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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Evans’

#8 Michigan 28 – Purdue 10: O’Korn, U-M defense turn halftime deficit into second half rout

Sunday, September 24th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan was a trendy pick to be upset by upstart Purdue on Saturday, but the Wolverines turned a sloppy first half into a second half route to stay 4-0 this season.

Wilton Speight was knocked out of the game on Michigan’s third possession of the game and John O’Korn came in and led the Wolverines on a 13-play, 84-yard touchdown drive to get the scoring started. On the drive, he completed an 11-yard pass to tight end Sean McKeon on 3rd-and-9 and also a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-4.

Final Stats
Michigan  Purdue
Score 28 10
Record 4-0 2-2
Total Yards 423 189
Net Rushing Yards 139 30
Net Passing Yards 284 159
First Downs 24 9
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 7-57 10-82
Punts-Yards 7-284 11-439
Time of Possession 38:59 21:01
Third Down Conversions 6-of-15 0-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-40 4-28
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Red Zone TDs-Chances 3-of-3 1-of-1
Full Box Score

But the lead wouldn’t last for long as Purdue also switched quarterbacks — albeit by choice — and Elijah Sindelar led the Boilermakers right down the field for a game-tying touchdown. The drive was classic Jeff Brohm, using a series of throwback passes to gain 16 yards, 13 yards, 36 yards, and 10 yards for the touchdown.

O’Korn threw an interception on Michigan’s next possession but the Michigan defense held Purdue to just a field goal and the Boilers took a 10-7 halftime lead.

The second half was all Michigan.

It took a couple drives for the Michigan offense to get going, but once it did it didn’t look back, scoring touchdowns on three straight drives that covered 86 yards on 11 plays, 65 yards on nine plays, and 76 yards on five plays.

The Michigan defense was even more impressive, limiting Purdue to just 10 total yards in the second half. Purdue had just one second-half possession that didn’t result in a three-and-out, and it was just five plays long before the Boilers punted. They went three plays for one yard, three plays for three yards, three plays for negative-three yards, three plays for five yards, five plays for three yards, and one play for six yards.

For the game, Michigan’s defense held a Purdue offense that had been averaging 459.7 yards per game to just 189 total yards and 3.8 yards per play — the lowest total the Wolverines have allowed this season.

Purdue quarterback led the Big Ten in passing last season and entered the game tops with a 76.1 completion percentage, but he went just 5-of-13 for 32 yards. Sindelar fared slightly better, going 7-of-16 for 103 yards and a touchdown, but had just a 26.5 quarterback rating.

On the other hand, O’Korn went 18-of-26 for 270 yards, one touchdown, and one interception for an 84.9 quarterback rating. It was the first 250-plus passing game on the road for a Michigan quarterback since Jake Rudock did so at Penn State in 2015.

Chris Evans led Michigan in rushing with 14 carries for 97 yards (6.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. Ty Isaac managed just 20 yards and a score on 10 carries. McKeon led the way in receiving with five receptions for 82 yards, while Gentry caught three for 48 and a score. Ten different Wolverines caught a pass.

Chase Winovich earned national defensive player of the week honors with a six tackle (all solo), four tackle for loss, three sack performance. Devin Bush added six tackles, one tackle for loss, and a sack.

Michigan gets a bye week before hosting Michigan State (2-1) on Oct. 7.

Game Ball – Offense

John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
It took four weeks but the Michigan quarterback is the offensive player of the week for the first time. But instead of starter Wilton Speight, it’s O’Korn, who took over when Speight was injured on Michigan’s third possession. O’Korn came in and immediately led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive. Although he threw an interception on the next possession, he steadied and led Michigan on three straight touchdown drives in the second half. Is it enough to earn O’Korn the starting job two weeks from now? Who knows, assuming Speight is healthy. But it was an inspiring performance by a guy who has waited his turn.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks)
Winovich gets the nod for the second straight week after terrorizing Purdue’s backfield with four tackles for loss and three sacks. His performance was good enough to earn Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week honors. Through four weeks, he ranks third nationally with six sacks and Michigan as a team leads the nation with 18.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)

Four Bold Predictions Results

 Michigan’s offense shows some new looks, gets the tight ends more involved, and Wilton Speight tops 300 yards passing 
– It wasn’t Speight who had the big game passing, but the passing game went about how I expected. Tight ends Sean McKeon and Zach Gentry were the top two receivers, combining for 12 catches for 130 yards and a touchdown, and John O’Korn came close to 300 yards, finishing with 270.

 The offense also converts all of its red zone attempts 
– Michigan’s offense entered the game just 1-of-10 on red zone touchdown conversions but converted all three chances on Saturday. It did so with a 12-yard touchdown pass from O’Korn to Gentry on 3rd-and-4 in the first quarter, a 10-yard Chris Evans touchdown run in the third quarter, and a 1-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run at the beginning of the fourth.

 Donovan Peoples-Jones scores two touchdowns — one on offense and, yes, another punt return 
– The true freshman who returned a punt for a touchdown against Air Force had a quiet day against Purdue, catching just one pass for eight yards and returning one punt for minus-one yard. Even though Purdue punted 11 times, Peoples-Jones was forced to fair catch most of them. He seemed to take a conservative approach, often calling for the fair catch even though he had room, so he was likely directed to do so in order to avoid a costly mistake in a close game.

 The defense gives up two long pass plays, but holds Purdue’s offense to less than 250 total yards 
– This also went pretty much as expected. Michigan’s defense struggled early in the game with Purdue’s misdirection plays and throwbacks, which resulted in Purdue’s only touchdown. On that drive, the Boilermakers completed passes of 16, 13, 36, and 10 yards. But Don Brown made adjustments at halftime and held the Boilers to just 10 total yards in the second half and 189 total yards — the fewest in their last 35 games.

Season Bold Prediction Results
= 5
 = 4
 = 3

The numbers game: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer

Thursday, September 21st, 2017


(Kaitlyn Cole)

Michigan’s offense has struggled at times early in the 2017 season, especially when it comes to red zone touchdowns. But it has been able to move the ball fairly well. The defense has been a pleasant surprise after losing 10 starters to the NFL. Now, a fourth of the way through the season, let’s start taking a look at how the Wolverines stack up in terms of explosive plays on both sides of the ball.

Offensively, Michigan is averaging 9.33 explosive plays (runs of 10 or more yards and passes of 20 or more). Of those 28 explosive plays, 17 have been rushing plays and 11 have been passing plays. Here’s how that compares to the past two seasons through three games:

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First three 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 17 11 28 13.59% 4.75% 13
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1

The Wolverines currently rank 78th nationally in most total plays of at least 10 yards, 48th in rushing plays of at least 10 yards and 38th in passing plays of at least 20 yards.

Ty Isaac is leading the way with 10 plays of at least 10 yards, which ranks 17th in the country. He also has five plays of at least 20 yards, which ranks sixth in the nation. Chris Evans is second on the team with four rushes of at least 10 yards. Tarik Black leads the way in the passing game with three receptions of at least 20 yards, averaging 35.7 yards apiece. Isaac’s big runs have averaged 24 yards and that number would be higher if not for two touchdowns called back against Air Force. Among players with at least two big plays, Donovan Peoples-Jones leads the Wolverines with an average of 40.5 yards per (a 44-yard run and a 37-yards reception).

To put Michigan’s current pace in perspective, last year’s team averaged 12 explosive plays per game through the first three games of the season. While this year’s offense has looked stagnant at times, the addition of faster and more athletic players has improved Michigan’s overall potential for big-plays, and it’s still far better than Jim Harbaugh’s first season, which averaged just six explosive plays a game through the first three.

For example, the majority of last season’s carries went to De’Veon Smith, who was more of a bruiser than a home run threat. He led the team with 22 explosive runs in all of 2016. With Isaac and even Chris Evans taking over those carries, there’s far more potential to turn the corner around the edge and pick up first downs on first and second down.

Michigan’s big play leaders through 3 games
Name # Big Runs # Big Rec. Total Average Gain (Yds) Big Play %
Ty Isaac 10 0 10 24.0 21.28%
Chris Evans 4 0 4 15.5 12.12%
Tarik Black 0 3 3 35.7 27.27%
Donovan Peoples-Jones 1 1 2 40.5 66.67%
Zach Gentry 0 2 2 33.0 66.67%
Kekoa Crawford 0 2 2 31.5 40.00%
Grant Perry 0 2 2 30.5 20.00%
Karan Higdon 2 0 2 24.0 8.70%
Nick Eubanks 0 1 1 48.0 50.00%

From the wide receiver position, Michigan replaced veterans with superior athletes such as Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, Kekoa Crawford, Nico Collins and Oliver Martin. Black is now out for the season, but Peoples-Jones and Crawford have already racked up four explosive plays in limited playing time, and the other two will likely take on larger roles going forward.

Even Eddie McDoom should add to Michigan’s big-play potential. He’s only caught two passes and received two carries through three games, but he’s sure to get more touches with Black out of the offense.

So despite averaging about 2.5 fewer explosive plays per game at this point, I think the offense will become more explosive by the end of the year as the young players grow more comfortable in the offense. Michigan also hasn’t played Rutgers yet, which is an opportunity to rack up dozens of big plays, so the year-to-year stats haven’t exactly evened out yet.

On defense, Michigan is about as good as it gets in terms of shutting down big plays. Among teams that have played three games this season, only Auburn has allowed fewer plays of at least 10 yards. Here’s how the defense stacks up to the past two seasons through the first three games:

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 2.67 2.67 5.33 8.84% 4.75% 13
2016 5.00 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

The Wolverines have allowed 16 total explosive plays (eight run and eight pass), and surprisingly, 11 of those have gone for at least 20 yards. Don Brown’s defense has mastered the art of dropping opponents for negative plays, but when the blitzes don’t get to the quarterback, the defense is susceptible to big plays.

Michigan also has an extremely young secondary, made up of three true sophomores and a junior – all of which are first-year starters. While all four are solid playmakers, they’ve also made a few mistakes as a result of their inexperience, so that explains many of the big plays allowed.

Michigan ranked 13th among teams that have played three games in terms of big rushing plays allowed, and only 14 teams have allowed fewer long passing plays. Through the first three games, Michigan’s defense is actually allowing explosive plays at a lower clip than last year’s vaunted defense did — about one and one-third fewer per game. This year’s defense has given up one more long pass per game to date, but has yielded just eight long runs compared to 15 at this point in 2016.

Obviously, it’s no surprise that Michigan’s defense has been more effective than the offense in terms of big plays. That has been reflected in the overall production, as well.

Michigan’s 2017 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 17 12 70.59%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 14 6 42.86%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

The defensive line is critical to shutting down big running plays, as running backs rarely get to the second level without contact. Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary have done a nice job setting the edge and stopping ball carriers from getting outside.

When opponents do rush outside, or on screen plays, Michigan’s athleticism at linebacker stops most plays before 10 yards. Devin Bush has led the charge for the most part, but Khaleke Hudson has also been critical in this regard.

Overall, Michigan hasn’t been outstanding on offense, so it seems about right that it ranks in the lower half of the FBS in total big plays thus far. The defense, however, is among the absolute best in every category, which also matches what our eyes have told us.

This week, Michigan hits the road for its first true road game of the season against an upstart Purdue Boilermakers squad. Here’s how the Wolverines and Boilermakers stack up so far.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Purdue defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 17 11 28 13.59% 4.75% 13
PU Def. 13 11 24 12.12% 0.92% 9
Purdue offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PU Off. 17 13 30 13.04% 0.92% 9
UM Def. 8 8 16 8.84% 4.75% 13

Purdue’s offense has been one of the surprises of college football under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm. Through the first three games of the season it has churned out two more explosive plays than Michigan’s offense has (both passes), although it has done so at a slightly lower rate, having run 24 more plays than the Wolverines. The Boilermakers are averaging 10 explosive plays per game (5.7 runs and 4.3 runs).

Defensively, they’re not quite as good, allowing seven explosive plays per game. They’ve given up 13 explosive runs (4.3 per game), which ranks 67th nationally, and 11 explosive passes (3.67 per game) which ranks 94th. They’ve also given up 33 passes of at least 10 yards, which ranks 103rd nationally. By comparison, Michigan’s defense has given up just 12.

We’ll have another breakdown of the big plays next week after Michigan takes on Purdue in the young team’s first road test.

#8 Michigan 36 – Cincinnati 14: Pair of pick-sixes save lackluster offensive showing

Sunday, September 10th, 2017


(Kirthmon F. Dozier, Detroit Free Press)

After a resounding win over 17th-ranked Florida to open the season, Michigan returned home and received more than it expected from a Cincinnati squad that went just 4-8 a year ago. Still, the Wolverines weathered the storm and survived a plague of mistakes to win going away, 36-14.

Michigan started the game strong with a 7-play, 80-yard touchdown drive on the first possession and an interception returned for touchdown a couple drives later to take a quick 14-0 lead.

Final Stats
Michigan  Cincinnati
Score 36 14
Record 2-0 1-1
Total Yards 414 200
Net Rushing Yards 193 68
Net Passing Yards 221 132
First Downs 16 13
Turnovers 2 2
Penalties-Yards 7-68 4-30
Punts-Yards 7-274 10-373
Time of Possession 30:27 29:33
Third Down Conversions 5-of-15 6-of-19
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 4-23 1-8
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-1
PATs 4-for-4 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

But after the defense forced a Cincinnati punt, the ball hit a Michigan blocker and was recovered by the Bearcats at the Michigan 38. Cincinnati took advantage of the short field with a 9-play touchdown drive.

The second quarter struggles that Michigan had in Week 1 returned as the Wolverines kicked a 28-yard field goal on their first possession but managed just 51 yards on 14 plays the rest of the quarter.

Cincinnati opened the second half with a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive to pull within 17-14 and had two more possessions with a chance to either tie the game or take the lead. But the Michigan defense held strong, and after a pair of drives that gained a total of seven yards, the offense finally moved the ball thanks to a 36-yard pass from Wilton Speight to tight end Sean McKeon and a 33-yard touchdown pass to Grant Perry.

A couple drives later, Quinn Nordin kicked a 24-yard field goal to extend Michigan’s lead to 27-14, and on Cincinnati’s ensuing possession the Wolverines forced a three-and-out. On the punt attempt, the ball was snapped past the punter, who batted the ball out of the back of the end zone for a safety.

Michigan’s offense couldn’t capitalize, going three-and-out, but the defense scored its second touchdown of the game when Lavert Hill picked off quarterback Hayden Moore and raced 24 yards to the end zone to reach the final score of 36-14.

The Michigan offense was mistake prone and lackluster most of the day, unable to string together consistent drives against a defense that ranked 72nd nationally a year ago. Sure, the Bearcats’ defense was full of returning starters and now coached by a defensive-minded head coach in Luke Fickell, but there’s no reasons a Michigan offense shouldn’t have more success moving the ball. Take away the two defensive touchdowns and the Wolverines managed just 22 points.

Still, the Wolverines’ defense was strong, holding the Bearcats to just 200 total yards and 68 rushing yards while recording seven tackles for loss and four sacks and scoring two defensive touchdowns. Through two games, the Michigan defense has scored three touchdowns — matching last season’s total — and allowed just two.

Speight completed 17-of-29 passes for 221 yards and two touchdowns. Ty Isaac topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game, carrying the ball 20 times for 133 yards, while Chris Evans managed just 15 yards on five rushes. Kekoa Crawford led the way through the air, catching four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown, while Perry caught for for 66 and a score.

Tyree Kinnel led the defense with nine tackles (8 solo), a tackle for loss, a sack, and an interception returned for touchdown. Devin Bush had another strong game with seven tackles and a sack, while Khaleke Hudson recorded two sacks.

Game Ball – Offense

Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Isaac could have taken the game ball in Week 1, but we gave it to Quinn Nordin for his multiple 50-yard field goal day. There’s no question Isaac was the best player on the field for Michigan’s offense in Week 2. While Chris Evans couldn’t find any running room, Isaac took the reigns and averaged 6.7 yards per carry. The senior now has 247 yards through two games, averaging 8.0 yards per carry, though he has yet to find the end zone.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)

Game Ball – Defense

Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles — 8 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception returned for touchdown)
While the Michigan defense lost 10 of 11 starters from last season it still returned plenty of players with experience and Kinnel was one of them. Stepping into the starting safety spot in 2017 for the first time, Kinnel was impressive on Saturday, leading the team with nine tackles, recording a sack, and taking an interception 28 yards for a touchdown.

Previous:
Week 1 – (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)

#11 Michigan 33 – #17 Florida 17: Second half surge, dominant defense carry U-M

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017


(Kevin Goheen, Land of 10)

The first game of the season is always a bit of a mystery as teams break in new players and work out some kinks as they hit the field for the first time after months of preparation. Ohio State struggled with Indiana in the first half before pulling away in the second. Washington struggled with Rutgers and Wisconsin struggled with Utah State on Friday night before both pulled away.

Michigan was one of the few ranked teams nationally to face a ranked power-five opponent, and despite having their share of struggles in the first half, dominated the second half to claim a resounding 33-17 win.

Final Stats
Michigan  Florida
Score 33 17
Record 1-0 0-1
Total Yards 433 192
Net Rushing Yards 215 11
Net Passing Yards 218 181
First Downs 19 9
Turnovers 2 3
Penalties-Yards 7-55 5-45
Punts-Yards 3-82 6-328
Time of Possession 34:13 25:47
Third Down Conversions 6-of-18 2-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-2
Sacks By-Yards 6-35 5-22
Field Goals 4-for-6 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-4 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Florida took the opening kickoff and went 46 yards in six plays for a 46-yard field goal, but Michigan’s defense held the Gators to just 146 total yards and no points the last 57 minutes of the game. It was a performance that put to rest — at least for now — the notion that the Wolverines’ defense would take a step back after losing 10 starters. The new look defense recorded six sacks, forced five turnovers (three recovered), and held Florida to just 192 total yards and only 11 yards on the ground. Florida’s offense wasn’t held below 200 yards all season a year ago.

Michigan’s offense, meanwhile, had its highs and lows but ultimately turned in a positive performance against one of the best defenses they’ll face all season. The first drive of the season yielded points on a 25-yard Quinn Nordin field goal that capped a 14-play, 68-yard drive. On the next possession, Chris Evans broke loose for a 29-yard run and on the very next play, Wilton Speight connected with freshman receiver Tarik Black for a 46-yard touchdown.

But the fun didn’t last for long as Speight threw back to back interceptions returned for touchdowns and suddenly the Wolverines trailed 17-10. Two possessions later, with John O’Korn in for Speight, Nordin showed off the big leg that earned him the top kicker of the 2016 class ranking, nailing a 55-yard field goal. Florida’s normally reliable kicker, Eddy Pinero, missed a 47-yarder on the ensuing possession and Florida took a 17-13 lead into the half.

The second half was all Michigan as the Wolverines took the first possession 75 yards on 10 plays for a 3-yard Karan Higdon touchdown to retake the lead. Freshman Ambry Thomas forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Michigan tacked on a 30-yard Nordin field goal.

Michigan’s defense forced its second fumble of the game three plays later when Josh Metellus stripped quarterback Feleipe Franks and Lawrence Marshall recovered at the Florida 31-yard line. The offense was unable to move the ball and Nordin kicked a 50-yard field goal, becoming the first kicker in Michigan history to boot two field goals of 50 yards or more in the same game.

In the fourth quarter, Nordin missed from 52 yards and 32 yards to keep Florida within reach, but the Michigan defense closed it out with a Chase Winovich sack of backup quarterback Malik Zaire, who fumbled and Noah Furbush recovered in the end zone for a Michigan touchdown.

All told, the Michigan offense put up 433 total yards in a balanced effort, rushing for 215 yards on 4.4 yards per carry against a stout Florida front seven and passing for 218. Speight completed 11-of-25 passes for 181 yards, one touchdown, and two picks. Ty Isaac led Michigan on the ground with 114 yards on just 11 carries (10.4 yards per carry), while Evans 78 yards on 22 carries (3.5 ypc). Black caught two passes for 83 yards and one score. Grant Perry had the most receptions with four for 46 yards.

Defensively, Devin Bush was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles (five solo), three tackles for loss, and two sacks. Winovich, Mike McCray, Josh Uche, and Khaleke Hudson all recorded a sack as well.

Michigan hosts Cincinnati in its home opener next Saturday at 12pm. The Bearcats, under first-year head coach Luke Fickell, beat Austin Peay 26-14 to open the season.

Game Ball – Offense

Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
One of the big question marks for Michigan entering the season was the special teams play, especially at kicker where the reliable Kenny Allen had to be replaced. I said in my game preview that Florida had a big edge in this category, but Nordin put those fears to rest by nailing his first three field goals of the day, two of which were from 50 yards and beyond. Sure, he missed two in the fourth quarter, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt after his performance prior to that. The Michigan career record for field goals of 50 or more yards is four by Hayden Epstein from 1998-2001. In his first career game, Nordin made half of that, tying him with Mike Gillette, J.D. Carlson, Mike Lantry, and Jay Feely for third all-time.

Game Ball – Defense

Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
With only one returning starter on defense, Michigan needed some of its young talent to emerge and Bush did just that. He looked good in limited time as a true freshman in 2016, but shined in his first start. It almost didn’t happen as he was flagged for a late hit on the game’s first play. The play was reviewed for targeting, which would have ejected him form the game, but the officials ruled that it wasn’t. Good thing, because he was all over the field, recording seven tackles, three for loss, and two sacks.

Four Bold Predictions Results

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting 
– Speight was up and down, making a nice 46-yard touchdown pass to Tarik Black on Michigan’s second possession, but then throwing two pick-sixes. The first wasn’t necessarily his fault — it was a little high but should have been caught by Kekoa Crawford — but the second was a straight overthrow. That led directly to 14 Florida points, the only two touchdowns the Gators scored. Speight finished with 181 yards but completed just 44 percent of his passes. The good news is that he gets to face a few less than stellar defenses in the coming weeks to gain his rhythm heading into the meat of the schedule.

• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing 
– I’m giving myself a push on this one as I was right that Evans wouldn’t lead the team in rushing, but I predicted the wrong guy. Higdon did record Michigan’s lone rushing touchdown, but he was third with 28 yards gained on seven carries. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards on 111 carries, while Evans tallied 78 yards on 22 carries. Isaac was the surprise of the game offensively, looking like a much stronger runner than he did last season.

Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage 
– I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt on this one. The defense performed admirably all game, holding Florida to just three points and 192 total yards. But if there is one nit-pick it is that the young secondary gave up a few deep balls. Brandon Watson and Lavert Hill each got beat a couple of times by Florida’s receivers. Franks is far from the best quarterback the Wolverines will face this season, so they’ll have to shore that up before heading to Happy Valley in mid-October. The pass rush got to Florida quarterbacks six times including the game-sealing sack and forced fumble by Winovich that resulted in a Michigan touchdown.

• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be 
– This appeared to be a bad prediction through the first three quarters when sophomore kicker Quinn Nordin nailed his first three field goals, two of which were from 50 yards or beyond. But he came back down to earth a bit in the fourth quarter with two missed field goals that did keep Florida in the game. Nordin did, however, ease some concerns about the placekicking job in Kenny Allen’s absence.

#11 Michigan vs #17 Florida game preview

Friday, September 1st, 2017


The long offseason is finally over. When we wake up tomorrow morning College Gameday will fill our TV screens and college football will be upon us. Sure, it started last weekend with a few tomato can games and Ohio State and Indiana gave us a nice little appetizer on Thursday night, but tomorrow is the first full Saturday of the season. Most importantly, it’s the first Michigan football game of the season.

Quick Facts
AT&T Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Florida Head Coach: Jim McElwain (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 41-24 overall (19-8 at UF)
Offensive Coordinators: Doug Nussmeier (3rd season)
Defensive Coordinator: Randy Shannon (1st season)
Last Season: 9-4 (6-2)
Last Meeting: Michigan 41 – UF 7 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 3-0
Record in regular season: First meeting
Jim Harbaugh vs Florida 1-0
Last Michigan win: Jan 1, 2016 (41-7)
Last Florida win: Never
Current Streak: Michigan 3

For the second straight game, Michigan faces a team from the state of Florida. The Wolverines closed the 2016 season with a 33-32 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl and now faces Florida to open the 2017 season. Michigan is 3-0 all-time against the Gators with the most recent win coming at the end of the 2015 season when Michigan throttled Florida 41-7 in the Citrus Bowl. This will be the teams’ first regular season meeting as they also faced off in the 2003 Outback Bowl and the 2008 Capital One Bowl.

Florida has had an eventful offseason that will leave them shorthanded on Saturday. Seven players were initially announced as suspended when news came of a debit card scheme involving using school-issued funds and then trying to claim them lost or stolen. Starting wide receiver Antonio Callaway was among them. Then, just this week, two more players were announced as suspended for the same issue, including starting running back Jordan Scarlett. Freshman wide receiver was suspended for a separate incident involving marijuana possession.

That leaves ten Gators on the sidelines for Saturday and puts Michigan in a bad position. If the Wolverines win, pundits will place an asterisk next to it because Florida wasn’t at full speed. Remember last December when Michigan was penalized for beating Colorado without Sifo Liufau — who the Wolverines knocked out of the game — and beating Penn State without a couple of starting linebackers. If the Wolverines lose, it won’t go down as a “good loss” at the end of the season, but rather, will look worse since Florida was depleted.

Regardless, Michigan can do only what it can control, and that is win the game by as many points as possible; leave no doubt who the better team is, suspensions be damned.

Most national pundits have been predicting a Florida win based on the number of starters and production Michigan lost to the NFL in the offseason. But Jim Harbaugh’s third squad figures to be faster and more athletic than his first two and there is still plenty of talent — albeit young — remaining to keep the Wolverines in the hunt for the Big Ten title. Tomorrow’s game won’t change that, but it has a chance to set the tone for the season and put the college football landscape on notice. Let’s take a look at the matchup.

Florida offense

Michigan fans will remember Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who coordinated the Michigan offense in Brady Hoke’s final season. He was the big hire in the 2014 offseason out of Alabama as Hoke’s final attempt to right the ship, but his offense failed to produce a winning season. He hasn’t had much success at Florida either, guiding the Gators to the 111th and 116th-best total offense and 100th and 107th best scoring offense in his first two seasons.

Nussmeier finds himself in a quarterback quandary entering 2017 and will start redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who has yet to play a college game. The 6-foot-6, 219-pound Crawfordville, Fla. native threw three interceptions in his first four passes in the 2016 spring game, but had a much better spring this year, completing 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown. With good size, he also has decent mobility and reportedly has a big arm, and that was enough for head coach Jim McElwain to name him the starter over Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire and upperclassman Luke Del Rio. It’s a pretty good bet to assume that Zaire will see the field as well due to his experience.

Wish Scarlett sidelined, Florida will turn to sophomore Lamical Perine, who rushed for 421 yards on 91 carries (4.6 yards per carry) and one touchdown last season. He was one of just eight FBS true freshmen to rush for 100 yards in multiple games against Power Five opponents last season when he recorded 105 against Kentucky and 106 against Missouri.

Even with Callaway suspended, Florida boasts a deep collection of talent at receiver that will test Michigan’s young and inexperienced secondary. Sophomores Tyrie Cleveland (14 catches, 298 yards, 2 touchdowns), Josh Hammond (14 catches, 177 yards), and Freddie Swain (8 catches, 118 yards, 2 touchdowns) are all former four-star recruits, and senior Brandon Powell (45 catches, 387 yards, 2 touchdowns) was the team’s second-leading receiver last season out of the slot. Both tight ends, senior DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches, 342 yards, 3 touchdowns) and junior C’yontai Lewis (18 catches, 184 yards, 2 touchdowns) are also back.

The Florida offensive line has been pretty poor the past few seasons but there is optimism around Gainesville for a step forward this fall. Junior Martez Ivey, the No. 2 overall player in the 2015 class, is locked in at left tackle, while Jawaan Taylor is back at right tackle after starting 12 games as a true freshman last season. Redshirt sophomore center T.J. McCoy started four games last season, while true freshman Brett Heggie has looked good in the offseason and junior Fredrick Johnson, who has 10 career starts, are the guards.

Florida defense

Like Michigan, Florida has boasted one of the nation’s best defenses the past couple years, but McElwain’s defensive coordinator from those two seasons, Geoff Collins, bolted for the Temple head coaching position in the offseason. Up steps Randy Shannon, who has been on the staff as associate head coach, co-defensive coordinator, and linebackers coach the past two seasons.

Shannon was perhaps college football’s best defensive coordinator in the 2000s, guiding Miami’s defenses to 6th, 7th, 2nd, 28th, 4th, and 7th from 2001-06. He became head coach in 2007 but had just middling success and has worked his way back up since then through TCU, Arkansas, and now Florida.

He inherits the nation’s 5th-best total defense and 6th-best scoring defense from 2016, but has some holes to fill, most notably in the secondary where cornerbacks Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson and safety Marcus Maye are gone. Another safety, Marcell Harris, who started eight games last season, tore his Achilles in the offseason is out for the year.

McElwain said on Thursday that there could be four freshmen playing at a time in the secondary on Saturday. Marco Wilson, a four-star recruit in the most recent class, is likely to be one of them getting the nod at one corner spot, while senior Duke Dawson is the elder statesman of the group, having started eight career games. Fifth-year senior Nick Washington, who has started 10 games over the past three seasons, and sophomore Chauncey Gardner, who started the final three games last season, are the likely starters at safety.

Linebacker is another position that has some holes to fill, replacing Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, who combined for 113 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, and five sacks. Farmington, Mich. native David Reese, and redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson are the most experienced returning linebackers, having started the last four and five games of the season, respectively. Reese finished the season as the team’s fifth-leading tackler and is ready to step in as the middle linebacker. Johnson recorded 26 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss in the final five games. Sophomore Vosean Joseph is the other assumed starter. He played mostly on special teams last season but earned his first career start in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and recorded six tackles and one for loss.

The defensive line is the most experienced position group returning, though it does have to replace tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Redshirt junior Taven Bryan is in line to start at defensive tackle and has three starts under his belt the past two seasons, while fellow redshirt junior Khairi Clark should get the nod at nose tackle. Sophomore CeCe Jefferson and redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga are the starting ends. Jefferson was the No. 7 overall recruit in the 2015 class. Fifth-year senior Jordan Sherit, who recorded five tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks last season, will also be a key part of the rotation.

Florida special teamsM

While Michigan lost both its kicker and punter, Kenny Allen, Florida returns two good ones in sophomore kicker Eddy Pinero and fifth-year senior punter Johnny Townsend. Pinero connected on 21-of-25 field goal attempts as a true freshman last season including all three tries from 50-plus. Townsend led the nation with a 47.9-yard punting average. Powell or redshirt freshman receiver Dre Massey will handle punt return duties in Callaway’s absence. Powell averaged 4.6 yards per return a year ago. Massey may be in the running to handle kickoff returns as well.

Analysis

As a new feature of our weekly game preview this year, we will break down each unit battle to determine where each team has an edge, and by how much. These will be graded on a 1-10 scale where five is a push, one is a clear advantage for Florida, and 10 is a clear advantage for Michigan.

Florida run game vs Michigan rush defense
Florida Michigan 

Even with Scarlett in the Florida backfield, Michigan’s stout rush defense would still hold the edge, but with Scarlett out the Wolverines should have no trouble shutting down the Florida running game. Michigan held eight of 13 opponents under 100 yards rushing last season and the Gators ranked 113th nationally in rushing.

Florida passing game vs Michigan pass defense
Florida  Michigan

Florida gets a very slight edge here because of their returning talent at receiver and tight end. Michigan has a lot of talent in the secondary, but at this point it’s unproven, so like Ohio State’s young corners on Thursday night, it could struggle a bit in the opener.

The reason Florida doesn’t have more of an edge is the uncertainty at the quarterback position. Feleipe is mobile and has a big arm, but has no experience and will have to deal with Rashan Gary and the rest of the Michigan pass rush. If Florida’s offensive line is able to hold it off, Florida could put up a big passing number on Saturday. But I’d say Michigan’s pass rush is able to keep Feleipe off balance enough to make this a close position battle.

Florida rush defense vs Michigan running game
Florida Michigan

I’m giving this one a push because the improvement of Michigan’s offensive line is one of the biggest question marks heading into the season. Florida doesn’t quite have the depth it had last year on the defensive line and the run defense wasn’t their strength anyway.

While the defense as a whole was one of the nation’s best, the run defense ranked just 38th nationally. Five of the final eight opponents last season rushed for over 200 yards against Florida, and although Michigan’s running game wasn’t outstanding, it still ranked 33rd and it should be better this year with a sophomore Chris Evans in addition to Karan Higdon, Ty Issac, and Kareem Walker. If Michigan’s offensive line is significantly improved, Michigan has the edge here, but that’s still an unknown.

Florida pass defense vs Michigan passing game
Florida Michigan 

This unit battle is an interesting one simply because of all of the unknowns. Michigan lost most of its receiving production in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt, and Florida lost most of its top-notch secondary. But Wilton Speight gives Michigan the edge here as the one consistent piece of the passing game. He faltered down the stretch last season after suffering an injury against Iowa, but has the experience to help his new young receivers come along against a young and inexperienced secondary.

Florida special teams vs Michigan special teams
Florida  Michigan

If the game comes down to a last-second field goal, are we confident that sophomore Quinn Nordin can make it? He was the nation’s top kicker in the 2016 class and has a big leg, but has yet to see the field. He made a 48-yarder in the spring game, but that’s not the same as the atmosphere he will face on Saturday. Pinero, meanwhile, was ultra-reliable for the Gators last season, especially from long range.

Florida has the edge at punter as well with the nation’s top returning punter. The return game is anyone’s guess. Michigan will have to replace Chesson and Jabrill Peppers and Florida will be without Callaway. Because of experience in the kicking game, Florida has a good edge here.

Coaching
Florida Michigan 

Jim McElwain has had success everywhere he has been, turning Colorado State from a doormat to a Mountain West contender in three seasons, and then reigniting a stagnant Florida program with nine-plus wins in each of his first two seasons after the Gators had just one in the previous five. But Jim Harbaugh has a longer resume, having achieved similar rebuilding jobs at San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers, and now Michigan. He took the 49ers to the Super Bowl, won a BCS bowl at Stanford, and lead Michigan to back-to-back 10-win seasons after inheriting a team that went 5-7 in 2014. Also, Harbaugh whipped McElwain in the 2016 Citrus Bowl so he holds the head-to-head edge as well.

Atmosphere and intangibles
Florida Michigan

Although AT&T Stadium is geographically closer to Gainesville than Ann Arbor, Michigan fans will travel well and represent the Wolverines in Dallas. The neutral site gives neither team the advantage. How each team responds to the big stage and the Jerry World dome will be interesting to watch, but both are young so neither team has the edge there either.

Edge Average: Michigan 5.3 – Florida 4.7
Score Prediction: Michigan 27 – Florida 16
Four bold predictions:

Two good:
• Wilton Speight looks solid and throws for 250 yards as Michigan’s passing game looks exciting
• Chris Evans starts and runs well, but Karan Higdon leads the Wolverines in rushing
Two bad: 
• Michigan’s young secondary struggles but the pass rush, led by Chase Winovich, mitigates the damage
• Two missed Michigan field goals keep the game closer than it should be

The Numbers Game: U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game

Thursday, November 24th, 2016


smith-vs-iu(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, 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

For the second week in a row, Michigan held their opponent to just six explosive plays, which is their season average. Unlike last week, this time, Michigan managed to win the explosive play battle, but it was close as they managed just eight total under the watch of backup quarterback John O’Korn. But a win is a win, and Michigan moves their focus to The Game.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first 11 weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 82 43 125 15.80% 5.73% 66
2015 43 36 79 10.30% 0.13% 3

Despite Wilton Speight missing the game, back-up quarterback John O’Korn filled in admirably, adding an explosive pass in the first quarter and then finally sparking the offense with a 30-yard scramble on 3rd-and-8 during the third quarter. Michigan had seven explosive runs and De’Veon Smith led the way with four of them, three of which were over 25-yards including his two 30-plus-yard touchdown runs. Chris Evans added the other two and O’Korn added his name to the big play list with his one run.

Michigan didn’t look to be clicking on all cylinders under O’Korn, as was to be expected, but the defense did its job and Michigan pulled away late for the win. It will be interesting to see which quarterback trots out against the Buckeyes next week.

For the year, Michigan is averaging 7.45 explosive runs per game (17th nationally) and 3.19 explosive passes (33rd), for a total of 11.36 (9th). Their big play percentage is 15.8 percent (15th) and their big play differential is 5.73 percent (9th).

Through 11 games in 2015 the offense was averaging 3.91 explosive runs per game and 3.27 explosive passes for a total of just 7.18 explosive plays per game. Their big play percentage was 10.44 percent and their big play differential was just barely positive, 0.13 percent. Every single offensive metric has been improved from 2015 to 2016 and the pass number is the only one that hasn’t improved dramatically.

Garbage time

There was no garbage time in this game. For the season, only 36.8 percent of Michigan’s explosive plays come during garbage time.

Defensive big play allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through 11 weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.00 2.09 6.09 10.08% 5.73% 66
2015 4.18 2.27 6.45 10.30% 0.13% 3

Last year, Indiana gashed Michigan to the tune of 15 explosive plays — 12 on the ground and three in the air. They didn’t fare so well this time around, getting just three each on the ground and through the air. No one dominated the stat sheet like last week or at MSU.

Michigan’s defensive totals continue to impress, but not surprise the readers of this blog. They’re surrendering four explosive runs per game (28th) and 2.09 explosive passes (5th) for a total of just 6.09 explosive plays per game (5th) — more than one fewer allowed per game than 2015, right about where we predicted preseason. Their big play against percentage is 10.08 percent (26th) and their total toxic differential is 66, good for second on a per game basis.

The 2015 D.J. Durkin version of this defense was also very good through 11 games, averaging 4.18 explosive runs and 2.27 explosive passes for a total of 6.45 explosive plays per game. Their big play against percentage was 10.3 percent but their total toxic differential was a paltry three. Compared to this year’s numbers the 2015 defense would rank 35th in big runs, 12th against the pass, 12th overall, 29th for big play against percentage, and 68th in total toxic differential. Not quite the meteoric jump the offense has made but still an incredible feat. However, where there has been a major leap on defense is in the sack and tackles for loss category.

Garbage time

Again, there was no garbage time during this game. For the year Michigan surrenders 42.42% of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan added three sacks and 12 total tackles for loss to their impressive season totals. Their 36 sacks ranks 8th overall, and their 3.27 sacks per game rank 9th. They lead the nation in both total tackles for loss (101) and TFL per game (9.18). They’ve long surpassed 2015’s totals and still have at least two games remaining.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-12

An explosive play is about equally as likely on first down (53) as it is on second down (54). An explosive run is more likely on second (39) than first down (36) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (17) than second down (15). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 7.32 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (25.58 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-12

On defense, Michigan is also about equally as likely to give up an explosive play on first down (27) than second down (25) with third down a good deal behind (13). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (20), followed by first (16), and then third (7). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (11) than second (5), third (6), and fourth (1) downs.

Big play percentage of total yards

Indiana had just four drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on half of them. Michigan had just six drives with at least one explosive play and scored on four of them (67 percent). For the year, Michigan has had 81 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play, and they’ve scored on 59 of them, or 72.84 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 17 scores on 48 drives with an explosive play, which equates to just 35.42 percent of the time. What this means is that almost two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still can’t score on this Michigan’s defense. Remember teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive.

Next opponent
Michigan & Ohio State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 82 43 125 15.80% 5.73% 66
OSU Off. 90 32 122 14.29% 1.89% 47
Michigan & Iowa defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 44 23 67 10.08% 5.73% 66
OSU Def. 65 25 89 12.40% 1.89% 47

The last time The Game held championship aspirations for both teams was 2006. OSU was No. 1 and Michigan was No. 2. This time it’s No. 2 vs No. 3 but it’s just as meaningful as it was then — the winner is likely headed to the College Football Playoff. OSU needs some help but it’d be hard to keep them out if they won this weekend. OSU has shown they’re very mortal this year, as has Michigan, but rest assured they’ll bring their A-game versus Michigan, and vice versa. Let’s take a look at how the Buckeyes stack up in the explosive play stats.

On offense, the Buckeyes are averaging 8.18 explosive runs per game (9th) an 2.91 explosive passes (76th) for a total of 11.09 explosive plays per game (16th). Their big play percentage is 14.29 percent (30th) and their big play differential is 1.89 percent (40th). The run and overall explosive plays are better than the 2015 version but you wouldn’t know it by watching the two teams play.

On defense, the Buckeyes surrender 5.91 explosive runs per game (77th), 2.18 explosive passes (7th) for a total of 8.09 explosive plays per game (54th). Their big play against percentage is 12.4 percent (80th) and their total toxic differential is 47, good for 47th on a per game basis.

The Numbers Game: U-M’s dynamic big play offense stalls in Iowa loss

Thursday, November 17th, 2016


smith-vs-iowa(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, 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

I’ll start with the good news: Michigan held Iowa to just six explosive plays. Now, the bad news: Michigan managed only three of their own –all coming in the first half — and they lost Wilton Speight for the foreseeable future. Just when I was beginning to believe he was capable of leading Michigan to the promised land.

This was just the second-time this season that Michigan lost the explosive play battle, and the third time in 10 games they were held to single-digit plays of their own. As I’m sure you’re aware, Michigan missed on several shots downfield. I haven’t been able to bring myself to go back and re-watch the game yet but I feel like there were at least three or four downfield shots that would have been touchdowns had they been on target. Just one of those missed explosive pass opportunities probably would have won the game for Michigan.

Despite the crushing loss, the big thing to take away here is this: Michigan is still 100 percent in control of their destiny. No other Big Ten team can say that. Win out and they’re in the Big Ten Championship game. They had to beat Ohio State regardless of what happened in Iowa City, and that is still on the table. Better to lose at Iowa, regroup and then win in Columbus than to have won last weekend only to fall in Columbus.

Don’t forget, we saw a Michigan State team enter the Horseshoe with a back-up quarterback last year and somehow pull out the win. And as much as I hate to mention it, Ohio State won the inaugural College Football Playoff with a backup quarterback. Michigan’s playoff hopes are still just as alive as they were before last weekend; there’s just no margin for error now.

And now on to the explosive play stats.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first 10 weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 75 42 117 16.14% 6.12% 65
2015 42 33 75 10.89% 0.30% 4

Despite averaging over eight explosive runs per game, Michigan managed just two — both by Chris Evans — versus Iowa, and neither went farther than 12 yards. Speight connected with Jehu Chesson for the lone explosive pass, a 27-yarder in the second quarter.

For the year, Michigan is averaging 7.5 explosive runs per game (17th nationally) and 4.2 explosive passes per game (25th) for a total of 11.7 explosive plays per game (5th). Those numbers are down from the past few weeks but still impressive overall. Their big play percentage is 16.14 percent (11th), big play differential is 6.17 percent (6th), and their total toxic differential is 65 — good for fourth on a per game basis. All very solid numbers, especially compared to last year at this time.

Through 10 games in 2015, Michigan averaged 4.2 explosive runs and 3.3 explosive passes for a total of 7.5 explosive plays per game, which is right about where they ended up (7.3). To be averaging over four more explosive plays per game this season is borderline absurd. That is an improvement of 56 percent. James Joseph Harbaugh is an offensive genius. The 2015 team’s big play percentage was just 10.89 percent, their big play differential was 0.3 percent, and their total toxic differential was just 4.

Garbage time

There was no garbage time in this game. For the season, only 39.32 percent of Michigan’s big plays have come during garbage time.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through 10 weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.00 2.00 6.00 10.02% 6.12% 65
2015 4.40 2.30 6.70 10.58% 0.30% 4

While the offense failed to generate the big plays it usually does, the defense held on par and gave up just six total big plays to Iowa — five run and one pass. Much like against Michigan State, there was one player responsible for most of the damage. In this case it was Akrum Wadley, who had four of the five runs and the lone reception for an incredible 83.3 percent of Iowa’s big plays. Of course Iowa had to figure out he was their best running back against us. Such is life.

At this point in 2015 Michigan had just come off a major scare versus Indiana. The loss of Ryan Glasgow had reared its ugly head as Michigan gave up 15 explosive plays (12 runs and three passes) to the Hoosiers.

The totals through 10 games in 2015 were: 4.4 explosive runs per game and 2.3 explosive passes for a total of 6.7 explosive plays per game, creeping up towards where they’d end the season, 7.2. Their big play against percentage was 10.58 percent.

Garbage time

As mentioned above, there was no garbage time in this game. For the season Michigan surrenders 46.67 percent of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

While they didn’t have quite the party in the backfield they did last week, Michigan still managed to rack up three sacks and six total tackles for loss. They have surpassed their 2015 total in both categories in three fewer games. On the year, their 33 sacks and 3.3 per game average are both eighth nationally and their 89 total tackles for loss and 8.9 TFL per game are both third nationally. Michigan was 32nd and 42nd nationally for sacks and TFL on a per game basis overall in 2015. This is what the Don Brown defense does, ladies and gentlemen.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-11

An explosive play is slightly more likely on second down (51) than it is on first down (50). An explosive run is more likely on second (37) than first down (33) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (17) than second down (14). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 6.67 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (27.44 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-11

On defense, Michigan is more likely to give up an explosive play on first down (25) than second down (23) with third down a good deal behind (11). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (18), followed by first (16) and then third (6). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (9) than second (5), third (5), and fourth (1) downs.

Big play percentage of total yards

Iowa had five drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on two of those (40 percent). Michigan had just three drives with at least one explosive play but scored on two of them (67 percent). For the year, Michigan has had 75 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play and they’ve scored on 55 of them, or 73.33 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 15 scores on 39 drives with an explosive play, just 34.09 percent of the time. What this means is that two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still can’t score on this Michigan’s defense. Remember, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive.

Big plays by player

In the running game, De’Veon Smith holds on to the overall big play lead with 17, but Chris Evans and Ty Isaac aren’t far behind with 15 and 14, respectively. Karan Higdon maintains the highest average per qualifying runs (at least 10) with 23.9 yards per big play. Amara Darboh is still by far the leader in big pass plays with 16. He’s also the yardage leader as well, averaging a whopping 33.81 yards per explosive pass reception. Chesson comes in second with 10 and Jake Butt has eight.

Chris Evans, Ty Isaac, Eddie McDoom, Jehu Chesson, and Bobby Henderson have all recorded at least one explosive run and pass. Overall, 12 different plays have notched at least one explosive run and 10 have grabbed at least one explosive pass.

Next opponent
Michigan & Iowa offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 75 42 117 16.14% 6.12% 65
IU Off. 51 44 95 12.32% 0.19% -2
Michigan & Iowa defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 40 20 60 10.02% 6.12% 65
IU Def. 57 34 91 12.13% 0.19% -2

#CHAOSTEAM — a.k.a. the Indiana Hoosiers — comes to town this weekend and chaos will most likely ensue. Michigan stole a win in Bloomington last year on their senior day and Indiana looks to return the favor against a reeling Wolverine team on their senior day.

Statistically, Indiana is very similar to Iowa, except this time it’s a home game and something tells me Michigan won’t come out flat and looking ill-prepared like last week. You have to go back to 2009 to find the last time Jim Harbaugh lost back to back games (43 straight without suffering back to back losses) at the college level. Nonetheless, games are not played on paper and Michigan can once again expect to see their opponent’s best effort. Here’s how the Hoosiers stack up.

On offense, Indiana is averaging 5.1 explosive runs per game (80th) and 4.4 explosive passes per game (18th) for a total of 9.5 explosive plays per game (52nd). Their big play percentage is 12.32 percent (65th) and their big play differential is 0.19 percent (74th). On defense, the Hoosiers are much improved but their big play numbers aren’t that great, but then again neither were Iowa’s. The Hoosiers surrender 5.7 explosive runs per game (70th) and 3.4 explosive passes (77th) for a total of 9.1 explosive plays per game (74th). Their big play against percentage against is 12.13 percent (68th) and their total toxic differential is -2, good for 75th nationally.

The Numbers Game: As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar

Friday, November 11th, 2016


evans-vs-maryland(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, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war,

For the third time this season, and all in the past four weeks, Michigan’s offense topped 16 total big plays. They’ve had double digit big plays in seven of their nine games and have never had less than nine total (twice). I don’t care who you’re playing; topping 16 big plays in a game is huge and Michigan has done it yet again. Harbaugh for President!

Now some bad news, after having only given up more than seven total big plays to their opponents just twice — UCF (7) and MSU (12) — Michigan’s defense surrendered eight to Maryland last week, the majority of which came on the edge via screen passes. However, the silver lining of having a weakness exposed, yet again, is that it means they’ll be all the better prepared for the showdown in the Toilet Bowl, err, Horseshoe, in a couple weeks.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first nine weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 73 41 114 17.17% 7.00% 69
2015 37 26 63 10.24% 0.69% 8

Michigan came out of this one with nine explosive runs and seven explosive passes. Chris Evans added his name to the list of players with both explosive runs and passes when he deftly handled a bobbled screen pass and scampered into the end zone from 57-yards out. Okay, fine, the officials said it was only 56-yards and he didn’t score, but you and I know (and most definitely Jim Harbaugh knows) that was a touchdown.

On the season, Michigan’s juggernaut offense is averaging 8.11 explosive runs (12th nationally) and 4.56 explosive passes (14th) for a total of 12.67 explosive plays per game (2nd). Yes, through 10 weeks of the college football season only ONE team averages more explosive plays per game than Michigan. And it ain’t Clemson.

Read that again, and then tweet it to Kirk Herbstreit and his ESPN cronies. This may be a pro-style offense but it is innovative and explosive, and we have the numbers to prove it.

To make their case even better Michigan’s big play percentage is a whopping 17.17 percent (4th). Not only do they average the second most big plays per game in the country but they also do so at the fourth-best rate, averaging one explosive play for every six plays (it’s actually one per every 5.8-ish but we’ll round up). Their big play differential is 7 percent (5th) and their total toxic differential — the stat that got this column started — is 69, good for FIRST nationally on a per game basis.

Both Michigan’s big play and toxic differential numbers are phenomenal. Strange, because that’s exactly what happened with Harbaugh’s teams in San Francisco too. Greatest football mind of our era? Perhaps.

Michigan is one of only two teams to average at least eight explosive runs and 4.5 explosive passes. Again, Clemson isn’t the other one. It’s still Louisville, by the way.

Garbage time

Only five of Michigan’s 16 explosive plays came during garbage time. For the year, 40.35 percent (46-of-114) of Michigan’s explosive plays have come during garbage time. They do most of their damage before the game is out of hand.

Last year at this time Michigan’s offense was starting to come into its own as the “Rudockening” (as MGoBlog calls it) was underway. They were averaging 4.11 explosive runs and 2.89 explosive passes for a total of seven explosive plays per game, right about where they ended up for the year. Their big play percentage was just 10.24 percent and their big play differential was 0.69 percent. Their total toxic differential was 8, or 0.89 on a per game basis.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through nine weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.89 2.11 6.00 10.17% 7.00% 69
2015 3.56 2.22 5.78 9.56% 0.69% 8

On the other side of the ball Maryland did have those eight big plays of their own. I haven’t gone back to watch the game this week but I do remember Channing Stribling missing a tackle or two on the edge. This is where Jeremy Clark was a much better cornerback in my opinion. He could tackle and was excellent in run defense. But alas…

So far, Michigan’s defense, which took a bit of a step back in recent weeks, is giving up 3.89 explosive runs (27th) and 2.11 explosive passes (5th) for a total of six explosive plays per game (4th). Their big play against percentage is 10.17 percent (31st).

They’re right about where I thought they’d be in this new defensive scheme, and still among the elite defenses in stopping big plays. Don Brown for Secretary of Defense!

Garbage time

Five of those eight explosive plays came during garbage time. Math whizzes will tell you that means only three came before the game was out of hand, which is not bad. The Michigan defense has given up slightly more than half — 51.85 percent — of their big plays during garbage time.

The 2015 defense through nine games was allowing 3.56 explosive runs and 2.22 explosive passes for a total of just 5.58 explosive plays per game. Their big play against percentage was 9.56 percent. Remember, those numbers did not hold over the course of the season though, as Michigan ended up giving up over seven big plays per game when it was all said and done.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan’s defense had a party in the Terrapin backfield last week, racking up three sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Their season totals are now 30 sacks (8th) for 3.33 per game (7th) and both their 83 total tackles for loss and 9.22 TFL per game are ranked first. Through just nine games they are only five tackles for loss and two sacks shy of matching their 2015 season 13-game totals.

Big plays by down

Michigan has registered 114 total explosive plays on offense — 73 run and 41 pass. They surpassed last year’s season total of 95 after the Michigan State game (98) but I forgot to add it in.

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-10

An explosive play is slightly more likely on second down (51) than it is on first down (47). An explosive run is more likely on second (37) than first down (31) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (16) than second down (14). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 6.85 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.83 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-10

On defense, Michigan is more likely to give up an explosive play on second down (22) than first down (20) with third down a good deal behind (11). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (18), followed by first (11), and then third (6). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (9) than second (4), third (5) and fourth (1) downs.

Big play percentage of total yards

The Michigan defense has given up 967 total rushing yards and 720 of them (74.46 percent) have come via explosive play. They give up just under 20.57 yards per explosive run carry. On carries that do not yield an explosive run Michigan gives up just 0.89 yards per carry. Of the 311 rushing attempts Michigan has seen they have given up an explosive run on just 35 of them (10.17 percent) or roughly one out of every ten opponent carries.

In the passing game, 53.6 percent of the yardage Michigan surrenders comes via explosive pass (670 of 1,250 total). They yield 35.26 yards per explosive pass completion but just 7.44 yards per non-explosive pass completion.

Overall, 62.7 percent of the yards Michigan gives up come via explosive play, at 25.74 yards per play.

Big play scoring drives

Maryland had six drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on one (16.67 percent) of those. Michigan had just nine drives with at least one explosive play but scored on eight of them (88.89 percent). For the year, Michigan has had 72 total drives in which they’ve had at least one explosive play, and they’ve scored on 53 of them, or 73.61 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 13 scores on 33 drives with an explosive play — just 33.33% of the time. What this means is that two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still can’t score on this Michigan’s defense. Remember, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive.

Next opponent
Michigan & Iowa offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 73 41 114 17.17% 7.00% 69
UI Off. 73 18 91 16.37% 3.99% 17
Michigan & Iowa defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 32 14 46 9.89% 7.00% 69
UI Def. 56 18 74 12.37% 3.99% 17

This weekend is a game I had circled and predicted would be a loss in the preseason. My, how a couple months will change all that. Iowa is not who we thought they’d be and Michigan is far better than most thought. Still, Iowa City at night is a scary venue. At least we know Harbaugh will never be satisfied and will always seek to be improving each and every day. This team, and every Harbaugh team, will be absolutely prepared for every single game. Let’s look at the Kirk Ferentz-led Hawkeyes’ numbers, keeping in mind he was signed to a 10-year extension (essentially a lifetime coaching gig).

The Iowa offense is averaging 4.56 explosive runs per game (97th) and 2.89 explosive passes (81st) for a total of 7.44 explosive plays per game (99th). Yikes. Their big play percentage for is 12.16 percent (68th). Their big play differential is 2.04 percent (41st) and their total toxic differential is just 8, good for 54th on a per game basis.

The defense is a little better, but not much. The Hawkeye defense surrenders four explosive run plays per game (31st) and 3.22 explosive passes (67th) for a total of a not un-respectable 7.22 explosive plays per game (31st). Their big play against percentage is 10.12 percent (29th).

#3 Michigan 59 – Maryland 3: Speight shines as Michigan spoils Durkin’s return

Sunday, November 6th, 2016


speight-vs-maryland(mgoblue.com)

If there was any fear of a post-rivalry win letdown on Saturday, Michigan wasted no time erasing those fears. The Wolverines found the end zone on all five first half possessions while holding Maryland scoreless and cruised to a 59-3 win.

Michigan started with the ball and drive 91 yards on 10 plays as Wilton Speight connected with Amara Darboh for a 34-yard touchdown to start the scoring onslaught.

After forcing a Maryland punt, Michigan needed only six plays to march 84 yards — most notably a 40-yard pass from Speight to Jehu Chesson. Speight capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.

Maryland put together a decent drive, but missed a 29-yard field goal, and Michigan took advantage with a 7-play, 80-yard scoring drive. On the second play of the drive, Speight hooked up with Jake Butt for 37 yards, and a few plays later, De’Veon Smith scored from three yards out to put Michigan ahead 21-0.

um-maryland_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Maryland
Score 59 3
Record 9-0, 6-0 5-4, 2-4
Total Yards 660 337
Net Rushing Yards 273 78
Net Passing Yards 387 289
First Downs 31 19
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 6-62 6-46
Punts-Yards 0-0 2-84
Time of Possession 32:12 27:48
Third Down Conversions 3-of-5 6-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 0-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 3-15 1-1
Field Goals 1-for-1 1-for-2
PATs 8-for-8 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 7-of-8 1-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-8 0-of-2
Full Box Score

Maryland got to midfield, but Michigan’s defense stood strong on a 4th-and-3 conversion attempt and the offense took over once again. On the fifth play of the drive Speight threw deep to Drake Harris down the sideline. Harris made a great catch inside the 10-yard line, but was flagged for offensive pass interference. On the very next play, 2nd-and-34, Speight threw a screen pass to Chris Evans, who, after bobbling the catch, scampered 56 yards to the 1-yard line. Khalid Hill finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run.

A Maryland three-and-out gave Michigan the ball back with 2:33 left before the half and the Wolverines went 61 yards in less than two minutes. Speight connected with Chesson for a 33-yard touchdown to widen Michigan’s lead to 35-0 at the half.

Delano Hill intercepted Maryland quarterback Caleb Rowe on the first possession of the second half and Michigan’s offense quickly reached the red zone yet again. But this time the Wolverines couldn’t punch it into the end zone and had to settle for a 29-yard Kenny Allen field goal.

Maryland made it to the Michigan 35, but once again Michigan’s defense stopped the Terrapins on a fourth down attempt. This time, Michigan’s offense was unable to put points on the board for the first time all game. The Wolverines made it to the Maryland 14-yard line, but Khalid Hill was stuffed on 4th-and-1. But the Michigan defense stood strong again with another fourth down stop as Jabrill Peppers and Ben Gedeon combined to tackle running back Lorenzo Harrison for a 5-yard loss on 4th-and-2.

With a short field, Michigan’s offense needed eight plays to find the end zone right at the end of the third quarter. Smith crossed the goal line for the second time in the game to put Michigan ahead 45-0.

On Maryland’s first possession of the fourth quarter they finally ended the shutout with a 10-play, 55-yard drive that ended in a 37-yard field goal.

Michigan answered right back with a 53-yard Ty Isaac run on the first play of its ensuing possession. Two plays later, Smith scored from two yards out to make the score 52-3.

Delano Hill recorded his second interception of the game and John O’Korn led another Michigan scoring drive. The drive started with a 16-yard completion to freshman receiver Kekoa Crawford and ended with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Crawford — the first touchdown of his career.

Michigan’s offense piled up 660 total yards, their most in a game this season. Speight had the best game of his career, completing 19-of-24 passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. De’Veon Smith topped 100 yards for the first time this season, finishing with 114 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries for an average of six yards per carry. Chesson led the way through the air with five receptions for 112 yards and a score. Butt had five for 76 and Darboh had four for 77 and a score. For the second game this season Michigan didn’t have to punt.

Michigan’s defense surrendered 367 total yards to Maryland’s offense, but just three points. Quarterback Perry Hills, who entered the game tops in the Big Ten in pass efficiency, completed 4-of-4 passes but was knocked out of the game in the second quarter. His replacement, Rowe, completed just 12-of-23 passes for 203 yards — mostly on screens — and two interceptions.

Now 9-0 overall and 6-0 in Big Ten play, Michigan visits Iowa next Saturday for a primetime matchup against the Hawkeyes (5-4, 3-3). Iowa lost to No. 12 Penn State, 41-14, on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (19-of-24 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 carries for 16 yards, 1 touchdown)
Speight gets the game ball for the third time this season after his best performance of the year. The redshirt sophomore started fast and never let up, completing 79.2 percent of his passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns. He looked cool and calm in the pocket, evading defenders like a seasoned veteran, and even saw an open running lane up the middle for a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. After the game, Jim Harbaugh called his first half — in which he went 13-of-16 for 292 yards and two touchdowns — the best half of football he’s ever seen by a Michigan quarterback. Harbaugh also brought Speight’s name into the Heisman conversation. In reality, it’s too late for that, but if Speight keeps up this play, there’s no reason to think Michigan can’t win out and he’ll set himself up for Heisman consideration entering 2017.

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)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 8 — Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Delano Hill (6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions)
It seems like every week Ben Gedeon could be deserving of the defensive game ball, but narrowly misses out. This week was no different as he led the team with 11 tackles and three for loss. But strong safety Delano Hill gets the nod for his first two interception game of the season. The senior also recorded six tackles — five of them solo — including a half of a tackle for loss. His play in the secondary is important to Michigan’s defensive success as one of the unheralded stars. The defensive line gets a lot of hype, as do Peppers and Jourdan Lewis, but if Hill can consistently ball hawk from his spot, it makes the defense that much better.

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)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery for touchdown)

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.