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Film Focus: Michigan red zone struggles overshadow solid day of offense

The Jake Moody situation is a bit of a catch-22.

On one hand, the freshman kicker set a school record with six field goals, providing a solid answer to a lingering issue. On the other hand, all of the attempts took place in the red zone, as the offense stalled out on seven of eight trips.

It’s just one game of missed opportunities, and some analytical models demonstrate “red zone efficiency” doesn’t exist separately from general offensive efficiency.

With that said, why couldn’t Michigan convert more scoring chances? The execution and play-calling between the 20-yard lines led to 507 yards of total offense, so what changed closer to the goal line?

We turn to the film for drive-by-drive evaluation.

First drive not in video. Key plays from the first drive are here.

DRIVE ONE, M 25-YARD LINE (START OF GAME)

Karan Higdon starts the day with a 13-yard run. Michigan lines up with three tight ends to the left, only to pull Sean McKeon and Nick Eubanks to the right with Ben Bredeson. Indiana deploys a 5-2 front, which the blocks flank to get Higdon to the edge.

While not always consistent, the tight ends are improving at identifying defenders to block.

The next play, Shea Patterson fakes to Higdon on a stretch and hits a wide-open Nico Collins on a hitch for a first down. The run fake draws seven or eight defenders and Collins completely loses Marcelino Ball for an easy 14 yards.

Next are two short-side runs with Higdon to the left, which gain eight and 14. The plays are identically blocked as off-tackle powers with Cesar Ruiz and Bredeson pulling. The only difference is the first comes out of strictly shotgun with the back to the side. The second is a pistol look.

Keep this in your back pocket, as Maryland torched Ohio State last weekend with similar looks.

The Wolverine blockers again outnumber Hoosiers on the right end, as Tru Wilson picks through trash for 10 yards and another first down. Jon Runyan Jr. starts on the right side in a tackle-over look and bars two defenders from getting to Wilson.

The first red zone trip is on failed execution. Higdon squirts ahead for just two yards, mostly due to Bredeson whiffing on a cut block. Zach Gentry also is too slow to impede a linebacker in pursuit.

Next, Ruiz sends Patterson a high snap, which throws off the handoff’s timing to force a loss. Also, Harbaugh called for a run with six blockers into an eight-man front.

No one gets open on third down, so Patterson throws it away. Solid protection.

Drive: 10 plays, 61 yards, field goal (Michigan leads 3-0)

DRIVE TWO, M 38-YARD LINE (7:20 FIRST QUARTER)

A deep pass to Tarik Black goes too long on first down. While on first glance it looks like Juwann Bushell-Beatty is beat cleanly by the end, a second look shows Gentry ran in between blocker and defender. This screwed with his steps and hand engagement.

Chris Evans falls forward for just two to set up third-and-long. He gets stopped by a Hoosier working off a block, which suggests he needs to run with more strength.

A dump off to Berkley Edwards ends the drive.

Drive: Three plays, seven yards, punt (Indiana scores to lead 7-3)

DRIVE THREE, M 36-YARD LINE (4:14 FIRST QUARTER)

Runyan and Bredeson create a gaping hole for Wilson, but a weak side safety flies upfield to track Wilson down from behind for just five yards.

Patterson then executes the same read-option that’s killed other lulling defenses. It’s the same arc block, and McKeon avoids the traffic to smack a crashing cornerback. All the inside runs got the Hoosiers used to keying on the back, so the quarterback keeper fools them to move the chains.

His ensuing run goes for nothing, as a cavalcade of missed open-field blocks (Ruiz, McKeon and the right-side receivers) dooms him.

After a short run, Patterson is flushed from the pocket and mitigates the damage by using Higdon as a safety valve. It sets up fourth-and-short. At this point, a lingering injury to Bushell-Beatty forces Andrew Stueber into action. He fails to keep him with the speed rush a la Bushell-Beatty before this year.

Higdon decisively cuts upfield for 10 yards on fourth to convert.

A pass interference penalty on a Donovan Peoples-Jones double pass gets the Wolverines inside the 20.

The line then pushes the Hoosier front back three yards, allowing Evans to gain four. Next, Patterson doesn’t pull on the option, preventing a walk-in touchdown.

That’s a lot of open space in front of him. At this point, everyone knows he can run, so why act like you need to keep it off film for Ohio State?

He follows that with a short arm to a wide-open Gentry in the end zone. So far, it’s not the play-calling, but the execution.

Drive: 10 plays, 52 yards, field goal (Indiana leads 7-6)

DRIVE FOUR, M 40-YARD LINE (12:22 SECOND QUARTER)

Despite the gaffe on the previous drive, Harbaugh and Hamilton start letting Patterson rip it.

First, he throws to Black’s outside shoulder on a hitch. While mostly known as a deep threat, Black plays the part of possession receiver here with a snag.

After an incomplete fade to Peoples-Jones, Grant Perry runs a route to the right, fakes a hitch and darts left for a nine-yard completion for a fresh set of downs. His two other receivers run other corners off the ball, a practice seen since Maryland.

Next, Ronnie Bell breaks loose for 31 yards on a slant opened up by RPO action.

The gap-blocking look draws both linebackers in the 5-2 towards the line of scrimmage, and Marcelino Ball is peeking in the backfield for Patterson to keep it. Bell sprints by everyone and starts the Wolverines’ third red zone appearance.

After Wilson creeps ahead for three yards, Patterson fires two straight incompletions for another field goal. The first attempt goes against the offense’s tendencies this season. Second down is primarily a running down for Harbaugh, as Michigan is second-best in the nation at getting to third-and-short.

Three trips. Three kicks.

Drive: Eight plays, 47 yards, field goal (Indiana scores to lead 10-9)

DRIVE FIVE, M 35-YARD LINE (7:39 SECOND QUARTER)

Four runs and a short pass set up a 41-yard touchdown to Eubanks off play-action.

Two things: First, an Indiana safety finds himself in no man’s land in a zone that accounts for nobody. Second, Eubanks, despite only six catches, is fourth on the team with 149 yards. That’s approximately 25 yards a reception.

Patterson misfires to Eubanks on the two-point try.

Drive: Six plays, 65 yards, touchdown (Indiana scores to lead 17-15)

DRIVE SIX, M 39-YARD LINE (1:33 SECOND QUARTER)

Gentry streaks downfield to get Michigan into its fourth red zone trip with over a minute remaining in the half. Good protection, great throw in between three defenders. All-around stellar play — also one the Buckeyes were vulnerable to against the Terrapins.

I don’t know what Harbaugh is trying to do with these following play-calls. Three runs drain the clock from 1:01 to just 15 seconds, which also burned the last remaining Wolverine timeout.

With a new set of downs, he and Hamilton dial up four routes short of the goal line, with all four of them running to the same part of the field. This congests the passing lanes and calls for a tight end to evade tacklers.

With game management that poor, the missed call on the kicked ball was almost deserved.

Drive: Six plays, 59 yards, end of half (Indiana leads 17-15)

DRIVE SEVEN, M 33-YARD LINE (14:25 THIRD QUARTER)

Higdon starts off with a minimal gain after Ruiz and Bredeson fail to block smaller defenders in open space.

It’s third-and-long after a five-man rush on a twist blitz induces a Patterson scramble-turned-incompletion.

Patterson steps up in the pocket and lasers a throw to Peoples-Jones for another first down.

I really like how he moves in the pocket with a purpose, which is to clear up his passing lane to find an open receiver downfield. He’s a shorter quarterback, so that type of scrambling is sometimes necessary.

Collins then takes advantage of an incredibly soft cushion for another first down.

With the Hoosier secondary on its heels — despite mostly multi-tight end packages — Tom Allen deploys more defensive backs. Hamilton counters with eight blockers for six defenders, giving Evans room for an easy seven yards.

Peoples-Jones snares a slant over the middle for 14 yards to get Michigan into the red zone a fifth time. The play design here is gorgeous.

Peoples-Jones fakes a block for a bubble screen to Perry, all while Patterson is working through the RPO with Higdon. Peoples-Jones then takes off on a slant made wide-open by the deception.

The play-calling reverts back to the tried and true approach of running right behind the 300-pounders. Three runs up the gut and a pass interference set up Higdon for a plunge for a touchdown.

In a two-minute drill, running the ball three straight times will waste time. At the beginning of a half, with Michigan’s hogs up front, it’s the right call.

Drive: 11 plays, 67 yards, touchdown (Michigan leads 22-17 after missed two-point conversion)

DRIVE EIGHT, M 43-YARD LINE (8:45 THIRD QUARTER)

Patterson throws only his fourth pick of the season under heavy pressure. Runyan lunges outside as his assignment rips inside, giving a free run to the quarterback.

Between Stueber and some miscues on stunt pickup, it wasn’t the cleanest day of pass blocking. This needs to be rectified before facing Buckeye linemen Chase Young and Dre’mont Jones.

Drive: Two plays, seven yards, interception (Michigan leads 22-17)

DRIVE NINE, M 20-YARD LINE (5:15 THIRD QUARTER)

The following pattern takes place over the final three drives — big play gets the offense moving and missed block stifles a drive.

Gentry provides the first part of the equation, separating from a linebacker in fade coverage to gain 41 yards. Patterson had plenty of time to read the defense and decided to scramble to step into his heave.

Wilson takes the handoff to move the chains again. He displays superior vision to his peers, getting to the second level and then cutting to the left sideline for 15 yards.

Hamilton calls for an off-tackle left play on third-and-two, but he only sends out eight blockers for a 10-man front. Higdon is stoned at the line of scrimmage from a free hitter.

Moody is looking like Nik Stauskas with all the three-pointers he’s hitting.

Drive: Nine plays, 65 yards, field goal (Michigan leads 25-17)

DRIVE 10, M 47-YARD LINE (14:48 FOURTH QUARTER)

Higdon darts into the secondary for 13 yards as Mike Onwenu washes the interior Hoosier line to the left.

All the runs to Higdon, Wilson and Mason force Allen to key his defenders just on the backs. This leads to Patterson pulling for a 19-yard scamper to the Indiana 12.

The Hoosiers refuse to break on three straight runs to force another Moody kick. The athleticism of the safeties and linebackers is on display, since the burly Wolverine linemen are not getting solid hits to sustain blocks.

Drive: Nine plays, 51 yards, field goal (Indiana scores, Michigan leads 28-20)

DRIVE 11, IND 47-YARD LINE (6:10 FOURTH QUARTER)

Patterson runs for 23 yards to get into field goal range once more. The final one fails to gain enough yardage for a first down, as Runyan lets go of his block a beat too early.

Moody sets the school record to put the game out of reach.

Drive: Eight plays, 36 yards, field goal (Michigan wins 31-20)

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR “THE GAME”

With all the consternation about the run game during scoring chances, the Wolverines did manage 257 yards at five yards a pop. The Hoosiers and Buckeyes both possess similarly underwhelming run defenses — No. 68 per S&P for OSU, No. 74 for Indiana.

OSU defensive coordinator Greg Schiano has had all season to plug holes in the defense, and last week against Maryland emphatically showed no progress has been made.

The Terps amassed 339 yards on the ground on over seven a carry. These are other struggles this year, with type of ground game in parentheses.

  • 36 carries for 203 yards against TCU (spread to run with backs)
  • 44 carries for 206 yards against Penn State (McSorley read-option)
  • 33 carries for 178 yards against Minnesota (pro-style running out of shotgun)
  • 29 carries for 161 yards against Purdue (pass to set up run)

Even in the annual “too close for comfort” game against Indiana, Michigan demonstrated proficiency in all these approaches.

In terms of passing the ball, Hamilton and Ed Warinner have collaborated beautifully to incorporate the RPO. Plays like the fake bubble slant to Peoples-Jones or the touchdown to Eubanks exhibit the various ways receivers can exploit bad linebacker/safety coverage.

Last year, John O’Korn missed a plethora of open pass-catchers to blow many opportunities. Patterson has dipped under 60 percent passing just twice, so it stands to reason he’s going to take advantage of open targets against the nation’s No. 93 efficiency pass defense.

Reference the Minnesota and especially the Purdue game for how RPO kills the Buckeye linebackers.

In terms of red zone efficiency, the Wolverines rank No. 8 at scoring once inside the 10. Chalk up last Saturday to a lack of focus before rivalry week…for now.

The real potential for problems comes from Ohio State’s pass rush against the tackles. If Bushell-Beatty returns healthy, this is somewhat mitigated. However, Indiana flustered Patterson into an interception based on a missed block from Runyan.

Whoever Indiana is throwing at the tackles pales in comparison to Chase Young and Ohio State’s top-30 pass rush per sack rate (7.7 percent of drop backs).

If the line holds up in pass protection a la the Penn State game, it’s hard to imagine a way for the Buckeyes to slow down this top-25 efficiency offense.

That means anything below 30 points would be below expectations.



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