Monday, October 13, 2014

Coaching Points: PSU vs Michigan, 2014

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
PSU O: Mostly 12 and 11 personnel. Split TEs out a lot. Zone based run scheme.
Michigan D: 4-3 Over with some Under mixed in.

UM O: Mostly 11 personnel.
PSU D: 4-3 Over or Nickel with an Over Front

Michigan Run Game vs PSU Box
PSU's DL deserves a ton of credit, and I'll get to them in a second. But Hull is a player.

I love the way Hull runs to the ball. No ball is too far away for him to make a play, and he finds a way to get through wash almost no matter what and manages to take angles directly to the ball almost every time. It's a very instinctual thing, and you can tell he just feels what is happening around him. He's not the most athletic, but the way he gets to the ball is a sight to see. I went back on replay with the sole purpose of watching him throughout the a play. I recommend others do it to if they want to learn about how to play MIKE.

Now, PSU's DL very active. They are good at keeping LBs clean, but as much as that, they do a great job disengaging from blockers and getting a hat in the gap. It's all the hands. They have very violent, active hands. It's why they knock down passes, but also physical to get off blocks. When they don't make tackle, they at least make contact and make it hard for runners to be clean into the 2nd level. Without a lot of momentum, the Penn State defense can swarm ball carriers and really didn't allow Michigan's OL to even get into the 2nd level much, let alone handle the first level.

This lead to these notes:

  • On screen pass, Braden has to do better to suck Zettell in and keep his hands down; Gardner needs to do better finding his target and moving to a cleaner throwing window. Instead, Zettell feels himself being sucked in, stops, and does a great job catching the ball at its highest point.
  • Kalis with a form tackle on his pull. Gets called for holding.
  • Hull did a great job seeing the pull and shooting right behind it to make tackle for a loss.
  • Don't like empty QB draws with a true run threat at QB in this game. Eyes are on DG to run, PSU DL is winning LOS, so at least give Gardner a lead blocker to get to the 2nd level LB and allow DG diagnose the defense a bit. As is, DL won LOS and two LBs got free shot at DG.
  • PSU has really won between the tackles because of the DL and Hull. Michigan switched RBs to work to attack the edge more, get more speed and work away from the DL.
Among other notes, but that pretty much gives you a pretty good feel for who won that match-up.

Michigan Pass Attack vs PSU Coverage

Michigan seemed to want to attack the intermediate to the outside in this game. That's typically in an effort to make the reads easier for the QB. I thought Gardner made some questionable decisions in the first half and got better in the 2nd half. Interestingly, in the 1st half, the Michigan WRs bailed Gardner out a bit. Michigan TD saw the safety wait for the ball instaed of attack it. That allowed Funchess to adjust and get underneath it and catch it. Darboh made a few catches where guys like Jordan Lucas had good coverage, good leverage, and DG still made the throw only to be bailed out. Then when Gardner started reading the coverage a bit better, the WRs started dropping the ball.

I've really felt that the scramble drill has been poor this year for Michigan. Receivers not getting open after breaking off routes by following the scramble rules. Now, DG tends to look down at the pass rush when he starts to escape, so when they do successfully get open they aren't always getting the ball, but now he's not getting them the ball and there is a lack of threat. The PSU DL did a good job forcing DG up in the pocket, but not up through the pocket cleanly. They were able to control the Michigan OL and force DG to try to poke and pike his way through the OL and that ended up getting them sacks as the pocket squeezed down.

One thing I still don't see from Funchess is a feel for when to stop and attack the ball. He tends to keep on drifting through his route and tries to turn his body to make the catch behind him instead of working back to the ball. It's the difference between Gallon last year and Funchess this year. Funchess makes some spectacular looking catches because of it, but could make more catches if he was more comfortable when to stop and work back to the ball. This is my feeling for why Funchess isn't thrown more fade routes, not only because he doesn't have a feel for when to do the back shoulder fade, but even simply the fade outside of the RZ.

And then Michigan continues to run tunnel screens to Funchess that PSU crashed on. Lack of a vertical threat is the reason. They need to throw outside and long to Funchess, but as said above, he isn't great with fade/back shoulder fade feel yet. Hinders that. And PSU is well schooled with footwork to come down hard, and they did a good job beating some blocks on the outside.

PSU watched their tape and called some line stunts that got home in pass situations as well. TEX stunts and end under tackle stunts have killed Michigan all year, particularly on the right side of their line. Got home clean again on a 3rd and long and allowed PSU to rush Gardner in some instances.

Penn State Rush Attack vs Michigan's Box
PSU ran a bit to start the game from 11 personnel. Michigan wasn't as solid up front as they have been most of the season and got sealed a little bit on a bit of a delay zone. The LBs weren't allowed to flow really well when the OL was able to handle the 1st level well and forced Michigan to make some adjustments to this look.

PSU had success running the fake jet with the inside zone. Really sucked out the LBs and forced the DBs to rotate without discipline which opened up some creases. First time they go to jet sweep they cought Wormley peaking inside, but Ross did great job stretching the play outside and stopping it for a yard. Ross had a really nice day on the edge, also stopping a bubble screen by leveraging it very well and blowing up a block on an outside run.

Likewise, Penn State ran the counter draw quite a bit for some success. Get the LBs flowing hard in the Over front or nickel, get the DL to start fighting roll side, and gap them on the backside by sealing them playside. Take advantage of poor pursuit angles and an aggressive front. Those were the two plays where PSU was able to pick up some yards earlier in the game.

Penn State Passing Game vs Michigan Coverage
Hack does a good job moving in the pocket. He isn't very mobile but he moves well in the pocket. He has as strong of an arm as you'll find in college football. When he steps into a throw and has his mechanics he'll make any throw with great accuracy. But on the move, when knocking him off his landmark/spot, when forcing him to move backward or laterally, he makes a lot of really bad decisions. Combined with PSU poor protection (particularly inside), that's why you see teams really attacking up the interior of the OL, to force Hack into those situations.

But when Hackenburg is set, well, you get his 1st TD, which was a rope into pretty good coverage. Actually had a better matchup inside of that where it appeared a DE was taking Jesse James through the seam; James got deep had gotten inside of him in the seam and was more open.

PSU splits TEs wide a lot. Michigan has followed TEs with safeties in coverage rather than always having the CBs on the outside. PSU started realizing that in 2nd half and attacking it with quick throws, then went away from it quite a bit after a couple drives. I'm guessing Michigan made some sort of adjustment to their coverage to not allow such match up issues out of this and that's why PSU went away from it, because that's where PSU had a lot of quick pass game success.

Interesting to see Michigan make an adjustment to their bunch coverage after being picked on it last week. Moved Ryan out on the up-man to jam the TE who was the up-man in the set. Had CBs running banjo and help over top from safety. Part of this is because PSU kept to their standard personnel, so Michigan could get away with it (rather than running 10 or 11 personnel), but still interesting to see them go to more of a diamond look with more help over the top. Ryan was better on his jam and didn't give the TE a good release, and the underneath coverage was tighter. PSU didn't go to it much.

When Michigan went to Cover 3, Michigan played it way too soft on the outside, bailing very early. The intermediate out has been wide open too easily time and time again, and PSU hit it often and on time.

Michigan has been following the motion man almost all year. PSU attacked it a few times in the first half like teams have been doing all year. But Michigan stopped following the receiver across the formation in the 2nd half, and instead juust rotated coverage. Some of this may be a change from Cover 1 to more of a zone, but PSU clearly watched tape and tried to utilize zoom motion quite a bit. But Michigan's adjustment in coverage put PSU in positions Hack didn't feel comfortable making initial read that he thought was going to be there. With PSU's OL, that means he can't get off reads fast enough before being pressured.

Lastly, with how good Lewis has been, and how much Michigan has struggled to be consistent at every other DB position in coverage, I'm a bit surprised teams aren't lining up and running the concepts they want away from where Lewis lines up from down-to-down. It's not that he's necessarily a shut down corner, just that Michigan has had weaknesses elsewhere. Throw at him if you get through your reads and dictate that's the receiver you want to throw at, but otherwise set up your schemes to be run more frequently at the other Michigan DBs.

Finish Plays
Michigan needs to tackle better, wrap up, keep eyes up and on target, and keep feet moving. Instead the head goes down and you start grasping at air. Michigan blitzes confused the PSU OL in pass and run situations, but Michigan didn't finish plays. Hack did a nice job keeping feet moving though and moving in what little pocket he has, but plays were there to be finished. Bolden still struggles taking angles in space.

Likewise, PSU also didn't always finish plays, but mostly through the air. PSU tackled well, but you get a situation like the Funchess TD, where Funchess actually ran a double move corner-post. But the DBs played their leverage correctly, with the CB outside and the Safety inside and over the top. They didn't bite on the corner, and had good coverage. But then they didn't finish the play.

Not finishing the plays on the ground for Michigan or through the air for PSU was a theme on the night in an otherwise defensive battle.

PSU did a good job going to back to back high-tempo plays, catching Michigan safeties off the LOS and easy WR screens. Helps the weak OL a bit and acts as an extension of the run play.

Contrasting this, if every time you hurry up and then sneak it, you need to actually get the sneak off quickly before the defense can align. Get to the LOS and snap the ball. By "hurrying up" and then being slow to snap the ball, PSU aligned with a man in every gap and easily won the LOS. The hurry up and the QB sneak were not bad decisions, and actually were good play calls if executed on time given the situation, but by allowing PSU to align they became bad situations. If Michigan isn't going to snap the ball quick enough, I'd like them to huddle up in these situations or run a one or two man vertical pass attack concept to take advantage of the front. But by huddling up as you always do, you likely see PSU align as they normally align on a 3rd/4th and 1/2, and then you can sneak it against a more advantageous front.


  • PSU DL was great, controlled LOS and was very violent and active with their hands
  • Hull is a very instinctual LB who I recommend people watch if they want to know how to play the MIKE position
  • DG made some poor throws early and the WRs bailed him out, then some really good throws late and the WRs dropped it.
  • PSU had success with TEX twists from the DL, especially on the right side.
  • Funchess needs to have a better feel for when to attack the ball by coming back to it.
  • PSU had success with misdirection (sprint draw and fake jet sweep) in the run game to get the DL to try to win "playside" and get the LBs flowing hard. Michigan adjusted later and got better play from LBs (better angles) and more disruptive at the DL level.
  • Michigan was able to get good pressure up the interior to force Hack from his drop point. When forced from his set point he tends to make bad decisions on the move. Michigan DEs were active and did a good job bull rushing or swimming outside OTs to force Hack to feel the pressure coming off the edge.
  • PSU attacked early with a few things, like splitting TEs wide and attack match-up issues or running zoom motion. But Michigan made some adjustments to counter that (as well as bunch sets that they were attacked with last week) to hold it down later in the game.
  • Both teams struggled to finish plays that were there to be finished, PSU on defense through the air, and Michigan tackling at the point of attack.

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