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Film Doesn’t Lie: Michigan offensive gameplan versus Ohio State was great

The results were mixed, but the coaches did their best.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Michigan’s loss to 31-20 was brutal, for players, coaches, and fans. The Wolverines had a chance to win in the final minutes but the game ended up getting out of reach.

When your name is Jim Harbaugh, near perfection is expected, and when it is not achieved, finger pointing ensues, which extends to not only Harbaugh, but his offensive coaching staff, with Tim Drevno being one criticized regularly.

While the offense has had its fair share of issues throughout the 2017 season, coaching was not to blame against Ohio State. The game-plan was excellent. However, a sizable amount of plays piled up that didn’t succeed despite the staffs best efforts of putting their team in the best situation to win.

Michigan trotted out formations, new wrinkles, new plays against Ohio State. Plays that weren’t vanilla, nor were of complete trickery variety, time after time I kept saying to myself “I like this”, and a positive gain would transpire.

The offensive line had quite a good game, giving O’Korn time to operate more often than not, opening holes for the running backs to navigate through. The offensive line won the battle in the trenches for much of the afternoon. Credit to Drevno there?

This is in no way trying to pile on what has undoubtedly been a hard few days for John O’Korn, but the truth is the truth. If O’Korn hits open guys, delivers accurate passes, and doesn’t turn the ball over or absorb sacks when there are open targets, Michigan probably wins.

The continued mistakes and missed opportunities kept points off the board, and kept Michigan’s defense on the field far too long (they were gassed in the fourth quarter). On pass plays, Michigan’s receivers had a lot of separation most of the time, they just weren’t found or they had no chance of catching the inaccurate pass thrown their direction.

I looked at the game film and picked some plays that were both successful, and unsuccessful. What both categories have in common is that every play mentioned was a good play call.


Good Play Call, Good Execution

It’s 3rd and long and Michigan needs to get into the red-zone. Ohio State likes manning up and playing with two safeties in these situations. O’Korn sees Gentry streaking down the field, it’s a simple go-route, but has his man beat and a height advantage. One of the few times O’Korn makes a clutch and accurate throw. Good play call, executed properly. Michigan ends up scoring on this drive.

Michigan has had success running the ball between the tackles against OSU, but that has started to change as the game has went on, defenders are crashing the middle of the field. O’Korn takes this option play himself and gets close to the first down marker. Anthony Broome and I were in the press-box thinking they should call this plau, and eventually they did. Another good play call that puts Michigan in a highly manageable third down situation.

This is a play-action pass that has nearly every Buckeye defenders eyes glued to the backfield, not recognizing it’s a pass just yet. This allows time for Mason Cole to flank out left for a key block to spring Kekoa Crawford’s screen pass reception for a gain the puts Michigan inside the ten. A really nice play drawn up and chosen at a critical time. Michigan ends up scoring on the drive and can thank this play for putting them in that situation.

This definitely looks like a run to the right side, but it is not. The shifty Chris Evans is involved with a play action look but sprints to the right side of the field for a swing screen. Evans catches it and makes a couple men miss to pick up a first down. The movement here and the unbalanced set created the first down opportunity.

This is not a set that’s seen much in football, it makes everyone watching go “What the hell is this?” There are three linemen at their natural spots, but two are in the slot areas but are not eligible receivers. This type of set creates confusion and I hope to see it more from Michigan next season. This was just a three yard run from Karan Higdon, but it showed the creativity Harbaugh and company have. This should be an entire package next season that features at least 5 run plays and 5 pass plays. I guarantee we will see this set again, and success will unfold from it.

Good play call, Bad execution

Michigan ultimately scored on this drive but here’s one of many missed opportunities on the day. Here, the tight end runs a wheel route and is open. O’Korn has a lot of real estate to drop a catchable pass in, but he throws it too far and too fast to give his target a chance. Great play call, but not executed.

This started a three play sequence that halted what could have been a Michigan scoring drive. It’s 2nd & 2 and O’Korn falls after the right guard steps on his foot. It looks like the blocks are there to get the first down. O’Korn’s footwork was out of whack all day and he stuck his foot out far too wide instead of keeping them tight and pivoting. Safe play call, but not executed.

This is a slant that has to be hit, and the timing should be fairly easy, but O’Korn throws behind the receiver instead of leading him to the middle of the field for a first down a sizable gain. Good play call, but not executed.

Here we see O’Korn airmail his target who is wide open. This was a brutal three play sequence, as Michigan was driving down the field and looked like they were going to score. Good play call, but not executed.

This was the dagger for Michigan’s hopes. Kekoa Crawford is running a deep crossing pattern and O’Korn overthrows him by a good fifteen yards. The pass is intercepted. If O’Korn delivers an accurate pass to Crawford, Michigan would have been at the 50 yard line or better. A great play dialed up, but not executed.


There should be a sense of optimism going forward in regards to what the offensive coaching staff can draw up when they have the right players in the huddle. Next season the quarterback will be Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey. Think about the above plays and plays you may have thought were great play-calls yet not executed against OSU, think about if Peters or McCaffrey were in there for them next season. Optimism, right?

You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink, I apply this analogy to coaches who do everything they can to prepare a quarterback for the fight ahead, but there’s nothing more they can do, the player just doesn’t have the skill-set to execute a great gameplan.

We’ve seen this offense evolve since the loss against Penn State. We’ve seen more bootlegs, power and counter runs, the tight ends more involved in the passing game, all of which were staples of Jim Harbaugh offenses at Stanford and the San Francisco 49ers.

Some may feel the Wolverines football team took a step back this year, and while that is a fact when it comes to wins and losses, I’m not so sure it is reality when we look ahead. This was a young team that showed it was, but also showed the potential they have.

The most important part of the teams long term success, in 2018 and beyond, is the starting quarterback position. 2018 will be the first time a season begins with a Jim Harbaugh hand-picked recruit being the starter week one. Whether it is Peters starting or McCaffrey, it will be one of Harbaugh’s guys, not someone he inherited. That bodes well for executing the plays that should be easy, and rising to the challenge when the going gets tough.

Expect more good gameplans and better execution in 2018.