Detailed Tape Break Down:The U-M Offense & Defense

The Michigan offense continues to become more and more potent. That last drive against the Minnesota Gophers will obviously give them a boost in confidence that will carry throughout the season. When looking back on the film of last Saturday's game, a number of things were apparent which should prepare the Wolverines for the homestretch.

First, Chad Henne may not have a game below 300 yards passing the rest of the season! The Gophers baited him into a few throws in the game, but he learned from them…specifically the first interception in the third quarter. Tyler Ecker got a clean release from the line and appeared to be open down the seam, but Henne lost track of the linebacker underneath and threw a rope because of the safety coverage over the top. That would have been a tough completion for any quarterback. We saw Henne drop the ball off a number of times to Mike Hart after that against similar coverage, which was extremely effective. The thing that stood out in that game more than anything else, though, is the poise that we've all witnessed in the pocket.

Recall the play against Indiana prior to the half when Henne was hit and fumbled? The Hoosiers' tackle and end on that play ran a stunt that play. The end came around and ran Matt Lentz over to nail Henne and cause the fumble that lead to Indiana's first score. The Gophers obviously watched the tape of the Indiana as they ran a number of stunts to the same side.

4th quarter, 1st and 10 on the Michigan 23; 2:57
The Gopher defensive tackle crashes into Jake Long on the stunt and is stoned. The defensive end then loops around and attacks Lentz head on blowing him into the backfield. Unlike in the Indiana game though, Lentz is able to maintain his footing and stay in front of his man. He is pushed right into Henne's face, but the freshman stood strong in the pocket and threw a square in over the dropping linebacker and in front of the corner in cover 4 coverage. (i.e. the safety is responsible for deep 1/4 of the field). Great throw to Avant for the first down.

Henne has exhibited that type of toughness all year as he continues to stand strong in the pocket. The major difference in the Minnesota game was his ability to find secondary and tertiary receivers in the second half. His very next completion on the last drive was to his second option on a drag route across the middle and the touchdown was to his third option on a similar pattern. Tomorrow the Illini will have no answer for Michigan's passing game and Henne will have a field day.

Switching over to the running game, it was the best it has been on year, and that is almost solely due to Mike Hart's efforts. The O-line blocking has gotten stronger, but Hart's improvisational ability maximizes what the Wolverines are able to accomplish. Last week we touched on the difference between patience and vision. One I believed is learned, and the other I feel is innate. Patience can come through teaching and experience, but vision is a ‘feel thing'. It's like a sixth sense…an ability to anticipate where the hole is going to be if the called hole is bottled up. Hart has that anticipatory ability and the quickness to find daylight when he sees it.

1st quarter, 2nd and 10 on Michigan 30, 6:49
Lead draw play. Kevin Dudley is offset right toward the wide side of the field. Seven men in the box. Pre-snap, both the MIKE and the WILL shade to the fullback side. When Dudley fires toward the line, both backers flow to meet him, leaving a hole open up the backside B-gap. Hart recognizes this and shoots through the backside hole, instead of following Dudley, for eight yards.

The Michigan staff continues to do an excellent job of using formation to their advantage. On a number of occasions last Saturday they spread the field to open up the box and allowed Hart to find daylight. That and the lead draw seem to be Hart's favorite plays and Illinois should see heavy doses of both. Like Henne, #20 should have his way with the Illini defense.


In the previous week's tape breakdown, I noted that I expected the Gophers to rush for 150-170 yards. They ended up with 180 based mostly upon their stellar first half efforts. The Michigan defense had problems maintaining their gaps in the first half. The first Gopher touchdown had more to do with a great individual play by Laurence Maroney and a missed tackle or two. The second touchdown, however, was a result of not maintaining gaps.

2nd quarter 1st and 10 on Michigan 19, 7:39
Minnesota runs the counter with reverse action from the wide receiver and tight end. Gabe Watson takes the A-gap toward the wide side if the field. Scott McClintock is frozen by the reverse action and allows the center to get out on him. He occupies the same gap as Watson and when the guard clears Larry Harrison down the line of scrimmage it leaves a huge hole for the touchdown.

The primary keys to the second half turnaround were Gabe Watson and Ernest Shazor. Watson was much more of a force in the second half and demanded a double team after the intermission. When they chose not to double him, he dominated whatever lineman he faced. The defensive line as a whole did a much better job of keeping the linebackers clean.

Shazor may have been an even bigger key though. He almost single handedly snuffed out plays to the outside and did a great job on the safety force much of the day. He made a number of great individual plays on the last few drives of the fourth quarter, but he was just as effective when he wasn't making the tackle himself.

1st quarter 1st and 10 on the Minnesota 18
Double tight end set with the H-back stacked behind the playside TE. Roy Manning in 9-technique blows up the outside shoulder of the TE. Shazor comes up on the safety force at the snap and prevents the H-back from making it downfield by attacking him in the backfield and turning the play back inside toward a flowing Reid for a short pickup of two yards.

Michigan won't face a rushing attack nearly as strong the rest of the Big Ten season. Their experience against the Gophers ought to make them more stout against the run as they come down the home stretch.

The Illini will have reasonable success through the air but won't be much of a challenge for the Wolverines. Michigan should be able to get a long look at their back-up running backs in their effort to fill the #2 spot. Furthermore, their defensive backfield should get a good tune-up as they prepare for their upcoming clash with the Purdue BoilerMakers.

Sam Webb's Prediction:
Michigan - 38
Illinois - 17

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