A Coach's POV - 4th Quarter Play by Play

Justin K. Aller

In this post, I'm not attempting to say what I would do in these situations. I'm trying to show what Borges is seeing and why, from his perspective, he is calling the plays he is. I'm also trying to show how Borges is reacting to what PSU is giving him, how he's adjusting, and how he's trying to be ahead of the curve so as not to be so "obvious". Catching a flight tomorrow, running low on time, so just offense now.

Link to Quarter 3

Michigan drive 14 - 13:09 4th 27-24

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - Michigan stacks Funchess over Gallon and run the PA tunnel screen to Gallon. This is a play to take advantage of soft coverage on the outside, by forcing them to retreat and getting a block down field. Would have liked to have seen this a couple more times this game, but it's another way to stretch the box horizontally that isn't a bubble screen.

Play 2 - 1st and 10 - Pro I from Michigan. The PA and the screen have effectively backed off PSU. There are no 7 defenders in the box. PSU in a standard 4-3 Over. Gardner checks to weakside Iso. Why? He's likely running power to the strong side here, or even stretch, but PSU has essentially stacked both LBs over their DL on the strong side, making it very difficult to get out on players. Meanwhile, on the weakside, its 3 blockers for three defenders. Good check by Gardner to attack the correct side of the formation for a nice first down pick up.

Play 3 - 2nd and 5 - TE and wing to boundary, two WR to field. Michigan runs PA again and max protects to help the OL. Blocking assignments to help the OL, again. They still miscommunicate here and bust. The key is though, that Gardner has been stepping into the pocket time and time again, this means the DE is trying so hard to get to his level and then merge in, instead he takes a straight 45 at him. This allows DG to spin and get outside the pressure. He isn't able to find anyone and only picks up a yard on his scramble, but this is serious progression from DG.

Play 4 - 3rd and 4 - Same look that has given Michigan a high/low to field and in/out to boundary all game. This time, Michigan switches it up though, runs two outs to the boundary and a short hitch in the slot to Dileo for a first down.

Michigan would run this same play or similar in OT but miss Dileo

Play 5 - 1st and 10 - H-back motions to put 3 to the field. 2 outside are stacked, HB in a wing position. Play action max protect to help out the OL. He gets protection. Steps into pocket. Michigan is running double posts. Gallon runs a corner-post to keep any cover 3 corner in the corner. Then it's the same read as slants. Center field stays over top and follows first guy, throw to second, he hangs down and doesn't get over top, throw to first guy.

Turns out PSU blitzes the slot CB in an attempt to stop the run. This puts a LB on Funchess, so there is no clear, it's just Funchess over the top for a big gain.

(Traveling tomorrow and no computer access through the weekend, so we are only going to look at Michigan's offense from here on out. Sorry)

Michigan drive 15 - 6:28 4th 34-27

Play 1 - 1st and 10 - TE wing to boundary, two wide to field. PSU with 7.5 in box, one of those being a CB. Michigan runs stretch to boundary, no one seals but everyone washes down and Fitz can cut back for a nice gain.

Play 2 - 2nd and 3 - Same formation from both teams. Michigan runs power and a good job on the pull to turn the guy inside and let Fitz get into the second level. This is because PSU is putting 7 in the box now. Michigan has spent the 3rd quarter getting PSU out of there. It also helps that they are running at a CB.

Play 3 - 1st and 10 - TE and wing to field along with a Z-receiver. Another WR to the boundary. Michigan once again runs into a 7 man front with the WR cracking the late moving safety. But the outside never comes close to setting the edge. This is a play that should work here and goes backward.

Play 4 - 2nd and 10 - Michigan in a straight pro I. Again, this is a bit on Gardner. PSU has 8 guys in the box, but 3 LBs to strength, meaning they have 5 on that side and 3 on the other. This needs to be a check to a weakside play, a play that can be very successful. I don't mind running under center here when you've had 3 out of the last 4 be quite successful running from that position. It's 2nd and 10 now, you can expect PSU to go back to the 7 man front they had been showing the last couple runs. They don't, but based on what the defense was giving, this is an understandable play call.

Play 5 - 3rd and 12 - Token PA. Gardner moves in the pocket well, throws a pass. I like the hitch and go here. Defense is playing aggressive for a TO. Worst thing that happens here is essentially a punt. In a way, it gives the offense the ability to move the chains, but it doesn't set up Gardner for complete failure.

Play 6 - 1st and 10 - Solo set mirrored. PSU again in a 7 man front. FWIW, I don't like the fact that Green is in right now. I know Fitz has taken a bit of carries, but get Fitz back in the game here. This is inside zone where the OL gets good initial push but then cedes it once they get to the second level. For whatever reason, Green starts hesitating here when he absolutely shouldn't have. Duck your head and bull up the back of your OL and gain 3-5 yards.

Corners are 7 yards off so still no extended hand off open.

Play 7 - 2nd and 10 - PSU still giving a 7 man front here as Michigan comes out in a mirrored solo formation. PSU in cover 4 so safeties will come down in run support. CBs back off quite a bit. Gardner checks to the correct side of the formation as the DE and the LB to that side are lined up inside Butt. If Butt seals it's 1v1 with a safety on the corner, still not perfect. But Fitz cuts back and gets about 3.

Against a 7 man front when trying to milk clock, on 2nd and 10, I 100% have no issue with this play call, especially as it should have pretty easily been about 5 yards. Could you go more aggressive? Yes. But I don't think not doing it is the wrong decision either.

Play 8 - 3rd and 7 - Michigan goes shotgun, 3 wide. 2 WR to field along with a TE, a single WR to the top. A little conservative with the draw, but it turns out to be a perfect play call as PSU is running cover 2 behind it so LBs are dropping out. Gardner can step through the rush easily, Fitz has the lead block on the only remaining LB and Gardner is into the secondary.

Play 9 - 1st and 10 - Now, before the play. You've seen PSU in 7 man fronts with cover 4 pretty much this whole drive. Against TE and wing to boundary, they've had a defender in the box as a CB. That's where I would go with this even before seeing the play. It turns out that's exactly what Michigan does. But PSU has adjusted, now not flaring the LB over the WR. Yes, the WRs are obnoxiously open here well before the snap, or at least the slot is, but the corner over the slot does walk down at the last second to about 6 yards. It's not as open as it looked when the camera was pulled back. And this isn't a "get to the LOS sooner so you can see what the defense is giving". The defense knows you're not snapping the ball until the play clock is almost up, so they aren't rotating up until then. Getting to the LOS sooner doesn't do anything for that.

FWIW, the original play call is exactly where I would have gone. The mirrored solo look is difficult to run against the cover 4 because safeties on each side can set the edge. Michigan runs power at the CB, which I like. That leaves a CB as the free hitter (the corner starts to drop off pre-snap and then comes up again) to fill a hole and make a play, something they don't tend to be very good at. I have to problem with this play looking at it before it actually happened.


Play 10 - 2nd and 9 - Michigan comes out in a mirrored solo look to counter what they just saw from PSU. This gives them more gaps and allows Michigan to stretch the LBs and still run it. A safety walks down late as the 8th man in the box here making matters difficult. That puts 4.5 defenders to that side. This is another instance where switching the playside helps, but when trying to milk clock, the defense knows when you'll snap and moves accordingly. OL needs to do better working in unison. There should not be that gap for the backside ILB to shoot through. This won't be a big play, but this can be a positive yardage play to get them to 3rd and medium and should be.

Play 11.0 - 3rd and 10 - Michigan gets to the LOS with 10 seconds left. That's plenty of time. Gallon isn't on the LOS of scrimmage and DG needs to be more assertive to get him on so they can snap the ball. Yes, it's also on Hoke for not calling a TO, but there is no problem of when the team gets to the LOS when trying to milk the clock like this. You don't want your team standing ready to snap the ball for 20 seconds in this situation. It's a bad mental mistake by Gallon that costs Michigan a delay of game. FWIW, DG was under center ready to snap, Hoke probably thought they were going to snap it as they were ready with 3 seconds left on the play clock. Don't know why Glasgow didn't snap the ball or what.

Play 11.1 - 3rd and 15 - I think here is where the ire really begins. Michigan goes to the TE wing but switches out one of the WRs for a FB. FWIW, PSU knows Michigan isn't passing here, because they shouldn't. There is 1:42 left on the clock and it's 3rd and 15, you aren't throwing the ball, not even an extended hand off here, and risking stopping the clock in any way. So spread them out all you want, they'll put a man over each receiver and send the rest. Some people want it in Gardner's hands, but a draw won't work here. Maybe option does, but that requires riding a mesh point and risking a TO. The most you can do to get away from conservative here is to give an option look but don't actually option. In my opinion, you have to give it to Fitz here because they will try to strip DG, who has been stripped on numerous occasions. Maybe don't call stretch, but other plays haven't picked up 5+ yards today, and stretch has had some recent success, if you want to get into FG range, I actually think stretch gives the best chance to do that here. That sucks to say that, because the chances are good, but I think it's true.

50 seconds to go 80 yards for a TD with no time outs against a true FR QB. I just don't think you can argue legitimately that there is a smarter move here under the circumstances.

4th Quarter Offensive Conclusions
Did Borges get a bit conservative here? Yes, absolutely. But for the most part, I don't disagree with what he called. Maybe they should have run more option looks. But remember, this is a team that probably doesn't practice the read and the mesh point and the things of that nature as much as others because of all the other things in the system. Remember also that Gardner has had trouble in the past with ball security. My personal preference would have been to still run one before those last three downs on the clock killing drive when PSU wasn't solely going to try to strip the football. But at that point you have to give it to you best ball security RB because PSU is going for the turnover and Gardner simply isn't strong or experienced enough at carrying the ball to be put in that situation. Borges is protecting his players on offense by putting them in positions so they don't fail. He's protecting his QB, who just got a lot of his confidence back, from losing it all over again in a position to fail.

Also, maybe a 2nd down pass one time. But he passed on 3rd downs to try to keep the chains moving. He ensured that he milked off at least 90 seconds each set of downs. That was the most important thing for him to do. And still, he went for first downs.

And, the most important aspect of it all whether you wanted him to run some different plays in different situations is the fact that he was successful doing what he was tasked with doing. He took over 5 minutes off the clock along with all of PSU's timeouts and put the offense in FG range to seal the game away. Whether you agree with the strategy or not, I don't understand how people are being so adamant that he has no clue when his strategy worked the way it was intended to.

Let's put this in perspective. Michigan had 2 drives in the 4th quarter before the hurried drive to score a last second FG. The first they scored a TD on. The second they took 5 minutes off the clock, picked up first downs, and put the offense in a position to kick a game sealing FG before a delay of game penalty that has nothing to do with when Borges got the play call in or when the offense broke the huddle. They messed up, that's obvious. Everyone admits that. But Borges did what he had to do in the 4th quarter, first giving his team a 10 point lead, and then taking all but 50 seconds off the block and putting his team in position to kick a game-sealing FG in the process.

I honestly don't see how people have such an extreme issue with it. I don't. You can have a different preference, but what he was tasked with doing he did. He even marched the team down the field in about 20 seconds to give them a shot at a game winning FG. Now, they moved the ball partially because PSU was in a prevent, not their normal defense. Neither team was going back to that in OT. In OT2 and OT4 he went back to the offense that got him back in the game in the 3rd quarter, which you will come to see.

My opinion will stand that Borges called a well above average game. He called a conservative but understandable first half. He made half time adjustments and was aggressive and put players in positions to succeed time and time again in the 2nd half and in OT. The execution wasn't great or often even decent, and I admit that he asked too much out of his OL on first down. Swap some first and second down plays, like he did in the 3rd quarter and the first drive of the 4th, and he was great. Do exactly what you're asked to do in the 4th quarter, great.

Maybe he can be a bit more aggressive to get first downs late, I'm not saying that opinion isn't valid. He needs to run at least one of the downs, no questions asked. But Michigan was getting what they wanted on the ground until PSU switched it up, and by that time milking as much clock and snatching away TOs is a legit thought process. You have a young, mistake prone team that has struggled in pass pro even more than they've struggled run blocking. You have a QB with 3 TOs in the game that is known to fumble. I watched this game, I studied the tape, I understand the circumstances going into the play and am not reacting by what happened after, and I thought he made the right decisions for this team.

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