2011 Gator Bowl page in the sidebar. Previously: NCAA rankings, Defense vs. Auburn, Screen defense
Continuing my dissection of Mississippi State's defense against Auburn, I want to take another look at a screen pass example. As I've mentioned several times now, the Bulldogs' defensive alignment was schematically unsound against Auburn's 3x1 alignment. One of the ways they counteracted this was to send their playside linebacker directly at the H receiver (who runs the screen route). In the other example today, Auburn sent their strongside receivers downfield and allowed Cam Newton to make the proper read: throw the screen pass or hit one of the outside receivers on a seam route. In this example, however, they ran an all-out screen pass that almost resulted in catastrophe.
As I mentioned in the comments of the Mississippi State NCAA rankings post, this is a high variance play: if the cornerback makes this interception, it's a pick-6 unless Newton can catch a streaking cornerback. If this pass somehow gets through, or if Auburn's receivers run vertical routes like they did earlier, this is almost certainly a touchdown. Instead, the ball falls harmlessly and we get a look at how Mississippi State tries to defend a screen pass in a structurally unsound formation.
What does it mean?
The philosophy behind this play is more revealing than the result of the play. This was much later in the game after the Bulldogs had been burned multiple times by the screen pass. But instead of shifting their alignment to limit or remove the screen option, they decide to stay within their base formation and attack more aggressively, which tells you something about the Mississippi State defensive coordinator. Michigan has thrived on exploiting opponents' aggressiveness this year. The coaches have enough film on this defense to formulate an attack plan against plays like this.
Again, unless the defensive alignment shifts later in the year, Michigan is going to show a lot of 3x1 offensive formations against Mississippi State. I'd also expect that, in most instances, Michigan's outside receivers are either going to be given an option route (block if the playside defenders stay home, run routes if they crash on the screen pass) or be told to run routes upfield.
This defensive alignment is similar to what Michigan saw against Notre Dame: a strict 4-3 and a coordinator too stubborn to change his personnel when the offensive alignment warrants it. Michigan should be able to exploit this throughout the game, that is unless Mississippi State's defensive alignment becomes more malleable throughout the year, which is pretty likely. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for this in other Mississippi State games.