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The Numbers Game: Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news

October 20th, 2016 by Josh DeMille


chris-evans-vs-rutgers(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

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, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1
Related: Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 offense vs 2015 offense, Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 defense vs 2015 defense

As promised, we’ve got a ton of new information to add to our regular explosive play stats. But first let’s quickly recap where Michigan stands after the bye week with some updated rankings.

Michigan’s offense is averaging eight explosive run plays per game (12th nationally) and 3.67 pass plays (38th) for 11.67 total explosive plays (9th) with a big play percentage of 15.77 percent (10th).

On defense they are surrendering 3.67 explosive run plays per game (24th) and 1.33 pass plays (2nd) for a total of just five explosive plays given up per game (1st) and their big play against percentage is 8.4 percent (11th).

Their big play differential is 7.36 percent (4th) and their toxic differential is 46, good for fourth on a per game basis.

Through six games in 2015 Michigan averaged 4.5 explosive run plays per game and 2.33 explosive pass plays, for a total of 6.83 explosive plays per game. Their big play percentage for was 9.58 percent, their big play differential was 1.97 percent, and their total toxic differential was just 13.

Michigan’s defense was giving up 3.5 explosive run plays per game and one explosive pass play per game for 4.5 total explosive plays per game, with a total big play against percentage of 7.61 percent.

After the bye week Michigan is currently fifth nationally in total sacks (24) but still first in sacks per game (four). They are also third with 59 total tackles for loss, which is good for second on a per game basis (9.83).

Now, on to some new stuff. It’s all well and good that Michigan has been stellar at putting up explosive plays and preventing them, but when exactly is Michigan most likely to have an explosive play, or give one up on defense? Here’s what I found.

Michigan has had 70 total explosive plays on offense — 48 run and 22 pass.

Michigan’s 2016 big run plays by down – Offense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 24 18.96 yards 50.00%
2nd 20 20.50 yards 41.67%
3rd 4 21.75 yards 8.33%
Michigan’s 2016 big pass plays by down – Offense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 8 32.25 yards 36.36%
2nd 8 25.63 yards 36.36%
3rd 6 32.50 yards 27.27%

An explosive run play has happened 24 times on first down with an average gain of 18.96 yards, 20 times on second down with an average gain of 20.5 yards and just four times on third down with an average gain of 21.75 yards.

An explosive pass is equally as likely on first and second downs (eight on each down), with first down passes gaining more yards than second (average gain 32.25 vs 25.63 respectively) and just behind on third down (six) with the highest average gain of 32.5 yards. Overall, 85 percent of Michigan’s explosive plays occur on either first (45.71%) or second downs (40%).

On defense Michigan has given up 30 total explosive plays — 22 run and 8 pass. An explosive run play has happened seven times on first down with an average gain of 17.86 yards, 11 times on second with an average gain of 19.91 yards and just four times on third down, with an average gain of 23.75 yards.

Michigan’s 2016 big run plays allowed by down – Defense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 7 17.86 yards 50.00%
2nd 11 19.91 yards 41.67%
3rd 4 23.75 yards 8.33%
Michigan’s 2016 big pass plays allowed by down – Defense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 5 40.60 yards 62.50%
2nd 1 37.00 yards 12.50%
3rd 2 22.00 yards 25.00%

Of the explosive passes Michigan has allowed, 62.5 percent (five) have occurred on first down with third down (two) and second down (one) hardly ever yielding explosive pass plays.

Overall, Michigan gives up 8o percent of their total explosive plays on first down and second down combined (both 40 percent) and just 20 percent on third. Their lowest gain per play is on second down at 21.33 yards. Michigan averages 24.1 yards per explosive play given up.

To sum it up, Michigan’s offense is most likely to have an explosive run play on first down, and an explosive pass play is equally likely on first or second down. On third down they are three times more likely to have an explosive pass than a run. Most of their explosive plays occur on first (45.71%) or second downs (40%).

On defense Michigan is most likely to give up an explosive run on second down and an explosive pass on first down. They are equally as likely for any explosive play to happen on first or second down. Without comparing these numbers to other teams it’s a little hard to tell how good, or not, they are. However, it is probably a good thing that Michigan gives up the fewest percent of their big plays on third downs. Luckily for them they give up so few big plays a game it is highly unlikely that they give up more than one or two big third down plays.

In order to combat any Michigan State or Ohio State fans who say Michigan hasn’t played a great schedule or all their plays happen in garbage time, consider the following. Garbage time is defined by Football Outsiders as the following: “a game is not within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, or 16 points in the fourth quarter.”

Nearly half — 33 — of Michigan’s 70 explosive plays on offense have occurred during garbage time — or 47.14 percent — aided greatly by the Rutgers game (12 of 16 came in garbage time which was essentially the last three quarters). On defense, 17 of the 30 explosive plays given up have occurred in garbage time — 56.67 percent — well more than half. Four opponents (Hawaii, UCF, Colorado, and Rutgers) each had greater than 57 percent of their explosive plays in garbage time. Penn State only had four total explosive plays — one in garage time — while the Wisconsin game was never in garbage time.

Just more than half of Michigan’s explosive plays on offense occur when the game is not out of hand and well over half of those given up are when the game is out of hand, which is generally what we’d like to see. So, who exactly is putting up all these big plays and who averages the most yards per big play? You might be surprised.

There is a three-way tie for most explosive run plays between De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans, who each have 10. As you might have guessed, Evans leads the team in yards per explosive run play (24.3) but he’s not as far ahead as you might think. Karan Higdon is close behind at 23.83 yards per explosive run and — perhaps shockingly — Smith is third with a healthy 20.03 yards per explosive run play average. Technically, Jabrill Peppers has the highest average but he’s only had two explosive run plays, so he didn’t make the cut of at least four explosive plays.

Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
Chris Evans 10 24.30 yards 20.83%
De’Veon Smith 10 20.03 yards 16.39%
Ty Isaac 10 14.80 yards 18.87%
Karan Higdon 6 23.83 yards 17.14%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 8 38.38 yards 32.00%
Jehu Chesson 5 28.40 yards 33.33%
Jake Butt 5 18.40 yards 21.74%

As a team Michigan averages an explosive run play on 17.78 percent of its carries and gains an average of 19.83 yards per explosive run. This was a lot higher than I expected, almost doubling what is considered an explosive run play (10 yards or more). For all the talk about how Michigan’s offense is not explosive like Clemson or Louisville, these numbers seem to indicate Michigan is, in fact, an explosive offense.

Amara Darboh headlines the explosive pass play leaders, both in total (eight) and in average yards (38.38). Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are not far behind (five apiece) but Chesson averages 10 more yards per explosive pass play than Butt (28.4 versus 18.4). No one else on the team has more than two.

Michigan averages an explosive pass play on 20.18 percent of its pass attempts and gains an average of 29.91 yards per explosive pass. The offense as a whole averages an explosive play 15.77 percent of the time and gains an average of 23 yards per explosive play. Not too shabby for an old-fashioned pro-style offense from the 1970s, eh?

Ty Isaac has the overall team lead with 11 total explosive plays — 10 run and 1 pass.

What got me so interested in the explosive play and toxic differential metric was an article I read about Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. My brother is a huge USC fan, despite growing up with a father who is a Michigan grad, so I kept tabs on them as well and now Seattle sometimes.

In the article it discussed Pete Carroll’s defensive priorities. Here is the part that really caught my eye: Give up either an explosive run or pass play in any given drive and the opposition will score over 75 percent of the time for the period studied.

That is what we’re going to look at now as it pertains to Michigan — how often do they either score or give up a score on drives with explosive plays?

On offense Michigan has had 46 drives with explosive plays. Keep in mind that many drives have more than one explosive play. They’ve scored on 32 of those drives, or 69.57 percent of the time. From that NFL study, 75 percent is the key number (also keep in mind the NFL regards explosive plays as runs of 12 or more and passes of 16 or more as compared to our 10-plus runs and 20-plus passes), so scoring on almost 70 percent of the drives with explosive plays is excellent.

Michigan’s 2016 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 46 32 69.57%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 22 7 31.82%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

Conversely, on defense Michigan’s, opponents have had 22 drives with explosive plays and scored on only seven of those drives, or 31.82 percent. To keep teams under 32 percent scores on drives with explosive plays (based on these definitions) is incredible. Just because Michigan may give up an explosive play on a drive doesn’t necessarily mean they will give up a score, in fact, they usually don’t. That’s the #DonBrownEffect in action.

Before we take a look ahead to this weekend’s opponent, Illinois, I thought we could briefly discuss some numbers from last weekend’s Wisconsin-Ohio State game, transitive property and all. It’s not apple to apples but I think the results will make a lot of you feel better about the trip to Columbus at the end of the season.

Wisconsin had 11 explosive plays against OSU (six run and five pass). Against Michigan they only had five total (three run and two pass). On defense Wisconsin gave up 12 total explosive plays to OSU (seven run and five pass), whereas versus Michigan they gave up only nine (five run and four pass).

Now for the really interesting stat. Against OSU, Wisconsin had six drives with an explosive play and they scored on five of those — a whopping 83.3 percent. Against Michigan, they had 5 drives with an explosive play and scored on none of them. That’s zero percent. Wisconsin’s lone score versus Michigan was set up on a short field by a 46-yard interception return.

Here’s what I took away from last week’s game, and these numbers: Ohio State is mortal, Wisconsin’s defense is as good as advertised, and Michigan’s defense is good enough to shut down the Ohio State offense, at least to the point where Michigan doesn’t need to score 45-plus to win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar score (30-23) come the end of November and my optimism has upticked slightly.

Okay, on to Illinois. The Fighting Illini aren’t very good, but they are better than Rutgers. But then again, who isn’t?

Michigan & Illinois offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 48 22 70 15.77% 7.36% 46
ILL Off. 37 13 50 13.81% 1.91% 8
Michigan & Illinois defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 22 8 30 8.40% 7.36% 46
ILL Def. 30 20 50 11.90% 1.91% 8

On offense the Illini average 6.17 explosive run plays per game (44th) and 2.17 pass plays (109th) for a total of 8.33 explosive plays per game (80th). Their big play percentage is 13.81 percent (38th). On defense they surrender five big run plays (59th) and 3.33 pass plays (75th) for a total of 8.33 per game (60th) — exactly as many as their offense puts up. Their big play against percentage is 11.9 percent (58th), their big play differential is 1.91 percent (48th), and their toxic differential is 8 (51st on a per game basis).

That places Illinois comparable to Penn State prior to their meeting a few weeks ago. All Michigan did in that game was win the big play battle nine to four and win the game 49-10.

Overall, Michigan is in great shape with all of the advanced stats we have been profiling throughout the season. Remember, Pete Carroll made USC and the Seattle Seahawks into powerhouse teams with big play metrics as one of his core principles. If Michigan continues to succeed in these metrics on both sides of the ball over the second half of the season, we’re in for a special finish.