continually state that MSU does not allow pases to the flats but I can tell you during the Iowa game it was the only effective offense that worked for the Hawkeyes.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 7:18 PM ^

Because you never have to know if you're right or you're wrong, you can just believe you're right.

I'm not defending the system. I'm defending football in general from people that have completely made things up in order to try to claim the supposedly stupidity of something they are ignorant of. Honest discussion? Fine. Honest debate? Fine. Attempting to learn or thing or two? Great. Just speaking out with no basis in how things work, well, I guess I should just let that be your prerogative, because clearly you'd rather continue with complaining and not understanding. It certainly makes facing reality and feeling good about yourself easier.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 8:27 PM ^

I do think the flare screen was a pass that should have been used on Saturday. It doesn't really do much as far as misdirection, but it actually manages to get a RB in space against a LB most of the time within MSU's scheme.

I thought Michigan pulled out the pop pass to good effect. Pop pass does need the run action though to at least freeze the LBs, otherwise they'll just squeeze the route.

I think if Michigan had Dileo, you would have seen some option routes as well. This makes it easier to run the hitch, in, or out (basically just find the void in the defense), but Michigan doesn't have another player on the roster like him. IMO, he would have received quite a few of those pop passes that Funchess was having thrown his way if he was healthy, which is what Borges did last year.

You can also run quick outs. The key is you have to run the outside CB off first, and you have to threaten the safety vertically, which is a bit different than a bubble screen which doesn't have enough time to develop to run the outside CB off or threaten the safety vertically. Again, if Michigan had Dileo, you probably would have seen more of this.


November 5th, 2013 at 8:33 PM ^

Thanks for the response. Why couldn't they have used Norfleet in this role...is he just that poor of a route runner?? This speaks to my frustration with the current coaching staff, we were told Norfleet will be a slot guy and yet we've never seen him used as such and I wish I knew why because he is so quick and can make guys miss.

Oh well, thanks again for the answer. You confirmed my thoughts on option routes and quick outs. Thanks.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 8:43 PM ^

He probably doesn't yet have a full understanding of the nuances of being that option route, scat kind of receiver. This is something that can be put on the coaches, as they've continued to move him around all over the place until this fall. But my guess is he's still a work in progress as far as route running and understanding defenses from a WR point of view, which is why he's only really seeing time when the ball is being put in his hands for him to create things from there.


November 5th, 2013 at 8:16 PM ^

You argued that getting less production out of Roy Roundtree is somehow a sign of coaching acumen, as if doing less with more is good or that getting guys glaringly wide open is evil voodoo that can't/shouldn't be practiced here (is there an equation where SharpRoutes > Yards+TD).  You argued that getting way more pass production out of Devin Funchess wasn't a great idea from the start because of the mystical "upside" making talented pass catchers block defensive ends produces (I don't know what the equation is where BadBlock+FewerCatch=Better).  You look at a photo where a guy is or would be glaringly wide open and argue that we just don't know if that same guy will be wide open every time so nothing can ever be done about the situation, as if every football play has one option and one option only and people are advocating chucking the ball blindfolded into State defenders.

Your X's and O's analysis is probably sound, especially in the vacuum you describe.  Your illogical opinions about what makes a team successful offensively are completely ridiculous.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 8:41 PM ^

Oh right, I didn't. You're twisting what I said.

Rich Rod's system of getting Roundtree open was great. People often neglect the fact that by the end of Rich Rod's final season, teams were taking it away by running cover 4 and keeping the safeties high. This forced those routes to change to out routes. This is similar to what happened against MSU. Anyway, what I said is that Roundtree was never a great all around WR. Sure, he could give yards that were given to him. So could other players. So could Gallon. I would have loved the QB pop pass. But it didn't happen in Borges's system, I'm sorry. And outside of that isolated play, Roundtree didn't really offer much. But as a complete WR, as a WR that learned to run routes, he did improve under Hoke and Borges and this staff. So you can bitch and mone about stats however you want, my initial point still stands.

I never said Funchess was better because of a lack of production. I said that bodies were needed at a position that is fundamental to Borges's system. You can want it to be another system all you want, but it isn't, this team needed TEs and didn't have any. It certainly didn't have any that could run routes. There was less need on the outside for Funchess than there was at TE, which is why he played at all as a true FR. As for upside, he's not going to get great separation at the next level. He'll be a big body but not huge. His upside is maximized by his talents and abilities as a Vernon Davis type TE. At WR, his immediate effect is likely more optimal at WR (which, hey, he's playing a lot of WR right now), but is ultimate position and potential is optimized where they were playing him: TE. But you'll twist it as if I said "a crappier offense is a better offense", because that's how you're acting.

What are the illogical options that I've described that make a team successful? Because no team runs a hot route that you want against a blitz package that has less pass rushers than blockers? Talk about isolated vaccuum all you want, what I'm saying is the opposite of that. You're the one taking a picture of a single play, looking at it after the snap, and saying "hey that guy looks open, he should stop and they should throw it there". Despite the fact that you don't know where the safety is. Despite the fact that MSU often undercuts that route with their LBs in a cover 4. Despite the fact that no team runs hot routes when they have more blockers than pass rushers because there should be time for the play that was called to develop because you have one more blocker than they have pass rushers. See, what I'm doing is looking at the play as a whole, as in how football works from an offensive and defensive standpoint before you know every detail about the play that happened in the past. If that's considered a vaccuum to you, so be it, I honestly have no idea what to tell you.

Obviously I'm not going to change your mind, so you can keep on thinking what you want to think and look at football in your limited scope. While I understood it before, I've realized to a much greater degree, that some people won't listen no matter what information is presented to them, and they'll keeping spewing nonsense to fit their agenda, possibly or probably because they want to be miserable people that complain about things. I'd feel sorry for you, sorry that you hate what's happening so much right now, but I think that what you want. Woe is you for having to suffer through such offensive incompetence from this staff, it's as if they, or people that have actually learned a thing or two about football, have no idea about anything.

Alright, I'm done with you from here on out.


November 5th, 2013 at 9:13 PM ^

We all get it.  You know what you're talking about.  There was no way to successfully attack the same attacking-style MSU defense we've seen for four years in a row.  Bitching and moaning about actual yardage gained is dumb, sharp routes are what count.  Worrying about the draft status of a true freshman should determine the stupid shit this offense does, at a position that is completely optional in modern football.  If it's in the system it just has to be.  But you're not defending the system, right?

Keep talking about hot routes like everybody else is a boob while Rome burns.

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 9:43 PM ^

You're almost all the way to completely twisting logic to fit your belief or whatever it is you want to hear in the argument. Unfortunately, I do not have a stepped picture that also describes taking things completely out of context, so I can't help you there.

You've twisted this whole thing so much I don't even know what your argument is anymore. Rich Rod was better? You would have thrown a short route on that play that was pictured? You hate Borges? I have no idea because you're not really saying anything meaningful or with a point. In fact, I'm pretty sure you're just successfully trolling me and some others on the board. And talking about how the coaches have high cholesterol, which is a nice touch.

Indiana Blue

November 5th, 2013 at 8:28 PM ^

its obvious that you know your X's and O's and no one is challenging that.  However, there are a lot of head coaches and OC's and DC's that certainly have a much more thorough understanding than you.  That doesn't mean that "their" understanding makes them successful or even right.  Your defense of running the clock vs. playing an opponent in the PSU game ... is simply passe football.  Its old style ... I know, I'm old and I grew up with it.

PurpleStuff adds emotion and color to his posts, and he isn't claiming to be "defending football".  Who are you to be making that statement.  Everything here is opinion, some based with an explanation ... others not so much.  Perhaps you need to re-read your last post, its probably the most inflamatory post I've ever read from you ...  

Go Blue!

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 8:50 PM ^

That every D1 OC and DC knows a ton more about football than I do. And I agree, that doesn't necessarily make them successful. All I've tried to say is that there are different ways of doing things and that it's not always as simple as people are making it out to be. There are also different ways of being successful as far as systems. I feel like this system is being attacked, which is fine to a degree, it does have its flaws, but it's being attacked mindlessly and for a large part, for the wrong reasons.

For whatever it's worth, I did try to have a reasonable conversation with PurpleStuff and thought we were, but he did start attacking me, while not directly, between the lines of his posts. He kept challanging me by saying stuff that is flat out untrue. I would defend other systems the same same, it's not about the system itself, it's about making a point that people are not prepared to defend so they just make stuff up without regards to how things actually work. It's just as bad as the people that said the spread couldn't work in the B1G.

Indiana Blue

November 5th, 2013 at 9:14 PM ^

for a respectful and well defined answer.  I agree there is logic in the current offensive system, but I and many others think it's regressive compared to football "standards" in 2013.  

Alabama has really taken the old school method and made it successful, for now  Great running backs and a QB that "doesn't lose games" (stupid phrase) and a solid defensive unit.  Success breeds success, but in football success never lasts (yeah but 10 - 15 of a run sure would be nice, huh).  The SEC isn't what it was 3 - 5 years ago, even they are starting to implode slightly.  If Alabama stumbles (which they have in the past), it may well be Oregon and FSU playing for the MNC - which to me would be a breath of fresh air.

Go Blue!

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 9:38 PM ^

I think the offense has regressed in terms of how successful it is, but I don't think that's purely or even mostly because the system Borges is running is stupid or out of date.

As far as Oregon or FSU winning it, I think both have a legit chance. I think Bama is a flawed team. I don't think their OL is great, and I think there are ways to attack them. And there isn't nothing that Oregon or FSU runs that will prevent them from being successful at that level.

Again, the thing that frustrates me are the mindless attacks, and to a large degree, how PurpleStuff is purposefully trying to twist logic to fit his agenda above, and is doing it with tons of snark.


03 Blue 07

November 5th, 2013 at 9:24 PM ^

PS- I like your stuff a lot, but you're bringing a knife to a gunfight here when talking X's and O's, and it really shows.  SC uses logic to explain things, with information, and you're reacting emotionally when you have no similar knowledge to counter his with. His explanations make total sense to someone like me who played football for 11 years and strongly considered coaching football. Yours don't, and it's because you are arguing with emotion and not analysis, and are arguing a topic on which the person you are arguing is-- the actual x's and o's, the reasoning behind things-- has demonstrated a significantly higher level of understanding. You think it's all b.s., what SC says? I think that just means you don't understand what he says. You think you do, though, I know that. 

Again, I love about 98 percent of what you post, and, hell, I, too, react with emotion way too much, so I get where you're coming from completely. But bashing SC and fighting back against his logic with emotion isn't a good way to go. 



November 5th, 2013 at 10:05 PM ^

I made one off hand comment with the term "hot route" used loosely and SC keeps acting like I want to grab the headset.  He responded to that, not the other way around.  The only X's and O's talk was people frustrated with a complete inability to tactically deal with MSU (for whatever reason) for a third year in a row and looking for answers in vague terms.  Then SC calling those people liars and idiots for not breaking down the particular play he may have looked at and knowing where MSU tends to play their safeties thanks to detailed film study.  Instead of just noting that maybe it is dumb to run loping play-action in long yardage when you don't ever hand the ball off, like everybody knows without the specialized knowledge he claims to have (I personally don't want to get involved with the details of the game on that level, I am merely a spectator). 

The things I argued with him about are not X's and O's related, but "What it means to have success as a football team?" related.  Throwing more interceptions is bad (Denard in two systems).  A lower completion percentage is generally a bad thing (Denard again).  Still throwing loads of interceptions in year three with the new guy who is a "better fit" is bad (Devin).  A receiver gaining less yards is bad, especially when people then blame the receiver instead of the coach responsible for the change, then watching him win two games for us singlehandedly (Roundtree).  Funchess not catching passes in the B1G season last year because he was blocking guys (poorly) is bad (even Borges seems to have realized the error here).  I don't know how anyone could disagree with any of these statements.  I brought up some of these things as negatives I see under Borges's entire spell here, and SC defended them on bullshit grounds that had nothing to do with saying "this somehow makes the team more successful at football", then went back to talking about nobody else knowing when you can technically run a "hot route" in the Borges system like a condescending douche.


November 6th, 2013 at 8:32 AM ^

I don't think you need to be Chip Kelly to conclude that play action from under center isn't very affective for a team that runs averages 2 yards per carry from that set. Players have come and gone from both teams, but for 3 years now, with 2 different QBs and different offensive identities, Al has come up with nothing in figuring out MSU. One year it's weather, the next it's "defensive battle, don't turn the ball over, and now it's the o-line.

Sten Carlson

November 5th, 2013 at 7:13 PM ^


You do a great job detailing the complex world of football schemes and techniques. Remember, Michigan fans (at least in here) have become a miserable lot who only seem content when they have something to complain about, and that is usually how good our players are and how bad our coaches are. Throw in a bunch of unrealistic, impatient expectations, ignore all logical discussions of roster issues, pine over "grass is greener" comparisons to what other program with elite coaches are doing, and repeat (as above) falsely based criticisms over and over, and there you have us MIchigan Men -- a once proud lot.

It is what it is guys. All parties from HC to GA and players are at fault -- they're the ones doing it. Michigan young and likely a bit under talented still. But we're coming off an historic low in terms of record and personnel. As Hoke said in the pressed, when he arrived there were 8 OLinemen on the team when most teams have at least 14. Today, there are 15, more coming, and few leaving. It's gonna be ok. Quit being so pessimistic guys!

Space Coyote

November 5th, 2013 at 7:53 PM ^

But there are some posters that I've passed on discussing with or tried disagreeing with, only to later see them say the same things that are flat our false. And, yes, I shouldn't answer them in the way that I did. I should just not answer them at all, because no matter how I respond it won't change their opinion.

FWIW, I held out for a very long time with being very polite and very non-confrontational on this board, only to see more people come along and just spit nonsense. It's worn on me. I should take a break from this again. And, in fact, if you look in this very thread, of responded or disagreed with people amicably, at least at first. Not that it makes my response better. But if others can play the "anonymous on a message board" game, then so can I.


November 5th, 2013 at 6:18 PM ^

Excellent read. Thanks Zach.

Haven't read the other comments but most of our plays should have been set up as a "how can we succeed if our O-line can't block anyone at all." Using plays that required an O-line to block consistently for a normal period of time should have been an obvious recipe for disaster based on previous games as evidence. That is on Borges. I hate to get on Team Bubble Screen but I feel like that needed to happen early and constantly in this game along with running Gardner out immediately (not even rollouts).

Sten Carlson

November 5th, 2013 at 7:46 PM ^

"Using plays that required an O-line to block consistently for a normal period of time should have been an obvious recipe for disaster based on previous games as evidence."

Oh THOSE plays. The ones that DO NOT require the OLine to block -- cuz there are soooooo many plays like that. I guess at this point we need an OC schooled in how to, as so many have suggested, "scheme around an OL that can't block."

Or maybe, as Hoke said, you keep on grinding until the OL can block effectively -- after all, nothing is more important than reps under fire for development. Further, you never know whether they're up to the task until you try. If they're not, you keep trying until they get it. It's called preserving through adversity.

No, fuck that excuse bullshit, fire everyone! /s

Franz Schubert

November 5th, 2013 at 6:23 PM ^

Going forward is for Gardner to be instructed that anytime Gallon or Funchess have a decent cushion at the line of scrimmage, snap and throw it immediately which should in a worst case gain a couple yards but offer an excellent chance for nice play with a single broken tackle. AND the best part, it takes pressure off the O-line.

Greg McMurtry

November 5th, 2013 at 7:36 PM ^

Michigan would completely switch to the short passing game, but they didn't. I also thought the inline trips formation was dead from the start with 2 seconds to get the pass off. All 3 of those WRs are covered with no time to pass the ball. Set up to fail.


November 5th, 2013 at 8:22 PM ^

To watch this game on dvr - as I was at the game and didn't get to see the whole field or replays and I couldn't make it through the first quarter. The combination of four and five stars missing blocking assignments over and over, devin holding the ball too long or not taking off soon enough, fitz missing whatever tiny hole was opened up (didn't happen much) and then fitz being left out to die one on one with Calhoun really makes me wonder about the coaching staff and what they are doing all week or the entire off season. There was a report on the Detroit news app that talked about how each year holes teams have score fewer and fewer points Vs MSU. And no tds in the last two games...

Sten Carlson

November 5th, 2013 at 11:56 PM ^

Um ... Thanks...I think.

If you must know, I'm working on entry strategies that enhance the performance of our firm's futures trading algo, and continuing to raise more funds -- no big whoop. Although, both of your suggestions are intriguing ideas.


November 6th, 2013 at 7:43 AM ^

all I do know after coming here the past couple mos. is that its BORGES fault. It doesn't matter if you are a coach in the NFL, do not mess with the BORGES culpability factor. At least not on this blog mister

coastal blue

November 6th, 2013 at 7:27 PM ^

If I was Al Borges, I would have looked at MSU's results and identified which offense had the most success against them. In this case, the answer would be Indiana, who scored 21 points in 3 quarters of relevant football, which is more than any other team has scored against MSU all season.