Craig Has The Scout - Michigan 2022
Anyone know anything about gremlins? Apparently it's a gremlin inside Craig's laptop that won't allow him to publish articles. Brumby tried to do it (logged in as Craig) and he couldn't create the same issue. Maybe there's a movie I could watch about how to get rid of gremlins.
Anyway, it's me, Robert, posting Craig Has The Scout once again:
Who: Michigan Wolverines
When: 11:00 am - November 19th, 2022
Where: Michigan Stadium
Head Coach: Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh is in his 8th year at Michigan, and I never thought he would stay this long. Harbaugh started fast at Michigan and made big strides in recruiting to start. His system got stale though, and after a disastrous 2020 season, Harbaugh made sweeping changes to his staff. Don Brown was shown the door for a position coach on his brother's staff. Josh Gattis continued as the OC, but Harbaugh has his fingers on the offensive side of the ball and Gattis jumped last year for the Miami Hurricanes OC role. In the meantime though, Harbaugh elevated Sherrone Moore to co-OC and brought in Matt Weiss as the QB coach from the Ravens as well. Jim and John have been swapping coaches for a few years, and the results are showing in Ann Arbor.
Offensive Style: Pro style run-first gap run scheme and intermediate passing attack. The aforementioned Moore and Weiss are the co-OCs, and they have doubled down on the offense that worked last season. Michigan's response to being unable to match the speed of Ohio State is to slow down games and play a physical manball run game. The passing game utilizes receivers attacking the defensive middle with occasional deep shots for quick scores.
Defensive Style: 3-4 Pattern Matching. Jesse Minter took over for Mike McDonald in the off-season, as McDonald was recalled to the Baltimore Ravens after being on loan to the Wolverines. Jesse Minter also had a stint on the Ravens' staff and was the Vandy DC last season under Clark Lea. Minter's dad was the coach at Cincinnati, and Jesse used his dad's connections to get his start.
Specialists: The best punter in the nation for net yards is Bryce Baringer for Michigan State. And he flipped the field multiple times against the Illini. 3rd best in the nation is Brad Robbins from Michigan. AJ Henne is a top-notch kick returner, putting up similar numbers to Isaiah Williams returning kicks this year.
2022 Michigan at a Glance:
2022 Record: 10-0, 7-0
Rushing Offense: 251.4 ypg
Passing Offense: 208.9 ypg
Total Offense: 460.3 ypg
Scoring Offense: 41.4 ppg
Rushing Defense: 72.7 ypg
Pass Defense: 160.1 ypg
Total Defense: 232.8 ypg
Scoring Defense: 11.2 ppg
Turnover Margin: +6
Three Things to Watch
Illinois success on early downs. The Illini have relied heavily on Chase Brown this season. He is now banged up. The reliance has really bogged down the offense the last few weeks and Illinois has been up against too many 2nd and longs.
JJ McCarthy completion percentage. McCarthy has started to get inaccurate in his throws in the last few games which puts the ball up for grabs. If McCarthy is hitting 60%, it will be a long day for the Illini.
Averaging starting field position. Michigan is the best team in the country at starting field position. Harbaugh and Bielema both love to manage field position.
Scouting Review - Offense
Michigan the last few weeks has started to revert back to the same offense they were a season ago. Michigan is averaging 26 passes per game and 45 rushes. The Wolverines were a little freer with the passing game, but in the last four games the passing game has started to lag. Three of the four worst passing performances of the year have happened in this stretch. The same stretch has corresponded with the Michigan run game coming alive.
Blake Corum is the primary back for the Wolverines, and he is a patient running back with great vision. The Michigan OL is one of the best in the nation, and Corum makes them look even better. JJ McCarthy won the QB job earlier in the season and rewarded the staff with a tremendous start. He has cemented himself in the role as the starter, and with Cade McNamara having surgery is for sure QB1 for the rest of the season. McCarthy has not fully rewarded the staff though as his output is starting to drop. The Wolverine staff is hoping this will be his get-right game.
The one thing Michigan has going for it is a bevy of solid receiving options. Ronnie Bell has regained his form from his sophomore year and is a solid receiver. Luke Schoonmaker is another in a long list of great receiving tight ends the Illini have faced this year.
The Wolverines prefer to utilize a gap-blocking scheme and are the most pull-happy team in the B1G. The Michigan OL is solid across the board, and all move well. They generate a lot of leverage using the gap-blocking scheme and square up their blocks well. The two primary run plays are the Counter and Power. The Power is run a few different ways, but lately, they have been using an H-back in the backfield as a lead.
This version is the full man-ball version for the Wolverines with a double TE formation. The Michigan guards both pull well and the OL in general holds blocks well. Here is another version.
This is a formation Harbaugh would know well, he ran something similar in his days as the Wolverines' signal caller.
The other gap run scheme they lean into is the counter. Michigan has been running most of their counters lately pulling the backside guard and tackle whereas the trend recently has been to use an H-back as a puller.
It's not to say that the Wolverines won't use the H-back as a pulling blocker. On a version of this against Nebraska, they pulled three blockers. Michigan has been relying heavily on Blake Corum this season, but McCarthy is an above-average runner. The Wolverines will take a few opportunities on Saturday to utilize the legs of McCarthy.
The Z-motion and action of this play make this look like a Wildcat formation, but McCarthy is big enough and fast enough to imitate a Wildcat back in the look. After Purdue was able to exploit the Illini run defense with the speed option, I am very concerned with this action on Saturday.
The counter action is ideal for the Wolverines to take deep shots off of play-action. The pulling action of the H-back is the one giveaway of Michigan running play-action vs. the true counter.
The DT from Penn State kind of blew this up with good penetration, but Michigan blocked it well and released the H-back into the flat. McCarthy does a nice job of keeping his eyes downfield and letting the receiver get open against the man coverage.
Michigan likes to release backs into the flat with deep passing routes attached. McCarthy doesn't always have the patience to allow the deep shots to develop.
McCarthy has already released the ball before either of the post routes break. Corum did break free quickly though McCarthy had an easy throw for easy yards on the gain. The ability to consistently run plays like this is the reason for the efficiency of the Michigan offense.
The play action pass above was based on a zone run. Michigan didn't run much zone blocking against Penn State (the closest comp to Illinois), but added more against Nebraska last weekend.
The Wolverine OL held their blocks well and Corum was patient and found the vertical seam that opened up. The Illini LBs are good at attacking downhill but struggle to direct blockers when engaged.
Michigan has two other blocking schemes they will mix in with the above plays. The first is traditional ISO lead play.
The Wolverine OL doesn't get much push on this, and the LBs from Penn State shut down the hole Michigan wanted to run. Corum found a gap and was able to create a positive play for the Wolverines. The other blocking scheme they will use is the Buck Sweep.
Again, the Wolverines OL is solid at pulling and holding their blocks. The Michigan OL did great holding the downblocks and got to the second level well. Corum ran out of bounds before first contact. Plays like this are keeping me up this week, Michigan has a great opportunity to seal the edges against the Illini front.
The Wolverines run a pretty standard West Coast passing attack, but a few concepts are utilized more often. The first is a simple set of hitches where the Wolverines have their receivers find gaps in the defense and sit down or comeback to open throwing options.
This play is Ronnie Bell on Joey Porter Jr, who is probably the top corner in the B1G this season. Bell generates just enough space against man coverage and opens up a throwing lane for McCarthy.
The next concept the Wolverines utilize is the mesh. Michigan in general loves to throw between the hashes, although they attack the seams less than Purdue. The mesh allows the Wolverines to free up the TE on crossing routes.
This play is a rarity in that the Wolverines are running two receivers from the far side of the field on the crossing route. The Star was hung up by the TE crossing and Bell was freed up. McCarthy locked in on Bell once he saw the Star hesitate.
Penn State ran a ton of man coverage against the Wolverines, and Michigan attacked the Nittany Lions with either play-action passing or quick passes. The quick routes allow McCarthy to make quick and easy passes.
The screen is a solid call when the opposing corners are not in press coverage. It also helps set up the double move later in the game. Illinois has been very susceptible to double moves the last few weeks. Finally, the Wolverines have been aggressive against man coverage with slants. The Illini have been solid at defending slants this season but with Nicholson out for the week the Wolverines will challenge the young Illini DBs.
The Michigan WRs are all running option routes here where they are reading the defense. McCarthy sees the coverage (Cover 6) and checks down to the single receiver on the backside.
Illinois has been challenged shutting down opposing passing attacks the last few weeks. A major concern is the inability to generate a pass rush. Michigan should continue the issue this weekend, the Wolverine OL is allowing 1.2 sacks per game. McCarthy is mobile enough to clean up any issues they have as well. Finally, Blake Corum is going to be patient and hit the holes his OL generates. Illinois needs to be gap-sound and make McCarthy take chances throwing the ball.
Scouting Review - Defense
As the season has moved along, Minter has done a nice job of mixing coverages and keeping pressure on opposing QBs. Last season the Wolverines had two legitimate pass-rushing threats which allowed Michigan to run aggressive coverages as they used four to generate pressure. This season only Mike Morris is a legitimate pass-rushing threat, but more Wolverines are getting to the QB. On the backend, Minter runs zone coverage about 65% of the time and man 35%.
The primary defense for the Wolverines is the 3-4 with Cover 1 man.
This defensive look is the bend but don't break setup for Michigan. The Michigan secondary will probably run more zone like this early against Illinois so the secondary can keep their eyes in the backfield as Illinois runs the ball a majority of the time. The Wolverines will mix up the back-end coverages though out of the look.
Michigan is running a split field coverage here which may happen more often against Illinois to account for Williams in the passing game. If the Illini begin spreading out the Michigan secondary, the Wolverines will respond by moving from a 3-4 to a 2-4 front (similar to Wisconsin). Illinois needs to be able to stretch the Wolverine secondary to force them to move to a 2-4 front.
Michigan will try and isolate Morris on Pearl with his quick first step. The Wolverine front is very assignment-sound and holds lanes incredibly well. When opponents run against this front though, vertical seams do appear.
The run fits were solid except for the weak side ILB. By not attacking the hole, it allowed the guard to get to the second level and create a hole for the Iowa back. Michigan will try and dictate the game to the opposition though, and as such bring blitzes using the LBs.
Michigan looped the ILB to the opposite B-gap and brought the Star off the edge. The Wolverines manned up the receivers and made Petras try and complete a tough pass. When the looping rush does not get home though it opens up throws downfield.
The rain slowed the rush down for Nebraska which allowed Purdy to hit the downfield throw.
The final look from Michigan is the tackle twist. The Wolverines' pass rush on obvious pass downs is stout. They do a nice job staying in their lanes and allow Michigan to get home using 4-5 rushers.
But stunting the DL, Michigan creates rush lanes and brings pressure consistently. The backend plays off and keeps the ball in front of them and rallies to the ball for the tackle.
The Wolverines' defensive line does a great job stalemating run blocking and generating a consistent pass rush. Combine the rush with the strong coverage units, and the Michigan defense is a tough draw. DeVito will need to be smart with the ball and will need to run when routes are not open on schedule. Casey Thompson and Chubba Purdy moved the chains for Nebraska doing so, DeVito will need to do the same to prevent three and outs.
What does it mean?
This is a classic trap game for Michigan. The Wolverines will want to put this game away as soon as possible and stay healthy with a few tricks left in the bag for Ohio State. That is not to say the Wolverines are not trying to win, but they want a dominant performance without taking too many risks. Which means a lot of rushing attempts.
The strength for the Illini is the run game, and for Ohio State, it is the passing game, so the Wolverines will stay pretty basic defensively. Michigan will prioritize stopping the run and make Illinois beat them through the air. Michigan hasn't faced anyone capable of doing that yet this year, and Illinois doesn't have the pieces to do it either.
For Illinois to Win:
The Illini have been picked apart the last two games by QBs hitting their throws and minimizing interceptions. The Illini have feasted on opponents when opposing QBs were unable to hit the underneath throws and put the ball in danger. McCarthy started out strong this year, but in the last three games his accuracy has suffered. Illinois needs to shut down the run game and force McCarthy to beat them through the air. The Illini also need to maintain rush lanes as McCarthy is a solid runner.
Illinois needs to stay on schedule and string together drives. The Illini offense has been stalling out too quickly and wearing the defense out. DeVito needs to take the top off the Michigan defense to get the run game back on track and avoid interceptions.
For Michigan to Win:
Stick with what works. Use the power running game to wear down the Illini front, and overpower the Illini front seven. Penn State is the closest comp to Illinois on the Michigan schedule, and Michigan wore down the Nittany Lions' front and cruised to a comfortable victory. If Illinois sells out to stop the run, McCarthy needs to take what is there and give the Illini DBs to increase their interception total.
Defensively, the Wolverines need to generate a rush with the front four. If they can consistently get pressure with four, DeVito will have to make plays with great touch on passes which he has not shown regularly as the temperature has dropped. The secondary for the Wolverines will be able to keep the ball in front of them, and it should allow the Michigan front to sell out to stop the run.
Michigan needs style points for the playoff. Michigan loves to play field position games and runs a surprisingly efficient offense. Illinois has struggled the last two weeks against teams that effectively moved the ball. I would love to be wrong, but I just don't see Illinois covering this game.
Craig YTD Against the Spread: