Thursday, November 18, 2010

Purdue loading the box

Yesterday, MGoBlog Picture Paged how Purdue was loading the box against Michigan and leaving man-to-man coverage with no safety help for much of the game. Despite this, Michigan just kept running into a wall of defenders to middling effect. Michigan did very little to counteract this until the final drive of the game in which they went exclusively to their heavy package (with both Martell Webb and Kevin Koger on the field in the H-back positions). In response to Michigan's added blockers, Purdue committed yet another defender to the box (nine in total) and left the cornerbacks on an island against Michigan's two wide receivers. After seeing how unflinchingly Purdue had committed to stopping the run, Rich Rodriguez finally called a play to burn Purdue on a third and six that helped ice the game.

Here's the aforementioned formation. Purdue has nine players in the box with cornerbacks covering Michigan's receivers man-to-man. Denard has Vincent Smith next to him in the backfield, with Webb and Koger lined up as H-backs.

After the snap, Michigan leaves the weakside defensive end (Ryan Kerrigan) unblocked. Koger and Webb are rolling out to the weakside like they would on a regular zone read play.

This is where you know Rich Rod called a great play. You can't see it from the images--but you can probably infer from the motion Smith is making--but this play isn't a zone read at all. This is a passing play the entire time. But Michigan has to show the play fake in order to freeze the linebackers and make them think run. Instead of engaging in a mesh point, Smith runs right by Denard and makes an exaggerated fake like he's taking the ball. Kerrigan isn't fooled and stays high to contain Denard. Meanwhile, Webb and Koger and swinging out of the backfield and neither is looking to block any defenders.

A moment later and Kerrigan is starting to attack upfield at Denard, but he's being completely ignored by Webb, who is running to the flat as a passing outlet. Despite the fact that Denard is holding the ball high in a passing position, the linebackers and safeties are all staring into the backfield at Denard, expecting a run.

This is Purdue's "uh oh" moment. You can see one of Purdue's safeties realize that Koger is running completely unguarded and unabated into the secondary where there are no defenders. He tries to turn, but at this point, Koger is in full stride and no one will get close to covering him. Webb is headed to the flat as a dump down in case one of Purdue's defenders actually guards Koger.

Koger is now five yards away from the closest Purdue defender, none of whom are moving in the right direction or at his speed. Webb, meanwhile, is only sort of guarded and may have been able to get the first down himself.

And since Koger is so open, Denard lobs a duck into the secondary that's wildly underthrown, which is totally fine because Purdue is so out of position. It's much better than Denard sailing the pass long like he had been for most of the game.

This is the play that set up the rest of Michigan's drive. Despite the fact that Michigan kept the exact same personnel on the field, Purdue's box alignment looked like this:

Those safeties are playing closer to the line of scrimmage than they normally would, and they were still attacking the run pretty aggressively, but it's a far cry from the formation they showed earlier in the series.

You might be asking yourself, "Why didn't we do this earlier?" And really, I don't know. I was hoping to see more of the QB draw play action pass that's been so effective this year, but Michigan didn't run the play once this game. That might have been because of the weather, but it feels a little more systemic than that. It took too long, but eventually, Rodriguez caught Purdue cheating the run, which they had been doing all game.

I'm also OK with the duck that Denard threw on this play. Given the way he was sailing passes, throwing the ball short to a wide open receiver is far preferrable than missing the third down conversion because of an errant throw. If Michigan had been behind at this point, I might've complained about the pass; if he had hit Koger in stride, he probably rumbles in for a touchdown and removes much of the drama. But the fact that Michigan could basically run out the clock if they needed to meant making the sure pass was much preferable to making the perfect pass.


Anonymous said...

great work again. I do remember this play it was big. Sometimes I do wish we used the TE's more b/c whenever we do its ALWAYS a big gainer.

But then again maybe thats why its always so effective (sincewe rarely use them as passing threats).

That being said, I'd rather have the TE position net about 4-5 passes a game.

Anonymous said...

Why do you call the right side of this formation the weak side? I thought the strong/weak demarcation was based on how many offensive players were on each side. Since Vincent Smith, H-Back, and WR are to Denard's right shouldn't that be the strong side of the formation?

Chris Gaerig said...

Weakside is a weird term that gets used a lot of different ways. You're right that the weakside and strongside of the field are determined by the alignment of the offense: the side of the field with the most players is referred to as the "strongside".

But weakside is also used (I suppose incorrectly) to denote the way in which a play is designed and headed: weakside vs. playside. The correct terminology here is probably backside vs. playside, but I often interchange weakside and backside. I'll make a note to be more discerning in this labeling.

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