OT - 100+ Run Plays Diagrammed

Submitted by Space Coyote on January 16th, 2019 at 1:46 PM

For those wanting to get a little lost in some football stuff, I've taken the time to diagram over a hundred different run plays.

Since basically the OSU game, I've been annoyed seeing a million hot takes about Michigan just "running Blast up the gut 20 times" when the reality is they do quite a bit in the run game, and to simplify it to such a degree is either extremely disingenuous or not actually meaningful insight.

Michigan doesn't run all these schemes, and a number of them are originally from older types of offenses (there are a number of T-formation, Wishbone, Flex, etc. that are updated to I) with the intent that they can be modernized to fit many formations, including many modern spread.

So take a look if you are interested in a bit more detail about the run game. Over this summer I'll be working on some more fundamental type posts to try to reiterate or introduce some of the gap that I feel is missing from casual fan to more nuanced fan (where I've probably focused too much on the detailed/coach-type fan previously).


From the post:

This is a series post with lots of play diagrams. Where it lacks depth, it hopefully makes up for with breadth. The goal of this post is to demonstrate the many run game nuances that are at your disposal, outside the very basics that you can find almost anywhere. I will point out some key attributes for the plays, but for the most part the diagrams will stand alone outside a brief description. This post is limited (out of necessity) to strongside plays that are given directly to the RB. It does not include FB runs, or QB runs, or H-Back, Wing, TE, or WR runs. It also doesn't include option plays. Those are things for future posts.

Why did I select an I-formation, which is mostly going out of fashion, and how do I expect this information to be utilized? The I-Formation is a classic 2-back set that, by the time it was implemented, had the benefit of a lot of football history. It is also a highly adaptable run formation, along for offsets, for H-backs, and other aspects that allow essentially any run concept to be incorporated into its framework. And that's the important bit: you can look at an I-Formation run play and easily carry it forward to many modern formations. For instance, by altering footwork and possibly timing, any of these plays can be utilized in the following:

  • 2-Back Shotgun Runs (with the second back potentially being a FB, an H-Back, a Wing, or a Sniffer)
  • 1-Back Shotgun QB Runs (utilizing the RB as an added blocker)
  • 1-Back Shotgun Read Options (the read of a run-run option, run-pass option, or pass-run option take the place of the additional blocker).

Many of the best current offenses often circle back to old formations. In the NFL, along with the modern spread concepts, you see a lot of the best offenses utilizing Wing T concepts. This set of plays does the same where it can (though, again, recognize that the option packages and fake packages are not included in this post, so it is somewhat limited). Below, you will see each play blocked against the two fundamental Even Fronts (4-3 Over and Under).



January 16th, 2019 at 2:06 PM ^

All it takes is for 1 play to go awry to put a team behind schedule. I imagine it's challenging to mentally and physically execute one play until its second nature, let alone understand the execution of a slew of plays. How many plays does our offense need to know for an average game? 


January 16th, 2019 at 2:01 PM ^

when time permits i will be diving into this.  thank you for posting.  i plan on pilfering some.  i really want to expand our play book and i think i will have a team that can handle additions. 


January 16th, 2019 at 2:33 PM ^

nope, just a guy who played til late in life and since then has coached his various sons.  i have taught them a lot of the blocking schemes we used, power and down g for instance, but i'd like to diversify more.  i also think its time to go to some version of an RPO but i need to make sure i have a reliable center who can get my QB the ball.  

micheal honcho

January 16th, 2019 at 2:17 PM ^

I like this kind of stuff.  For anyone interested. There is a playbook available online that is great.

Google "Olivet wing T playbook" and its a pdf file that's great to read thru. As the OP indicated, so many of what we think of as "modern" plays are squarely rooted in this offense's principals. The window dressing changes(motions, formations etc.) but the blocking concepts are very much rooted in these old classics.

Good stuff OP

Sten Carlson

January 16th, 2019 at 2:30 PM ^

Thanks for doing this SC, and moreover, thanks for you opening comments about people complaining about Michigan's scheme, etc. 

One of the things that I noticed last year with Michigan's offense versus the elite offenses of other programs was the ability/skill the QB showed in changing the play at the LOS.  Do you think that, at least to some degree, Shea's minimal ability/license to alter the play at the LOS really hurt Michigan especially in the running game?

RPO is great, and I look forward to seeing more of it next season, but just a good old fashioned, "Check Check ... " and shift from the called run to a pass if the defense loads up to stop the run, seemed to my eye to be lacking.

Any thoughts?

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2019 at 2:56 PM ^

I've seen Patterson specifically "Kill" a few plays, but that most likely is a situation where they have a specific playcall that they are looking to go against a specific look (i.e. a play action deep shot vs single-high coverage; or even box numbers) that they "kill" (typically to a run play).

What I haven't personally seen is any actual audibles. It felt like they did more of that under Speight, and even "killed" more plays with him, particularly early in 2017. But Speight had also been in a pro-style type of offense for a while that knew what to look for in terms of coverages, rotations, etc., whereas Patterson I don't think learned too much of that outside the basics (number of safeties, box count, CB leverage; pick half the play based on one of those, but not switch plays). That may be something they include more this upcoming year (more RPOs can cover for some of that because theoretically the read makes you always right, but there are still some things defenses can do that would be better to check out of, particularly at the college level where post-snap adjustments are more difficult to execute due to limited practice reps).

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2019 at 4:13 PM ^

I’m not sure he was taught much previously on how to understand defenses and such, so to learn that plus understand play design well enough to know which plays to check into plus command O well enough to communicate audible and still get play off was likely too much to expect year one.

I’m guessing UM at least has capacity to tempo next year, but regardless understanding verbiage and playbook better should help get out of huddle faster and understanding D and playbook may help add some audibles. Or they could check with me or do more multiple huddle calls to help


January 16th, 2019 at 2:42 PM ^

I appreciate the post and the sentiment about board posters making generic comments. 

I am interested to hear your assessment of why the offense seems to bog down to a point of being a detriment to winning against good teams. 

If I am inferring correctly, you are saying it is not play design. 

I would agree with this. I think Harbaugh and team do a pretty good job of running similar plays out of different looks as well as running a variety of plays. It was also clear during the OSU game that their linebackers knew exactly where to be on the majority of run plays. The announcers went on and on about it. So if it is not the design of the play which failed to net Michigan the plays needed to be successful, what was it? 


Space Coyote

January 16th, 2019 at 3:07 PM ^

My two cents on the offense:

I think the overall design of the offense was mostly fine. Plays connected well together and mostly built off each other.

Michigan's OL was best built for interior runs, which they leaned on. When they went outside, they avoiding some of the weaknesses of the OL and TE blocking by running down G instead of stretch or pin and pull.

For the pass game, overall, the receivers/TEs are much better at the long developing plays, and so is Patterson. Patterson's biggest weakness is that he doesn't read defenses quickly enough, which makes quick passes difficult. Outside of DPJ, both Black and Collins are better downfield threats to help them gain separation through route structure, rather than just simple routes. 

Michigan's OL improved a ton, especially in pass pro, but they still weren't great at it, and required a bit of protection because of it. The multiple TE sets helped sell run and give the ability to utilize a lot of different protection combinations to avoid allowing the D simply attack (as you saw specifically against ND).

So, in whole, there was a reason Michigan's offense was shaped the way it was, and for the most part, it was pretty successful.

However, because of that shape, and possibly other reasons, it left Michigan reliant on the run to set up the offense. It didn't have a quick passing attack to stay balanced in terms of staying on track. People asked for more, but honestly, even when they ran it, it wasn't terribly effective (there are possible reasons for that, but this post will get long enough). It's my feeling that this is a major focus of the Gattis hire (and would have been the focus for the O going into next year regardless).

On top of that, Michigan was ineffective at executing their secondary plays. They had a strong number of them, and in my opinion, not too many or too few necessarily, but when they ran them, even when they got looks they wanted, they didn't really do well with them. So when opponents could stop the base plays, Michigan effectively struggled.

The goal for Michigan should be to develop that quick pass game/RPO over the offense to gain some balance on early downs without having to be so reliant on the run. Secondly, it should adjust some reps to have more confidence in those secondary plays off of the base. This doesn't take a drastic change in the offensive structure, some new wrinkles, new focus on reps, etc., but the overall structure isn't out of whack.

My two cents.


January 16th, 2019 at 3:21 PM ^

Thanks for this.    When I would rewatch the games the thing that stood out to me was that Patterson didn't have the patience and or vision to hit the shorter passes.  I was curious if you saw this as well.

I often saw the TE or RB leak out after checking for a blitz wide open, but Patterson was still looking deep waiting for the deep shot to come open or leaving a pretty clean pocket because he wasn't comfortable.   

I think the line continuing to improve and Patterson gaining more command of his progressions  the offense will be more consistent next year regardless.     

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2019 at 4:51 PM ^

It was one of his issues coming in, and while it improved, it was still an issue. He locks on to guys too long and he often bails on his protection early, which causes some issues. And unless he has a single read (leverage of a specific defender) it can be challenging for him to effectively try to read and progress in the quick pass game. Another year as the guy working with these receivers and now Gattis and Co will hopefully help in that regard.


January 16th, 2019 at 3:41 PM ^

You may or may not care to offer it, but would kill for your assessment of Shea's likely ability to make this happen next year or even--if appropriate--whether McCaffrey does indeed have any greater implicit ability to make those short passes (C by their A, for sure) happen. Could be wrong--Shea had a lot on his plate--but it does seem a bit of an indictment (or something we have heard from other critics) that he does not analyze so well or get to his second or third reads.

If I'm reading correctly there is also at least an implicit acceptance of one element of the general criticism: that the offense was indeed a run-first operation. 

At any rate, it seems likely that the offense is more fun, and more successful, next year. 

Space Coyote

January 16th, 2019 at 4:52 PM ^

It's a cop out answer, but I can't really say anything regarding Patterson vs McCaffrey. I trust Harbaugh on that. McCaffrey certainly looked like he had promise, but sometimes with backup QBs defenses change a bit what they're doing because they haven't scouted a guy. Both obviously have their strengths and weaknesses, not sure we've seen enough one way or another to know how well Patterson really reads defenses.


January 16th, 2019 at 8:25 PM ^

Thank you for the response. It sounds like you mostly believe the offense maximized it’s potential given the constraints of the players, yet you also believe a change in coach (Gattis) should help the team improve on one of it’s deficiencies (short passing game). 

While I mostly agree with your assessment, I still think Harbaugh has a philosophical issue holding this team back in big games. I don’t think he trusts his players in tight situations. I was amazed watching Clemson in the National Championship game. Dabo and his crew trusted their players and gave them chances to succeed (or fail) multiple times in big situations. Multiple times I thought “no way would Harbaugh allow Shea to make a throw like that at this point on the field or in the game”.


January 16th, 2019 at 8:57 PM ^

Thanks for this, it's great.  When I watched the two matchups (UM vs OSU) from '17 versus '18 we scored more points, had more passing yards, and had more rushing yards in '18.  Patterson was way more effective than JOK.  However, watching both games it appeared that we did a better job of keeping OSU off guard than we did in '18.  I still don't understand why that is or am I just crazy in that idea?  What is different about how we played the two games?  Even in '15 Ruddock seemed to be more effective, as was the play calls, at least while he was upright.  Am I crazy in this idea?  Or maybe ultimately it just comes down to the simple fact that we can't run the ball on OSU and we don't have a Haskins that can carry the offense even without an effective running game.


January 16th, 2019 at 3:13 PM ^

I'm a complete dummy when it comes to X's and O's diagrams.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but every play drawn on paper results in a touchdown, right?  I mean, every play is designed to block perfectly and spring the ball handler to the endzone.  When that does not happen, it's because ... why?

One explanation is obvious: the blocking diagrammed on paper does not get executed according to plan.  Someone misses a block, or only partially executes the block.

Are there reasons on the defensive side of the ball that can make a planned play break down?  A defender shedding a block is one, but is it possible the defense behaves in a way not expected according to the plan?


January 16th, 2019 at 3:57 PM ^

At a high level, the offense requires everything to go right - 11 correctly executed assignments.  The defense needs one break or over-achievement to stop things.  Hence the oft-heard 10-man football to explain why a play failed.

Where the design can be criticized beyond this is when it asks someone to do something they really can't e.g. single blocking Chase Winovich head up.

Pulling the focus back for a second, what people really want is not for us to pass more, it's to score more.  We see the run game failing to score and think the answer must be to call more passes, but as SC points out above, that's not the answer if we are no good at it.  And in general, we ran a lot because that's what we were best at.

if we want to have a better offense, we need to get better at pass protection and reading defenses.  Whether we will or not is the 64K question for 2019 offense.


January 16th, 2019 at 3:28 PM ^

A large part of our offensive success next year will rely on Shea's ability to fit the ball in tight spots and also take risks

One thing I noticed is Shea rarely made throws into tight windows. People will say our WR werent getting open but I highly doubt DPJ or Nico couldnt get open consistently with their speed and size. He seemed too nervous to potentially turn the ball over which is obviously good but at the same time you need to take some risks as QB


January 17th, 2019 at 2:23 PM ^

Do you think 3 WR sets with DPJ, Nico, Black would be effective with more of s shorter passing game. 

Im not sure Nick and Black are the type that get open within 10yds of the LOS. Seem more like the true outside WR type. 

Do we need a slot ninja type that Shea will actually throw too for next year? Or will Harbaugh use TE and FB for this desired result (or Evans)