Thursday, May 29, 2014

Inside the Playbook: Minnesota's Run Attack (Preview)


Minnesota is one of the most run heavy teams not only in the B1G, but in all of college football. And not only are they just heavy in terms of how much they run the football, but they are the true essence of a team that wants to be a powerful running force. The majority of their runs come between the tackles in the form of inside zone, Power O to the RB, or Power O from the QB. With so much power on the field though, they tend to lack the speed to threaten the edges. Their way of getting the football to the edge then, isn't by subbing in different personnel or by running WR screens, but utilizing in a variety of ways their WRs to run sweeps. Not only has this become prevalent in their offense, but they have used it very well to set up other runs as well. In this article, we will look quickly at the Golden Gophers base run game, and more how they work off of that to set up the rest of their playbook.

Power O
The base scheme for the Golden Gophers is the traditional Power O play. But instead of running it mostly from under center, Minnesota will often run it from a pistol or shotgun formation.

They also will run several variations of Power O: One-back Power, Two-back Power, and QB Power, for instance. For each of these plays, the blocking scheme is more or less the same, the difference usually comes in the backfield.

For instance, here's the one-back Power:
Versus the two-back Power:
Note that the difference is that in a one-back Power, a on-line TE will be the kick out blocker rather than a RB. Now here they are running a QB power:
Note how the QB takes an initial counter step. This allows the RB to get in front and act as a lead blocker, and also allows the pulling OG to get to the hole before the QB.

Inside Zone Read
The inside zone is a staple of the Gopher offense. It works well combined with power, but also produces a downhill running attack. In this case, Minnesota typically pairs it with a read for the QB.
One thing that Minnesota does to take advantage of their mobile QB is to run what looks like a read play, but instead of the FB cutting off the back side, he instead arch blocks to the second level.
In every way this initially looks like an inside zone. But the backside DE is taught to squeeze down on the inside zone while keeping his containment to prevent the QB from escaping. By the FB taking an angle such that he remains below the backside containment, he is essentially walling off the backside DE who is over committing inside, and sealing the second level inside away from the QB. This is a great way to counter the scrape exchange defense, which sends the DE inside while twisting a LB outside to "exchange for the DE". Now both players are taken out of the play, and that's how Minnesota had a lot of success with this last year.

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To read on, including to learn about how Minnesota uses the jet sweep to attack the edges, and the jet sweep to set up the play action pass, follow the link to Maize n Brew.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Going 4-3 (Over) MSU's Front 7

Originally posted June 27, 2013 at Maize n Brew

When looking at Michigan State's defense, there are two things that will be seen on almost every single play: 4-3 over front and cover 4 behind it. Unlike the coverage portion of the defense, the front 7 plays fairly similar to most of their 4-3 over counterparts. In this part of the series, I want to look at what a 4-3 over defense is, what some of the weaknesses to the front are, and how MSU adjusts in an attempt to mask the inherent weakness of the front 7 scheme.

For reference, here's the gap scheme:
4-3 Over

Side Align Tech Key Run To Run Away Pass
Strong 9 tech TE D Gap C Gap - Chase Left Outside Contain
Strong 3 tech OG B Gap B Gap - Squeeze A Gap B Gap
Weak 1 tech C A Gap A Gap A Gap
Weak 5 tech OT C Gap C Gap - Chase C Gap
Strong 60 tech OG to RBs C Gap A Gap - Slow Pursuit*
Strong Strong 00 C to RBs A Gap B Gap
Weak 40 tech OG to RBs C Gap Slow Pursuit*

* EDIT: MSU does not teach slow pursuit. Their cover 4 scheme allows for the backside safety to clean up any bounce back or reverse field type angles. Instead, MSU teaches to sprint over top of the play to prevent any cutback playside, or to attack "clear" (vs running over the top vs. "cloudy") to meet the pulling lineman or ball carrier in the backfield.

You can see above that this is a fairly simple defense to run out of its base. Each D-linemen is responsible for a single gap. The LBs are essentially two gapping, playing inside out.



One thing you will notice though is that this defense presents bubbles, 3 bubbles in fact: strong-side C; strong-side A; and weak-side B. Some of these are easier for offenses to attach than others, but they do present an offensive advantage because they allow offensive linemen to either get free releases to the second level or to have good blocking angles on defensive linemen.

So if it's such a weak rush defense, why has MSU been so good at rush defense? There's many reasons for that, including the backend coverage. But what we're going to focus on today is what the front 7 does to defend the run, namely defensive line adjustments and aggressive LB play.

More after the jump

Thursday, May 22, 2014

What I've Been Watching May 2014

So a lot of football blogs present a semi-regular "what I've been reading" post. I've thought of doing this, and while I enjoy reading the occasional book, I don't read quite enough to present more than a half dozen books. What I do do outside of football, is watch a ton of movies. In this post I'm going to detail some of my favorites, both new and old, domestic and foreign, that I've watched in the last half year.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Film Review: Illinois Spring QB Competition

Replacing Nathan Scheelhaase isn't going to be easy for the Illini this upcoming Fall. But in this article, we'll take a quick look at Illinois's QB situation, which involves three players: Senior Reilly O'Toole, transfer Wes Lunt, and Dual-Threat Aaron Bailey.

The Offense
The Illinois offense is mostly an offense that operates from the shotgun. While they did go under center at times - mostly with Bailey at the helm - it was few and far between. They appeared to do so to improve the downhill action of their zone run game, though they incorporated some Sweep G and reverse plays into their playbook from a similar look. But their QBs have work with their footwork, ball handling, and reading the defense from under center to make it more than a single dimensional group of formations.
They have some talent at RB, though no one that stands out. Their offensive line is hard to judge, as their units were split, but also because the defense did a poor job keeping the second and third level clean for the most part. They looked solid, though they didn't get great push consistently.
The WRs is an area where Illinois need to improve. If they are going to pass as often as former WMU head coach Bill Cubit likes to, they need to improve their understanding of the game. Right now, they fail to make proper adjustments to their routes. They round their routes and fail to get good separation. They don't sit well in voids against zone. And frankly, they just aren't outstanding athletes. Therefore, they need a QB that gets the ball to them on time and accurately so that they can get the ball to make plays. Otherwise, they'll need to depend on the run game to carry them more than it's probably capable of.

The Case for Reilly O'Toole

The Scariest Development
Back in 2012 there was a Bridgestone Tire Ad with Troy Aikman, where he throws a football made of the same rubber Bridgestone uses, and this purportedly allows it to make a crazy, curving trajectory.
Well, apparently Reilly O'Toole can now make that throw with a regular football.
Apparently the strong wind made it so both of O'Toole's spring game TDs were caught by receivers he wasn't intending the throw to...

Understanding the Offense
O'Toole clearly has the best grasp of the offense, both in terms of getting the offense to the LOS in a hurry and into the correct play, but also getting into the right protection and getting the ball out on time. As a Senior, it makes sense for him to have the best understanding of what is happening on the field, but it shows with his command of the offense.

Arm Strength
O'Toole was pretty much stuck going against a strong wind all game. There is a reason for that. He has a decently strong arm to push the ball into the wind. While the spiral isn't always tight, he gets the ball out fairly quickly and with enough strength to push the field vertically, something both other QBs struggle with.

The Correct Reads
While O'Toole is a marginal athlete at most, he does make the correct reads most often. Knowing when to hand off, or when the run is wide open enough for him to pick up a few yards, this helps the team be a little more multidimensional.

O'Toole provides the best package of strengths for the Illinois offense going forward. His grasp of the offense isn't matched by the other QBs, and he has the arm strength to push the ball vertically, as well as to the sideline. Combined with making the right reads and getting the ball out quickly, he will really help the playmakers around him in the offense.

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To read my preview of the two other Illinois QBs in competition for the starting gig, follow this link to Maize n Brew.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Inside the Playbook - Michigan State Triangulates the Open Receiver

Previously we looked at how MSU began adjusting their routes and advancing their pass game with the “Switch Concept”. This time, we’ll look more closely at Cook’s progression as a QB, and his ability to read safeties in order to determine where he decides to take the ball. In this case we’ll look at a play that incorporates two triangles, one based off of a Mesh concept, and the other off of a China concept.

The Play
What’s interesting about this play is that it incorporates two common pass concepts in an effort to defeat either both single-high and two-high defenses. While either concept within itself can be adjusted to beat either coverage, here, the concepts will only be used for their optimal coverage beater. It just so happens that by combining the two concepts, two triangles are formed, giving Cook three options in each of his progressions.

More after the jump

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Inside the Playbook - MSU's Switch Concept

Previously I talked about how MSU offensive coordinator Dave Warner simplified the passing game with easy to read pass concepts for the then inexperienced Connor Cook. In this post, we’re going to look how MSU progressed their playbook, so that later in the year, Cook was trusted to make more advanced reads, and so defenses had a harder time stopping the Spartan’s offense. In this article, we’ll specifically look at MSU’s use of the switch concept.

The Switch Concept
During the second half of the season, perhaps the go to play for MSU on third downs was what is known as the “switch” concept. Dating back to the run and shoot, the switch concept has been a bit simplified, but still relies on one of the core tenets of the run in shoot, albeit to a lesser degree: it is adaptable mid-play via simultaneous reads from the WRs and QBs. Now the switch concept is a staple across college and NFL teams because of its adaptability and relative ease to run.

The Play

The switch concept is a two-man route combination that works to both attack the field vertically against both zone and man concepts. What we’ll describe here will utilize two WRs, but this play can also be run with a WR and a TE, for instance. Most likely the offense will utilize at least a 6-man protection scheme here, if not a 7-man protection, but the backside routes should provide a hot option, as the front side switch concept requires a deep drop and time to work, and should work to maintain the backend of the defense to prevent them from sliding over the top.

Read on after the jump.