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Film Room: Western Michigan

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Read option, wheel routes, and deja vu on kick coverage for our film study this week.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

After a somewhat bland film room last week, this week gives us a little more to look at. There was more good than bad this week for MSU, but the bad was both predictable, and something that has become all to common the last few seasons. Meanwhile Brian Lewerke gave us something that many of us had never seen before, a 60-yard touchdown run by a Spartan quarterback. So that seems like as good a place as any to start.

Brian Lewerke TD Run

MSU comes out shotgun with one back and four receivers, three to the right (bottom) and one to the left (top). Western is in nickel with the corners in press coverage tight to the line on the outside receivers. The nickel back and the safety on the near side are handling the two receivers in the slot.

Lewerke fakes the handoff to the tailback, and it’s good enough to get both linebackers (double circle middle) to commit to crash down. Both defensive ends are also committed, which is going to be a big problem for the DE on the near side in a minute.

Meanwhile the nickel back and safety on the near side are manned up with the two slot receivers as indicated. At this point, the safety in the deep middle is about the only one who isn’t committed to something.

Lewerke (yellow circle) keeps the ball and starts to make his move to the outside. Most of the WMU front line is already out of the play, with the remaining linebacker being taken out by the right tackle (red circle). The two receivers on the right side are going to block the nickel and safety, leaving just the deep safety with a shot. However, he’s looking towards the pile and starts drifting that direction.

By the time the safety (yellow circle) realizes Lewerke still has the ball, he’s in too deep. Right here we can see he is flat footed as he is trying to recover. Everyone else is blocked and Lewerke just cuts it back up the middle right past the safety. From there it’s a foot race to the end zone that Lewerke wins with some beautiful gazelle-like strides.

Darius Phillips Kickoff Return TD

Now for a foot race that Michigan State ends up on the wrong side of, as Darius Phillips takes it all the way to the house for his second career kick return touchdown against the Spartans.

Right from the get go this coverage has problems. This is right as Phillips fields the ball at the goal line. As you can see there is already a HUGE lane for Phillips to aim for. He’s gotta be absolutely salivating at this point because from his view, the only he can see between him and the end zone is the kicker.

Phillips (yellow circle) is now at the 15 yard line, and at this point just about every Spartan on that side of the field has been taken out, including two by one Bronco on the near side thanks to some over pursuit by Kari Willis (#27). Meanwhile Phillips has a convoy of two blockers ahead of him waiting to take out anyone in front. At this point there isn't a Spartan within 20 yards of Phillips that has a chance at him.

Now at the 30 yard line, the convoy of blockers out in front of Phillips takes out the last two Spartans (red circle) and Phillips is gone. This was so bad that he would have scored in flag football. See the full play here.

The sad thing is it wasn’t all that different from the kick return he had against MSU two years ago. In the return in 2015 he ended up coming across the field after making a player miss and got to the sideline with a convoy, this time he pretty much just ran straight. A lot of returners would have done pretty well in that scenario, but letting that happen against a guy like Phillips is especially bad.

LJ Scott Receiving TD

Now on to something much more fun. Wheel route! No joke, MSU actually pulled off a successful wheel route for a touchdown. It was executed to perfection, so let’s take a look.

Michigan State is in a three receiver set with two to the top and one to the bottom. Scott and London are flanking Lewerke in the shotgun. It is 2nd and 10 from the WMU 15 yard line.

Lewerke is going to fake the handoff to London as he comes to the left. Scott is going to flare out to the left and turn up field. Meanwhile the receiver on the near side is going to take his man with him towards the middle of the field to open up the near sideline.

The linebacker with responsibility for Scott gets caught enough on the play action and is still looking towards the backfield. He gives Scott a little shove as he comes by him but doesn’t do much to knock him off his route. He then immediately realizes what is happening and turns to try and catch up but it’s too late.

The step is all that Scott needs and Lewerke drops it in perfectly in the soft spot of the defense, hitting Scott in stride. Easy six points.

That does it for this week. We’ve got a bye week now before the big game against Notre Dame the following Saturday. There is a lot to be encouraged about, especially on the defensive side. Offense has been solid, but could still use some more consistency. Hopefully the more they all play together, the better they will be.