Inside the Playbook - Michigan's Counter Game - Part 2 - Post Snap Modifiers

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the basics of the Michigan Counter package, including the five basic schemes (Counter OH, Counter OF, Counter OT, Counter HF, and Counter O). We also looked at run game tags that can be applied pre-snap to modify blocking assignments, and when to incorporate them.

In this part, we are going to look at Post-Snap Modifiers (i.e. reads), and how Counter serves as protection of other schemes, and how Michigan protected Counter within their scheme.

Post-Snap Modifiers - Kick/Log

One area where Michigan really struggled in 2020 but was great in 2021 was deciding on whether to kick or log with their OL.


Traditionally, the pulling offensive lineman will kick out the defensive EMOL. And as a general rule, you should kick out until you can't. The idea is the kick out widens the gap inside the combo block, allows the lead blocker to wrap up to the playside LB, and results in too much grass for a LB to have to defend while the RB makes the lead blocker right.

But many modern defenses are very adept at squeezing down that gap, making it difficult to widen the gap sufficiently, allowing the defense to effectively form a pile of bodies at the point of attack, and even with a numbers advantage, forcing the play back to backside help. That's where the log block comes into play.


The "log" block is named as such because the OL will roll around the defender like he's rolling on a log. He is asked to whip his butt around and pin the defender inside, allowing the lead blocker and ball carrier to go outside of that block into space.

Kick the Spill

But it isn't enough to just say "log block" when the defensive end squeezes hard. Many of the best defenses in modern football are great at "spill and kill". The DEs will spill the ball outside, where the LB has overlapped tight, and the ball carrier has no where to go. When you see this sort of thing happening, you're still going to want to kick, and effectively you can get a 2-for-1 when you "kill the spill" and block where the play is initially intended to go.


Against a heavy technique OLB or a defender threatening to slant inside the TE, the offense may decide they still want to handle him with the TE rather than arc him. In this case, the first puller will wrap to the PSLB, with the second wrapper will work to the first off-color jersey.

Note, in Part 1, I also noted a scenario where some teams wrap vs wide aligned Odd fronts.


Post-Snap Modifiers - Running Edition

Post-Snap Modifiers are the ways you can run counter, but protect it by modifying how you execute post snap. Effectively, this is “reads” for the QB or the offensive line.


Run Read

As I noted above, one of the popular ways of running Counter OT is with a backside QB read. Michigan did that too, largely relying on their more athletic backup QB when calling Counter OT.

(Note: this example went poorly, and why protecting your read is important when you don't major in it)


Michigan would also protect those reads with arc blockers. An arc block in this case is to the backside of the play, or toward the read defender. The blocker will bypass the “read” defender and block any secondary defender that may be playing the run. This protects against games or confusion the defense may present to the QB, which is very beneficial when you don’t major in run reads (it simplifies the reads for the QB so he doesn’t have to have vision for what secondary run defenders are doing). Michigan did this in a few ways, both with WRs, RBs, and backside TEs.


Michigan, like most teams, does not have a QB that is really adept at just running Q Counter. But sometimes an offense wants to utilize the threat of the better athlete (the RB) in space, rather than having the QB responsible for that portion of the read. So BASH (Back Away) allows the RB and QB to switch assignments, having the QB run the Counter Run portion of it, while the RB works in space.  

Again, Michigan had a variety of ways of adding an arc blocker to the alley to support the BASH run and to protect the QB read.


Post Snap Modifier - RPO Edition

In 2021, Michigan did not prefer RPOs, rather, they preferred to block safeties. This is a bit of a sensative topic for many. Some coaches believe every run play should have an RPO tag on it. RPOs can hold LBs and safeties and take their eyes out of the backfield as they are forced to stay into throw windows, or otherwise force man coverage. But the downside is that once run is declared, the defense is in a better position to surround the ball carrier. The result can tend to be an increase in 7 yard gains at the expense of 20+ yard gains. Blocking to safeties really forces defenses out of their comfort zone, forcing secondary run defenders (typically CBs) to have to try to stop the play. 

The true key is finding the balance between blocking and RPOs. If you can do both, and do both well, you can effectively get the benefit of both, because from down-to-down, the defense doesn't know which one you are doing, and the threat of doing either really can open both options up.

Michigan preferred to block safeties, stalk blocking, push crack, etc. 

2018 Iowa State Playbook

But they kept RPOs in the playbook enough just to force defenses to honor it and prepare for it. And while in years past the depth of their RPO tags was limited, Michigan maintained a pretty deep (though not necessary complete) array of RPO schemes, allowing them to threaten RPO from any formation and threaten multiple parts of the field.

Leverage RPOs
First, let's look at the leverage based RPO. These throws are typically made based on pre-snap leverage. If the the bubble receiver can get outside the defender over the top of him by the time the ball can get there, there are more gaps than defenders outside. But if he can't win outside based on leverage alone, they will stick with the run (blockers will still block the "most dangerous man" on the schemes, but if that read defender has enough width, it allows the defense to push the ball into the sideline, so it's all about that initial leverage on the read)


The benefit of bubble is that it spreads the field, which generally can spread the "gaps" the defense has to cover. The difficulty is it does take some reps to get the blocking right.

Condensed Bubble:

This is becoming a popular scheme, as it really emphasizes the leverage and utilizes "space" in the sense that the condensed formation opens up the space to the sideline.

Push Bubble:

 Push bubble is a bit in between a "movement" read and a leverage read, but we lump it in with leverage. The idea here is with the quick, pre-snap motion, you should get an immediate sense of if you've won leverage based on if the LB starts traveling with the motion. So in that sense, it is still a mostly "pre-snap" leverage read.

Orbit Bubble
Another way to get to bubble, but now getting the response that jet motion provides (note: this is done with a second RB, so you're likely getting secondary indicators by splitting a RB wide and then putting him in motion).

The only front side throw Michigan made this year. This is also leverage based, but based on the CB being alone and provide space on the snap. 

 Numbers RPO

This type of RPO is really just protecting against box numbers. If you have equal numbers in the box, you run the ball. You run the ball until you can't, at which point you throw to the edge. You'll often see wider splits here, and this is also a popular RPO to run into the short side of the field.



 Smash Fade:

If the defense overloads the box, take your shot on a Smash-Fade, throwing away from the CB (typically this will be based on which safety spins down, so you have knowledge that the other safety can't get over the top)

Movement RPO

These RPOs are post-snap reads. You are looking at the movement of a key defender to determine if you should make the throw or not. Often times, teams that don't major in RPOs will often still incorporate a numbers aspect here, and continue to "run until you can't". This allows a little more diversity in the RPO concepts, in that, the read is only turned on if they have 2 over 2 to the route concept, and once the "key" defender triggers in run support, you can hit either receiver.

This does take away from a bit in the pass-based explosiveness in RPOs though that you see from teams that really major in it. That's because you aren't hitting the bang 8 or the slant based on winning that matchup and hitting the receiver in stride. Again, it's trade offs.


This is a simple in-out read with a slant and flat combination. 90+% of the time you are going to hit the slant, but the angle route gives a strong indication if the key defender is traveling in coverage or fitting the run. In the rare instance you get a defensive bust or unexpected coverage rotation, you may end up hitting the flat 



 This effectively gets to the same place as Dragon, but allows you to do it from a condensed formation. A little more likely to hit the flat just based on typical defensive responses to condensed formations and how the hitch can act as a rub for the flat route. 

Double Slants:

 Generally allows you to have a wider split from the #2. Also generally preferred vs 2-high, where Dragon is preferred vs 1-high. Rarely gets to the second WR in an RPO structure.


 A variation of double hitch. The inside receiver has the option to run a slant or hitch, but always running away from the defender. Outside receiver runs a hitch.

Bluff and Go:

Taking advantage of safeties filling down in run support based on push-crack action with bluff and go RPO, this time off short motion

All this adds up to forcing the defense to defend the width and depth of the field in a variety of ways, even when seeing Counter action.

 Up Next

Next we're going to look at how the Counter scheme is protected within the playbook. You've already seen how it is done with tags and modifiers, but it is also done with specific play calls, formations, and alignment. Then, we'll go deeper into how Michigan executes.


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