Monday, October 13, 2014

Coaching Points: Northwestern vs Minnesota, 2014

Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Minn O: Mostly 12/21 personnel, zone run, PA pass attack.
NU D: Losts of 4-3 Under

NU O: 11 personnel mostly zone run scheme with some gap/man counters.
Minn D: Mostly Cover 4 with some Cover 1 mixed in.

Minnesota Run Game vs Northwestern Box
Cobb is just very difficult to bring down on first contact. Great feet, balance, and pad level. Always falls forward. That said, Northwestern was able to bottle him up a bit, particularly after the first drive. On the first couple drives, I thought Northwestern's EMOL put himself in no man's land vs the read option - a position where they can't make a play on the keep or give. They started adjusting how they set vs the mesh point, and Minnesota pretty much went away from the read option after that.

In the first half, the Northwestern DL not doing a good job of being disruptive. It was too stagnant, stoped feet, didn't use hands to bother runner, and this allowed Minnesota to get into the 2nd level a little bit and allowed Cobb to get through first level clean. Now, they did hold up at the first level, which made it difficult for Minnesota's zone based scheme to really attack the LBs, who were really attacking downhill. The Wildcats were still held Minnesota in check in the 1st half, but in the 2nd half you saw much better and more violent hand usage by the Northwestern DL, and I thought that really helped constrict the gaps in the defensive front and didn't give Minnesota much room at all to run.

Interestingly, Minnesota went to Counter Power O w/ 6 minutes to go in 4th quarter for one of first times. NU bit really hard on down blocks as if trying to win across vs OZ, and a huge gap formed to run through for one of Cobb's biggest 2nd half runs.

One thing I didn't like from Minnesota was the package with Edwards on the end around. Minnesota ran it twice before giving the ball to Edwards, each time with success on the inside zone. They ran the end around in the 2nd half, predictably, and after Northwestern could address it on the sideline. Just because a package is installed, doesn't mean it needs to be run if Northwestern is still respecting the end around and not crashing on the inside zone. They didn't crash on the inside zone, and stopped the end around for a loss. What I'd like to see instead, in this sort of situation, is for Minnesota to go directly to the reverse. They can come back to the end around after that, but by showing the end around behind the IZ a few times, Northwestern will play that and the inside zone. But without showing the reverse look, the Northwestern defense should overflow and the reverse be open. Hit with the reverse, then the whole field is open and the end around can be effective.

Minnesota Pass Game vs Northwestern Coverage
Minnesota has based their pass game a lot on play action this year. When they got behind the chains they really struggled to convert first downs. Leidner stared down his receivers a bit and threw into traffic when he was forced to drop straight back. The play action really saw the Northwestern LBs work vertically forward and cleared out a lot of underneath space. The Northwestern DBs were also very quick to bail, so this allowed Minnesota to attack with the intermediate out (really a high-low Smash/China concept toward the sideline) with success in a lot of situations.

Interestingly, Minnesota ran very few man/gap blocked plays except on PA. But Power O PA is where they saw most of their deep pass success, rather than a slide/zone based protection. This really sold the run to Northwestern (the pulling guard pulled them forward) and Leidner was able to survey the field and throw just decently accurate passes and make sure the receivers were open before making the throws.

In contrast, on the first NU sack, Minnesota went to a slide protection. RG didn't bring his hands on his block, but instead kind of body bumped the DT. This allowed the DT to easily escape the block and get around and make the sack.

Northwestern Blitz/Attacking LB Scheme
I talked about Northwestern attacking with their LBs. They did some stunts and twists as well to make some of the OL assignments for Minnesota a bit more difficult. This backfired a bit in two situations.

First, on a very well designed TE screen. Northwestern shot a LB inside, which put a DE with coverage responsibility against a RB running a route. Minnesota faked a flare screen, which took the DE outside. But then the rest of the defense was able to get sealed inside, and Minnesota slipped the TE on a middle screen. Well designed play to take advantage of this.

Likewise, on a Minnesota passing TD to the RB, NU DE should have pealed off on the Double A gap blitz, but recognized the RB running his route it late. The DE got too far inside, and couldn't match up. This is all about eyes in that situation. Depending on your assignment, you need to understand where your eyes belong or where they should go first. In this situation, the DE's eyes should work to the RB right away so that he can peal off immediately. He likely isn't as athletic as the RB, so he needs to make this read quick to give himself a change. The DE didn't see the RB leaking until very late, and couldn't make up the ground.

Northwestern Run Game vs Minnesota Box
Minnesota played mostly Cover 4 in this game. I thought in the first half that the backside LB for Minnesota was not diagnosing plays quick enough. Need to read cloudy/clear and shoot aggressively, either over the top or shoot gap and flow to ball. The safety (nominally) will fill in on the backside at LB level, as a LB you need to respect that and trust the safety to do his assignment. Instead, the cutback was open for NU (particularly on outside zone) this game because the backside wasn't correctly flowing. This allowed a crease to form between the MIKE and the backside of the defense, and Northwestern attack that a bit.

Now, the DBs for Minnesota aren't without fault either. Minnesota did a better job adjusting their backside LB play in the 2nd half, and were more aggressive, as they should be. When the frontside DE got vertical and forced Northwestern to cut it back, now the LB was there if the RB flowed directly vertical. But if he cut it all the way back, the DBs needed to be there. The safeties, or the CB vs a nob adjustment, did not do a sufficient job constricting the back side gap and getting the the LB level. The CB particularly set himself well too far outside when he had cloud leverage (vs nob adjustment, basically when the CB is aligned to a closed, TE side without a WR). When the defense played as an entire unit, then the defense held Northwestern's run game in check.

Northwestern Pass Attack vs Minnesota Coverage
Siemien did very good with his footwork and understanding where to escape. He's still late and still starts looking down at his pressure at times, but he felt when to escape well in 2nd half. He also threw some darts, old unstoppable throw God a bit in this game. Very accurate at times throwing into very small windows. Got into a bit of a rhythm once he made the scramble throw to Prater.

NU ran a lot of trips and bunch sets which Minnesota struggled to correctly adjust to. Lots of banjo adjustment (lock on up man; outside CB take first outside, 2nd inside; inside CB/LB take first inside, 2nd outside). Murray struggled to play tight, worried about allowing over the top. Minnesota not understanding how to play tight within their adjustments to bunch, allowing too many releases where they want to go and too much cushion between levels of the defense and not getting in appropriate initial body position to break underneath routes. Especially on inward breaking routes, slants and digs, Northwestern attacked Minnesota a bit.

On drive with 4 min to go, Minnesota switched to a diamond adjustment against trips. Basically banjo underneath with help over top. This helped tighten coverage vs 3-WR sets and they really started getting into the inward breaking routes to stop some of the easier throws. This forced Siemian to not trust his initial reads quite so much. And Siemian was late on his last throw. Drag and follow concept, came off the drag way too early and worked back to it late. It was wide open early but threw it late and fading backward which forced ball to be thrown a little short.

Minnesota KR TD
NU leverage defender set up too wide and didn't constrict back to ball when he got to the return man's level. This widens the gap for the return man to run through. Worse, the Wildcats had two/three players in same lane inside (two in same lane, another very close to the same lane), and they were completely sealed inside on left return. This allowed Minnesota's return man to break through completely clean and get into the safeties before having to even make a move.


  • Northwestern was shooting LBs downhill. DL became more disruptive in 2nd half, really bottling up the run
  • This opened up things for play action behind the box defenders. Most of Minnesota's long pass plays came from Power O PA.
  • A lot of Northwestern's run success came from poor backside play from Minnesota, either LBs not flowing fast enough, or DBs not getting to the LB level on the backside
  • Seimian got into a bit of a rhythm and Minnesota struggled to adjust to trips and bunch sets a bit. Made a late adjustment to confuse Seimian a bit.

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