Fixing Michigan Football II

From KC Joyner’s (The Football Scientist) column:

“Bill Walsh always said no defense can hide a weakness in coverage. If someone in a secondary can’t cover, a creative playcaller will find a way to isolate that player and target him. New England has intelligent playcallers and Moss proved he can move around as needed, so the Patriots should be fully capable of exploiting weaknesses in coverage throughout the season.”

Last season, USC mercilessly targeted Michigan defensive back Morgan Trent. Receivers were moved around formations and sent long and short, along the sidelines and over the middle…wherever Morgan Trent could be isolated. Michigan’s defensive coordinator, Ron English, moved Trent around but had no success. In the second half of the Rose Bowl, Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith and everyone with hands caught passes in front of or behind Morgan Trent. By the time that John David Booty decided to attack Leon Hall, USC had already delivered the death blow. The late touchdown which Dwayne Jarrett scored over Hall was mere dressing.

This season, Michigan’s coaches are “high on” Morgan Trent. He has speed, excellent change of direction skills, quickness and he understands what the coaches are trying to do. Still, there is a problem and it is not restricted to Morgan Trent. Last night, I had the distinct misfortune of watching the Appalachian State-Michigan game. It was worse than I imagined. (The fans from Appalachian State came to Ann Arbor expecting there team to win the game. The came in some considerable numbers and carried signs that demonstrated all the confidence of a two-time national champion. I wondered if Jim Tressel thinks he could have beaten Michigan with some of his Youngstown State teams.)

Against Appalachian State and Oregon, Michigan was unable to achieve a few fundamental things that made winning impossible:

  • Control the line of scrimmage
  • Make tackles in open space
  • Limit YAC for backs and receivers

Appalachian State often ran quick hitting plays which allowed their speedy receivers to catch the ball and quickly attack a slower defense. On one of their earliest plays, App State ran a quick slant and the receiver blazed through four or five defenders for a long TD. It was not the first time that would occur.

If Michigan wants to compete against teams like this, they’ll have to not only improve the defensive line, but add linebackers and secondary players who can make tough tackles in open space. The defense allowed conversions of long 3rd downs on multiple occasions precisely because smaller, faster players eluded numerous defenders or simply bounced off the attempts of disinterested tacklers.

The game is still about blocking and tackling. Until Michigan can do a better job of shedding blocks and tackling in open space, they’ll continue to lose to teams with quicker and faster players at critical skill positions.

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