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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Note a couple additions: "formation" and "brief." The former is self explanatory. "Brief" is a two-word description of the play. All terminology in these new sections is lifted directly from NCAA Football, since that's the common vernacular. A selection of plays have accompanying WMV video; look for links in the "brief" column.

I welcome formatting suggestions. I sent the verbosity down to a second line because of the extra columns. Not sure if I like it, but also not sure what the alternative is.

Also new: a generic +/- for "coverage." Since I have no idea what's going on downfield when the QB hesitates and takes a coverage sack or exactly why that WR is wide open, it's hard to assign individual credit or responsibility. When I can I will, but whenever a reasonably catchable pass is thrown I'll try to evaluate how well the intended receiver was covered. This rating is separate from individual ratings and liable to change radically as I get used to it.

Update: Oh. An asterisk next to a yard count is a pass play that turned into a QB scramble.

O34110Standard nickelPass3WR Screen
McDonough: “They had three candidates to take the place of Cutler, Nickson's the one.” Hur hur hur. Crable(+1), reads, closes, fends off a block, and cuts off the outside with the help of Hall. Five Wolverines gang-tackle Bennett.
O37273-3-5 StackPass5Out
A blitz! On the second play of the game! Nickson just barely gets it off before being leveled by Crable(+1). Leon Hall was also coming from that side.
O42323-3-5 StackRun11QB Draw
Only six guys in the box on this play and it appeared that Graham was supposed to blitz around a stunting Biggs, leaving a big hole in the middle. I don't like this play call on a fairly obvious QB draw down.
M47110Standard nickelRun2Zone read handoff
Chris Graham(+1) sighting: faced with the prospect of one-on-one blocking with an OT he skips past him and converges along with Branch (+1, holding up well at the POA), and Biggs (who reads where the ball is going before closing down the RB).
M45283-3-5 StackRun2Zone read keeper
Crable and Graham are blitzing. Crable cuts off the outside, forcing Nickson upfield. Graham pops up into the hole left between the guy attempting to block Crable and Biggs, who's stunting inside. Graham doesn't make the tackle but does force Nickson into the mush. Crable(+1) discards his blocker and recovers to make the tackle.
M4336Standard nickelPassIncWild scramble
Terrance Taylor(+2) goes through a double team to get immediate pressure on Nickson, who scrambles out to the left. Nickson gets a fairly accurate pass off but Chris Graham(+1) is in great coverage, knocking the ball down. I think Taylor's held here just enough to prevent him from sacking Nickson.
Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 7 min 1Q. Crable and Graham have great drives. Crable's outstanding speed is put to good use: he snuffs out a screen, crushes Nickson, then manages to tackle him after keeping containment. Containment? NO WAI.
O25110Standard nickelPass8*Scramble
Woodley(+1) gets upfield fast enough such that the pulling guard who's supposed to block him on this play-action pass can't get there in time, forcing Nickson to scramble up in the pocket. Graham(-1) overruns the play and slips when Nickson cuts, else this goes for zero yards. A pursuing Branch(+2) punches the ball out from behind.
Drive Notes: Fumble, 7-0, 5 min 1Q. Um, Branch just ran down that QB from behind.
O28110Standard nickelPass4*Scramble
Biggs' offensive lineman decides not to block him. Good coverage(+1) downfield forces Nickson to scramble up. Nickson was correctly ruled down on his fumble.
O3226Standard nickelRun-1Zone read handoff
Really nice job by both Branch(+1) and Biggs(+1) to push into the backfield, allowing the defense to converge. Note: Mundy is in the game as the nickelback.
O3137Standard nickelPassIncDeep cross
Bennett drops a great pass from Nickson. Zone had been busted wide open there (coverage -1), though if complete this play is coming back for illegal hands to the face on Woodley.
Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0 last min 1Q. Ron English looks a little like Denzel Washington.
O41110Standard nickelPassIncZone read fake screen
Nickson is heavily pressured by both Biggs(+1) and Woodley(+1), which causes him to panic and throw inaccurately.
O41210Standard nickelPass3Checkdown
Good coverage(+1) forces Nickson to check down to the fullback. Burgess(+1) is all over him and makes the tackle immediately.
O4437Standard nickelPass15Deep cross
No pressure, lots of room in the zone (coverage -1)
M41110Standard nickelPass11Short stop
Charles Stewart(-1) is playing way off in man as Michigan zone-blitzes, almost missing the tackle.
M30110Standard nickelPass30Trickeration
Postgame the coaches point at Stewart(-2).
Drive Notes: TD, 10-7, 12 min 2Q.
O20110Standard nickelPenalty-5Offside
WR lined up in the neutral zone. Weird.
O15115Standard nickelPass-7Sack
Attempted screen is snowed under. Will Johnson and Prescott Burgess(+1) are ready to crush the RB should he receive the ball, so Nickson doesn't throw it. A charging Rondell Biggs(+1) prevents him from throwing it away; Woodley(+1) cleans up.
O8222Standard nickelRun-3QB Draw
Er... Woodley(+2) does blow this play up, but they ran this QB draw thing that fakes up inside then comes out to his side of the field, leaving only a running back to block him. Thees is no good idea.
O5325Standard nickelRun-2Off tackle
They give up and run. Nice play by Harris(+1), but there was nowhere for him to go anyway.
Drive Notes: Punt, 13-7, 4 min 2Q. DANG. Just... just dang. When was the last time Michigan punched an opponent off the field like that? Even a crappy one?
O19110Standard nickelPass-8Sack
Woodley(+3) runs right around the tackle and crushes Nickson.
O11218Standard nickelRun0Draw
Burgess(+1) and Harris(+1) zoom right past potential blockers, meeting at the RB.
O11318Standard nickelRun15QB Draw
Somewhat scary there, but they go away.
Drive Notes: Punt, 13-7, 1 min 2Q.
O30110Standard nickelPassIncOut
Burgess(+1) jumps on the fullback out about five yards downfield, knocking the ball down.
O302103-3-5 StackRun9QB Draw
Crable blitzes for a fourth rusher. Woodley tries an edge rush, opening up a big hole for the draw; Harris gets solidly blocked by the RB.
O3931Standard nickelRun-3Slam
Safety blitz from Englemon at the last second; Biggs(+2) slices between the tackle, who's blocking down on Branch, and the tight end to stuff this play in the backfield.
Drive Notes: Punt, 13-7, 13 min 3Q. Three and out on the first drive of the second half. Biggs gave no indication he could be this sort of playmaker a year ago, though he didn't get much time. And Jamison beat him out. Gooo Jamison!
O131103-3-5 StackRun-5QB Draw
Vandy goes five wide. This is nominally a 3-3-5 but Crable(+1) is lined up with his hand down next to Woodley. Woodley and Crable stunt with Woodley(+1) crashing into the guard and Crable coming around him; it works beautifully; Crable is to the QB immediately; Biggs and Branch help clean up.
O82153-3-5 StackRun0QB Draw
Again Crable lines up with his hand down, this time at DT, and stunts, this time around Branch. Woodley(+1) is the one in the backfield disrupting the draw, as he shoves off his man and cuts off Nickson's foray up the gut. Nickson's forced detour gives Crable(+1) and Harris(+1) enough time to converge on him at the LOS.
O83153-3-5 StackRun4Zone read handoff
Nice play by Burgess(+1) to shove away the feeble block attempt by the WR and contain the RB.
Drive Notes: Punt, 13-7, 7 min 3Q. Crable is a monster against these foofy spread rushing attacks. These last four drives are tingly.
O191103-3-5 StackRun1Option keeper
Hall(+1) is sent on a blitz but correctly reads the option play and backs off to keep contain on the RB. He doesn't do that and it's a big play. Nickson cuts up inside; Jamar Adams and Harris hit him at the LOS.
O20293-3-5 StackRun1Zone read handoff
Very nice job by Biggs(+1) to hold his position, then shuck the blocker when the RB reaches him to make the tackle. Crable set up outside, read the play, and then crashed in on the RB to make very sure he went away.
O21383-3-5 StackPassIncShort post
Harris feints a blitz; Crable and Burgess actually come. The feint causes Vandy to shift its protection the wrong way, giving Burgess a free shot on Nickson. Despite the quick pressure, Nickson finds an open receiver and makes an accurate throw. Bennett drops it, partially because Jamar Adams(+1) arrives with the ball. (Coverage +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 20-7, 1 min 3Q. I love Ron English. Crable looks like a different player. Biggs is playing like Woodley II. We're aggressive on third and long. Please, Vandy game, mean something. Brown roughs the kicker, causing the next drive. I realize this isn't technically correct, but it is essentially.
O361103-3-5 StackPassIncShort stop
Dropped by the Vandy receiver. I don't like how far Stewart has to play off this guy.
O362103-3-5 StackPenalty13Pass interference
Jamar Adams is right there on the receiver when the ball gets there, leaping over him in an attempt to make a play on the ball. Call is for hooking the receiver with his arm when he went to go over the top, which was unnecessary. Adams was in position to make a play. (Um... -1 for Adams, though I hate to give it to him, and +1 for generic coverage.)
O491103-3-5 StackPassInc???
This looks like a screen but, uh... isn't. Four players, including Eugene Germany and Will Johnson, burst through the line. Nickson bails out, understandably, and throws it away. (Crable, Johnson, Germany +1)
O492103-3-5 StackRun7Option pitch
Crable again blitzes, forcing the pitch immediately. It's impossible to see what happens downfield because of the camera angle, but Jamar Adams barely misses a tackle; Burgess can't quite get there, and Englemon doesn't wrap up.
M4433Standard nickelPassIncTE Screen
Nickson's inaccurate on this screen, which would have worked. Michigan was sending the house.
Drive Notes: Punt, 20-7, 15 min 4Q. A couple Vandy screwups terminate the closest thing they've had to a drive since the touchdown.
O37110???Pass14WR Screen
Leon Hall(-1) gives up outside contain on this screen, opening up a big gain.
M49110Standard nickelPass-4Sack
Coverage(+1) sack. Biggs(+1) gets it; Crable's pressure made him think twice about the throw.
O472143-3-5 StackRun12Option pitch
Crable levels Nickson on this play. I don't like how tentative Adams(-1) is here. He comes up into the box presnap but holds up, allowing himself to get blocked by the tight end and giving the (white!) Vandy RB a nice gain.
M41323-3-5 StackPass9Slant
Vandy runs a combo against our zone coverage. The underneath receiver clears out space for a deeper one, who makes the reception. Nice read and throw from Nickson.
M32110Standard nickelPass-9Sack
Speed option play action; Spielman accuses a WR of running the wrong route. In any case, Nickson hesitates and is buried by four Wolverines, primary amongst them Jamar Adams(+1).
M412193-3-5 StackPassIncBubble screen.
Dropped. Harris(+1) was going to crush him anyway.
M413193-3-5 StackPass14Post
Two blitzers don't get to the QB; Nickson makes a nice throw to Bennett. Stewart(+1) actually has pretty good coverage here, nearly knocking the ball loose. (Coverage +1)
M27453-3-5 StackPassIncBomb
Great coverage(+1). Nickson sits in the pocket looking for someone, can find nobody, and eventually hurls it to the back corner of the endzone. Crable(+1) eventually got the pressure.
Drive Notes: Turnover on Downs, 20-7, 9 min 4Q.
O211103-3-5 StackPass9Slant
Pitch and catch.
O30213-3-5 Stack
Run-1Off tackle
Man... Woodley(+2) shoots into the backfield, disrupting the play immediately. You would think he was unblocked, but he wasn't.
O29323-3-5 StackRun9QB Draw
Crable(-1) overruns the QB draw, freeing Nickson. Englemon(+2) makes a textbook strip from behind to force a fumble and a turnover.
Drive Notes: Fumble, 20-7, 4 min 4Q.
O201103-3-5 StackPass-6Sack
Corner blitz! On one of these desperation drives! Hall(+2) gets chopped, gets up, and gets it done.
O142163-3-5 StackPass5Stop
Another blitz!
O193113-3-5 StackPass12Slant
Nice throw from Nickson, but we had this stopped short of the first down if we get a tackle from Burgess or Englemaon
O311103-3-5 StackPassIncSlant
Hall(+1) blitzes again, crushing Nickson and forcing an errant pass.
O312103-3-5 StackPassIncSlant
Rattled, Nickson sails it wide.
O313103-3-5 StackPassIncFly
Leon Hall blitzes again. Nickson just wants to get off the field.
O314103-3-5 StackPassIncSlant
Nickson errant again. We blitzed on almost every play on this drive.
Drive Notes: Turnover on Downs, EOG.

(Thanks to reader Josh Houchin for much of the video.)

Care to offer some sort of grotesque sexual reference that clarifies your feelings about Ron English?

Well, no. Apparently relatives of mine read this. But it's really hard not to.

What's different?

Other than everything?

It's the difference between confidence and arrogance.
  • English is more deceptive. One of the most irritating things about Herrmann's defenses was their refusal to do simple things like align themselves in formations that don't give away the call. A year ago, Michigan positively refused to depart from its base 4-3-4 against three wide-receiver formations on first and second down. An outside linebacker would line up in the vague area of the wide reciever, indicating to any idiot that Michigan was in a zone. Vanderbilt spent the entire game save a few short yardage plays with at least three wideouts on the field; English was in either a standard nickel or a 3-3-5, allowing him to call a variety of defenses that don't come with giant blinking signs that say "VANILLA ZONE."
  • English has a better grasp of the underlying game theory. Not that he sits around with a calculator and a statistics textbook, but on third and twenty he sits in an umbrella zone and blitzes instead of rushing four or even (ugh) three. On a hypothetical desperation drive, he blitzed the hell out of the opponent. He seems to have a more intuitive feel for the right sort of call in most situations. (Note that predictability is death and taken to an extreme the aforementioned tendencies would be negative. English seems to have his weighting right.)
  • English molds his schemes to his talent instead of vice versa. Crable was deployed like a nuclear jack-in-the-box: he'd pop up randomly and bam, you're dead. Mundy featured heavily as the nickel back, taking advantage of his coverage ability without making him the last line of defense. No 6'8" proven liabilities played over guys who just made the Patriots. (Previous sentence assumes a move inside for Branch.)
  • English's players look smart. Crable? WTF? Last year that guy played like he had an extra chromosome. Against Vandy he was responsibly violent. Burgess and Graham were both solid. There were vanishingly few mistakes -- Stewart's bite on the trick play is the only one that comes to mind.
  • Swagger heart wanting it more blah blah blah. He's a better motivator.
  • And the grand poobah: English coaches like he's got a talent advantage. He swarmed Vandy instead of sitting back, waiting for them to make an error. Bend-but-don't-break is a rube's game suited for weaklings. Take a look around the NCAA: the best defenses are all ravenous things featuring penetration galore, proactive schemes that force the offense to react. Sitting back yourself is a recipie for losses against teams with offenses that efficient when not pressured, and these days that's nearly everyone. English coaches like he's got a terrifying defensive line, which is nice, because we just might.
Whoah, tiger. It's just Vandy.

True. I'm no doubt getting ahead of myself. But I don't think Vandy's offense is all that bad. They returned most of their starters from a year ago and the big issue at quarterback was handled ably by Nickson, one of those athletic sorts who would gut us in days of yore no matter the crappiness of his teammates. When he managed to get a pass off it was almost always a good throw until the last drive, when he was clearly not interested in getting his ass kicked further. There wasn't much he could do given the Mongol horde in his face on every snap.

The Vandy offensive line is probably a mediocre unit but not a bad one. They return three starters from a line that allowed 24 sacks a year ago and was roundly criticized in scouting evaluations of Jay Cutler. Senior Brian Stamper was second-team All SEC a year ago, charged with zero of those 24 sacks. He gave up two to Lamarr Woodley.

Still: just Vandy. Disappointment probably coming. Easy to blitz the hell out of theoretical desperation drive when you're up three scores. Repeat until Notre Dame.


Er... everyone? Let's check the table:

12Uh... yeah, good start. All American?
6We'll have to see how he does against a better team before declaring him the new hotness.
2Came out once the 3-3-5 came in.
4Somewhat quiet as the only DT.
716Still have worries about him against power rushing attacks, but against the spread? A monster.
4Picked up where he left off.
211Left midway through second with minor pull.
5Played well.
413Note that the secondary had little to do most of the day.
Usually on top of Vandy receivers even when there were completions.


None, really. The closest thing to one would be Charles Stewart, who had a few instances of meh coverage and the bust on the trick play touchdown. No one else had more than one or two minor errors the whole way.

Exciting new faces?

thanks to reader Dave Dilks for the picture.

Do Rondell Biggs and Shawn Crable count? They looked like entirely different players. Stewart was a little rough -- something reflected in the new depth chart, which has his spot occupied by Charles Stewart OR Morgan Trent -- and no other newbies featured in anything more than spot duty.

What have we learned?

Nothing definitively; it is just Vandy. But indications:
  • This is going to be an aggressive defense that attempts to force opponent mistakes with multiple fronts, stemming, and blitzes.
  • Two of the big question marks on defense, SAM linebacker and DE-opposite-Woodley, appear to have been filled.
  • I may have underestimated Woodley himself.
  • All zone all the time? Gone. Corners are now permitted to approach the line of scrimmage.
What does it mean for Central Michigan?

No doubt we'll see more of the same against $#*!ing crazy Brian Kelly's spread offense, which I can't seem to go two sentences without referring to as "frenetic." Central was competitive against a probably-good Boston College team, gaining 354 yards despite giving away a few possessions with someone other than redshirt freshman Dan LeFevour -- already inspiring painful headlines -- under center. Unless Kelly goes really bats he'll stick with LeFevour after his impressive debut (22-37 for 221 yards and 74 yards rushing), which should make the Central offense even more efficient.

Against BC there was a ton of screening and misdirection. If Michigan isn't careful, Central could get some gashing plays against the new, hypothetically-aggressive D. The game still projects as an interesting learning exercise instead of a possible upset -- LeFevour is but a freshman, after all, and Central has to play defense -- but if the defense does anything comparable to what it did against Vandy it will be time to get excited.