Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The problem with assignment football

You may have remembered yesterday when I said,

Much like the first play, Purdue played a lot of man/assignment football that, if the coach is good enough and has enough of the playbook open, will eventually crush. Again, Michigan just isn't there yet in their development.

Well, I was right and wrong. I went back and looked at the different touchdown plays that Michigan ran on the day and saw something that was extremely encouraging, and a sign of what Rodriguez can bring to the table as a play caller.

(First though, on the Roundtree touchdown, Purdue called nearly the same corner blitz that they had against the triple option that caused the fumble. Only this time, they didn't get nearly as lucky with the offensive play call, and Roundtree ran free through the secondary before stiff arming a safety into oblivion. It's pretty obvious that Purdue came into the game with a high-risk/high-reward gameplan. Unfortunately, Michigan couldn't covert on enough of these plays to pull out the victory. That or the defense is so bad that regardless of how many times Michigan converted, the defense couldn't get a stand. But, like the beginning of the season, you saw the return of Michigan's long run game. You can expect to see this disappear again against Wisconsin and Ohio State who have superior talent and won't be playing roulette with their defense.)

Brandon Minor scored two long touchdowns on the day, both on nearly the exact same play call. One worked because of a great play by Minor and Purdue's willingness to allow Michigan backs get into space for six or seven yards. The second was in direct response to the way Purdue was playing and worked to perfection. Let's take a look at the first:

Michigan is in the 3-wide, 2-RB set that they played out of for most of the day. You may remember this same defensive and offensive looks form the triple option plays I talked about yesterday. Purdue here is in the 4-3 cover-2 formation they put on the field nearly every time Michigan pulled out this formation. Michael Shaw is to Forcier's left and Minor is to Forcier's right in the backfield.

On the snap, the offensive line blocks all of the down linemen. Shaw's responsibility is to the hit B-gap between the left guard and left tackle and block the closest linebacker. This will put Minor--if he hits the hole correctly--one-vs.-one with the safety, much like we saw in the triple option, because Purdue was playing strictly assignment football. As the safeties are playing man coverage on the separate RBs, the playside safety (bottom of the screen) is charged with hitting the hole Minor is in and bringing him down. Frankly, this is exactly how Rodriguez wants defenses to play against him: Get your playmakers in space against one defender and watch them go to work.

Shaw is running through the hole and about to engage with the playside linebacker. Minor gets a good block and gap to run through and is following Shaw. The playside WR (I believe that's Hemingway on the bottom of the screen) is charged with getting to his corner and sealing him to the outside.

Shaw is engaged with his linebacker, and Minor is breaking through the gap, and is one-vs.-one with a safety who he makes look a little silly.

Minor doesn't have the top end speed nor the shiftiness to just shake the safety. If he did, you can see that there's plenty of room to the sideline, and if Minor breaks to the edge with more speed, he probably gets there and doesn't need the acrobatics he shows here.

Laying prone on the ground is the safety that was just at eye level with Minor. He didn't truck him, but had enough moves and strength to get by him. From here, Minor actually cuts back across the field and dodges through the defenders who are scrambling to tackle Minor, but who never get there.

Long story short, assignment football is exactly what Rodriguez wants defenses to play. If Michigan's power back is able to dance around the one defender who's spying him and get to the endzone, putting Vincent Smith or Carlos Brown into similar space will be even more effective.

Even though this worked--and in large part because Purdue had been conceding that dive play the entire day; it turned into a touchdown or seven yards every time--Rodriguez saw how Purdue was playing and decided to change his blocking schemes to get an easier touchdown (after the jump).

Presnap alignment:

Are you getting tired of seeing this alignment? Look familiar? You are. It does.

Here's the snap. The major change here is that the weakside defensive end is being left unblocked. Mossman is doing a reach block (this is one thing that Molk truly excelled at and one thing that's been seriously harmed with his injury). The left guard, Steve Shilling is releasing into the second level when Moosman comes over to block the defensive tackle who coverd Shilling. It's then Shilling's responsibility to block the playside linebacker. Shaw and Minor are in the backfield and run the play exactly how they did above, except now, Shaw's responsibility is to block the safety that Minor previously made look silly.

The real key to this play is Moosman's reach so that Shilling can get to the second level to block the linebacker. He does this well and you can see Shilling about to drive the linebacker. Shaw is blowing through the B-gap, and Minor is following him. The playside safety is sitting and waiting for Minor, not expecting to see Shaw bust through the gap and block him.

It's tough to see here, but Shaw has just gotten through the first level and is about to engage the safety. Minor is sneaking through the gap, having gotten a great reach block from Moosman and good release and block from Shilling. If Shaw can execute his block, this turns into a touchdown:

Shaw has made a good block and sealed the safety to the inside of the field. Matthews is losing control of his block, but Minor has enough room and speed built up that he can walk to the endzone untouched.

Purdue played largely the same scheme the entire game and most of the time, this was the result. Playing assignment football doesn't work against this scheme, but it is a way for inferior teams to try and mitigate the risk: Allow a 7-yard dive play anytime, but don't let up the deep one. As you can see, Rodriguez is smart enough to counter this scheme. I don't know why Michigan ever went away from this play. Minor looked a little dinged up later in the game, but this is just as easily run with Brown or Shaw carrying the ball. It's possible that Purdue started to make a few slight adjustments and Michigan felt the need to try and shake things up again, but in the end, the Boilermakers simply couldn't defend Michigan's dive play. It's a shame the defense couldn't stop Joey Elliott's constant rollouts.


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