Week 7 Film Study – Defense

Courtesy heraldtimesonline.com

Courtesy heraldtimesonline.com

We saw a glimpse of what could be for three possessions in the 2nd quarter. Then the rest of the game happened.

Base Defense (starter listed first, generally a 50/50 rotation unless otherwise noted)

NT: (1) Adarius Rayner, (2) Nate Hoff and (3) Chris Cormier. Cormier played one full series.

RDE: (1) Bobby Richardson, (2) Shawn Heffern and (3) Jordan Heiderman. Heiderman played one series in the 3rd quarter.

LDE (“DT” in the depth chart”): (1) Darius Latham and (2) Ralph Green

Bandit: (1) Nick Mangieri, (2) Zach Shaw and (3) Robert McCray

SLB: (1) Flo Hardin and (2) Clyde Newton. Newton played for a series.

WLB: (1) David Cooper and (2) Tegray Scales.

MLB: (1) TJ Simmons, (2) Greg Gooch, (3) Kyle Kennedy. Simmons played roughly half of the time.

CB: Tim Bennett, Michael Hunter, Rashard Fant and Donovan Clark.  Clark and Fant each played a few non-garbage time series, but they never played at the same time.

Boundary safety: (1) Antonio Allen and (2) Tony Fields.

Field safety: (1) Mark Murphy and (2) Chase Dutra.  Murphy and Allen played the first three possessions, then for the first time this season, Allen played with Dutra for three possessions. Murphy and Fields played together after that, and alternated with Allen and Dutra. After a rough outing against Iowa, Dutra and Fields were never on the field at the same time.

On Passing Downs

In previous weeks, David Cooper has slid over to MLB in passing downs. This week, Greg Gooch replaced David Cooper as the MLB, playing alongside Scales.  I didn’t notice any use of the nickel against MSU.

Short Yardage 

Anytime Michigan State went to its 2 tight end and 1 fullback set, IU countered by taking Flo Hardin off the field in favor of a second bandit, either Zach Shaw or Robert McCray, alongside Nick Mangieri.

So That’s What Defense Looks Like…

MSU’s first three drives all resulted in trips inside IU’s 30, with two TDs and one missed field goal. The results said “same old porous IU defense,” but given a second look, there were positive indicators in those first three drives.  Most notably, TJ Simmons was absolutely everywhere.  He stuffed three running plays for little or no gain, and he picked up his first sack of the season. Also, three times in those early drives, an IU defender was in great position to knock away or intercept a pass and just missed. I’ll grant you that we need those plays to be made at some point, but given what we’ve seen the past few weeks, I’m willing to applaud the mere act of aggressively challenging receivers.[ref] And two of the three plays involved absurd catches by Josiah Price and Tony Lippett.[/ref] And, just by the way, each of MSU’s first two TDs should have been nullified by fairly blatant penalties – more on that later.

Then, all of a sudden, the results started to match the level of play.  IU forced a three-and-out on Sparty’s 4th drive, with Chase Dutra filling a hole to stop a draw play on 3rd and 4. Next, they forced another three-and-out. Then, they turned in probably the best defensive possession I’ve seen from the Hoosiers all season.

On 1st down, MSU ran a jet sweep with slot receiver Macgarrett Kings. Big Ralph Green blew it up for a loss. It helped that State’s tackle decided not to block him, but still, Green diagnosed the play and made the tackle. A good start. On 2nd and 15, State threw a field-side bubble screen to Kings. Flo Hardin fought off a block, kept outside contain, and slowed Kings down, allowing Dutra time to come over and clean it up for a two-yard loss.  On 3rd and 17, IU rushed 3 and dropped 8 in coverage.  Although he was not at all hurried, Cook decided to force a ball over the middle to Tony Lippett.  Tegray Scales got great depth in his zone at the snap, putting him in position to make a relatively easy interception. That’s the blueprint – force the offense into 3rd and long and then make a play.  Here’s the whole sequence:

Granted, MSU’s offense executed terribly during those three possessions, especially that last one. Regardless, if you’re looking for an example of this defense’s potential, look no further.

 …Annddd Back To Normal

IU went up 17-14 after the Scales INT with less than six minutes to go in the first half.  Add another stop to the tally and a halftime lead was possible.

Nope.

On 2nd and 10, IU blitzed Flo Hardin and safety Mark Murphy from the field.  As a result, boundary safety Tony Fields shifted all the way to the field side to provide safety help for the two wide receivers to that side .  Because there wasn’t a wide receiver to the boundary side, it appears that true freshman corner Donovan Clark – lined up 10 yards off the ball –  was in man on MSU tight end Josiah Price.  Price ran something resembling a 15-yard out route.  The blitz didn’t generate any pressure, and Connor Cook delivered an accurate pass. Clark had maintained outside leverage on the route, but rather than keeping Price in front of them and trying to separate Price from the ball with a hit, he tried to step around Price for the interception. He missed. And he wasn’t that close. Here it is:

K Dub did a nice job of defending his freshman after the game, saying that he doesn’t mind a player going for the pick. I tend to agree. The next time I see Michael Hunter (the player Clark was in for) gamble for a interception will be the first. That being said, you’d like Clark to have a little better idea of when to gamble.  With absolutely no safety help, this was maybe not that best time.

Sparty took the lead with a TD on the next play.

To quote The Dude (sort of), nothing is eff’ed here, man. IU had the ball, down 4, with just a few minutes remaining in the half. Pick up a couple first downs, maybe add some points, but at the very least, don’t let MSU get the ball back with any meaningful time left.

Nope.

IU went 3-and-out and Sparty got the ball back with all sorts of time left in the half.  They made the most of it.  One play in particular stood out. MSU faced a 3rd and 7 from IU’s 42 with 1:33 left in the half. MSU showed twins to either side, with Langford lined up next to Cook in the shotgun.  IU countered with a look I hadn’t seen yet this year: both inside linebackers were lined up in gaps at the line of scrimmage. Along with Robert McCray, on as the bandit while Mangieri lined up as a defensive end, that put 6 defenders on the line of scrimmage.  All six came on the blitz.  This was also one of only a handful of times I’ve noticed Knorr sending six on the blitz, and the first time that I can remember him doing so outside of the red zone. One weakness of this alignment and blitz is the void in the short middle where the linebackers would normally be. Connor Cook exploited that here, getting the ball out before the blitz could get home:

Aaron Burbridge ran a simple drag route, Antonio Allen’s coverage wasn’t particularly tight, and Chase Dutra couldn’t make the tackle.  First down, Sparty, and just two plays later, touchdown, Sparty. 28-17 at the half.

While the game wasn’t over, IU definitely needed to score the next touchdown. With the benefit of a bad snap that created a 2nd and 30[ref] Full disclosure, I bet my dad that MSU would pick up the first down. I lost, but barely. This is what I become in the 2nd half of IU games.[/ref], IU forced a punt on MSU’s first drive of the second half.  Of course, the offense once again did nothing.  On Sparty’s next drive, IU forced a 3rd and 9.  State had trips to the field and Lippett as the sole receiver to the boundary.  Again, IU broke out something new here. Chase Dutra and Michael Hunter lined up in what appeared to press man double coverage on Lippett.  The Hoosiers rushed 3, and Cook initially had nowhere to go.  Big Ralph flushed him out of the pocket, but neither he nor Shawn Heffern could track down Cook, who doubled back to Lippett’s side, where he had plenty of time to set and deliver a deep ball. By this point, Hunter had dropped off into a zone and Dutra was in man on Lippett. Cook’s pass somehow dropped right over Lippett’s shoulder and Lippett made the grab. Here you go:

Completely unbelievable, and yet, so believable.  It was simply an incredible play by two really good football players. That being said, I’m note sure how I feel about Hunter dropping off Lippett instead of Dutra. Given the choice, I’d prefer to have my generally-decent veteran cover corner on MSU’s best WR, rather than my redshirt freshman safety. It’s not like Dutra blew the coverage, but he did let Lippett get behind him. Although the replay doesn’t really show when Hunter dropped off Lippett, at the :25 mark, you can see Hunter, Antonio Allen and linebacker Greg Gooch all within 5 yards of Spartan tight end Josiah Price. Seems like overkill.

Whatever fight was left in the defense was gone after that play. Sparty added touchdown #5 shortly thereafter. Nos. 6, 7, and 8 would follow in the 4th quarter, and any semblance of defensive progress was swallowed by garbage-time-inflated stats.

This Is The Part Where I Complain About Officiating

Complaining about officiating is one of the lowest forms of fandom.[ref] In my mind, consistently blaming the refs is topped only by (1) constantly calling for a coach’s head and (2) the absolute worst fan conduct, social media contact with recruits or current players. General bad behavior at games also belongs in there somewhere. This is probably a whole other post.[/ref] I don’t like to do it, and you won’t see me do it very often here. I recognize that penalties rarely have an impact on the final outcome of a game, and they ABSOLUTELY would not have impacted the final outcome of this particular game.

HOWEVA, I think it’s fair to point out that MSU’s first two TDs could easily have been called back due to offensive penalties, and if they had, it’s possible those drives would have resulted in something less than 7 points.

On the first touchdown, MSU as in an obvious running formation, with two TEs, a FB, 1 WR and Jeremy Langford. The second TE lined up as a second fullback/H-back. IU countered from a personnel standpoint by replacing Flo Hardin with Zach Shaw – basically playing with two bandit-type OLBs and without an SLB. From an alignment standpoint, IU walked safety Antonio Allen into the box, where he essentially functioned as a third inside linebacker.

Watch the play and see if you can spot a penalty:

At the snap, there were no gaping holes, no obvious mistakes of alignment or mistimed blitzes. David Cooper filled the correct gap and appeared to be in good position to make a tackle for a short gain…but he may have over-pursued just a step, was out of balance and whiffed when Langford made a small cut. With that, Langford was into the secondary.[ref] One small critique: I’d prefer safeties Mark Murphy and Antonio Allen stay a little more to the inside and back to give themselves a chance to clean up any mistakes. As it was, each was pushed outside to their respective sides and were non-factors in the play. This is nit-picking. In general, I support putting Allen in the box and aggressive moves downhill. If Langford had tried to bounce the play outside or cut it back, Murphy and Allen were in position. If Cooper so much as slows Langford down, the play likely gets stopped for 10 yards at the most, likely by Allen or Murphy.[/ref] Once Langford made Cooper miss, the only Hoosier with a shot at stopping him was Tim Bennett. For whatever reason, Tim Bennett was slow to engage Langford. When he finally went in for the tackle around the 10-yard line, he was hit with a massive stiff arm from Langford, which quickly turned into Langford grabbing Bennett’s face mask. Langford kept this up for the entire last 10 yards of his TD run. The line judge was right there. No call. If the correct call is made, MSU has a 1st and 10 at IU’s 25 to 20 yard line, depending on the enforced spot of the foul. Obviously, there’s no guarantee that MSU wouldn’t have gone ahead and scored, but the fact remains: Langford’s TD should not have counted.

Later in the half, MSU drove into the red zone and faced a 3rd and 5 on IU’s 10 yard line. MSU lined up a tight end, an H-back and a WR just outside the H-back to the boundary side – a version of a bunch formation. This TD involved offensive pass interference that wasn’t quite as blatant as Notre Dame’s later in the evening, but was just as illegal:

MSU tight end Jamal Lyles comes off the line blocking and does not stop for the entire play, eventually blocking out Mark Murphy and Tegray Scales. While Murphy especially should have done a better job of getting around the block, a flag could easily have been thrown. If it had, MSU would have faced a 3rd and 20 from the IU 25. Nothing is certain with IU, but that sure seems like at least a 4-point no call.

Let’s not even talk about the late hit on a Shane Wynn punt return that initially drew a penalty flag. After deliberation, the flag was picked up. Call me a homer, but I doubt that happens if we’re at Spartan Stadium and an IU player hit an MSU punt returner as he ran out of bounds.