Coaching Points: Miami (OH) vs Michigan, 2014

Upchurch - MGoBlog

Offense: Mostly 12 personnel from what I remember, though FB/TE split out a lot
Defense: Mostly Cover 4 from base 4-3 Over

Clock Management
First, I actually thought the pace Michigan worked with at the end of the half was correct. Your goal is to score a TD with no time left on the clock. Michigan moved the ball to the 31 yard line with a minute to go and two TOs. In the college game, with the clock stopping for a bit on first downs, the clock management there was fine.

Then Michigan rushed to the LOS, probably to quickly sneak the ball to get a quick first down, when Miami called a TO. That's when people started getting upset.

After the TO, when the ref told Michigan to break the huddle on the sideline they started the 25 second play clock. The ref did warn Nuss a few times, but that's normal operating procedure. Starting the play clock at that point is not.

Usually they call the team to break the huddle, the two teams get on the field, they set the ball and run the play clock. That turned out to be about 15 seconds difference. Michigan thought they lined up with about 20 seconds on the play clock as they usually would in that case, but instead the play clock was down to about 5. Now, no one was looking at the play clock because no one was worried about it. That is still a mistake, and I don't think that can be questioned. One of the first things the QB is taught to find is the play clock when he reaches the LOS. Coaches should always be aware as well. But it was a weird move by the refs, and the reason the Michigan staff was saying the clock needed to be reset.

But as I said, none of that is an excuse. It's a reason, it's a reason things went poorly, but a reason that should have been at least partially mitigated (having to spend an unnecessary TO rather than taking a delay of game). It doesn't help the staff's case either way, but it also isn't as appalling as some are making it. It's more annoying because it's unfortunately not an isolated incident (taking unnecessary Delay of Game penalties).

Pass Offense
Few weak points in pass protection today. Michigan did allow some rushers in. A few times they were in a bit quicker than you want but DG has to feel that pressure and get rid of the ball.

Here's where it gets really difficult for a guy that was beat up the entire season last year. You tell a guy, who keeps getting hit, not to bail on the pocket; not to take his eyes away from down field; not to watch the pass rush; to let the play develop. So he sits, and waits for the play to develop, and gets sacked. Then he starts watching the rush a little more, bailing on the play a little early, well then he's doing things he doesn't have to do and it makes being successful on offense difficult. DG keeps going back and forth between these things. Nuss is trying to call plays that get DG into a rhythm a bit more (slant-bench, double slants, quick 3 step drop and release concepts), but Gardner is still working out kinks.

Michigan was very, very vanilla in their passing concepts this game. Lots of standard China concepts off of boots. Lots of simple underneath routes. One thing that worries me, and I stated it during the game, is that I haven't really seen a multi-receiver vertical route concept since the App St game (incidentally, the play where Funchess had a TD on his intermediate cross). I know Nuss is trying to get DG in a rhythm, to get the ball out of his hands so he can have that "timing" he looked good with against App St. I know he's trying to mitigate TOs, especially against a team that is getting blown out if not for TOs. But every team at this level has athletes, good athletes. Are they as good as Michigan's top to bottom? Of course not. But people get caught up in this 5-star vs 2-star stuff and act like the gap in caliber of athlete is huge. It isn't. These are all good athletes, and the margin is there, but rather thin. And so when you don't threaten these guys deep consistently, start putting safety help in a choice to help here or there, defenders will stick on underneath routes.

So I get what Nussmeier is doing, but this Michigan team isn't where Bama is yet. Not on the OL, not at the skill positions. You don't just generate consistent big plays by running over people yet. And without that, you need to keep the playcalling more honest. I think that kind of stalled the offense a little more than it otherwise would have. That helps all the positions on offense, FWIW.

Rush Offense
Michigan's run game continues to look improved. Miami caveats applied, but Michigan is consistently getting into blocking assignments, which is a good step forward. I thought Miami was much more sound in gap assignments than App St was, so this was more of a real indication that Michigan's OL is starting to understand their assignments and get into them better. When the competition level increases, obviously the push won't be as effective, the holes as large, and there will still be some blown assignments, but this is an improving OL.

I thought Green made some really terrific cuts this game. There was one ten yard gain that I mentioned where Green did a great job of really pressing the LOS before defining a hole. Miller got a good push, Green really pushed that playside A-gap in a way where he could threaten the cut back or straight ahead. When the defense committed one way, Green made the appropriate cut and picked up a nice chunk.

Miami started the day with a lot of 8-man box, even some 9-man box looks. Because of this, Michigan had some really open receivers on the edge. When Miami started playing a little more honest, Green was able to get going. Because of that feel, momentum, and confidence, when Miami went back to the 8-man box, Michigan was able to run into it and still maintain some success. That's improvement. You need to be able to run into a stacked box. This isn't running into a stacked box against B1G competition yet, but it means blockers are understanding their assignments, which is progress.

I also thought Braden really struggled in the first half. Got beat across the helmet several times and plain blown back a couple times as well. He may have cleaned it up a bit as the game went on, but most of Michigan's success running came off the left side I think.

Nussmeier also debuted his gap counter run, which in all the games I watched, I only saw Alabama run against ND in the national championship game. I'll take a closer look at that later this week.

Offensive Outlook
Michigan is still trying to improve on their base plays. They are not at a point yet where they are good enough at their base to destroy opponents with it, nor are they good enough not to take the opportunity to gain valuable reps running it by deviating wildly from it against an inferior opponent. Likewise, any deviation from their base, at this point, would be the most likely cause of a lose against such an inferior opponent. What that means is that it's likely Michigan won't look as good in these cases, because they just don't have as much at their disposal yet. They simply aren't good enough at their base yet to dominate either. But it's a team looking to improve and get better for down the road. They need to cut turnovers, otherwise this isn't nearly as much of an issue,

I know the first half didn't quiet any fears about Hoke and his staff, but they mostly took the approach that would ensure they won this game while looking to improve for the future. It likely means that immediate results aren't what fans want, but after complaints of an offense that changed a lot week-to-week, Hoke and Co. are taking an approach that they think will help them in the future. I can't say I disagree when they come away with 34 points.

Defensive Coverage
Michigan went to a Base 4-3 Over Cover 4 defense after Notre Dame saw them really struggle in Cover 1. I, for one, think this helps their CBs a bit more and overall will help Michigan going forward. It also allows Michigan to stay a bit more in their base. Lastly, it is also a rush defense that gets the safeties more involved.

There are a couple downsides to it for Michigan though. For one, it relies a lot more on good communication, both pre- and post- snap for the secondary. You saw MSU get exposed a bit (mostly in their closed-trips adjustment) by having poor post-snap communication, and that's a team that runs Cover 4 90% of the time. So that's an area of concern. It requires you play fast but also play smart, and playing smart may force Michigan to not quite play as fast and aggressive. This means you'll likely see less press from Michigan (though you'll likely still see it to a one-receiver side) and you'll see less blitzes on standard downs (with more blitzes coming from the CBs).

I've been critical of Michigan's lack of success defending the pass from the Cover 4 in the past, but Michigan looked much better schooled in their assignments in this one than they did in the past. Again, reason for some optimism. But now that it's on film, opponents will look to put more Cover 4 beaters out there, and do things to attempt to confuse the Michigan secondary. That's something to look out for.

FWIW, Miami tried isolating Peppers to the boundary a lot with 3x1 sets. Michigan's adjustment to this was to have the boundary safety cover #3 on anything vertical. Peppers needs to understand if that "solo" call is made that he needs to play his leverage more like Cover 1 than Cover 4. You saw Peppers get beat one once on a skinny post where Hill was a little late getting back over. Peppers did do a good job of remaining in phase throughout his coverage, but he did struggle a bit in losing contact with the receiver while finding the ball, an area where he needs to improve.

There really isn't much more to say from this game. The opponent was clearly inferior, Michigan made some changes but was mostly vanilla. There are some things to clean up still, both on offense and defense. I know people are anxious about this team and still feeling the effects of the ND game. But the difference this year compared to last, is last year came down to the final play against Akron, this year turned into a blow out in the second half. Was it closer than it should have been? Of course, a -2 turnover differential will do that. But it still ended up a blow out. This is a team that is improving and working to become more consistent on both sides of the ball week-to-week. Are they doing it fast enough? That's what we'll find out against better competition, but it's frankly impossible to tell against a team like Miami.


  1. To add, I did think it was interesting that Michigan was in a safe punt return all day as well. Blocked a punt from a shield punt look in week one. Almost blocked one against the same look in week 2. Miami also utilized the shield punt look, but Michigan never once threatened the A-gaps. Apparently trying to set something up or just not wanting to give Miami any sort of momentum.

  2. I feel better about this team. I've moved past shock and anger and am into acceptance. :-)

    I think I have to remember all the issues that this team had last year, and remember that its still largely the same team. The fact that its playing better is a good thing. The fact that the O line (to my inexperienced eye) seems alot more consistent seems a good thing. Yes, it was Miami of Ohio. But yes, as you say, last year they almost lost to Akron, and the O line looked alot better here.

    One thing I am curious about though; in the past you seemed to be supportive of at least the competence of this coaching staff. Maybe it might not work out, but they aren't the incompetent rubes some people make out. They are taking steps that are at least logical and it is working out for them, if more slowly than a fan would like.

    But in the MgoBlog article in which a former college players questioned the DB coaching and the overall coaching staff you seemed to agree? Did I misread it or are you starting to lose confidence in this coaching staff? As a coach are you starting to see signs that make you go 'Uh oh...'

    I wish Hoke, with all his recruiting, could have done something like Dantonio did, and by year for make a vicious D and an OK offense. Right now it looks like he has a technically pretty good D and a below average, but improving offense. But I'm also willing to accept (now) that he's had his own challenges, and that no two coaching situations are the same.

    But I don't see all the things. So maybe my acceptance should be replaced by panic. ;-)

    Oh, one more thing, do you think, as a coach, that its a big problem Brady doesn't use the spread punt formation? I guess I figured he had his reasons, and that it wasn't just stubborness. (And I'd even be okay if that reason was 'We need to work on just getting punting down first...')

    1. I hope you read whatever I post on MGoBlog incorrectly, because I don't want, in any way, to insinuate that the coaching staff is incompetent. It's not just the Michigan staff, there is not an incompetent staff in all of Division 1 football, there just isn't. So no, I do not believe the coaching staff lacks competence.

      That's not to say that the players performed flawless technique. They did not. But I can promise that the coaching staff knows the technique they should utilize, that isn't the issue. The non-optimal part of moving a guy that didn't play CB or hasn't coached CB is not their knowledge of the fundamentals, it's translating that knowledge so that the players can learn it. There are tips and tricks that only can be understood through experience, that's the learning curve. But he has coached before, so that part isn't an issue.

      The results say what they need to say. The staff at Michigan needs to win. But I think people freaked out way too much based on the 2nd game with Michigan running Cover 1 Press.

      As for the punt formation (I'm sure you mean he doesn't use a shield punt formation, he does use what is technically called a spread or pro-style punt formation), I will touch on that in a post either this week or next. I think he has his reasons for running the punt formation he does based on how he weights the pro's and con's of each formation.


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