From The Film Room: What Devin Gardner Taught Me

After watching the Michigan-Western Michigan film, here is what I learned from former U-M quarterback Devin Gardner.

Every Tuesday at 6pm at The Grotto in downtown Ann Arbor, and on Thursday's at 6:30pm at Royal Oak Tap House, former Michigan QB Devin Gardner (2010-14) breaks down the film for fans. Here is what he taught us this week.

Play 1 - 13:07 1st Quarter - This unique screen pass to junior tailback Chris Evans calls upon sophomore center Cesar Ruiz (No. 51) and junior left guard Ben Bredeson (No. 74) to be lead blockers out front - at least Gardner thinks so based on how they release (though it is extremely rare to have a LG as a lead blocker on a screen to the right) - while it's very likely junior right guard Michael Onwenu (50) should be getting out in front of Evans too. But the play really starts outside where junior tight end Sean McKeon (84) is responsible for blocking linebacker Treshaun Hayward (No. 23).

Had he done that, then Ruiz, who gets caught up in too much hand-fighting with the noseguard, and Bredeson might have been able to get over in time to block for Evans. At the very least, Evans could have beat No. 66 to the edge and picked up some positive yards. Instead, McKeon misses his block, allowing Hayward and DT Wesley French to corner Evans. The junior tailback actually makes Hayward miss but the timing has been thrown off and the Broncos' defensive back can corral Evans with the help of teammates.

Play 2 - 12:19 1st Quarter - A week ago, we saw junior linebackers Devin Bush and Devin Gil immediately commit to an outside zone run, and when Irish RB Jafar Armstrong planted his foot in the ground, Bush and Gil had already blown past. Here, we see the two Wolverine backers hesitate for a moment (last week's memory lingering, possibly, or watching film and believing Western RB Levante Bellamy will cut it up inside) but they are slow getting to the edge.

One of the two 'backers would have to give himself up taking on WMU's right guard (No. 59), but you can see that Western's right tackle (No. 60) actually gets stuck in the backfield and would not have been available to take out the second linebacker to pave the way for Bellamy. However, since both Bush and Gil are slow to react, the right guard clears Bush and Gil is not in position to make the play.

Play 3 - 10:13 1st Quarter - One of six naked bootlegs Michigan ran with junior QB Shea Patterson in the game, this one is made substantially harder because Patterson is asked to throw across his body without being able to set his feet. Something interesting Gardner pointed out is that on a play like this, the quarterback is taught to create five yards of separation between himself and the closest defender if he's going to throw for this reason: his throwing shoulder is vulnerable and if he is hit and goes to the ground, he will likely land in an awkward position on that shoulder. Thus, he's not supposed to throw unless he is clear of five yards. If he's not, he's taught to eat the ball to protect himself.

It's debatable whether Patterson is five yards clear here of linebacker Alex Grace (I'd say he's not), but he is pulling away from Grace so perhaps he feels like he'll be able to outrun any contact (and he's proven correct, as Grace flails but does not put a hand on Patterson).

Play 4 - 8:21 1st Quarter - A thing of beauty. Redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry (No. 83) blocks down, sealing the defensive line off with the help of his offensive line. Onwenu (50) pulls and kicks out to take Grace, WMU's best defender, out of the play. McKeon (84) doesn't have a great block on the backside linebacker but enough to help spring senior tailback Karan Higdon.

Still, there is one front-seven defender unblocked - the MIKE linebacker - and here sophomore fullback Ben Mason (42) carves him up while also eliminating a cornerback, who positions himself poorly, in blocking the two Broncos that have the best chance of keeping this gain under wraps. But all the Wolverines do their job and Higdon goes off for 43 yards.

Play 5 - 7:11 1st Quarter - At this point in the game, Michigan has run the ball seven times for 54 yards, including Higdon's long run just two plays earlier, so when Patterson fakes the handoff to Higdon, all three Western Michigan linebackers bite, as does safety Justin Tranquill (No. 2), who is responsible for defending McKeon. With Tranquill out of position, it's an easy pitch-and-catch for the 17-yard touchdown.

Play 6 - 1:38 1st Quarter - Watch where fifth-year senior linebacker Noah Furbush (No. 59) begins this play - on the line of scrimmage. It would be very easy for Western QB Jon Wassink to identify Furbush as a pass rusher in his pre-snap read. But as the play develops, both Furbush and junior viper Khaleke Hudson (No. 7) drop into zone coverage.

Wassink is under duress from Bush and on the move. Look at his eyes from the end zone camera. He can see his receiver, appearing to come open, but he can't see Furbush (and his pre-snap read had Furbush on the line of scrimmage and no linebacker or safety at that depth). Even if he does see Furbush at the last second, he's running for his life and has already made up his mind.

Play 7 - 0:59 1st Quarter - Michigan runs read-option but it's not true read-option because the Wolverines are not leaving a defensive end unblocked. Thus, this play was always designed to go to Evans. The line gets a hat on a hat with Gentry slipping through the defensive line to block the front side linebacker and Ruiz getting up to the second level for the backside linebacker.

Junior wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones (No. 9) abandons any threat of a route to quickly turn inside and block the charging safety, and can't get there in time (a difficult thing to do) so it's up to Evans to make the free man miss. He gives Tranquill a little wiggle and Tranquill drives at his feet, looking silly yet again on another Michigan TD.

Play 8 - 13:51 2nd Quarter - Western runs a "pick" route in which its receiver purposely gets in the way of Bush, who is responsible for coverage of the running back. While pick plays are illegal - and can be called offensive pass interference - they are a tactic used effectively by offenses. As long as a receiver continues onto his route after "accidentally" running into a defender, officials do not call it.

Gardner's only issue here was he would have liked to have seen fifth-year senior cornerback Brandon Watson (No. 28) read and react more quickly, and snuff this play out for a two- or three-yard gain.

Play 9 - 12:02 2nd Quarter - Following a blocked punt, Michigan immediately dials up a pass play designed to go to the end zone. And it works. McKeon is wide open but Patterson misses him. I suggested the QB was under some heat with Bredeson (74) unable to sustain his block at left guard, but Gardner dismissed such talk. 'Step into the hit and deliver the ball to where it's supposed to go. You're going to get hit anyway, you might as well have a touchdown to show for it.' (Plus Patterson had him very early in the route before pressure even closed in on him).

Play 10 - 7:05 2nd Quarter - Perfectly played by freshman defensive end Aidan Hutchinson (97), the rookie plays the handoff, forcing Wassink to keep the ball, and then has the athleticism to force Wassink wider than he wants to go, allowing Hudson to rally to the football.

Play 11 - 7:02 2nd Quarter - Following the 4th-and-1 stop, Michigan goes for the home run. Max protecting on the right side with Gentry and Higdon, Patterson has plenty of time. Incredibly, it's not even a great play-fake but when you see the camera angle from behind Patterson watch as he releases the ball, the eyes of safety Harrison Taylor (No. 13) are still in the backfield. He literally has no idea where sophomore receiver Nico Collins is. The answer: five yards behind you! And catching a touchdown pass.

Play 12 - 3:17 2nd Quarter - Michigan has this outside man run ideally blocked. McKeon, Ruiz and junior left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. (75) are positioned to block three defenders while a pair of receivers are set to engage two defensive backs 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. But Runyan Jr. slows down at the point of contact, almost coming to a complete standstill, thus allowing Grace (34) to get upfield, turn Runyan sideways and create chaos. Higdon can no longer go wide, he has to try to slip between Runyan and Ruiz but he trips on Runyan's feet.

Look at that moment he trips - there is nothing but green grass on the outside if he doesn't stumble or if Runyan makes his block properly.

Play 13 - 12:28 3rd Quarter - Another 4th-and-1. Sophomore linebacker Josh Ross (No. 12) is a good teammate here as he gives himself up by taking on the left guard (No. 61). Bush, meanwhile, is lurking behind Ross and the guard, and cannot be seen by the WMU running back, who thinks he has a clear pasture between the guard and tackle. What he doesn't know is Bush is coming with a full head of steam.

Play 14 - 6:25 - 3rd Quarter - It's Michigan this time that is running a pick play with its wide receivers, trying to free up Collins (No. 4 and at the top of the screen) with senior Grant Perry (88) running into the cornerback covering Collins in man. Because this is man, with no safety, Patterson knows that Peoples-Jones, running an out route, is an option if Collins is not open. Now, as Gardner points out, the cornerback on Collins, if savvy enough, could recognize that Peoples-Jones is a desirable target and drop off, picking Patterson. However, as soon as the corner shows he is sticking with Collins, weaving his way through the pick, Patterson shoots for No. 9, dropping an NFL-level pass into the bread basket for the five-yard touchdown.

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