I imagine you've already got this one in the hopper, but I'd like to see a picture page on the speed option that went for the long TD. It is a counter to the zone read, right? What I mean is, when we line up with Denard in the gun and Vince Smith to his left, the zone read would have Smith go right with Denard having the option to keep it and go left. With the speed option from that same formation, the play goes right, which I think has to give us a numbers advantage since the D has to account for the potential of Denard keeping it on the read option and going left.My response was fairly simple: It's not a counter, necessarily, but it is another play that is based from the same initial setup. To wit:
I'm not sure that the speed option is really a "counter" (in a football sense) for anything. On a lot of those QB lead draws, Denard follows his RB (see, for example, the QB Oh Noes where Denard follows his back who acts as a lead blocker). This is, however, a variation of the QB lead draw, which will keep defenses guessing and force them to play fundamentally sound defense. The real key now will be how Borges tweaks these play calls. Making subtle adjustments to these QB lead draws/speed option/etc. are what keeps a defense guessing and, hopefully, guessing incorrectly. So if he can establish one or two more plays that begin with Denard following his RB to the playside, Borges can put in place plays like those QB Oh Noes that catch defenses cheating.(This is not a complex concept. A while ago at Dr. Saturday, Chris Brown showed how Brian Kelly begins all of his passing routes with vertical stems so as not to tip his hand to an opposing defense. This is the same basic formula applied to the passing spread.)
As we saw multiple times against Minnesota, Borges added another wrinkle to this structure with a counter draw. Ohio State used the same play against Michigan last year to devastating effect and it was one of those plays that had everyone asking why Rodriguez hadn't installed it in the Michigan offense yet. Enter Borges.
It's the first quarter on Michigan's second drive. The Wolverines are in a three-wide look with Mike Shaw to Denard's left. Minnesota is in a 4-3 over front.
As the ball is snapped, Denard and Shaw both take a step to their left, much like they would with the QB lead runs. However, Taylor Lewan is starting to pull around to the backside of the play.
Denard takes another step to his left but Shaw stops and will begin to head in the opposite direction. As you can see, all of the Gophers' linebackers have keyed on the QB lead play. The defenders are all flowing to the strongside of the field.
As Denard hands the ball off, you can see how out of position Minnesota's defenders are. They've all sold out on the QB carry and have flowed out of position. Lewan is continuing to pull to the weakside of the play where he will be a lead blocker. He is about to engage and double the weakside DE, which I think is the wrong play. If he turns the corner and heads upfield, he likely blocks the only defender capable of tackling Shaw.
As Shaw turns the corner, the weakside WR Jeremy Gallon flattens the Minnesota safety who has come up to defend the run. Lewan is flattening the weakside DE. You can see the legs of the final Gopher defender in the top left of the image. If Lewan heads upfield to block him instead, this is a touchdown.
The key to this play's success is how well Denard and Shaw sell the QB lead draw. Here are a few other shots from either QB carries or QB Oh Noes from this season and last:
In these images, the running back gets slightly more vertical than in the counter play above, but the principles are the same. In all of these, you can see the defensive line and linebackers flowing toward the play, often with sizable holes on the backside of the play. Lewan pulling across the play on the counter is a key to the linebackers, but I would be surprised if Borges doesn't tweak the play with that wrinkle involved to further confuse the defense.