Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Coaching Points: App St. vs Michigan, 2014

Bryan Fuller - MGoBlog

Offense: Single back 11 Personnel early; more 12 personnel as game went on. Split lots of TEs wide.
Defense: Blitz heavy Over/Even Nickel Cover 1; 3-3-5 on passing downs

Devin Gardner
Devin Gardner had a good game against very, very soft coverage. Still, the largest improvement I saw in Gardner was the timing with which he released the ball. Nussmeier's simplified keys and emphasis on Gardner understanding defenses helped him get the ball out on-time consistently in this game (a few late throws, but a half-step late rather than purely late). While I do think some of DG's mechanics have regressed a bit, they have done so in an effort to make his delivery more compact and consistent. Regressed is really the wrong word, but his mechanics aren't as optimal as the staff was previously trying to make it, but instead, allowing him to play within his own game in an effort to make his entire game more consistent.

I do think at times he tended to push the ball, and that lead to a few passes not being as accurate as they needed to be. Footwork still needs to improve. And the 2nd TD jump pass was just awkward, but you let it go when it gets there accurately and with plenty of time in this situation.

Nussmeier on the sideline
I'm on record as saying I prefer my OC in the booth up above. However, there was an instance in this game where you see the benefit of having the OC/QB coach on the field. On Gardner's third TD pass to Funchess, once DG returned to the sideline you saw Nussmeier coaching him. What he was saying was something along the lines of "nice TD, but that isn't the throw to make in that situation". Here's why, Gardner's read in that situation has to be on the CB defending Funchess and then immediately to the safety. A safety coming over the top is dangerous in that situation, and often times could lead to the worst possible thing: a turnover. It worked in this game because App St vs Funchess. But by being on the sideline, Nussmeier is able to be a bit more sincere and is able to communicate better with DG, and let it serve as a teaching moment.

Third and Long Draw
About the only fan consternation coming from Saturday was a draw call on third and long. Let me tell you, that was actually a very smart playcall in that situation. Now, sometimes the smartest playcall doesn't work out, but the thought behind that playcall was very good.

Here's how you have to look at it: it's 3rd and 12ish, Michigan is up 14-0 and has the ball near midfield. As a defensive coordinator, you're thinking that this is an opportunity to change momentum a bit and spark a big play, be that a turnover, a sack, or even just a hurry. Michigan's weakness in pass protection has been interior pressure, so as an OC, you take all this into account and reason that you have a QB with confidence that you want confident going forward, you know your teams weaknesses, and you understand how many defenses want to attack you right now. So as a play caller, you dial up an off-tackle lead draw. This allows the OL to let the defense inside of them on their interior twists and stunts, the draw allows the FB to arch block and seal any remaining second level spy inside, and you have what is likely a big play.

Now, App St didn't blitz in the situation, but it still would have resulted in a big play had the backside of the line was successful in their assignment. That was a smart play call.

Play Calling in General
I think all you can say is that they accomplished what they wanted out of the play calling. They stretched it laterally with some WR screens, they were able to clear out defenders and his on some deep crosses, they ran some digs, hitches, etc, that are simple but confident throws. They also ran inside zone, outside zone, and Power O. The only surprise for me was that they didn't run a RB screen at some point in the game to get it on film. I don't think Nussmeier is very confident that the OL is a good RB screen team yet, so this is the sort of early game you run it to get a game rep and to force ND to rep it, while knowing you're likely not to call it going forward. Given the competition, I don't think play calling was really a +/- type of thing, it was more about getting what you wanted out of the game, and I think Michigan did that.

Run Game
I thought Green hit the holes harder but at times failed to make the correct cuts. I thought Smith tended to have better vision but sometimes tip-toed into holes, which isn't really a great thing in a zone running scheme. Both lacked breakaway speed, but were able to have enough speed to get into the 3rd level. Improvement needs to continue, but it was a pretty good showing.

Here's my worry about the run game going forward. Michigan was not very successful running the IZ or Power in this game, and instead, most of their production game off of OZ, particularly to the right side. Being one sided isn't terrible if you can keep the defense honest enough to respect the run the opposite way and if the backside can still seal. The nice thing for Michigan is that they are quick but powerful on the backend (meaning they can seal), and powerful but not extremely quick on the right side. Outside zone seems nominal in that situation.

But this issue is that the Michigan offensive line didn't create movement on their own in the run game. The fact that they needed to go to OZ consistently to manufacture defensive movement (and the App St run defense was really bad, either taking themselves inside unnecessarily or just vacating to the edge) doesn't necessarily bode well against teams that have LBs more than 210. This team needs the inside run threat for their pass game and to make the OZ work for them. Run blocking still has a ways too go, but at least they were more consistent generating push on the OZ and getting into their assignments.

On a side note, while Williams still messed up some plays, he had more positive blocks from his TE position than I remember in a while.

Pass Protection
One sack, but were much improved in their leverage and were able to maintain inside leverage to allow DG to slide up in the pocket. Bigger and faster players running more complicated stunts still haven't been seen though.

While it was nice to see press coverage, there were still a few issues, particularly with safeties coming down in man coverage at times. Need to clean up that a bit and be a little tighter in the zones. At the end of the day, I think what stood out to me was how well the DBs came up and tackled. Being physical on the back end isn't just about press coverage, it's also about breaking on the ball hard and tackling in space. I thought Michigan looked much, much better in this regard in this game.

Michigan hurried the QB all day with a heavy dose of blitzes. A big part of that is the App St offensive style, which is also a reason Michigan didn't generate more sacks. But Michigan needs to be more gap sound. I saw a play where three players (a DT and two LBs) all rushed in the same gap. A weakness of the cover 1 scheme tends to be the weakside A/B gap run, and that's where Michigan got exposed a bit, even when the first string was on the field. That comes down to gap discipline.

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