Michigan Daily Sports Editor Kyle O’Neill is not a collegiate athlete, nor is he a collegiate coach. But he was a starting wide receiver for his winless team at Garber High School, was third in Bay County in receptions his senior year and claims to know something about the game of football. So, in this special edition of X’s and O’s, we’ll let him break down Michigan’s offense to see what has and has not been working. Explanation: Michigan has had some great successes the past few weeks in the no-huddle/shotgun offense. While it would be easy to think that it is because opposing defenses just drop into prevent defenses, that is not the case. In fact, in many situations – including Braylon Edwards’ touchdown last weekend – Minnesota was in either a straight-up man-to-man, or a cover-two defense. On the left, you see what Michigan was primarily facing in the first half. At any time, Michigan would face up to eight defenders in the box – a credit to the Golden Gophers’ ability to read whether Michigan was passing or running. More often than not, Minnesota’s corners would play man-on-man against the wide receivers. And more often than not, Michigan’s wideouts were able to burn them on talent alone. But, Minnesota dropped its linebackers and safeties back into zone coverage anytime they saw pass. This allowed the Golden Gophers to not guess on its play calling, and just react. By pass rushing four (at most five), Minnesota took away from its chances of getting a sack and left Michigan’s short passes wide open. BUT, by running the defense they did run (which was similar to Iowa’s, except for Iowa safety Bob Sanders being a much bigger playmaker than Minnesota’s safeties), Minnesota was able to deny Michigan most of the 10- and 12-yard pass routes that had been making the Wolverines so successful.
Enter the shotgun, along with Minnesota’s confusion on how to stop it. To give the Golden Gophers credit, they did not retreat into the prevent. They stuck with what had got them there. Unfortunately, in doing so, the linebackers were no longer the factor they once were. They were forced to guess instead of react to the play they were seeing, meaning the first five yards off the line of scrimmage were usually wide open for screen, swing passes, or draws up the middle to Perry. This is where Michigan’s depth at wide receiver pays off. If the linebackers did not commit to the pass right away, they were taking the risk of allowing a big play. The double-edged sword brought Minnesota down, as it was this over-commitment to the 10-yard pass that allowed Perry the freedom he got.