After the loss at Notre Dame there were plenty of people wondering if Dan Roushar was in over his head. Roushar didn’t have his best day in South Bend and afterwards he completely threw the baby out with the bathwater as it regarded the Unbalanced Line. I was hoping as the season wore on that MSU would wheel that back out again, but they never did.
The Unbalanced Line
Before we can really nitpick apart whether or not Roushar was hasty in throwing this formation away, we need to talk a little bit about what it is. According to Wikipedia, “Usually refers to an offensive formation which does not have an equal number of linemen on each side of the ball. Done to gain a blocking advantage on one side of the formation; typically one tackle or guard lines up on the other side of the ball. For example a common alignment would be TE-G-C-G-T-T-TE.” In short, a line is unbalanced when the center aint so center anymore.
For the purposes of these and all future MS Paint Hack Job in the rest of this post Green means Senator Cousins, Blue means running/fullbacks, Purple means Wide Receivers and Red means Offensive Linemen. So in the Roushar Unbalanced Line package, he lines up Guard-Center-Guard-Tackle-Tackle-Tight End-Tight End, or G-C-G-T-T-TE-TE if you’re into the whole brevity thing. According to an article designed to talk chalk on ESPN!!! with Bob Davie *sad face* he talks about the offensive line and shows off some unbalanced line formations. Notice anything missing? Right, the instance of a formation where there is only one guy to the left of the center.
Not an Unbalanced Line
In this formation, this is not an unbalanced line because all of the Offensive Linemen type gentlemen are lined up symmetrically to the center with two on either side of him. The guy furthest out on the right of the line is a Tight End and is eligible to catch passes in this diagram. So very key to make sure we’re not incorrectly ID-ing Unbalanced Lines in the future. This one was for the Mrs.
So why run an Unbalanced Line? You’re not going to run for eleventy yards on every play.
The first and most important reason is confusion. I distinctly remember a defensive player asking after last year’s Fall Practice whether or not it was even legal for them to line up five to the left of the center? Legal? Yes. Advisable? Apparently not.
In the example above, the issue for the defense is they have no idea how the Offensive Line is assigned to block out the play. They cannot shift all resources over to covering the glut of offensive linemen because then they could get beat in misdirection to the left. Also, if you’ll recall, MSU was not very strong at run blocking this year. I’m cool with DANBALL using confusion to mask a weakness.
A Few Plays From the Notre Dame Game, Which Sucked.
I diagrammed this play on the old site in a throw away post that 14 people read. If you were one of those 14 people, sorry, I’m trotting this bit back out as part of a larger picture.
The offense lines up in the Unbalanced Roushar going G-C-G-T-T-TE-TE. The fullback Anderson is lined up to the Strong side, B.J. Cunningham is split wide, Edwin Baker is the running back. Notre Dame is lined up in a 3-4 with the two inside linebackers lined up deep(presumably to give themselves more time to diagnose the play.
As the play develops, you see it’s going to be a run to the strong side. Rock runs up to take the Rock and pound the Rock in the House that Rock Built. The Offensive Line has not gotten great push so far. The ball snapped at the 30 and that’s where the Offensive/Defensive line battle is still taking place.
Notre Dame’s OLB(Lynch I think it was) comes around unblocked and has a clean run at Baker. Meanwhile the guys who stayed home to engage the horde of Notre Dame defenders are overwhelmed. Had the play got into the Second level, Celek would have been in good postion to block someone, Burkland was just kind of lost out there. (It was his third game, so that’s not entirely ridiculous.)
The guys who stay home end up losing the line of scrimmage and the ND defenders are able to hold down the fort long enough for Lynch to run the play down from the backside and Baker ends up taking no gain on the play.
What would have helped here?
Whoever was playing just left of Center(it’s hard to tell in these pics sometimes.) either needed help or needed to have someone stay home to seal off the play from the backside. As many of you know, Baker was not MSU’s strongest runner this year, so putting him in a situation with that much traffic was not going to emphasize his skillset, which was more of a one-cut and go runner. Also in the last pic you see three guys blocking number 83 from ND, that’s a fail. Plain and simple.
Same Line formation. The fullback(Anderson) lines up directly behind Cousins this time though. Notre Dame in their base 3-4, MLB’s lined up deep again.
The play snaps and the play runs… left? Makes perfect sense, there’s no one watching the left, so obviously you want to use your weakness to attack their strength. Blake Treadwell(Center) takes on their DE. The OLB swings out WAAAY wide to open a gap for his Mike buddies to come through between Treadwell(Center) and McDonald(Guard left of center).
The good news, Baker makes it out of the first level blocking. The bad news is that number 42 is coming unblocked and has all day to get to Baker.
Cunningham sees 42 coming and pulls off his block from the photo before. Which of course leaves his guy to prevent Baker to avoid getting the corner. It’s hard to tell, but after Baker got by someone, our Offensive Line didn’t turn around to block that guy out of the play. Which is frustrating.
What would have helped here?
This play looked closer to working for big yards than it’s result would indicate. Despite the fact that France and Foreman are clearly blocked out of the play, if everyone hold their blocks, this play had BIG Potential. I guess it would have B1G Potential.
You know the Drill. Roushar unbalanced formation for MSU, 3-4 with two high Mike’s for ND.
The play snaps and it’s going… left. DAMMIT DAN. You’re trying to get away with misdirection in a set that doesn’t really support it. Roushar’d.
The blocking is setting up really well on this one if everyone can hold their blocks.
Unfortunately, McDonald, who was playing Left of Center couldn’t hold his block and Anderson has to stop to double team McDonald’s guy, so Baker’s lane doesn’t collapse.
Baker is able to get out a little ways and ends up getting four on the play, which isn’t too bad. It’s a successful play according Heck’s New Math.
So What Went So Wrong?
A few things actually went so wrong. The first is that there are two other examples of where Roushar ran left instead of right. It’s like he went to all of this trouble to construct a throwback to the College Football game prior to the invention of the forward pass and didn’t trust his linemen to execute. This is akin to using math to determine you must go 70 miles an hour to jump a motorcycle over the Grand Canyon, then deciding in the moment it’s safer to go 8 mph, because you have more control and you don’t trust math. If you’ve put a good chunk of Spring and Fall ball putting this package in, you have to trust your players to execute.
Second, there’s no way in hell he should have trusted his players to execute this scheme. These screencaps are filled with missed blocks, overblocking and people not holding their blocks long enough for the play to develop. Run blocking for the 2011 Spartans was a liability that didn’t resolve itself until the back half of the season. I’m sure this was one part Roushar learning what his guys can do and one part gradual improvement.
Finally, if Rock Baker had Le’Veon Bell’s vision, he would have rushed for 2000 yards this year. Baker throughout his career at MSU ran to where the hole was supposed to be and not where the hole actually was. So to compensate for that you’d want to run him to the weakside, but that’s not what this formation was built for.
A move from this to
would prevent the play from getting run down from the backside as easily. It unfortunately rules out any possibility for a forward pass, which is a newfangled twist to this old-fashioned play.
I don’t think this should have been thrown out completely. I think it should have been saved for later in the season when MSU really needed some good yardage on a 3rd and short and was ok with picking it up all cheaply and such. Any single 3rd down and short conversion failure in the Big Ten Title game comes to mind. Bielema’s mind would implode at something he’s never seen before, it would be the saddest little supernova ever.
Dan Roushar. Wizard or Alien?
I’d say inconclusive. Finding the deep magic spells hidden in a book in some grotto in Olde Europe was a neat trick. In all of the variants I found of this online except Roushar’s the Guard left of Center gets some sort of help. Add to that the fact that this Line had not yet figured out how to block their way in a situation like this AND Baker was not the best runner in traffic and I’m kind of left to wonder why he decided to try the Unbalanced Line to begin with. Vague memories of LSU doing this a few years ago are coming to mind.
In a way this play formation summed up all that you loved and hated about Roushar in his first year. Brilliant ideas executed averagely or even below-averagely at times. Obviously the execution will need some clean-up in year two to show the kind of progress we’re all hoping to see.