Snapshots: Brandon Herron’s 94-yard Interception Return

Snapshots: Brandon Herron’s 94-yard Interception Return

September 7, 2011
I’m not sure if you Michigan fans (or Western Michigan fans, if any Broncos have stumbled upon this site) remember this play from Saturday’s 34-10 victory, but it’s the one that went a long way toward earning linebacker Brandon Herron the Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week honors.  It was also the longest interception return in Michigan football history at 94 yards.  It was kind of a big deal.
To set up the play, WMU has driven down to the Michigan 4.5 yard line with the score tied 7-7 and just over seven minutes remaining in the first half.  It’s 2nd-and-goal.  The Broncos come out with an Ace package (two tight ends, two wide receivers, one running back).  Despite the proximity to the goal line, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison knows that the Broncos like to throw the ball and counters with his basic nickel package: an Okie front with three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and three safeties.
SAM linebacker Jake Ryan has bumped down inside over WMU’s right guard.  On one side of him is Mike Martin in a 0-tech (nose tackle) and on the other is Craig Roh in a 5-tech (outside shoulder of offensive tackle).  Herron is aligned in a 3-off (outside the left guard’s shoulder and off the ball). 

As WMU quarterback Alex Carder hits the first step of a three-step drop, he sees that Michigan is running the exact same coverage that he probably saw in his pre-snap read – Man Free.  Each of the cornerbacks is locked up on a wideout, strong safety Jordan Kovacs and nickel corner Thomas Gordon each have a tight end, and free safety Carvin Johnson patrols the middle of the field; Herron is tasked with picking up the running back out of the backfield, and middle linebacker Kenny Demens is coming up to blitz.  With the left tight end releasing and the right tight end staying in to block, WMU’s offensive line correctly slides its protection to the left; therefore, each offensive lineman is responsible for the gap immediately to his left.  In theory this should work, unless the defense sends multiple defenders to one gap.  They don’t.

As Carder hits his third step, his options are limited.  Cornerback Courtney Avery has blanketed the receiver to the bottom of the screen while the releasing tight end is running straight into the juggernaut known as Jordan Kovacs.  At the top of the screen, cornerback J.T. Floyd awaits the backside receiver.  Nickel corner Thomas Gordon waits at the line of scrimmage for the running back to release, which the RB never does; instead he steps up to block the 250 lb. Demens.  The LT successfully single blocks DE Ryan Van Bergen, the LG and C struggle to hold off NT Mike Martin, and the remaining TE single blocks DE Craig Roh.

The problem is that everybody forgot about Jake Ryan, who rushed at the snap.  The RG blocked him initially, but when Ryan stepped back to the RG’s other side, the RG correctly left him to RT Dann O’Neill.  O’Neill has nobody else to block and stands still so everyone can admire his long blonde hair.  Carder just hit his back foot and might want to release the ball soon, since a 230 lb. man is two yards away and approaching fast.

As Carder releases the ball, Ryan does his best impression of Dikembe Mutombo and swats the pass, which looks to be intended as a back shoulder throw to CB Avery’s wideout.  The pass is probably a bad idea no matter what, since nobody’s open except FS Johnson and LB Herron.  In retrospect, Carder’s thinking he should have eaten it and taken the sack.  At the time, Carder was probably thinking, “Maybe if I throw it, the bad man won’t hit me anymore.”  He was wrong.

Herron intercepts the deflected ball at the 5-yard line while Carder lies on his back.

Herron, who was planning to step out of bounds and enjoy raucous cheers and pats on the butt from the cheerleaders, hears a screeching voice coming from the vicinity of my couch yelling “Stay inbounds!”  Spurred on by the urgency of my screams, he eludes the WMU left tackle and runs as fast as he can.

O’Neill, who at this point feels monumentally guilty for leaving Michigan and for growing hair like Kyle Turley’s, pretends to trip over Kenny Demens’ foot so he won’t have to run anymore.  Meanwhile, Herron’s convoy includes the 300 lb. Mike Martin and the 290 lb. Ryan Van Bergen, neither of whom are needed but both of whom make the effort anyway; the 230 lb. Ryan, who batted the pass to Herron and the quarterback to the ground, also runs interference downfield.  (Watch this full speed and take a gander at Van Bergen, who puts his head down and sprints his ass off despite knowing that he’s a brontosaurus chasing . . . some other type of faster -saurus.)

Herron, a 221 lb. linebacker, crosses the goal line five yards ahead of 195 lb. free safety Carvin Johnson.  Momentum has shifted.  The band plays a song.  The people rejoice.  Somewhere, a child is born.  Probably.

Herron caught the ball at 7:09 and crossed the goal line at 6:58, meaning he took roughly 11 seconds to travel 95 yards wearing football pads and dodging offensive linemen.  Remember all those practice reports saying that Herron was a physical freak but lacking in football instincts?  This confirms the former, but the latter might be in question now.  Combine this play with his 29-yard fumble return for a touchdown later in the game, and Herron had 8 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery, 123 yards of returns, and 2 touchdowns.  Not bad for a guy who was a late addition to the starting lineup after beginning the week as the #2 weakside linebacker.  I wonder if Herron will start next week . . .

Go Blue!

(The above play begins at 1:53 of the video below.)


  1. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 12:21 PM

    "the juggernaut known as Jordan Kovacs."

    You may be a football guy Magnus, but you have the soul of a poet.

    Not necessarily a great poet mind you, but a poet nonetheless.

  2. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 12:26 PM

    @ Roanman 8:21 a.m.

    That's a very weak compliment…but I'll take it.

  3. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    with three down linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and three safeties.

    But a 3-3-5 formation will never work!

  4. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 1:13 PM

    Educational and LOL funny. Good stuff man. Thanks

  5. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    Awwwww. You know you're my favorite Wolverine writer, we've had that conversation.

    If it makes you feel any better, my compliments sometimes are much like my game used to be.

    The second best part of this play was the thoroughly jacked Ryan getting up and hustling down the field looking to hit someone else … or at least be first to the party

    As an aside, thanks for this post as my kid felt a need yesterday to argue with my contention that Ryan was in a two point stance. There are few things as satisfying in this life as demonstrating to one's uppity kid the keen perceptions of his father.

    The link to this post has been in his mailbox for a couple hours now.

    My hope for you is that someday you too are able to experience this fine feeling.

  6. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 1:22 PM

    @ Roanman 9:17 a.m.

    Well, thanks again.

    One of the best parts of coaching is being able to watch games on film. Sometimes kids come to the sideline and say stuff like, "That wasn't my guy, so I didn't block him." Then the next day, when we put the film on and the guy clearly comes to his gap…we have him dead to rights. Uppity kids get their comeuppance on film day.

    But it will be nice to someday have a kid that I can pick on, too.

  7. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    Thank goodness Jake Ryan's flowing blonde hair is far superior to O'Neill's blonde hair. Nice write up Thunder and I love it when the players hear us through our tv's.

  8. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 2:30 PM

    Good post!

  9. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 3:19 PM

    Thanks, people.

  10. Comments: 21384
    Rob Pollard
    Sep 07, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    The funny (sad?) thing about O'Neill is not only did he gave up the sack on this play, but on the other Herron TD, he was blocking that side as well. That sack didn't seem to be his fault (not sure, as he was blocking Herron; not sure who was responsible for Kovacs who went inside O'Neill) but I'm sure as he was running after Herron a second time, he was thoroughly bummed.

  11. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 5:17 PM

    @ Rob Pollard 1:04 p.m.

    I noticed that, too, but the WMU coach was yelling at the RG on the Kovacs sack, so I'm assuming it wasn't O'Neill's fault.

  12. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 5:40 PM

    Couple of comments:

    1) I love posts like this.
    2) I think Carder going back shoulder was going to be a TD. It looks like Avery overran his WR exposing himself to a quick cutback.
    3) Shhh… don't tell everyone we played in the 3-3-5 and it worked. Impossible,

    Also, was it a mistake for Ryan to jump? It seems like he could have very well hit the QB in the head negating the pick. I was always taught to go for the elbow or chest but never jump unless you knew you couldn't get to the QB.

  13. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 5:55 PM

    @ KB 1:40 p.m.

    1) Thanks

    2) I think the fact that Carder was throwing off his back foot was going to make that throw a tough one to complete, even if it got past Ryan's outstretched arms.

    3) The 3-3-5 could work just fine…if employed correctly.

    It wasn't a mistake for Ryan to jump. As Lankownia pointed out yesterday, I'm a results oriented guy. Some players jump and make the play; some players jump and get penalized or get juked. If Ryan comes up with plays like this, it frankly doesn't matter if he's fundamentally sound. Some guys are just playmakers.

  14. Comments: 21384
    Sep 07, 2011 at 6:22 PM

    Ahhhh screaming football coaches.

    It takes me back to that evening so long ago when I got buried by three guys on a blocked reverse because I had contain, everyone else bit and there was only me to hit.

    As I'm limping back to the sideline I spot my good friend Donnie, babbling, Yes Sir, Yes Sir and trying to nod affirmatively, while the Head Coach, with a death grip on his face mask is shaking it horizontally and screaming, "DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME?"

    I'm still laughing.

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