Where Have You Gone Open Receivers?

by Mark Edwards

We’ve all heard it before when the 20/20 hindsight groups breakdown Michigan’s 2017 passing game.  The blame started with Wilton Speight, then moved to the offensive line and then the lack of a dominant run game which eliminated quality play action passing.  The honest, blunt truth is that the Michigan passing game has held back this team all season.

Sure, there have been flashes of efficiency like Florida’s Tarik Black deep ball and Chris Evans running wheel routes out of the backfield.  Those are good things to see but the Michigan attack has been far too inconsistent this season.  But if we just stop at the 20/20 view that Michigan is struggling to throw the ball, we are selling ourselves short of true analysis.

Whether it be Big Ten Network, the local newspaper writers or the ESPN staff, none of them have dug deeper to see how the passing game has changed from year one of Harbaugh to year three of Har-ball.  When Jim Harbaugh replaced Brady Hoke, he brought Jedd Fisch on board as the passing game coordinator.  We were impressed by Fisch’s credentials of having worked for Steve Spurrier to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  If 2017 has proven anything, I think those credentials continue to impress so many followers of college football.

When Fisch left for UCLA, Jim Harbaugh went to the NFL and hired Pep Hamilton as his passing game coordinator.  Due to the playcalling style of the offensive staff, we have to believe that Hamilton is in the same exact position that Fisch held in 2015 & 2016.

So what’s the difference?

2015 & 2016 – It was always something new and unique

In the first two years of the Harbaugh Era, film study shows us a great propensity to throw the ball downfield and a premium was placed on creative play design.  I acknowledge that Michigan had two NFL rostered wide receivers and the best tight end in college football who will at some point make his NFL debut.  With that being said, Michigan didn’t just say, “Go win the 1-on-1 matchup.”  That was not the approach of the Fisch-led passing game.

I have pulled two clips to show you that by mid-season of 2015, Michigan was running pass schemes that broke keys for defensive teams.  Defenses “key” up what Michigan has shown them by assigning different defenders to react based on movements from the Michigan offensive personnel.

In our first example, Fisch against BYU knows that the Cougar linebackers are keying the running back movements.  While there are many ways to combat this offensively, Fisch designed a double-screen look while letting Tight End (and now Fullback) Khalid Hill to basically be “left alone.”

It’s not just the execution of the play, it’s how the design turned the defensive coaching staff at BYU into liars for their players…albeit just for one play.  Fisch was showing new wrinkles weekly and it made Michigan really difficult to prepare for.

In the second example, you see Michigan run play action to the left and Rudock boots back to his right.  It is very similar to Brian Griese in 1997.  The intricacy of the design is that the TE starts his customary drag across the field.  As the Northwestern secondary recognizes the movement, Jake Butt plants his foot and redirects to the left which is not some the Wildcats had seen.

Why was the play so successful?  Was it scheme or athletes?  I would argue that it’s 100% scheme and that has to go to Fisch.  When you design pass routes to break “keys”, you will find open space for receivers (even tight ends) to work in.

2017 – A NFL Approach

With the addition of Pep Hamilton, Michigan’s 2017 passing game is well-grounded in solid football theory.  Anyone who argues that it’s not is just plain goofy and deserves to be on the C’mon Man segment before Monday Night Football.  However, as you look at this year’s passing game, there is a CLEAR philosophical difference between that of the former passing coordinator.

Pep Hamilton came to Michigan from the Cleveland Browns.  He is a really good coach and I believe he is a good teacher of the game.  The NFL game is so different because there is parity in the talent around the league.  Any team can win on any given Sunday…even the Browns (I think).  The NFL passing game comes down to one thing.  Match ups.  Where the 2015-16 offense had great players AND an evolving week-to-week scheme, the 2017 offense is built on winning the match up.

The problem is that Michigan isn’t ready to win the 1-on-1 match up.  Their best option to win that match up is TE Zach Gentry versus a linebacker.  However, that has not shown up in a down-the-field manner.  So we can deduce that the short-range design of the NFL passing schemes is what we see from 2017 Michigan.

In our first example, you see a TD pass from Speight to Grant Perry vs. Cincinnati on a “Layers” concept.  The route is a shallow cross out of a four-wide set.  How is this NFL like?  Substitute Julian Edelman for Perry and it looks like the Patriots.  Does Perry win the route?  Yes.  Have we seen it since?  No.  It’s not a design-based play, it’s a player A vs. player B play.  Michigan wins a few of those but the victories have been very infrequent.

You can see that Hamilton puts Perry and Donovan Peoples-Jones mirror each other across the field horizontally.  This allows the tight ends to play outside/deeper down th efield and is a staple of the ’12 personnel.’

In this second example from last week’s game, you see a classic “Mesh” concept.  Two receivers run shallow crosses with a 10-yard dig behind it.  This is where you see Michigan with Gentry and McKeon play a lot of snaps in the passing game.  However, if you substitute NFL caliber tight ends and slots for the Michigan personnel, now it’s about who can beat the defender.

Michigan is very successful with the “Mesh” concept and actually used three tight ends.  Michigan actually forced Maryland to bust a zone coverage.  But once again, match ups dictate the day.

In conclusion, the major differences are the coaching philosophy of how to scheme a collegiate passing game.  Fisch believed in the scheme exacerbating the defensive personnel while Hamilton has said, “Get great athletes in space and they will be defenders who aren’t quite as fast.”

For Michigan to win the final two regular season games of 2017, I think the nuances of 2015-16 will need to appear because I am not convinced that you will see multiple match ups that Michigan will win consistently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Game Prediction: Michigan @ Wisconsin

College Gameday: An ESPN tradition since 1993. This week Rece Davis, Lee Corso and the rest of the crew will be headed back to Madison, Wisconsin, where the Wolverines of Michigan will take on the Wisconsin Badgers. What helmet or mascot head will Corso put on this week?

Wisconsin is coming into this game with an unblemished 10-0 record and the number five ranking in the latest CFB Playoff poll, released this past Tuesday. Michigan, on the other hand, is ranked 24th in the newest poll with an 8-2 record.

This game has big implications for both teams, albeit a little larger for the Badgers. A win for them adds a quality W to their resume, which many people around the country feel they are sorely lacking. It also will strengthen their case to get into the playoff.

Michigan is heading into this one having reeled of three straight wins in the Big Ten (vs. Rutgers, vs. Minnesota, at Maryland) and has got to be feeling good about how they’ve played for the most part. The run game has really stepped up and the defense is still playing at an extremely high level.

I believe there are two key players that will decide the outcome of this game, one from each side.

Jonathan Taylor, the explosive freshman running back for Wisconsin, comes into this game with over 1,500 yards on the ground and 12 rushing touchdowns. He’s also averaging close to seven yards a carry and has gotten stronger and better each game. He is a sneaky, dark horse, Heisman candidate, especially if the Badgers can run the table. Will Michigan’s defense be up to the tall task of slowing Taylor down?

As for the Michigan side, I think it will come down to the play of redshirt freshman QB Brandon Peters. While he has only attempted 46 passes so far, he has thrown four TDs to zero interceptions. But he hasn’t gone up against the stiffest of competition, Wisconsin will be his toughest test to date. I believe Michigan will try to get the ground game going, but you cannot be one-dimensional and Peters will have to complete big throws, especially on third down. Will he be up to the job of hitting his receivers when the time calls for it?

Now onto the prediction. I think this will be a good, close game for the most part and will be a toss-up. While most people are probably choosing the home team to pull it out, I think the visiting Victors may surprise some folks. But I am going to take a line from the legendary Lee Corso and say “Give me that Badger!”

Wisconsin 24, Michigan 20.

Can Michigan Win Their Next Two?

Jim Harbaugh’s 8-2 Michigan Wolverines are currently on a three-game win streak (Rutgers, Minnesota, Maryland), all in which they beat by two or more possessions. Redshirt freshman QB, Brandon Peters, has seen the start in two of the last three games, but was given significant playing time against Rutgers after struggles from John O’Korn.

Peters through three games: (28 for 46, 329 yards, 4 touchdowns, 60.9 completion percentage, 7.15 yards per attempt, long: 35).

The run game has also been lifted since Peters stepped under center; the two biggest contributors to the latest emergence of the rushing attack are both sophomores, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans.

Higdon this season: (129 attempts, 854 yards, 6.6 yards per carry, 10 touchdowns, long: 77); Evans this season: (104 attempts, 569 yards, 5.5 yards per carry, 6 touchdowns, long: 67)

The quality of defenses in the past three games haven’t exactly been A-list, but it’s nice to finally see Michigan establish the identity they’ve been looking for. This is just what this team needs before playing in this two-game skid against top teams, undefeated Wisconsin and an Ohio State team coming off an absolute rout over Michigan State.

There were concerns in the 2nd half of the Maryland matchup on Saturday; despite winning in convincing fashion, 35-10, the Terps were able to outgain Michigan in total yards (340-305). It was evident that Michigan took their foot off the gas coming out of the locker room into the 3rd quarter. Maryland was also able to outscore the Wolverines in the 2nd half, 10-7, went on a 10-0 run deep into the fourth quarter.

Should Michigan fans worry about their incapability to put a stake in Maryland yesterday, or are they simply over thinking it?

Either way, the schedule faces its most difficult consecutive weeks to date. Michigan still has a sliver of a chance to win the East, but I’d imagine the realistic goal for this team is what’s in front of them, finishing the regular season 10-2.

Since 2006, Michigan is 0-15 against top 25 ranked teams in road match-ups. The last two top ten ranked teams that Michigan has beaten? Both were against Wisconsin at home (2008, 2016).

This Saturday, Michigan will play the only undefeated team left in the conference, top 5 ranked Wisconsin. As of today, the Wolverines are just an 8.5 point spread underdog, which is awfully generous in my opinion. The Big Ten West front-runners have convincingly handled every team put in front of them this season, top wins over Northwestern and Iowa, who both cracked the CFP top 25 in week 11.

The following Saturday, November 25th, Michigan will host Ohio State in the Big House. The last time Michigan beat their rival was November 26th, 2011 in Ann Arbor when current Cincinnati head coach, Luke Fickell, was the interim head coach for the Buckeyes. The 21st century has not been a kind one for Michigan in regards to this rivalry, and if we’re being honest, it hasn’t been kind to Michigan for multiple reasons. Despite already having two losses with two more games left to play in the regular season, Ohio State has looked good for the most part this season and Michigan simply hasn’t.

The S&P probability is giving Michigan just an 8.7 percent chance to win the next two, a 41.6 percent chance to win just one of the next two, and a 49.7 percent chance to lose both and finish 8-4 on the regular season.

Michigan’s offense has been primarily executing, most especially in the run game, which is an important key for success in their next two games. Very crucial for this unit to build off the recent success and to stick with a similar game-plan which is a run-first, pass conservatively scheme, nothing too fancy.

There’s nothing that could lift a young quarterback’s confidence like coming off the bench and assisting in running the table for a Michigan team that was facing offensive struggles prior to him seeing the field. Brandon Peters is the more favorable candidate for the starting job in 2018, will likely have a competition against a likely healthy Wilton Speight. Win or lose the next two, Peters will gain experience and get a better feel for what type of intensity college football has to offer.

Don Brown’s defense has done their job in just about every week except for the Penn State game that displayed multiple schematic issues. Khaleke Hudson has been a significant play-maker for this unit in replacing Jabrill Peppers at the viper position. A young secondary that initially had some communication issues seems to now be hitting their stride, defensive backs like sophomores David Long and Lavert Hill are making names for themselves as of late.

There isn’t a whole lot of reason for odds-makers in Vegas to put any confidence into Michigan in the next two weeks. They’re underdogs this Saturday, and will surely be underdogs next week for the Ohio State game, the odds will be stacked against them.

As for a fan-base who has had quite the emotional roller-coaster with their beloved head coach, they crave these potential signature wins over Wisconsin on the road, and beating Ohio State at home. These wins would not only make Michigan fans believe in Harbaugh again, but it should also silence his doubters. One of the biggest issues that fans and anaylysts have had over Jim Harbaugh is his poor record against rivals thus far at Michigan, which is 1-4.

Winning out would lift Jim Harbaugh to his third consecutive ten win season at his alma mater and would be entering 2018 with a talented team and a confident, sophomore quarterback who has 6 games of experience under his belt. Even though Michigan’s chance at the Big Ten is highly an unlikely one, there’s still a lot at stake for the remainder of the season.

 

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” – Maryland

by Mark Edwards

This week’s edition of Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” will show the evolution of offensive football and why getting pressure on a quarterback can prove to be so difficult.  Any defensive coordinator will tell you that if you get a backup quarterback into the game (or in this case a 4th string quarterback), you dial up so much pressure that the quarterback’s inexperience becomes the 12th defender.

If that quarterback is leading a spread offensive team, offensive coordinators can do things to make that pressure really difficult to achieve.  Maryland’s game plan from the get go was to attack the edge of the defense and to utilize quick throws (i.e. tunnel screens, bubble screens, etc.) to protect the quarterback.

‘Ay, there’s the rub’ that presented itself to Don Brown yesterday.  So, how did he choose to attack this philosophy?  Early pressure from a 3-3 alignment.   This week’s pressure highlights new contributors, eye discipline and athleticism.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  3rd & 7, Maryland ball on their own 30 yard line

TIME:  11:34 left in the second quarter

WHY THIS SERIES: Michigan, already up 14-0, was presented with yet another chance to get the ball back in decent field position and deliver a potential knockout blow.  Maryland had yet to really do anything except throw a double pass back to the quarterback who dropped it.  This was the moment that the Michigan defense could take a strangle hold on the Maryland attack.

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FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Trips Right Packer (The #3 receiver on the trips side is on the line and is outflanked by two receivers who are off of the line)

MARYLAND PERSONNEL: 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  3-3

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:  Defensive end Rashan Gary (#3) is in a ghost 9 technique to the trips side while Maurice Hurst Jr. (#73) is in a 3-technique to the tight end side.  Chase Winovich (#15) is aligned in a 9-technique outside of the tight end.  The defensive ends are assigned to keep any run play “in the box,” which funnels the ball to the linebackers.  Michigan has three linebackers standing on the line, which is normally a sign that at least one of them is a part of the pressure.  Mike McCray (#9) is standing over the right guard while Josh Uche (#35) is over the center and viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) is standing over the top of the tight end.

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Notice that Devin Bush Jr. (#10) is six yards from the line of scrimmage and heavily shaded to the running back side.  The reason for that is if Maryland runs a speed option to the tight end side, Bush Jr. has to take the pitch back.  On the edge, Michigan cornerback David Long (#22) is in press coverage over the Packer alignment while safety Josh Metellus (#14) is four yards off of the #2 receiver.  Why are they not all in press alignment?  Michigan is anticipating crossing of the receivers.  If the defensive back are at the same depth, they will get picked off.  Go back and watch the Seahawks-Patriots Super Bowl final play.

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FRAME #2

What is Maryland doing here?  Maryland is going to run a tunnel screen to the #2 receiver, which is D.J. Moore.  They are also going to “flare” the RB to the top of the screen.  This should get Bush Jr. to vacate the middle of the field.

What has changed:  You can see that Michigan is not going to “bring the house” here.

Michigan’s pressure: This is actually just a four-man pressure that includes the defensive line and Josh Uche (#35).  Gary and WInovich are working around the edge of the offensive line while Uche and Hurst (#73) are going to run a cross stunt.  Uche is going to the A-gap to the boundary side of the center while Hurst is going to cross around Uche to the A-gap to the field (trips side).  The irony is that this pressure is designed to get Hurst to the quarterback.  Maryland’s lack of execution actually presents Michigan with the opportunity to get home quicker, which helps defeat the tunnel screen.

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FRAME #3

What is Maryland doing here?  The quarterback is looking to the RB flare to move the defense, which he does effectively  The right guard is already moving downfield to level 2, although there is nobody there to block.  The center is the problem.  He passes off Uche to the left guard.  That’s an issue when the left guard is still caught up with Hurst.  The #3 Packer alignment receiver has done a nice job of blocking David Long.

What has changed:  Uche is three yards from the quarterback and is unabated to his goal.

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Michigan’s pressure: This is a basic pressure.  Uche and Hurst are it.  Metellus (#14) is late to see the tunnel screen while McCray is spying the QB.  Hudson (#7) is in man-to-man with the tight end.

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FRAME #4

What is Maryland doing here?  They actually have a tunnel screen set up to be successful.  The right guard just has to block Metellus and the ball needs to be caught by Moore and Michigan has a problem on their hands.

What has changed:  Winovich has defeated the left tackle although this pressure is all about Josh Uche.

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Michigan’s pressure: Notice that Hurst has read the screen and is starting to retrace the line of scrimmage.  McCray (#9) is reading the QB’s eyes and moving into the potential passing lane.

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FRAME #5

What is Maryland doing here?  The quarterback has thrown the tunnel screen while being hit by Uche and Winovich.   Maryland’s center and left guard have also moved to level 2 to block downfield.

What has changed:  Besides for Uche and Winovich, Mike McCray is in position to intercept the pass.  Due to the pressure, the ball is thrown into the ground and not into McCray’s hands.

Michigan’s pressure: Michigan showed a six-man pressure and only brought a four-man pressure.  The spread offense makes six-man pressures really difficult to execute.  If you had seen the free safety (Tyree Kinnel #23) in the screen before the snap, that would’ve been a clue that Michigan was bring more that four people.

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FRAME #6

Incomplete pass.  Quarterback on the ground.  Punt it!

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FINAL THOUGHT:  It’s been refreshing to see a rotation of young players early in games.  This tells me that the young guys are earning it in practice and that’s so positive heading forward.  The usage of the 3-3 alignment also lets Don Brown get more speed on the field/  I expect to see a heavy dose of the 4-2 package this week at Wisconsin.

 

 

 

Michigan’s Narrow Chance for the Big Ten East

Don’t look now, but it looks as if the Michigan offense might have found an identity to roll with from here on out. I know it’s only Rutgers and Minnesota, but it just feels like from the moment (RS) freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, came off the bench, it’s given new life to this offense despite leaning heavily on the run game against Minnesota.

This type of offensive emergence gives this team their best chance to defy Vegas odds, and run the regular season table to win ten games for the third straight season.

Suffering losses from two in-division foes has already nearly sealed any chance of a Big Ten Championship game apperance for the Wolverines. There’s still a slight chance, so don’t completely count out the unranked 7-2 Michigan squad, but have I expressed how slight their chances truly are? Let me break it down:

  • Michigan needs to win out, beating Maryland (lost to Rutgers), undefeated no. 8 Wisconsin, and no. 13 Ohio State (whom is coming off a 55-24 loss to Iowa on the road which brought them down 7 spots in the CFP rankings).
  • No. 13 Ohio State will need to beat no. 12 Michigan State in Columbus.
  • No. 12 Michigan State will need to lose to either Maryland, or Rutgers (not very likely).
  • No. 14 Penn State will need to lose to Rutgers, Nebraska, or Maryland (again, doesn’t seem likely).

This is the one, sole, unlikely series of events that will need to unfold in order for Michigan to win their first Big Ten East division title. It’s asking for a complete miracle for this program and for this fan base; just know that in college football, anything really is possible.

What’s important for Jim Harbaugh and his team: focus on what they can control, which is to win out, one game at a time. Maryland is on this team’s mind as of this week, Wisconsin is on deck.

May the odds of this ill-probable shot at a 2017 Big Ten Championship forever be in favor of the youthful Michigan Wolverines.

For the fans who are currently complaining about a 7-2 Michigan team being snubbed of a ranking in the week 11 CFP poll: I have to ask what is there to be bitter about? Looking at it from a realistic fan/observer’s standpoint, Michigan lacks a win over an above .500 team, in other words they do not deserve to be ranked at this point in time. They have two games coming up where they’ll have the opportunity to earn wins which will almost certainly earn them a top 25 spot.

“This one’s for you, DJ!” – Maryland Game Prediction

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by Mark Edwards

Let’s be honest…Michigan Football has suffered from some painful losses in the last 10 years.  I’m sure everybody is now thinking of their list.  The Horror, The Snap, etc…they’re all real.  For me, there was no bigger gut punch that the 2015 visit to Michigan Stadium by Ohio State.  I entered the Big House thinking that this Michigan team was ready to compete (and in some respects still believe that they were ready).  After the game, D.J. “Benedict Arnold” Durkin took the Maryland job.  There’s no fault in that. Then the details started to leak and I’m still livid two years later.  Durkin met with Maryland during the week of prep for the Buckeyes.  Listen, here’s Durkin’s response to the request if he asks me:

“I’m honored that you would think enough of me to reach out to measure my interest.  But please know this…I coach at Michigan.  We have Ohio State this week.  I’d love to talk to you but you have to WAIT until after the game Saturday.  I’m singularly focused on giving this team all that I have.  If you want to at Maryland, you will get that kind of focus, loyalty and attitude but I have one more week to give MICHIGAN all that I have.”

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Ironically, Durkin did none of that.  I know that Jim Harbaugh let him speak with Maryland but I find it almost impossible to believe that Bo would’ve done that.  I left the stadium that day livid with Durkin and my brother was telling me to calm down.  Matter of fact, he still is.  So this column is dedication to the guy who coined the phrase “Those who leave will be Terrapins” and that is DJ Durkin.  This one’s for you!

OFFENSE

Maryland has one of the worst pass defenses in the country (99th in the country).  So is Brandon Peters going to throw the ball all over the field on Saturday?  I don’t think that’s the plan.  Michigan, with the power running game, will employ the Higdon-Evans tandem to try to impose their will on the Terrapins.  Maryland has the 74th ranked rushing defense, which allows 174.8 yards per game on the ground.  I expect to see a balanced approach with Peters throwing 20-23 times.

On the ground, can Michigan continue to find success with their toss, counter, power and zone schemes?  I think they will but it won’t be “Minnesota type” success. This is the game where we find out what the plan is as we move to Wisconsin next week.  I was encouraged by the creativity of the TE screen last week and expect that we will see more wrinkles this week to take advantage of a Maryland scheme that Harbaugh knows all too well.

DEFENSE

Maryland could possibly play their 4th string quarterback on Saturday.  That alone has to have Don Brown & Co. licking their chops.  If you haven’t seen Maryland play, WR D.J. Moore is “the guy.”  Let’s be honest, he’s a dude.  Everything Maryland wants to do will revolve around getting him the ball (i.e. WR slip screens, jet sweeps, possibly a wildcat run).  However, Maryland will be one dimensional because that is exactly what Don Brown wants an opponent to be. This isn’t the same Maryland offense that beat Texas in Austin in September.  They are beset by injuries and mostly at the QB position.

The strategy of the day is to blitz…A LOT!  Expect to see a lot of Devin Bush Jr., Khaleke Hudson and even CB David Long.

FINAL SCORE:  Michigan 42, Maryland 7

PICKS TO CLICK:  Offense – Mike Onwenu,  Defense – Maurice Hurst Jr.

CONFIDENCE LEVEL:  10

ONE THING THAT MAY SURPRISE:  Michigan have two 100 yard rushers and one of them isn’t named Evans or Higdon.

ONE THING THAT MAY DISAPPOINT: The punting situation will again be meh.  Brad Robbins, who in pregame launches punts to Mars, will fail to have a 40 yard net average.

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” – Minnesota

by Mark Edwards

Defensive football is an ever-changing strategy in terms of complexity.  When the spread offense was “invented” two decades ago, it inevitably forced defenses to account for so many components of one play.  From the days of the Bo Schembechler “5-2” to Lloyd Carr’s “4-3 Over” to Don Brown’s “3-3”, it’s all about taking away what the offenses of those eras want to do.  In the “Ten Year War” between Woody and Bo, you had to take away the fullback belly and then the option game.  Lloyd’s defenses needed to be able to handle the shotgun passing game.  Now, as we find ourselves with “Dr. Blitz” in Ann Arbor, never has a defense had to be so multiple in what they have to do on  a given play.

This column is all about “pressure.”  To the casual fan, the term “blitz” is what they think of when they see “pressure.”  In our ninth installment of this column, the reader has to know that there are “run pressures” and “pass pressures.”  Run pressures and stunts/movements/blitzes design to foil a running play.  These are fairly new in terms of designation because of the spread offense.   The pass pressures are the “go get to the QB” types of movements that almost always include a non-defensive lineman being included in the rush.  This week’s pressure is a “run pressure” that not only highlights the defense’s design but also the discipline that the Michigan Defense is playing with.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  1st & 10, Minnesota ball on Michigan’s 49 yard line

TIME:  12:47 left in the third quarter

WHY THIS SERIES:  With Michigan up 20-7 and having had to punt after receiving the second half kickoff, Minnesota made their way into Michigan territory.  This was the pivotal possession that could have seen the Gophers get within a score.  Never have the design and the discipline been so clearly on view for the 2017 Michigan Defense.

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FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Trio Flex Left (You have twin receivers to the field while the H back has motioned from right to left.)

MINEESOTA PERSONNEL: 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  4-2

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:  In this look before the ball has been snapped, we see that Michigan is in their four-man defensive line to combat the run heavy attack that Minnesota used.  Rashan Gary (#3) is in a 5-technique to the top of the screen while Maurice Hurst (#73) is in a 3-technique on that side as well.  You might ask “why are they shaded so heavily to the short side of the field?  The answer is that they are not setting the front based on where the ball is.  They are setting the front to be strong on the opposite side of the back.  Aubrey Solomon (#5) is in a 2-technique which is head up on the guard.  Chase Winovich (#15) is in a ghost 9 meaning that he is aligned on the outside shoulder of the “imaginary” tight end to the bottom of the screen (look at the endzone view and the H back *86).  Devin Bush Jr. (#10) has been faking a blitz and is in retreat back to normal linebacker depth.  Mike McCray (#9) and Khaleke Hudson (#7) are aligned at four yards from the ball and both have leverage on the play.  You can see the alignments in the picture below:

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Cornerbacks Lavert Hill (#24) and David Long (#22)  are in their press alignments.  Notice that safety Tyree Kinnel (#23) is the safety to the twins side and is rolled down a bit while Josh Metellus (#14) is deeper.  More on their depth later.

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FRAME #2

What has changed:  The ball still hasn’t snapped but as Bush Jr has dropped back to a middle linebacker alignment, you can see Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) start to come down toward the line of scrimmage.

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FRAME #3

What is Minnesota doing here?  Minnesota is running a “counter option” play.  Their offensive line is blocking an inside zone play to their right.  The H back is “arcing” to the outside linebacker.  The QB and RB have both stepped right and are now moving left.

What has changed:  Hudson is the key to the run pressure.  He is “free” off of the edge.  Winovich (#15) is unblocked and in great position to force the pitch, which he does.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hudson has entered the Minnesota backfield while the defensive line has played their technique and responded to the offensive line’s movement.  Notice Kinnel has backed up to normal safety depth while Metellus (top of screen) is running down hill to replace Hudson, who has vacated his pre-snap position to bring pressure.  Metellus is attempting to provide inside help to Lavert Hill on the top of the screen.

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FRAME #4

What is Minnesota doing here?  While the ball has been pitched, the offensive line is in decent shape.  The problem comes from the fact that the H-back has arced to the mike linebacker (Bush Jr #10).  This forces the slot receiver to try to “crack block” the force player, which is Mike McCray (#9).  As you can tell, he’s going to miss that block badly.

What has changed:  While Hudson is still coming off the short side, McCray is now running directly at the RB who is looking back for the pitch.

Michigan’s pressure:  It’s a Viper crush pressure on the short side with all kinds of technique and gap responsibility being shown out of Winovich, McCray and Bush to the wide side of the field.

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FRAME #5

What is Minnesota doing here?  Minnesota is demonstrating that in the option game, if you miss blocks on edge defenders, that’s where the play inevitably breaks down.

What has changed:  McCray has officially beaten the slot receiver while not allowing the RB to run around him.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hudson is still coming but notice that Winovich (#15) has redirected to become the inside-out player to “sandwich” the RB (with McCray being the other piece of bread).

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FRAME #6

What is Minnesota doing here?  They are losing three yards.

What has changed:  Khaleke Hudson’s great effort has forced three Michigan defenders to converge on the ball carrier.

Michigan’s pressure:  The discipline/effort of the Michigan Defense is on full display as Kinnel (#23) is running the alley to get to the ball while Josh Metellus (#14) and Aubrey Soloman (#5) are in pursuit from the back side.  The only disappointing thing is the Devin Bush Jr. (#10) has been driven five yards by the H back.

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FRAME #7

Gang Tackle!  Regardless of the defensive eras listed in the intro, gang tackling is still a desired activity by the best defenses.  The Spread Offense tries to get the one-on-one matchup so this obviously isn’t what they are trying to do.

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FINAL THOUGHT:  Hudson gave great effort all night long and it would’ve been easy to pick a play where he made the “one-on-one” play.  In Don Brown’s system, gap accountability and discipline are key.  The work of McCray, Winovich and the pursuit players is the thing that enables Michigan to have an elite defense.

QUESTIONS/COMMENTS:  If you have any questions or comments, please let me know at markedwardsum@yahoo.com.