Michigan and Purdue Film Study – Defense

Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

One last regular season Film Study for your reading pleasure (or at least passing interest).

Participation Report

  • The main departure from the norm vs. Michigan was IU’s frequent use of Chris Covington as a third linebacker in place of the Husky. Basically, any time Michigan used a fullback and/or 2nd tight end, Covington was on the field. If Michigan used 3-WR sets or on obvious passing downs, Ball was in.  Covington made the most of the extra playing time, racking up 6 tackles, 1 forced fumble and this sack:

The presence of Marcus Oliver and Tegray Scales necessarily limits Covington’s playing time, but if one or both of Oliver or Scales decide to head to the NFL, expect Covington to be a major factor in 2017.

  • Both safeties, Jonathan Crawford and Tony Fields, played every snap of the Michigan game and all but a few snaps against Purdue. True freshman Khalil Bryant was on the field for a few plays in place of Crawford against Purdue. Chase Dutra had rotated in at both spots throughout the season, but didn’t see any action on defense in either game. Dutra doesn’t show up on the official participation report, meaning he didn’t play special teams either. Although I haven’t heard anybody mention it, I’m confident he was hurt because Dutra was a special teams regular for most of the season.
  • Against Michigan, Reakwon Jones spelled Tegray Scales for a few snaps during one drive. Dawson Fletcher had been Scales’ normal (though seldom-used) backup, but I’m guessing the coaching staff wanted to deploy the stouter Jones against the Michigan run game. Fletcher was once again the 2nd team WLB against Purdue.
  • Omari Stringer and Ja’merez Bowen saw a little action against Purdue.  Bowen hadn’t played since the Ohio State game. Stringer played a few snaps against Penn State, but before that, hadn’t played since the Northwestern game.

Alignment Issues

It’s hard to fault the IU defense’s performance against Michigan. They fought for four quarters and kept IU in the game. They benefitted from facing John O’Korn instead of Wilton Speight, but holding the #2 team in the country to 3 points in a half is good work no matter the QB.

That being said, there was one issue that I saw pop up a few times against the Wolverines. It’s a problem common to every defense that takes on a Harbaugh offense, with its unbalanced lines and frequent shifts: getting lined up correctly. One of the primary benefits of Harbaugh’s heavy sets and shifts is just that – get the defense lined up incorrectly so that, in effect, a play is almost guaranteed to succeed before the ball is snapped.

Case in point – Michigan had a 2nd and 7 on the IU 38 early in the 3rd quarter. They broke the huddle in 22 personnel, with 2 tight ends, a fullback and only one wide receiver. Below is the pre-snap alignment of the IU defense.

IU nose tackle Nate Hoff is aligned as a one-technique in the gap between the center and right guard. On the defensive line, the only other D-lineman to Hoff’s left is Greg Gooch, lined up on the outside shoulder of the 2nd tight end. That left a the right tackle and the inside tight end uncovered, with unfettered access to the second level.The right guard also has leverage for a relatively easy down-block on Hoff. On the weakside, IU had Ralph Green and Paul Dougherty head up on the left guard and left tackle, along with Chris Covington showing blitz. With that alignment, any run play to the offense’s right was almost certain to succeed.

Sure enough, it was a Power O to the right, meaning that the left guard pulled and the fullback led, adding two more blockers, and two more unaccounted-for gaps, on the playside. The right guard left Hoff for the right tackle (who had even better leverage for the down block) to take on Oliver. Both tight ends released up field to block Scales and a safety, leaving Gooch to be kicked out by the fullback. The pulling guard helped on Scales. Dougherty, Green and Covington were too far away to impact the run. An easy 15-yard gain for Smith.

A similar alignment, although not quite as bad, burned IU on Michigan’s last TD. Here is the alignment:

Like I said, not quite as bad. This time, Hoff was head up on the center, while Ralph Green was head-up on the right guard. Still, DE Greg Gooch was lined up outside the tight end, leaving a sizable gap between Green and Gooch. Also note that Marcus Oliver is shaded to the weakside, most likely in reaction to the fullback in the offset I.

This time, Michigan runs a counter. The tight end easily kicks out Gooch. The right tackle has a simple down-block on Green. When Oliver bites hard on the counter action to the offensive left, the only defender left on the playside to take on the pulling guard and fullback is Scales. Once again, this play was likely to succeed before the ball was snapped.[ref] It took some poor angles and bad tackling to make it a TD.[/ref]

In both cases, I would argue that the strongside and weakside were misidentified before the snap, but especially in the 1st example, where the backs were in a straight I (rather than offset), and there were two tight ends to one side, I doubt that Oliver & Co. would miss that. I’m guessing there was some direction to line up this way based on something the coaches had seen on film. If that’s indeed the case, credit to the Michigan staff for breaking tendencies. Either way, these plays are a prime example of Harbaugh’s power running game at work.

Charts…So Many Charts


Takeaway: Michigan didn’t throw it much in this one, but when they did, IU was aggressive in bringing extra defenders and effective at generating pressure. IU even busted out two new blitz-personnel combinations, bringing free safety Jonathan Crawford and husky Marcelino Ball at the same time, and blitzing Crawford and Marcus Oliver together. The Crawford/Ball blitz worked pretty well:

Takeaway: John O’Korn didn’t complete a pass that traveled more than 10 yards downfield. No wonder Michigan sent out a less-than-100% Wilton Speight against Ohio State. Whether by design or by O’Korn’s own ineptitude[ref] I suspect the latter.[/ref], Rashard Fant’s man was never targeted.

Takeaway: Michigan attempted six runs outside the tackle and gained 0 yards. Unfortunately for IU, Michigan didn’t have to run outside to find success on the ground. 27 attempts inside the tackle to the right is a crazy amount – Purdue had 28 called rushing attempts total – and it worked.

Takeaway: That one missed tackle by Marcus Oliver was maybe the biggest play of the game. If he makes the tackle and sacks O’Korn on a 3rd and long, Michigan would have punted, and IU would have had decent field position with a 10-6 lead late in the 3rd quarter. Instead, O’Korn scrambled for the 1st down and much more. Michigan ripped off a long TD run on the next play to take a lead they would never relinquish.

Some missed tackles are worse than others.


Takeaway: As he did against Michigan, Coach Allen relied heavily on the blitz against Purdue. He generated a little less pressure on a percentage basis, but he got it when he needed it most. IU tallied 9 of their 14 QB pressures in the 2nd half, including 8 on Purdue’s last 3 drives, the last of which was Big Ralph blasting David Blough milliseconds after he released a 4th down pass that Crawford intercepted.

Takeaway: For a guy considering going pro, this was not a great audition. Against a good but not great receiver in DeAngelo Yancey, Rashard Fant was beaten deep twice (one for a TD, the other was just overthrown) and called for two costly penalties. One game does not change what was otherwise a great season, however, and if Fant leaves for the NFL, he should be remembered as one of the best pure cover corners in IU football history. Other than that one deep TD and a crazy one-handed catch by Bilal Marshall, Blough was limited to short gains through the air.

Takeaway: Yeah, Purdue isn’t good at running the ball. IU held the Boilers to less than 2 YPC on inside runs and just over 3 YPC to the outside.

Takeaway: The 2016 Purdue offense wasn’t exactly chock-full of guys that could make you miss or break tackles so one could argue that even six missed tackles is too many. None of these were particularly damaging, however, so I won’t complain.