Monday, September 29, 2014

Coaching Points: Minnesota vs Michigan, 2014

Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images
Michigan Offense: Mostly 12 personnel, mixed with 11 personnel. Mostly zone blocking scheme with Power O mixed in. Simple route concepts in pass game.
Michigan Defense: Mix of Cover 1 and Cover 4 mostly

Minnesota Offense: Mostly 12 and 22 personnel. Zone based team. More under center than normal. PA heavy in pass game.
Minnesota Defense: Mix of Cover 1 and Cover 4

Author's note
Other "Coaching Points" posts will be later this week and more detailed. I'm also sorry for Minnesota fans in advance that they won't get the focus they normally would. I came down with the flu Friday night, forgot to set my DVR, fought my way to the game despite me feeling like it was 40 degrees outside on a beautiful 80 degree day, and did not manage to get as much detail as I had hoped. What's below is some of what I was able to take away based on one live viewing during a game I was generally dehydrated and feeling like crap. My apologies. And for those of you wanting to here my take on "concussion-gate" or whatever you want to call it, you can move along, I won't be discussing it in this post.

Minnesota Coverage
A looked to me like Minnesota mixed between Cover 1 and Cover 4, with most of their success coming from Cover 4. FWIW, I believe Gardner's TD drive in the 4th quarter was with Minnesota playing either a soft Cover 3 or Cover 4 shell, which is why all the intermediate routes to the sideline were wide open.

Anyway, Michigan tried running a ton of standard cover 4 beaters, specifically this:

That's a standard smash concept paired with a Mills concept, FWIW. It either takes advantage of the safety leverage with the corner route (and holds the CB with the underneath hitch) or forces the safety to cover the whole field in single coverage on the post.

What Minnesota did was they played their safeties off in coverage and didn't commit to routes until the receivers broke on them. What this does is it allows Minnesota to break down on any routes and mitigates the big play. This does leave a window for passes to be completed in the intermediate depth if they are thrown accurately and on time, but against the Michigan QB situation, they were willing to take that risk. Michigan tried attacking with dig routes several times, but often without success as Minnesota was able to come down and break them up.

Here's the deal with what I saw: a good QB and good WRs throws these corner routes in this situation. The receiver is technically open, he's well covered, but he has leverage with his route and an open void in the defense. The QB will attempt to flatten the route to the sideline with his throw, allowing the WR to work back to the football and get his body between the ball and the defender. This won't be completed every time, again, the coverage will be tight, but it's an open receiver.

The thing is, Michigan's QBs clearly weren't confident making this throw on time and on target, and so they looked at it and looked away from it very quickly. With these single move routes, it's going to be difficult for a QB to find an open receiver against this Minnesota coverage if they are going to be that conservative in their approach.

Still, it's not difficult to utilize double moves with essentially the same concept. Here's utilizing the same concept but with double moves. The double moves force the defense to commit to their coverage and initial route, and forces them to come down on a route as if they don't, the initial route will be wide open. That means that on the 2nd break you get more separation; ie, you're more open.

Michigan didn't threaten this, they didn't threaten Minnesota to commit to their coverage, and pretty much Minnesota did exactly what they wanted on the back end all day. The next section may be part of the reason why.

Michigan O-Line
Michigan's OL was an obvious problem all day. Green missed some cuts that I saw from my view point, but the OL was beat up in the run game and in protection my the Minnesota DL. They failed to keep the DL's hands down, they got beat too easily multiple times, and they allowed Minnesota to two-gap them in run situations.

Screen Attack
Minnesota killed Michigan all day with screens. The DL was not good at recognizing screen releases (one of their only major negatives of the day on an otherwise good performance from my perspective) and then the LBs did a poor job getting down quick enough and then making plays in space. Cobb has good footwork and is harder to tackle in space than most give him credit for (he gets mislabeled as merely a power back at times), but as a LB, you have to be able to come down under control better if you can't get there as the ball arrives.

Most of Cobb's production game through the screen game, and Ryan struggled there. This put Ryan in space and he was late diagnosing it (and the DL didn't do a great job forcing the throws to go higher or take longer by retracing, allowing Ryan to come down on the RB). Ryan needs to do a better job understanding how to come up and attack this. You come hard if you can get to the RB immediately, but if he can make a move you have to come down under control because he can two-way you in the middle of the field. That's where Ryan struggled.

PA Coverage
Minnesota killed Michigan on short high-low concepts off of bootleg play action, often times picking on the safety covering the TE. Michigan struggle with post-snap adjustments (high-low check) and with appropriate leverage given the situation, too often keeping their eyes in the backfield. Minnesota did a good job going back to it time and again until Michigan decided to adjust appropriately (don't chase the RB with everyone on the backside: do your job and expect the player next to you to his) late in the 4th.

That's all I have given the circumstances. I can answer questions if anyone has them and can try to recollect my thoughts for either team for those that have them. Sorry I can't give more in the near-term.


  1. I just have one question...

    The thing that really scares me right now is the lack of progress, our team seems to be (to my eye) regressing or stalling. PSU is doing better after being hit with massive sanctions and a huge scandal.

    I'm not trying to bash Hoke or the staff, and certainly not the players. But it seems like we have good recruits, coaches with a solid or way above average resume, complete support from the athletic department, and really poor play. The team seems to come out and just flat out struggle at everything, and it seems kind of listless. The lack of tackling horrified me.

    I guess I'm wondering if somehow Hoke has lost this team, or kept their love but lost the ability to impart football knowledge?

    1. I definitely get that feeling. To me, Michigan had no spark on the sideline on Saturday. It certainly felt like at times some of the coaches's knowledge wasn't making it to the players (for whatever reason, could be many reasons really), but to me, this looks like a team that has stopped believing, both in each other and in the coaches.

  2. P.S.
    THanks for starting this blog. I do enjoy the other blogs, but their authors and contributors can get way to vitriolic for my taste. This seems like a much more reasonable place on the 'net.

  3. I was quite surprised that after Smith scored the first TD he pretty much evaporated from the game plan.

    1. I thought Smith had a couple weaker reads from my perspective, but there was no denying that he was running very hard. I was also surprised they went back to Green to start the 2nd half. I understood going to Hayes more later as they went more pass heavy, but thought they could have kept the defense a little more honest with a bit more of Smith.

  4. I am interested in your opinion of our talent level. It seems that no one is capable of creating any big plays on either side of the ball. With the explosion of HS rating services have we made the mistake of chasing the number of stars beside a kid's name as opposed to his ability to be a football player. The prevailing view seems to be we are loaded with players but they aren't being developed. I'm not sure I agree. Either way it falls on the coaching staff. But a true clear evaluation is needed to move forward.

    1. I think Michigan has guys that are individually talented, I think you see it in the flashes they have. Even on the OL, they have guys with talent. But I think with the amount of really good athletes that are going D1, there really just isn't that much separation between the worst player going D1 and the best. That's a little hyperbole, but the gap between nominal talent is small, though real in many cases.

      Technique is the biggest thing that can mitigate and overcome the small talent gap. Obviously that player development, and getting players to consistently execute their techniques and assignments has been an issue for Hoke's staff.

      I think another problem is I think Michigan has a lot of individually good talents, but they don't have a lot of great talents. Lots of 4-star guys but not the top of the line guys. And a lot of the guys they recruited are kind of the same types. So you get a lot of overlap, and a lot of that overlap isn't the high level burst types.

    2. Thanks for the response. Again I enjoy being able to ask a question on your blog and getting a reasoned well thought out response backed by facts. The other blogs are getting unreadable with the venom being spewed

  5. Thanks for the post, great stuff as always.

    When you say the coaches' knowledge wasn't making it to the players on the field, are you saying the staff does a poor job adjusting? The players are not good at understanding their basic responsibilities? The staff might know what's wrong but can't communicate it clearly?

    Not looking for condemnation of Hoke, but am curious. To an amateur like myself, I feel we are constantly out-coached. Not out-prepared, we start each game quite well; but we are the ones who can't seem to adjust while our three 'better' opponents seem to quickly assess and adapt.

    1. What I'm trying to say with that is essentially that I believe the coaches have the knowledge themselves, but they are struggling teaching that knowledge to the players in such a way where they can execute it consistently.

      Maybe it's easier to think of it for a teacher. A middle school math teacher knows the math he's teaching (hopefully), the hard part of his job isn't knowing the math. The hard part of his job is presenting it and teaching it in such a way that his students can learn and utilize those math skills going forward.