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IU football film study: How Micah McFadden won with instincts against MSU

The recruiting services had it all wrong with Indiana junior linebacker Micah McFadden.

A three-star recruit, McFadden was ranked No. 1,986 overall and No. 316 in the state of Florida in the class of 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite.

Through four games McFadden is putting together an All-Big Ten caliber season, with a team leading 30 tackles along with 2 sacks and an interception.

Linebackers are taught to read the play and react quickly.  The quarterbacks of the defense, they have to be one of the most instinctive players on the field.

Now in his third season, Micah McFadden has nearly perfected this, and it’s resulting in a career year thus far for the junior standout.  On Saturday against Michigan State, McFadden had his best game yet, compiling nine tackles and two sacks.

Here’s how he blew up the Spartans’ game plan.

1st & 10 at MSU 14

(1:55 – 1st) Rocky Lombardi pass complete to Jayden Reed for 3 yds to the MSU 17

This is a great example of McFadden diagnosing a play and trusting his instincts. He lines up as the weak side linebacker in Indiana’s base 4-2-5 defense. As the receiver Reed comes across the formation, Micah begins to slide towards the far sideline. This subtle adjustment helps him gain some momentum to close. 

Now, when McFadden sees the center come up to block in the second level, he knows it is a “run” play (technically, it is a touch pass). We talk about instincts with linebackers, and this is textbook from Micah as he takes a great angle and cleans up the play, stopping any chance of a broken tackle. More importantly, he flashes excellent closing speed, something he showed throughout this game. 

3rd & 7 at MSU 14

(0:40 – 1st) Rocky Lombardi sacked by Jerome Johnson for a loss of 8 yards to the MSU 6

This play by McFadden won’t show up in the box score, but it’s him who frees up big Jerome Johnson to make a play. Indiana is in it’s base 4-2-5 once again, and Wommack once again doesn’t show blitz, he rushes four. But McFadden, who has shown time and time again his ability as a blitzer, is the key here. 

Just as the center is about to snap the ball, Micah takes off. One of his best and most surprising traits is his short area quickness and frankly, speed. He said this week that he was overlooked as a prospect due to his speed, but through four games, it has been impressive. When a linebacker drops into coverage, the MSU right guard is left blocking no one, and McFadden barrels into the center and left guard, while Johnson loops around and executes the stunt perfectly for a big drive ending sack. 

3rd & 10 at IU 40

(8:27 – 2nd) Payton Thorne run for a loss of 1 yard to the Ind 41

Another thing that consistently shows up when you watch McFadden on tape is his proficiency as a blitzer. On this play, Kane Wommack lines him up over the center, showing blitz. Wommack loves to delay-blitz McFadden to take advantage of his speed, but here his twist is blitzing McFadden and dropping DK Bonhomme (42), who had lined up on the edge. 

Michigan State’s center, Nick Samac, weighs over 300 pounds. But despite a 70-pound difference, McFadden sheds him and even throws him to the ground with great hand technique. Then, he makes a textbook form tackle to bring down Thorne. 

1st & 10 at IU 48

(3:47 – 2nd) Jordon Simmons run for 3 yds to the Ind 45

This one isn’t some kind of game-changing play for Indiana, but it is a great example of Micah’s excellent technique. Indiana is once again in their base defense, and the interesting part about Wommack’s scheme is he almost always starts in the same base 4-2-5, but then he throws different blitzes and coverages at the quarterback to keep him off balance. 

Here, Reese Taylor comes on a corner blitz, and Michigan State tries a zone read with Thorne and running back Jordon Simmons. IU end James Head is in good position to stop the keeper, so Thorne gives to Simmons. Watch McFadden initially come up, make his read, and fill the gap. This is great linebacker play: he avoids the center, meets Simmons at the point of attack, and drives him back with his shoulder, keeping a well-blocked run play to a minimum gain. 

3rd & 8 at MSU 18

(8:19 – 4th) Payton Thorne tackled by Micah McFadden for a loss of 6 yards to the MSU 12

Fast forward to Michigan State’s last offensive play of the game, and McFadden’s best. He picked up a sack earlier on a free rush, but this play highlights his high level instincts and closing speed.  Indiana rushes just three, but with Thorne having good mobility, McFadden is spying him, making sure he doesn’t leave the pocket. 

When Thorne is forced to roll out, McFadden trusts his instincts and hits a second gear. He shows really impressive speed here, but just as important is the angle. Football is a game of short bursts and angles, and McFadden is able to blow by the receiver trying to block him, close, and finish. This is textbook, and it was the dagger in terms of any kind of potential comeback for Michigan State. 

McFadden put on a clinic at the linebacker position against Michigan State. He’ll be tested even further against Ohio State, when he faces the three-headed monster in the backfield of Justin Fields, Master Teague and Trey Sermon.

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