Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Double A-Gap Blitz Explained In Painful Detail

Despite the title of this post, this piece over at MSU's SB Nation blog, The Only Colors, is as awesome as something that's fairly depressing can be. I haven't been reading TOC for that long, but for as long as I have been reading it, it has easily been one of the best non-Michigan places for thoughtful, meticulous analysis backed by advanced stats and a thorough knowledge of the game. It's so good that it deserves a link here in its own post (HT to Zach for linking to it).

Heck Dorland breaks down the so called "Double A-Gap" blitz, one that has tormented Michigan in its last two meetings against the Spartans. Even if you know absolutely nothing about the Xs and Os of football, odds are you have at least heard of this play. You know, at minimum, that it is a thing that exists and has produced much pain for the Michigan offense.

Like Brian, who Heck Dorland cites a few times throughout the post, I admit to viewing this seemingly simple play in a reductive, not very nuanced manner. The nature of the play on an instantaneously visceral level sort of lends itself to that. In the aftermath of its successful deployment, I wouldn't criticize you for being all "WHY DON'T YOU TROW DAT SLANT OR DA BUBBLE TO DA SLOT GUY OR SOMETHING AL???"*

*I am a Bears fan.

As Heck explains, the play is surprising complex. A lot more than simply sending two backers crashing into the center of the line goes into the play. The defensive line and secondary also figure in prominently into the basic calculus of the play, as each will align differently and assume different responsibilities based on the particular wrinkle being used. Dorland breaks it down in the "picture page" style that MGoBlog, Burgeoning Wolverine Star, and other places have perfected within the Michigan blogosphere. It's prettyyy prettyyy prettyyy good.

In any case, since I have been bellyaching for weeks about how there's nothing to talk about that isn't either annoying or boring, I encourage you to go read this post and get your knowledge on. Dorland even offers some advice as to to how to combat this devilish play, so you'll want to read through to the end (it is pretty long, FYI). I know that the world outside of the Michigan Internets/blogosphere can be a scary, unforgiving place, but I promise you that this is worth your time. If you are a fan of college football in general and/or are someone looking to improve your Xs and Os knowledge, you, like I, will get a lot out of this.


  1. Fouad, what do you think the odds are we see a lot more of Stephen Hopkins or Vince Smith this year lined up in the backfield with Denard and Fitz (split backs in the shotgun?) in order to combat this exact blitz? Tell them to hold for a two count to judge whether the blitz is coming, and then go out on a delayed route to the flat? I just don't think we have the personnel to line up in a power I or with two or three TE's in order to combat this blitz, but we cannot continue to just ignore it's efficacy, can we?

    1. Funny you mention that, because I've long thought that for us to have any real offensive success against Alabama--or MSU--Hopkins and Smith need to be big contributors. I haven't yet given up on Hopkins's potential to be a player that can make a real offensive impact (outside of being a standard blocking fullback with a few carries here and there). Smith is also an interesting weapon. I have to think that if Denard can successfully find him out of the backfield a few times, it could give him enough space to operate. I won't pretend to be an Xs and Os guru here, but I'm fairly confident that those two will have a large role in Borges's gameplan, whether Toussaint plays or not.

      As was mentioned in the linked post, yeah...going max protect, clogging the gaps with blockers and then eventually sending the back out is one option. Also, getting the snap and attacking the edge ASAP is another. Jet sweeps, standard Denard off tackles, speed options...just gotta go where they're not. That said, half the battle is knowing when the blitz is coming and from where. Another problem is, of course, the snap count issue. I'm not sure why that's still an issue for us, but if MSU took advantage of it, Alabama almost certainly will as well. If the opponent knows exactly when you're going to snap it, very little of this discussion ends up even matters.

      At the end of the day, however, no matter what we do schematically...guys just need to block and the receivers absolutely have to beat single coverage (if not, we're pretty much dead in the water).

      Alabama's defense isn't exactly like MSU's (scheme or talent-wise), but there are some definitely similarities, and we'll get a decent preview of what may or may not work against their talented, aggressive D (MSU's, that is).

      Of course, it goes without saying that a lot of this is a guessing game. Sometimes they'll blitz and we'll "lose" a play no matter what happens. The battle is in winning more often than losing (duh), but also not making egregious mistakes (pick 6, sacks, etc.) when it does go poorly.

    2. Definitely agree about Hopkins. I love the idea of Denard headed for the edge when they rush the A gaps, but then I think about Rush and Gholston and I know why Narduzzi feels so comfortable with that particular blitz. In terms of Alabama, I don't think we have a shot unless Denard can come out slinging. My wildest dream is to see Borges and Hoke come out passing on first downs and all but abandoning the run until they back off their damn safeties. I think our best bet is to show them a gameplan that they wouldn't see in the film of any of our games last year. Kinda like OSU did when they threw the ball more against us last year than they did in their first 11 games?