Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Holiday schedule

I had every intention of writing something for today, but due to all of the packing/secret Santaing I had to do last night, I just didn't have time. Tonight, I fly back to the state that looks like a mitten and will be there until December 28th. I still intend on watching and breaking down the ACC championship game between Virginia Tech and Clemson, and I'm bringing my hard drive with me to do so, though I'm not sure when that content will start going up. All previous content on the game can be found on the bowl games page.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Virginia Tech triple option

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

As mentioned around these parts, Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas isn't much of a runner despite having decent rushing numbers on the year. He's a big, bulky QB who defenses have to account for but not really respect in the running game. He's not going to beat you with his legs. The basic read play that the Hokies use is the inverted veer that Michigan used against Ohio State and Auburn used to win a national championship. However, they will occasionally throw in other option plays. Against Georgia Tech, they showed a triple option look from a two-back shotgun set.

The Hokies comes out in a two-back, two-wide set with an H-back to the playside of the field. Georgia Tech is in their base 3-4 defensive front.

As the ball is snapped, the fullback to Thomas' left comes in motion for the dive option. Meanwhile, running back David Wilson swings behind Thomas to be the pitch man if the QB pulls the ball. I think (?) Thomas is reading the playside linebacker who will be left unblocked by the H-back.

As Thomas pulls the ball, he and Wilson are now on the edge against one defender, the playside linebacker.

The linebacker makes a poor decision and comes up to tackle Thomas. Wilson now has a clear lane to the GT safeties.

Monday, December 19, 2011

VT vs. Georgia Tech impressions

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

I went into this game with the expectation that it would be a good barometer for how the Hokie linebackers handle the option. Of course, that ended up being an ill-conceived goal as the Georgia Tech flexbone attack is like nothing Michigan runs and the linebackers played as such. The one thing I could glean from the defensive front of Virginia Tech in this game is that they have trouble defending the pitch option on the outside. For most of the game, the linebackers were caught in no-man's land and would bite on a fake pitch. That's not much, though.

There were some things to glean from the offense in this game though:
  • I really don't think very highly of Virginia Tech running back David Wilson. He has really good numbers on the season, but he's just not very impressive on a down-to-down basis. Part of that is because of his crappy offensive line (about which more later), but Wilson doesn't have much speed and isn't the kind of Wisconsin bulldozer that can make yards solely by running people over. The real way that Wilson gets his yardage is on the few plays where pre-snap motion by the Hokies catches defenses off guard. I mean:

    Of course Wilson can pick up yardage here. Wilson will run to his left here where he has four blockers against four box defenders. Virginia Tech will pull a weakside lineman as well. This is just poor alignment by Georgia Tech that was brought on by pre-snap motion. If Michigan's defense can align properly before the snap, I don't expect Wilson to be able to do much.

    The other notable aspect of Wilson's game: he has stone hands. Given the amount of checkdown passes Virginia Tech used against Miami, the few drops that I saw from Wilson I brushed off as a bad game (you can't gameplan for that many checkdowns if your running back can't catch). But he showed the same brick hands against Georgia Tech.
  • You can't really blame him for some of his poor rushing performances, though, because the interior of the Virginia Tech offensive line is terrible. Headlined by sophomore center Andrew Miller, the interior of the Hokie offensive line gets put on skates on most plays. Any iso play up the gut is shut down in the backfield. The lack of production from the center probably also hurts the performance of the guards, but Mike Martin will be salivating to go against this interior line. Expect at least a few sacks from Michigan's tackles in this game.
  • That weak interior line also means that Virginia Tech rolls the pocket on almost all third-and-long situations. It's clear that the offense has no faith in their offensive line and tries to get Logan Thomas on the edge to make throws in obvious passing down situations.
  • Thomas is a really good QB, though. He's got a rocket for an arm and with a clean pocket can make all of the throws. His receivers can come down with some miraculous catches, but Thomas throws with power and precision. The other thing he does is QB sneaks. Basically any time the Hokies need one yard, they sneak Thomas up the middle. They did this against Miami and Georgia Tech. It makes sense when you have a 6'6" semi-mobile QB.
There really wasn't much else from this game. The offense showed a triple option which I'll break down tomorrow, but otherwise, there wasn't much. A few great catches by VT receivers and some long runs by Wilson created off of poor defensive alignment, and that was about it.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Brady Hoke and the Hokies

Because why not?

VT bubble/tunnel screen

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

Against Miami (FL), Virginia Tech didn't do all that much offensively of note. They ran the counter draw that Michigan showed early in the year, and they used the inverted veer to devastating effect against a Miami defense that just couldn't figure it out. Otherwise, it was a lot of downhill running, clean pockets, and checkdown passes. They did run a really interesting bubble/tunnel screen late in the game.

(First, apologies for the quality of the screenshots. This was not a high-res rip of the game.) This is right as the ball is snapped; the camera work on this game was mediocre. The Hokies are in a three-wide set with a tight end lined up as an H-back and a running back to Logan Thomas' left. Miami is in a 4-3 nickel formation.

As the ball is snapped, Thomas looks off to his left as the VT running back heads for the flat. The slot receiver to Thomas' right starts to bow out for a bubble screen. The H-back heads immediately upfield to block the nickelback lined up over the slot receiver. Miami, for what it's worth, is in a basic cover-2 defense with five zone defenders underneath.

A moment later, after the nickelback has taken a few steps toward the sideline to cover the bubble screen, the slot receiver reverses his direction and begins running toward the middle of the field for a tunnel screen, the likes of which Michigan has run with Jeremy Gallon all year.

The VT offensive line has now successfully slipped the rushing defensive linemen and are headed to the second level to block Miami's linebackers. The slot receiver is catching the ball and turning upfield.

The slot receiver cuts inside...

...and is brought down for a six-yard gain.

Obviously, the goal of this play is to get the second-level defenders running toward the sideline so that they can clear out the middle of the field for the tunnel screen. The Hokie linemen are supposed to seal the linebackers to the outside, putting the receiver one-on-one with the safety. Unfortunately for Virginia Tech, Miami has the perfect playcall to defend this play. This is a man-coverage beater, though, something that worries me against Michigan's defense. If you're not disciplined or read the play quickly enough, whoever is covering the slot--either Avery or Jake Ryan, who frequently played that role against Illinois--could easily overrun the play.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Miami (FL) designed cutbacks

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

As I mentioned in the Miami Impressions post, Virginia Tech's linebackers are not very good. This also explains why only one of them shows up in the team's top five tacklers, supplanted instead by four members of the team's secondary. Miami took note of the linebackers' susceptibility and aggressiveness throughout the game. This is just one example.

Miami comes out in a heavy I-form set with a tight end and H-back. Virginia Tech shows the 4-4 run stopping front that they used throughout the game. This will be a counter iso run, a designed cutback to attack the Hokie linebackers.

As the ball is snapped, Jacory Harris turns to his right. The Virginia Tech linebackers immediately react and start moving to their left. Notice, however, that the Miami offensive line is creating a hole in the B-gap on the left side of the line (top of the screen).

As Harris hands the ball off, you can see the huge hole opened by the Miami offensive line. However, all three of the Hokies linebackers have run past the gap. The Miami center is releasing upfield to block the only linebacker capable of making the tackle.

A moment later and the Miami center has reached the VT linebacker. You can see the Miami running back Mike James sees the hole and is headed for it. This was not a great read/cutback by the running back. This was designed.

James is now running through the enormous gap created by the overpursuit of the VT linebackers with only a safety between him and the endzone.

He's partially obscured behind the referee here, but that safety makes the tackle. The play results in a six-yard gain.

Though Virginia Tech's linebackers have almost surely improved from the middle of the season when these teams played, this was a consistent trend in this game. And if the team's tackling leaders are to be believed, this probably happens more often than not. These linebackers are aggressive heading downhill and frequently bite on play action/counters like this. They don't appear to key on pulling linemen very quickly, and as is the case here, they're suspect in run fills.

It'll be interesting to see what Michigan can do with this. Plays like the counter draw (which VT actually used in this game) and counter draw play action might be really effective against linebackers prone to overpursuing. Regardless, this was indicative of the team's play all game: overly aggressive reaction to the run opening lanes for both running backs and Jacory Harris. If the Hokies aren't more disciplined than this against Michigan, Denard and Co. should have no problem putting up gaudy numbers.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

VT vs. Miami (FL) impressions

All 2012 Sugar Bowl coverage can be found on the Bowl Game page.

The following are various impressions gleaned from the Hokies 38-35 win over Miami (FL) this season. I cherry picked this game because of Jacory Harris' skill set and its similarity to Denard's. As such, this post is heavy on defensive scouting. More thorough breakdowns of blitzes and defensive schemes will come later this week.

Formation. Virginia Tech played from a whole bunch of different formations, from their standard 4-3 to a hybrid 3-3 to a heavy 4-4 look to something approximating Michigan's Okie formation. They were situational formations; the team rarely blitzed directly from the 4-3 front. The look:

4-4 (run stop)

3-3 (blitz)


From the Okie package, the Hokies rarely dropped linemen into coverage, but it was still used as a means to confuse Jacory Harris and the Miami offensive line.

Blitzing. Virginia Tech brought pressure from everywhere, but most of the time, it came from the linebackers. They came both on direct and delayed blitzes and from a number of different formations. The blitzes were usually long developing and Harris had a lot of room/time to dance in the pocket. However, he rarely passed out of it and the blitzers usually found him eventually.

Linebackers. Speaking of linebackers, Virginia Tech's appear to be awful. There's a reason that four of the top five tacklers on the team are in the secondary. The Hokie linebackers are bad at run fills, over pursue the run, and are really susceptible to play action. They secondary plays a lot of man coverage, so this doesn't always open up gaping holes in the middle of the field, but cutbacks and fakes almost always caught the linebackers off guard.

Defensive ends. As expected, those the gaudy sack numbers from the defensive ends are due to an aggressive pass rush. On passing downs, the defensive ends run directly uphill, openly a lot of running lanes for quarterbacks. Harris wasn't able to take advantage of it, but I have no doubt that Denard/Al Borges will.

Contain the rollout. The one thing that the Hokie defensive ends do really well is contain the rollout on play action. If Michigan uses play action from under center, Denard will have a defensive end directly in his face:



This ended up being a handoff, but the VT defense was prepared for the rollout. If they're gameplanning like this for Jacory Harris, they will be gameplanning like this for Denard.

Defensive tackles. Soft. They were put on skates most of the game. Michigan's offensive line should manhandle these guys.

Safeties. These guys are aggressive. On handoffs, they come directly downhill to make tackles. There's no hesitation in their game. They may be susceptible to play action. More importantly, they were really susceptible to trick plays, the likes of which Miami ran against them a few times. Given Vincent Smith's, urm, throwing abilities, that might be something Borges brings back for this game.

Formation. I was wrong yesterday when I said that the teams plays primarily under center. Most of the game, the Hokies were in the shotgun with three and four receivers. They rarely used fullbacks, both in the shotgun and under center. There were occasional H-backs, but for the most part, this was a shotgun, one-back set with three or four wide receivers and/or a tight end.

Power running. The Hokies use a lot of power running schemes, which means pulling linemen. They frequently used the pin and pull (usually from under center) that Michigan deployed with little success this year. They were a little more successful than Michigan was, but not that much more. The offensive line wasn't great at zone or power blocking, and weren't able to create a ton of lanes to run through.

Option running. However, the Hokies used the inverted veer a lot in this game. Lumbering QB Logan Thomas was able to gain a whole ton of yards on the inverted veer. It was, however, the only real option play they ran all game. They used it frequently in the red zone and a few times elsewhere, but rarely if ever did they use any other zone read play. The only other option running play that I can remember distinctly is a speed option that was usually at least moderately successful. I hold my position: Thomas is not much of a running threat. He was used a few different times on fourth and short on quarterback sneaks. Mike Martin and Co. are begging for this.

Ball security. This probably isn't a trend, but Thomas had a lot of trouble with ball security. He bobbled and fumbled one snap and failed to tuck the ball when he was pressured on another play and fumbled it. There was also another poor snap during the game that had to be recovered. I don't know if these are consistent problems, but they certainly were during this game.

Checkdowns. Thomas is a smart passer. When Miami goes into a prevent shell, he frequently found his running back coming out of the backfield. Virginia Tech looked to use their running backs frequently to chip block blitzers/rushers and then head out to the flats for checkdown passes. If Michigan doesn't assign someone to the VT running backs, this could get ugly. I'm worried about Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan in coverage.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Virginia Tech by the numbers

A quick reminder on coverage: Sugar Bowl coverage will be a lot like last year's Gator Bowl. After a general breakdown of the VT team, I'll cherry pick plays and games to figure them out schematically. Eventually, I'll make a prediction that will be wrong.

Rushing Offense
The Hokies rank 31st in rushing yards per game, averaging 188.69 yards. The rushing offense is led by junior David Wilson. Wilson is listed at 5'10", 205 pounds. Though he doesn't have a ton of breakaway speed, he's difficult to bring down, averaging 6.1 YPC and 125 yards per game.

The Hokies run a primarily pro-style offense. They take a lot of snaps from the shotgun, but they they don't run from it that frequently. When they do run from the shotgun, options looks are unlikely but they do happen. Sophomore starting QB Logan Thomas is listed at 6'6", 254 lbs and is used more as a decoy to keep defenses honest than an actual threat in the running game. Think of Steven Threet in Rodriguez's system. Sacks removed, Thomas has carried the ball 122 times for 569 yards (4.66 YPC) this season, which is a lot better than expected when you see him actually run. He lumbers down the field and doesn't have a lot of shake to him. His biggest asset is his size, which will allow him to get a few yards every time he carries, just by a function of falling forward.

Senior Josh Oglesby also gets carries. Oglesby has 90 carries this season and averages only 3.7 YPC. His long run on the season is 44 yards against Marshall. beyond that, he has a 31 yarder against Duke. Oglesby is a short-yardage back (5'11", 218 lbs) who won't get many carries in the bowl game. When he does, he's not a threat to do much but pick up short first downs.

However, the Hokies are a relatively run heavy team. On the season, they've run the ball 59% of the time. With a run/pass split like that and a 10-2 record, you'd expect the team to be more successful running the ball. However, Virginia Tech has won largely on the strength of their defense, about which more in a bit.

Passing Offense
The Hokie passing game isn't exceptional either. The Hokies have the 66th ranked passing offense, averaging 227.08 yards per game. Thomas is more of a prototypical passer, however: a lot of drop backs, good touch, strong arm. With a clean pocket, Thomas can do some damage against defenses, but if you get pressure (Hi Mr. Mattison), he's a little more erratic. Even still, Thomas is completing 59% of his passes this season and has a 19/9 TD/INT ratio. He's also averaging 7.71 YPA. Thomas is good-not-great.

His top two targets are senior wide receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale who have 57 and 52 receptions, respectively. Boykin averages 12.8 yards per catch and has 5 touchdowns, while Coale averages 15.1 yards per catch and has 3 touchdowns this season. Both receivers are of the 6'1"-6'2" mold. Neither is Michael Floyd nor overly dangerous deep threats. Since Thomas isn't the kind of run threat that Braxton Miller is, expect Michigan's secondary to return to form against the Hokies and throw a combination of zone and man against these receivers. Thankfully no one here is DeVier Posey.

The Hokies will run out 4-wide sets frequently. When not throwing the ball to Coale or Boykin, Thomas looks for junior Marcus Davis (29 receptions, 499 yards, 5 TDs), junior D.J. Coles (34 receptions, 449 yards, 3 TDs), and senior tight end Chris Grager (14 catches, 186 yards, 2 TDs, in only 8 games).

Offense Overall
The Hokie offense shouldn't be too challenging for Michigan's defense. With a mediocre passing game and a good but unimpressive run game, the defense should be able to get Virginia Tech in long down and distance scenarios when Mattison can bring pressure. They also have a decent kicking game, converting 14/20 field goals. In total, the Hokies come in as the 38th total offense and 55th scoring offense rankings. If Ohio State was the defense getting caught off guard, anything short of that should see the defense turn in its usual performance from this season.

Rushing Defense
The Hokies defense is another story. Virginia Tech has the 17th ranked rushing defense allowing only 107.77 yards per game. Not many teams have moved the ball on them that well. Georgia Tech put up 243 yards on the Hokies in 49 carries, but that's to be expected from the Yellow Jackets offense. The only team to beat VT, Clemson (twice), had mediocre days against the Hokie defense: the first times the teams met, Clemson rushed for 119 yards on 35 carries, but in the ACC title game, the Tigers rushed for 217 yards on 45 carries. Miami (FL) had the best game against the Hokies rushing defense by chalking up 236 yards on 28 carries (6.2 YPC). For what it's worth, this is one of the games I've earmarked to rewatch given that Jacory Harris probably has the closest skillset to Denard's of any of Virginia Tech's opponents.

The Hokies leading tackler is a.... safety. Their second leading tackler is a... safety. Their third leading tackler is a... cornerback. Their fifth leading tackler is a.... cornerback. These are not encouraging numbers for a run defense. The Hokies run a 4-3 defensive front and four of their top five tacklers are in the secondary. It's not until you get to Tariq Edwards at linebacker that any of the Hokies front seven show up in the top five tacklers on the team. I'm going to have to watch more games, but this seems like a not very good way to support the 17th ranked run defense. It also means the team is probably susceptible against the pass which...

Passing Defense
The Hokies rank 13th in pass efficiency defense but 41st in total pass defense. Where the Hokies succeed against the pass is in getting pressure. Eight different Virginia Tech defenders have more than one sack, led by sophomore defensive ends James Gayle (7 sacks) and J.R. Collins (6 sacks). Cornerback Kyle Fuller has 4.5 sacks, linebacker Bruce Taylor has 5 sacks, nose tackle Derrick Hopkins has 3 sacks, and the aforementioned Tariq Edwards has 2.5 sacks. The Hokies are tied for 11th in sacks nationally and it's clear why. They bring pressure from all over the field.

The team also has 15 interceptions, most of which I would guess are pressure dependent. All of the Hokies top-five tacklers each have at least one interception, led by junior cornerback Jayron Hosley with three. This pass defense's statistical profile (good pass efficiency defense, lots of yards allowed) holds with all of this: this is an aggressive blitzing defense that thrives on sacks, pressure, and turnovers to succeed. Screens, quick passes, and counters are probably going to hurt this defense.

Overall Defense
The Hokie defense's greatest attribute is its ability to generate turnovers. As mentioned above, the defense has recorded 15 interceptions, but they also have 5 fumble recoveries, putting them 29th in turnover margin this season. This is a young defense, populated mostly by sophomores (there's only one senior starter to six sophomores; the rest are juniors). With Denard's newfound ability to scramble, it will be interesting to see how aggressive this team can be against Michigan. Their top two sack leaders are both defensive ends who, if they play undisciplined gap defense, could open huge lanes for Denard to run through.

The secondary, meanwhile, appears to blitz frequently and force quarterbacks to throw off balance a lot. This has all the makings of a Good Denard vs. Evil Denard kind of game. If he can avoid the mistakes that the Hokie defense has thrived on all season, he should be able to get receivers matched up against safeties and linebackers. This is a big if, though, given the Hokies success with this brand of football all season.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ohio formation notes

Outside of the inverted veer that Michigan ran semi-successfully against Ohio State, there wasn't a whole ton to take note of schematically. There were a few alignments that made me furious or at least made me question what the coaching staff was doing. First up:

Screen passes
I think this is it. This is the last time I complain about Michigan's lack of receiver screens. But this almost made my head explode:

Michigan actually would throw one of their play action, throwback screens on this play, but the play action seems like a waste of time. Count the defenders: you can see all 11 of Ohio State's and yet only two of them are even in the vicinity of Michigan's three stacked receivers. If a defense aligns like this, Denard should take one step from under center and throw it to the back receiver. Instead, the team fakes the play action and Gallon takes a step toward the line of scrimmage before fading back to catch the pass.

I don't know, man. Borges has done basically everything right this year save ignoring screen passes. There's almost no way that he will implement these passes in the bowl game or next year, but that doesn't mean I won't be infuriated when Michigan doesn't throw it. Consider this my final comment on this though.

Defensive line alignment
I mentioned this earlier in the year with regard to the defense's okie package, but Michigan seemed to be tipping its hand with the alignment of its defensive linemen:
Another thing to note is the pre-snap alignment of Ryan, who is lined up close to a yard behind the other defensive linemen:
Though I'm not positive, I think Ryan or Roh has done this before. It's something to watch going forward. If the defensive ends continue lining up too far from the line of scrimmage on the zone drops, it will tip off the blitz and coverage to opposing QBs. It didn't here, and I'm not sure if it's noticeable enough in real time, but it looks to me like it is. Ryan's helmet is a full yard off the line of scrimmage. If opposing linemen start picking up on this pre-snap, they can tip off the quarterbacks to a likely zone blitz. It will also help them in pass protection.
Michigan's defensive linemen have continued to line up like this even when they're not dropping off into coverage:

Look at how much closer to the ball Mike Martin is than all of the other defensive linemen. I'm at the point where I just don't understand this. It's too egregious and frequent to just be a mistake, but I don't understand the rationale for lining up this far from the line of scrimmage. It looks like it might give the linemen a better angle to slant into the play, but it doesn't seem like that's what's actually happening here. If anyone has any idea why the defensive linemen who line up this far from the LOS, other than They Weren't Supposed To, let me know.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Blocking issues on the inverted veer

Yesterday, I broke down Denard's long touchdown run against Ohio State but had trouble identifying who he was reading on the play. It was either the weakside linebacker or the middle linebacker, the latter of which seemed unlikely, and the former was blocked by pulling guard Patrick Omameh. Brian from MGoBlog clarified in the comments that Denard was reading the weakside linebacker who was mistakenly blocked.
He should be reading Shazier, #10, and he makes the right read. Omameh screwed up by blocking the guy the play options off.
Michigan used the same zone read play a number of times throughout the game, but interestingly, the pulling lineman (in the play below Michael Schofield) appeared to have the same problem identifying who he was supposed to block. This time, Denard could not Denard the unblocked defender and Michigan lost what could have been another huge gain.

Michigan comes out in a three-wide set with twins to Denard's right, and Kevin Koger lined up as an H-back. Fitz Toussaint is in the backfield with Denard. Ohio State is in a 4-3 nickel look.

As the ball is snapped, right tackle Mark Huyge leaves the strongside defensive end unblocked and releases to the second level. Koger is responsible for blocking the strongisde end. Schofield begins to pull across the formation. The rest of the defensive line down blocks.

At the mesh point, Denard is reading the playside linebacker (circled in red). Schofield is pulling across the formation and should ignore the playside linebacker and head upfield to block the Buckeye safety...

...but he doesn't, instead blocking the linebacker that Denard was optioning off of. The Buckeye safety (circled in red) who Schofield was supposed to block is now standing between Denard and Awesome.

Denard sees this and tries to cut outside.

He is unsuccessful.

Ten-man football etc etc. If Schofield blocks the proper defender here, Denard is running 91 yards for a touchdown. Instead, he's tackled for a two-yard gain. For me, this isn't quite as frustrating as when Michigan fails to run from under center. This seems like a repetition issue. Neither Omameh or Schofield have practiced this blocking scheme as much as they probably should, and pulling across the formation and finding the right defender to block is probably one of those things that just takes getting used to.

That said ARGHHH. Block the right guy. I wonder what goes through Denard's mind during a play like this. "Yes, yes, got'em. Remember, take a knee. Troll Tebow. Chest bump. Hoke Point." Tackled. If Al Borges starts integrating this play into the offense next year and the offensive line gets their blocking assignments in order, this will be a fierce rushing attack, possibly on par with the 2010 Rodriguez-led team. This kind of play is both encouraging and discouraging. I'll take it.

UPDATE. MGoBlog has video of this play that clarifies a question in the comments about whether or not Denard made the right read (he did).

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Long Denard TD vs. Ohio

Remember that time you beat Ohio? That was awesome.

So yeah, Michigan beat Ohio and that ruled. But they also did some things during the game that they hadn't showed throughout the season, the most effective of which was a zone read by Denard and Co. that MGoBlog long ago coined the inverted veer. Though Brian acknowledges that it isn't a veer at all, I'm not really sure what to call it. Given the pulling guard (as we'll see), maybe inverted power zone? I don't know, that sounds wordy. Maybe will stick with inverted veer. In any case...

Michigan comes out in a three-wide (twins to the top of the screen), two-back set. Ohio State is in a 4-3 under (hey!). Before the snap, you can see a blitz coming from the weakside cornerback (bottom of the screen). He'll attempt to time the snap but jumps a little early.

As the ball is snapped, Michigan's offensive line begins to zone block to the right. Patrick Omameh will pull across to the weakside of the formation. Ohio State's defensive line is slanting to the strongside, so Omameh gets caught up in the wash a little bit. His pull isn't clean. Fullback Stephen Hopkins is heading upfield to block the blitzing cornerback.

At the mesh point, I'm not really sure who Denard is reading. He is either reading the middle or weakside linebacker. Omameh unearths himself from the offensive line and continues to pull.

As Fitz Toussaint comes out of the mesh point, Denard pulls the ball, but I'm not sure why. If he's reading the middle linebacker (#6 in the middle of the screen), he should hand the ball off, but I'm not sure that's who he's reading. If he's reading the weakside linebacker (just below #6), I suppose he should pull the ball because he's further outside (?). Regardless, Denard pulls the ball.

Omameh pulls across the formation to block the weakside linebacker leaving Denard in space against the middle linebacker. This goes about as expected...


Denard bounces outside behind Omameh and gets to the sideline for a touchdown.

Lesson: Denard is better than you. Probably. Despite the outcome, I'm not sure if he made the proper read here. With Omameh pulling to block the weakside linebacker, it seems like Denard is reading the middle linebacker who diagnoses the play and is in position to make a tackle. But then Denard Denards him and runs for a touchdown. Regardless, Michigan didn't use this play all year until Borges unleashed it against Ohio State. There frankly weren't many new plays that the team showed on either side of the ball against the Buckeyes but they few that were deployed (this one specifically) were wildly effective.

Anyone with any insight into what Denard's read is here would be appreciated.

Monday, December 5, 2011

2012 Sugar Bowl: Michigan vs. Virginia Tech

And so it is: Michigan will face Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl on January 3. As the game approaches, content will be similar to that of last year's Gator Bowl. Now I'll begin the arduous process of downloading and rewatching a bunch of worthless Virginia Tech games from this season.

I also haven't forgotten about the Ohio State post-game. Throughout this week, I'll do the usual play breakdown and analysis. Virginia Tech extensive preview will begin next week.

All coverage of the game can be found at the Bowl Games page.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Those Who Stay Will Be Champions

Jeff Sainlar |
At halftime against Ohio State, I used the word embarrassing. I hadn't used that word about Michigan football since the 2009 Penn State game when, walking out of the stadium after a 35-10 shellacking at the hands of the #13 team in the country, I felt it was embarrassing that a 5-2 outfit--with only an overtime, road loss to MSU and a frustrating late road loss to Iowa--would be beaten that badly. Michigan's first-half defense against the Buckeyes was the worst it had been all season. The team allowed Braxton Miller to throw for a lot of yards and run for a lot of yards and let receivers frolic in the daisy fields of Michigan's endzones that prior to the season Greg Mattison had put a picket fence around with a worn wooden sign that read "Wolverines Only".

In retrospect, a 5-7 Michigan team had no business beating that Daryll Clark-led Penn State unit. And in reality, the first-half defense against Ohio State wasn't as bad as it seemed. The Buckeyes benefited from good field position thanks to a Denard fumble, setting up a 31-yard touchdown drive. Otherwise, Michigan blew a few coverages because they loaded up against the run and, for one of the first times this season, Miller made a defense pay for exploiting his obvious weaknesses. Those blown coverages were ugly but holding Dan Herron to 37 yards on 15 carries speaks for itself. So the does defense's first safety in 170 years.

Mattison didn't try to outscheme Ohio State. The Buckeyes had one obvious weakness and Mattison was willing to bet that his players would be able handle that weakness without any fail safe. This is how your cornerbacks get beaten on double moves for 50-yard touchdown passes. Without safety help over the top, this sort of thing happens unless you're on Revis Island. The minor outlying islands of Countess and Floyd appear to have quarterly ferries that shuttle receivers to greener pastures. This was a gamble, but given Ohio State's meager rushing numbers and Miller's still up-and-down day, it was a gamble that probably paid off.

Al Borges, on the other hand, was sitting on some of his best stuff until the Buckeyes came to town. That Koger touchdown was 100% Al Borges' Diabolical Machinations and the frequently deployed zone read that saw Denard head upfield instead of to the weakside was gift wrapped for Ohio State. Denard's best day of the season and Fitz Toussaint's 6.0 YPC performance were no mistake.

This was never going to be easy, or at least it shouldn't have been. Of course it featured the worst overturned touchdown of the season when Michigan had put the game away. Of course the team took 25 yards in penalties the following play when it looked like they had gotten into the endzone a second time. But Ohio State is Ohio State and they spiked the ball on 3rd and 6 with 45 seconds remaining. This is The Game. Things like this define the rivalry, and for the first time in too long, Michigan gets to celebrate the offseason the right way.

  • Congratulations to the seniors who deserved this game for all of the shit they've been through the last four years. Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.
  • You could see how much this game meant to Toussaint. An Ohio kid without an Ohio State scholarship offer, he had something to prove in this game. It's unfortunately that the final, clinching non-touchdown was called back because he deserved to get into the endzone.
  • Lordy, the non-touchdown. Every Michigan fan knew that it would be how Michigan lost its eighth straight to the Buckeyes. Michigan had the game put away until it inexplicably didn't. I have no idea how you can overturn that call. The two available angles showed differing opinions. Conclusive evidence yadda yadda. Water under the bridge, I guess.
  • Mattison using the okie package on the final drive was terrifying. I like that his version of prevent defense includes zone blitzing, but I do not like that his version of prevent defense doesn't appear to prevent anything. You have to have safety help over the top. I'll sit down with Mattison over a cup of tea and discuss my displeasure.
  • Denard had his best game of the season. He properly pulled the ball on zone reads and threw the ball better than he has all season. He still had a few frustrating runs where he tried bouncing outside, but these are minor complaints when his statline reads 170 yards on 26 carries.
There won't be many posts this week. I'm out of town for a conference for my day job until Wednesday. I'll probably have some play breakdowns on Friday and early next week, and as bowl season approaches, you can expect similar coverage to that of last year's Gator Bowl.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Preview: Ohio 2011

Ohio (6-5) vs. #15 Michigan (9-2)
The Big House
Kickoff 12:00 pm EST
Forecast: Low 50s, 50% chance of rain

Last week
#21 Penn State 20 - Ohio State 14. Last week, Ohio State continued their season of futility with a loss to Penn State. Rather than hilariously losing to Purdue in overtime after a late botched extra point, Ohio State lost after falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter and never climbing back into the game. The offense could muster only 289 yards and allowed Penn State's anemic offense to put up 327, though both teams were held scoreless in the second half.

Ohio State star senior receiver DeVier Posey played his first game and caught four passes for 66 yards, but that wasn't enough to bolster another awful passing day from Braxton Miller (7/17, 83 yards, 4.9 YPA, 1 TD). Miller had a decent day on the ground, rushing 18 times for 105 yards and Dan Herron averaged 4.2 YPC on 18 carries.

On the other side of the ball, Matt "Farvian Walk-On" McGloin wasn't much better (just watching this guy play this season makes me break out in hives; how did Michigan's defense make him actually look like Favre last year? Oh, nevermind). McGloin went 10/18 for 88 yards and 1 INT. Stephon Green did most of the damage on the ground, averaging 5.8 YPC on 16 carries while Silas Redd averaged 7.9 YPC on 8 carries. The thing that stuck out during the game was just how bad Ohio State's linebackers were against the run. It appears they attended the Obi Ezeh school of gap filling. PSU's running backs were finding holes at the line of scrimmage and no linebackers in sight. The hope is this continues because, well, dang.

#16 Nebraska 17 - #18 Michigan 45. Game column. Michigan followed up a dominating defensive performance against offensive-line-challenged Illinois with another great game against Nebraska, limiting one of the better running attacks in the country to 4.5 YPC on 31 carries. More impressively, the defense was barely on the field, whether it was from Nebraska special team turnovers or the 3/13 performance on third down. Infamous duck thrower Taylor Martinez was as advertised: ducky. He was 9/23 for 122 yards and 1 TD but looked awful getting there. He can't be totally blamed:

That's a run play, but Michigan's defensive line was getting that sort of penetration all game. Martinez was only sacked a handful of times but constantly had pressure in his face.

On offense, Denard scrambled, which was the unit's biggest revelation. When he wasn't dropping dimes to Martavious Odoms in the back of the endzone, Denard was scampering through a vacated middle of the field as Nebraska's secondary played exclusively man coverage. Unfortunately, he was indecisive on many of those runs, turning what should have been a big day into a mediocre 3.6 YPC day on 23 carries. Fitz Toussaint picked up the slack, though, averaging 4.8 YPC on 29 carries.

Offense vs. Ohio State
Though Ohio State has been universally awful this season, their one bright spot is defensively where they rank about where you'd expect an Ohio State team: 42nd in rushing defense, 35th in pass efficiency defense, 16th in total defense, and 14th in scoring defense. Aside from the rushing defense numbers, that sounds about right. Those numbers are largely because of defensive end John Simon. Short of Whitney Mercilus, Simon will be the best defensive end Michigan faces this year. The matchup between him and Mark Huyge in pass protection looms large, but any time I say something like that, Huyge comes through with a competent effort. To date Simon has 13.5 TFL and 6 sacks.

The other dangerman on Ohio State's defense is defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins whose numbers are similarly harrowing: 10 TFL, 3 sacks. He's not quite as terrifying, however, as the strength of Michigan's offensive line is David Molk on the interior.

The linebackers, as previously mentioned, are suspect. None of them have particularly great numbers (their starting linebackers combine for 6 sacks and 11.5 TFL). Ohio State is a prototypical cover-2 defense that doesn't blitz a ton, so those numbers aren't totally unexpected, but their ability to fill in run support was terrible against Penn State. Given that the team is 42nd in run defense, it's been that way for much of the year.

With the strength of Michigan's offensive line and the lack of discipline from the Buckeye linebackers, Fitz Toussaint and Denard should find plenty of room to run between the tackles in this game. Chances are the Buckeyes will load the box with their strong safety making it difficult to bounce runs to the outside, but Michigan should average solidly in the 4.5-5.5 YPC range.

Through the air, we'll see. It's expected to rain, which probably favors Ohio State (Miller can't throw anyway, so this makes Michigan's offense a bit more one dimensional), but if the weather holds up, the Buckeye secondary isn't all that harrowing. They're currently starting two juniors, a sophomore, and a redshirt freshman. They've accounted for 7 interceptions between them, which isn't spectacular. More interestingly, the safeties (Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett) are the #3 and #4 tacklers on the team, respectively, which lends credence to the linebacker-suck theory.

Per usual, this comes down to Good Denard vs. Evil Denard. Borges has shown a few new passing concepts in the last few weeks that have all had good results. Expect at least one or two new formations and route combination that pick up good yardage. If it's raining and both teams are having trouble throwing the ball, Evil Denard will likely rear his head a few times. Pressure off the edge from Simon or up the middle from Hankins will probably cause a few errant throws, but I don't expect Michigan's passing game to be significantly worse against the Buckeyes than it was against Illinois or Nebraska.

Defense vs. Ohio State: Where the LOLephants roam
Anyone who has watched the Buckeyes this year knows that the offense is barely functional. Watching Braxton Miller throw the ball is basically a redux of Terrelle Pryor during his freshman year: lots of armpunts, terribly inaccurate, and rarely effective. Given the current state of Michigan's secondary, chances are Ohio State will forgo passing the ball as much as possible. Floyd and Countess have been too good in coverage and Miller too bad passing for this to make a dramatic swing during this game.

Third and long will be interesting. In the last few weeks, Mattison has unleashed hell with Michigan's "okie" package, but Miller is a better athlete than Nathan Scheelhaase or Taylor Martinez and is better at escaping pressure than both. Fortunately, Michigan's zone blitzing is the kind of scheme that can confuse a young quarterback--especially one prone to scrambling--and force him into the strength of the defense. Expect at least a few moments when you say to yourself, "awesome blitz call" during this game. Simply put, Miller is not a threat through the air, even with the recent return of Posey, who Floyd will be Snuggie-ing all day.

The run game is where the Buckeyes will do the most damage. Miller's aforementioned athleticism will cause the team problems, but I'm not sure how many more than Scheelhaase and Martinez. Again, were this earlier in the season, I'd be worried about the edge discipline of Jake Ryan and Craig Roh, but in the last few weeks, Michigan has largely ironed those out. Per usual, Michigan will try to play contain on Miller and force a handoff to whatever running back is on the field.

That RB is likely to be senior Dan "Boom" Herron, he of TatGate fame. Herron has played in only five games to date but has accumulated 556 yards (5.2 YPC) and 2 TDs. He's a rumbling back (5'10", 205 lbs) that plays like a poor man's Beanie Wells. He's got some speed, but he makes most of his yards carrying the pile and running over defenders.

The Buckeye running game has really excelled because of their offensive line and fullback Zach Boren (yes, that Boren). The interior of the line is fierce, led by senior center Michael Brewster and the return of Mike Adams at tackle gives Ohio State possibly the best offensive line in the Big Ten. Were Michigan's defensive line not currently Swiss cheesing teams (see above), this would be a bigger worry. The real concern will be Michigan's linebackers filling the proper holes and reacting on time. I can already envision a few 20-yard runs after Desmond Morgan gets flattened by Boren, but if Demens and Co. can hold up against an aggressive, downhill running game, the Buckeye offense will be nonexistent.

It's really hard to see Ohio State moving the ball at all. They haven't been able to all season and with Michigan's defense playing its best two games of the season in the previous two weeks, I can't see that trend changing. Miller is a dynamic athlete and he'll be a terror to defend against in the next few years, but he's not there this season. The Buckeye passing game is barely functional and Michigan's secondary is good enough to shut it down. With Ohio State forced to exclusively run the ball, Ryan, Roh, and Kovacs will be left to clean up the option runs. This will not be too much of a problem.

On the other side of the ball, Michigan's run game is going to be extremely variable. Runs will likely go for either zero yards or 10 yards. Given how poor the Buckeye linebackers are, if Toussaint and Denard can make it past the defensive line, they won't see anyone until they run into the safeties downfield. Depending on the weather, the passing game may be a non-factor. Regardless, expect a run/pass split like we've seen the last few games.

Ohio State 13 - Michigan 23

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Nebraska's scrape exchange

Against Michigan, Nebraska used the scrape exchange defensive playcall to defend Michigan's zone read. We saw Rodriguez toy with countering this a few times, usually using a pulling H-back to block the unblocked defensive end and the weakside tackle to block the scraping linebacker. Borges has been using more two-back sets to the same effect, one time busting Fitz Toussaint for a 10-yard gain. What's really interesting to me on this play is what the unblocked Nebraska defensive end does.

Michigan is in a basic two-back set with three wide receivers. Toussaint is to Denard's left and Stephen Hopkins is to Denard's right. Nebraska is in a nickel formation.

As the ball is snapped, the weakside defensive end is left unblocked (bottom of the screen).

Despite being unblocked, the weakside defensive end actually grabs on to Taylor Lewan (you can actually see his arm grabbing the side of Lewan) and restricts him from getting to the second level to block a linebacker. This also creates a log jam on the strongside of the field. Hopkins is running across the formation, to kick out any defender that that might crash down on the handoff.

At the mesh point, Lewan, who is being held by the defensive end, decides to block him and push him downfield. The weakside Nebraska linebacker has scraped over the top of the play and is playing contain on Denard.

Denard properly hands the ball off. However, Toussaint is running into a mass of bodies, in large part due to the Nebraska defensive end who engaged Lewan. The key here is Hopkins who is still pulling across the formation and going to engage the weakside linebacker that forced Denard to hand the ball off.

Hopkins engages and seals the linebacker to the outside. Lewan is trucking the Nebraska defensive end downfield. Toussaint, being a smart, patient running, sees this hole open up and cuts back to the weakside of the play.

Toussaint hits the hole and won't be tackled for 10 yards by a safety. (So maybe Hopkins gets away with a hold here, but so did the Nebraska defensive end in my opinion.)

Toussaint is probably the only Michigan running back that makes this play. His ability to delay and find the proper hole is something Michigan hasn't had since at least Mike Hart (and frankly, I think Toussaint does it better than Hart). But Michigan's response to the Nebraska scrape exchange also enables this play. Without Hopkins pulling across the formation to block Nebraska's weakside linebacker, that hole doesn't open up for Toussaint to run through.