Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zone reading down the depth chart

After the Bowling Green game, I feel pretty confident saying that Tate Forcier is Michigan's unquestioned #2 on the quarterback depth chart, surpassing Devin Gardner who, coming out of camp, was reportedly first off the bench--something we frustratingly saw as he burned his redshirt against UConn. But against Bowling Green, Gardner showed a propensity to make bad reads on the zone read and generally have trouble gaining yards with his feet. Here's one of the more egregious examples of Gardner on the zone read:

Michigan is in a three wide set with Vincent Smith lined up next to Gardner in the backfield and Kevin Koger lined up as an H-back. This is the triple option read that Michigan runs a lot: a basic zone read play but if Gardner decides to keep the ball, he also has the option to throw a bubble screen to the slot receiver.

Right off of the snap, you can see that the weakside defensive end is being unblocked. This is the player Gardner needs to read. Remember, if he stays high, Gardner's job is to hand the ball off to Vincent Smith. If the defensive end crashes down on the hand off, Smith needs to pull the ball.

Gardner and Smith are still engaged right now and you can see that the defensive end hasn't committed to the halfback run. This is a pretty clear sign that Gardner should hand the ball off. If he doesn't, he needs to pull the ball out quickly and make a quick snap throw to the slot receiver who is rolling out into space with 10 yards between he and the closest defender. (This play--the triple option bubble screen--may be Tate Forcier's most consistent threat. He makes quick reads and solid throws to the slot receiver, a play that usually nets five to seven yards.)

Despite having great blocking for Smith, Gardner decides to pull the ball out and is staring down two defenders. At this point, he still has the bubble screen open, but not by as much. Instead, Gardner, with no blocking ahead of him, tries to juke through two defenders as well as the free safety coming down from his position.

This is how the play ends. As you can see, Bowling Green has Gardner boxed in. He won't be able to bounce it outside and he has two defenders on the inside as well. The most disappointing part of this play is that, as you can see at the bottom of the screen, Smith has a cannon shot through the offensive line with Koger about to block off the final defender.

Until Gardner can consistently make the correct read here, he won't surpass Forcier who appeared to make the right decision each time he took a snap against Bowling Green. I questioned Gardner's viability as a running threat, which I think was warranted, but part of the problem may also be that he's putting himself in really difficult positions like the one above. It looks like most teams are preparing to force Michigan quarterbacks to hand the ball off because of Denard. As such, making the proper read and handing the ball off when it's this obvious is a must.


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