At the snap, Michigan's middle and weakside linebackers blitz. Central Michigan shows a zone read, leaving the weakside defensive end (Keith Heitzman) unblocked.
Heitzman crashes on the handoff, but doesn't overcommit, about which more next. Furman and Countess begin to head downfield as the CMU slot receiver bows out for a flare screen. This is a triple option look that Michigan deployed often with Rich Rodriguez. Often, after a mesh point in the backfield, Denard had the option to sling the ball outside to his slot receiver. However, the Chippewas tweak the receiver route slightly.
At this point, Furman dismisses his coverage assignment (highlighted). Cam Gordon is scraping over the top of the play to attack the QB run, and even Countess is crashing from the corner to defend the run.
What Furman doesn't realize is that CMU's slot receiver has turned the flare screen into a wheel route and is running upfield undefended (legs highlighted). Countess, being picked by the outside receiver, recognizes that Niznak is pulling up to throw.
As Niznak releases the ball, Countess has actually broken on the pass, recognizing the open defender. On first look, I thought Niznak threw a duck, but if you watch closely, you can see Countess actually tip the ball.
The ball falls harmlessly to the turf. Huzzah.
First, it should be noted that two of CMU's linemen were five yards downfield before the pass was thrown. If it was completed, a flag should have been thrown for illegal man downfield. But the real takeaway is Countess' play recognition and reaction. Not only did he realize that there was a triple option in play here, but he recovered for Furman who had blown his coverage. I was disappointed with the secondary in zone coverage, but don't remember Countess being the culprit on (m)any of those plays.
I've been high on Countess since he came to Michigan, and his junior season debut held nothing but upside. With unproven safeties, having elite cornerbacks will be crucial to relieving pressure and diminishing big plays. Next week, Countess will see more action, which will give us a better indication with how he'll fare this season. But this was a promising start.