Tale of the Tape: Michigan

After dissecting this week’s film with coach like a high school biology student dissecting a dead wolverine, it became clear that the option game and pressure on defense pushed Nebraska over the edge in this one. Then again, anyone who watched the game could see that to a certain extent. What’s becoming clear as Tommy Armstrong gets more comfortable is how large of an added dimension the option game adds with him under center.

“We’ve always practiced it. We’ve always had it here,” Tim Beck said of the option. “It’s just, it’s got to be the right guy that’s used to doing it.”

Armstrong’s moves bolster that option game enough that it requires so much extra practice to prepare for that most defenses don’t have the time to rep, Coach said. The chipping-away effect the option game has feasts on undisciplined defenses like you’ll see a couple times in today’s film study.


FIRST QUARTER – 10:10 – Armstrong option pitch to Abdullah for 18 yards (YT 0:14:43)

On third down early in the game, we find one of the best examples of unsound defense yielding a big play to the option pitch. Simply put, Coach said, it comes down to the Huskers having two blockers for two defenders. Michigan’s only chance is for linebacker Cameron Gordon (No. 4) to slow play the quarterback and react, rather than attacking; the Wolverines don’t have a player on the pitch to Abdullah.

That’s asking an awful lot of a defender, especially one who isn’t practicing against the option on a weekly basis. “You’ve got to be awfully good and you’ve got to be doing it all the time,” Coach said. “You don’t predicate your defense on that.”

Armstrong’s pitch to Abdullah is well-timed and the play is so well blocked, you can see that Brent Qvale can’t even find defender to block nearly 15 yards upfield.

FOURTH QUARTER – 10:50 – Randy Gregory sacks Devin Garder for minus-8 yards. (YT 1:47:55)

If you’re willing to rewind back to the play before Gregory’s sack, you’ll get the full two-play microcosm of Gregory’s night. On second-and-7, Gregory abstains from taking the fullback in the flat and forces a throw from Gardner, which is picked up by Ciante Evans for a one-yard loss. That’s the savvy of Gregory.

On our chosen play, you’ll see his motor. Gregory’s in his favorite two-point stance as a rush linebacker. Coach jokes that linebackers coach Ross Els doesn’t get enough credit for the success of Gregory; he’s at his best off the line of scrimmage.

Watching the play, you almost get the sense that Gregory expects at least some resistance from Michigan, as the right tackle allows Gregory through without any thing more than a couple hand slaps. Poor Fitz Toussaint is left to block Gregory by himself; a battle that he’s doomed to lose from the beginning. Gregory actually overruns the play as Gardner slips through his first attempt, but Gregory pivots and turns back in one step to finish the sack.

FOURTH QUARTER – 2:08 – Game-winning option pass to Abdullah (YT 2:02:36)

The first thing Coach points out is the fact that Michigan had players in position to defend the option here. The crux of the play comes down to a subtle miss by Wolverines defensive end Frank Clark, who otherwise played the option excellently.

Watch Huskers left tackle Brent Qvale (76) closely when you watch the play the first run through. It may take a couple of plays to see it, but he makes a lateral step inside, leaving the end Clark unblocked. The crack that blew this play wide open was Clark failing to chip block Qvale, which would have delayed his inside move a by a fraction of a second, throwing off the timing for Nebraska.

Remember what Coach said about having a player in position? That’s linebacker James Ross, No. 15. Qvale steps upfield uninhibited however, allowing the Nebraska tackle to seal Ross on the edge and leave Clark responsible for the quarterback and the pitch. Clark actually slow plays the quarterback and leverages him well, but Nebraska had already set the edge nearly to perfection. Abdullah takes the pitch, and makes it all the way into the end zone thanks to a finishing seal block by Alonzo Moore downfield.

“When you can seal that linebacker, it’s two against one,” Coach said. “The rush end; he’s got to be a tremendous player. His best way to do it would have been to slow play it even more than what he did.”