Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The speed option: What went wrong?

So Michigan broke out a few new looks against Purdue: Denard saw one snap at RB and, more memorably, Michigan finally debuted the triple/speed option that has become synonymous with the spread option game. Unfortunately, it's memorable for the massive flub that gave Purdue the ball back on the 20 yard line after a Tate fumble. At first, I thought, "So this is why we haven't used this before." But after rewatching the game, it turned out to be a few really smart play calls by Purdue and the perfect storm of problems--from play calling to great defensive plays--that caused the Michigan fumble. Let's take a look at the first time Michigan tried this play. Alignment:

Michigan is in a 3-wide set with two RBs in the backfield. Purdue is playing  in a traditional 4-3 with two deep safeties. However, everyone on the field for Purdue is actually playing man-to-man coverage, with the two deep safeties charged with spying one of the two RBs in the backfield.

On the snap, the offensive line blocks left, leaving the weakside defensive end unblocked. This is where the problems start for Michigan. The weakside defensive end decides to keep contain on Forcier. Brian at MGoBlog mention that the hand off for the dive play--in this instance, the original handoff that, if it was available, Tate should have made to Michael Shaw because the DE is playing contain--is probably not an option for Forcier yet. In any case, Purdue is conceding the dive play because the backside corner (bottom left of the screen) actually has man coverage on the dive play.

Forcier pulls the ball even though the weakside defensive end is keeping contain. In any other instance, Forcier should have handed the ball off. He probably doesn't have this option yet. What's most interesting is the playside safety (top of the screen) is starting to crash down on Minor, who is his man-to-man assignment.

It's a little hard to see here, but if Forcier had handed the ball of for the dive play (or been allowed to), Michael Shaw has a seam that would net five yards or so and put him one-on-one against the safety. Instead, Tate is forced to pitch the ball to Minor on the option because the playside DE is keeping contain. The safety on the top of the screen can see this happening and is now starting to go directly at Minor, who he will eventually hit four yards in the backfield.

Minor is in the act of catching the ball and is 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The safety spying Minor is 4 yards from the line of scrimmage. The math doesn't work out for Michigan and this happens:

As you can see, If Forcier had kept the ball, he would've been in trouble, and yet Minor is surrounded by three players and about to be brought down in the backfield. This is because Purdue's DE kept contain and Forcier still pulled the ball. This is what happens when someone misses a read--or isn't given that read, whatever the case may be.

I have no idea how Purdue planned for this play, but they were undeniably ready for it, even though Michigan hadn't run it all year. It is my guess, however, that this kind of assignment football is how Roundtree got open on his TD pass and Minor broke so many big runs. I'll have to go back and see, but if Shaw gets the handoff here and breaks one tackle against the safety spying him, he's got nothing but the endzone in front of him. I'll let you know what I find later in the week, but this is purely assignment football and what every coach talks about when they play the spread. If Forcier wasn't a true freshmen, Rodriguez would likely have a devastating counter to this play. Michigan isn't there yet.

In a while, I'll post what happened the second time Michigan tried this play--the one that ended with a crushing fumble to the Michigan 20 yard line. Long story short, Purdue got pretty lucky with their play call and their cornerback made a phenomenal play. What's both encouraging and bothersome is that Michigan wasn't giving the play away with the presnap alignment, as they ran it a number of times throughout the game; I specifically checked for this. This means that Rodriguez's play calling has become stagnant enough that teams are getting the upper hand--for example, it looks like on most 2nd and long plays, Purdue blitzed a linebacker or corner in order to stop a Tate roll out.


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