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Film Room: Rutgers

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The zone read, Heyward’s first TD, and a breakdown in coverage in this week’s film session.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Rutgers Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday was the perfect way to end the regular season, with a convincing win on the road against an inferior opponent. Finally, MSU blows someone out and looks good doing it. Quite frankly if it wasn’t for all the penalties, the Spartans might have hung 60 on Rutgers.

In addition to that, Michigan State appears to have set an unofficial record for time of possession in a single game, which is pretty impressive, even if it was against Rutgers. MSU held the ball for 47:50 in the game, which is pure insanity.

Anyway on to some plays.

Lewerke Run on Zone Read

We haven’t done a lot with the zone read stuff here, so I wanted to include this one from the first drive of the game. This is a play that the MSU offensive staff has rightfully mixed in throughout the season as a way to use Lewerke’s legs. The results have been mixed, but when it works it usually works well.

It’s first-and-ten here and MSU has been picking up big chunks of yardage on just about every play of the drive so far. MSU has just two wideouts, both to the near side of the formation. Lewerke is shotgun with Scott in the backfield.

Rutgers has eight in the box (circled) with two deep safeties and one corner in tight coverage with Davis on the outside. The safeties are both 10 yards off the line or more. Based on this, look pre-snap, Lewerke should pretty much already be thinking he’s going to take it himself and try and get to the outside.

Here at the possible exchange, the linebackers are flat footed and frozen, while the safety lined up against White is dropping back. The deep safety, starts to come forward to help stop the run.

Now it is just a moment later as Lewerke keeps it and starts to run. All eight of the Rutgers players in the box are closing down the middle to try and stop Scott. MSU has WR’s to block two of the other three Rutgers defenders, leaving the deep safety as the lone man unaccounted for.

Lewerke has a ton of space in front of him, and two blockers. The deep safety (red circle) got frozen just enough by the fake that he is now playing catch up. Lewerke does an excellent job running to the open space and using his blockers.

He gets all the way to the 10 yard line, 13 yards downfield, before anyone touches him.

Lewerke gets credit for his running because of his speed, but what he really does well as a runner is see the field, make the right cut, and use his blockers when he has them. It’s been the case throughout the season on his big plays.

He doesn’t juke a lot of defenders out, but kind of looks like he is just running past them. It’s not necessarily because he is that fast, but he understands where to run. That allows him to say at a higher speed than slowing down to try and put moves on guys. Anyway, this was perfectly done by everyone on the MSU side. Hopefully it is a play that remains a regular part of the playbook the next two seasons.

Connor Heyward TD

This is the play that finished that great first drive, and was also the first touchdown in the career of Connor Heyward.

This is one of those double fake plays with a lot of moving parts. Davis is lined up wide on the near side. White comes in motion from the left and is in the backfield at the snap. Scott is the deep back and Heyward (circle) is lined up like an offset fullback.

Davis is going to run a post route to open up the near side. Lewerke is going to fake to Scott up the middle, then to White on the reverse. Heyward flares out of the backfield into the open spot in the flat on the near side.

The fakes have the intended effect of freezing most of the Rutgers defenders and Davis takes his corner with him to the middle of the field.

I count nine Rutgers defenders still looking in the backfield here as Lewerke is ready to deliver the ball. Heyward (yellow) has plenty of open space, but the one Rutgers defender playing attention (red) is actually moving in the right direction for the play. It’s just not going to matter.

The throw is on time, to the back shoulder away from the defender, and Heyward does a nice job making the catch and sneaking inside the pylon. Well drawn up, and well executed.

Rutgers TD

Here is the lone blemish against the Spartan defense on the day, but it was quite the blemish, and at the time it made it a one score game.

So what you have here is Rutgers trying to spread out and confuse MSU’s defense. You have the two wideouts to the bottom, and then you have the two stacked to the top of the formation. MSU is in their base defense here so the safeties and the linebackers are going to need to pick up the right players to avoid a breakdown.

That breakdown comes with the running back coming out of the backfield.

Here is the wide overhead view. As the play starts to develop, each of the Rutgers receivers will be accounted for by the MSU defensive back with the corresponding colored circle.

Here we see that in action, and the DBs covering pretty well. Our guy in read is trying to play catch up on the shallow crossing route, but two of the linebackers are also in the area. Now our running back out of the backfield is in orange. He is running straight up field and the LB on that side, Simmons is shadowing him and even starts to turn and run with him...and then he stops and passes the off...

Except there is no one to pass him off to. So now we have a problem.

Bachie tries to play catch up here and the ball is a little under thrown, but its enough to complete the pass and then Blackshear is able to turn and get to the endzone before anyone can get him.

Linebackers in coverage has been an area that the MSU defense has struggled in this year, especially the outside linebackers. Bachie has three picks and has been pretty solid, but we have seen others burned on multiple occasions. That is something that they will need to work on, as I expect MSU’s bowl opponent, likely an SEC team, to try and take advantage of those breakdowns.

That is it for this week. Thanks for reading along this year, hopefully it provided some level of enlightenment for you. We will of course be back to review MSU’s bowl game, and if we have time, maybe take a look at MSU’s bowl opponent before the game.