Overall, Devin Gardner played a decent game against CMU, but he did make a couple mistakes. In this article, we are going to look at Gardner's first INT to see what went wrong on the play. After the first viewing I put equal blame on both Gardner and Dileo. While I still believe Dileo could have done a little more with his route (which I'll try to explain below), the main culprit is obviously Gardner on second viewing.
So What Happened?
Here's a screen grab right before the snap.
Note how both CBs are playing off and at about 8 yards depth. They are also playing pretty much right over top of the WRs rather than inside (so it's probably not man). Then look at the safeties, who are pretty much also lined up 8 yards deep. The NB is faking a blitz, which may go into DG's thought process, but it isn't the deciding factor. Pre-snap, Gardner is reading the safeties, and from that he sees an even coverage. If it's cover 0 with the NB blitzing, the safety is too deep to come down on the play. But if it was cover 0 he'd probably look to the TE first, it seems pretty obvious by the CB alignment and safety depth that it isn't cover 0. If it's cover 2 or cover 4 (what I believe Gardner is reading), he supposed to look to the right side of the field and then key the field CB at the bottom of the screen.
The problem is, he's using his pre-snap read as his post-snap safety read, when it's only supposed to give him an idea of what to look for. At the snap, the field side safety drops, but the boundary side safety comes underneath into a robber position. Both CBs on the outside are dropping at the snap, and it's pretty obvious that it's a cover 3.
DG is looking to the wrong side of the field. He should be looking for the slant pattern at the top of the screen. The double A gap blitz has opened up the middle of the field, but even if that didn't happen, the slant would find an opening in the underneath coverage, as the TE would run off the Strong Safety in his underneath zone who must protect the seam to that side. The slant would come underneath.
But DG doesn't make a post-snap read of the safeties, he jumps right into his second coverage read. So when he sees the CB on that side dropping he goes straight to the bench route. But never once do his eyes leave that side of the field, and watch the NB's eyes. The NB doesn't even know where the WR is, he's only reading DG because he knows what's coming. He quickly jumps the route based solely on Gardner's eyes, and he is able to undercut the route.
So I'm still not exactly happy with Dileo's quick out, and it all has to do with the first two steps. From the slot position, Dileo's quick out is supposed to attack outside hip of the DB, threatening to pass him, or cut inside of him, so that he can't quickly break underneath the route. His first step with his inside foot will then be planted and he will turn 45 degrees, and on his second inside step he'll cut outside at 90 degrees and be parallel to the LOS.
But Dileo's first step is straight up field, and the problem there is that it doesn't stop the NB from going in a straight line to undercut the route. It allows him to get completely up to speed rather than have to start/stop. After that, the route is perfectly fine. Now, the route is most likely no responsible for the INT. If Dileo runs the route correctly the NB is probably still there, because the NB doesn't care what Dileo is doing. But that was my initial thought for putting the blame equally on Gardner and Dileo, when it's clearly on Gardner's eyes.
Fixing the Issue
Later, Gardner has corrected the problem. Here you once again see CMU in a 2 deep set. The pre-snap look also looks like cover 4.
Gardner's eyes go directly to the safety at the top of the screen at the snap though, and this time he sees the safety dropping straight back, not to center field.
He correctly reads cover 4 (note: it looks like cover 2 at the top of the screen because it is, the defense has checked into cover 2 because Michigan is in a "knob" formation, where there isn't an outside WR). Based on that read he can come back down to the slant on the backside that is attacking the gap between LBs in cover 4.
Here's the video
So Gardner went to the sideline, talked to Borges, Borges corrected his eyes so that he'd read post-snap as well, and DG ran the play correctly on a series in the same game. In game adjustment, in game coaching, proof is in the pudding.
Also worth noting is Dileo's initial steps. Dileo this time has a correct aiming point, which threatens the DB. He stutters, faking the out, before planting on his outside foot and running his route in front of the defender to get his body between the defender and ball as he runs into the opening in the defense.
FWIW: the route at the top of the screen will be used to attack cover 1 or cover 3, essentially reading the flat defender and seeing if he goes out with the first receivers or stay inside. The TE likely has an option to cut outside or hitch and sit in the empty zone.
Pretty cute how they pretty much ran the same play isn't it. You can see pre-snap that the defense will have single high, meaning cover 1 or cover 3. To me it looks like cover 1 robber. If you so desire, the WR that's off screen to the bottom on both plays is likely either running a fade or a post, depending on how he reads coverage. This will keep the safety honest and back, or if it doesn't it will result in a big play for the offense.
So Gardner went to the sideline, someone asked him "where were your eyes?" He said "locked on Dileo immediately after the snap." He knew he was wrong, and he corrected it going forward. CMU constantly gave a look where the safeties were lining up about 8-10 yards deep. This often means cover 4, which they ran a lot of (as does MSU, along with the double A gap blitz seen in the first play). But they rotated into some different coverages as well, which appears to be how DG got confused a bit. There were a few times where it looked like a receiver was open (an out and up by Funchess that DG decided to tuck and run for a TD instead). Perhaps he's still a little apprehensive. Maybe he was playing it safe. But he saw it and he learned from it. The coaches will go over it on film (all 22 film at that) and he'll be better then next time he sees something similar. But don't be surprised to see ND crowd the line a little bit to try to get the same sort of confusion.