While the defensive line and secondary earned significant praise following the 28-7 victory, the linebacking corps was inconsistent at best. True to his style, Hoke pointed out that they need to play better as a whole and then proceeded to highlight positive plays made by each of the backers. One of the things SDSU loved to do was to mix in a lot of pre-snap motion to confuse the defense. This typically sets off a firestorm on the defensive line, realigning last second, while the linebackers/secondary adjust (or should adjust) their alignment and coverage responsibilities.
The Aztecs opened both halves with identical running plays yet different pre-snap motions. They were defended by Michigan with varying results: poorly during the 1st half, excellent during the 2nd. That either shows positive defensive adjustments made by Mattison during halftime or perhaps just a better understanding of the play from different linebackers. Let's take a look:
PLAY #1: 1st drive of the 1st half, Score 0-0. 2nd and 7.
VIDEO #1 (H/T: MGoVideo... with... interesting music choice?):
PLAY #2: 1st drive of the 2nd half (after Denard's 1st pick), Score 21-0 Michigan. 1st and 20.
Ryan TFL. Loss of 2. Also, COME ON Hawthorne! You are still so far from the play. And you waited for the RG to run to you for the block.
VIDEO #2 (H/T MGoVideo...again, the music creeps me out):
- Defensive Adjustments? It's unclear if Michigan's linebackers just got luckier on the 2nd play because there was less pre-snap motion, most notably from the WR. Either way, they were much better aligned for the 2nd play and defended it appropriately. Tentatively crediting Mattison.
- Communication is key. It's nice to see Floyd/Avery both recognize and communicate the formation shifts with Gordon/Kovacs. Hawthorne and Demens did the same for the 2nd play. A communicative defense!
- But confusion still works. I thought SDSU could have snapped the ball a lot earlier on several plays while Michigan was still figuring out their alignment. This should improve as the season goes on but for now, the pre-snap motion is a pretty easy and effective way to confuse the hell out of our defense. Expect more of this from future opponents.
- Jake Ryan is a playmaker. I suspect he'll get hammered a little bit in Brian's UFR; there are other plays where he abandons his responsibility or just looks terrible in pass coverage. Having said that, it's hard to doubt his--wait for the Hokeism--fanaticism for the football. He makes the tackle on both plays and from opposite sides! His hustle is also the reason he recovered two fumbles in this game. All and all, a pretty good 1st career start.
- Demens truck. Man, Demens hits gaps hard. Big difference between him moving North-South vs. East-West (see: BWS' Jet Sweeps Defense Part 1 & 2). He's the biggest enigma on this defense, IMO.
- Hawthorne/Demens switch? If anybody knows the actual football answer to what Hawthorne/Demens is supposed to do on the 1st play, I'm curious (comment). When the FB, TE and WR all switch sides and 2 of your 3 LBs don't budge, something went wrong. At least Ryan got off his EMLOS position. My guess is that Hawthorne should move to the right of Demens. Also, not to pick on Hawthorne too much, but he dies on the spot once he gets blocked.