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Posts Tagged ‘Don Brown’

First Look: Our bitter rival, Rutgers

Wednesday, October 25th, 2017


Michigan had a tough task going into Happy Valley to face No. 2 Penn State in front of a whiteout and a national primetime audience. But they were thoroughly embarrassed by a score of 42-13, tying for the worst loss in the Jim Harbaugh era.

Now, the Wolverines get a chance to take out their frustrations on a team they beat 78-0 a year ago. Since Saturday, national pundits and rival fans have enjoyed throwing around the stat that Michigan is currently tied with Rutgers for fourth place in the Big Ten East. The Scarlet Knights have won two straight Big Ten games, ending a 16-game conference losing streak dating back to the first Big Ten game of 2015. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Rutgers & Michigan team stats comparison
Offense Defense
Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank Average Rank
22.6 103rd 25.1 89th PPG 23.6 51st 18.6 22nd
1,174 1,213 Rush Yds 1,115 739
167.7 62nd 173.3 55th Rush/Gm 159.3 61st 105.6 11th
4.3 4.1 Rush Avg 4.5 3.2
935 1,314 Pass Yds 1,574 1,110
133.6 121st 187.7 97th Pass/Gm 224.9 71st 158.6 5th
2,109 2,527 Total Off. 2,689 1,849
301.3 122nd 361.0 97th Total Off./Gm 384.1 62nd 264.1 5th
14.8 127th 19.9 90th KR Avg 16.8 11th 14.0 2nd
10.4 32nd 8.1 56th PR Avg 9.4 91st 8.3 79th
31:11 42nd 33:10 11th Avg TOP 28:49 26:50
35% 98th 32% 110th 3rd Down% 30% 22nd 23% 1st
6-49 11th 23-151 118th Sacks-Yds 7-36 122nd 22-156 12th
21 19 TDs 19 16
4-6 (67%) 14-16 (88%) FG-ATT 11-13 (85%) 6-10 (60%)
19-23 (83%) 72nd 19-20 (95%) 8th Red Zone 21-22 (95%) 125th 14-17 (82%) 65th
15-23 (65%) 8-20 (40%)  RZ TD 12-22 (55%) 11-17 (65%)
1.52 122 1.82 103 OFEI/DFEI 1.88 60 0.96 6
20.7 117 26.2 85 S&P+ 22.8 33 17.5 14

Rutgers still isn’t anywhere close to competing for the Big Ten East, but in Year 2 of the Chris Ash era they are ahead of where they were last season. The offense is one of the worst in college football — yes, even worse than Michigan’s — but the defense is halfway decent.

Rutgers ranks approximately midway nationally in nearly every defensive statistic. Their 51st in scoring defense (23.6 points per game), 62nd in rush defense (159.3 yards per game), 71st in pass defense (224.9 yards per game), and 62nd in total defense (384.1 yards per game). They’re 60th in DFEI, which measures defensive efficiency adjusted for strength of opponents faced. But they’re all the way up to 33rd nationally in defensive S&P+, which measures play-by-play data of five factors: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers. By comparison, Michigan’s defense ranks 14th in S&P+, so not much ahead of Rutgers.

Does that mean Rutgers’ defense is in the same league as Michigan’s? Absolutely not. But they are better than their stats indicate. They held Purdue to 12 points in a 14-12 win this past Saturday — the same Purdue team that Michigan let score 10 points — and it took Purdue until 25 seconds remaining to score their first touchdown of the game (they failed the two-point conversion attempt to tie the game). They held Washington to 30 points — their second-lowest output this season — and Eastern Michigan to 13 points — their lowest of the season.

But before we get carried away praising a Rutgers defense, let’s also consider that they haven’t faced the toughest schedule to date (as noted by the DFEI ranking). Yes, they hung with Washington into the third quarter, but that was the first game of the season which can always be unpredictable. The only other S&P top-50 teams they’ve faced are Purdue (48th) and Ohio State (1st). And the Buckeyes soundly beat the Scarlet Knights 56-0, nearly matching their 58-0 score from 2016. Ohio State piled up 628 total yards, averaging 6.2 yards per play. Illinois passed for 308 yards two weeks ago and Purdue, despite scoring just 12 points, piled up 474 total yards, so in the last three weeks Rutgers is allowing an average of 499 yards per game. If ever there’s a week for Michigan’s offense to taste some success it’s this one. On the other hand, if the offense struggles, it will truly be time to worry.

On the other side of the ball, Rutgers ranks 103rd nationally in scoring (22.6 points per game), 62nd in rushing (167.7 yards per game), 121st in passing (133.6 yards per game), and 122nd in total offense (301.3 yards per game). Yes, only seven teams nationally rank worse in total offense than Rutgers.

Interestingly, Rutgers actually averages more rushing yards per game than Penn State did entering the Michigan game last week. But much of that is inflated by a 326-yards performance against Morgan State, which ranks 74th nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) in rush defense. Against FBS competition, Rutgers is averaging just 141.3 rushing yards per game, which would rank 89th. Except for a 274-yard rushing game against Illinois’ 107th-ranked rush defense, Rutgers hasn’t topped 131 yards on the ground. They managed just 68 yards on 2.4 yards per carry against Nebraska and 2.9 yards per carry against Ohio State.

The passing game is even worse. Rutgers hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game this season and has been held below 100 twice. In the last three weeks, they’ve averaged just 93.7 passing yards per game while completing just 45.6 percent. By comparison, Michigan’s passing offense the last three weeks is averaging 140.7 passing yards per game and 50.6 percent completions. That’s how bad Rutgers’ passing game has been.

If there’s one bright spot for the Rutgers offense it is the fact that they’ve allowed just six sacks through seven games, a figure that ranks 11th nationally. That’s 17 fewer sacks than Michigan’s offensive line has allowed.

As you can see, Rutgers is slightly improved over last year and has a decent defense and an offense even worse than Michigan’s. Given all that has transpired this season I wouldn’t expect a repeat of last year’s result, but anything but an easy Michigan win this Saturday should definitely be cause for real, legitimate concern.

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

Friday, October 13th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

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

First the good news.

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

Now the bad news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacks and tackles for loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers game: O’Korn’s leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4

Friday, September 29th, 2017


(Eric Upchurch)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer;

Michigan’s offense found new life after Wilton Speight went out with an apparent neck injury. John O’Korn came in and proceeded to orchestrate the offense with precision, making us wonder if last year’s Indiana game or this game was the outlier. Only time will tell.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First four 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 22 18 40 13.88% 4.36% 17
2016 30 17 47 15.20% 5.60% 25
2015 15 11 26 9.09% 0.58% 4

Michigan had 12 big plays against Purdue. Yes, 12 — seven pass and five run. O’Korn hit five separate players for big pass plays and added one on the ground himself for good measure.

Michigan is averaging 5.5 explosive runs per game (54th nationally), 4.25 explosive passes (22nd) for a total of 9.75 explosive plays per game (42nd). Their big play percentage is 13.88 percent (41st).

Through four games the 2016 Michigan offense averaged 7.5 explosive runs per game (20th nationally) and 3.75 explosive passes per game (38th nationally) for 11.25 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play percentage was 15.20 percent (24th) and their big play differential was 5.60 percent (19th).

The 2017 offense is slightly behind the pace of the 2016 offense, but given the schedule and the offensive, um, hiccups, this isn’t actually that bad. The run game has struggled a bit but thanks to O’Korn’s performance last week the pass game is averaging over four big passes per game. If O’Korn’s playmaking remains it will help out the run game by opening things up. Fingers crossed!

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 2.75 2.75 5.50 9.52% 4.36% 17
2016 4.50 1.50 6.00 9.60% 5.60% 25
2015 4.00 1.00 5.00 8.51% 0.58% 4

On defense, Michigan surrendered just six big plays to Purdue, three run and three pass. Anything under six is elite, but you already knew this defense was elite. For the year, Michigan is allowing 2.75 explosive runs per game (12th) and 2.75 explosive passes (52nd) for a total of just 5.5 explosive plays per game (15th). Their big play against percentage is 9.52 percent (40th) and their toxic differential is 17, good for 29th on a per game basis.

After four games a year ago, the 2016 defense was giving up 4.5 explosive runs per game (54th) and a paltry 1.5 explosive pass plays (8th) for an even 6.00 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play against percentage was 9.60 percent (33rd) and their toxic differential was 25, good for 12th on per game basis.

The defense is giving up fewer big run plays but more big pass plays than the 2016 team at this point, but is giving up half a total big play less per game overall. The big play against percentage is roughly the same.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Through four games last year, against all cupcakes (yes, Penn State was a cupcake), Michigan had 44 tackles for loss (11 per game) and 17 sacks (4.25 per game). This year’s team is slightly behind the tackle for loss pace at just 34, but their 18 total sacks and 4.5 per game are both tops nationally right now. They’ve had a tougher schedule and considering Air Force doesn’t usually allow any tackles for loss, this is still impressive. Don Brown for the win!

Since Michigan has a bye this weekend I’m going to save the individual big play stats and other metrics for next week, along with the Michigan State big play preview so we have more to discuss next week. Until then, Go Blue!

Ben Gedeon drafted 120th overall by Minnesota Vikings

Saturday, April 29th, 2017


Michigan had six players drafted in the first three rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft and didn’t have to wait long to see a seventh come off the board on Saturday. Linebacker Ben Gedeon was selected by the Minnesota Vikings with the 14th pick of the fourth round, 120th overall.

Gedeon started just 14 games in his career, but 13 of them came in 2016 when he thrived under new defensive coordinator Don Brown. He earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors from the media and Third Team honors from the coaches and he won Michigan’s Roger Zatkoff Award as the team’s best linebacker.

Gedeon lead the team with 106 tackles — 30 more than any other player — and recorded 15.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, two pass breakups, and two quarterback hurries. He turned in his best game of the season against Ohio State when he recorded 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack.

In Minnesota, Gedeon projects to be a middle linebacker in their 4-3 defense. He joins Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, Ohio State center Pat Elflein, and Iowa defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson in the Vikings draft class through the first four rounds.

The Numbers Game: Despite disappointing finish, U-M showed drastic improvement from Year 1

Wednesday, January 18th, 2017


(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, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game, U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average, Michigan big-play offense looks to bounce back vs susceptible FSU big-play defense

Despite losing three out of their last four games, by a total of just five points, Michigan made some big strides in 2016. In this last installment of The Numbers Game I hope to give you some optimism heading into next season, based on the increased offensive and defensive production from Year 1 to Year 2 and we’ll speculate on how Year 3 might look based on Harbaugh’s past.

Let’s get right into it. In the Orange Bowl, Dalvin Cook could not be contained, accounting for six of Florida State’s nine total explosive plays (five run, four pass). Add in a botched kick coverage and Michigan lost another game they should have won. Such is life. Back-to-back 10-win seasons for the first time in over a decade is very good, though, lest we forget this was a 5-7 team two years ago.

Michigan didn’t manage an explosive play until the third quarter when Wilton Speight hit Ian Bunting for 21 yards on a 4th-and-4 pass. In total, Michigan notched just five total explosive plays (four run and one pass) for their second lowest output of the season. Only their three versus Ohio State was worse. That one can be chalked up to an injured quarterback and this one to Florida State doing what I was worried about the most: lining up DeMarcus Walker on the inside to take advantage of Michigan’s weak offensive guard play. I suspected Kyle Kalis would be exploited but it was true freshman Ben Bredeson who bore the brunt of the future NFL lineman’s wrath.

Regardless, Michigan finished the season with their two worst explosive play performances offensively, while giving up 17 to their opponents (OSU – 8, FSU – 9). Not exactly what we expected given how the season started but it is what it is. But as you’ll see, all is not lost.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 87 46 133 14.09% 3.71% 56
2015 47 48 95 10.49% -1.01% -3

For the year Michigan finished with 6.69 explosive runs per game (31st nationally) and 3.54 explosive passes (52nd) for a total of 10.23 explosive plays per game (30th). Their big play percentage for was 14.09 percent (35th).

After the hot 9-0 start to the season these numbers may seem a bit disappointing but when comparing them to 2015 the improvement is actually quite remarkable.

The 2015 offense averaged 3.6 explosive runs per game (116th) and 3.7 explosive passes per game (40th) for a total of 7.3 explosive plays per game (100th). Their big play percentage was 10.49 percent (97th).

Michigan improved upon every single offensive big play metric in a huge way, save for passing. But, if you’ll recall the piece on Harbaugh’s San Francisco teams you’d remember that from the year before Harbaugh to Year 1 with Harbaugh the passing game saw a decrease while the running game numbers took a giant leap. And the running game again took a giant leap in Year 2 with passing staying about the same. Remember, Harbaugh is a run-first guy, so we’re not likely to see huge numbers in the explosive pass department. Even his 2010 Stanford team with a returning starter in Andrew Luck averaged just 3.7 explosive passes per game.

In 2010 (pre-Harbaugh), San Francisco had 40 explosive runs and 36 explosive passes. In 2011, SF had 56 explosive runs and 28 explosive passes. Year 2 (2012) saw 81 explosive run plays and 33 explosive passes. The Niners went from 40 to 56 to 81 2010-2012. In Year 2, Harbaugh doubled the explosive run production from the year prior to his arrival.

Michigan’s explosive run numbers took a dip from 72 in 2014 to 47 in 2015, but then shot up to 87 total in Year 2. Progress is being made, and all with a Brady Hoke offensive line. To put in perspective how much of an improvement this is, the 10.23 total explosive plays per game this year is a 40 percent increase on the 7.3 from 2015. And the explosive runs increased by an astounding 86 percent.

Defense saw a similar theme in improvement. Although the numbers improvements were not as dramatic, the rankings were.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 regular season comparison
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.38 2.08 6.46 10.38% 3.71% 56
2015 4.80 2.40 7.20 11.49% -1.01% -3

The Wolverines gave up 4.38 explosive runs per game (35th) and 2.08 explosive passes (3rd) for a total of 6.46 explosive plays per game (11th). Their big play against percentage was 10.38 percent (30th) and their big play differential was 3.71 percent (21st). Total toxic differential was 56, good for eighth on a per game basis. Three of the four playoff teams finished in the top six in toxic differential per game.

In 2015, Michigan gave up 4.8 explosive runs per game (53rd) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (13th) for a total of 7.2 explosive plays per game (24th). Their big play against percentage was 11.49 percent, good for 59th and their big play differential was -1.01 percent (88th). Their total toxic differential was minus-3, good for 75th on a per game basis.

The 2016 defense improved in every single big play metric and saw significant jumps in their rankings as well. But wait, there’s more.

Let’s talk about tackles for loss and sacks. Michigan had 88 tackles for loss in 2015, an average of 6.77 per game. In 2016, they had 120, an average of 9.23 per game and an increase of 36 percent. The sack numbers were even better. In 2015, Michigan had 32 sacks (2.46 per game). In 2016, they had 46 (3.54 per game), an increase of 43.7 percent.

The team rankings show just how much they improved. Sacks went from 31st in total and 32nd per game to fifth in total and fourth per game. Tackles for loss went from 38th in total and 42nd per game to third in total and second per game. Don Brown took this defense from middle of the pack in sacks and TFL to top five in both in just one year.

All but the offensive explosive pass play numbers were improved upon from Year 1 to Year 2. And given Harbaugh’s past record we weren’t expecting the pass numbers to waver much anyway. Remember, Stanford in 2010 (the 12-1 Orange Bowl champion year) averaged 5.8 runs and 3.7 passes. His best passing team in San Francisco (2012) averaged just two explosive pass plays per game. We’re right in the range we can reasonably expect given the roster. Of course, a guy like Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey might add a new wrinkle and we could possibly see an uptick once they take over.

So what sort of improvement, if any, can we expect in Year 3? If Harbaugh’s history shows us anything it’s that this is likely going to be the norm for the offense: around seven explosive runs per game and 3.5 explosive passes per game. Does that mean the offense won’t improve? No, but at this point I don’t think we can expect another drastic improvement. As Harbaugh builds this roster in his image, perhaps we’ll see an uptick, but don’t look for Louisville type numbers (8.5-plus run and 4.5-plus pass). There were only two teams who averaged more than 12 explosive plays per game this season, so hovering around 10.5 keeps Michigan around the top-25 in that category.

The defense ended up right about where we expected, allowing 6.46 explosive plays per game. There’s not much room to improve upon that, or the sack and TFL numbers, from Year 2 to Year 3. But as Don Brown has more time to teach and implement his system we might see Michigan get into the under six explosive plays allowed per game range, which would easily be top five nationally.

So hold your heads up high, Michigan fans, the future is very bright. No, the season didn’t end like we expected, but Jim Harbaugh took a senior class that went 12-13 their first two years and went 20-6 with them, giving Michigan its second coach ever to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons and the first back to back 10-win seasons in over a decade. Until next season, Go Blue!

The Numbers Game: U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average

Friday, December 2nd, 2016


um-defense-vs-osu(Dustin Johnson, Maize ‘n Brew)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game

Let me get this out of the way first: while the officiating was egregious, it was NOT why Michigan lost last Saturday’s game. It sure didn’t help when Ohio State was getting the calls on identical plays where Michigan wasn’t, but in comparison to the three turnovers it was insignificant. You simply cannot turn the ball over three times, especially on the road, and expect to win. Take away just one of the interceptions and Michigan wins comfortably in regulation. Regardless, it was a game that came down to the wire and Michigan had shot itself in the foot too many times to win and still almost pulled out a win. Heartbreaking? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that just two years ago this was a 5-7 team.

Now, some good news. Michigan racked up an absurd 13 total tackles for loss and eight — yes EIGHT — sacks. They held a potent OSU offense that was averaging over 11 big plays per game to eight — two of which came in overtime. The bad news is the offense couldn’t generate many big plays of their own, recording just three total — one run and two pass. That’s well below their season average of 11.36 coming in. Add in losing the turnover battle three to one and Michigan’s toxic differential this game was minus-7, a far cry from their per game average of plus-6 coming in.

Losing both the big play battle and the turnover battle, on the road, is not a recipe for winning and yet they were still there in the end and could have won. Despite all that, with some chaos this weekend there is an ever so slight chance Michigan could make the playoff. #HarbaughEffect #DonBrownEffect

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

Michigan’s three  total big plays is by far the lowest total of the year. Wilton Speight’s undisclosed injury likely led to no downfield shots and a contributing factor for the lack of big plays, but that is neither here nor there.

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

The last three weeks of the season have seen Michigan drop dramatically in all of those metrics, from 12th to 27th in explosive runs, 14th to 46th in passes, second to 24th overall big plays, and 4th to 28th for big play percentage. Not ideal, as the end of the year is not when you want to see your team come back down to Earth, but as I said above, two years ago this was a 5-7 team. For some additional context, and to help hammer home the point that Jim Harbaugh is indeed building a DeathStar with this program let’s look at the 2015 end of regular season numbers.

The 2015 Michigan offense averaged 3.58 explosive runs per game and 3.5 explosive passes for a total of 7.08 explosive plays per game. Their big play percentage was 10.25 percent and their total toxic differential was minus-4.

The 2016 run game took huge leap forward, almost doubling the per game output, the pass game got slightly better and the overall was 50 percent better than last year’s at this point. Their toxic differential went from a negative to a very large positive (-4 to 59) and we’re only scratching the surface of what Jim Harbaugh is bringing to Michigan. It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Garbage time

There was no garbage time during this game, and I expect future versions of The Game to stay that way. For the year just over one-third — 35.94 percent — of Michigan’s explosive plays came during garbage time. They did the bulk of their damage before the game got out of hand.

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

The defense held its ground during regulation, keeping Ohio State to just six explosive plays, which is right at Michigan’s average coming in and almost half of OSU’s average. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes added two very big plays in overtime and finished the day with those eight explosive runs. Michigan did not allow a single explosive pass.

For the regular season, Michigan’s defense averaged 4.33 explosive runs per game (34th) and 1.92 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 6.25 explosive plays per game (9th). Their big play against percentage was 10.04 percent and their big play differential was 4.67 percent (16th). Michigan improved upon every single defensive measurement under the tutelage of Don Brown. Not by leaps and bounds, but significant going by rankings.

Their 2015 numbers were 4.67 explosive runs per game and 2.25 explosive passes per game for a total of 6.92 explosive plays given up per game. Their big play against percentage was 10.95 percent and their big play differential was -0.70 percent. In 2016, those would rank, 45th in runs, 10th in passes, and 25th in overall big plays surrendered. Big play against would be 28th compared to this year’s numbers and big play differential would have been 82nd. Michigan had a very good defense last year, and Don Brown came in and managed to improve upon it. Taking out the two overtime explosive runs and this defense held OSU to half their 2015 total versus Michigan. I think it’s safe to say Don Brown knows what he’s doing.

Garbage time

Again, there was no garbage time during this game. For the year Michigan allows 37.84 percent of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan’s eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss adds to their already impressive season totals. Their 44 total sacks at 3.67 per game both rank second nationally. Their 114 total tackles for loss and 9.5 per game are both first overall. They are the only team to average over nine TFL per game. This is just the first year under Don Brown’s aggressive scheme, and I think it’s safe to say the Michigan defense will find itself amongst the top teams in sacks and TFL as long as he’s in Ann Arbor.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-13

An explosive play was equally as likely on first down (54) as it is on second down (54). An explosive run was more likely on second (39) than first down (36) and an explosive pass play was slightly more likely on first (18) than second down (15). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 8.43 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.67 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-13

On defense, Michigan was also about almost as likely to give up an explosive play on first down (31) than second down (29) with third down a good deal behind (13). They only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (24), followed by first (20), 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

Ohio State had six drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan and they scored on three of them. However, during regulation, they had four drives but only scored on one of them. They were two for two during overtime. Michigan had just one drive with at least one explosive play and scored on it. For the year, Michigan has had 82 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play, and they’ve scored on 60 of them, or 73.17 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 20 scores on 54 drives with an explosive play, just 37.04 percent of the time.

What this means is that almost two-thirds of the time an opponent had 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.

Since we do not know Michigan’s bowl fate we cannot take a look ahead at their next opponent so we’ll end our regular season edition with a look at the individual big play leaders.

Michigan’s big play leaders

De’Veon Smith was the overall leader with 22 big plays (all runs), averaging an astounding 19.55 yards per big play. Amara Darboh led the pass catchers in big plays with 16 and a 33.81 yards per big catch average. Freshman Chris Evans was second overall in total and run plays with 17 and Karan Higdon held the highest average per run with 23.9 on his 10 big run plays. Overall, thirteen players recorded at least one explosive run, 10 recorded at least one explosive catch and five had at least one run and one catch.

M&GB staff predictions: The Game

Saturday, November 26th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Previously this week: First Look: Ohio State, Tailgate Tuesday, Five-Spot Challenge, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers GameGame preview

The day we look forward to all year is finally here. For the first time in 10 years both teams enter with enormously high expectations. Not only is a Big Ten championship game berth on the line, but a potential spot in the College Football Playoff is up for grabs. Win and you’re still alive. Lose and you’ll get a decent bowl game as a consolation prize.

Let’s not waste any more time with the pleasantries. You know the stakes. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (2)

I’ll start with a disclaimer. This prediction is based on Speight being able to play the whole game. If he’s unable to play, or if he’s knocked out of the game, I predict a Michigan loss. But I’m hedging my bets on his shoulder not being quite as bad as Harbaugh let on the past couple of weeks.

In a game like this where both teams rank among the nation’s best both offensively and defensively, and both teams will come in full of emotion in a rivalry game, I like to think that they’ll both keep doing what the are good at — what got them there.

Staff Predictions
Michigan    Ohio St   
Justin 26 24
Derick 14 24
Sam 17 24
Josh 13 27
Joe 21 20
M&GB Average 18 24

As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Ohio State’s defense has been susceptible to big plays, especially in the run game where they rank 77th nationally, giving up 5.91 explosive runs per game. In fact, they’re slightly worse in that regard than Indiana, which entered last week surrendering 5.7 per game — 70th nationally. We all know what Michigan’s running game did to the Hoosiers, racking up seven explosive runs including De’Veon Smith’s scampers of 39, 34, and 25 yards. We also know that on drives in which Michigan has an explosive play they score 73 percent of the time.

Michigan’s offense averages 11.36 explosive plays per game and OSU’s defense surrenders 8.09 per game. Let’s say Michigan’s offense gets eight and scores points on 75 percent of those. Even if they’re all field goals, that’s 18 points. But Michigan will score at least one touchdown, so now we’re into the 20s. Two puts them at 26 points — two touchdowns and four field goals — and I think that’s enough to win the game.

Michigan’s defense surrenders just 6.09 explosive plays per game — fifth nationally — while Ohio State’s offense averages 11.09 (16th). The Wolverines haven’t surrendered more than nine explosive plays in non-garbage time this season. But even so, even if Ohio State’s powerful offense gets its average of 11, Michigan’s defense gives up points just 35 percent of the time. That equates to four scores and I doubt all four will be touchdowns as Michigan has surrendered just 14 all season. Three touchdowns and a field goal is 24 points.

Sure, it may be slightly ridiculous to base a prediction on explosive play stats, but they’ve been pretty accurate all season. And now we have 11 games worth of data to use. If Speight plays, Michigan’s offense will be able to move the ball well enough to put up some point on the Buckeyes, even if they settle for field goals. Senior Kenny Allen will come up big by making all of them. Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno will empty the kitchen sink trying to soften the Buckeye defense for Smith to get the running game going.

On the other side, Michigan will surrender a few big plays, likely including the 50-yard touchdown run up the middle that has become standard for OSU in this game. But by and large, the U-M defense will hold strong and keep the Bucks out of rhythm.

The game live up to its billing, going down to the wire. Allen boots a game-winning field goal, Michigan escapes the snake pit with its first win in 16 years, and heads to Indy for a rematch with Wisconsin. Of course, if Speight doesn’t play, this could be all moot.

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

Derick (1)

It’s finally time for the game everyone has been waiting for, and it’s even more important than we all imagined. Michigan and Ohio State will be fighting to stay alive in the College Football Playoff race, while the loser will be out of the running.

Last year, Michigan appeared to have a good chance to take down Ohio State at home, but the combination of J.T. Barrett and an excellent running back tore the Wolverines apart. Unfortunately for Michigan, that combination still exists.

Three weeks ago, I thought Michigan was the better team, but after a loss to Iowa and an awful offensive performance against Indiana at the home finale, that confidence has started to slip away.

I think Michigan is one of the three best teams in the country this season, but I think it will come up short on Saturday.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 14

Sam (3)

So this is what it has all come down to. This, for all the marbles. A win for Michigan means a Big Ten championship game berth for the first time since its inception and one game closer to their first ever appearance in the College Football Playoff.

Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as hopeful about the outcome of this game as I was about three weeks ago when it looked as if the Wolverine offense was inching closer to their vaunted defense. One miserable performance and one quarterback injury later and the offense is looking fairly pedestrian of late while the defense continues to play about as well could be reasonably expected.

If the Maize and Blue are to have any shot it’s going to need to come in a defensive slugfest with a ground game that’s just good enough to put a couple scores on the board. I have an inkling that if Jabrill Peppers records his first ever interception, the visitors will walk away victorious. I also have an inkling that we we won’t be seeing that.

I trust Don Brown’s defense to hold the Buckeyes at bay for the most part but I have little faith that Michigan’s offense is going to be able to consistently churn yardage out against a stout OSU defense with what is likely to be a one-dimensional attack. In the end, J.T. Barrett will make the difference over John O’Korn to maintain Buckeye dominance of late in this yearly war and keep Harbaugh’s squad out of the final four. As much as it pains me to say it, give me Ohio State.

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 17

Josh (1)

I’ll just come out and say it: If anyone other than a close to 100 percent Wilton Speight comes out on the first series I don’t see Michigan winning this game. I said in my preseason prediction that Michigan would lose to Iowa (they did) and OSU. I also said that serious injuries to key players could derail the season. If Speight is out, Michigan loses; plain and simple. I just don’t see how John O’Korn can lead them to victory in Columbus.

That said, IF Wilton Speight does play I think Michigan has an excellent chance to win.

On defense, Michigan needs to have figured out how to stop the missed tackling issues and they need to seal the edge. If not, Curtis Samuel is going to run rampant downfield. J.T. Barrett doesn’t scare me if he’s forced to pass, the problem is when the defense loses contain. I’m interested to see what Don Brown has cooked up. Personally, I’d use the pass rush to contain him and just slowly close the pocket around him and trust the back end to do their jobs. But Don Brown is not exactly known for being a passive, sit back and wait coordinator. However, this is why he was brought in; to solve the problem OSU’s offense presents and to win The Game.

If they can keep Barrett from escaping pressure and finally seal the edge to keep Samuels and Mike Weber from breaking free for long runs then Michigan should be able to give the offense enough to work with to come out with the win.

On offense, Michigan needs to keep OSU honest with a balanced attack and they ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO hit a few deep balls so the running game doesn’t get bottled up. As much as I love the running backs Michigan has not one of them possesses all the skills of an elite back. Penn State’s Saquan Barkley and Michigan State’s L.J. Scott had some great games against this defense, but I don’t think any one back on Michigan is as good as either of those two. Every single guy who carries the ball has to bring his A-game for Michigan to win. OSU needs to be thinking about who is back there and what he can and cannot do, information overload.

Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson just need to keep being themselves but Jake Butt and his tight end cohorts need to be a bigger part of the passing attack. They are built to wreak havoc against OSU’s defense.

All signs point to O’Korn, not Speight, being the quarterback this weekend and I don’t see how he can improve that much from last week to be able to pull out a win in Columbus. I called this a loss in the preseason and unfortunately I am going to keep it that way.

Ohio State 27 – Michigan 13

Joe (6)

It’s finally here. The biggest game of the entire NCAA football season. This one will be special on all fronts. I’m not even going to go into all the different scenarios and player predictions. Let’s just say Michigan wins by one.

Michigan 21 – Ohio State 20

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).

M&GB staff predictions: Maryland

Friday, November 4th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Previously this week: First Look, Five-Spot Challenge, Tailgate Tuesday, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers Game, game preview

Fresh off a win over rival Michigan State, Michigan returns home to host former defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin’s Maryland Terrapins. Maryland comes in with a 5-3 record, but has lost three of its last four. Could Durkin shock his former boss? Or will Michigan stay focused on the task at hand and take care of business?

Justin won our weekly predictions last week for his first win of the season with his prediction of Michigan 33 – Michigan State 13. Here are this week’s picks:

Justin (1)
Staff Predictions
Michigan Maryland
Justin 45 17
Derick 48 13
Sam 38 3
Josh 38 17
Joe 42 7
M&GB Average 42 11

Four straight opponents have rushed for at least 200 yards on Maryland’s defense — Indiana (414), Michigan State (270), Minnesota (229), and Penn State (372) and there’s no reason to believe Michigan will end that streak. Look for Harbaugh to give the ball to Michigan’s stable of backs over and over and over again with some jet sweeps mixed in. Of course, Durkin will know that Harbaugh will do this, but his defense won’t be able to stop it consistently.

On the other side of the ball, Maryland will probably hit a few explosive runs. Remember, the Terps actually have nine more explosive runs (10 or more yards) than Michigan does so far this season — which ranks sixth nationally — and Johnson and Harrison average 8.6 yards per carry. They won’t have consistent success against Michigan’s stout defense, especially without a major passing threat, but they’ll bust a few.

But it won’t be enough as Michigan is simply more talented and experienced on both sides of the ball. The Wolverines top 300 yards rushing and score pass just enough to keep the defense honest. Michigan’s defense gets to Hills a few times, but surrenders a few big plays and a couple of touchdowns. Michigan has the game in hand by halftime and cruises to a comfortable win.

Michigan 45 – Maryland 17

Derick

Michigan hasn’t covered two weeks in a row after covering easily throughout most of the first half. D.J. Durkin is returning to the Big House with a much-improved Maryland team and a reinvigorated Perry Hills at quarterback. But Michigan’s defense is a completely different monster, and the toughest test Hills will face all season. I think Michigan will handle the Terps’ defense fairly easily and cruise to a big win

Michigan 48 – Maryland 13

Sam (1)

On paper, this game looks a lot like the Illinois game to me. Sure, Maryland has been playing a bit better than the Fighting Illini, but they don’t have the players or schemes to give Michigan much of a challenge. Expect the Wolverines’ ground game to be on full display yet again while Speight throws a couple first half touchdowns before packing it in after halftime. Give me the Maize and Blue in yet another snoozer.

Michigan 38 – Maryland 3

Josh (1)

I haven’t seen Maryland play this year. I mean, why would I want to watch that? But from what I can glean from some breakdowns and the traditional and fancy stats, they’re a spread-y team in the mold of Ohio State — except without freak athletes. This should be a good test to see how Don Brown handles the power-spread that D.J. Durkin could not. As we saw in this week’s The Numbers Game, Maryland is better on the ground than through the air and very good at generating explosive run plays, averaging 9.13 per game (6th nationally). But they’re not so good at explosive pass plays, ranking 111th. On defense, their run defense isn’t very good but their pass D is, so it could be interesting to see what Harbaugh has in mind. Michigan should have their way with the Terrapin defense, especially on the ground.

Honestly, I’m a little nervous about Maryland. It’s a classic trap game, sandwiched between a rival and a brutal away game at night. Plus, last year’s OSU game looms large in the back of my mind and Colorado had some great success early on against Michigan with their spread-y ways.

Maryland doesn’t have the athletes that Michigan does but spreading out the defense and going with three wide receiver looks opens the middle up for big runs, which they are very good at and Michigan has traditionally struggled with. Yes, Michigan does have Don Brown and Jabrill Peppers, but I think Maryland will find some success running the ball much like MSU did last week.

I expect them to dink and dunk down the field and get a big gainer here and there on their way to double digit points. I have a sneaky feeling this game will be uncomfortably close for longer than Michigan fans would like, thus refueling the concern against OSU, despite them appearing to be mortal.

Maryland puts up 400 yards and a fair deal of points, relatively speaking, due to busts on big runs up the middle. I’m looking at you Dymonte Thomas. Michigan wins but it’s close enough where the media, and fans, will start to question the elite status of Michigan’s defense.

Michigan 38 – Maryland 17

Joe (5)

We’re in the home stretch and everything is going as planned. I’m intrigued with this game only because we’re facing a former coach who knows Harbaugh and our boys fairly well. Durkin knows that the only way to keep things close is by draining the clock and keeping the Michigan offense on the sidelines. Maryland and their top 15 rushing attack will rely on a strong ground game and ball control. The defensive front will be tested but will also be out to prove the fourth quarter from last week is not going to happen again. I see Michigan coming out pumped and looking to bury the Terps quickly, which they do starting in the second quarter. Michigan wins this one big.

Michigan 42 – Maryland 7

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.