Michigan Film Breakdown: What We Learned From Devin Gardner
A 2-plus-year starter for the Wolverines from 2012-14, Gardner was joined this week by former Michigan offensive lineman Kyle Froelich (1998-2002), who offered a unique perspective as an OL.
This is just a sampling from the more than 20 plays we review weekly.
What both Gardner and Froelich loved about this play was that even though redshirt freshman right tackle Jalen Mayfield is not struggling with his pass pro, senior right guard Michael Onwenu recognizes that with no one to block, he can help a teammate out and cleans up D-End Jacub Pansiuk, allowing senior QB Shea Patterson to move left and hit sophomore wide receiver Ronnie Bell on the sideline, throwing a pass high and outside that only Bell could catch.
There is good and bad on this play. It starts with senior tight end Sean McKeon getting beat outside (though being he's up against a defensive end, a little latitude is offered). This time, Mayfield recognizes he is needed for an assist and sprints upfield to once again pancake Panusiuk.
Patterson gets out of the pocket to his right and finds freshman WR Mike Sairinstil, who does a nice job on the scramble to break away from a defender and find open space. Gardner argued that Patterson knows he's going to get hit and would like to see him step into the throw more and deliver a ball leading the receiver, allowing Sainristil an opportunity to make a bigger play with yards after the catch.
Perhaps the play of the game. Tied 7-7, Michigan deep in its own territory after a punt was downed at the two-yard line, facing a 3rd-and-7. In rhythm, Patterson takes a three-step drop and the ball is out to junior Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is running a comeback route, three yards past the sticks with a single intention - catch the ball at the sideline beyond the first-down marker.
Nine plays later, Michigan has a 14-7 lead.
Froelich loved the job by the offensive line here to pick up an eight-man pressure, creating enough time for Patterson to seek out junior wide receiver Tarik Black in single coverage, no safety help (zero coverage).
Unfortunately, the ball is thrown behind Black instead of out in front of him. Sure, the defender has his hand locked in, but this is a ball that thrown in the right place is a touchdown. As Gardner noted, Michigan settled for three on this possession, and against Ohio State, U-M needs every TD it can get.
Great play by Patterson here. For all the knocks that he is a "one-read" QB, he dispels that notion on this play. Both Sainristil and Nico Collins go vertical in routes and Patterson looks to Collins first, seeing that he is doubled. He then shifts his gaze to Peoples-Jones, who has come in motion and is open in the flat.
This is not a bubble screen. It is a second read, essentially a "dump" pass. See that there are no receivers blocking downfield (freshman Giles Jackson runs by to get into his route). Peoples-Jones is tasked with making a player miss. He makes two and leaps for the end zone, sacrificing himself with the type of effort needed to beat the Buckeyes.
For the life of all three of us, we couldn't figure out why Sainristil was called for an illegal block here, as Bell executed the same block earlier in the game and was not flagged.
Nonetheless, the play becomes about what happens next - Panusiuk taking four steps after Patterson releases the ball to take his shot at the Michigan QB. We've all seen defensive players take two steps and hit a quarterback. You never see one take four steps, with his eyes up the whole time. This hit had ONE intention.
RPO or not? That is the question. Jim Harbaugh said it was a designed play. Our two experts were split. At the snap, all the linemen come off the ball with their helmets low, in run-block formation. Senior left tackle Jon Runyan combo blocks with senior left guard Ben Bredeson and appears to be looking for the middle linebacker on the second level.
The wide receivers on the top of the screen are not running routes but are looking to engage the defenders and even freshman WR Cornelius Johnson is blocking his man. It appears everyone thinks it's a run and I argued Johnson only releases when he realizes it's a pass play.
The other side of this argument comes from Gardner, who believes Runyan and Johnson give it away as a designed pass. Runyan stops at 2 1/2 yards, per Gardner to avoid being an illegal man down field, showing the smarts of a fifth-year senior. Johnson wrestles his defender but clearly disengages and runs a route without ever being able to see the football. In other words, there is no way he could see Patterson fake the handoff on a RPO - he had to be breaking out into a route on purpose.
What do you say? RPO or not?