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Thursday, November 01, 2007

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Before we start, the play table below has multiple references to a "5-3-1-7 tech split." This is what is meant by that:

Note the alignment of the defensive line: Three players lined up basically over the tackle (5), guard (3), and center (1) to the side of the play a zone read will come, no one over the nominally weakside guard, one DE split extremely wide (7) on the nominal weakside. The goal here is clear: defeat the zone read by overloading the area of the line where the running back's hole is supposed to be while leaving a wide-split DE to handle the QB.

O20110Shotgun 4-wideNickelRun5Zone read handoff
Michigan twists its DTs, giving Minnesota an opportunity to seal Taylor; Ezeh comes up and is blocked out of the play by the guard; an unblocked CGraham(-1) misses a tackle, turning two yards into five.
O2525Shotgun TripsNickelRun12Zone read handoff
Michigan in what Colin's described as 5-3-1-7 tech in an effort to stop the zone run; Minnesota motions the tailback to the other side of the line and flips the play, running directly at the huge gap on what was, until moments ago, the backside of the formation. Taylor(-1) is cut to the ground uselessly; BG actually does a really nice job of defeating a double and flowing down the line but as he gets to the POA he's held or stumbles or something and Bennett shoots past him. Both linebackers are crushed by blockers with excellent angles. Englemon(-1) misses a tackle, providing another three yards at the end of the play.
O37110Shotgun 4-wideNickelPassIncScreen
Weber throws it well over his receiver's head. I can't tell whether Harrison was going to cut this down or get cut inside of. Maybe credit Crable for reading this and backing off such that Weber had to loft it long? Sure. +1.
O37210Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun-1Zone read handoff
Taylor(+1) stands up his guy, driving him a couple yards back. A blitzing CGraham(+1) tackles from behind thanks to the delay caused by Taylor.
O36311Shotgun 4-wide3-3-5 NickelPassIncWheel
A twist gets Ezeh in totally unblocked, as a Harrison blitz from the same side occupies the back. Weber gets rid of it in time, finding a marginally open receiver; Warren(+1) hits him as the ball arrives. Moot point as it had already glanced off his fingertips. (Pressure +1, cover +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-0, 13 min 1st Q. Bill Curry's already mistaken Shawn Crable for Will Johnson mere minutes after saying “Ironically, Minnesota has a good offense and could move the ball.” I've heard people misuse “irony” from sea to shining sea and never has it been so spectacular. Thank you, Bill Curry.
O20110Shotgun 4-wide3-3-5 NickelRun9Zone read handoff
Our “please gash us” formation. Crable lined up over a slot receiver, threatening blitz; three DL with Ezeh sticking his nose in as a threatened blitzer next to Taylor. He comes; the C and G double Taylor, sealing him, as Jamo runs himself upfield and out of the play. CGraham unwisely blitzes away from where the zone read play will go if they hand it off, which they do, and there is no chance Michigan stops this. Very poor scheme on this play – I think the lack of wisdom here is not on the part of any of the players.
O2921Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun4Zone read handoff
Another DT twist means neither is in a position to do much at the snap. Linebackers are useless; CGraham(-1) meekly blocked out of the play, ending up on the ground; Crable(+1) sets up well and disconnects to make an important tackle as the RB passes.
O33110Shotgun TripsNickelRun8Zone read draw
This is not a true zone read, as the pulling tackle reveals this is going to be a QB keeper all the way. I might need to diversify my nomenclature here. Anyway, Johnson fights inside in an attempt to get to the RB, who doesn't have the ball, opening up a hole. Ezeh(-1) is very late reading this, getting plowed by the pulling tackle.
O4122Shotgun TripsNickelRun3Zone read handoff
5-3-1-7 tech splits; this time Minnesota does not adjust to it and runs directly at it, probably because our linebackers are slanted to the backside. Bennett manages to squeeze through a hole between Johnson and Taylor, but only just barely. No linebacker help again; Bennett is grabbed by the legs and manages to fall forward.
O44110Shotgun 4-wideNickelPass24PA Post
A zone read fake into play action; well blocked by Minnesota and a post comes open over the middle. CGraham didn't actually bite on this and got into his drop; this is just a good play all around from Minnesota. (Pressure -1, cover -1)
M32110Shotgun TripsNickelRun14Zone read keeper
Crable(-2) gives up contain.
M18110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun4Counter
Nominally, anyway, as the RB takes a step outside before coming back inside; a pulling tackle and guard head for the backside hole. (We are again in 5-3-1-7.) Subtly, Taylor(+1) makes a play, sidestepping a cut and forcing the tackle, blocking down and leaving the DE and LB to the pullers, to deal with him. Thompson makes a barely adequate tackle, allowing a couple YAC.
M1426Shotgun TripsNickelRun2Zone read draw
Same play as earlier in the drive. Crable(+2) defeats a block and tackles after a minimal gain.
M1234Shotgun 3-wideNickelPassIncZone read rollout
Play action; Weber rolls out; Jamo(+1) up in Weber's face, forcing an early throw and maybe deflecting the pass. Yes, he got it. (Pressure +1)
Drive Notes: FG(29), 0-3, 6 min 1st Q. A lot of poor scheming gets Michigan players in no place to make a stop; one excellent pitch and catch from Minnesota and a blown contain gets the Gophers in field goal range.
O41110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun2Zone read handoff
Assume 5-3-1-7 splits unless otherwise noted at this point. Taylor(+2) is the NT here; they run right at the massive gap; Taylor gets his man a couple yards in the backfield and makes a tackle as the RB passes. This is the sort of thing we haven't seen from him enough.
O4328Shotgun TripsNickelPass9Slant
Similar to a number of plays last week where Michigan linebackers flew out of zone coverage to deal with running backs on little flares; this time Ezeh moves out, opening a hole in the zone for the slant. (Cover -1)
M48110Shotgun 3-wideNickelPen-5False start
O47115Shotgun TripsNickelPassIncScreen
Ezeh(+1) reads this, flying up into the passing lane; Weber throws it away. (Cover +1)
O47215Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun-3QB Draw
RB motions out; empty look. Both Crable(+1) and Jamison(+1) beat their men to the inside instead of rushing up around them; Weber has no chance; BGraham also comes in to help after a DT twist.
O44318Shotgun 4-wide3-3-5 NickelPassIncDeep out
Blitz does not quite get there as Weber fires the ball quickly on an out in front of Warren. It's short-hopped; there was the potential for a completion here but it was a narrow window. (Pressure +1.) Minnesota called for a chop block, Michigan takes the penalty.
O29333Shotgun 4-wideNickelRun1Zone read handoff
Johnson(+1) does an excellent job flowing down the line to tackle; BGraham(+1) cut off the outside.
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-3, 2 min 1st Q. Some help from Minnesota via the penalty, but a good series.
O20110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun3Zone read handoff
Balanced line. Good push from Johnson(+1); Taylor gets pushed down the line a bit, slipping on the turf, but manages to grab a foot as the RB cuts back; Crable shuts him down after keeping contain.
O2327??????Run-3Speed option
First part of the play missed. Harrison(+2) jets in, fending of a blocker to chop this down in the backfield. Thompson(+1) also out there to help after a quick read.
O20310Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass7WR Screen
Fake RB screen to the topside of the screen; they got to Wheelwright at the bottom. Warren(+1) gets cut but gets up and manages to force Wheelwright out of bounds short of the sticks.
Drive Notes: Punt, 0-3, EO 1st Q.
O31110Shotgun TripsNickelRun13Zone read counter
A more convincing counter that looks like your traditional zone read but for a pulling guard; Minnesota is again attacking the big gap between the 1 and 7 technique DL. We are one blocked CGraham away from giving up a big gain; CGraham(-1) is blocked and we give up a big gain.
O44110Shotgun 3-wideNickelPassIncTE Seam
Bennett motions out; Weber pump fakes a screen to him, then goes deeper. Harrison is our designated guy to freak out on these and he does; everyone else stays with their assignments. CGraham(+1) gets a bump on the TE, knocking him off his route and making this pass look wildly inaccurate. Even without the bump it's probably still IN; as it is it's ridiculously overthrown. (Cover +1)
O44210Shotgun TripsNickelPassIncWR Screen
Weber throws it wide.
O44310Shotgun TripsNickelPass14 (pen)Skinny post
The Warren pass interference. The replays given aren't particularly good, but this looks like excellent coverage to me. No punishment doled out.
M42110Shotgun TripsNickelRun1Zone read handoff
Balanced line. BGraham(+1) beats his guy; can't make the tackle but does slow the back in the backfield. The center never got out on CGraham, and we all know that when you don't block CGraham he can spear you. This he does.
M4129Shotgun TripsNickelRun2QB Draw
Excellent play by Johnson(+1) to disconnect and tackle; CGraham(+1) dodges a block and knocks the ball loose from a falling Weber. Michigan recovers.
Drive Notes: Fumble, 3-10, 9 min 2nd Q.
O31110Shotgun TripsNickelPassIncZone read PA
Adams at the LOS as if he is going to blitz, but he bails at the snap as Michigan drops into zone. This may confuse Weber, who tosses it into coverage. Initial bite by Ezeh(+1) but he recovers well, getting in the passing lane and deflecting the ball. (Cover +1)
O31210Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun2Counter
Same play as the first counter. TE and guard pull around in an effort to attack the backside. Crable(+1) crashes in, removing any crease at the intended POA; cutback. Johnson(+1) avoids a cut block and tackles.
O3338Shotgun 4-wide3-3-5 NickelPassIncOut
Taylor(+1) defeats his man and crushes Weber as he throws; ball is low as a result and into tight coverage from Warren(+1). The ball is dropped; Decker wants a flag. No sale. No, check that. On replay Warren comes around from the bottom to knock it away. Great play. (Cover +1, pressure +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 6-10, 5 min 2nd Q. Warren is officially good, kids.
O39110Shotgun 4-wideNickelPassIncOut
We basically miss this play talking to Rece Davis. But Jamison(+1) knocks the ball down. (Pressure +1)
O39210Shotgun TripsNickelPassIncCross
Crable flies upfield on an edge rush but gets pushed past the quarterback; Weber steps up. Jamison(+1) makes an edge rush of his own, then pushes the OT away and collapses down on Weber, hitting him as he throws and forcing an incompletion. (Pressure +1)
O39310Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass2Scramble
Harrison blitzes, so does Graham. The tackle on that side has blocked down on the DE, leaving just one running back to attempt to take on both blitzers. CGraham(-1) manages to get pushed by the RB and allows Weber to escape; he keeps his eyes down and attempts to run; Jamison and Ezeh(+1) put an end to that. (Pressure +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 2 min 1st Q.
O21110???Nickel?Run20Zone read something
We miss the beginning portion of this play looking at Tim Brewster; as we come back Will Johnson(-1) has been pancaked and both linebackers (Ezeh -1, CGraham -1) are running right up the middle, getting blocked by one guy. Boom: secondary instantly and a twenty-yard run.
O41110Shotgun TripsNickelRun0Zone read handoff
Balanced line. Johnson(+1) stands up his guy, driving him back a bit and disconnecting as Bennett passes; Ezeh(+1) had gotten to the guard quickly enough to also help close the hole.
O41210Shotgun 4-wideNickelPass-4Zone read PA
Weber gets the ball knocked out by his own running back; he falls on it for a loss.
O37314Shotgun 4-wide3-3-5 NickelPassIncPost
Weber's pass is sailed, perhaps fortunately as both these Gopher receivers are in the same area and well covered (cover +1). The pass sailed because Will Johnson(+1) drove the guard into Weber as he threw. (Pressure +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 11 min 3rd Q.
O20110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun5Speed option
A tough spot for the defense with no DB within eight yards of the LOS at the snap to the side the option is run. Jamison, unblocked forces a pitch; Adams attacks and gets outside, forcing the ballcarrier in; Johnson pursues and tackle. +1 Johnson.
O2525Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun8QB Draw
Actually a lead draw as the QB fakes a zone read handoff, then follows the running back into the hole; a guard also pulls. CGraham(-1) is met by this tiny running back and pancaked – ugly, this should never happen – and for a moment it looks like a big gainer until BGraham(+1) spins free of a double team and tackles. Still a good gain; could have been considerably worse.
O33110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun2Zone read handoff
Balanced line. I believe Johnson(+1) gets a push into the backfield here; Taylor(+1) also shoves forward. No crease; Bennett forced to cut back and leap over a prone Jamison. CGraham, unblocked, tackles him in the air.
O3528Shotgun TripsNickelPass10WR Screen
Nominally a 3-3-5 with Crable standing up outside the tackle. CGraham(-1) again shoved to the ground by a blocker as he overruns his spot; Warren got to the outside – I think this is what Carr means by “leverage on the football” -- but the Graham failure just means there's a huge gap for him. Englemon chops him down after ten. Curry doesn't like his tackle; I agree.
O45110Shotgun 4-wideNickelRun-5Fumbled snap
And John Sullivan pays us a visit.
O40215Shotgun 4-wideNickelRun2QB Draw
Taylor(+2) pushes into the backfield, making a diving grasp at Weber's ankles that brings him down. Without that, a big gain.
O42313Shotgun 4-wideNickelPassIncPost
A delayed blitz from Harrison doesn't get there; neither does anyone else. (Pressure -1). The post comes open ( cover -1); Weber underthrows it.
Drive Notes: Punt, 13-10, 5 min 3rd Q. A dispiriting drive that stops because of Minnesota mistakes and one good play from Taylor.
O32110Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass7WR Screen
Warren(+1) reads this well, shooting past a blocker; so does Johnson. Unfortunately, Johnson(-1) overruns it, allowing the WR to pick up decent yardage despite Michigan being all over this at the snap.
O3923Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun1Zone read handoff
Balanced line. Excellent job by Johnson(+1) to get penetration and force Bennett outside the tackles, where Adams fills at the LOS.
O4032Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass-5Sack
Not even a playfake? Okay. Great coverage on three short routes here (Cover +2); Weber has no place to go. BG(+1) drives his guy back, then sacks. (Pressure +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 20-10, 1 min 3rd Q. I feel way better about this drive than the last one.
O27110Shotgun 3-wide3-3-5 NickelPass9Angle
Balanced line; the RB runs a little flat route, then cuts it inside; I used to run this all the time in NCAA. Ezeh(-1) overruns it, not even getting close enough to miss a tackle, and three yards turn into ten. (Cover -1)
O3621Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun4Zone read handoff
Balanced line. Johnson is blown back by a double team, and though he manages to split them and help tackle he's been driven a couple yards downfield and Minnesota picks up the first down. Taylor did a good job disconnecting and diving, grabbing Bennett's feet as he passes. I do agree that Taylor's played well; Bill Curry and I see eye to eye. Cats and dogs living together.
O40110Shotgun 3-wideNickelPassIncFlat
CGraham(+1) times a blitz perfectly, shooting up the middle unblocked and hammering Weber as he attempts to throw. (Pressure +1)
O40210Shotgun 4-wideNickelPass7Screen
Ezeh(-1) fails to read this, getting blocked out of the play by a wide receiver. Warren keeps him inside; Taylor tracks him down from behind.
O4733Shotgun TripsNickelRun11Speed option
Harrison(-1) is late on this one, as is Ezeh(-1); Michigan loses contain.
M42110Shotgun TripsNickelPass-2WR screen(?)
Not sure WTF Weber is thinking; a corner blitz from Harrison gets in unblocked (pressure +1) but instead of taking what looks like an open out from the area where Harrison vacated the zone he comes back to Wheelwright, who's run what looks like a screen route without any blockers. The throw is made, but Warren(+1) has come up hard and tackles with help from Crable for a loss.
M44212Shotgun 3-wideNickelPassIncFly
All day for Weber (pressure -2); Webber throws to Decker; Englemon(+1) reads it, breaks on it, and probably should have picked it off. (Cover +1)
M44312Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass-6Sack
Oh, you've screwed up something when you leave Crable to be blocked by a freshman tailback. Crable(+1) goes right around him and sacks. (Pressure +1)
Drive Notes: Punt, 10 min 4th Q.
O20110Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun8QB Draw
Bennett motions out; empty look. The linebackers shift over in preparation for a screen, which Minnesota fakes; Weber takes off. Crable(-1) has been pancaked after attempting to dive inside. With the linebackers headed over to the screen fake, acres of space. Slocum and Sagesse in at DT. Rest of the first team D in.
O2822Shotgun 3-wideNickelRun2QB Draw
The draw they've run a couple times where a PA zone read fake turns into a lead blocker for the QB. Thompson in; does a good job with the TB; CGraham fills unblocked.
O30110Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass5Out
Warren tackles immediately after a brief gain.
O3525Shotgun TripsNickelRun7Zone read counter
Well... Crable gives up contain here after fighting inside to fill the hole; once Bennett bounces out he does a good job of getting back outside the tackle but his tackle attempt is stepped through and Bennett picks up seven yards. This is a tough play for him to make, all alone out there as CGraham had gotten suckered on the counter action... no minus.
O42110Shotgun TripsNickelPassIncWheel
Oh... okay, I get it. Remember the WR screen(?) on the last drive? I think the idea here is to get the CB to bite up on it, then hit the RB on a wheel route. Warren does indeed bite, opening up a spot for the wheel; Weber overthrows it. Decent recovery from Warren made this a more difficult throw. Still (-1, cover -1).
O42210Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass4TE Out
For some reason they decide not to block Crable at all; Weber hurried. (Pressure +1) The TE runs a little out route; Adams(+1) hits immediately. (Cover +1)
O4636Shotgun 4-wideNickelPass9WR Screen
They play off the wheel route earlier and go to an actual WR screen; this time Warren(-1) is hesitant, fearing the wheel, and Wheelwright has plenty of room. (Cover -1). Mouton has entered the game.
M45110Shotgun 4-wideNickelPassIncStop
Harrison in unblocked on a blitz. (Pressure +1) A quick throw is jumped by Adams(+1), who breaks it up and nearly intercepts it. (Cover +1)
M45210Shotgun 4-wideNickelPass-7Screen
Harrison(+2) reads and shoots into the backfield, making a huge TFL just as the ball arrives.
O48317Shotgun 3-wide3-3-5 NickelPass12Stop
Harrison again unblocked, forcing a quick dumpoff to Wheelwright for what should be five yards. Thompson misses a tackle, and then about four Michigan players whiff, turning this into a makeable fourth down. (Pressure +1, cover -1)
M4045Shotgun 3-wideNickelPass4Comeback
Pass completed, but short of the sticks.
Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 4 min 4th Q. Chartin' over.

So why can't we defend the zone run?

Let's take a look at the second play of the game. You may remember this picture from such locations as "the top of this post":

Hey, this is a good defense if they're going to run a traditional zone read right at Brandon Graham. Yayyayyayya--

Uh-oh. They motioned the tailback. Quick! Adju--

Balls. As you can see, Taylor's been chopped to the ground, the frontside guard has no one to even think about blocking on the first level, and Jamison is in no position to get inside the tackle. The hole gapes like Tim Brewster's... mouth after a meaningless pass on the last play of the game.


Zing! The running back zips into the secondary and gains 12 yards. Minnesota successfully attacked this gap with presnap motion and counters several times.

So we have a first facet of our issues against the run: sometimes our scheme gets exploited. We broke out our 3-3-5 with massive gaps between the DEs and DTs once in this game; Minnesota promptly ran for nine yards with little any Michigan player could do about it. This same formation was responsible for a lot of the ugliness against the Northwestern run game. It makes no the sense.

It's times like these that I wish I could see into the heads of the coaches, who obviously know way more about football than I do: is there some way in which this defense can stand up to interior runs? Is someone not executing their job? Do they just assume that teams will pass in these situations? When Michigan has gotten opponents into must-pass situations the rampant pressure they've applied certainly justifies the use of the 3-3-5, but whenever it comes out on a plausible rushing down Michigan gets gashed. Isn't it time to shelve it?

Aspect two: the linebackers are not so good. Chris Graham did some good things in this game, but the standout memory of him in this game was one of those QB draws that came coupled with the tailback as a lead blocker. This Bennett guy is like 180 pounds or something -- tiny -- and when he met Graham in the hole he splattered him like a bug. Result: another big gainer. It has been rare indeed for any Michigan linebacker to stand up to a block and tackle.

Aspect three: The defensive tackles are not really absorbing blockers. The 5-3-1-7 wasn't so good, but when Michigan lines up in a flat front, they still get gashed because too often the DTs can't control the gaps between the guard and tackle. Often they get momentarily doubled sealed, then the guard leaps out on a linebacker.

Aspect four: Shawn Crable sometimes gives up contain on quarterbacks as the first three aspects often make his backside pursuit necessary.

That, I think, covers it. It should be noted that Michigan is now 36th in rushing defense, which is not terrible. However, a ton of sacks -- 15th nationwide -- help cover up Michigan's average-at-best run defense.



Good pressure.
Best day of his career, probably.
A couple diving tackles that really helped out the befuddled linebackers.
B. Graham

Well, he's active.




Had another couple near-minuses.
Still a work in progress.
C. Graham
Sometimes his inablity to stand up to blocks is truly amazing.

A remarkable complete game shutout for Trent -- wonder if this has ever happened before. Since he's a corner, this counts as an excellent performance.
Blew one option; killed two drives with monster TFLs on screens/option plays.
Minnesota attempted to pick on him all day and mostly came up empty. Already a standout, IMO, and poised to have a huge career.



Heavily Minnesota assisted, as several times their line calls completely missed corner blitzes and, once, Shawn frickin' Crable. Still: good.
Another fine day for the secondary.

More of the same: good play from the DL, an effective secondary, and linebackers that just didn't do much. Michigan's leading tacklers are Englemon, a safety, and Crable, a defensive lineman. Total safety tackles: 127. Total linebacker tackles: 118. That is not a good ratio. For comparison, last year it was linebackers 215, safeties 101.

Sometimes I feel like I'm being too harsh on the linebackers because of an expectation bias: I expect them to be bad, so I interpret their play as bad. The tackle numbers reassure me. They're the main issue with the defense at this point, IMO. Everything else appears solid.


Taylor had a very strong day, as did Johnson. Harrison and Warren were the best members of a strong secondary.


Well, yeah, the linebackers.

What does it mean for Michigan State?

It'll be interesting to see how Michigan adapts to a traditional offense, which they've seen all of once this year (Penn State) if you make the reasonable assertion that whatever the hell Weis is running, it's not "traditional" or for that matter "an offense". They did well against Penn State and the parallels between the two are vast: erratic quarterback, power-run philosophy, unquenchable thirst for brains.

Maybe not that last one.

Where Michigan State has the advantage on Penn State is they have a pair of good runners who complement each other -- Javon Ringer is an All-Big Ten level performer, IMO -- and a #1 wide receiver. Devin Thomas is legit and will be the stiffest test for Trent or Warren (or, more likely, whoever happens to line up on his side) since Oregon left town with our womenfolk trussed to their wagon.

IMO, this could go either way and slowing the MSU rushing attack would be an accomplishment of moderate valor that bodes well for the final two games of the season.