BWW Bowl: Assessing Michigan's Scheme

Gregory Shamus

K-State faces Michigan for the first time in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl this Saturday, December 28th. Barking Carnivalist and current Ann Arbor resident Ian Boyd answered a few questions to help K-State fans understand what Michigan does on offense and defense.

If you are into football strategy and schemes and you're reading this, then you've likely heard of Ian Boyd by now. But if you haven't, you should keep an eye on Football Study Hall, SB Nation and Barking Carnival to keep up with his analysis. To get started, go back and read up on how the hell to stop Baylor, and how the hell K-State almost did stop Baylor.

Credentials established, Ian has had the opportunity to watch Michigan closely this year given his current residence. He soldiered through wisdom-teeth removal and answered a few questions about the Wolverines to help K-State fans familiarize themselves with Michigan's offensive and defensive schemes. Many thanks, Ian.

TB: Michigan's offense has been described as a Power Coast system, or a mixture of the West Coast passing game with power run concepts. Can you describe that in laymen's terms?

IB: Checking out some highlights of the Ohio St. game should give a good sense of the direction Michigan is heading on offense. "Power-coast" usually refers to what Harbaugh got up to at Stanford: pulling linemen on power runs and TE-heavy formations mixed with West-Coast passing concepts built around timing.

Ideally, it combines the ability to run ball control passing concepts, downhill run game, and then play-action. They haven't always been able to do that this year since they inherited Rich Rod's players, spread guys.

In terms of weaponry it all starts with WR Jeremy Gallon. They moved TE Devin Funchess out to WR and love to use him and Gallon on the same side of the field. Gallon is a really difficult cover and Funchess, though he's struggled with drops, is extremely athletic. He's jumped a few people this year and stands at 6-4.

Jake Butt is an emerging TE for them, better blocker than Funchess and also a capable receiver.

With Butt, Funchess, and Gallon on the field their perimeter screen game is effective with a nice combo of big bodies and athleticism. They also have a nice slot receiver named Drew Dileo who's dangerous over the middle in their quick passing game.

They start Fitzgerald Toussaint at RB, who's sort of a 3rd down back glorified into a featured role. The younger RB's on the roster are starting to put it together and are big, physical backs.

You're probably fairly familiar with Devin Gardner. He's actually quite strong in their passing game and there are a few hints of Vince Young in his open field shakes and frame (6-4, 215). The backup Shane Morris is a top pro-style recruit who probably won't play and has seen very little action this year.

The OL has been their downfall as they've given up about 3 sacks per game. They have some size and talent inside and are bookended by seniors at both tackle spots, but it's a good bet that the bowl practices won't elevate this unit far above "average."

TB: Unlike Michigan's offense, I don't know anything about the Wolverine's defensive system. How does Michigan line up on that side of the ball, and what is their overall philosophy?

IB: Michigan's philosophy on defense, in DC Greg Mattison's terms, is "4-3 Under. Period."

Their favorite expression on defense is: "Keep the ball inside and in front of you." The way they achieve that is with run-force defenders on the edge looking to keep the ball funneled inside at all times. The SAM linebacker Jake Ryan figures prominently into this role, and they'll drop safeties or corners on the edge as well in order to maintain at least 3 deep defenders without run/pass conflicts paired with a seven or eight man front.

They'll mix in zone and man blitzes but for the most part they want you to beat them by throwing long passes outside the hashes on their secondary, or trying to blast through their defensive front. This latter point has been somewhat possible as they are still rebuilding the defensive front from what Rich Rod left behind and have a lot of inexperience at linebacker.

They've struggled to get pressure with four rushers and really aren't dominating the line of scrimmage as they'd like this year.

All that said, they have a lot of youth and have been slowly bringing star linebacker Jake Ryan back into the fold from a bad knee injury suffered in the offseason. There is some upper-echelon talent on the team that could begin to rear up soon.

TB: Now that you've told us what Michigan runs on offense and defense, tell us how K-State matches up on both sides of the ball.

IB: The Wildcat offense against the Wolverine defense is an interesting matchup for a few reasons. KSU loves to attack the perimeter with the option and outside zone while Michigan makes maintaining the perimeter an integral part of their defense.

When KSU plays their TE's and face Jake Ryan on the edge they'll be facing something they haven't faced in B12 play this year: a full sized and explosive linebacker playing out in space.

Additionally, keeping pass defenders over the top of receiving threats like Tyler Lockett is another point of pride for the Michigan D. The Wolverines will be keen to make KSU's OL get up to their subtle tricks of leverage and double teams to create gaps inside for Sams and Hubert to attack and trust their own LB's and DL to nail down their technique and fundamentals well enough to squeeze creases closed.

Conversely, Michigan was able to light up Ohio St with screens against blitzes but that won't be the case against KSU. Instead, they'll have to rely on their ability to run the ball and complete passes in the quick game without their OL making drive-killing mistakes or succumbing to the might of Ryan Mueller.

I don't think either offense is set up for a big day if both teams take this game seriously and are focused.

TB: Other than Iowa State's 27-21 loss to Iowa, we don't have any Big 12-Big 10 datapoints this year, so forecasting a result is probably fairly difficult. F/+ pegs K-State to win, but by a sufficiently narrow margin that the game is essentially a tossup. How do you see this one playing out?

IB: Since taking over the Michigan program, Brady Hoke has seriously elevated the talent level in Ann Arbor, but that talent is mostly concentrated in inconsistent underclassmen. Meanwhile KSU has a pretty young squad of their own and came together down the stretch after working out their 2-QB system.

Kansas St. is exactly the kind of team to take apart an unfocused pack of talented youngsters, but I suspect that Michigan will be more focused than they were against Akron or UConn. If Gardner is healthy and ready to go, and Michigan is looking to make a statement heading into 2014 I think they have some matchup advantages in this contest.

The means by which KSU beats up on B12 opponents, with a physical run game and a defense designed to keep spread offenses in front of them, doesn't play the same against a team like Michigan. The Wolverines are used to taking on fullbacks and playing physical B1G games in cold weather. If they can get their OL playing more consistently as they begun to do against tOSU they may be able to beat up on the small KSU front.

My guess is that KSU is unable to beat Michigan without their normal matchup advantages. However, if Michigan isn't willing to run Gardner or don't have their OL ready to go then KSU will win a physical contest in their typical fashion.

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