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The Michigan Counter Play: Video & Diagrams

Posted by Gavin Southworth on

Let's face it- nobody wants to play "3 Yards and a Cloud of Dust" football anymore.

Grinding out 15 play drives can be effective, but without creating explosive runs to improve your team’s efficiency this can be tough to sustain over the course of a game or an entire season.

In this article we will be taking a look at the University of Michigan’s approach to their counter play, which sends multiple pullers into one gap to get their electric playmakers in space.

Michigan offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore has put together a great two-part video series on the Michigan run game HERE.

Backside Counter Left

In order to create more explosive plays in the run game, coaches need to find ways to get less defenders in the box. This is common sense.When the defense brings out a heavy set, coaches should throw the ball. When the box is light, coaches should run it. 

We've already talked about the Michigan gadget plays and gap scheme wrinkles in their playbook, and the counter scheme adds another layer to this.

Michigan Counter Play 1 - Throw Deep Publishing

Coach Sherrone Moore takes this to heart by spreading out the defense as much as possible and forcing them to respect the possibility of a pass at nearly all times.

In this first diagram of Michigan’s counter play, they are running backside counter left. A unique wrinkle that Moore likes to toss into his version of the counter play is to pull the center. Most coaches choose to only pull the guard, but coach Moore has had success doing it this way and he prefers it over the more traditional structure. By pulling the center this eliminates backside penetration from the 3 tech.

Michigan Gun Trips CY Counter Weak RPO - Throw Deep Publishing

On this play, the center pulls to the play side defensive end and the backside guard and tackle gap hinge. The tight end pulls around to the front side linebacker and the frontside guard and tackle double down to the 3 technique defensive tackle before they climb and pin the first threat that shows, which in this case is a linebacker.

The hips and blocking technique of the frontside lineman make this play. They seal the defenders and allow the running back to be electric in space.

Michigan Counter Without Center Pull

Michigan Counter Play 2 - Throw Deep Publishing

In this example of Michigan’s counter, the center doesn’t pull. This is because of a pre-snap look that the center identified from coaching points that were addressed by the team this particular week in a film session. The center makes his call and blocks back to seal the nose tackle while the backside guard reacts and pulls to the front side DE.

Michigan Pistol GY Counter Weak - Throw Deep Publishing

The TE also pulls through the B gap and blocks the frontside LB. This ID from the center creates a massive hole for RB Hassan Haskins to run through, which is a dangerous sight for defenses.

Michigan Counter vs Ohio State

In this example, Michigan creates really large splits for each wide receiver and lines them up near the sideline. This is in an effort to spread Ohio State’s defense as thin as possible and avoid them having a large amount of talent in one space.

Michigan Gun Trips GY Counter Weak RPO - Throw Deep Publishing

The math in the box on this play is simple. Michigan has 6 blockers to OSU’s 6 defenders, which leaves a future NFL 4th round draft choice 1-on-1 with a safety. Coach’s Moore’s staff will take that matchup every single time.

Michigan Counter Play 3 - Throw Deep Publishing

On this play, the left guard and the left tackle double their assignment while the backside guard kicks out the DE on a pull. The TE also comes around and makes a perfect block, arriving just in time to kick out the front side LB with great hip positioning and contact.

Michigan Counter vs Georgia in the Orange Bowl

Here Michigan is matched up against the Georgia Bulldogs’ national championship defense which happens to be giving coach Moore one of the worst possible looks for his team to run counter. Unlike previous examples, Michigan does not have a man advantage or 1-for-1 match in the box due to a blitzing defensive back off the edge.

Michigan Counter Play 4 - Throw Deep Publishing

Despite this, the play succeeds because his players communicated effectively. The tackle rides the frontside DE’s path down the line of scrimmage and the center pulls to the blitzing DB off the right side. Lastly, the TE pulls to the front side backer.

Michigan Gun Trips CY Counter Weak - Throw Deep Publishing

This leaves one man untouched, but due to the communication amongst players that happens to be the backside LB who has to come all the way across the formation to try and make a play which he fails to do so.

Key Points

Lighten the box to create explosive plays in the run game. Spread the defense out and create a susceptibility to keeping the ball on the ground. Create man advantages inside. If you have more blockers than the defense has players in the box, you’ll create yards in a hurry.

Put your players in a position to succeed. Stress quality and effective blocks, get the ball to your most explosive athletes, and force backside help to make plays on the ball carrier. In contrast to Michigan inside zone blocking drills, you have to practice different skills to get good at gap schemes.

Want More?

Coach Sherrone Moore has put together a great two-part video series on the Michigan Run Game, with lots of game film and drill tape.

See more about the Michigan Offense HERE.