NOTE: I whipped up this post on a break at work, so if the writing seems a little hurried in nature, then…it is.
On Michigan’s first possession of the game after a Wisconsin touchdown drive, the Wolverines have the ball at the 25-yard line after a touchback. It’s 1st-and-10 with the ball in the right middle.
Michigan lines up in 11 personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end). The receivers are Nico Collins at split end, Ronnie Bell at slot, Tarik Black at flanker, Christian Turner at running back, and Sean McKeon at flex tight end, with Shea Patterson at quarterback.
The Badgers are in a 3-4 look, perhaps in a “Tite” front with two 4i defensive tackles and a shaded nose tackle. There are two high safeties. The cornerback to the bottom of the screen has his eyes in the backfield, which indicates zone coverage, so you’re probably getting a form of Cover 2 (each safeties has a deep half of the field) or Cover 4 (each defensive back has a deep quarter of the field).
First of all, one of the advantages of a hurry-up offense is to see what the defense is doing and then exploit that weakness, change the call, etc. Michigan lined up for this exact play and then “executed” the play. Question #1 for me is: Why not run the ball? There are 5 defenders in the box, each of whom can be blocked, and then the quarterback can effectively “read” the overhang defender to the bottom of the screen on a zone read option or RPO. Count the box and take what’s given to you. On a 1st-and-10, this should have been a run.
But okay, just running the play that’s called…
Shea Patterson should have been reading the bottom side of the field. With two receivers to the top of the screen covered by three defenders and going into the boundary, the defense has removed that side of the field from my thinking. Black is running an out route into a cornerback who’s only seven yards off the ball pre-snap, and McKeon is running a stick route at a safety who’s eight yards off the ball; in between the two is an outside linebacker “apexing” their route combination. Cross that off the list.
At the bottom of the screen is a cornerback who is two yards off the ball and a safety over the slot at eleven yards, along with an outside linebacker who is splitting the difference between the tackle and Bell. There is a green triangle of space between those three defenders. THAT is the area that should be attacked, either by your pre-snap call (so don’t check out of it) or by your audible.
Michigan runs double slants at the bottom of the screen, with the tailback running a swing route out of the backfield. It’s a simple three-man route combination. The bottom inside linebacker helps Michigan out by stepping inside to help, leaving a three-on-three situation to the bottom of the screen. That’s fine. You can’t expect to get free guys running all over the place. One of your guys has to win OR the play concept has to simply win by alignment.
On the play that was run, the ball should have gone to Nico Collins on the outside slant. It probably would have resulted in a short-ish gain, because Collins isn’t particularly explosive and won’t get a ton of yards after the catch. But this is the type of thing that needs to be executed to keep the offense on schedule.
Below are a couple examples of concepts that could have worked based on this formation and the defense:
There are a bunch of things you can do. These are four simple things off the top of my head, and Michigan has the personnel to do them. This isn’t John Navarre at quarterback. And it’s not a Lloyd Carr offense where the team isn’t familiar with RPOs, option football, etc. This is an RPO/option offense, and either Michigan isn’t capable of making the necessary adjustments, or the quarterback isn’t able or empowered to make the right reads.
I know it’s easy to sit at your computer or sit on a drawing board and come up with plays that would/should work. It’s much different to go out and execute them. I created the plays up there based on the defense’s alignment, and Michigan didn’t have the advantage of knowing how the defense would align to this formation before the game started.
BUT the first option up there is an option that was built into the play and not executed, and option #2 is something this offense runs – inside zone with a slant RPO. Why not make that adjustment or check from the quarterback or the sideline? One issue could be that the offensive coordinator would have to relay that check from the booth down to a guy on the sideline, who would then have to relay it to the quarterback, which can take valuable time. But a college program with literally millions of dollars being funneled into the program should be able to work out a method of communication that’s efficient enough to make that happen.
Ultimately, this is just a sign to me that this team was not prepared from the moment they stepped on the field. Later in the game, maybe discomfort or fatigue or getting hit causes you not to think straight, but if the quarterback/coordinator can’t see this stuff on snap one, you’re probably in for a stinker of a game.
The play starts at 1:30 of the link (sorry, I can’t embed from this browser): YOUTUBE.
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