Trench Report: Michigan

So this year I am going to try grade the offensive line for each game. In most cases, a group of five players can get dicey. You can have four guys playing great, and then one blows it and makes them all look bad. So I wanted to use the grading system that I know to not grade their performance, but also to give a shout out to the guys who are consistently getting it done.

The grading system is simple:

1 – The block led to a touchdown or huge game-changing play.
2 – The block was exceptional and led to domination over their opponent.
3 – The block was the bare minimum to make the play work. He did his job, but not in a way that dominated the opponent. So basically, an average to poor block.
4 – This play was a negative game-changer. A hold or other penalty, giving up a bad sack, or whiffing on a player that makes a huge play. No bueno.

An average grade of 2.5 is the goal. You want to dominate your opponent and help all plays work. An average of 3+ means you did OK, and didn’t necessarily hurt the team, but didn’t help a lot either. An average of 3.5 means you got worked most of the game, which probably contributed to a loss.

A team average of below 3 means your team most likely won the game. A team average of below 2.5 and you definitely won — and won big. A team average of above 3 means you might have won, but there is a lot of work to do.

WEEK 1:  Weber State
Top Grade Average: 2.95, Isaac Seumalo
Team Grade Average: 3.03

WEEK 2.  Michigan
Top Grade Average: 2.84, Josh Mitchell
Team Grade Average: 2.97

Week overview: This makes the game hurt more. There was some really good line play. There were 21 2.5 grades and 17 2.0 grades. I never give 2.0s unless big plays are sprung, but the fact is there were some really good blocks out there — lots of great blocks on the second level and lots of great blocks driving guys to the ground at the line of scrimmage, especially by Josh Mitchell.

If I had to give a most improved award, outside of Josh, it would be Fred Lauina. He really moved well in space and had some good blocks. The problem in this game, among many others, was there were 12 plays that earned “4” grades. When you have only 53 plays (56 including penalties) that is almost a fifth of your plays, and 1/5th of the plays had errors that led to sacks, killed important 3rd or fourth down plays, or had costly penalties.

Here is an example:
Early in the game, OSU goes for it on 4th and 7 and runs a receiver screen play, where Jordan Villamin ran underneath the other two wide receivers (it was a trips formation) and caught the ball on his way to the first down. Now everyone (announcers, fans, etc.) got on Villamin’s case about not veering to the sideline on this play. That play was pretty fast and while the throw wasn’t perfect, it was good enough that he MIGHT have been able to angle toward the sideline better. But the play is designed to go inside (towards the center) and that path would have been an exception to how they want it ran.

Unfortunately, that is not what killed the play. What killed the play was the guard not looking inside out to who to block. He was looking to the side where all the other blockers were. Had he looked inside sooner, he would have had a chance to block the first guy in, and Villamin would have had enough cushion to make the first down.

That was a huge play and it is a very, very simple fix to make it more successful in the future.

Ultimately, that is what I saw. A lot of plays where you had a great combo block, and then one missed block by a tight end or a whiff block on a guy, when everyone else is pushing their guys around. There were still too many bad angles by ball carriers, especially on fly sweeps, but overall, there was some really good blocking that was not represented in the final statistics.

Hopefully, they can clean this up, because the first half should have been much more competitive and the Beavers should’ve scored more points. There was a lot of good stuff by the front five that was negated by mistakes, bad reads, drops, or types of decisions that young players make. If OSU gets a 2.9 or lower this next week, it will blow San Jose out.  If the Beavers get below a 2.9 against Stanford, it should be a win for them.  Every week, we are finding new mistakes and every week some of those are getting corrected. Watching the line again gave me more hope than I thought. Our offense line was easily a match for their defensive front.  There were just too many little mental errors to overcome.

What the Heck?
Let’s not just assume the line messed up, OK?  I have read a lot of that, but the reality is even the team graded some linemen as the top offensive performers for any position. When I watched the game again, I realized how close OSU was on a lot of plays. When we just throw out blanket statements about the line, in many cases, we are blaming the wrong people. Running backs, tight ends, H-backs, and the like all contribute to how a play is blocked. Quarterbacks do as well. it serves them no purpose to sit and watch the play, when they could sprint away like they have the ball or drop back like they are going to pass.

What happened in Michigan was the result of a lot of mental errors leading to stalled drives.  The line cannot decide if the defensive keys on, say, a hand off to the running back or keeps focused on a read option. The line cannot block eight people with five. The line cannot catch the ball or throw the ball. Ultimately, the effort and ability of this line was good enough to put a lot more points on the board than the Beavers did. They graded out below a 3.0, meaning by and large, they did what it took to at least make the play run. Usually, when you can get all 5 guys playing at that level, you win a lot of games. I have more hope for this team today than I did several days ago because I realized that the line made huge gains against a much more talented opponent.  That is good for OSU football. Go Beavs! (PRO)

4 thoughts on “Trench Report: Michigan

  1. Gary Sedivy

    Thanks for the insight. I have been one of the people diss’in the OL, apparently out of ignorance. Your experience and analysis really helps.

    1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

      Well, in your defense, I was REALLY looking. The unfortunate thing for linemen is that they are five guys working as one, so if one guy messes up, it can ruin the whole thing. Or if they are blocking fine but a tight end gets hung up or a running back takes the wrong path, there are just a lot of variables.

      But your eyes are not always deceiving you. There were some bad plays, just not as many as I thought at first glance. The second time you watch a game, you usually see more opportunities than failures because you aren’t emotionally invested like you are in a live game.

      Anyway, thanks for reading the blog!

  2. Kevin

    I know the line took a beating under Riley. I used to watch the replays and rewind each play 5 times (for each lineman). Most of hte time when a play got stuffed it was the tight-end or running back which blew the block. Yet the offensive line was blamed for it. Haven’t had a chance to do that this season.

    1. Peter Riley Osborne Post author

      Good to hear from you Mills-y! Eric said you were going to the game. Anyway, I agree. There were some issues and the line is definitely in better shape and more aggressive this year. Lauina moves really well. We will see if it translates in to wins, but I felt better about the line after watching the film again than I have felt in three years.


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