Brady Hoke came into Ann Arbor preaching MANBALL and declaring zone blocking schemes a violation of Real Michigan Values, so out with the spread and in with the West Coast Offense. The WCO is about as far removed from the spread n' shred as you can get, so the big question for the Wolverines coming into this season was how Denard Robinson would take to the new offense.
If Irish fans think that UM's offensive coordinator, Al Borges, is going to ask Denard to suddenly become Peyton Manning and sit in the pocket and make a bunch of crazy reads, then they will be sorely disappointed when the Wolverines go on offense on Saturday. Borges used Robinson as a runner multiple times and Denard managed to
crack the century mark rush for 46 yards on 5.8 a carry in less than three quarters of action.
The Michigan running game against Western Michigan consisted of the typical running plays you would expect to see in the WCO: zone (with a smattering of zone read) and power (MANBALL). There were more, but those were the main plays.
So let's look at how Denard was used in this new offense and what Notre Dame can do to stop it.
This first play is a variation of the outside zone, known as the "pin and pull."
via Smart Football
Basically, the line zone blocks except for the play side tackle and either the center or play side guard, who will pull around to act as lead blockers.
Michigan lines up with two tight ends and Robinson in the shotgun with Michael Shaw in the backfield.
The tackle and guard pull and wrap around. Robinson hands the ball off to Shaw.
The tackle misses a block and Shaw has to bounce outside. He ends up losing one yard.
So that's a pretty basic running play, one you would expect in the WCO. But let's look at it again...
Michigan is lined up with only one tight end this time and the running back to the strong side.
In this play, the play side tackle and guard pull. The nose tackle covered the center, moving the pulling responsibility to the guard. This time there is no handoff; Robinson takes off with the back acting as a lead blocker.
The pulling linemen open up a hole this time and Robinson still has a lead blocker.
Robinson gets to the outside and picks up eleven yards.
That's the exact same play except the QB is the ball carrier instead of the running back in one. It's pretty obvious to see the advantages this gives the offense. Robinson had an extra blocker that wasn't available to Shaw on the first play. Also, this doesn't add any complexity to the offense. The line and receivers do exactly what they would do if Robinson was handing it off. The only thing that changes is who is carrying the ball. And of course the biggest advantage is having Denard Robinson carry the ball.
How about another example? Here, the Wolverines are going to run the Power O with the QB.
Again, Robinson is in the shotgun with one tight end.
You can see all of the elements of the Power O: the down blocks on the line, the pulling backside guard, the unblocked man on the end of the line, and the running back getting in position to block him.
Robinson finds a hole and picks up the first down.
It's easy to see what Borges plan was with Robinson. He just kept all of his traditional running plays and just had Denard carry the ball occasionally. (Just a note: This actually isn't anything new for Michigan. RichRod did it too. It's just that now it's a bigger part of the offense.)
(Another note: I was informed in the comments section that the Power O was a fairly common play last season for Michigan as a way to punish opposing defensive ends for squatting on the zone read.)
So does that mean the zone read is dead at Michigan? Far from it. It's now a much smaller part of the offense, but UM ran a couple zone reads against WMU. I want to highlight one just to show the danger Robinson still poses in this offense.
Once again, Robinson is in the shotgun with Shaw next to him and one tight end on the line.
Michigan is going to run an inside zone with the read attached (AKA, a zone read). The DE squats on the line giving Robinson the "give" read. Notice how the linebackers are crashing down towards Robinson.
Robinson gives it and Shaw finds a crease. Because the linebackers overreacted on the read, no one is in position to tackle him.
Shaw races 44 yards for the TD (with a little help from the block the ref gave him).
This offense is different, but in a lot of ways it's not that different. Borges is a very good offensive coordinator who gets the most out of his best players. In this case, it's Denard Robinson and that means using his legs as a weapon. Borges isn't doing anything ground-breaking, but he is adapting his offense to the talent he has, something a lot of coaches struggle with.
On Notre Dame's side, the most important thing is KEEP CONTAIN. This is something they struggled with last season and had trouble with in the first half last week. Diaco did a pretty good job stopping Daniels on the ground last week after the rain delay, but he did it by bringing a safety down to help on the outside. Robinson isn't a fantastic quarterback, but he's certainly good enough to make Notre Dame pay by going over the top to his receivers. The important thing to remember is that Robinson will get his yards. If the Irish need to play disciplined and force Michigan into third and longs. That running game will eat our defense alive we give them 3rd and 2 all day.
This is a "put up or shut up" game for the Irish. If they win, the season is back on track and we can start thinking 9 or 10 wins again. If they lose, it's "same old Notre Dame" and all of the preseason good will is out the window. So how about we just go ahead and win this?