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Posts Tagged ‘Explosive plays’

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: U-M defense still better than 2016 heading into MSU showdown

Friday, October 6th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer; O’Korn leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4;

After a bye week Michigan is back at it this week with a night game (yes, night game) against Michigan State. A team who, sadly, has already equaled their 2016 win total. They went 3-9 in case you forgot. I’ll never miss an opportunity to point that out.

After five weeks (but just four games) the Michigan offense comes in averaging 5.5 explosive runs per game (53rd nationally), 4.25 explosive passes per game (27th), and 9.75 total explosive plays per game (40th). Their big play percentage is 13.88 percent (40th).

After five weeks in 2016 Michigan had played five games so I decided to compare them at that point, instead of 4 games. Through 5 weeks they were averaging 7 explosive runs per game (25th), 3.8 explosive passes (42nd) for a total of 10.8 explosive plays per game (20th). Their big play percentage was 14.52 percent (30th).

Michigan has regressed, so far, compared to last year’s team through this point, except for the passing game, ironically, which is up almost a half play more per game. Call me crazy but I have a feeling the pass game numbers may actually improve by season’s end with John O’Korn at the helm.

On defense, they’re allowing 2.75 explosive runs per game (8th) and 2.75 explosive passes per game (49th) for a total of just 5.5 explosive plays per game (15th). Their big play against percentage is 9.52 percent (32nd) and their big play differential is 4.36 percent (27th). Their total toxic differential is 17, good for 22nd on a per game basis.

The 2016 team was allowing 4.2 explosive runs per game (47th) and 1.6 explosive passes per game (4th) for a total of 5.8 explosive plays per game (18th). Their big play against percentage was 9.57 percent (35th) and their big play differential was 4.95 percent. Their total toxic differential was 31, good for 7th on a per game basis.

All in all, this year’s defense has very similar stats to last year’s defense, and I expect that to continue.

Michigan’s 4.5 sacks per game is tops in the nation and their 8.5 tackles for loss per game is 7th.

Michigan’s big play leaders through 4 games
Name # Big Runs # Big Rec. Total Average Gain (Yds) Big Play %
Ty Isaac 10 0 10 24.0 17.54%
Chris Evans 6 1 7 20.5 12.77%
Karan Higdon 4 0 4 17.0 8.25%
Tarik Black 0 3 3 35.7 27.27%
Zach Gentry 0 3 3 33.0 50.00%
Grant Perry 0 3 3 28.0 23.08%
Donovan Peoples-Jones 1 1 2 40.5 50.00%
Kekoa Crawford 0 2 2 31.5 28.57%
Sean McKeon 0 2 2 26.50 20.00%
Nick Eubanks 0 1 1 48.0 50.00%

Ty Isaac leads the Wolverines with 10 total explosive plays, all runs, for 240 yards. Chris Evans comes in second with 6 for 123 yards. Tarik Black and tight end Zach Gentry are tied with three explosive pass plays each with Black’s 107 yards just edging out Gentry’s 99 yards. Unfortunately for Michigan, that is all Tarik Black will total this season due to injury. Sean McKeon, yet another tight end, is 2nd on the team with two explosive pass plays for 53 yards. With just one game under his belt it’s hard to tell if Gentry and McKeon will continue to be favorite targets for O’Korn. However, if I were a betting man I’d put my money on one of Gentry or McKeon to lead this team in explosive plays per game.

Michigan’s 2017 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 22 15 68.18%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 16 7 43.75%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

For the year, Michigan has had 22 drives on which they’ve recorded a big play and have scored on 15 of those, good for 68.18 percent, which is slightly below what it should be. You should score on about 75 percent of drives on which you have a big play.
The defense is fairing well allowing just 7 scores on 16 drives with big plays for 43.75 percent. Only Air Force scored on more than 50 percent of their big play drives.

Michigan has yet to record a garbage time big play. The caveat is that there has hardly been any garbage time opportunities save for the last drive or two. The defense has allowed one garbage time big play.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Michigan State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 22 18 40 13.88% 4.36% 17
MSU Def. 18 13 31 10.16% 1.65% 7
Michigan State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
MSU Off. 12 8 20 8.51% 1.65% 7
UM Def. 11 11 22 9.52% 4.36% 17

Michigan State comes into this game averaging 4.5 explosive runs per game (80th), 3.25 explosive passes per game (59th) for a total of 7.75 explosive plays per game (84th). Their big play percentage is 10.16% (92nd).

Their defense is allowing three explosive runs per game (16th) and two explosive passes per game (12th) for a total of just five explosive plays per game (9th). However, the eye test says this defense is definitely not as good as MSU defenses of the past and probably not as good as these numbers indicate either. Their big play against percentage is 8.51 percent (19th) and their big play differential is 1.65 percent (56th). Their total toxic differential is just 7, good for 55th on a per game basis.

You can throw all the records and stats away for this one. But Michigan presents a unique challenge with O’Korn having very limited Michigan tape to study. Don Brown will have his defense of rabid hyenas ready to roll but Michigan’s offensive line still gives me heartburn, especially knowing Michigan State will be coming strong with their double A-gap blitz. Should be a good, close game. Go Blue!

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!

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.

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

Thursday, December 29th, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sacks and tackles for loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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).

The Numbers Game: MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


peppers-vs-msu(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

First, the good news. Michigan won and was in control of this game from just about the beginning, with a three-possession lead at halftime and at least a two-possession game throughout (save for with one-second left on the clock when Michigan State cut it to seven only to have Jabrill Peppers subsequently return it back to nine).

Now, the bad. Michigan allowed double digit explosive plays for the first time all season and lost the total explosive play battle, also for the first time. Rivalry games are a strange thing indeed.

Coming into this match-up Michigan had yet to surrender more than seven explosive plays to an opponent (Colorado and UCF each had seven). Michigan State proceeded to almost double that number with 12. The silver lining is that three of those came on two drives in the fourth quarter during the brief amount of garbage time in this game. Regardless, Michigan State found a way to run the ball effectively against the vaunted Wolverine defense. Michigan got the win though, so we can look at the numbers without crying, right?

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first eight weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 64 34 98 16.39% 6.50% 52
2015 31 19 50 10.00% 0.07% 2

Michigan did manage 11 explosive plays of their own — six run and five pass — which is slightly below their season average of 12.43. On defense, the 12 they surrendered eight were runs and four passes. L.J. Scott was the main culprit, accounting for five of the eight runs and six of the 12 total plays, with an average explosive run of 21.4 yards and an explosive play on 25 percent of his touches. Please keep in mind L.J. Scott is an excellent running back who will be playing on Sundays and — like it or not — Mark Dantonio is a great coach who came up with a great game plan for Michigan. All great seasons usually have a game or two like this, a wake-up call if you will, and Michigan will be better for the adversity going forward.

Adding Michigan’s 11 explosive plays from this game into their season total, we arrive at an average of eight explosive runs per game (12th nationally) and 4.25 explosive passes (24th) for a total of 12.25 explosive plays per game (3rd) with a big play percentage of 16.39 percent (7th). Roughly one out of every six plays is an explosive one. Their big play differential is 6.5 percent (7th) and their total toxic differential is 52, good for second on a per game basis.

Michigan is one of only two teams to average eight or more explosive runs per game AND four or more explosive passes per game. Louisville is the other. I wonder if we can send these stats to ESPN to distribute to Joey Galloway and Kirk Herbstreit so they stop with all the old-fashioned, non-explosive offense talk.

Through eight games last season, Michigan was averaging just 3.88 explosive runs per game and 2.38 big passes per game for a total of just 6.25 explosive plays per game — almost half of their 2016 average. Their big play percentage was 9.14 percent and their big play differential was just 0.07 percent. Their total toxic differential was just two. Here’s how those explosive play numbers would rank nationally this year: 3.88 runs (110th), 2.38 pass (109th), 6.25 total (123rd). To say there’s been a massive improvement on offense would be an understatement.

Garbage time

None of Michigan’s explosive plays versus Michigan State came during garbage time. This was the third game in which Michigan did not record an explosive play during garbage time. Not because they were ineffective but because there was no, or little, garbage time during the game. There was only about seven minutes of garbage time versus Michigan State. On the season, 41.84 percent of Michigan’s explosive plays come during garbage time.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through eight weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.00 1.75 5.75 9.89% 6.50% 52
2015 3.38 2.13 5.51 9.07% 0.07% 2

On defense, Michigan did surrender those 12 explosive plays, most of which were runs (eight). L.J. Scott was responsible for 62.5 percent of the explosive runs and half of the total explosive plays given up. While he did average over 21 yards per explosive run this was only about half a yard more than Michigan’s season average given up on said runs, so it wasn’t out of the ordinary. Not a single one of Michigan State’s 12 explosive plays came on third down. One did come on fourth, but who’s counting?

Overall, Michigan is surrendering four explosive runs per game (31st) and 1.75 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 5.75 (5th). The total is a big fall from last week’s 4.86 and number one overall but still well under the six per game threshold of an elite defense in this metric. Their big play against percentage is 9.89 percent (27th). Their big play rankings took a tumble, but overall these are very excellent numbers given the level of competition they have faced.

Michigan is the only team in the country to allow four or fewer explosive run plays and less than two explosive pass plays per game. And they are one of only four teams to allow less than two explosive pass plays per game.

This point last year is where the wheels started to fall off for the defense in the explosive play department. They went into Minnesota and gave up 10 explosive plays and that trend would continue as the season progressed. After eight games the 2015 team was averaging 3.38 explosive runs allowed and 2.13 explosive passes allowed for a total of 5.5 per game with a big play against percentage of 9.07 percent. Better than this year’s numbers through eight games, but remember, those trends did not continue as they ended the season with over seven explosive plays surrendered per game.

Garbage time

As mentioned, three of the 12 explosive plays surrendered did come in garbage time. For the season, Michigan is giving up 50 percent of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

The Wolverines defense bounced back after a one sack, four tackles for loss performance against Illinois to record two sacks and seven TFLs. Despite a couple ‘down’ weeks their sack and TFL numbers are still fairly high in the national rankings. Michigan has 32 total sacks (if you recall this was their 13-game season total a year ago) and they are averaging 3.38 sacks per game good for 11th and 9th, respectively. They have 70 total tackles for loss (5th) and average 8.75 per game (4th). They should pass the 2015 season total for tackles for loss (88) in the next two or three weeks.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-9Michigan has registered 98 total explosive plays on offense — 64 run and 34 pass. An explosive play is slightly more likely on second down (43) than it is on first down (41). An explosive run is slightly more likely on second (31) than first down (28) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first (13) than second down (12). Third down is still highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 7.81 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.47 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-9

On defense Michigan is almost equally likely to give up an explosive play on first (18) or second down (19) with third down a good deal behind (eight). They’ve only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (17), followed by first (10) and then third (five). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (eight) than second (two), third (three) and fourth (one) downs combined.

Big play percentage of total yards

The Michigan defense has given up 889 total rushing yards and 669 of them (75.25 percent) have come via explosive plays. They give up just under 21 yards per explosive run carry. On carries that do not yield an explosive run Michigan gives up just 0.91 yards per carry. Of the 273 rushing attempts Michigan has seen they have given up an explosive run on just 32 of them (11.72 percent) or roughly one out of every eight opponent carries.

In the pass game, just over 50 percent of the yardage Michigan surrenders comes via explosive pass (484 of 961 total). They yield 34.57 yards per explosive pass completion but just 7.23 yards per non-explosive pass completion. Overall, 62.32 percent of the yards Michigan gives up come via explosive play, at 25 yards per play. The rest of the time Michigan has given up just 697 yards on 419 plays, 0.61 yards per play.

The only way you will get any yards on Michigan is to have an explosive play here or there, and Michigan doesn’t surrender many (5.75 per game). Nor do they allow you to score that often on drives with explosive plays. Speaking of which…

Big play scoring drives

Michigan State had seven drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan, but only scored on four of those, or 57.14 percent. Michigan also had seven drives with at least one explosive play but scored on six of them, 85.71 percent. For the year, Michigan has had 63 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play and they’ve scored on 45 of them — 71.43 percent of the time. On defense they’ve surrendered just 12 scores on 32 drives with an explosive play — just 36.36 percent of the time. Basically, two-thirds of the time an opponent has a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still don’t score on Michigan’s defense. On average, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive. Michigan is holding teams to less than half of that.

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 15 18.53 yards 16.67%
Chris Evans 12 22.64 yards 22.42%
Ty Isaac 11 16.67 yards 14.82%
Karan Higdon 10 18.87 yards 23.90%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 14 34.79 yards 36.84%
Jake Butt 7 20.00 yards 24.14%
Jehu Chesson 6 27.50 yards 30.00%

Our explosive play leaderboard stays about the same. De’Veon Smith leads the way with 15 total, averaging 18.53 yards per carry. Karan Higdon holds the largest yards per explosive run at 23.9 yards. Amara Darboh refuses to give up his stranglehold on the top explosive reception list with 14, double the next highest, Jake Butt, who has seven. Darboh averages a whopping 34.79 yards per explosive reception. Jehu Chesson is next at six for 27.5 yards and Jake Butt has seven for 20 yards a catch. No one else has more than two.

Michigan averages 19.52 yards per explosive run and 27.76 per explosive pass for a total average of 22.38 yards per explosive play. And they average over 12 of them per game, or about one out of every six plays. Knowing what we know about Michigan’s offense I can’t help but cackle when I hear comments about how they’re not explosive or high-powered enough.

Next opponent
Michigan & Maryland offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 64 34 98 16.39% 6.50% 52
MD Off. 73 18 91 16.37% 3.99% 17
Michigan & Maryland 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% 6.50% 52
MD Def. 56 18 74 12.37% 3.99% 17

And now we look ahead to a familiar face, D.J. Durkin and his Maryland Terrapins. I was going to make a veiled comment about just running Ohio State’s offense against them since Durkin clearly doesn’t know how to stop it, but let’s just look at how Maryland stacks up numbers-wise.

Maryland likes to run the ball, to the tune of 9.13 explosive runs per game (6th nationally), but they don’t seem to care for the pass much, 2.25 explosive passes per game (111th) but overall they’re a solidly explosive team, averaging 11.38 per game (17th). Their big play percentage for is 16.37 percent, just two-hundredths of a percent and one ranking spot below Michigan. Their total toxic differential is 17, good for 31st on a per game basis.

The Terrapins give up seven explosive runs per game (112th) and 2.25 explosive passes per game (15th) for a total of 9.25 explosive plays allowed per game (82nd). Their big play against percentage is 12.37 percent (80th) and their big play differential is 3.99 percent (24th). I’ll have more in my prediction tomorrow, but I’d fully expect Michigan to have great success running the ball this weekend.