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Snapshots of Doom: Michigan's Cavalcade of Mistakes Against Utah

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A rewatch of Michigan's game against Utah provided quite a bit of insight into why things went so wrong for the offense.

Gregory Shamus

As I rewatched the game this week I took a series of screenshots and made some annotations to show the number of mistakes that Michigan is making (and also some of the good things it is doing).  Click on the pictures for a big version.  Breakdown (and heartache) below.

Play One

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Here, we see Devin Gardner missing a read in the passing game.  There is a nice pocket for him to work from, and Jehu Chesson is breaking free over the middle.  If the ball is out quick and ahead of Chesson, it could be a big play as the safety has gotten turned around.  At this point, the ball already needs to be away and into that window.  Gardner does a good job scrambling for yards, but this wouldn't be the last time he missed a receiver.

Play Two

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Both Magnuson and Braden get beat on this one, a simple power run to the right side with Mags coming across the formation.  Both Braden and Mags fail to get their helmet across the defender, allowing both to close up the hole.  Braden needs to drive block his man down the line of scrimmage into Galsgow's man and that pile of bodies on the backside.  Mags needs to do a better job making contact and kicking his guy out.

This is indicative of Michigan's issues on offense.  There is almost always one blown assignment that either costs the Wolverines or is inconsequential to the result.  That's how it is easy to see improvement on a play to play basis, but the offense still stagnates.  It is also why this whole exercise is so frustrating.  Bad football always is, I guess.

Play Three

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Here Michigan takes a shot against tight man coverage on the sidelines and Chesson gets in good position, but Gardner doesn't throw it to his back shoulder (star) to give him a chance to shield the defender.  Gardner had issues with accuracy all day, and while this one didn't cost Michigan, it is a throw that we know Gardner knows how to make (he and Gallon were great at this).  Could be Chesson's route, but I thought it looked pretty good.

Play Four

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More of Michigan's run game woes.  This one on a zone stretch to De'Veon Smith.  First, Mason Cole has failed to cut off his man on backside pursuit (1) and is letting that DT flow hard down the line.  With crisp blocking in front of Smith that might not matter, but Jack Miller (2) and Graham Glasgow (3) both combo the DT, but Miller doesn't get enough of a push on the DT and Glasgow ends up trying to block the guy with one arm running away from the cutback.  Miller, for his part, then screws up his second level block on the LB.

That is how De'Veon Smith was tackled at the line of scrimmage by three players on a stretch play.

Play Five

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Michigan trying the always-gutsy "single-vert" route package against two deep coverage and the whole stadium knowing Funchess is the target.  That is how you end up with five pass defenders between the hashes and one of them perfectly lined up for a rib-breaking takedown as soon as the ball gets there.  Gardner has another inaccurate throw here that hangs Funchess out to dry.  Of course, Funchess makes the next two catches to move Michigan just outside field goal range.

Play Six

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Michigan runs play action out of an under center formation (because of course), and Utah brings a free rusher off the edge who Mags can't get to because asking your LG to pull and pass block Nate Orchard is like asking him to compose a symphony using only sound clips from football games.  It is insane and no one would ever think to do it.

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So, Orchard gets all up in Gardner's grill and he flings one off his back foot that just misses Kerridge.  I don't know if I can fault Gardner too much here.  That he got that ball anywhere near Kerridge is pretty impressive given the heat he was taking.  However, he did have a chance to possibly tuck and run up the gut and off to the right through a crease.

This one is on play design/call.  Utah gets a free run at Michigan's quarterback because every single pass out of under center formations is a play action pass, and those take a long time to develop.  Michigan refuses to make teams respect a quick pass out of under center formations designed to get behind the blitzers.  Do they not trust Devin's pass drop from under center?  Why continually force him to turn his back to the line on play action?  Why think that your left guard can possibly block the edge rush off the right side after a pull?

Play Seven

Okay, so things aren't completely bad.  This is actually a really positive play, and indicative of what Michigan is capable of doing this year when all the moving pieces come together.  This is a pin and pull play to the boundary in which Michigan brings Miller and Mags around the end to function as lead blockers.  Just after the snap and before the handoff, we can already see the makings of a really positive play.

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Mason Cole and AJ Williams have sealed off the edge nicely and the pulling linemen have gotten a clean release and are about to turn up into acres of space in which to set up blocks.

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A moment later and this play is looking very positive.  Mags has turned the corner and will kick out the corner, Miller is right behind him and ready to plow upfield, and Green is just getting ready to head upfield after getting far enough to the edge to avoid the mess of blockers behind him.  Mags' block springs this one for the first down and Miller does a good job making contact down the field to give Green room to move past the first down.

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The result is a big gainer on the ground.

Michigan's offense is capable of plays like this in both the running and passing game.  However, the little mistakes that cut down run gains and lead to hurries and incomplete passes keep the Wolverines too far behind the chains.

Play Eight

Gardner's footwork is often a mess.  Sometimes that is caused by pressure.  Sometimes...

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Well, I don't know.  That is just bad.

Play Nine

Two plays ago we saw what happens when the OL is on the same page.  This time we get an indication of just how far from comfortable in the inside zone scheme Michigan's young line is.  With a normal five man line with a TE to the boundary, Michigan is going to run inside zone up the middle.  Problem is, both Jack Miller and Erik Magnuson combo off the DT to the LB.

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That pretty much dooms this whole enterprise.

The beauty of zone blocking is that it is adaptable because it is based on a simple set of rules (block the defender lined up over you or if there is none, move to the second level).  However, it takes a lot of practice to get comfortable making these reads and executing blocks in real time.  Michigan is still not there yet.

Play Ten

Of course, when the OL executes its blocks well, it is still up to the running backs to do something with that, and Michigan didn't always get that.  Consider the below picture:

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De'Veon Smith has nice blocking to the front side of the play and a crease through which he can run and likely pick up at least the first down, if not more depending on the second level blocks.  He also has the cutback, notated by the red X.  That is a run into three Utah defenders.

Smith cuts back and gets cut down before the first down.

Play Eleven

Here is a fun one.  It is a combination between Nussmeier setting up a play poorly and then players not executing.  On the snap we see three rushers on the right and two blockers.  A quick pass play here (or a check) could get a nice pass out behind the rush and hit Utah where it is weak.

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Nope, this is a play from under center, so it is obviously a play action pass (that is all Michigan runs in those situations).  That means Gardner turns his head to the LOS to fake the hand off.  So now we have three blitzers for two blockers with no RB help (he is play faking away from the rush), and a quarterback that has to take his eyes off what is happening.

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Now, Glasgow has handled the innermost rusher and it is up to Braden to deal with the rest.  He should take the middle rusher, and he does in fact try, but that is after he has already gotten too caught up on the outside rush.  Doing so takes him out of position to block either player.

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Devin Gardner then eats turf.

Play Twelve

All those hits Gardner has taken have obviously gotten to him, and I guess it is hard to blame him for that.  Although it ends up messing with him on plays where things work right.  Check out this pass.

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Michigan has this pretty well blocked, with a wall on the left and two players blocking one guy on the right.  Gardner is under no threat right now and he already has the ball tucked to run.  We can't see down field, so his receivers could be blanketed, but he doesn't give them much of a chance to break free.

Play Thirteen

One more from the up and down run blocking day.  This is another pin and pull with Mags pulling around but Miller going to the second level.  Unlike last time, Michigan does not have an edge set.  In fact, both Cole and Glasgow have their shoulders turned parallel to the sideline with the defender playside of them.  As soon as that happens, Michigan cannot stretch the play any farther to the sideline to set up other blocks.  Green would either need to abort and cut upfield inside or try to swing wide around the DL both entering the backfield on good pursuit angles.

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This ends poorly.

What did we learn?

That I need to stop watching game film because it obviously isn't good for me.

Drew has already taken us through a lot more detail into some of Michigan's bigger systemic issues on offense, and there is certainly quite a bit going on.  Mostly, this should go to show just how varied and somewhat unpredictable Michigan's offensive struggles are.

Michigan is struggling to overcome a thousand little mistakes, and the ghosts of all the things that have happened over the past year.  The offensive line is still trying to work itself out, TE is still a sore spot (AJ Williams had a rough game), the receivers aren't providing much help outside of Funchess, who isn't being done many favors.  Most of all, Gardner looks like a guy who took too many hits a year ago and hasn't gotten over it.

Are there quick fixes?  Probably not.  Shane Morris isn't going to clean up Michigan's run blocking, he is just going to have to deal with the same number of long third down conversions Gardner does.

In the end we learned that this is just a talented team that isn't yet very good at playing offensive football.

I wish I had a better answer than that.  I do not.

Let's hope Brady and Doug do.