*I am the longcat of MSU sports blogging. Longblogger only writes long posts. You've been warned.*
It was early in the third quarter and Michigan State's offense was in a bad, bad, way. A fast, smart, aggressive, Georgia defense was choking the life out of MSU drives. A safety, a mediocre drive, and then 7 straight three and outs. Even in chart form the ineptitude is clear:
|Ewwwwwwww (first 9 offensive drives by MSU)|
|Drive||Plays||Yards||Yards per play|
But, courtesy of Darqueze Dennard, the offense now had field position and momentum, starting the drive on the Georgia 48 yard line. If the drives that preceeded it were everything some MSU fans hate about Dan Roushar, this drive emphasized some of what I really, really, like about him. 10 plays, 10 different formations in all, 6 passes, 4 runs, 8 points on the scoreboard and suddenly a one possession game.
If you believe, like me, that the pro style offense doesn't have to be off tackle right, off tackle left, play action pass all the time, there's a lot to enjoy here. Let's take a look:
Follow after the jump, for the picture pagey goodness...
Ah, the good ol' I form. No need for anything too fancy, just line em up and knock em down. Now this is the way football's supposed to be played.
Except MSU has other ideas, trying to attack Georgia's deep safety shell with deep routes of their own. Linthicum runs a delayed route, first blocking the blitzer off the edge, before going out over the middle. Keshawn runs a fade/go route type thing down the sideline.
Keshawn blows past Boykin who is probably in an underneath zone and is sort of wide open in that space between the short CB zone and the deep safety zone, depending on how good of a ball hawk that safety is. But Cousins' chooses to throw to a fairly covered Linthicum and worse, overthrows the ball badly right towards the deep safety...
who can't come up with the pick (so, maybe not such a ball hawk).
Shotgun, 3 wide.
Keshawn motions over to the right side and the shift of the defense reveals they're probably in a zone.
Uh oh, screen pass? Isn't that what Boykin has been blowing up this whole game?
But MSU is trying a trick to counter Georgia aggressive overplaying this route, namely to pump fake (which also totally clowns this edge rusher) and let the corner work up field, than throw the ball behind him to the wide reciever who is now slightly down field.
It should work as Keshawn has a step on the corner and a likely 5-7 yard gain ahead of him, but the throw is low and incomplete.
Same three wide as the last play before the motion but this time Cunningham is on the bottom of your screen and Keshawn is in the slot. Martin and Linthicum run a mesh, or pick, route where they cross each other's passing routes in an attempt to confuse the defense. Cunningham runs a 12 yards out and cuts for the sideline.
Pass protection is forming a pretty decent wall.
This play is a good one because it creates two open receivers at the first down marker. Linthicum having used Martin's pick to free himself of any defenders is open in the middle of the field. Cunningham, running a great route as always is open on the sideline. Cousins' picks Cunningham and gets the first down.
I form, two wide receivers to the right. Keshawn motions into a slotback position.
MSU will run a reverse with Martin, using a play action fake from Bell. Foreman will pull to the right side of the play. If you draw a line down the center of the field, it seems like numbers might be in MSU's favor here if everyone does their job. Moreover, MSU shows a lot of looks out of this setup (for example, the double play action bomb to Cunningham against Indiana). But this plays fails pretty miserably. Why?
Part of it is on the play call. If Cousins and Bell are faking a dive up the middle, that's two players taken out of the play. That fake better really screw with some defenders if they don't want the math to be 9 Spartans vs. 11 Bulldogs. It doesn't.
The other part of it is on execution. Foreman, Anderson, Fonoti, Mcdonald etc. really need to obliterate the defenders at the point of attack before the Georgia secondary can react. They don't, with Anderson getting badly beaten by his man, Travis Jackson getting flattened by the nose tackle, Fonoti not getting out on a linebacker, and Foreman being maybe a bit too slow to get to his spot.
MSU is outnumbered here and Keshawn is probably going to have to do something special to get something out of this. Unfortunately, these four Georgia players force the play to the sideline until Boykin (again!) flies in from offscreen to apply a solid tackle that drops Keshawn near the line of scrimmage.
This is it. A bizarre, morphing look fitting of the strange first season of the Dan Roushar offense. It might be one of my favorite plays of this year.
MSU comes out in a... They're running a... uh... well... Shit, what the hell is this, a single wing? Nichol is chilling at the bottom of your screen out on Normal Island, but everyone else is living on the Crazytrain Pennisula. The three players on the rightside of your formation are (from right to left) Cunningham, Bell, and Linthicum. In the backfield (naturally) are Fou Fonoti and Keshawn Martin.
Georgia to their credit isn't completely flummoxed by this play yet, and seem to be approaching it with a one high safety look with nine players in the box (though many of those players aren't QUITE positioned right.)
Then everything turns upside down, as the team hits the button that plays the Transformers morphing noise. Cunningham and Bell split out wide. Fonoti and Martin both motion out of the backfield to the left side of the formation (yes, that is a 6'4 300 lb slot receiver. I'm fairly certain he is an ineligible receiver, but I could be wrong.).
Almost every single Georgia player responds to this by flipping their head to the Georgia sideline, as if their was some defensive signal installed for this sort of thing. Lots of pointing and yelling by the Georgia defense ensues. They end up sending four rushers.
Linthicum from the tackle (!) spot goes out for a pass route meaning there are only four blockers for Cousins. But no matter, they each carry out their man to man block perfectly. MSU fakes a screen on both sides of the field. On one side Boykin predictably freaks out and rushes past the line of scrimmage (this is more evidence for MSU toying with him and this tendency on bubble screens). On the other side Bell attracts the attention of a good chunk of the Georgia linebacking corps.
But in these last two pictures of this play you should look at Brian Linthicum and I just want you to appreciate how all this movement and unpredictability has exploded the heads of the Georgia back seven (who are pretty good at football). This is Linthicum basically when he catches the ball. The Bulldogs dropped seven and right in the middle of the field, no one is within five yards of him.
Or this other look, which makes it pretty clear that the only person who is going to stop this from being a first down is the referee.
I mean, look, I don't want to get too effusive over a 17 yard gain, but it was in a big spot (a 2nd and 9) at a big place on the field (just out of field goal range) that moved us to a bigger place on the field (inside the redzone for the first time all game). A well planned, well executed play.
On the next play, Linthicum goes from being lined up as MSU's widest wideout at the bottom of the screen, to motioning into the backfield as a halfback alongside Anderson. If you had to guess, you'd think MSU, after calling a lot of passes, is ready to try and crack some skulls. You'd be right.
Roushar sends Anderson, Linthicum, and a pulling McDonald into essentially the same gap, looking to SPARTAN SMASH the Georgia linebackers out of the play and give Bell a nice wide hole to run through. Things do not go as planned.
Initially it looks okay. Anderson totally blows up the Georgia outside linebacker who's playside. The Spartan OL deals well with the 3 Georgia lineman, with special mention to Dan France (#59) who basically seals two Bulldog players (the nose tackle and the LE) out of the play. Chris McDonald runs unimpeded into the Georgia backfield and is lined up to absolutely obliterate a stationary Alec Ogletree (#9) when he... just sort of lets Ogletree shunt him out of the way with his arms? It's weird.
Anyways, because McDonald lets the linebacker get away from him, when Bell correctly kicks this run outside instead of being 1 v. 1 with Boykin, a very good situation, he's now 2 v. 1. A trademark stiff arm by Bell actually lets him turn this situation from bad to pretty good, and the Spartans end up with a four yard gain. It could've/should've been more. It's not all on McDonald (Linthicum also flubs his block on a MLB and maybe Cunningham should have put some sort of pressure on Boykin) but it starts with him. OG's should bury players they outweigh by 70 pounds when given a chance.
Now this is more like it. A nice successful MSU run out of the... shotgun? Hey wait, what's this Richrod bullshit? Well, let's just say based off of the results of running Le'veon out of the shotgun over the last half of the season, I wouldn't mind seeing much more of this next year. Note that the MSU line is zone blocking this play, sliding their offensive line's blocking assignments to the left, a change up from their normal straight up, man on man power blocking scheme.
Georgia blitzes both of its middle linbackers up the gut, putting a lot of pressure on MSU's middle three lineman. I gave him some crap on the last play so I'll turn around and say the job done here by Mcdonald makes this play work. He has the tough task of going man to man with the gigantic Georgia nose tackle. He doesn't do anything insane like pancake him, but he does hold him up and keep him out of the Spartan backfield. Him single blocking the NT also frees up MSU's center, Jackson to meet one of the Bulldog MLBs at the line of scrimmage. This MLB will eventually try to arm tackle Bell, but as any good Spartan fan knows, nobody arm tackles Le'veon Bell.
But this still leaves one more Georgia player to worry about in the middle of their front seven: Ogletree, the other MLB. Well, he doesn't know it, but Dan France is about to show everyone how a pulling OL should knock a linebacker out of a play.
As Ogletree moves to fill the hole in the Georgia line, France comes flying in from the left side of the screen and ejects him out of the hole and into the Spartan backfield. Left guard Joel Foreman gets easily beaten by the Georgia defensive end, but Bell makes the DE miss in the backfield with a little stutter step.
With some daylight in front of him, Bell runs through a couple of Georgia tackles
dragging three or four Georgia players
for the first down. Belldozer.
OK, so this play is super boring.
Cousins drops backs to throw. Pass protection is exemplary again, but Cousins doesn't step into this throw at all and terribly overthrows Cunningham at the near sideline. Note that for now defunct "Argh Cousins!!!" purposes he's not throwing off his back foot, he's just not moving forward when he throws. The Georgia safety had Cunningham well covered anyways.
My one question is, Linthicum appears to get his safety turned around, but I can't tell if the safety is reacting to the ball (which has already been thrown), or got faked out by Linthicum's double move, or both. Probably just the first one. But maybe this is a play Cousins' needs to let develop another half a second longer to see if his tight end can beat the safety one on one.
Oh God, this play is so great. Before on this drive MSU blockers had a very tough time getting to the second level to take on linebackers and safeties. On this play they do it almost perfectly.
This plays starts with the MSU line letting this playside OLB through unblocked. They do that for an important reason, namely Trevor Anderson is waiting to MURDER him with a cut block, which he does. Le'veon Bell is headed for the sideline.
This allows Chris Mcdonald and Keith Nichol to get into the second level of the defense and take on linebackers and safeties. Each of them firmly latches onto a player. This will not end well for those players. But that means Bell is one on one with Georgia's Boykin. If you remember earlier, I talked about how this is a good situation for MSU to be in.
This is why. Le'veon annihilates the poor guy with a stiff arm and strolls through his resulting weak attempt at a tackle. The only thing between him and the endzone are two defenders who are getting blocked into the next week.
Bell waltzes into the end zone as Keith Nichol happily pancakes his man into the endzone. It's not often you see three separate defenders get 100% certified bitchmade on the same play.
MSU decides to go for 2 which is probably not the right thing to do at this stage in the game, but Mark Dantonio has made quite a successful living off of giving zero fucks about what I think. MSU comes out in a shotgun set with a trips package, which, if you're keeping track at home, is not only another new look Georgia hasn't seen this drive; it's not even something MSU did more than a few times all year. You can clearly see how Georgia isn't ready for it.
MSU floods one side of the field with for receivers, having Martin run out into the flat, and Nichol and Bell run hook routes over the middle to draw attention (which as you can see, they do). But if everyone's eyes are on Martin, Bell, and Nichol, then... who's watching Linthicum run his simple out route towards the back corner of the end zone?
Nobody but Cousins son, nobody but Cousins. The Bulldog cornerback at the bottom of the screen throws his hands out as Linthicum makes one of the easiest catches of his life, making the universal, "WTF guys?" sign in a gesture that sums up much of this drive for Georgia.
And with that, the team had the spark of life that eventually culminate in a very nice comeback for a very nice win. A fun drive to watch and (at least for me) to breakdown, showing much of the potential of the modern pro-style offense.
This is my first time trying this, and I'm no X's and O's expert so feel free to chime in down in the comments. Hope you guys like it.