Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Defending the option is hard

As a purely hypothetical exercise (because trying to assign blame in a realistic sense to anyone on the Michigan defense is silly), I wanted to look at the awesome triple option that Nebraska ran for their second touchdown on Saturday. You may remember it as the coolest fucking option play you've seen all year. You may not have remembered it so fondly if Michigan hadn't been shellacking Nebraska at the time, but rest assured, it still would've been the coolest play you've seen this season.

The play:
Nebraska has the ball on the three yard line and comes out in a basic shotgun formation: three-wide and two backs in the backfield. Michigan is in their 4-3 under formation. When the ball is snapped, Ryan Van Bergen is left unblocked:

In a typical option play, the quarterback would be reading the unblocked defensive end. On this play, I believe that Martinez is actually reading Kenny Demens. The Nebraska left guard is pulling around the formation to block Van Bergen.

The pulling guard (#77) engages Van Bergen. The slot receiver is sealing Jake Ryan to the inside of the field. Not pictured, Nebraska's playside wide receiver is trying to seal Blake Countess to the outside. This leaves Demens and Thomas Gordon unblocked. Demens is staying high rather than scraping over the play, which tells Martinez to hand the ball off.

At this point, Michigan is toast. Gordon is in space against a ball carrier and pitch man.

Duh. Touchdown.

If blame has to be assigned here, it's on Demens, but that's not really fair. The issue here is alignment and a brilliant playcall that you can't really gameplan for. But (technically) Demens needs to scrape over the top of the formation here because Kovacs, crashing on the backside of the play, has Martinez if he pulls the ball. But we're not blaming Demens for this. We're admiring how awesome this play is.


LJ said...

So, here's a question: even if Demens scrapes over to defend the playside here and Martinez keeps, how do they account for the unblocked strong safety? It seems like Kovacs would be able to blow up any keeper here. Does the play just not account for the backside safety being so close to the line? If Demens and scraped and Martinez kept, it seems like this would have been a certain loss unless Kovacs lost contain, which would be hard considering he started too far on the backside to realistically be able to chase the RB.

LJ said...

To reply to myself, I suppose maybe the keeper is designed to go up the middle, which would be vacated by Demens if he chased to the playside.

Chris Gaerig said...

You're right: the keeper would go up the middle where the linemen are down blocking.

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