Every Tuesday evening at 6pm, former Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner joins me at The Grotto in downtown Ann Arbor to break down film of the previous weekend's game. Unfortunately, this one did not go so kindly, but there are lessons to be learned.
Play 1 - 13:39 1st Quarter - Notre Dame tailback Jafar Armstrong scores from 12 yards out on a nice read-option play from the Irish. Michigan junior linebackers Devin Gil (No.36) and Devin Bush (10) pursue to the football with an aggressiveness, allowing for the cutback lane. Gardner noted that Armstrong used Michigan's aggressiveness against it, but found no fault in Gil and Bush or a lack of discipline. They did what they are coached to do. Armstrong just stuck his foot in the ground and made a nice play. If there is any fault, senior safety Tyree Kinnel whiffs on a potential stop at the three-yard line.
Play 2 -- 13-35 1st Quarter - Michigan's first play from scrimmage is a read-option run, featuring an element very rarely utilized in three seasons previously under Jim Harbaugh. Junior QB Shea Patterson's threat to run freezes Irish linebacker Te'Von Coney just enough that even though he makes the tackle, that split-second hesitation allows senior RB Karan Higdon to get up field for an eight-yard gain. This is what the read-option is designed to do: allow five offensive linemen to block four, isolating a single defender to choose between two choices. If the play is run properly, this is usually a positive gain (sometimes for significant yards).
Play 3 - 11:05 1st Quarter - Facing a 3rd-and-3 on their opening drive, in ND territory, and on play No. 6 of their series, the Wolverines see this play blown up when redshirt junior left tackle Jon Runyan allows an outside defender to "cross his face" slipping between the tackle and the guard. If you watch closely, you see Runyan's first step is to the left, believing Daelin Hayes has outside leverage responsibilities. Though he is lined up at the second level (closer to LB depth) No. 11 on ND actually has containment, thus creating the opportunity for Hayes to go inside. A veteran OL should recognize this and treat the inside move as his biggest threat, per Gardner.
Play 4 - 7:39 1st Quarter - Michigan can get off the field as it puts Notre Dame in another third-and-long, but smart play by Irish QB Brandon Wimbush and a lack of discipline from Bush lead to a first down. Bush is "spying" the quarterback on this play. He is not responsible for rushing or for defending a back. His sole goal is to keep his eyes on Wimbush and take him down if he starts to run. Where Bush errs is he commits to the near hash before Wimbush makes a decision on running with the football.
This would work if Wimbush leaks out the right side of the pocket -- and as Gardner noted, this is a logical conclusion to draw as most right-handed QBs like to go right so they can reach out for a first-down marker with a stronger grip -- but Wimbush shows patience, identifies that Bush has cheated and leaks out the left side. Bush makes up ground but is a step too late to stop the first down. Had he stayed neutral, and waited, he would have had the speed to track down Wimbush.
Play 5 -- 6:05 1st Quarter - We're going to skip. It's just a nice rollout, pitch and catch, and shows what Patterson is capable of.
Play 6 - 5:15 1st Quarter - A stick route by redshirt junior tight end Zach Gentry results in eight yards and a first down. What to note here is the right side of the line where fifth-year senior right tackle Juwan Bushell-Beatty and junior right guard Michael Onwenu perfectly pick up a stunt - a play in which a defensive tackle and a defensive end essentially switch attack lanes. This led to considerable confusion all game long on the left side of the line.
Here, Onwenu (No. 50) sees the interior DL immediately attack his outside shoulder, thus the assignment is passed on to Bushell-Beatty (76). Onwenu is then ready and waiting when Notre Dame end Jayson Ademilola loops around to the interior of the line.
Play 7 - 12:49 2nd Quarter - This run by Higdon is blocked perfectly on the front end by Gentry (83), Runyan (75), who blocks down to seal the backside of the defensive line from pursuing, junior left guard Ben Bredeson (74), who kicks out to take on the defensive end, and by sophomore fullback Ben Mason (42), who gets to the second level to take out the SAM linebacker. Unfortunately, 10 players can execute and one that does not can kill a play. Here, sophomore center Cesar Ruiz (50) gets stuck for just the slightest second in the wash and cannot get to the middle linebacker (No. 4, Coney), who prevents the touchdown. Michigan settles for a field goal at a moment it really need 6.
Play 8 - 11:40 2nd Quarter - A pass breakup in the end zone against Gentry. I felt Gentry should have boxed out the safety considering he has nine inches and 60 pounds on him, but Gardner insisted Alohi Gillman (No. 11 for Notre Dame) makes a phenomenal play.
Play 9 - 6:07 2nd Quarter - Notre Dame's left guard wants to try to get out into space and block the most dangerous man, this being U-M junior viper Khaleke Hudson (7), but he has no shot. The Fighting Irish's fullback saves this from being a five-to-seven-yard loss by getting a hat on Hudson, but the play is blown up either way.
Play 10 - 5:10 2nd Quarter - Michigan defense getting its swagger back. Well momentarily - ND scores three plays later after a roughing-the-passer penalty on 3rd-and-8 extends the drive for the Blue and Gold.
Play 11 - 13:58 3rd Quarter - Michigan needs a momentum-changing TD down 21-10, and at the Irish 16-yard line, the coaches dial up a solid play, a screen to senior slot receiver Grant Perry (88). Runyan and Bredeson release immediately, creating a scenario in which U-M has four to block four (albeit two OL in space against a linebacker and safety), but with a little wiggle from Perry, it could be a touchdown.
Unfortunately, the timing of the play is thrown off, allowing ND end Adetokunbo Ogundeji to break up the pass, when Patterson does a head bob - Gardner thinks he was faking a QB draw, though was suspicious of why he would expect the defense to buy that. In a game of split-seconds, this minuscule delay was another opportunity missed.
Play 12 - 13:21 3rd Quarter - The more a QB is hit or faces pressure earlier in the game, the more likelihood he is to "feel" the pressure later in the game, releasing the football early. That's what happens to Wimbush here as he uncorks it and watches Michigan 5th-year senior cornerback Brandon Watson make a nice play on the ball to record the interception.
Play 13 - 10:32 3rd Quarter - More pressure, similar result.
Play 14 - 8:59 3rd Quarter - Michigan runs more of a true option play, with Patterson having the option to take the football up field or pitch it to junior tailback Chris Evans. With everyone blocked - you can see how Bredeson and Runyan are going to seal off the edge and Perry is downfield to take on a defensive back - this play is poised for a home run.
Patterson has to force the defender - linebacker Asmar Bilal (No. 22) to make a decision. If Patterson cuts upfield and Bilal stays with Evans, he follows the left side of his line for at least 10 yards. If Bilal commits to Patterson, he pitches out to Evans, who might have gone the distance. Instead, Patterson does neither of these things. He pitches it well before forcing Bilal to decide, allowing the linebacker to defend both of them.
Admittedly, Evans probably should have still taken this outside and raced for the first down, and it was a mistake to cut back, but the big-play potential was lost when Patterson pitched it too early.
Play 15 - 7:36 3rd Quarter - Bush.
Play 16 - 1:29 3rd Quarter - All kinds of bad. This might be the play Gardner hated the most. Not from a play-call perspective but execution, finding fault with four Wolverines. Start with Ruiz, who is late to recognize the middle linebacker is coming on a delayed blitz. He can't reset his feet in time to square Coney up for the block. Higdon then steps up but without any urgency or determination, throwing his shoulder in the direction of the LB (Higdon might have gotten pancaked even if he took him head on but it would have bought his QB another second).
Patterson recognizes the pressure and backpedals. In this situation, he had three options: 1) throw early, before junior tight end Sean McKeon (84) is out of his break (but over a defensive end whose eyes were still in the backfield); 2) step into the throw and take the hit but get a strong pass off with some zip; 3) throw the ball out of bounds.
He does none of those things, however. He backpedals and at the last minute throws it up. At this point, Julian Okwara (No. 42) has turned his head and located his man. The final piece of this puzzle is McKeon, who watches Okwara undercut him and intercept the ball without a fight. Gardner said QBs lose confidence in their targets when a receiver won't do everything necessary to prevent a pick.
Play 17 - 13:30 4th Quarter - Nice gain here by Higdon with this inside run blocked perfectly. Gentry and Bushell-Beatty combo block with JBB getting up to the second level to take out a defender. Higdon doesn't get touched for 10 yards.
Play 18 - 11:41 4th Quarter - Gardner was really impressed backup QB, redshirt freshman Dylan McCaffrey, went into the game and played with such poise.
Play 19 - 3:16 4th Quarter - Patterson shows what he can do on the run and redshirt freshman WR Oliver Martin (80) doesn't give up on the play, shows chemistry with his QB to find a soft spot for Patterson to deliver the football.
Play 20 - 2:21 4th Quarter - TD. Michigan gets a hat on a hat with Bushell-Beatty again getting to the second level to prevent a linebacker from making a stop short of the end zone. Patterson's fake throw also freezes No. 22 Bilal, keeping a potential would-be tackler from entering the mix just long enough for Higdon to get three yards.