Why MSU Does Not Run a Plain Vanilla Run-First Offense, Part 2: Playcalling Tendencies

In my previous post I showed how MSU's run-pass balance depended greatly on game situation. The other comment I wanted to look at, again repeated by The Rivalry, Esq., is that MSU runs a plain vanilla offense.

For this post I am going to lean very heavily on Brian Cook at MGoBlog's Upon Further Review of the MSU-Michigan game. [I am very grateful to Brian for this tremendous feature and all the work he puts into these things. I have learned more in the last year from UFRs than in the previous, uhm, lots of years watching football on TV. Plus it's fun watching Brian try to give U-M center David Molk -600000 points out of sheer frustration for holding on a bubble screen. +787 billion cocktails to you, Brian, bringing the cocktail deficit to 9.1 trillion cocktails.]

The UFR is written from the perspective of the U-M defense, but it charts every MSU offensive formation, play call, and result. Helpful for this analysis is that we can properly characterize a sack as a pass attempt rather than as a run attempt.

First, let's look at MSU's run-pass balance.

Official stats for the game show MSU as 48 run, 30 pass, 61-39% run balance. Brian's logging, which properly characterizes sacks as a pass, gives it as 39 run, 37 pass, 51% run balance. (note: Brian did not log the thre kneeldowns at the end of the game, which count as runs for the official stats). MSU passed as often as it ran, which is consistent with MSU's overall offense run-pass balance given that the game was still in doubt [tied or within a touchdown either way] until 6:59 left in the 4th quarter.

Here's the breakdown of MSU's offensive formations:

Form Run Pass Total Run %
Ace 8 4 12 67%
Ace 3-wide 1 0 1 100%
Ace 4-wide 0 2 2 0%
Ace Big 7 0 7 100%
Ace Empty 0 1 1 0%
Ace Twins 1 0 1 100%
I-Form 8 3 11 73%
I-Form Big 5 3 8 63%
I-Form Twins 6 3 9 67%
Power I 1 2 3 33%
Shotgun 2-wide 0 1 1 0%
Shotgun 3-wide 2 4 6 33%
Shotgun 4-wide 0 7 7 0%
Shotgun Empty 0 6 6 0%
Shotgun Trips 0 1 1 0%

Plain vanilla in that MSU only ran three basic sets: Ace, I-Formation, and Shotgun. However, the play mix from each set is a bit more balanced than I expected. Sure, Ace Big is an obvious run situation. Similarly Shotgun 4-wide an obvious pass. But hidden in the play-by-play is MSU brilliantly setting up tendencies of certain sets equating a run and then breaking that tendency.

Let's look at the plays run from the base I-Formation:

Field position Down Distance O Form Type Play Result
M48 2 2 I-Form Run Dive 4
O25 1 10 I-Form Run Dive 0
O25 2 10 I-Form Run Iso 1
O43 1 5 I-Form Pass Throwaway Inc
O43 2 5 I-Form Run Dive 4
O21 1 10 I-Form Run End-around 25 +15 (pen)
M39 1 10 I-Form Run Iso 4
M15 3 8 I-Form Pass Fade Inc
O39 1 10 I-Form Run Dive 3
O30 1 10 I-Form Pass Waggle TE out -1
M20 1 10 I-Form Run Pitch sweep 11

8 runs, 4 3 passes. But it's the sequence: two dives (Ringer and a cloud of dust), an Iso, then an attempted bomb that Hoyer was forced to throw away. Another dive, then an end-around for 25 yards plus. The dives are the narcotic that lulls the defense. Even Brian Cook is not immune, getting a contact buzz: at one point he calls it the "Wad o Bodies" play (dive run from Ace form on 1st and 10, game tied 7-7; followed immediately by a PA FB pass to the flat) and on another occasion he opines, "This is getting monotonous" (dive run from Ace form on 1st and 10, MSU leading 7-0; followed immediately by an attempted screen that Hoyer fumbled when he got sacked).

So. In the great poker game that is College Football, the image that has been cultivated by MSU's coordinators is very telling. Narduzzi has created the image of the maniac; the gambling, aggressive, online poker player at the $5 Sit-n-Go's that bets and raises massively with any Ace or any wired pair. Narduzzi reminds me of Mike Matusow.

Treadwell, on the other hand, has created his image as the tight, solid, patient tournament pro that appears "predictable", then in the later rounds steals pots shamelessly from the button and by raising preflop and postflop with junk and an uncoordinated board, living off his image. Dan Harrington comes to mind.

It will be very interesting to see how run-pass balance and offensive variation changes in the 2009 season.

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.