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The numbers game: Michigan’s big play offense nonexistent against MSU

October 13th, 2017 by Josh DeMille


(Isaiah Hole)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewerO’Korn leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4; U-M defense still better than 2016 heading into MSU showdown;

First the good news.

Michigan’s defense is still basically perfect during the 2nd half this year. Don Brown’s ability to download the opposing team’s offense in one half and then make the right adjustments is incredible.

Now the bad news.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First six weeks comparison: 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
2016* 48 22 70 15.77% 5.60% 25
2015 27 14 41 9.58% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan recorded just two explosive plays last weekend, the lowest of the Jim Harbaugh era. Honestly, I was not too surprised given the issues the offense has had this year but it’s still disappointing. Michigan’s defense, however, was right about where they’ve been all year surrendering just six explosive plays — only one after halftime.

For the year, Michigan is averaging 4.6 explosive runs per game (77th nationally) and 3.6 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of 8.2 explosive plays per game (76th). Their big play percentage is 11.55 percent (79th). Not very good overall.

Comparing that to last year’s team through six weeks (five games this year versus six in 2015), Michigan was averaging eight explosive runs per game (11th) and 3.67 explosive passes per game (45th) for a total of 11.67 explosive plays per game (10th). Their big play percentage was 15.77 percent (11th). All those numbers are down from 2015 but given the inexperience on the offensive line and the regression in quarterback play it isn’t all that surprising.

I’m disappointed but not concerned. Harbaugh has a stellar track record and the improvements he has made at Michigan compared to his prior two predecessors is unfathomable. Hold your heads high Michigan faithful, for the offensive woes are almost erased by the defense led by Don Brown.

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 3.20 2.40 5.60 9.56% 1.99% 8
2016* 3.67 1.33 5.00 8.40% 7.36% 46
2015 3.50 1.00 4.50 7.61% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan’s defense is surrendering a mere 3.2 explosive runs per game (18th) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (27th) for a total of just 5.6 explosive plays per game (13th). Their big play against percentage is 9.56 percent (26th) and their big play differential is 1.99% (50th). Their toxic differential, however, is just eight — good for 57th on a per game basis.

The 2015 defense averaged 3.67 explosive runs per game (30th), 1.33 explosive passes per game (2nd) for a total of 5 explosive plays per game (2nd). Their big play against percentage was 8.4 percent (11th) and their big play differential was 7.36% (6th). The defense has stayed about the same while the offense is apparently in hibernation as they prepare for a monster 2018 playoff run…I’m assuming, anyway.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan stands pat at 18 total sacks (11th nationally), which is the same as last week but they robbed Rashan Gary of one sack, with the play-by-play claiming it was a run. It was not. They are averaging 3.6 sacks per game, which is good for sixth overall. They have 40 tackles for loss (21st) but their eight TFL per game is good for 11th overall.

Individual Big Plays
Michigan’s Week 6 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
2 3rd and 12 John O’Korn to Sean McKeon 38 Pass
4 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 12 Run
Michigan State’s Week 6 big plays
1 2nd and 7 Gerald Holmes 15 Run
1 2nd and 13 Brian Lewerke 14 Run (TD)
1 1st and 10 Darrell Stewart Jr. 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Brian Lewerke to Darrell Stwart Jr. 30 Pass
2 1st and 10 Madre London 50 Run
3 3rd and 12 Brian Lewerke 10 Run

Individual big play leaders stayed the same but Sean McKeon’s big reception brought him into a three-way tie with Tarik Black and Grant Perry’s three explosive receptions.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Indiana defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
IU Def. 21 14 35 9.33% -1.58% -11
Indiana offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
IU Off. 17 14 31 7.75% -1.58% -11
UM Def. 16 12 28 9.56% 1.99% 8

Indiana is next up and our old pal Mike DeBord is their offensive coordinator. I think Michigan’s defense should be able to handle them. Whether the offense can do anything — and on the road — is yet to be seen.

Indiana is averaging 3.4 explosive runs per game (113th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (80th) for a total of just 6.2 explosive plays per game (113th). Their big play percentage is 7.75 percent (127th). They are not a big play offense, at all.

Their defense is much better than their offense (it’s weird to say that about IU), averaging 4.2 explosive runs per game (49th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of seven explosive plays surrendered per game (38th). Their big play against percentage is 9.33 percent (21st) and their big play differential is -1.58 percent (98th). Their toxic differential is -11, good for 102nd on a per game basis.

I’d like to think this is a game Michigan should win big, especially after last week’s letdown, but the offense is what it is and I don’t think we can expect much improvement on that front. Still, Michigan’s defense is championship caliber and if the offense can eek out 20-plus points they can beat anyone. Michigan should win this by at least a touchdown, so that means they’ll probably win 13-12.