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.


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