Sam Webb Breaks Down the Offense

Going into Saturday I saw this game as the perfect opportunity for The Wolverines to get their running game back on track. Anyone who has watched Michigan football with any regularity knew that's exactly what was going to happen.

Michigan Offensive Tape Breakdown – MSU Game

I mentioned in the Iowa offensive breakdown that MSU had been gouged for big yards on the ground the previous few weeks. Because of that I saw this game as the perfect opportunity for The Wolverines to get their running game back on track. Anyone who has watched Michigan football with any regularity knew that's exactly what was going to happen.

John Navarre came through with the kind of consistent mistake-free performance we've become accustomed to this year. Ronald Bellamy had his biggest game as a receiver at Michigan. Bennie Joppru continued on his march to become a first round draft pick. Even Jason Avant came through with a big play with his first catch. While there were some big plays in the passing game Saturday, it was the re-emergence of the running attack that was the true story of the day.

Head Coach Lloyd Carr had given an edict to RUN the ball. Initially, however, MSU did a good job of stymieing Michigan's efforts. The first two offensive plays were runs amounting to seven yards. The first two plays of the second offensive drive had similar success.

1st quarter 11:13
1st and 10. Dave Petruziello is beaten cleanly off the line of scrimmage do to a good swim move by Kevin Vickerson (a former U-M recruit from Detroit King, who in the end didn't receive a U-M offer). Vickerson forces the play the other way. The other defensive tackle (Mathias Askew) beats a double team by Pearson and Bass to make the first hit. Askew picks 3 yards through his own effort.

1st quarter 10:34
2nd and 7. Vickerson comes clean on a stunt in the middle. He's able to catch Askew from behind because Courtney Morgan is stoned at the line of scrimmage. The defensive end sheds Morgan and makes the hit along with Vickerson.

1st quarter 9:31
It's first and 10 after Navarre completes a very nice pass to Bellamy for the conversion. The defensive end pushes Joppru into the backfield. Askew can't cutback to avoid him because the defensive tackle pushes Petruziello into the backfield along the backside of the play. The defensive tackle and defensive end converge for the tackle. Pickup of 1 yard.

From this point on, however, Michigan had more feast than famine when they rushed the pigskin. It could be argued that a few big and very timely completions to Avant and Jermaine Gonzales loosened the defense up. However, I would add that the execution of the blocking assignments improved greatly.

1st quarter 8:18
1st and 10. Some excellent run blocking on display here. David Bass and Tony Pape destroy the defensive tackle on the double team. After they pancake him, Pape releases into the 2nd level of the defense to get the linebacker. On the backside, David Pearson gets a good seal on the other defensive tackle. Askew picks up 7 yards. Michigan goes on to rush the ball in for their first touchdown on this drive.

1st quarter 3:24
2nd and 2. Good double team by Pearson and Bass. They are able to move the defensive tackle a few yards off of the ball. Sanderson comes through the hole and picks off the linebacker. Pickup of 5 yards. 1st down.

2nd quarter 14:12
2nd and 6. Bass' man tries to shoot the gap to his left. David does a nice job of walling his man off. However, Askew is forced to cutback behind Matt Lentz and Pearson. They do an effective job of double teaming the defensive tackle. Lentz then comes off the defensive tackle to get the linebacker. Pick up of 5 yards.

2nd quarter 13:40
1st and 10. Bass and Pape double team the defensive tackle. Pape finishes him off with a pancake and Bass comes off to get the backside linebacker who is shooting the gap in pursuit. Tim Massaquoi comes up for a good block on the other backer, but Chris Perry doesn't read the block correctly and runs right into the defender's free arm. Great blocking, but only a pick up of 2 yards.

3rd quarter 13:00
1st and 10. Bass and Pearson put another big time double team on the defensive tackle. They shove him 3 yards off the line of scrimmage. Pearson then comes off of the double team to get the playside linebacker. Shawn Sanderson stuffs the offside linebacker. BJ Askew gets 11 yards.

There were more examples of excellent blocking execution at other points during the game. The most impressive display, in my opinion, came in the only offensive series for the first stringers in the 4th quarter. Michigan marched down the field on that drive to score a touchdown without throwing a single pass.

Michigan faced a lot of 8 man fronts on Saturday. Whenever that happens, the only way the running game is going to get positive yards consistently is if the running back is able to make some guys miss and or break some tackles. BJ Askew did a fantastic job of doing this vs. MSU. Chris Perry was also pretty effective at it in spot duty. Neither of these guys is very flashy, but they certainly displayed the toughness necessary to get the job done.

Despite the aforementioned success, there are always constructive criticisms that can be levied at a team. One criticism that was put forth in the TV telecast came from former OSU Buckeye Chris Spielman. He indicated that he could tell whether the play was a run or a pass based on formation. He went on to intimate that he could decipher what pattern was coming as well. After reviewing the tape, I found that the tendency he was speaking of did not exist.

He suggested that if Michigan was in an ‘offset I' and the backs were closer to the quarterback, that Michigan would pass. On 2nd and 7 at 12:04 in the 3rd quarter, Michigan ran a play-action pass to Edwards. Spielman suggested that the key to diagnosing the play was the alignment of the backs and their depth in the backfield. However, 2 plays earlier at 13:00 in the 3rd quarter (described above) the back alignment and depth in the backfield was exactly the same. Michigan ran on that play. The difference was that the flanker lined up about behind the tight end (in this case it was another tight end Massaquoi) to the left of the formation.

A couple of plays later at 11:18 of the third, Spielman called the play correctly as a pass based on formation. However, as I pointed out, the alignment of the backs and their depth in the backfield was the same as it was on other plays in which Michigan ran. That said, this formation was similar to the one just described with the only caveat being the two tight ends were on the right instead of the left. This was the play where Navarre threw deep to Bellamy and was robbed of a touchdown.

A few plays later at 10:30 they threw the out to Braylon Edwards out of the same 2 tight end alignment. Spielman also pointed to the fact that Edwards split closer to the tackle so that he could run the out cut. The corner bit on this play hard. The importance of this play became apparent later.

At 8:06, they were lined up in the same type of formation yet again. However, this time a flanker (Edwards), as opposed to a tight end, was lined up behind the tight end on the line. Edwards went in motion across the formation and they run out of this set.

At 1:31 they were in the are in the two tight formation with split backs again. Even though it's third and 1, the formation says pass play, right? Wrong! They ran for a first down here. The very next play they lined up in the formation yet again. Furthermore, the split end was offset from the out of bounds line signifying the ‘out cut' that Spielman pointed to earlier, right? Wrong! This is where you really saw Michigan assistant coach Terry Malone coming into his own as offensive coordinator. Contrary to what Spielman said, Malone had called run plays out of this formation. Therefore, the safeties were going to have to respect play action. Also, the last time the split end was offset like this, both the corner and Spielman predicted the out cut coming. Malone had all of the ingredients for the out and up pattern. When Bellamy went out, the corner bit hard. He left the corner 10 yards behind him. Because the safety bit on the play action he wasn't able to get over and break up the pass or at the very least stop the touchdown. Malone did an excellent job of setting this play up by playing on perceived tendencies.

In this game it did seem as if Michigan passed out of certain formations more than they ran. However, they did show the flexibility of being able to do both out of said formations. That will assist them in keeping future defenses off balance.

This game didn't have too many negatives. One area that could use a little improvement is stopping pressure up the middle. It wasn't as much of a problem this week as last. However, there were times where a defensive tackle came free on a stunt or just completely beat the interior lineman. Also, a few blitzes came through cleanly.

Michigan should have been able to gain a lot of confidence from this game. Regardless of the opponent, they got some things accomplished. It is important that they maintain and increase the effort and execution levels as the quality of opponent increases over the next few weeks.

Finally I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the flip-flop of Pape and COurtney Morgan at the tackles. This turned out to be an extremely effective coaching move as Morgan seemed more comfortable and performed much better than last week.

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