Check The Tape – Western Michigan September 5, 2012
My plan for this year is to have the Check The Tape post up on Monday. Feels like the perfect Sunday night thing. My son is finally getting to the homework he put off all weekend, my wife goes to bed early because Monday is her busiest day and she goes in a little early, and I’m dying to get my eyes on the tape from Saturday’s game.
Except this week, I’m posting this on Wednesday. Because Sunday and Monday I was enjoying the Labor Day weekend out of town with my family. Sunday night, I didn’t feel like checking any tape – I was teaching my nephew how to melt the chocolate for the perfect smore. (Can “smore” be singular? The perfect smores? English is hard.)
For this CTT, I decided to concentrate on the offense. What worked (the Lankford pass), and what didn’t (the entire second half). Starting with the good.
The first quarter touchdown was the perfect use of the “four verticals” play. Five plays into his playcalling career and Chris Beatty got all Air Raid. Look at the safety (#33) below. That’s the very moment where he knows he’s screwed. All of the defenders are looking for one of the receivers to break out into some underneath pattern, but they don’t. It’s four verticals. Which means the other safety has to choose Lankford or Evan Wilson. He chose Wilson. Lankford scored.
And now for the things we need to work on. Want to know how Mikel Leshoure racked up so many yards? Vision. He developed the ability to see the lanes as they were developing. I say “developed” because as a freshman, he wasn’t the best at it. Took him about 18 games before he was ready to break out. This was game 1 (er, kind of game 4) for Josh Ferguson.
In this play, as Ferguson reaches the line of scrimmage with a choice. Plant his right foot and cut left, or plant his left foot and cut right. As you see in the picture, he chose “plant right cut left”. But notice the lane behind Teddy Karras (#69).
And this is what happened. The outside linebacker came up and made the tackle at the 25. But notice the lane behind Karras. Still wide open because the backside help isn’t there yet. One cut – one snap decision to cut right instead of left – and Ferguson could have picked up 5-8 more yards.
Later in the second quarter, here’s a Donovonn Young run. My focus here isn’t on Young but on Hugh Thornton and Spencer Harris. Both of them were a half-second from completing a block that would have sprung Young. Harris (nearside receiver) comes off the ball looking for a linebacker to block. Thornton’s responsibility is to chip the outside guy and make sure he’s outside the tight end and then look for a linebacker. In this screencap, Thornton is just leaving Evan Wilson with the defensive end and looking for his next block.
But Thornton left that block about a half-second too late and he’s not able to get to the linebacker (he’s just missing his block on the “B” of “B1G” below). And Harris let the other linebacker get outside of his block (right at the 30 yard line). These two bring down Young for a short gain. Had they been blocked, Young would have been one on one with the safety.
And now both Hill and Pocic are looking at Donovonn Young on the ground, dropped for a five yard loss, killing the drive. If the line allows this kind of defensive penetration, we’ll struggle to run the ball all season.
See also: if other teams don’t respect our passing game, we’ll struggle to run the ball all season. This is the beginning of the 4th quarter. Second and 5. Western Michigan is flat daring us to pass by putting 8 guys squarely in the box.
And then, on the snap, everyone is coming downhill. The right outside backer holds for a second (verifying that the tight end isn’t going out), but the other three dive in towards the line on the snap of the ball. This leaves two corners and a safety to cover two receivers, but Western Michigan doesn’t care. They’re gambling that we can’t beat them with the pass. And they’re stopping Ferguson for a short gain with their eight guys in the box.
That’s my concern for the entire season right there. Not just loaded boxes – overloaded defenses. Show a weakness in one phase of your offense and your next opponent will overload to force you to try it. We wouldn’t have to necessarily throw it over the top to keep the defense honest above – throw a successful bubble screen and hurt ‘em on the edges. But Western Michigan knew we weren’t going to try anything, so they just instructed their linebackers to run down hill on the snap.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a game where you have the lead and your quarterback is injured. The worst thing we could have done on that drive was turn the ball over and give them a short field. So I was OK with our conservative offense, given how our defense was playing.
But this was Western Michigan. Play like that against a Big Ten opponent, and we’ll be wondering why the offense is going backwards.