Last time we looked at the theory of the 2 point conversion, triangle concept. In this part we will go deeper and figure out why it wasn't successful and what were some other potential plays for Michigan to run out of the same formation.
How OSU Stopped It
Let's first look at how the Buckeyes originally lined up:
And here's just before the TO when Dileo (W-receiver) goes in motion.
So OSU switched coverages (it's important to note that once the ball is placed for a conversion try, it cannot be moved, so Michigan was stuck on that hash). They switched from some sort of man under to essentially a cover 2. On top of that they rolled the coverage of the backside safety to the middle of the field (theoretically, at that point you'd like someone to call a TO, even though the play should still work, the advantage is less).
The biggest adjustment they made, though, was to put their defenders at different levels. What was so bad about their first alignment wasn't the coverage, but that they were all about equal as far as how far off the LOS they were. This makes it extremely difficult to defend rub routes, because you are no longer just fighting through another receiver, but also another defender.
The PA holds one LB (who ends up spying the QB). You also see on the backside two things: Roby (CB) is lined up with the TE (Williams). When Williams doesn't go into a route, Roby works forward, but he doesn't blitz because he's worried of a throw back. Note also that the DE, after his initial rush, retreats (and falls) also worried about some sort of throw back. So the throw back screens earlier held two guys and the PA held another.
Now let's work playside. OSU was determined to prevent Michigan from rolling the pocket with the QB. Note the first step of the EMOL (the blitzing LB) who first moves outside and arcs upward. This is to try to leverage any roll out. The 2nd man through beats the playside OG, who has inside help and therefore cannot give up the outside pass lane (but, as has been seen with Michigan this year, often times that communication and slide has been lacking and an inside release has gotten the rush their quicker). The LB, that is initially held by the PA, is now very clearly spying the QB. This spy is OSU's best LB.
In retrospect here, once the defense got to this point (which couldn't be seen pre-snap, mind you), you're thinking "man, a QB draw would have killed." Maybe, but remember DG was injured and was struggling to move well. A designed draw likely isn't as successful as a scramble (the defense can tell the difference, so a pump fake would work to eek out more yards).
Another option here would be for Gardner to step up and away from pressure. I won't blame his injury for him not doing that here though. While he's improved in that area, this is a play that is highly predicated on timing and throwing angle. His thought is likely to get the ball out, not to buy time. If he had the mobility, I have no doubt he could either beat the LB to the goal line or force one of the DBs to commit off his man, opening up something behind it, but that is improvisation that I'm not sure he would have done anyway, and probably couldn't do at that point. As is, if he did step up, it would hurt the timing of the play in a negative way. While obviously that's better for Michigan than what happened, it would allow the defense enough time to react to everything underneath and would certainly turn it into an improve play rather than work within the play design. On top of that, it really takes away any throwing lane to the flat area, which means Gardner would be forced to do something with his legs or a WR would have to do something quickly on the scramble drill to get open before pressure got home.
Alright, now let's look at the coverage. This is your standard cover 2. A triangle concept should work perfectly. But, OSU does roll the backside safety. He takes the slant route. Open field is between levels for the Z-receiver, so he has to get upfield of the CB and then work outside. The CB though, does a nice job (in the context of this play, I'll explain more later), to get his arms out and really re-direct Gallon. This CB has outside leverage and inside help, his goal is to tighten that window by redirecting the receiver inside, and typically, if he does that, it will help him and the defense in coverage. This redirect shouldn't happen so easily here, but the CB does his job, and it takes Gallon off track for longer than it should. Because of this, Gallon doesn't draw his flat defender outside. This is the zone-beater remember, they are running and inside-out on the flat defender here with the vertical stretch. But the redirect makes it so the CB never has to break to the flat (with the WR even horizontally with the safety and 6 yards shallower, that safety could not defend that route alone). The redirect makes it so neither underneath DB must commit.
Let's look at what this means: if Gallon gets outside, the two underneath defenders must commit to a direction.
Flat defender stays in:
Flat defender goes out, underneath defender stays inside:
Both commit outside:
It becomes extremely difficult for both to cover all that room for such a short throw. In fact, it's next to impossible. That's because the underneath defender is basically put in a no win position. He must commit one way or the other, and Dileo can either work against that action across his body, or Gardner can throw Dileo open to the outside. This play is hijacked by the well timed jam of the flat defender.
What this does is it gives DG a bad read. The window is tight, because Gallon hasn't "occupied" his defender. Because he doesn't occupy him enough to draw him out (it also doesn't allow him to commit inside, he doesn't have to commit at all rather), DG reads to throw at his chest as it reads as if that flat CB has coverage responsibility on Dileo. DG doesn't see the underneath defender because he reads the flat defender as his key for the throw to Dileo within that tight window. He's also forced to read this quickly because the pressure is getting home.
Now, I've read things about how OSU "knew what was coming". Well, they likely had an idea. But they also played the roll out, they also heavily played the throw back, they played the QB scramble to a degree, and they figured on a pass to the stack side. That's about as far as they "knew it was coming". They also assumed Dileo was going to be the underneath route, which is a fair assumption. The underneath defender did a nice job putting his eyes on the stack set and flipping them to find the ball in coverage.
I've heard a couple people say that with an extra half second that DG can hit Gallon in the flat. Maybe, but more likely that CB sinks on Gallon. What that does do though is open up the window and allows DG to accurate read the play, and then throw Dileo open (note how Dileo opens up on his hitch, he is supposed to look back to the ball on his hitch and immediately break outward; he sees inside coverage and anticipates breaking outward when he locates the ball). The inside defender is not in a position to defend what essentially becomes a delayed out on the snag concept if this happens. So with an extra bit of time, someone is opening up in that window against the zone as the zone had been overloaded.
But this is all defended, mostly because the CB makes a nice play against this play to hold Gallon inside longer than he should have. And I want to emphasize, it is a very nice play by the outside CB. He has outside leverage and inside, help, he is supposed to force the play back inside to help and squeeze the window. The fact that he did so despite the stack formation speaks to the job he did. It was also a nice job seeing the receiver and finding the ball by the inside underneath defender.
Outside of the QB draw, inverted veer, zone read, or other backside plays (throw backs included), let's look at some other concepts that Michigan has run from bunch/stack formations and why OSU wasn't as prepared as they like to think.
Drag and Follow
Ran against Iowa on 4th and 2, ran against Iowa a couple times and I believe at least once against OSU. It's been a part of the playbook dating back to Borges's first year. If Michigan runs this play, the outside CB's jam takes him out of the play completely and it's a TD (Borges typically runs this with his play in as shown above according to personnel, so Gallon would be the follow, though the routes could be run by any of the three WRs in combination).
This gives both a high and low stretch, as well as a horizontal stretch, gets receivers in routes quickly, and lets them work in space. The read is a bit harder for DG, as he has to correctly identify which target has best position, and it also requires a bit more from the receiver end. I believe this play was run earlier in the season, sometime in the first half.
This is essentially the same look as hitches, but runs the receiver's opposite of their initial release. This maximizes the rub aspect of the stack formation, as well as gives the WR more separation due to their movement. It makes the throw a bit tougher because of the movement involved, and the read is about the same. This tends to work better against a man coverage or a match-up coverage, where as hitches would work better against zone.
Outside Triangle (Smash)
This takes Funchess to the corner instead, and puts the high low further away to the field. This is more than likely paired with a roll out and gives Gardner three pass options and a potential run option. It also utilizes the motion to get Dileo two rubs while getting into the flat. A similar play was run on 4th down earlier in the game.
It is interesting to note that the play that was run was quite similar to the one that sealed the ND game for Michigan. In that case, the motion receiver ran the flat route though and Dileo ran the option route still. The formation was a bit different (WR on the backside, RB flipped), but the route concept was highly similar. That means OSU probably saw something similar, but it was also a different set-up and in a different context.
It's important to note a few things further. Pretty much any of these routes can be run in any combination by any receiver. Each receiver will have some tendencies that follow their strengths, but on any play that can be changed. It should also be noted that on all plays (besides the inside-out play) that the triangle can be inverted into what is known as a delta concept by some. This puts the horizontal stretch deeper (there will be some manipulation to the routes in order to achieve this, but it's in general the same play). There are certainly other possibilities as well, these are just ones that I've personally seen Michigan run in similar situations that utilize a triangle concept.
So the play was designed to work, whether or not Meyer called TO. It's designed to work against anything. For all we know, the play may have changed as well or Borges may have liked what he ended up anticipating, for instance: OSU came out in a man coverage originally, and when they called TO it could be expected they'd come back in zone, which the called play is actually better designed for (though designed for both). But a single good play by the CB and a lack of protection for Gardner rushed things (Gardner could have also thrown the pass earlier, immediately after the PA, and the play could have been successful, but that's asking a lot, though it is what DiNardo concluded after watching it). OSU didn't know what was coming though, they likely had some ideas, but the fact that CB said they watched for the angle route, and Dileo ran a snag, and it just happened to be in the same area because of the outside CB, doesn't mean the defender that got the INT was correct. A few things could have gone better, DG could have side stepped the pass rush, but then the timing and his footwork/shoulders would have been off. He could have thrown earlier. The protection could have held up a bit better. He could have run on his hurt leg. A lot of things could've happened, but at the end of the day, the team that was expected to win made a play to preserve the win