Monday, September 8, 2014

Coaching Thoughts: Post-Notre Dame

I find myself lacking the time to do "snapshot" breakdowns of particular plays, so while I would like to go into greater detail, please bear with me as I simply write about some of the technical breakdowns I saw in Saturday night's game. To point out these plays, I'm using the Notre Dame highlight video below:

Cover zero: The touchdown pass with 3:58 left before halftime was a result of a man-beater route combination called by Notre Dame, plus a physically outmatched slot corner in Delonte Hollowell. Hollowell correctly had inside leverage on the quick out, but he was aligned a little far off for my liking and did not have the makeup speed to undercut the route or challenge the catch. On the goal line, there's no need to play off the receiver. If the opponent tries to throw over the top, they have to complete the pass in front of the end line, which is tough unless you've got a good jump ball guy.

Seam routes: On the interception thrown with 12:34 remaining in the third quarter, it looks like Gardner simply didn't see safety Max Redfield in the deep middle. Gardner likely felt a little rushed because Notre Dame was getting a bit of a push. All the routes were covered, so I would like to see Gardner tuck the ball and run or throw it away. If he's going to make that throw to Khalid Hill, he needs to put some air under it with Hill being the only guy who could catch it. Hill would have had a chance to make the reception if it turned into a jump ball because Redfield was not in great position to defend a deep ball, but even then, a safety vs. a mediocre tight end is probably going to go the defense's way.

Free safety play: On the botched cover zero play involving Hollowell (above), blitzing safety Jeremy Clark gets chopped to the ground by running back Tarean Folston. Part of blitz technique is using your hands to stay on your feet when someone goes for a cut block, but Clark's eyes were in the backfield and he was caught completely off guard. If he had stayed on his feet, he would have been in Golson's face and potentially altering the throw. On the tunnel screen touchdown with 3:02 remaining in the third, it's well executed by Notre Dame. The guy who should be saving that play is deep safety Jeremy Clark. He reacted by trying to get over the top of the screen, but those plays are designed to come back inside. Because of his overpursuit, Clark took a bad angle. He should have been coming downhill, right up the tunnel. That would have given other defenders more of a chance to converge even if he didn't make the tackle. It turned out to be a pretty easy catch-and-run score. That's the inexperience of a redshirt sophomore safety project.

Scramble drill: Late in the third quarter, Devin Gardner dropped back to pass. With a decent pocket forming and several downfield routes - plus a well covered outlet option in De'Veon Smith - Gardner hung in the pocket looking for a receiver. At the 1:00 mark, he began to scramble - first to the right, then back, then to the left, and finally forward across the line of scrimmage. In the four seconds before he crossed the line of scrimmage, not one receiver re-entered the screen to save his quarterback. When a quarterback is scrambling, deep receivers are supposed to work their way short, and short receivers are supposed to work deeper. Instead, Gardner scrambled, spun, got blindsided, and ultimately fumbled.

Amara Darboh's route running: Darboh is big and strong, and he has decent speed. What Darboh lacks is precision in his route running. When Michigan got the ball back after Gardner's aforementioned fumble, the first play involved what looks like a 7-yard hitch route. Darboh does not provided the illusion of running deep, either with his footwork or his head. He simply hits 7 yards, whips his head around, and drifts. A receiver is supposed to come back down the chute to the ball, which prevents the corner from jumping the route. Sure enough, cornerback Cody Riggs jumps the route and beats Darboh to the spot. The pass may have been broken up anyway, but a good route there probably has Darboh catching the ball and getting tackled immediately for a decent 7-yard gain.

Pass protection: At roughly 2:44 left in the fourth quarterback, Notre Dame runs a six-man pressure with a seventh man playing a hug technique (blitz if the running back stays home) on running back Justice Hayes. It's a man blocking scheme, and everyone is accounted for except the hugger. Right tackle Ben Braden gets off balance and is caught off guard by an inside pass rush. Meanwhile, left guard Erik Magnuson's second step is that of a left tackle who is trying to protect the width of the pocket, instead of a step by a guard trying to protect the depth of the pocket. He opens up his left shoulder, which allows the defensive tackle to that side to get upfield. Despite Jehu Chesson coming open on a short crossing route, Gardner does not have time to throw the ball before getting hit by Braden and Magnuson's men.


  1. Thunder, should Michigan continue to play like the way they are, who do you think should be hired as the next football coach? Would you be absolutely adamantly opposed to Miles? Also, what do you think it will take to get Hoke fired after four years?

    1. Not Thunder but my 2 cents:

      Hoke needs a respectable results to get that 5th year. If he gets b-slapped like what happened in the Notre Dame game against rivals, he's gone. In other words, if MSU and OSU blast us like 35-7 type of scores, he's gone. 7 or 8 wins will be the line. All depends on overall performance.

      I really don't think Les Miles is a good fit. He's pretty wacky, and while that's okay as long as they're winning in Louisiana, it won't fly in Michigan.

    2. Also not Thunder, but my two-cents:

      o Miles would not be a good hire. He's a bit too old for a long-term hire. And besides, I'm not convinced he's a great coach. Given the talent he gets there at LSU his record should be *even better* than it is. Can he develop lesser talent? Jury is out.

      o Harbaugh is not coming. If he did, he'd be a flight risk the moment some NFL team cam courting.

      o The other big names (Meyer, Malzone, Saban) would not come to Michigan just for a boatload of money. None have ties to Michigan, and they all have money. The downsides of chasing money compared to the possible upsides don't make sense.

      o The next tier of coaches (Peterson, Sarkasian, Franklin) are all in new homes and would never change at this point.

      o There are current Big 10 coaches that would come that would be worth it. Meyer won't; Dantonio won't; Fitzgerald at NW is dicey; Jerry Kill is dicey; Anderson at Wisconsin is intriguing, but it's unlikely he'd come; Franklin is new at PSU and wouldn't come; and the rest either aren't worth it or I don't know anything about them.

      o There are some big-name coordinators who might want the next level -- Pat Narduzzi, Kirby Smart. That's dicey going from coordinator to HC on such a big stage. Plus, it doesn't look like either Narduzzi or Smart are interested in the HC role.

      o There's the option of rotating Nussmeier up to the HC role, but that would very likely be every bit as big a roll of the dice as hiring Hoke in the first place. He would have to prove his chops as OC at Michigan before he could be promoted to HC.

      o There *might* be a current NFL coach that wants to come back down to the college ranks, but I can't think of one offhand.

      o That leaves rolling the dice on some up-and-coming coach. Every great coach of today got there by first being a lower-level coach. It's not working out with Hoke, apparently, but it doesn't mean it won't work out with someone else.

      o The alternative is to keep Hoke but (a) focus on bolstering the position coaches; and (b) getting Hoke to realize Michigan is in a whole different league than Ball State or SDSU and the way the HC job runs there is different. I think he's on the path to realizing it, but I'm not sure he has yet accepted the stark reality of it. I wish he'd swallow his pride and reach out (quietly) to some established big names to get some mentoring on being a big-name school HC. He needs some mentoring.

    3. Def agree with DonAz about the need of mentoring.

      Michigan isn't Ball State or SDSU. The very top-tier coaches are always updated and on-the-edge, and Hoke just seems stuck in his old ways. He has to wake the f up and start coaching like one. He also lacks passion, and I def. saw the game vs. Kansas State as a good example of team just lacking passion. The HC's attitude passes on to his players. If Hoke was fired up to win the game, players would NOT have been so g d flat.

    4. BTW, during the ND game I saw Brandon on the sidelines on TV and he looked pissed off. Yeah. The best way might be to take those solid headcoaches from lower level schools (e.g. Charlie Strong, Sarkisian, J. Franklin last year) and offer them big pay raises and bigger school name/facilities. I have a feeling that Penn State will be on fire when they come to town, now with that bowl ban taken off. If we get ripped by Penn State in addition to MSU and OSU, oh boy... I would bring my pitchfork to run Hoke out of town, and Brandon would realize that he made a mistake.

    5. A few names that I think UM might be able to get who would be a clear upgrade over Hoke (IMO):

      Art Briles @ Baylor -- He is having nice success there but it is not a top-tier program and a chance to shine at a "name" program might appeal.

      David Cutcliffe -- He's had success at both Ole Miss and Duke(!). Winning at Duke is really hard and they have an academic culture every bit as (more?) demanding than UM so he would "get it".

      Offer those guys what they are currently paying Hoke and I think they would have a good shot at landing either of them.

    6. @Anon,

      None of those guys have as good of a resume as Rodriguez had.

      Briles would have arguably a harder job recruiting in Michigan than at Baylor. Michigan has more talent/upside, but they also have to work very hard to travel nationally to get it. With Texas down, he has a chance to take over the state. He is already approaching Saint status at Baylor, why come to Michigan and deal with a frothing fanbase that has no patience or tolerance and ran Rich Rodriguez (who is already proving pretty successful at Arizona) out of town in 3 years despite improvement from year 1-2 and 2-3.

    7. I agree that Briles won't come. He is from the state of Texas and he has a system running down there. He won't come. Got to get someone like the past two hires at Penn State. Brandon needs to do some g d research. His job is on the line.

    8. I don't understand the question, and I don't like the question. Michigan lost to a pretty solid team (currently #11, I believe) and didn't play absolutely horribly (run defense was solid, offense outgained opponent, etc.). We're two games into the season. They're currently playing well in some phases, and they're not playing well in other phases.

      I'm also not a fan of speculation about future coaches. I have no idea who would be available, what hang-ups there might be with contracts, etc. Speculation about coaches is a fool's errand, because nobody has any clue about whether Hoke will be replaced or not.

  2. agreed thunder, solid analysis. the darboh route / technique error just drives me nuts and those things kill teams - particularly frustrating given elementary nature of "route does not end until hands meet the ball" and the fact that these habits must be ingrained early on all WRs. i know hes missed some time but darboh should execute better in year 3. and obviously WRs need to help their scrambling QB not just maintain their course downfield.

    those are 2 of the golden type rules for all WRs regardless of system. and its a shame this game just reflected poor technique / habits under duress and poor execution (particularly of some elementary principles) at virtually every position on the field at some point.

    if they do not consistently do the little things well then its almost impossible to win big games vs faster (or more athletic) teams. sidenote but wow jaylon smith just continues to improve and impress - unfortunately michigan lost that no doubt 1st rounder to nd

    1. Wait ... I thought Jeff Hecklinski (WR coach) was supposed to be pretty good? Am I missing something?

  3. This is make or break time Michigan. This team is a lot better than 2010 in my opinion (as crazy as it sounds), but the atmosphere and cloud hanging over us is insanely negative. This is the exact scenario Hoke needed to avoid. Every mistake, bad play, failed third down stop is going to feel like the end of the world. The pile of negativity will flow from our fans and more so from others - which is sickening to see and hear.

    Hoke has yet to emphatically respond in these type of spots. Every "tough" game and tough spot he has been put in always results in failure.

    Are these players going to hold themselves accountable and have some pride?

    I will root as hard as I can for this team, but I hope they play to their levels of talent and realize this is the breaking point.

    If we lose to Utah at home (I personally don't see it happening despite Utah being a respectable team), it will be even more clear that Hoke is not the man for this job.

  4. Seriously screw Lloyd Carr for not letting Bill Martin hire Les Miles in the first place, what bullshit. I hope Dave Brandon doesn't make the same bad decision he did in 2011, and hire Miles in Jan of 2015.

    1. les miles is not the answer to everything - and the fact that so many people insist on miles or harbough as only legit alternatives actually illuminates the real problem - which is this program needs to hire intelligent, energetic winners, not remain stuck in bo's shadow thinking only "michigan men" can fit and be successful at the school (bo was great and he dominated the big ten in his era but he won 0 natl titles) - this program will remain lost as long as only "michigan men" type candidates are seriously considered for jobs.

      IF miles somehow were hired in 2008 (or 2011 even though he turned down any interest in that position) he would not have been the savior. miles would have been a solid hire and he wouldve done a solid job - but hed be dealing with michigan geography and culture, not LSU. totally different situations - hes in SEC, relentlessly recruits LA, TX etc and all the admin / alums / fans care about at LSU is winning (it takes multiple domestic assault or drug or weapon arrests before anything but slaps on wrist on given - compare jordan jeffersons first few assaults with handling of csonte yorks situation). miles would likely do pretty good job at UM but envisioning LSU level teams and LSU type rosters with 9 draft picks or whatever at UM were he the coach is just foolish - different situations.

      find new name to toss around as desirable HC candidate

    2. That wasn't mainly a voucher for Miles, but more of a direct shot at Les. My football consciousness only goes back to 2006, so I only remember Carr for two years, and I cringe every single time I see him on the television or hear his voice on radio. That guy is so selfish, arrogant, and close minded, Dave Brandon should give him two middle fingers by hiring Miles.

    3. I assume you're talking about Lloyd when you're saying you're taking a direct shot. I agree with you about Lloyd, lost lots of respect for the man after reading Three And Out, seems like a coward.

  5. Utah won't be easy, and Penn State won't be easy. If Hoke blows both, he's gone. They better practice/play/coach like hell.

  6. Hoke is Carr minus the NFL talent he had.

  7. How about Greg Schiano? He had good success at Rutgers. He didn't do well in the NFL, but he is better suited for college coaching.