Monday morning film review: Wisconsin

Watching a football game for a second time, it’s possible to pick up extra details that can be missed live.  Big blocks. Quick reactions. Hustle plays. A whole lot goes into wins and losses, in between the lines, and beyond stat lines. 

So we’re going to try and take a deeper dive into some big plays from Indiana’s games, hours removed, with some help from a person who knows football better than your average newspaper reporter. 

Tyler Abel, a Bloomington native, played his high school ball at Bloomington South, and he served as offensive coordinator at Bloomington North for several years. He’s watched more tape than anybody on staff at The Herald-Times, for sure, and he’s agreed to help us with some film breakdowns. 

This is our first crack at this. The format may change as we figure out what works best. But we hope you enjoy, starting with three plays of interest from IU’s win at Wisconsin. 

Mullen’s strip-sack 

We start with what is one of the biggest plays of Saturday’s win, a sack and forced fumble by sophomore corner Tiawan Mullen late in the first quarter. 

At that point, it’s a scoreless game. IU just needs a jolt to going, and Mullen certainly provides it, plowing into Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz on a perimeter blitz. 

Tyler, tell us why this worked: 

“Wisconsin was in what is called a ‘Shoot Tight’ formation, which is two tight-end/fullback wings, and the receivers aligned tight to the offensive tackles. Mullen is in a press position over the WR to the boundary (short side of field, top of screen), with two safeties over the top. IU has disguised this pressure. At the snap, they are playing man on every receiver and tight end. 

“Wisconsin is in a man/zone protection. The o-linemen to the right are responsible for their “gap” to their right, to Mullen’s side. The other two o-linemen are responsible for the d-linemen over them. Wisconsin accounts for the extra player to the field (wide side of the field, bottom of the screen), corner Reese Taylor, by sending a running back to the ‘man’ side but does not account for Mullen coming from the boundary. 

“Great pressure call by Indiana, bad protection call by Wisconsin. The unblocked player — who was thought to be playing man coverage on a WR — is a free runner to the QB, which creates a takeaway.” 

Basically, as Tyler explained, IU did a heckuva job disguising its blitz here, a consistent theme throughout this season from IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s unit. It’s really helped boost the Hoosiers’ takeaway and sack totals in 2020. They currently rank tops in both of those categories in the Big Ten. 

The RPO game 

This next play isn’t all that flashy as you search for highlights from a win, but the way IU was able to utilize the “run-pass option” (or RPO) game with new quarterback Jack Tuttle is certainly worth keeping an eye on.  

Here is a productive run from IU running back Stevie Scott on a handoff from Tuttle, picking up a first down on IU’s first scoring drive.

But there’s more to it.  Tyler, explain: 

“IU has a ‘trips’ set to the boundary (short side of the field). Wisconsin commits four players to that. So they have a four-man front so that leaves five players in the tackle box.

“It’s all about numbers! Six or less in the box, you better run the football because that means they have five guys playing the three receivers and the tight end. These are the numbers you want in spread-running football, six men blocking five. Who the sixth man blocking? It’s the QB. 

“By reading the defensive end (No. 98), Tuttle is essentially blocking him, as the d-end plays him as a possible runner. The o-line at the point of attack have to block four defensive players with their five. Philyor running essentially a bubble screen on the bottom holds the outside linebacker from getting into the run action. 

“Because Tuttle is a threat running, this becomes an outside-zone read play. On the snap, the o-line is trying to gain an angle on the d-line. The right tackle (Caleb Jones) does a great job sealing the edge. However, no one has eyes on the inside linebacker. This will likely be something Coach Hiller coaches these guys up on. 

“At the point of attack, the inside linebacker and safety to that side come down to play Stevie Scott. You can live with Stevie one-on-one with a safety, but him two-on-one makes it tough. However, his downhill nature still gets a good gain and puts IU in a very favorable third-and-short.” 

Just from watching Tuttle run these RPOs, and taking the ball and running with it a couple of times, it seems like opposing defenses are going to have to respect his ability to keep it. That could give IU’s running backs the slight but crucial advantages they need to find an edge or a crease, just because a linebacker or d-end waits a split second to see if Tuttle is on the run. 

Also, that pass option does put defenses in a bind, forcing them to make a decision as far as numbers they want to leave in the box or put on the perimeter. 

Simply put, productive runs like these keep drives moving.

IU’s second TD 

IU could have won with just one touchdown, the way its defense played. 

But in Tuttle’s second touchdown throw, we saw his talent as a passer, as well as a well-designed red-zone play that was well executed. 

Tyler, walk us through it: 

“Tuttle does a great job on this play understanding the situation and where they are at on the field. Typically, on the 10-yard line and in, defenses like to play man-to-man coverage and bring pressure to hurry up the QB’s decision making. So how does he know this is man coverage? 

“First of all, there are no safeties in the middle of the field. Instead, there is a seven-man box and three defensive backs to the trips side at the top. This “trips closed’ formation is designed to keep the tight end in for pass protection, if need be. Here, it’s necessary, because Wisconsin brings a seven-man pressure. The offensive line and tight end do a great job picking up the pressure with slide protection to the field. Stevie Scott is the key here. He picks up the inside linebacker to the boundary side. So the protection is flawless. 

“Tuttle does something that many coaches don’t teach, but is effective to buy time. After his initial drop, he keeps getting depth to allow time for Whop Philyor to get into the corner route and create separation. He knows pre-snap that he is going to Philyor with the football. In man coverage, Philyor versus a safety is a great matchup. Philyor runs a great post corner, but most importantly uses his hands to create separation from the safety. Great goal line play call by Coach Sheridan. Easy to process and easy to read for the QB. 

“The throw by Tuttle was perfectly placed where only his guy could get it. The offensive line, tight end, and running back have great seven-man protection. Execution at a high level here.” 

With the blitz coming, Tuttle’s fadeaway pass showed magnificent touch and precision. Whop Philyor continues to show that if he’s left one-on-one, that he’s a hard receiver to mark. 

Great route concept, great throw. 

Helmet sticker plays 

Here are just a couple of other plays that stood out re-watching the game. 

Micah McFadden had a great performance, including nine tackles, two for loss, and two sacks. Here’s one of those tackles behind the line of scrimmage. What’s most apparent here is how quickly McFadden closes the distance on a ball-carrier. 

Great coverage makes Mertz tuck and run, and McFadden really, really gets moving. 

Our second play shows part of the reason why the Hoosiers were able to keep the Badgers from completely bullying their way on the ground. Here, sophomore defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto’s just manhandles Wisconsin’s center. Again, McFadden shows up, shooting into the backfield and turning the play back to Nofoagatoto’a. 

Given the Hoosiers were without junior tackle Demarcus Elliott, wins like this from Nofoagatoto’s were so important. 

You want to watch a 179-pound corner take on a 220-pound fullback? And the 179-pound corner wins? Watch IU corner Jaylin Williams on this one.

And our last play, a great recognition play by D.K. Bonhomme, manning up a running back out of the backfield mid-pass-rush, and then spying Graham Mertz on an eventual tuck and run, is actually courtesy of a reader’s recommendation.

Shout out to Josh Olmsted for pointing this one out on Twitter.

10 comments

  1. Wow, this uberanalysis is really interesting and appreciated. We armchair observers who try to look for more than just watching whoever has the ball can learn a lot.

    The TV national analysts are a mixed bag. Generally, the long-ago quarterbacks are helpful analysts. From a defensive standpoint among analysts, the one who really stood out to me a few years ago was Ohio State’s ex middle linebacker Chris Spielman. (Where is he now? More, please.). He was superior at explaining the why and how of each play’s results. In 2020, Urban Meyer’s “teaching” segments on Saturday mornings are raising the bar for all the analysis.

  2. Good look at what happened during plays key to this game. I learned early in my coaching career that I needed to see the film to really see what happened as game time can fool you once in a while. I like that you are starting this feature to give a better understanding of what went on in the game.

    The film shows IU now has players that better understand the game and correctly react to what is happening around them. This is what I tried to instill in my players but it took having players with ability and awareness on the field to have a team that really put it together to win a state titles.

  3. Questions: Does anyone know the procedures if a team selected for the college football championship playoff has multiple Covid positives only days before the game?

    Wow…ABC forced to cancel Gonzaga vs. Baylor just an hour before tip-off. Covid outbreak causing Gonzaga basketball team to miss four upcoming games. Won’t play again until Dec. 19th.
    Basketball might be a real challenge. Thinking of all the football postponements/cancellations and knowing there’s triple the travel and four times as many games/sites in a typical college basketball season? Why weren’t the schedules drastically condensed?
    Maybe we should have just played last season’s NCAA tournament to replace this regular season and called it a day ? Maybe modify the tournament to a once in a lifetime shot for every D-1 team. Allow every D-1 team into the tournament? Bracketpalooza! Start the tournament at four very secure sites on the second weekend in January. Narrow from 300 plus teams down to the traditional 65….Then bring the rest to Indy (the basketball hub of the nation) for a couple weeks of 24/7 hoops.

  4. And if I may continue just a bit….? College football (the brain trust and decision makers) should be ashamed for not modifying this season’s playoff. Ever hear of halftime adjustments? There is absolutely no reason they could not have expanded the field and made this year doubly entertaining and FAIR! There was simply not enough sample size in contests to legitimize their decisions. OSU has no business being one of the four selected with such little test. Whether they are competitive or win the whole thing is not of consequence. You have negated the body of work for teams like Indiana….College football is a joke.

  5. Forgive me for asking however….. I don’t get the crossover game concept. If OSU v Mich game is canceled, OSU still would have another crossover game to complete six B10 conference games and qualify for the championship game. Correct?

    1. The cross over games include the B1G game. It pits, supposedly, teams from the East and West the way they finished the 8 game schedule. #1 v #1 is the B1G title game while #2 v #2, #3 v #3, etc play that same day or weekend.

      1. Thanks, V! That clears it up. Not sure why they would do it as a team could play someone else twice, but go Hoosiers!

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