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Posts Tagged ‘Amara Darboh’

The Numbers Game: U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


speight-vs-illinois(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, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news

One game after Michigan put up a season high 16 explosive plays on lowly Rutgers they came back and put up 17 on Illinois. They did however, give up four explosive plays to Illinois, which was three more than Rutgers managed.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first seven weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
2015 28 19 47 10.00% 1.52% 11

Those 17 explosive plays were fairly evenly distributed between 10 runs and seven passes. Coming in, Michigan had 22 total explosive passes through six games. The offensive outbursts over the last two games have vaulted Michigan up in the offensive rankings nationally. How high, exactly? Let’s dig in and see.

So far, Michigan has put up 8.29 explosive run plays per game (9th nationally) and 4.14 explosive pass plays (25th) for a total of 12.43 explosive plays per game (3rd). Yes, you read that right, only two teams in the country average more explosive plays per game than Michigan: Louisville (15.57) and Army (12.57). I think we can begin to put to rest the notion that this offense is a slow, plodding, pro-style offense.

Their big play percentage is 16.38 percent (9th), their big play differential is 7.78 percent (3rd), and their total toxic differential is 60, good for No. 1 nationally on a per game basis. Remember, teams that fare well in the toxic differential metric are usually the ones left standing at the end of the season.

Through seven games last season, the 2015 team — Harbaugh’s first — was averaging just four explosive run plays and 2.71 explosive pass plays for a total of 6.71 explosive plays — almost half of what the 2016 team is doing. Their big play percentage was 10 percent, their big play differential was 1.52 percent, and their total toxic differential was 11 (1.57 per game). I’ve hit this nail before but I’m going to keep hammering it: Jim Harbaugh is an offensive genius, and perhaps the greatest of our era. What he’s done with Michigan in just his second year is nothing short of miraculous.

Garbage time

Just under half (eight) of Michigan’s 17 explosive plays versus Illinois came during garbage time. So far this season, 41 of their 87 total explosive plays (47.13 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that more than half of Michigan’s explosive plays happen before the game is out of hand.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through six weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.43 1.43 4.86 8.61% 7.78% 60
2015 3.14 1.71 4.86 8.15% 1.52% 11

Michigan gave up four total explosive plays to Illinois last week, which is just below their new season average of 4.86. If you’ll recall what I’ve said previously: anything under six explosive plays per game is in elite territory. Michigan is well below five.

Overall, Michigan is giving up 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) and 1.43 pass plays (2nd) for the aforementioned total of just 4.86 explosive plays per game (1st). The next best is Auburn and LSU with 5.43 allowed per game. Michigan’s big play against percentage is 8.61 percent (7th).

Last year at this time Michigan was just coming off the last second collapse against Michigan State and didn’t fare too well against that team, giving up seven total explosive plays, six in the passing game. Their totals through seven games in 2015 were 3.14 explosive run plays and 1.71 pass plays for a total of 4.86 explosive plays given up. Exactly what it is this year. Unfortunately for the 2015 defense, injuries took their toll and they could not maintain that pace, finishing with 7.2 explosive plays given up per game, which was still an impressive 24th nationally. I don’t want to jinx this team but even if they slow their pace (doesn’t look likely with the remaining schedule) they should still finish with fewer than six explosive plays given up per game.

Garbage time

Michigan gave up three of its four explosive plays to Illinois during garbage time last week. So far this season, 20 of the 34 explosive plays Michigan has given up (58.82 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that most of Michigan’s explosive plays given up come after the game is well in hand and the other team is highly unlikely to come back and win. Only Penn State (3-of-4) and Wisconsin (5-of-5) put up most of their explosive plays before garbage time kicked in (there was no garbage time vs Wisconsin).

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan only registered one sack last Saturday, but their season total and per game average are still up there. After eight weeks Michigan has 25 total sacks and is averaging 3.57 per game, both good for fourth nationally. They have 63 total tackles for loss (4th) and average nine per game (3rd). Remember, Michigan only averaged 2.46 sacks and 6.77 TFL per game last year. This season, they’re averaging over one more sack per game and almost three more tackles for loss per game, all while giving up the fewest big plays per game in the nation. The “high risk/high reward” nonsense has been laid down in a wooden box, pending the final nails in the coffin.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-8

Michigan has 87 total explosive plays on offense — 58 run and 29 pass. An explosive play is just as likely on first down as it is on second down (37 for each down). An explosive run is slightly more likely on second than first down (27 versus 26) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first than second down (11 versus 10). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 8.62 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than 27 percent of the explosive pass plays happen on third down).

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-8

On defense, Michigan is equally likely to give up an explosive play on first and second down (13 apiece) with third down a good deal behind (eight). Half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (12), followed by first (seven) and then third (five). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (six) than both second (one) and third (three) downs combined.

Big play percentage of total yards

I thought it might be fun to take a look at what percentage of yards Michigan gives up on explosive plays. It was eye opening when it came to what they do in the run game. Michigan has given up 672 total rushing yards and 501 of those came on just 24 explosive run plays. That means 74.55 percent of the total rushing yards Michigan has given up has come via an explosive run play at 20.88 yards a pop. So what are they giving up per play on non-explosive runs? A mere 0.83 yards per attempt.

To truly put that into some perspective consider this: Michigan has faced 231 total rushing attempts. Of those, 24 have resulted in explosive plays (501 total yards) and the other 207 rushes have yielded just 171 total yards. So what does this mean exactly? Michigan will give up an explosive run play about 10 percent of the time at just under 21 yards per rush. The other 90 percent of the time they give up just 0.83 yards per rush. You get a big gain once in a while, but most of the time you literally get almost nothing.

Let that sink in for a minute. Ninety percent of the time a team runs the ball against Michigan they average less than a yard per attempt.

On offense just over 63 percent of Michigan’s rushing yards come via explosive play and just under 53 percent of their passing yards come via explosive play. All in all, over 58 percent of Michigan’s total offensive yards come via explosive plays. I think they’ve come that long way already, eh Herbie?

Without the total explosive play yardage for the rest of the country we cannot see how Michigan compares. If you know how to get it without going through play-by-plays for every team/game hit me up at @jdemille9. But what we do know quantitatively is that Michigan has an explosive play 16.38 percent of the time — roughly one out of every six plays. Only two of the eight teams with a higher big play percentage than Michigan are in the playoff hunt — Washington (16.45 percent) and Louisville (20.11 percent). No, they are not quite in Louisville’s stratosphere percentage-wise, but their offense isn’t built to be basketball on grass.

UM’s big play leaders
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
De’Veon Smith 14 18.43 yards 17.72%
Chris Evans 11 23.55 yards 22.44%
Ty Isaac 10 14.82 yards 17.46%
Karan Higdon 9 25.11 yards 20.93%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 11 35.00 yards 36.67%
Jake Butt 6 19.00 yards 23.08%
Jehu Chesson 5 28.40 yards 27.78%

With Chris Evans out with a concussion after just one carry, De’Veon Smith was able to climb back to the lead with 14 total explosive runs, he’s also the overall leader with 14. I’m still amazed that his explosive run average is so high (18.43 yards). It’s amazing what one can do when healthy. Karan Higdon took the opportunity presented in Evans’ absence and moved to the top in average per explosive run with 25.11 yards. As a team, Michigan is averaging 19.62 yards on 58 explosive runs.

Amara Darboh stayed atop the explosive pass play list for both total (11) and average yards per (35). As a team, Michigan is averaging 28.32 yards on 28 explosive pass plays. Overall, Michigan averages 22.45 yards on their 87 explosive plays.

Big play scoring drives
Michigan’s 2016 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 56 39 69.64%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 26 8 30.77%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

Against Illinois, Michigan had 10 drives in which they registered an explosive play and they scored on seven of those. Side note: one of those ten drives was the game ending drive in which Michigan ran out the clock, so that will skew the results downward slightly. Overall this season Michigan has had 56 drives with an explosive play and scored on 39 of them (69.64 percent). Just under 70 percent of the time they have an explosive play, they score on that drive. On a per game basis, they average eight drives with an explosive play and score on 5.57 of them.

On defense, Michigan surrendered four drives with explosive plays to Illinois and the Illini only capitalized on one of them. For the year Michigan’s defense has surrendered 26 drives with an explosive play and only allowed scores on eight of them. Opponents only score 30.77 percent of the time they register an explosive play. Remember, the NFL study we base this off of says that a team is likely to score on 75 percent of the drives on which they register an explosive play. Michigan gives up a score less than one third of the time. The Michigan defense is very good, in case you didn’t know already.

Next opponent
Michigan & Michigan State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
MSU Off. 28 21 49 10.47% 1.36% 0
Michigan & Michigan State defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 24 10 34 8.61% 7.78% 60
MSU Def. 24 21 45 9.11% 1.36% 0

And now we take a look forward to our next opponent. This line from Star Wars always comes to mind when I think of East Lansing; “you won’t find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Unfortunately, Sparty isn’t who we thought they’d be, but they still consider this their championship game, a la Rutgers. We saw how well that worked out for the Scarlet Knights. For what it’s worth, Jim Harbaugh prepares for every team as if it’s a championship game. No one will ever say his Michigan teams weren’t prepared.

MSU is bad on offense — not Rutgers bad — but still very bad. They average four explosive run plays per game (102nd) and three explosive pass plays per game (75th) for a total of seven explosive plays per game (111th). Their big play percentage is 10.47 percent (101st) and their big play differential is 1.36 percent (53rd).

On defense it gets a little better, but not quite the Spartan teams of yesteryear. They give up an average of 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) — which is same as Michigan — and three explosive pass plays (53rd) for a total of 6.43 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play against percentage is a decent 9.11 percent (15th) but their total toxic differential is a flat zero (70th). Still fairly solid on defense as far as explosive plays given up are concerned, but just awful on offense.

I expect Michigan State to bring their A-game this weekend. Unfortunately, their A-game is light years behind Michigan’s A-game. Don’t think Michigan’s players (or Jim Harbaugh for that matter) have forgotten last year and how the Spartans celebrated the way they did in Ann Arbor. I’ll have my full prediction tomorrow, but for now all I will say is that I fully expect something similar to 2009 Stanford versus USC to go down in East Lansing this Saturday.

#3 Michigan 41 – Illinois 8: Michigan allows points, wins by 33

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


um-vs-illinois(MGoBlue.com)

In front of a homecoming crowd on Saturday afternoon, Michigan picked up right where it left off prior to last week’s bye, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game to kickstart a 41-8 win over Illinois.

Michigan got the ball to start the game and looked like it hadn’t missed a beat, marching down the field in 10 plays and scoring on a 3-yard drag to Jake Butt after lining up in the “train” formation that Jim Harbaugh debuted against Wisconsin. On the drive, Jabrill Peppers lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver, running for five yards and catching a five yard pass.

um-illinois_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Illinois
Score 41 8
Record 7-0, 4-0 2-5, 1-3
Total Yards 561 172
Net Rushing Yards 270 77
Net Passing Yards 291 95
First Downs 29 6
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 5-41 5-45
Punts-Yards 2-65 7-287
Time of Possession 41:23 18:37
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 2-of-10
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-13 2-17
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-5 0-of-0
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out and Michigan started its second possession at the Illinois 44-yard line. Three plays later, Wilton Speight found Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

After another Illinois punt, Michigan moved the ball right down the field for yet another touchdown, this time going 81 yards in 10 plays. Khalid Hill capped off the drive with a 1-yard scoring run.

Although Illinois crossed midfield, the defense held strong yet again and had a chance to pin Michigan’s offense deep. But this time Khaleke Hudson got a hand on the punt and Michigan got to start on its own 38. Eight plays later, De’Veon Smith found the end zone to put Michigan ahead 28-0.

Michigan’s next possession stalled at the 42 after 10 plays, but on the first play after a Kenny Allen punt, Dymonte Thomas intercepted Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. Smith got five straight carries as the first half clock ran down and Allen booted a 23-yard field goal to send Michigan into the half with a 31-0 lead.

The second half was much different as Michigan didn’t play with the same precision or intensity, but on their third possession of the half, they got on the scoreboard once again. Speight connected with Amara Darboh for 30 yards and Butt for 22 on the drive, and after stalling in the red zone, Allen kicked a 27-yard field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter, Illinois finally broke Michigan’s shutout streak after Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon fumbled a fake punt attempt near midfield. The Illini capitalized on the great field position with a 43-yard strike from George Jr. to Malik Turner. After Michigan committed a penalty on the extra point try, they went for two and got it.

Michigan responded quickly with a 3-play, 61-yard touchdown drive as Karan Higdon raced 45 yards for the score to reach the final score of 41-8.

Michigan racked up 561 total yards and held Illinois to just 172. Speight completed 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, looking poised and making accurate throws most of the game. Higdon led all rushers with 106 yards and a score on just six carries, while Smith added 76 yards Darboh caught five passes for 99 yards. Thirteen different Wolverines carried the ball and 11 different players caught a pass.

Defensively, Michigan limited Illinois to just 77 rushing yards — 45 coming on one run — and 4-of-15 passing for 95 yards — 43 coming on the one touchdown pass. Gedeon and Taco Charlton led the way with five tackles apiece while Maurice Hurst recorded the team’s only sack.

Michigan visits Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
This week’s game ball could have gone to Karan Higdon for his 6-carry, 106-yard, one touchdown performance, but Speight got the chance to throw the ball around and he did it well. He averaged 15.8 yards per completion and was right on the money most of the afternoon. He did get sacked twice, but didn’t turn the ball over. Harbaugh said after the game that he thought it might have been Speight’s best performance of the season. Statistically, the one against UCF was better, but it was good to see the first-year starter perform well in a conference game midway through the season and it bodes well for the Big Ten title hunt.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Not one single player stood out on the vaunted Michigan defense this week, but the unit performed well collectively. If there was one player that was memorable more than others, it was McCray. He put pressure on George Jr., burst into the backfield to stop Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 7-yard loss, and dove on a fumbled snap in the third quarter when Illinois was in field goal range.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)

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

Thursday, October 20th, 2016


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.

Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 offense vs 2015 offense

Sunday, October 16th, 2016


ty-isaac-vs-rutgers(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Prior to the season, in our The Numbers Game feature, Josh posited that the Michigan offense was set to be more explosive in Year 2 under Jim Harbaugh. During the bye week I took time to compare where this year’s team stands through it first six games with last year’s team.

The six opponents Michigan has faced to date have essentially the exact same record as the first six a year ago (20-14 compared to 20-13), so strength of schedule is comparable. One difference to keep in mind is that a year ago Michigan opened its season on the road in a hostile environment at Utah and also played Maryland on the road, whereas this year the only road game thus far has been at Rutgers.

Let’s start the comparison by taking a look at Michigan’s scoring offense.

Scoring Offense

scoring-offense-week-6Scoring average (national ranking in circle) 

This year’s offense has been extremely efficient at putting the ball in the end zone, scoring 41 touchdowns through six games and converting 31 of 35 red zone chances with 27 of those being touchdowns. If there has been one negative it has been field goal kicking, where Michigan has made just 4-of-9 tries, leaving 15 more points on the field. Had Kenny Allen and Ryan Trice converted each of those, Michigan’s offense would have 18 more points scored than anyone in the country through six weeks.

Last year’s offense scored just 17 points in the season opener on the road against a tough Utah defense, but averaged 32 points over the next five weeks. The high point came in a 38-0 win over Northwestern, a point total that this year’s squad has scored fewer than just once — in a 14-7 win over No. 8 Wisconsin.

Let’s take a look at the running game.

Rushing Offense

rushing-offenseRushing average (national ranking in circle) 

There was a huge disparity in Week 1 when Michigan faced one of the nation’s best rush defenses to open 2015 and was held to just 76 yards. This season, Michigan opened with Hawaii, which features one of the nation’s worst rush defenses. The rushing gap narrowed in Week 2, but this year’s running back by committee has pulled away by Week 6, ranking 14th nationally compared to 53rd nationally a year ago, and averaging nearly 70 more rushing yards per game.

However, when you dig into the numbers a bit more, this year’s running game is more hot and cold, while last year’s was more consistent. The Wolverines rushed for 306 yards against Hawaii, 326 against Penn State, and 481 against Rutgers this season, but averaged just 139 in the other three games. Last year’s offense rushed for 225, 254, 254, 198, and 201 in the five weeks after the Utah game. Still, this year’s running game is averaging nearly a yard more per carry (5.7) than last year’s (4.8). Additionally, this year’s rush offense has scored 25 touchdowns compared to just 15 a year ago.

How about the passing game?

Passing Offense

passing-offensePassing average (national ranking in circle) 

The passing offense started out differently than the rushing offense in Week 1 year over year. Whereas this year’s offense passed for 206 yards against Hawaii in the opener, last year’s gained 279 yards against Utah, mostly while trying to come from behind. After Week 1, last year’s passing game was super consistent, gaining 180, 123, 194, 180, and 179 yards in Weeks 2-6. This year’s passing game has been a little more up and down, gaining a season high 328 yards against UCF in Week 2, then 229, 189, and 219 in the three succeeding weeks before just 119 yards against Rutgers. Of course, Michigan had such a large lead so quickly against Rutgers that there was no need to throw the ball, except to give backup quarterbacks John O’Korn and Shane Morris a couple of throws.

Overall, through six weeks there isn’t a huge disparity between the two passing games. Michigan currently ranks 84th nationally, averaging 29 passing yards more than last year’s, which ranked 98th at this point. This year, Michigan has thrown for 12 touchdowns compared to just five at this point last year. However, last year’s passing game took off the final five weeks of the season — including the bowl game — averaging 323.6 yards per game over that span with 14 touchdowns.

Finally, let’s look at the offense as a whole.

Total Offense

total-offenseTotal offense average (national ranking in circle) 

Michigan’s 2016 offense has eclipsed 600 total yards once, 500 yards in three of its six games, and 400 yards in four of six. Through six weeks last year, Michigan topped 400 just twice and didn’t come close to 500, topping out at 448 against BYU in Week 4. And the defenses Michigan has faced so far this season have been better than the first six last year. On average, this year’s opposing defenses have ranked 57th nationally with Wisconsin (11th), Colorado (23rd), UCF (34th), and Penn State (54th) all in the top half. Last year’s opposing defenses ranked 65th on average with Northwestern (13th), BYU (23rd), and Utah (41st) in the top half.

So what does it all mean? This year’s offense is currently averaging 102.4 yards more per game than last year’s at the midway point while facing slightly better defenses. And it has done so in multiple ways. It has shown it can run the ball when needed and has passed the ball well at times too. It certainly has more depth than last year’s offense, and an extra year of familiarity in the system has made the difference. Last year’s offense took off in the final five weeks — especially in the passing game — and if this year’s makes the same jump, a Big Ten championship and spot in the College Football Playoff is likely.

The numbers game: Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1

Friday, October 14th, 2016


peppers-wildcat-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

Well, that game got out of hand quicker than most expected. I mean, I know Rutgers is bad, but holy cow Michigan! And the beat down wasn’t just on the scoreboard and in traditional stats. Let’s dive in!

Michigan racked up 16 explosive plays — yes, 16 — while the defense only gave up ONE, and it didn’t come until the fourth quarter when the game was in hand and Michigan had rolled out their second and third stringers. Let’s add these ludicrous numbers to Michigan’s already impressive 2016 total.

Thus far, the Wolverine offense is averaging eight explosive run plays per game (11th nationally) and 3.67 explosive pass plays (45th) for a total of 11.67 explosive plays per game (10th) with a big play percentage of 15.77 percent (11th). Their big play differential is a healthy 7.36 percent (6th) and their total toxic differential is 46, good for third on a per game basis.

At this point last year Michigan had just finished a string of three straight shutouts, and the offense was hovering right around the season total averages. 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 offense – 2015 vs 2016 first six weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 48 22 70 15.77% 7.36% 46
2015 27 14 41 9.58% 1.97% 13
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through six weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.67 1.33 5.00 8.40% 7.36% 46
2015 3.50 1.00 4.50 7.61% 1.97% 13

To put the 2015 numbers in perspective let’s see how Michigan would rank if they put up those numbers this year. Run plays would rank 93rd, pass plays 103rd, total explosive plays 114th, big play percentage 114th, big play differential 51st, and total toxic differential 41st. That is a massive improvement halfway through the season, even considering opponents like Rutgers.

On to the defense.

Michigan only gave up one — yes ONE — big play to Rutgers last week. That is insane. Yes, Rutgers is bad. Ohio State also dismantled Rutgers, but they surrendered three explosive plays (two pass and one run). Take that however you will, but OSU still gave up three times more explosive plays to Rutgers than Michigan did. Adding that one play into Michigan’s season totals and…

Michigan’s dominating defense so far is giving up 3.67 explosive run plays per game (30th) and 1.33 explosive pass plays (2nd), for a total of five explosive plays given up per game (2nd), with a total big play against percentage of 8.4 percent (11th). Not too shabby.

At the halfway point in 2015 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. Right about where they are at the halfway point this year.

Michigan’s Week 6 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 Jabrill Peppers 63 Run
1 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 12 Run
1 2nd and 8 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 30 (TD) Pass
2 2nd and 5 Chris Evans 43 Run
2 2nd and 6 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 Pass
2 1st and 10 Chris Evans 15 Run
2 1st and 10 Chris Evans 11 Run
2 2nd and 6 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 20 Run
2 2nd and 7 Chris Evans 15 Run
2 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 15 (TD) Run
3 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 15 Run
4 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 11 Run
4 2nd and 14 Ty Isaac 10 Run
4 3rd and 4 Bobby Henderson 13 (TD) Run
4 3rd and 3 Karan Higdon 44 (TD) Run
4 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 34 (TD) Run
Rutgers’ Week 6 big plays
4 1st and 10 Trey Sneed 10 Run

However, while all of those numbers are better than 2016’s up to this point don’t forget that 2015 Michigan just came off three shutouts and did not keep up this pace. They ended the 2015 season surrendering a total of 7.2 explosive plays per game. The 2016 defense will probably not continue this pace either (especially with Indiana and OSU still lurking) but I still expect them to be around six total explosive plays given up at season’s end, which would put them in the elite defense category.

What about the sacks and tackles for loss, you say? Interesting you should ask. Please keep in mind that I don’t have the week by week numbers for last year (next year we’ll be able to compare not only numbers but national ranks on a weekly basis) so we are comparing this year’s numbers to their 2015 totals.

To refresh your memories; last year Michigan had 88 total tackles for loss (6.77 per game) and 32 total sacks (2.46 per game). On a per game basis, those numbers were good for 42nd for tackles for loss and 32nd for sacks.

At the halfway point in 2016 Michigan has 60 tackles for loss and 24 total sacks for an average of four per game, both 2nd in the country. Only Miami averages more tackles for loss per game, while Ohio is first in sacks. No, not Ohio State, just plain Ohio University.

To add some context to those four sacks per game, over the past eight full seasons (dating back to 2008) only two teams averaged over four per game for the season (Stanford in 2012 and Utah in 2014).

Over that same time frame Michigan averaged just 2.04 sacks per game, topping out at 2.46 per game (2015). The average sacks per game of the top five teams over that same time span was 3.39.

Michigan’s defense is on pace for a historical year, even if those numbers taper off a bit. They have almost matched their 13-game sack total from last year in just six games and are on pace for over 120 total tackles for loss (assuming a 13 game season – I am not going to jinx anything by assuming they play 14 or 15 games). If they don’t end up in the top three for both sacks and tackles for loss per game I’d honestly be shocked.

To sum up, the #HarbaughEffect and the #DonBrownEffect are in fact real, and they’re spectacular! And this is with a roster mostly full of Brady Hoke recruits. This is not to take anything away from the Hoke kids — there was a lot of talent left behind — but they haven’t had elite coaching their entire careers. Fast forward a year or two and Harbaugh will be like…

Last week I promised we’d be adding some new stats to the mix before the bye week. Unfortunately, I misspoke. I meant after the bye week, since we won’t have a game to review. I apologize if you were looking forward to extra content this week. However, I assure you we will have it next week.

The numbers game: U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D

Thursday, October 6th, 2016


darboh-vs-wisconsin(MGoBlue.com)

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

Last week turned out to be much more of a defensive battle than we here at Maize and Go Blue thought it would be. But Michigan got the win and it wasn’t as close as the score might say. Let’s see what the explosive play numbers looked like.

On offense, perhaps surprisingly, Michigan had nine total big plays — five big run plays and four big pass plays. I know it might not seem like that was the case given the pace of the game but I went back and watched the game and they indeed had nine big plays last week. That’s still down two from their season average coming in (11.25) but right about where I thought they’d end up. However, I think I might change my prediction (they might average around 11 big plays per game) but I’ll wait to see what happens over the next couple of weeks.

So far this season, through five games Michigan is averaging seven big run plays (25th nationally) and 3.8 big pass plays (42nd) for a total of 10.8 big plays per game (20th) with a big play percentage of 14.52 percent (30th). Their big play differential is 4.95 percent (23rd) and their total toxic differential is 31, good for 7th on a per game basis.

Through five games the 2015 team averaged 4.2 big run plays and 2.6 big pass plays, for a total of 6.8 big plays per game with a 9.47 percent big play percentage. Their big play differential was a paltry 1.73 percent and their toxic differential was just nine. Based on this year’s numbers that would put them around the high 50s or low 60s nationally for both big play differential and toxic differential. Michigan has improved their offense by leaps and bounds in Year 2 under Harbaugh.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first five weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 35 19 54 14.52% 4.95% 31
2015 21 13 34 9.47% 1.73% 9
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through five weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.20 1.60 5.80 9.57% 4.95% 31
2015 3.60 1.00 4.60 7.74% 1.73% 9

On defense, Michigan only surrendered five big plays on Saturday — three run and two pass. In case you forgot, or this is your first time here, anything under six big plays given up per game is an elite defense.

Adding those numbers into the season totals and we see that Michigan is giving up 4.2 big run plays per game (47th) and 1.6 big pass plays (4th) for a total of 5.8 big plays per game (18th), with a big play against percentage of 9.57 percent (35th).

Contrast those numbers against last year’s team through five games: 3.6 big run plays given up and one big pass play for a total of 4.6 big plays given up with a big play against percentage of 7.74 percent. They were better in every big play against metric than this year’s team. But, as I mentioned last week, these numbers still put them in elite defense categories and the tackles for loss and sacks are on pace to blow the 2015 numbers out of the water.

Keep in mind that the 2015 did not keep up their breakneck pace on defense either. Season long, the Wolverines gave up an average of 4.8 big run plays per game and 2.4 big pass plays per game, good for 56th and 13th nationally. Based on total number of plays Michigan gave up a big play 11.49 percent of the time, which ranked 59th nationally. All told, Michigan gave up 7.2 big plays per game, good for 25th nationally. That’s impressive for sure, but they were not able to sustain their early season pace as the competition got tougher. I don’t think that will be the case with this year’s team. I’m on record saying this team should give up around six big plays per game over the course of the season, and I’m sticking with that.

Michigan’s Week 5 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 2nd and 8 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 23 Pass
1 2nd and 4 Chris Evans 22 Run
2 2nd and 10 Wilton Speight to Grant Perry 20 Pass
3 2nd and 10 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 24 Pass
3 2nd and 5 De’Veon Smith 13 Run
3 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 16 Run
3 1st and 10 Ty Isaac 10 Run
4 1st and 10 Ty Isaac 13 Run
4 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 46 (TD) Pass
Wisconsin’s Week 5 big plays
1 3rd and 7 Alex Hornibrook to Robert Wheelwright 24 Pass
1 1st and 10 Corey Clement 10 Run
2 3rd and 3 Alex Hornibrook to Robert Wheelwright 20 Pass
2 1st and 10 Jazz Peavy 17 Run
4 1st and 10 Corey Clement 10 Run

Since I tossed them in last week, and mentioned them again this week I think it’d be good to continue to look at tackles for loss and sacks as an added stat of interest and further proof of Don Brown’s defensive genius. Unfortunately, I do not have game by game numbers for tackles for loss and sacks so for now we’ll just compare the 2015 totals and how this year’s team would stack up if they continue on their current pace.

To refresh your memory, last year Michigan had 88 tackles for loss (6.77 per game) and 32 sacks (2.46 per game). On a per game basis, those numbers were good for 42nd for TFLs and 32nd for sacks. Through five games this year Michigan has 46 tackles for loss (9.2 per game) — 4th and 6th, respectively — and 19 sacks (3.8/g), also 4th and 6th best respectively. Both massive improvements a direct result of Don Brown’s new defense. I know Marcus Ray won’t agree but if Michigan keeps up this pace we may be talking about the 2016 team as one the greatest Michigan defenses of all-time.

Before the bye week we’re going to add in some new stuff to aid in our discussion of explosive plays and to reinforce the football genius of Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown. However, apparently Rutgers is an actual school and they do indeed field what I’m told is a ‘football’ team so this week does not count as bye week. All kidding aside, Chris Ash is a good coach and should eventually have Rutgers looking respectable. Just not by Saturday night.

Let’s take a look at the Scarlet Knights’ numbers through five weeks. Spoiler alert: 2016 Rutgers is bad and they should feel bad. Michigan’s new ‘rival’ to the East is a bad football team and their explosive play/toxic differential numbers confirm that.

Michigan & Rutgers offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 35 19 54 14.52% 4.95% 31
RU Off. 27 9 36 10.08% -4.36% -16
Michigan & Rutgers defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 21 8 29 9.57% 4.95% 31
RU Def. 38 15 51 14.45% -4.36% -16

On offense, Rutgers averages a middling 5.4 big run plays per game (59th) and a less than stellar 1.8 big pass plays (118th) for an incredibly shameful 7.2 total big plays per game (106th). Their big play percentage is 10.08 percent (105th), their big play differential is an unsurprising -4.36 percent (117th), and their total toxic differential is -16 — good for 112th on a per game basis.

The line is set around minus-28 right now. I don’t see any reason why Michigan won’t win by at least four touchdowns and I’m pretty sure my weekly staff prediction is going to say we’re on shutout watch. Hooray for new rivalry games!

#4 Michigan 14 – #8 Wisconsin 7: Just enough

Sunday, October 2nd, 2016


um-vs-wisconsin-by-bryan-fuller(Bryan Fuller)

It was ugly at times. It was sloppy at times. It got tense at times. But Michigan did what good teams do. Despite three missed field goals the Wolverines ground out a 14-7 win over 8th-ranked Wisconsin to remain perfect on the season.

After averaging 52 points per game through the first four weeks of the season, Michigan’s offense had trouble putting points on the board against the nation’s 7th-best scoring defense. But it was Michigan’s own defense that rose to the occasion and shut down Wisconsin’s offense, holding the Badgers to just 159 total yards — their fewest in at least 13 years.

The Wolverines recorded two sacks, but bottled up Wisconsin’s running game to the tune of 2.5 yards per carry and kept quarterback Alex Hornibrook under pressure all afternoon. The freshman who shined in a 30-6 win over Michigan State a week prior went just 9-of-25 for 88 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

um-wisconsin_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Wisconsin
Score 14 7
Record 5-0, 2-0 4-1, 1-1
Total Yards 349 159
Net Rushing Yards 326 70
Net Passing Yards 130 71
First Downs 21 8
Turnovers 1 3
Penalties-Yards 6-45 3-30
Punts-Yards 7-326 9-321
Time of Possession 35:41 24:19
Third Down Conversions 3-of-15 4-of-15
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-13 4-32
Field Goals 0-for-3 0-for-0
PATs 2-for-2 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 1-of-3 1-of-1
Red Zone Scores-TDs 1-of-3 1-of-1
Full Box Score

Michigan moved the ball well in the first quarter with 108 total yards on 15 plays and scored the first points of the game on the first play of the second quarter. They also reached the Wisconsin 13 on the next possession before the drive stalled, but Kenny Allen missed a 31-yard field goal. He missed a 45-yarder on Michigan’s next possession and Michigan took a 7-0 lead into the half.

Michigan opened the second half with a promising drive, but it ended with the first interception Wilton Speight has thrown since his first pass of the season. Wisconsin capitalized with a 31-yard touchdown drive to tie the game. But Michigan’s defense clamped down the rest of the way, yielding just 34 yards on Wisconsin’s final six possessions — just 1.9 yards per play.

Michigan broke the deadlock with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Speight to Amara Darboh with just under eight minutes remaining. Three Wisconsin possessions later, Jourdan Lewis sealed the game with a spectacular one-handed interception.

The Michigan offense amassed 349 yards of offense, the most Wisconsin’s defense has allowed so far this season. Speight went 20-of-32 for 219 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. De’Veon Smith led Michigan with with 66 yards on 17 carries, while Ty Isaac and Chris Evans each got eight carries and went for 48 and 34 yards, respectively. Darboh caught six passes for 87 yards and the touchdown.

Defensively, Michigan held Wisconsin to its worst offensive performance of the season by far. The Badgers’ previous worst was 317 yards against Michigan State last week and Michigan held them to half of that. Corey Clement rushed for 66 yards on 17 carries and Wisconsin converted just 4-of-15 third-downs.

Michigan (5-0, 2-0) hits the road for the first time this season for a primetime tilt with Rutgers (2-3, 0-2) next Saturday. The Scarlet Knights lost 58-0 to Ohio State on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Amara Darboh (6 catches, 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Michigan’s offense struggled to move the ball consistently for most of the game and converted just 3-of-15 third downs, but senior receiver Amara Darboh made two big plays in the fourth quarter that ultimately won the game. On 3rd-and-7 from the Michigan 39, Darboh caught a slant for a first down across midfield. On the very next play, he beat the Wisconsin cornerback down the sideline and caught a perfectly thrown deep ball for the game-winning touchdown.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)

Game Ball – Defense

Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
This week’s defensive game ball could have very easily gone to Ryan Glasgow for clogging the middle of the line and bottling up Wisconsin’s running game. But when a defensive back records two interceptions — and nearly a third — he gets the game ball. Channing Stribling has always played second fiddle to Jourdan Lewis in Michigan’s secondary, but although Lewis’ interception was the highlight of the game, Stribling shut down the Wisconsin passing game. His second interception, when Wisconsin was trying to put together a game-tying drive with less than four minutes remaining, effectively sealed the game.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)

The numbers game: Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016


peppers-vs-colorado(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

Well, I did not panic at all during the first quarter last weekend. Nope, not one bit.

But in the end Michigan pulled off the comeback and now we can look at the numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re not quite as bad as you might think given how the first quarter played out.

Okay, let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and get the defensive numbers out of the way first.

Michigan gave up seven total big plays, four of which came in the first quarter. Colorado had four big run plays (10-yards or more) and three big pass plays (20-yards or more), which is right about in line with their season average of 6.5 big plays against per game coming in. After that horrendous first quarter, Michigan settled down and Colorado had just two runs of over 10-yards and only one big pass play, although it was a 70-yard touchdown pass. Hooray for a coaching staff that makes adjustments!

Through three games the 2015 Michigan defense gave up 4.33 big run plays per game, 1.33 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.67 big plays given up per game and a 9.19 percent big plays against percentage.

Adding in the Colorado numbers, the 2016 iteration of the Wolverines now gives up five big run plays per game (75th), 1.67 big pass plays per game (14th), for a total of 6.67 big plays per game (44th) and a big play against percentage of 10.26 percent. All are slightly higher than this point last year. Keep in mind that All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis has yet to play this season and starting defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone have missed the last two games.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first three weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1
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 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

Despite a slight uptick in big plays given up by the defense, Michigan’s offense fared quite well in the big play department against Colorado, with 10 total — four big running plays and six big passing plays. However, despite a solid offensive outing, Michigan’s 10 total big plays were less than their season average of thirteen. Let’s see how Michigan’s offense compares to last year through three games.

In 2015, Michigan averaged 3.33 big runs per game and 2.67 big passes per game, for a total of six big plays per game and a big play percentage of 8.57 percent.

Through three games in 2016 Michigan has averaged 7.33 big run plays (19th), 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 12 big plays per game and a big play percentage of 16.98 percent (12th). That is literally double the amount of big plays on offense compared to last year and nearly double the big play percentage. Let that sink in for a moment. Michigan has had twice as many total big plays through three games this year than they did through three games in 2015. That is remarkable, even given any quality of opponent caveats.

Michigan’s big play differential is 6.72 percent (18th) and their total toxic differential is 18 (15th on a per game basis). Last year, those numbers were -0.62 percent big play differential and a total toxic differential of -1. I actually had to go back and double check my numbers because the difference was so glaring. I figured the offense would get better but this is just an astronomical improvement thus far.

To sum up: through three games Michigan is giving up one big play more per game over last year (6.67 versus 5.67) while putting up twice as many big plays of their own (12 versus 6). Their big play differential has gone from a negative, -0.62 percent to a solid 6.72 percent and their toxic differential has taken a massive jump from -1 to 18. The toxic differential number is not inflated by a lot of forced turnovers either, which are mostly random anyway. Michigan is only plus-2 in that category. The jump is due to the plus-16 difference in big plays for/against compared to a plus-1 in big plays for/against at this time last year. This is not your grandfather’s three yards and a cloud of dust pro-style offense.

Michigan’s Week 3 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
1 1st and 10 Jabrill Peppers 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 10 Run
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 21 Pass
2 1st and 10 Jehu Chesson 17 (TD) Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
3 2nd and 7 De’Veon Smith 42 (TD) Run
3 1st and 19 Wilton Speight to Ty Isaac 21 Pass
3 3rd and 14 Wilton Speight to Grant Perry 54 Pass
Colorado’s Week 3 big plays
1 2nd and 12 Sefo Liufau to Devin Ross 37 (TD) Pass
1 2nd and 7 Phillip Lindsay 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Bryce Bobo 50 Pass
1 2nd and 8 Phillip Lindsay 11 Run
2 2nd and 3 Phillip Lindsay 15 Run
3 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields 70 (TD) Pass
4 2nd and 12 Steven Montez 10 Run

What stands out here is the obvious improvement in the offensive numbers. And of course, the slight regression in the big plays given up by the defense. Any concern we may have about the defense though has been mitigated by a massive explosion in offensive production.

Earlier I predicted the offense should be able to add about one big play more per game via Harbaugh’s magic touch and the defense would be able to eliminate about one total big play per game with Don Brown’s scheme. I also predicted there would be some hiccups in the early going regarding the defense.

The offense is way ahead of schedule; did I mention they’ve literally doubled their total big plays? The hiccups we’re seeing on defense now are likely compounded with the absences of Mone, Charlton and Lewis. I don’t think either of these trends — the offense recording an inordinate amount of explosive plays and the defense continuing to give up more than expected — will continue though. However, I should note that the 6.67 big plays given up per game by the defense is still about half a big play less per game than their final 2015 total.

As the season progresses and competition level increases I think we’ll see the offensive numbers drop a bit (likely around the 8-9 total per game range) and as the team gets more comfortable in Don Brown’s scheme (and the three missing starters return) the defense should start to contain some of those big plays. The defensive improvement may not quite reach that one less big play per game I predicted but even if they keep it steady at around 6.5 plays per game I think they’ll be fine. Based on 2015’s numbers anything under 6.5 per game should have them in the top 15 nationally, while anything under 6 per game and they’d be around the top 10 (fewest given up).

And now let’s take a peek at our first conference opponent, Penn State, and see how they stack up in the big play department.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
PSU Def. 20 3 23 11.39% 1.37% 0
Penn State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PSU Off. 11 5 16 12.76% 1.37% 0
UM Def. 13 4 17 10.26% 6.72% 18

The Nittany Lions’ offense currently averages 3.67 big run plays per game (105th) and 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 8.33 big plays per game (78th) with a big play percentage of 12.76 percent (57th). I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised to see Penn State’s big pass plays higher than their run plays given that Saquon Barkley is one heck of a running back.

On defense they give up an average of 6.67 big running plays per game (101st), only one big pass play per game (4th) for a total of 7.67 total big plays per game (65th) with a big play against percentage of 11.39 percent (71st). Their big play differential is a paltry 1.37 percent (70th) and their toxic differential is zero, good for 75th on a per game basis.

#4 Michigan 45 – Colorado 28: Wolverines absorb blows, deliver knockout punch

Monday, September 19th, 2016


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After a pair of blowouts over weak competition, Michigan met adversity for the first time this season on Saturday afternoon against Colorado. But instead of letting a 14-point deficit spiral even further into a disappointing loss, the Wolverines punched back and turned it into a ho-hum 17-point win.

In recent years, spotting an opponent 14 points would have been a sure-fire loss. An uninspired first quarter would have snowballed with turnovers, poor clock management, and not enough players on the field. Michigan was far from perfect on Saturday, but displayed the difference between a well-coached team and a poorly-coached one. And in doing so, set itself up for success later in the season.

um-colorado_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Colorado
Score 45 28
Record 3-0 2-1
Total Yards 397 325
Net Rushing Yards 168 64
Net Passing Yards 229 261
First Downs 20 15
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 5-41 7-46
Punts-Yards 7-275 10-331
Time of Possession 31:35 28:25
Third Down Conversions 5-of-16 1-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-28 3-22
Field Goals 1-for-3 0-for-1
PATs 6-for-6 4-for-4
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 1-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 2-of-4 1-of-2
Full Box Score

“The best thing that we learned today was we have a tenacious team that’s never going to give up,” said senior nose tackle Ryan Glasgow. “When we started getting three-and-outs, we got them into third down and we got off the field, that was the biggest thing. The dialogue we had with the offense was great today: ‘If you stop ’em, we’ll score. If you score, we’ll stop ’em.’ We started having that attitude, we started with each other, feeding off each other, the tides started to turn.”

Colorado struck twice in the first seven minutes, once on a 3-play, 49-yard drive on their first possession of the game, and again on a fumble return on Michigan’s ensuing possession. Michigan’s first three offensive possessions garnered just 41 total yards, but the special teams came to the rescue. Michael Jocz blocked a Colorado punt around the 25-yard line and Grant Perry scooped it up and carried it in to put Michigan on the board.

The excitement didn’t last long as Colorado went 67 yards on plays for another touchdown to take a 21-7 lead. By the end of the first quarter, Colorado had racked up 195 total yards to Michigan’s 66. But that’s where things changed.

Over the final three quarters, Michigan was a different team. The Wolverines scored 17 points in the second quarter, holding the Buffaloes to just 37 total yards, to take a 24-21 halftime lead. Although Colorado scored on its first possession of the second half — a 70-yard bomb — it was all Michigan from there. Michigan out-gained Colorado 331 to 130 and outscored them 38-7 after the first quarter. The Michigan defense held Colorado to just six first downs and sacked the quarterback four times over that span.

When all was said and done, Michigan nearly covered the spread, picked up their third win, and faced adversity for the first time this season. Jake Butt, who led Michigan in receiving with seven catches for 87 yards, said the Wolverines didn’t have a great week of practice leading up to the game — Jim Harbaugh attributed it to fatigue from the second week of classes — and they knew it was going to happen sooner or later.

“We weren’t worried,” Butt said after the game. “We actually talked about it as a team. We knew the first two games we were never really punched in the face. Everything was going so smoothly. It’s not going to be a fairly tale the entire season. There was going to be a time we were going to get punched in the face, get backed in the corner. Playing with these guys, I’m so proud of the way we bounced back. We stuck together and rode that wave and were strong enough to get it done.”

Wilton Speight struggled early on, completing just 2-of-9 in the first quarter, but went 14-of-21 the rest of the way to finish 16-of-30 for 229 yards and one touchdown. De’Veon Smith led Michigan on the ground with 87 yards on 11 carries, half of which came on a 42-yard touchdown romp early in the second half.

Ben Gedeon was Michigan’s leading tackler with 12, but there’s no doubt who the star was. Jabrill Peppers was all over the field, recording nine tackles, 3.5 for loss, and a sack. As a team, Michigan recorded 10 tackles for loss. Peppers also got a monkey off his back with a 54-yard punt return for touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Michigan opens Big Ten play with Penn State (2-1) next Saturday. The game will be televised by ABC at 3:30pm ET.

Game Ball – Offense

Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
On a day when quarterback Wilton Speight struggled it was senior tight end Jake Butt, who turned down a chance to get drafted last spring, who showed why he’s so valuable. Senior receiver Amara Darboh dropped a sure first down on Michigan’s first drive and Jehu Chesson didn’t record a catch, but Butt was Speight’s safety valve all afternoon. Butt caught seven of Speight’s 16 completions, and although he didn’t catch a touchdown pass, six of his seven receptions went for first downs and two were third-down conversions.

Previous
Week 1 – Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)

Game Ball – Defense

Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 kick returns for 81 yards, 4 punt returns for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Jim Harbaugh said after the game that the best player on the field was Jabrill Peppers, and he’s right. The junior jack of all trades was all over the field and impacted the game in all three phases. He carried the ball twice for 22 yards at the beginning of the game. He recorded a team high 3.5 tackles for loss to bring his three-game total to a nation-leading 9.5. He sacked backup quarterback Steven Montez for an 11-yard loss in the third quarter. And his 180 yards of returns consistently gave Michigan’s offense good starting field position. None was bigger than his 54-yard fourth quarter touchdown. After being so close over the past couple of seasons, he finally silenced those who still doubt him.

Previous
Week 1 – Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)

M&GB staff predictions: Colorado

Saturday, September 17th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Colorado comes to town tomorrow with a 2-0 record, hoping to relive the magic of 1994 when Kordell Stewart’s hail Mary stunned the Wolverines. As a 20-point underdog, a win this time around would be a much bigger stunner. Josh was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 51 – UCF 10. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Colorado
Justin 34 17
Derick 38 14
Sam 41 10
Josh 42 17
Joe 45 17
M&GB Average 40 15

Michigan’s schedule has gradually gotten stronger by the opponent and this will be the biggest test yet. The line has hovered around 20 points, but that will be a tough one for Michigan to cover. Through the first two weeks of the season Colorado ranks in the top 10 nationally in both offense and defense. Like Michigan they have feasted on cupcakes without playing down to their competition, but they have done it better.

Colorado has done a good job taking care of the ball so far this season. They have lost three fumbles — which are mostly random — but Liufau hasn’t thrown an interception yet. Michigan’s defense has forced four turnovers so far — two of which were pick-sixes — and they’ll need to force Liufau to make mistakes.

Offensively, the big question will be whether Michigan can muster a run game. UCF packed eight and nine man boxes a week ago to stop the run, so Wilton Speight aired it out 37 times. The passing game made seven big plays (20 or more yards). But Colorado features a much better secondary than UCF did. Awuzie is one of the best corners Michigan will face this season and will be able to stick with Jehu Chesson or Amara Darboh. If the offensive line is unable to get a push and open up running lanes, Speight will be tested more than he has yet in his young career.

This game has the makings of a tight one through the first half that Michigan pulls away in the second. I do think the running game will be able to have some success — Colorado State rushed for 5.6 yards per carry on 33 attempts — and the play action passing game will make enough big plays to ensure the win, but not cover the spread.

Michigan 34 – Colorado 17

Derick

Michigan hasn’t seen a test like Colorado yet this season, but the Buffaloes still aren’t on the same level as most of the Big Ten. In two games against Hawaii and UCF, Michigan ran away from the game in the first quarter.

I expect this game will be closer, but it still shouldn’t be close. Michigan has more firepower offensively than Colorado and should be able to overwhelm the Buffaloes downfield. If the first two weeks are any indication, Michigan will once again struggle to run the ball against a solid Colorado front seven. But Wilton Speight has shown he can beat teams in play action, and I think he will again.

Colorado will hang in there for a half, but Michigan will run away in the third quarter for a win.

Michigan 38 – Colorado 14

Sam

This may be the first “test” for the Wolverines, but I’m resting easy. I still think Michigan’s defense is too good to cede more than a couple fluky touchdowns (even without a couple of major pieces) to Colorado, and Speight has been too good to contain. I like the Maize and Blue to cover the spread for a third straight time before conference season gets underway.

Michigan 41 – Colorado 10

Josh (1)

Colorado is probably better than both Hawaii and UCF, but they haven’t played anyone of note either. There were some concerns about Michigan’s run defense last week, losing ‘contain’ on the quarterback and giving up an 87-yard touchdown run. As I touched on in this week’s ‘The Numbers Game’ post I wouldn’t worry too much, these are issues that will be fixed by the coaching staff. Like last year, Michigan has been very vanilla in both their offense and defense. There’s no need to break out their whole bag of tricks early on and give teams like MSU, Iowa and OSU stuff to scout.

Michigan is much more talented and better coached than Colorado, but they still may give Michigan a test this weekend. Stats-wise, Sefo Liufau has been an efficient passer in his first two games and isn’t a slouch in the run game either. Normally this would be a prime letdown spot for a game — a solid opponent after two weeks of cupcakes. I don’t see Harbaugh letting that happen though. The man didn’t even find Colorado’s fake depth chart amusing (I thought it was rather clever).

That said, I think Colorado will hang with Michigan a lot longer than most people think, despite Michigan being favored by 20-points. They’re a spread team with a high-tempo offense and some solid threats in both the running and passing game. Michigan is missing two defensive linemen (and maybe Jourdan Lewis again too) and it will eventually take its toll resulting in a big run or two, as guys get worn down. Twitter will be panicking early as I think this will still be a competitive game heading into halftime. Michigan will pull away by the fourth quarter making the game look not nearly as close as it actually was.

Some things I’d like to see:

On offense: It would be nice to see the run game get going but I just want to see an efficient offense again, regardless of how they do it. This should be a good test for Speight and I’d like to see him remain calm in the pocket and make the correct reads/progressions as he did last week. On the ground, if they so choose to run a lot, I need to see some more consistency in the blocking and from De’Veon Smith’s decision making regarding which holes to hit and when to cutback, etc.

On defense: The obvious is not let the quarterback run all over them but I won’t be upset by a couple big runs. If they can keep the big plays to under five I’ll be very pleased. What I’d really like though is to see Channing Stribling and Jeremy Clark play so well that we don’t need to worry about missing Lewis (if he’s out longer than expected). With Lewis this secondary can be elite; without him they cannot.

On special teams: It’d be crazy to think they can block another kick, or two, right?

Michigan 42 – Colorado 17

Joe (1)

Michigan 45 – Colorado 17