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Rutgers and Michigan: A Forensic Analysis

Was Rutgers that bad? Is Michigan that good?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 Rutgers at Michigan Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Did the #2 Michigan Wolverines need to open up their playbook to beat the historical doormat, Rutgers?

Is Rutgers not terrible?

Did it take Michigan a half to get things sorted out with Coach Harbaugh now on the sidelines?

I hoped the answer to these questions was yes - but wanted to take a closer look at what I thought I saw during the game. The biggest difference in these programs is coaching, by far. I’m going to go over four plays from the game that had an impact on that assessment.

3rd and 9 - Rutgers ball, score 7-0, Rutgers second drive

RU lines up in a pretty standard 11 formation (3WR, 1 TE, 1 RB, Shotgun). UM responds with showing a Cover 1 under zone at the first down line, and 6 potential rushers.

At the snap. You can see that UM has maintained the zone at the sticks, but has dropped their zone safety which was over the TE into a Cover 2 look deep. UM has also chosen to rush 5. For those keeping score at home, that’s 5 Defensive Linemen against 5 Offensive Linemen + a TE.

I hope you paid special attention to the RU right tackle, Tyler Needham (RS SO). He was facing the wide DE in the last before play image (the right block choice!) but weirdly, decided to block a bit of air out there on the edge. He touched neither UM player.

Poor RPO vision exacerbated Needham’s block miss with RB Monangai staring straight at two unblocked Michigan defenders — while the hole is over the left guard — with TE Johnny Langan leading the way.

4 yard TFL on a 3rd and 9. Mistakes by just one player produce disastrous results.

3rd and 2, Michigan ball. 7:23 in the first, second Michigan drive.

UM lines up in 11 with the TE in the right slot and technically two RBs on the field. That’s Donovan Edwards motioning strong side.

Rutgers has an extremely pressed down man with a combo cover two shallow and deep. A good defensive call for once.

Now here’s the fine line between a Gavin Wimsatt and a JJ McCarthy.

Edwards motions BACK over to the weak side. You can’t see in this picture, but JJ is directing him to head back on that Jet motion at a certain time to test out that man coverage. JJ likely sees that the coverage LB does not follow Edwards over.

What does that mean? JJ knows two things will happen: all coverage is likely not man, and that LB not moving over with Edwards says ZONE! which will leave him open in the flat to get the 2 yards. Man coverage on the jet motion would have potentially prevented this.

RU has made some tactical errors on this play - but look at that actual man coverage on the outsides! Looks good!

You probably also see McCarthy winding up to toss that ball to Edwards, and a streaking in Rutgers blitz (remember what I said about JJ knowing that it’s likely not ALL man coverage) from #4 Igbinosun. Instead of trying to get a hand on the ball by, you know, putting your hands up... or jumping, or really anything to stop the pass - Igbinosun barrels into Blake Corum, McCarthy completes a giant gain, and RU looks clueless on the sideline.

This is a great example of the mind meld between the OC and QB. There’s usually a QB checklist in packages pre-snap. I would bet that determining coverage through motion is at the top of that list, and enables JJ to make no-brainer decisions to get the ball out.

4th and 1. Rutgers ball, Start of Second Quarter.

I hate this play call. I’m sure you can guess this is going to be a crappy slow developing Run Option.

12 formation (2 TEs) with wildly short line splits. Normally, Offensive Line splits between players will be between 1 and 3 feet. You might remember holding your arms out in pop warner to ensure this. Look at the feet on feet splits on the right side of the Offensive Line. Yuck. Could RU’s line create natural field spacing to complete the zone read run option? Sure, but I’m not getting paid to coach them.

Michigan comes out with 6 rushers, and two LBs that are weight forward. They’re not covering anything.

Lets develop this play. Okay, so it’s an option handoff to the right... with the RB to the right?

Guys, this is dumb. The whole point of the QB option handoff is to hide the ball and the true nature of the play until the DE or OLB is read correctly. When the RB is on the same side as the called run, you CANNOT HIDE THE BALL.

Anyway, I’m sure you see those two unblocked UM defenders on the edges.


UM #20 is Jyaire Hill, a true freshman. Probably easily run optioned if Gavin Wimsatt or Monangai had any peripheral vision to the left.

But no, count the TFL, and give UM the ball back on your own 30 or whatever.

If you think JJ McCarthy and Blake Corum are lost enough to make the same negative play above, I have a basement apartment in a condo complex in Miami to sell you.

12:44 in the 4th. Score below. 1st and Goal.

UM comes out in a standard 12 formation (two TEs stacked to the right). RU responds with a tight 5-3 with 9 in the box.

Good play call! RU, you’re out of the game and Jim’s definitely going to just try to salt the rest of this time away by smashing Blake Corum through the middle of your defense. Put 9 in the box. Sure. Look at those close-ass line splits.

Watching this play in slow motion and writing this article, really shows the number of very small differences that separate a doormat and a CFB playoff contender.

Look at UM’s offensive line. All with a 30 degree tilt, legs driving, low posture.

Again after the handoff, continuously engaged. Corum is running right behind that double team on the 3 technique DT, and will drive to the end zone.

I included this last play because it demonstrates what we all think when we see the box score. “Michigan just recruits better” is the common trope in the B1G East. Yeah, they do. And this is the result - they manhandle a defensive line in the 4th quarter.

But also, Michigan’s players are both coached better in practice and put in better gameday positions by the scheme their coordinators provide. If you’re not following Kyle Shanahan’s offense, you’re already in the past.

Running this 2014 Johnny Manziel-era offense will only continue to widen the gap and have B1G athletes look anywhere but Rutgers.