It’s always difficult to write a blog post after such a complete shellacking as occurred at MSU on Saturday night. A loss like that rocks what confidence you have in your team. As far as heroes and goats, you watched the game. In broadest terms, the defense made about as many mistakes as the offense had positive plays. There’s some yin and yang in there. I won’t painfully rehash the game in narrative format, these are cosigned for your reading pleasure. A glimmer of hope: MSU’s defense routinely does to other teams what Notre Dame did to MSU.
So what in the good hell happened?
This might not be the best place to start. The best place to start is to talk about what the 3-4 is and why it gave our Offensive Line such horrible fits. The Ozone actually wrote a really excellent post on the 3-4 defense a few months ago.
If you want to run a 3-4 you’ll need a couple things for your shopping list (in order of importance).
- A Giant Mountain of a Manbeast to Play Nose Tackle – Louis Nix is 6’3” and 326 pounds and has a couple of quick first steps. This is the most important and unique quality of a 3-4 you have to have a dude to play Nose Tackle who can break the size/speed curve. The number of people on earth who can play this spot is rare. The job of the Nose Tackle is to occupy the Center and a Guard on every play.
- Two guys at either defensive end position who are roughly the size of a defensive tackle. Jerel Worthy moved from playing Defensive Tackle to Defensive End when he transitioned from MSU’s 4-3 to the Packers’ 3-4. At 303 and 306, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt are perfectly sized for this position. Again, finding guys who fit the size/speed curve for this are exceptionally rare.
- In a 3-4 the OLBs are bigger LB/DE tweeners and have more pass-rushing responsibility than a 4-3 OLB does. The ILB’s are used for run support or covering the short-to-middle part of the field on passing downs.
- The secondary is more or less the same as it is in a 4-3.
Ok, quick primer of the 3-4 complete. Now, what happened?
During the game there was more rotation of the Offensive Line than usual with the injury to Right Tackle Fou Fonoti and the replacement of LG Jack Allen with Ethan Ruhland(who was later replaced by Allen anyway). Early in the game Roushar helped Skyler Burkland(Fonoti’s replacement) out with lots of Dion Sims lining up to Burkland’s right. It was a shell game Offensive Line and we’re not even talking scheme yet. FUDGE.
Scheme-wise. By replacing Fonoti with Burkland and the rotating cavalcade at Left Guard Nix was put into a very advantageous position. If Nix attacks the A-gap between Jackson and McDonald, Burkland is left in a one-on-one situation or he requires Tight End help(both of those assume no extra blitzers, which isn’t always true either). If Nix attacks the A-gap between the Center and Left Guard, the same situation applies to France at Left Tackle and as an added bonus the Left Guard position was being made weakened by the constant substitution. After that you can bring any number of linebackers on blitzes to take advantage of the weakened Offensive Line. If you only provide one tight end for help Nix just attacks the other gap. This of course makes me wonder where Andrew Gleichert was on Saturday night.
Are we going to be using the play where MSU got beat 3 on 7 in TOC’s picture pages? You bet your sweet ass we are.
Having four linebackers free to play the run or pass as needed took away a few things. Namely, passes to the RB, passes to the Tight End and short, safe slant passes to the middle of the field. Naturally, Running Backs and Tight Ends were targeted on 23 of 45 throws because that’s just the kind of night MSU was having.
Why not go deep?
After the game I wondered a-twitter why not go Max Protect and go deep. Max Protect would be two tight ends, five offensive lineman and Bell committed to blocking for Maxwell. Bell or either Tight End can release into a pass route if they’re not engaged with a blocker. With MSU’s love of the two tight end set only behind 7-0 or so, this would be a believable looking run play right up until the ball was snapped. I suspect strongly that in rewatching the game I’ll see an instance where this happened, but it didn’t work out. Either the D sniffed it out, the D-Line blew it up before it got started or Maxwell couldn’t connect. ND’s secondary was soft and could have been challenged indirectly in the first half using the illusion of the run.
What Else Could MSU Have Done?
Bubble Screens, End Arounds, Draw Plays, Bootlegs, MOAR Playaction. I honestly have no idea if it would have helped, the Devil was in the Offense on Saturday night and with the exception of the Big Ten Title Game last fall every loss since 2009 has been a pasting. It was just a bad night in which the Offensive Line kept getting killed by a very talented Defensive Line.
Tuesday or Wednesday, I’ll try to dig into the film when I do Picture Pages for TOC. If you have a play you want me to look at, leave me something in the comments and I’ll do my durnedest.