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Film Focus: Michigan's Defense vs. Oregon State

Led by Chris Wormley's explosion, Michigan's defense gave an inspired performance in the final three quarters against Oregon State, but the first quarter was so close to being catastrophic.

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Bryan Fuller-MGoBlog

Yesterday, I provided a film breakdown about how Michigan's offense performed against Oregon State and concluded that, despite its success, the running game left too many yards on the table against a poor run defense. Today, I turn my attention to Michigan's defense, which had a shaky first quarter before holding the Beavers to just 50 offensive yards in the final three quarters -- hilarious high snaps on punts excluded -- and only four yards (!!!) after the halftime intermission.

The First Quarter Should Have Been Much Worse

When the first quarter ended, 13-point-favorite Michigan trailed Oregon State, 7-3, and its fans were slightly restless. Michigan is fortunate that its fans weren't freaking out like Nicolas Cage in all of his movies (NSFW - language). The Wolverines should have been in a much more precarious position after those first 15 minutes. Of course, the fumble by Oregon State's Victor Bolden on the Michigan 19-yard line two plays after Jake Rudock fumbled is the first thing that comes to mind. It robbed the Beavers of a prime opportunity to extend their lead to 10 or 14 and turn up the heat on Michigan.

But there are two other plays that stand out as well.

The first one was the play before Bolden fumbled. Oregon State had taken over on Michigan's 24-yard line after Rudock lost the football while going down for a sack. The Beavers saw this as a chance to score and suck all the life out of Michigan Stadium, and they wanted to do it on the first play of the drive with some razzle-dazzle. Oregon State comes out in a two-wide shotgun set, while Michigan is in a 4-3 Under and plans to sit in zone coverage behind it. Prior to the snap, Bolden moves in motion from the near side:

FF - Oregon State - Failed WR Pass - 1

After the snap, quarterback Seth Collins hands the ball off to the motioning Bolden. This seems to be a jet sweep -- a play that Oregon State used with success on its opening touchdown drive. Jarrod Wilson crashes down from his spot at safety to set the edge on the far side and force the sweep inside, where his teammates can make the tackle. Delano Hill begins to move to center field to cover the area that Wilson just vacated, while Jabrill Peppers slides back into coverage. Also, James Ross III shifts to the far side of the field, waiting to clean up if Bolden cuts into a backside gap that's been overrun:

FF - Oregon State - Failed WR Pass - 2

However, suddenly, Bolden pulls up, looks back to the near side of the field, and prepares to throw. Oregon State's success with the jet sweep on the first drive has set up this trick constraint: the wide receiver pass. Collins has leaked out of the backfield towards the near sideline as a receiver undetected. I believe this blame falls on Ross III, who disregarded Collins in order to cover the backside gaps -- though Peppers may be a bit at fault as well. The speedy Collins is wide open. This looks really bad for the Wolverines:

FF - Oregon State - Failed WR Pass - 3

Ross III realizes his mistakes and attempts to recover, but, if Bolden throws an accurate pass, Collins will dance into the end zone untouched. But Mario Ojemudia saves the day by breaking through the Oregon State offensive line and putting pressure in Bolden's face. Bolden is a receiver, not a quarterback, and doesn't know the proper technique, so he tosses a wildly unbalanced pass off of his back foot just before Ojemudia arrives:

FF - Oregon State - Failed WR Pass - 4

The pass falls well behind Collins, who had all of the green grass in front of him:

FF - Oregon State - Failed WR Pass - 5

Michigan sighs in relief and is thankful that it didn't allow a second touchdown.

Michigan took another huge sigh of relief two Oregon State possessions later.

It's 4th & 7 on the Michigan 34-yard line, and Oregon State has correctly opted to go for it. The Beavers are in a four-wide shotgun formation with two receivers to each side of the field. Michigan shows a Cover 1 blitz and will send all five Wolverines on the line:

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 1

Collins takes the snap and drops back. Michigan's blitz seems like it will be successful as the defensive line breaks through Oregon State's blockers. However, that's only because the Beavers have called a screen and have sucked in the Wolverine defenders. Desmond Morgan realizes this as he rushes in, so he cuts out to follow the back running into the flat. Thus, Peppers now is roaming free in the middle of the field. But neither Ojemudia nor Willie Henry have noticed that there is flanker screen happening on the near side of the field. Neither peels off to constrict that space in the flat where the receiver will be:

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 2

To compound the problem, Dymonte Thomas either has not read the flanker screen or just ran himself right out of the play. The receiver that Thomas is covering is the one that set the block on Jeremy Clark to spring open Jordan Villamin. The block worked, so Thomas needs to switch off his man instantly and cover Villamin on the screen. Instead, Thomas chases after his man and permits Villamin to run unimpeded into open grass:

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 3

And I mean WIDE-OPEN grass.

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 4

But, for some reason, rather than cut back into the wide-open grass to the outside, where he'll have two Oregon State blockers escorting him into the end zone, Villamin charges inside. Maybe it was because his momentum from running the screen carried him too far that way after receiving the pass before he could redirect his path. Maybe it was because he didn't see the space to the outside, which seems preposterous. Either way, it opened a lane for Peppers to storm over from the middle of the field and make a critical tackle:

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 5

Peppers shows off his ability to tackle in space, and, somehow, stops this short:

FF - Oregon State - Peppers Stops 4th & 7 - 6

This should have been a touchdown, and Oregon State didn't even get a first down.

Oregon State very easily could have had 21 points in a quarter in which it had only seven. Of course, if the Beavers had scored on the wide receiver pass, the rest of the game would not have played out the same way, meaning this 4th & 7 would not have presented itself like this. Nonetheless, the Beavers squandered two amazing chances to take a big lead.

Michigan should consider itself lucky.

The Wonderful Mr. Wormley

I devoted a section to Chris Wormley in last week's column after he registered three tackles for loss against Utah. It seems only fair that I devote a section to him in this week's column after he registered three tackles for loss, including a monstrous sack, against Oregon State. Oh, and Wormley should have been credited for a fourth tackle for loss, but the official scorer marked the run as no gain rather than a loss of one. I mention that only because, if that had been scored correctly, Wormley would lead the nation with seven tackles for loss rather than settling for second in the nation with six. [shakes fist]

For the second straight week, Wormley was Michigan's top performer according to Pro Football Focus. It's not hard to see why. Once again, Wormley demonstrated how well he's able to use his pads to push offensive linemen back before he rips through them into the backfield. Look at this play here, where Seth Collins has tons of space to the outside:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley TFL for 3 - 1

But Wormley pushes the Beavers lineman two yards back before he rips through to the inside and shuts off Collins' lane. Collins cuts in, but Wormley swallows him whole:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley TFL for 3 - 2

Or there was the time when Wormley played the zone read very well. Oregon State tries to option him off, but he sits in the hole and forms up, waiting for Collins to make his decision. Wormley had a slow jump at the snap, so he should be a bit closer to the mesh point to force a more difficult decision. I say that because Collins likely should give it:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Beats Zone Read - 1

But Collins keeps, and Wormley, using his great athleticism, explodes in the backfield:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Beats Zone Read - 2

Like before, Collins tries to cut inside, but Wormley has none of that. It's a two-yard loss:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Beats Zone Read - 3

And then there's everyone's favorite play by Wormley: the sack. Oregon State has 3rd & 14 on its own 11-yard line, so Michigan opts to rush only three and drop eight back. Wormley is lined up over the Oregon State left tackle. At the snap, Wormley gets low and takes a hard right step to the outside, feigning that he wants to get by with a speed rush:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Sack - 1

The left tackle reacts by stepping to his left and placing all of his weight on that left leg:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Sack - 2

That's when Wormley uses his explosiveness to cut back inside. The left tackle is off-balanced, so Wormley is able to use a quick swim move to move right past him:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Sack - 3

Sweet dreams, Marcus McMaryion:

FF - Oregon State - Wormley Sack - 4

Wormley had an incredible performance -- just look at how MGoBlog's Brian Cook graded him. It may be fair to describe this as an outlier if this was his first performance like this because Oregon State's offensive line is not one to write home about. But back-to-back weeks of this? That's a trend, not an outlier. Due to his size, explosive first step, and athleticism, Wormley has become adept at pushing offensive linemen back and breaking free inside. I suspect that future offensive linemen that face Wormley will see this on tape and try to force him to beat them on the edge. I'm not sure if Wormley has the speed rush down pat yet. But, if he does, Wormley could be in for a special season.

Additional Notes

Due to time constraints, I wasn't able to be as thorough as I'd like. A few extra notes:

  • Michigan's linebackers, particularly Joe Bolden and Desmond Morgan, were fine, but I would like to see them be a bit more instinctive. I saw each catch more blocks than I'd like downfield. Rather, I want to see them meet those blockers closer to the line of scrimmage, constricting the hole through which the back must run. But, if the defensive line continues to whip offensive lines, it won't be a huge problem.

  • Jabrill Peppers continued to excel when defending the run and blowing up screens, but he struggled in coverage again versus Oregon State. He once got caught biting on a play-action rollout, and the Beavers receiver got behind him -- thankfully, Seth Collins couldn't complete the pass. He was flagged for pass interference, though it was questionable. He also whiffed on a jam that allowed a receiver to release inside on a third-down pass in the second quarter -- once again, Collins couldn't throw is accurately. Peppers should improve with his coverage as the season progresses, but expect quarterbacks to continue to attack him through the air in coming weeks.

  • Jourdan Lewis is Michigan's only lockdown corner, and Michigan needs him back -- though, if there was ever a game that Michigan could afford to miss him, it's against UNLV. Yes, Lewis allowed Oregon State's only touchdown, but he still had very good coverage on that receiver. That was just one of the rare throws from Seth Collins that had perfect touch and fell right through the tiny window that Lewis allowed. I mean, Lewis had a pass breakup where he was able to rake out the ball at the high point against a 6-foot-5 receiver. That's just fantastic. As for Michigan's second corner, whether it be Channing Stribling or Jeremy Clark, that could be a concern going forward. We'll wait and see.