Every Tuesday at The Grotto in downtown Ann Arbor (6pm start time) and Thursday's at Royal Oak Taphouse (6:30pm), former Michigan QB Devin Gardner joins me to break down the previous Michigan football game. Here's what we learned from him after watching the film of the win over SMU.
Play 1 - 13:50 1st Quarter - If the first 15-20 plays of each game are pre-scripted, as Gardner notes, here is what SMU's defensive coaches knew: against Notre Dame, U-M ran on five of its first six plays and 11 of its first 20. Against Western Michigan, the Wolverines ran on 13 of their first 20.
Thus, when this game begins, the Mustangs have eight guys in the box and six defenders within three yards of the line of scrimmage. Their defensive linemen and linebackers "trigger" immediately on the snap, coming downhill instead of "reading and reacting." This overwhelms Michigan's offensive blockers, where you find right guard Michael Onwenu (No. 50) and fullback Ben Mason (42) blocking the same player, neither with any success. This play was doomed from the start, though as we will see, some of that stubbornness in the first quarter paid dividends with play-action passes later in the game.
Play 2 - 9:47 1st Quarter - Sometimes the smartest play is to throw it away or get back to the line of scrimmage on a scramble. SMU appears to have six rushers coming but three drop into coverage, creating a 2:1 ratio of defenders to route-runners for the Maize and Blue. Those aren't good odds and while the OL does its job against three-man pressure, quarterback Shea Patterson recognizes he only has so much time before he must leave the pocket and try to create on his own.
Play 3 - 6:45 1st Quarter - A staple of Jim Harbaugh's offense in four years at Michigan, the Wolverines run a jet sweep, this time to sophomore two-way player Ambry Thomas. This play goes for 11 as it's blocked well on the front end by WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (No. 9) and TE Zach Gentry (83). That yardage is a bonus for a play that as we will soon see is really used to set up two more plays that both go for big gains.
Play 4 - 4:40 1st Quarter - A great cut block by junior walk-on RB Tru Wilson creates extra time for Patterson to stand in the pocket and deliver this beautiful ball to Gentry for a 32-yard gain. SMU runs this middle linebacker blitz "from depth" (meaning about 4-6 yards behind the line of scrimmage) three noticeable times against U-M. Twice, the linebacker almost sacks Patterson because of missed assignments, but here Wilson does exactly what he is coached to do.
Play 5 - 0:25 1st Quarter - As Patterson surveys the field he notices a one-on-one matchup with his 6-5, 251-pound tight end and a 5-11, 205-pound safety that favors the Wolverines. Patterson waves to Sean McKeon (No. 84) to break off his route and come back to the football. McKeon does so, but makes a mistake planting himself in the corner of the end zone. In his mind, Gardner notes, McKeon believes he has to score a touchdown, but all he really needs to do is move the chains, which means catching the ball at the four-yard line or better.
McKeon waits for the ball to come to him, a big-time no-no, especially with a defender in hot pursuit. This is a ball that should never be intercepted. As Gardner shared Tuesday night, if McKeon is the No. 1 option going forward, he'll still get the ball, but on a broken play, like this one, as a quarterback, he would be skeptical to trust the tight end in a similar situation.
Play 6 - 14:02 2nd Quarter - Though he has lost his starting job to junior Carlo Kemp, defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour (No. 50) makes a nice play here, using his hands to shed a blocker and wrap up Southern Methodist QB William Brown.
Play 7 - 11:57 2nd Quarter - As mentioned previously (Play 4), SMU sends its middle linebacker "from depth" and he comes unblocked because sophomore center Cesar Ruiz (No. 51), in just his third career start at the position, doesn't recognize the blitz is coming. In his stance, with one hand on the football, trying to direct traffic, Ruiz makes a common (and to some degree, understood) mistake of not taking a long enough peek to the second level. Because the blitz is delayed, and because he's lined up to the left, tailback Chris Evans (No. 12) identifies the backside linebacker as a threat and leaks out to block him. No one picks up the MIKE, but Patterson stands up to the heat and delivers a ridiculous throw to Gentry.
Play 8 - 5:25 2nd Quarter - Michigan yields a 50-yard bomb here thanks to confusion between cornerback David Long (22) and safety Brad Hawkins (20). A stack formation is supposed to cause confusion, Gardner noted because defenders may not know who has who.
Watching this live, we all assumed Hawkins, three games into his debut as a redshirt freshman, was at fault, but if you slow the frame down, you can see that as Long disengages from the front wide receiver (No. 4), he actually turns his head and opens up his hips to the outside target (No. 3), creating the impression to Hawkins that he intends to take the outside wide receiver. Hawkins, then, in a bit of an 'oh crap' moment, pivots and shifts his body back inside. Unfortunately, Long didn't take the outside guy and they both end up on the same player.
Junior safety Josh Metellus (No. 14) is a little too late to recognize the blown assignment and can't provide any help, adding to this play's breakdowns.
Play 9 - 2:43 2nd Quarter - Michigan uses Thomas as a decoy on the jet sweep this time, sucking in all three linebackers, who charge hard. No. 11 is responsible for the middle of the field, but he's vacated, leaving Peoples-Jones free reign. When you see it from the back angle, look at No. 11 again. Even as Patterson is about to release, the SMU defender has his eyes squarely in the backfield and has no idea where Peoples-Jones is. When Patterson uncorks it, the linebacker is about eight yards behind Michigan's wide receiver and no threat to bring him down. This all started because the linebackers bit on the play-fake to Thomas, only after he took a handoff 11 yards in the first quarter.
Play 10 - 0:17 2nd Quarter - Southern Methodist coaches probably studied a lot of film from last year and knew Michigan's defense, especially its safeties, were susceptible to slot receiver routes in which the slot and outside receiver traded places. That's what they try to do on this play, but Metellus does a great job running over the top of any potential pick play from the outside receiver. His eyes are in the backfield, reading the quarterback, and gets away with it because Ben Hicks releases early, before allowing his wideout to get upfield.
Had this pass been another 5-8 yards, the receiver probably is behind Metellus and might be scoring, but QBs make mistakes, and you have to make them pay for it. Last year, Metellus did not against Ohio State. This time, he did.
Play 11 - 12:47 3rd Quarter - Yet another blitz from the middle linebacker from depth, and Ruiz fails to recognize it again. (He'll likely spend a lot of time in film room this week trying to learn from these). This time, though, Ruiz has help from Evans, who steps forward to cut block the defender. While Evans whiffs, and it looks bad, and the linebacker forces Patterson out of the pocket, Gardner cuts Evans some slack, noting defenders learn from previous plays too (so this LB does a better job avoiding the cut) plus Evans went low, as taught, but faults in lowering his eyes too early and thus not seeing his target move.
Play 12 - 9:14 3rd Quarter - At this point, Patterson and Peoples-Jones have connected for one touchdown in this game and two on the season, and they show tremendous chemistry here. As Gardner noted, there is no play called "back-shoulder throw." It's an instinctual reaction by both a QB and a WR to read how the defensive back is playing you and understand that getting to the back of the end zone is not an option (largely because No. 7 actually holds DPJ). Peoples-Jones does a good job shielding the defender from the ball and Patterson puts it right on the money.
Play 13 - 6:58 3rd Quarter - Michigan does a pretty good job at sniffing out screen plays, but what I really want you to pay attention to is Rashan Gary (No. 3). He gets dogged for not hustling enough, which is crazy. On the snap, he's blocked by the left tackle and left guard, and is on the far side of the field from where the screen pass is going. Gary recognizes what's unfolding, sheds his blocks, and attacks, bringing down the ball carrier. Both linebackers Devin Bush and Devin Gil are closing in on the receiver, but it's no guarantee either makes the play. Gary, however, stymies this before it can even get going.
Play 14 - 1:31 3rd Quarter - All those running plays early may have proven fruitless but when Michigan runs play-action later in the game, and it sucks everyone in, even for just a step, allowing Peoples-Jones behind the defense for a touchdown, it's not exactly a waste. Patterson also does a nice job feeling some pressure from his left (though it is blocked fairly well), sliding to the right so he can set his feet for the throw.
Play 15 - 14:26 4th Quarter - This doesn't happen very often to a Don Brown defense, especially with veterans in the secondary, but there is some confusion pre-snap with who has whom, and getting lined up. Thus, it leaves Michigan without outside containment on the near side, and SMU has the perfect play-call to take advantage. Gardner was proud, though, that U-M did not allow this to go for six.
Play 16 - 10:43 4th Quarter - The third time Michigan puts Thomas in motion, this is also to deceive, and it works perfectly, as linebackers 16 and 14 flow left, going after Thomas. Middle linebacker Richard Moore (No. 14, sorry bud, had to call you out by name because it's so bad) commits so strongly to Thomas that when U-M right tackle Juwan Bushell-Beatty (76) combo blocks up to the second level, he actually has no one to block. The hole is gigantic (thanks also to great blocking from the entire OL). Evans goes for 35 and probably scores a TD if not coming up lame clutching at his hamstring.
Play 17 - 2:38 4th Quarter - Similar to last week, Michigan runs "read-option" but not in true fashion because the Wolverines do not leave a defensive end unblocked. In other words, this was always going to the running back. Gentry gets up field to the front side linebacker, taking him out of the play, left guard Ben Bredeson (74) pulls to kick out the edge defender and left tackle Jon Runyan Jr. (75) does a terrific job down blocking to pin all of the defensive linemen (and a blitzing LB) in a mess of bodies inside, creating the outside lane for O'Maury Samuels.