Craig Has The Scout - Michigan 2019

Oct 10, 2019

Coming Up

Who: Michigan Wolverines

*When: 11:00 am - October 12th, 2019 *

Where: Home Sweet Home

How: ABC

Opponent Primer:

*Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh. *If his name was not Jim Harbaugh, I wonder how his tenure in Ann Arbor would be received right now. Harbaugh started off with the type of zaniness that PT Barnum would have appreciated. The work brought life and relevance to the Michigan program immediately, but he seems to have hit a ceiling that the Michigan faithful cannot accept.

*Offensive Style: "Speed in Space" RPO Tempo Shotgun Spread. *Josh Gattis came to Ann Arbor with the most fanfare I've seen for a coordinator in recent memory. Gattis was co-coordinator for Alabama last year with Mike Locksley, and spent the offseason declaring the plodding Michigan of yesteryear was dead. He should have had a mock funeral for it. In reality, he has increased the pace, and has seen a drop in every significant offensive category to match with it.

*Defensive Style: Wizardry, set up out of a 3-4. *When Don Brown gets it right, his defenses are downright dominant. Brown is a schematic nightmare to match up against, and does more schematically than anyone in college football not named Nick Saban. Teams that can go right at Michigan put up points in bunches (Wisconsin), but if the offense becomes predictable they suffocate (Iowa). This is a hard scout this week, but Brown really varies his approach game to game (this is possible for a defensive coordinator to do by the way).

*Specialists: Will Hart *has one of the biggest legs in the B1G, and is averaging 46.9 yards per punt. His net punting average though is 38.7, which tells you everything you need to know about the Michigan coverage units. IF Michigan continues to struggle on offense, Illinois can win field position in a punting matchup.

Three Things to Watch

  1. *Illini DEs against the read option. *The Illini will see a large amount of read option again this week. If the DEs can't shut this down, it will get ugly early.

  2. *Illini OL vs. the Wolverines front 7. *The Illini offense will be won and lost between the tackles. Expect Illinois to use more TEs and H-backs to add gaps for Michigan to defend and space the spill player. If Illinois can't win 1:1 up front though, they are sunk.

  3. *Illini blitzing. *Illinois has to take the fight to Michigan, they don't have the luxury to sit and react. I'll be interested to see how aggressive Lovie gets. Last week, they used extensive line slants to try and disrupt Minnesota. They may do the same this week, but I expect Hansen adn Harding to be blitzing.

Scouting Review - Offense

*Josh *Gattis was brought into Ann Arbor to be the offensive savior and take Michigan to the next level. His hiring showed that Jim Harbaugh was absolutely committed to taking the Wolverines to the next level. With Ryan Day taking over in Columbus, this was the time to strike.

Gattis was involved in a spat during B1G media day with Mike Locksley over who was actually calling plays while at Alabama. Locksley was adamant that Gattis helped gameplan, but the day to day was all him. Gattis took umbrage. Time will tell, but thus far Locksley has had some offensive fireworks going off at Maryland, and the Michigan offense is stuck in 2nd gear.

For Gattis, he is looking for the one game to get everything clicking. The good news, he is coming to Champaign this weekend.

Against the only 4-3 team they have played this year, Michigan went full inside zone read option, giving to the tailback for a healthy dose of between the tackles running. When Michigan kept it in standard downs, they were ok moving the ball and utilized some RPO game. Once they moved into passing situations, the wheels fell off quickly.

Minnesota gave Michigan a very simple blueprint for beating the Illinois D. Minnesota repeatedly ran an inside zone RPO look with great success. The Illini have to figure out a way to stop the Read Option RPO or this is going to be a long finish to the season.

Michigan has a few different looks on the Read Option inside zone RPO. The QBs give a vast majority (~80%) of the time, and the OL does a nice job of getting 3-4 yards on the give. Gattis has not figured out how to make this explosive yet, but there is always this week. First up:

This is a pure read option run, there is no RPO attached. Michigan was running this to get ahead of the sticks against Wisconsin, since nothing else was working.

Here is the same look that they started the 2nd half against the Badgers. Again, Michigan was trying to get anything going on this play.

If I were Josh Gattis, this is the first play I run. And if Illinois doesn't adequately stop it, I run it until the Illini figure it out.

The first time Illinois shuts this down, I think Michigan will mix it up and utilize the RPO elements of the play. As seen last week, the Illini LBs have struggled getting depth in pass coverage, and this should open up easy throwing lanes for Michigan

This was a nice quick read resulting in a big gain for the Wolverines. Minnesota had this open multiple times last week but struggled completing the pass.

Using the same looks, the Wolverines are will add the pass options into the running game. They run different route trees off the RPO depending on situations and opposing defenses. Here is the most common, using the bubble screen action to the flat.

This looks about as close to a pure give as one can get. Patterson gave a cursory look to his other options.

Here is the same play, but with Patterson throwing the bubble screen.

Strong penetration from DLs really mess up the timing of these plays. The Illini defense will provide an easier read relative to Wisconsin on this play.

One way the Wolverines will assist the QB for making the read will be motion. In this play, they shuffle the Z receiver on the outside to validate the Hawkeye coverage on the play.

I'm honestly not sure what Patterson was reading here, the pass to the receiver should have been the play.

The Wolverines will also run the play as a pure play action pass off the inside zone read option look.

Honestly, this was a great defensive play for the Badgers. The TE leaked up the sideline here and under ideal circumstances, he is standing in the end zone at the end of the play.

A wrinkle that the Wolverines will add to the basic inside read option will be a Z motion look presnap, creating a triple option look out of the play.

The pulling H-back means the dive is basically the only option. If the end crashes too hard though, the H-back will pin the end and they have a speed option to the edge.

The Wolverines will also motion the Z receiver across the face of the QB and be the first read of the QB. After the Z comes across the formation, the QB has the option of pitching or throwing a flare to the receiver in space.

Once again, I think this is a bad read by Patterson. Gattis may have his QBs on a give first strategy though for these plays.

If the inside give is being jammed up by the defense, the play can be run as an outside zone read. Illinois will probably see this look more often due to the 4-3 look they show.

The RB takes this to the edge and finds a nice seam to move up the sideline. Against Illinois, the seam will open prior to the sideline, so the safeties will be challenged to shut this down as the Illini front 7 spill the play.

Gattis will run the RPO utilizing an off tackle run. The most successful looks I saw off this play though were when Patterson pulled the ball and threw it.

Patterson should have given the ball to the back with the blitz coming. He did a nice job of hitting the receiver on the throw.

The Z motion triple can be used to spread the defense sideline to sideline as well. Michigan has used it against teams where they have an offensive talent advantage, so Illinois might see it to test the LBs on the edge.

Illinois has held up pretty well against these in the past, but I'm curious to see how often Michigan tests the edges like this play.

When Michigan goes to the pure pass, they use some Briles offense standard splits for receivers. This means the wide outs are very close to the sidelines. The positive is that it puts the defensive secondary in a bind by isolating the defenders due to the spacing. The negative is that all throws are LONG to the perimeter, and a good read means six the other way. Here are multiple quick hitters the Wolverines have run.

Patterson doesn't seem to be able to really drive passes to the perimeter like Michigan would prefer. The ball floats for a long time on these passes.

Gattis has been rolling through the playbook trying to make something work so far. I expect him to experiment this weekend as well until he finds the magic elixir, then he will exploit it. Earlier this season, he has run the gamut on passing plays.

This is a motion setting up a deep out.

Here is an RPO based off of Power run blocking

And finally the crossing route

Gattis is trying to find routes Patterson can execute, and the OL can protect for. So far, they have struggled. And when they struggle, Patterson gets buried.

The upside for Michigan is that Patterson has some wheels, so he makes something out of this play.

The Michigan offense remains a work in progress, especially the run game. Gattis is going to continue to tweak until he hits on something, then he will exploit it. Illinois is probably the cure for the struggling run game right now, so expect Michigan to get rolling, even it it is a dead cat bounce.

Scouting Review - Defense

Don Brown is a bit of a defensive genius. He does some really fun things schematically, but everything Brown does works because the fundamentals are always there. The Wolverines are a solid tackling team, and they all work as a unit.

Brown has always been a schematic stalwart. Prior to coming to Michigan, he plied his trade in the northeast for many years. Statistically, his defenses have always out performed his talent level. This is mainly due to his defenses doing the little things well.

The defense Brown runs is a single gap 3-4. The Wolverine front 7 are responsible for plugging their hole on run plays, forcing opposing backs to a lane where a safety is waiting. If all the front 7 merely break even, Michigan is going to hold opponents to a small gain based on aggressive safety play. Brown also presses coverage on the outside, generally with outside leverage. Again, all routes are funnelled to help by the safeties on the inside of the field.

There are two ways to attack Brown defenses. The first is to utilize and I formation, and use the fullback to clear a lane away from the spill lane the safety is covering. Wisconsin did this pretty much the whole game against Michigan with great success. Iowa tried to replicate the feat, and did not approach the same results. The second way to attack the defense is through pulling lineman to gain a numbers advantage on the play side and having a 2nd level blocker for the safety.

At its core, the Michigan defense looks like this.

As you can see, Wisconsin pulled linemen trying to create a numbers advantage on this play. The Wolverines did a nice job of bottling this up. Dre Brown will have an advantage Taylor did against Michigan, which is to bounce the run outside the mess of linemen and break a run to the outside.

In the pass game, Michigan will press cover with the corners, but run a zone coverage behind it. Brown mixes up all kinds of coverages, and is a master of split coverage. He runs a lot of Cover 7, a mesh of Quarters coverage and a pattern matching zone. It takes away most quick hitting timing routes as the corners play tight. The soft part of the defense is a motion receiver to change the strength of the offense, and to eliminate the extra defender advantage Cover 7 provides. While teams can't do this every play, Brown will switch up the defense to man and eliminate the numbers advantage, it is very useful for targeted downs. Here is Middle Tennessee taking advantage.

By bringing the receiver across the formation, then running clear out routes, the motion receiver is in space with room to work upon receiving the ball.

Another way to attack the aggressive front of the Brown defense is the tunnel screen. This allows the offense to release the OL downfield and take out the 2nd level defenders, and negates the aggressive DL.

Illinois has a couple of receivers that could do real damage with this look, and I would hope Rod Smith runs a couple of these on Saturday.

The other thing Brown is notorious for is his blitz game. I honestly could write 40 pages about fun stuff Don Brown does, Smart Football and others cover his scheme things quite often. Here is the double LB Blitz Brown likes to employ

The Michigan defense is disciplined, and against most teams they wreak havoc with scheme. Teams like Ohio State are able to pound them by winning individual matchups on the lines. Wisconsin broke even against the DL, but was able to use the FB to negate the single gap coverage. Illinois is going to struggle to win 1:1 matchups, so will need to create space and additional gaps to cover for the Michigan D to get the safeties out of position. Therefore, expect more 2 TE sets from Illinois, and a lot more Matt Robinson running.

What does it mean?

Michigan will attempt to pound the ball on the ground against Illinois, and hope to get the running game in gear. If the Wolverines are forced to pass, the offense falls apart. Defensively, Brown is going to bring pressure and walk a safety directly to the box. The defense will most assuredly play inside leverage to take away slants and other quick routes from the Illini receivers.

For Illinois to Win:

Illinois has to continue generating turnovers, and they need the run game to explode. Once they establish the run game, Illinois needs to slow the tempo and limit possessions.

For Michigan to Win:

Michigan needs the offense to finally start clicking. Up to this point, the offense has been erratic. Gattis needs to get all the pieces moving in the same direction. Once they get moving, they need to take care of the ball. Defensively, Michigan needs to avoid chunk plays by Illinois, and make them string together a drive to score.

Illinois +22.5

The Michigan offense does not inspire the confidence to think they can score enough to cover this spread. The Illinois defense does not inspire the confidence they can prevent Michigan from lighting up the scoreboard. One will prove us wrong, and on this bet my money is on Lovie to fail. I'll take Michigan to cover. On ABC.

YTD Against the Spread:



thumpasaurus on October 10 @ 11:01 AM CDT

Yeesh. This is about as bad as it can get.

illiniranger on October 10 @ 11:06 AM CDT

Wait til Wisconsin comes to town...

Poor Dick Butkus. Every time we have that guy at a game the team gets thrashed. Jersey retirement, 2008 Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl reunion game in Chicago in 2013, this Saturday for his statue...

CraigG on October 10 @ 11:19 AM CDT

If it makes you feel better, I wrote it on about 5 hours of sleep. But, I pulled the film when I was fully rested...

thumpasaurus on October 10 @ 12:01 PM CDT

When I say that, I mean "the prognosis is about as bad as it can get"

The things you say Illinois needs to do are things that Illinois simply won't do.

And yeah, Wisconsin is probably an even worse matchup, but Harbaugh these days finds some of his aggression from 2015 and before whenever he's comfortably beating down an inferior opponent and will definitely throw deep up by four scores. Wisconsin will just end the game in as little time as possible, though they also might try to run Taylor for the single-game yardage record...

I love your work and this is a must-read Illinois post for any of our small underground society of "people still following this football team"

CraigG on October 10 @ 12:40 PM CDT

Thanks. I more meant I normally go and round the edges a bit when I write these. Last night was a bit more unvarnished. Also, I think Wisconsin goes full Montee Ball vs. Illinois in 2011 and tries to set a record with Taylor.

thumpasaurus on October 10 @ 12:53 PM CDT

There is literally no reason for them not to. They left Taylor in for five touchdowns against Kent State; they are clearly offended that he hasn't been invited to New York, and our run defense is roughly on Kent State's level.

I know this: I play in a college football fantasy league (not a traditional league with a draft but one where you pick whoever you want every week), and I have Michigan's defense this week and Taylor next week.

Taylor Martinez put up 35 points against us, tied for 10th most among FBS QBs that week (ahead of the likes of Tua, D'Eriq King, Cole McDonald, Rodney Smith put up 27 last week, tied for 4th-most of any RB in FBS. Mike Glass against Illinois outscored Sam Ehlinger against Rice that week.

Been playing this league for 10 years now. I always hate when it becomes a great investment to pick against Bishop Sankey, Melvin Gordon, Carlos Hyde, Ameer Abdullah and Tevin Coleman all racking up huge points against us in 2013...but I'm in it to win it.

illiniranger on October 10 @ 11:04 AM CDT

Don Brown is such a neat guy and has a crazy coaching history, including taking over the Yale Baseball team right before a season in the late 80s and taking them to an Ivy League championship. Total throwback guy.

Gattis has been a terrible hire for them. Whether Harbaugh stays or goes I expect Gattis to be gone. Shea Patterson has struggled mightily against anyone with a pulse. Alas, our defense does not have a pulse. I expect him to go to work on our soft zone and their WRs are a really good unit. I expect a UM cover, i would be mildly surprised if we score more than one offensive TD in this game, and will be very surprised if we score 20 or more.

CraigG on October 10 @ 11:22 AM CDT

I'm torn on Gattis. He was at Penn State with Joe Moorhead, and it took about 5 games before McSorley figured out what they were trying to do. Then Penn State went on a run to the Rose Bowl. Gattis could still get there. I mean, to be fair, it is not like he has been doing it for four years and can't figure it out. On the flip side, he has full on Beatty/Gonzales panic playcalling happening right now, so he appears to not freeze up when the going gets tough.

illiniranger on October 10 @ 11:27 AM CDT

UM needs to just be Wisconsin, but with elite playmakers on the outside that can win the one on ones. But for some reason they don't want to simplify it and just do that. So they're going "pro spread," under Gattis. They don't know what they want to be right now. I think they should have the patience to keep Harbaugh, but he needs to throw all this stuff in the trash and be happy winning games 28-17.

illini_in_stl on October 11 @ 09:09 AM CDT

Thanks as always for the detailed write-up! Encouraging that we still get content like this each week, even when the ship is sinking. Hopefully one-day there's a product on the field deserving of this type of effort by fans.

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