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The Numbers Game: Michigan big-play offense looks to bounce back vs susceptible FSU big-play defense

December 29th, 2016 by Josh DeMille

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, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game, U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average

This bowl edition of The Numbers Game will be an abbreviated one. We already looked back at the Ohio State game and since neither Michigan or Florida State played a conference championship game we’re going to use the end of regular season numbers for our rankings. We’ll have an end of season edition too and do a look back on Year 1 of Jim Harbaugh versus Year 2 after Alabama beats Clemson, again, the title game.

We already covered Michigan’s full regular season numbers but here’s a refresher.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 83 45 128 14.71% 4.67% 59
2015 43 42 85 10.25% -0.70% -4

For the 2016 regular season the Michigan offense averaged 6.92 explosive runs per game (27th nationally) and 3.75 explosive passes (46th) for a total of 10.67 explosive plays per game (24th), a big play percentage of 14.71 percent (28th), and a total toxic differential of 59, good for 8th on a per game basis.

If you recall, the past two seasons have featured playoff teams that are excellent in the toxic differential number. This year was no different with Alabama, Ohio State, and Washington all being in the top four. Clemson was this year’s outlier at 31st. Michigan fared well in this metric (8th) but came up just short. Still, it bodes well going forward as they were 77th at the end of 2015. No wonder every NFL team with an opening is pining for Jim Harbaugh. But I digress…

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.33 1.92 6.25 10.04% 4.67% 59
2015 4.67 2.25 6.92 10.95% -0.70% -4

Michigan’s defense averaged 4.33 explosive runs per game allowed (34th) and 1.92 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 6.25 explosive plays per game (9th). Their big play against percentage was 10.04 percent and their big play differential was 4.67 percent (16th).

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan finished the regular season with 44 total sacks at 3.67 per game. Both rank second nationally. Their 114 total TFLs and 9.5 per game are both first overall. They are the only team to average over nine TFLs per game. They eclipsed their 2015 totals long ago and still have one game left.

Next opponent
Michigan & Florida State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 83 45 128 14.71% 4.67% 59
FSU Off. 91 50 141 16.08% 2.35% 37
Michigan & Florida State defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 52 23 75 10.04% 4.67% 59
FSU Def. 62 46 108 13.61% 2.35% 37

Florida State is an interesting team. Their offensive line was much maligned in the passing game but they have a top five unit in overall explosive plays. Both units ranking in the top 21 individually with the running game ranking slightly higher than the passing. Both units are ranked better than Michigan.

The Seminoles average 7.58 explosive runs per game (17th) and 4.17 explosive passes per game (21st) for a total of 11.75 explosive plays per game (5th). They are one of only three teams to average at least 7.5 explosive passes and at least four explosive runs per game. West Virginia and Louisville (shocker, I know) were the other two.

They had an impressive big play for percentage of 16.08 percent (9th) and a total toxic differential of 37, good for 24th on a per game basis through the end of the regular season.

On defense, the ‘Noles weren’t quite as impressive, giving up 5.17 explosive runs per game (58th) and 3.83 explosive passes per game (103rd) for a nice even total of nine explosive plays given up per game (71st). If Michigan is to exploit FSU it’s likely going to be through the air, which is odd since no one got to the quarterback more this season (on a per game basis) than Florida State. FSU’s big play against percentage was 13.61 percent (96th) and their big play differential was 2.35 percent (36th).

As just mentioned, FSU was the best unit at getting to the quarterback, averaging 3.92 sacks per game but they tallied just 79 total tackles for loss, good for 6.58 per game. So what does this mean? They’re very good at pass rushing but likely not so good at stopping the run behind the line.

This game has the makings of a defensive struggle, with both teams fielding excellent units. FSU has the better playmaker, Dalvin Cook, but Michigan has several weapons with which to attack. Should be a good one. Go Blue!