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The numbers game: While UCF loaded the box, Michigan went to the air for big plays

September 15th, 2016 by Josh DeMille


darboh-vs-ucf(Isaiah Hole, 247)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1

Week 2 is in the books and despite their delusional coach thinking they “outhit” Michigan, UCF was still the beneficiary of a 51-14 beat down. Let’s dive right in and see how Michigan’s big play and toxic differential numbers played out against the Knights.

Michigan had a total of 12 big plays against UCF, down from 14 the previous week. However, this time the plays were more evenly distributed amongst run and pass at five and seven respectfully (they were 11 and three last week). I think this was partially due to UCF stacking the box and selling out to stop the run. It’s tough to tell if a play is a run blitz or not but according to Pro Football Focus Speight was blitzed on 28 of his 39 dropbacks, so it’s probably safe to assume they had some sort of blitz dialed up on most downs (sounds familiar). It’s still novel to note that the coaching staff did not insist on running the ball into eight- and nine-man boxes but instead adjusted and decided to air it out.

After two games Michigan is averaging eight big run plays per game (17th nationally), five big pass plays per game (16th), and 13 total big plays per game (eighth) for a big play percentage of 18.44 percent (eighth).

Through two games in 2015, the Michigan offense was averaging 3.5 big run plays and 3.5 big pass plays for a total of seven big plays per game. Their big play percentage was 9.59 percent.

Adding the UCF game to their Week 1 totals, Michigan’s defense has taken a big hit in the big plays against rankings, most notably the run. Michigan has now given up 5.5 big run plays per game (90th nationally) and one big pass play per game (9th), for a total of 6.5 big plays per game (50th) and a big play against percentage of 10.16 percent (67th).

Their big play differential (big play percentage for, minus big play percentage against) is a very solid 8.2 percent (13th nationally), while their total toxic differential (big plays for minus big plays against, plus turnover margin) is 16 (11th nationally). On a per game basis they rank 12th nationally in toxic differential.

In 2015, Michigan gave up an average of four big run plays per game and 1.5 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.5 big plays given up per game. This works out to a 8.94 percent big plays against percentage. Their big play differential percentage was 0.65 percent. Toxic differential was minus-7.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first two weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 16 10 26 18.44% 8.2% 16
2015 7 7 14 9.59% 0.65% -7
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 5.5 1 6.5 10.16% 8.2% 16
2015 4 1.5 5.5 8.94% 0.65% -7

Michigan came out throwing the ball around to the tune of 37 pass attempts. This resulted in seven big pass plays, four of which were over 30-yards. The big run plays were down but it was still nice to see De’Veon Smith record two of them (17, 12). As I mentioned with UCF essentially selling out to stop the run, it was not a surprise to see Michigan’s big run plays limited while the big pass plays increased.

On the flip side of the ball I was surprised, as I’m sure many of you were, to see UCF come up with several big plays, all of them in the run game. I saw some comments on Twitter (speaking of, you should follow me at @jdemille9) about the high-risk nonsense we dispelled earlier and about guys not being in their correct lanes. I went back and re-watched the game to see what exactly happened. Three of the seven were quarterback scrambles in which Michigan either took a bad angle to the play and/or over-pursued. The 87-yard touchdown run came with Mike McCray being slightly out of position (and possibly held) and Dymonte Thomas taking a very bad angle of pursuit. Jawon Hamilton being super fast didn’t hurt either.

While concerning and frustrating in the moment, I’m not too worried about these big runs against Michigan, as it is an issue that will be corrected by the coaches. Missing Bryan Mone, Taco Charlton, and even Jourdan Lewis cannot be understated here. It’s also better for these hiccups (which we all knew would happen) to occur early in the season against teams that are not a threat to win the game.

I am not saying big runs like this will never happen again but once the adjustments are made in practice I don’t see another team on the schedule, outside of Ohio State, capable of gashing Michigan on the ground repeatedly like UCF did. Don Brown was brought in because of his ability to stop spread to run teams like Ohio State, and he will make the proper adjustments going forward.

Michigan’s Week 2 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 8 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 35 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 32 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 16 Run
2 2nd and 13 De’Veon Smith 17 Run
2 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
3 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 23 Pass
3 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 20 Pass
3 2nd and 10 Chris Evans 18 Run
4 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
4 3rd and 5 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 30 (TD) Pass
4 3rd and 8 Kekoa Crawford 11 Run
UCF’s Week 2 big plays
1 1st and 10 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
1 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 30 Run
2 2nd and 10 Adrian Killins 87 (TD) Run
2 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 35 Run
2 2nd and 6 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
3 2nd and 10 Nick Patti 26 Run
3 1st and 10 Dontravious Wilson 34 (TD) Run

Looking ahead to Colorado, I was a bit surprised to see how well they ranked in big play metrics, especially their defense. Of course, they did play an FCS team last week but they beat them as you’d expect.

The Colorado offense averages seven big run plays per game (33rd nationally) and 4.4 big pass plays per game (27th) for a total of 11.5 big plays per game (19th) and a big play percentage of 12.99 percent (50th).

On defense, the Buffaloes have looked very impressive. They give up an average of 2.5 big run plays per game (22nd nationally) and zero big pass plays (first) for a total of 2.5 big plays given up per game (second). Their big play against percentage is 4.2 percent (third). Their big play differential is 8.79 percent (11th) and total toxic differential is 20 (fourth).

Colorado is one of just four teams to not surrender a big pass play through the first two weeks of the season. I would expect that streak to end this week. Two of the other three are teams within Michigan’s division, whom I will not mention.

On paper it looks as though Colorado could give Michigan a run for their money, as far as not allowing big plays, and it should be a much more competitive game than the past two opponents, despite Vegas favoring Michigan by 20 points.

I expect Michigan to win but I am not excited about the inevitable Kordell Stewart Hail Mary replays. Why did Dave Brandon insist on rescheduling teams to whom Michigan lost epic heartbreakers, as if winning them the second time around would make those memories any less painful? And now it comes out that Colorado will be wearing the exact same uniforms they did on September 24th, 1994. My 15-year-old self would not be pleased to hear this.