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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Harbaugh’

#3 Michigan vs Illinois game preview

Friday, October 21st, 2016

um-illinois-game-preview-header(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously this week: Midseason comparison: Offense, First Look, Five-Spot Challenge, Tailgate Tuesday, Midseason comparison: Defense, Big Ten power rankings, The Numbers Game

Fresh off a bye week, Michigan opens the second half of its season tomorrow with a matchup against Illinois. The Homecoming tradition is to schedule an easy opponent so that alums who make the annual fall pilgrimage back to campus can see a sure win, and aside from Michigan’s last opponent — Rutgers — this is as close as one can get.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. ET – BTN
Illinois Head Coach: Lovie Smith (1st season)
Coaching Record: 2-4, 1-2 Big Ten (89-87 NFL)
Offensive Coordinator: Garrick McGee (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Hardy Nickerson (1st season)
Last Season: 5-7 (2-6 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 45 – IL 0 (2012)
All-Time Series: Michigan 69-23-2
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 33-11-1
Jim Harbaugh vs Illinois First meeting
Last Michigan win: 2012 (45-0)
Last Illinois win: 2009 (38-13)
Current Streak: Michigan 3
Illinois Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Murray State W 52-3
North Carolina L 23-48
Western Michigan L 10-34
at #15 Nebraska L 16-31
Purdue L 31-34
at Rutgers W 24-7

It has been a rarity this season that the narrative leading up to a Michigan game hasn’t centered around something the opposing coach said about Jim Harbaugh or something Harbaugh did over the summer that hurt the opposing coach’s feelings. But for this one, the main talk has been about the NFL pedigree of the two opposing coaches. For the first time in college football history, two coaches that once coached in a a Super Bowl will face each other at the college level.

Lovie Smith spent 19 years in the NFL, going 81-63 in nine seasons as head coach of the Chicago Bears, which included a loss in Super Bowl XLI, and 8-24 in two seasons in Tampa Bay. When Illinois came calling in the offseason he returned to the college game for the first time since 1995 when he was the defensive backs coach at Ohio State. Illinois is his first collegiate head coaching gig, but he spent 13 seasons between Tulsa, Wisconsin, Arizona State, Kentucky, Tennessee, and OSU before moving up.

His Illini are just 2-4 so far this season and 1-2 in the Big Ten. A 24-7 win at Rutgers last Saturday was Smith’s first win over an FBS team — the other was a 52-3 season-opening win over Murray State which is just 1-5 and ranks 115th in the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS).

Illinois lost to North Carolina (48-23), Western Michigan (34-10), No. 15 Nebraska (31-16), and Purdue (34-31).

Although this will be Harbaugh’s first time coaching against Illinois, he and Smith faced each other once in the NFL when Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers topped Smith’s Bears 32-7 in 2012. As a player, Harbaugh went 1-0-1 against the Illini with a 3-3 tie in 1985 and a 69-13 win in ’86. He missed the 1984 win after breaking his arm three weeks prior.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Illinois has the ball

Smith has been a defensive coach every step of his career, so he hired an experienced offensive coordinator who has held the same position at Northwestern, Arkansas, and Louisville. Garrick McGee’s 2011 Arkansas offense led the SEC in total offense, and with the additional title of quarterbacks coach, he developed Ryan Mallett into one of the school’s best passers. His 2007 Northwestern offense led the Big Ten in both passing and total offense. He also spent 2012 and 2013 as the head coach of UAB, where he went just 5-19.

His first Illinois offense isn’t nearly where he wants it to be, ranking 10th in the Big Ten and 84th nationally in scoring (26 points per game), sixth in the Big Ten and 49th nationally in rushing (189.8 yards per game), 12th in the Big Ten and 103rd nationally in passing (181.5 yards per game), and 12th in the Big Ten and 99th nationally in total offense (371.3 yards per game).

Senior quarterback Wes Lunt has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 840 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception. However, he missed the Rutgers game last Saturday after an injury sustained against Purdue. In his absence, sophomore Chayce Crouch has completed 18-of-32 passes (56.2 percent) for 249 yards, one touchdowns, and one pick. He’s more of a dual-threat option as he went 10-of-14 for 142 yards and rushed 17 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns when he came in in relief against Purdue. But against Rutgers, he was just 6-of-14 for 92 yards and managed just 25 yards on the ground.

Junior running back Kendrick Foster leads the team in rushing with 384 yards and five touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. That yards per carry average is inflated by a four-carry, 118-yard performance against Murray State in the opener. Against FBS competition, he’s averaging a much more mediocre 4.6 yards per carry. Redshirt freshman Reggie Corbin is the second leading rusher with 325 yards and one touchdown but leads the team with 9.3 yards per carry. In all four games he has played in, Corbin has hit a run of at least 31 yards. Sophomore Ke’Shawn Vaughn is the other back who sees regular carries and he has 221 yards and two scores on 5.0 yards per carry.

Junior receiver Malik Turner is the one player on the Illini offense that ranks among the Big Ten best. His 71.2 receiving yards per game rank fifth in the conference and his 5.2 receptions per game rank fourth. He topped 100 yards against both Western Michigan (107) and Purdue (129) with nine catches in each. However, he caught just two passes for 18 yards against Rutgers last week and he hasn’t found the end zone since. Turner is by far the favorite target of the Illini quarterbacks as the second leading receiver, senior Justin Hardee, has just 11 catches for 106 yards. Vaughn and Corbin actually rank third and fifth on the team in receiving.

The Illinois offensive line has been a revolving door this season. Although the same five players have started most of the games, they’ve rotated positions to the point that not one of the five positions along the line has had the same starter in all six games. The most consistent has been the center position where senior Joe Spencer has started the last five games and has 31 career starts. Sophomore Nick Allegretti has started all six games, but began the season at center, played four games at right guard, then started last week’s game at left guard. Similarly, junior Christian DiLauro, who started all 12 games at left tackle last season, has switched between that spot to right tackle this season. Senior Austin Schmidt has flip flopped with DiLauro, starting two games at right tackle and three at left tackle. The spot that has been the most inconsistent has been left guard, which has seen four different starters in six games. True freshman Darta Lee started the Murray State and Nebraska games, redshirt freshman Gabe Megginson started the North Carolina and Purdue games — and also started at right guard last week –, junior Jordan Fagan started the Western Michigan game, and Allegretti started last week.

When Michigan has the ball

While Smith is a defensive coach, he turned to Hardy Nickerson, who coached under him at both of his NFL stops, to run his Illinois defense. After a 16-year NFL playing career, Nickerson got his coaching start under Smith as the Chicago Bears’ linebackers coach in 2007. He spent 2009-13 as head coach of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, Calif. before getting back into the NFL as the linebackers coach under Smith in Tampa Bay in 2014-15. He left the same position in San Francisco to become Smith’s defensive coordinator in Champaign.

His defense this season 10th in the Big Ten and 61st nationally in scoring defense (26.2 points per game), 11th in the Big Ten and 86th nationally against the run (185.2 yards allowed per game), seventh in the Big Ten and 32nd nationally against the pass (203.3 yards allowed per game), and 11th in the Big Ten and 57th nationally in total defense (388.5 yard allowed per game). They also rank 12th in the Big Ten and 106th nationally in third-down defense, allowing opponents to convert 46 percent of the time. By comparison, Michigan leads the nation at 12 percent.

The most dangerous player on the Illini defense is senior defensive end Dawuane Smoot, who has eight tackles for loss, one sack, and a team-leading five quarterback hurries. But weakside end, senior Carroll Phillips, leads the team with 11 tackles for loss and four sacks. The interior linemen are solid even if they tend to give up run lanes. Senior Chunky Clements — a former high school teammate of Mike McCray — has 2.5 sacks, while freshman Kenyon Jackson has nine tackles, but none for loss. Senior Rob Bain and redshirt freshman Jamal Milan are a big part of the rotation with a combined 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.

Unfortunately for Smith, he doesn’t have Brian Urlacher or Lance Briggs at linebacker. He does, however, have Nickerson’s son, grad transfer Hardy Nickerson, who transferred from Cal where he started for three seasons. He currently leads the Big Ten with 9.7 tackles per game and also has two interceptions from the MIKE position. The other two starting linebackers are sophomore WILL Tre Watson and sophomore SAM Julian Jones. Watson ranks third on the team with 41 tackles, while Jones will be making his third start of the season and has 16 tackles, two for loss.

The secondary is susceptible even though Illinois does rank 32nd nationally in pass defense. Sophomore cornerback Chris James leads the team with three pass breakups, while junior Jaylen Dunlap has two and ranks fourth on the team with 33 tackles. Senior Darius Mosley leads the team in total takeaways with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. The safeties are redshirt freshman Patrick Nelson and senior Taylor Barton, who have a combined 68 tackles, 3.5 for loss, half a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery.

The other third

Sophomore Chase McLaughlin has made 9-of-12 in his first season as Illinois’ field goal kicker with a long of 48, though he has missed three of his last four after starting 8-of-8. Senior punters Ryan Frain and David Reisner have combined to average just 40.5 yards per punt, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten. They have downed 11 of 36 inside the 20 with only three touchbacks.

Foster is the main kick returner, averaging 22.5 yards per return with a long of 39, while Mosely handles punt returns where he averages 5.5 yards per return with a long of 22.


Given Illinois’ inability to defend the run — they allow 224.2 yards per game against FBS competition and Rutgers rushed for 203 yards last week — another big day on the ground should be expected for a Michigan offense that ranks second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing. Will the Wolverines break 400 rushing yards like they did against Rutgers? Probably not, but they should top 300. I also think we’ll see a little more of Wilton Speight than we did against Rutgers when he threw just 13 passes. Having a strong ground game is great, but we can’t forget that Michigan only rushed for 130 against Wisconsin. The passing game needs to be strong as well, especially as the Big Ten title hunt enters the home stretch. Finally, I expect the offense to show a few new plays or formations that they worked on over the weekend specifically to set up plays for the Michigan State game next Saturday.

Defensively, Michigan will shut down the Illinois offense, but surrender one touchdown on a big run. If Lunt starts, he’s not a threat to run and Michigan’s defensive line will tee off on him. If Crouch starts, the Illini will have the dual-threat option and he’ll pull off a couple of first down runs on broken plays, but he won’t be able to do enough to cause concern. Jourdan Lewis will shut down Turner, rendering the Illinois passing game useless, and the rush defense will hold them under 100 yards.

Michigan is favored by 38.5 points and I expect them to cover. I think this game will be very similar to the Rutgers game two weeks ago, but to a lesser degree. Michigan won’t score 78 for the second straight game, they won’t top 600 total yards, and Illinois will get more than 39 total yards. But Michigan will still win big.

Michigan 56 – Illinois 7

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

Thursday, October 20th, 2016

chris-evans-vs-rutgers(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1
Related: Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 offense vs 2015 offense, Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 defense vs 2015 defense

As promised, we’ve got a ton of new information to add to our regular explosive play stats. But first let’s quickly recap where Michigan stands after the bye week with some updated rankings.

Michigan’s offense is averaging eight explosive run plays per game (12th nationally) and 3.67 pass plays (38th) for 11.67 total explosive plays (9th) with a big play percentage of 15.77 percent (10th).

On defense they are surrendering 3.67 explosive run plays per game (24th) and 1.33 pass plays (2nd) for a total of just five explosive plays given up per game (1st) and their big play against percentage is 8.4 percent (11th).

Their big play differential is 7.36 percent (4th) and their toxic differential is 46, good for fourth on a per game basis.

Through six games in 2015 Michigan averaged 4.5 explosive run plays per game and 2.33 explosive pass plays, for a total of 6.83 explosive plays per game. Their big play percentage for was 9.58 percent, their big play differential was 1.97 percent, and their total toxic differential was just 13.

Michigan’s defense was giving up 3.5 explosive run plays per game and one explosive pass play per game for 4.5 total explosive plays per game, with a total big play against percentage of 7.61 percent.

After the bye week Michigan is currently fifth nationally in total sacks (24) but still first in sacks per game (four). They are also third with 59 total tackles for loss, which is good for second on a per game basis (9.83).

Now, on to some new stuff. It’s all well and good that Michigan has been stellar at putting up explosive plays and preventing them, but when exactly is Michigan most likely to have an explosive play, or give one up on defense? Here’s what I found.

Michigan has had 70 total explosive plays on offense — 48 run and 22 pass.

Michigan’s 2016 big run plays by down – Offense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 24 18.96 yards 50.00%
2nd 20 20.50 yards 41.67%
3rd 4 21.75 yards 8.33%
Michigan’s 2016 big pass plays by down – Offense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 8 32.25 yards 36.36%
2nd 8 25.63 yards 36.36%
3rd 6 32.50 yards 27.27%

An explosive run play has happened 24 times on first down with an average gain of 18.96 yards, 20 times on second down with an average gain of 20.5 yards and just four times on third down with an average gain of 21.75 yards.

An explosive pass is equally as likely on first and second downs (eight on each down), with first down passes gaining more yards than second (average gain 32.25 vs 25.63 respectively) and just behind on third down (six) with the highest average gain of 32.5 yards. Overall, 85 percent of Michigan’s explosive plays occur on either first (45.71%) or second downs (40%).

On defense Michigan has given up 30 total explosive plays — 22 run and 8 pass. An explosive run play has happened seven times on first down with an average gain of 17.86 yards, 11 times on second with an average gain of 19.91 yards and just four times on third down, with an average gain of 23.75 yards.

Michigan’s 2016 big run plays allowed by down – Defense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 7 17.86 yards 50.00%
2nd 11 19.91 yards 41.67%
3rd 4 23.75 yards 8.33%
Michigan’s 2016 big pass plays allowed by down – Defense
Down Big Plays Avg Gain Percent
1st 5 40.60 yards 62.50%
2nd 1 37.00 yards 12.50%
3rd 2 22.00 yards 25.00%

Of the explosive passes Michigan has allowed, 62.5 percent (five) have occurred on first down with third down (two) and second down (one) hardly ever yielding explosive pass plays.

Overall, Michigan gives up 8o percent of their total explosive plays on first down and second down combined (both 40 percent) and just 20 percent on third. Their lowest gain per play is on second down at 21.33 yards. Michigan averages 24.1 yards per explosive play given up.

To sum it up, Michigan’s offense is most likely to have an explosive run play on first down, and an explosive pass play is equally likely on first or second down. On third down they are three times more likely to have an explosive pass than a run. Most of their explosive plays occur on first (45.71%) or second downs (40%).

On defense Michigan is most likely to give up an explosive run on second down and an explosive pass on first down. They are equally as likely for any explosive play to happen on first or second down. Without comparing these numbers to other teams it’s a little hard to tell how good, or not, they are. However, it is probably a good thing that Michigan gives up the fewest percent of their big plays on third downs. Luckily for them they give up so few big plays a game it is highly unlikely that they give up more than one or two big third down plays.

In order to combat any Michigan State or Ohio State fans who say Michigan hasn’t played a great schedule or all their plays happen in garbage time, consider the following. Garbage time is defined by Football Outsiders as the following: “a game is not within 28 points in the first quarter, 24 points in the second quarter, 21 points in the third quarter, or 16 points in the fourth quarter.”

Nearly half — 33 — of Michigan’s 70 explosive plays on offense have occurred during garbage time — or 47.14 percent — aided greatly by the Rutgers game (12 of 16 came in garbage time which was essentially the last three quarters). On defense, 17 of the 30 explosive plays given up have occurred in garbage time — 56.67 percent — well more than half. Four opponents (Hawaii, UCF, Colorado, and Rutgers) each had greater than 57 percent of their explosive plays in garbage time. Penn State only had four total explosive plays — one in garage time — while the Wisconsin game was never in garbage time.

Just more than half of Michigan’s explosive plays on offense occur when the game is not out of hand and well over half of those given up are when the game is out of hand, which is generally what we’d like to see. So, who exactly is putting up all these big plays and who averages the most yards per big play? You might be surprised.

There is a three-way tie for most explosive run plays between De’Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans, who each have 10. As you might have guessed, Evans leads the team in yards per explosive run play (24.3) but he’s not as far ahead as you might think. Karan Higdon is close behind at 23.83 yards per explosive run and — perhaps shockingly — Smith is third with a healthy 20.03 yards per explosive run play average. Technically, Jabrill Peppers has the highest average but he’s only had two explosive run plays, so he didn’t make the cut of at least four explosive plays.

Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
Chris Evans 10 24.30 yards 20.83%
De’Veon Smith 10 20.03 yards 16.39%
Ty Isaac 10 14.80 yards 18.87%
Karan Higdon 6 23.83 yards 17.14%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 8 38.38 yards 32.00%
Jehu Chesson 5 28.40 yards 33.33%
Jake Butt 5 18.40 yards 21.74%

As a team Michigan averages an explosive run play on 17.78 percent of its carries and gains an average of 19.83 yards per explosive run. This was a lot higher than I expected, almost doubling what is considered an explosive run play (10 yards or more). For all the talk about how Michigan’s offense is not explosive like Clemson or Louisville, these numbers seem to indicate Michigan is, in fact, an explosive offense.

Amara Darboh headlines the explosive pass play leaders, both in total (eight) and in average yards (38.38). Jehu Chesson and Jake Butt are not far behind (five apiece) but Chesson averages 10 more yards per explosive pass play than Butt (28.4 versus 18.4). No one else on the team has more than two.

Michigan averages an explosive pass play on 20.18 percent of its pass attempts and gains an average of 29.91 yards per explosive pass. The offense as a whole averages an explosive play 15.77 percent of the time and gains an average of 23 yards per explosive play. Not too shabby for an old-fashioned pro-style offense from the 1970s, eh?

Ty Isaac has the overall team lead with 11 total explosive plays — 10 run and 1 pass.

What got me so interested in the explosive play and toxic differential metric was an article I read about Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks. My brother is a huge USC fan, despite growing up with a father who is a Michigan grad, so I kept tabs on them as well and now Seattle sometimes.

In the article it discussed Pete Carroll’s defensive priorities. Here is the part that really caught my eye: Give up either an explosive run or pass play in any given drive and the opposition will score over 75 percent of the time for the period studied.

That is what we’re going to look at now as it pertains to Michigan — how often do they either score or give up a score on drives with explosive plays?

On offense Michigan has had 46 drives with explosive plays. Keep in mind that many drives have more than one explosive play. They’ve scored on 32 of those drives, or 69.57 percent of the time. From that NFL study, 75 percent is the key number (also keep in mind the NFL regards explosive plays as runs of 12 or more and passes of 16 or more as compared to our 10-plus runs and 20-plus passes), so scoring on almost 70 percent of the drives with explosive plays is excellent.

Michigan’s 2016 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 46 32 69.57%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 22 7 31.82%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

Conversely, on defense Michigan’s, opponents have had 22 drives with explosive plays and scored on only seven of those drives, or 31.82 percent. To keep teams under 32 percent scores on drives with explosive plays (based on these definitions) is incredible. Just because Michigan may give up an explosive play on a drive doesn’t necessarily mean they will give up a score, in fact, they usually don’t. That’s the #DonBrownEffect in action.

Before we take a look ahead to this weekend’s opponent, Illinois, I thought we could briefly discuss some numbers from last weekend’s Wisconsin-Ohio State game, transitive property and all. It’s not apple to apples but I think the results will make a lot of you feel better about the trip to Columbus at the end of the season.

Wisconsin had 11 explosive plays against OSU (six run and five pass). Against Michigan they only had five total (three run and two pass). On defense Wisconsin gave up 12 total explosive plays to OSU (seven run and five pass), whereas versus Michigan they gave up only nine (five run and four pass).

Now for the really interesting stat. Against OSU, Wisconsin had six drives with an explosive play and they scored on five of those — a whopping 83.3 percent. Against Michigan, they had 5 drives with an explosive play and scored on none of them. That’s zero percent. Wisconsin’s lone score versus Michigan was set up on a short field by a 46-yard interception return.

Here’s what I took away from last week’s game, and these numbers: Ohio State is mortal, Wisconsin’s defense is as good as advertised, and Michigan’s defense is good enough to shut down the Ohio State offense, at least to the point where Michigan doesn’t need to score 45-plus to win. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar score (30-23) come the end of November and my optimism has upticked slightly.

Okay, on to Illinois. The Fighting Illini aren’t very good, but they are better than Rutgers. But then again, who isn’t?

Michigan & Illinois offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 48 22 70 15.77% 7.36% 46
ILL Off. 37 13 50 13.81% 1.91% 8
Michigan & Illinois defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 22 8 30 8.40% 7.36% 46
ILL Def. 30 20 50 11.90% 1.91% 8

On offense the Illini average 6.17 explosive run plays per game (44th) and 2.17 pass plays (109th) for a total of 8.33 explosive plays per game (80th). Their big play percentage is 13.81 percent (38th). On defense they surrender five big run plays (59th) and 3.33 pass plays (75th) for a total of 8.33 per game (60th) — exactly as many as their offense puts up. Their big play against percentage is 11.9 percent (58th), their big play differential is 1.91 percent (48th), and their toxic differential is 8 (51st on a per game basis).

That places Illinois comparable to Penn State prior to their meeting a few weeks ago. All Michigan did in that game was win the big play battle nine to four and win the game 49-10.

Overall, Michigan is in great shape with all of the advanced stats we have been profiling throughout the season. Remember, Pete Carroll made USC and the Seattle Seahawks into powerhouse teams with big play metrics as one of his core principles. If Michigan continues to succeed in these metrics on both sides of the ball over the second half of the season, we’re in for a special finish.

Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 defense vs 2015 defense

Wednesday, October 19th, 2016

michigan-d-vs-wisconsin(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

On Sunday, we showed how this season’s offense has outperformed last season’s offense at the midpoint of the season against a comparable schedule and slightly better defenses. Today, we take a look at how Don Brown’s first Michigan defense compares to D.J. Durkin’s one and only Michigan defense.

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

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

Scoring Defense

scoring-defenseScoring defense average (national ranking in circle) 

This year’s defense started the season strong, holding Hawaii to just three points. Hawaii has averaged 34.4 points in its other five games. But UCF scored 14 and Colorado 28 in the next two games, and all of the sudden some began to be concerned about the Michigan defense. Michigan rebounded with just 17 points allowed over its next three games to hit the midseason point as the nation’s top scoring defense. The Wolverines’ defense held five of six opponents to their lowest point total of the season to date — the only outlier being Colorado, which only scored 17 points against USC two weeks ago.

Last year’s defense struggled in a season opening loss at Utah, allowing 24 points, but settled in and allowed just 14 points total in its next five games, three of which were shutouts. Like this year’s defense, it lead the nation in scoring defense at the midway point. But that’s where the wheels fell off for last year’s defense, which allowed 26 points or more in four of its final seven games. After allowing just 6.3 points per game in its first six games, Michigan’s scoring average during the final seven games was 25.

The scoring offenses Michigan faced in the first six games a year ago were worse than those they  have faced so far this year with an average national ranking of 80.8 compared to 67.3 this year. The best offense of the six Michigan faced last year was BYU (40th), and three of the six ranked in the bottom fourth nationally. This year, Colorado currently ranks 22nd in scoring, UCF is 43rd, and only one — Rutgers — ranks in the bottom fourth (125th).

So while Michigan’s 2015 defense allowed fewer points in the first six games than this year’s (38 compared to 62), it faced less potent offenses.


Let’s take a look at the run defense.

Rushing Defense

rush-defenseRush defense average (national ranking in circle) 

There is one major outlier throwing off the current defense’s numbers and that’s Week 2 where you see the big spike. UCF rushed for 275 yards despite losing 51-14, thanks to a couple of big runs including an 87-yarder. But that’s the exception rather than the rule. In Michigan’s other five games, the Wolverines’ run defense has held opponents to just 64 yards per game on the ground for a paltry 1.97 yards per carry.

Last season, Michigan gave up 127 yards to Utah in the opener but then ran off six straight games of allowing 92 yards or fewer on the ground. In the five games between Utah and midseason, the U-M defense allowed just 53.6 rushing yards per game on 1.89 yards per carry. After midseason, however, five of the final seven opponents topped 100 yards with Indiana and Ohio State gashing the Wolverines for 307 and 369, respectively. Nose tackle Ryan Glasgow’s injury played a big part in that drop-off.

Although the current squad has allowed more rushing yards per game at this point, both defenses surrendered just two rushing touchdowns through six games. And if this year’s team is to win the Big Ten title, it will need to avoid the fall-off that last year’s team suffered.


How about the pass defense?

Passing Defense

pass-defensePass defense average (national ranking in circle) 

This category is a little bit more even year over year as both units were outstanding in the first half of the season. Last year, Michigan gave up over 200 passing yards to Utah in the opener, but didn’t allow more than 143 in its next five games. However, in the first two games of the second half of the season, Michigan State and Minnesota both topped 300 passing yards.

This year’s pass defense struggled against Colorado, allowing 261 passing yards, but has allowed 88 or fewer in three of six games, including just five to Rutgers the last time out. Opponents are completing just 42.3 percent of their passes against this year’s defense compared to 47.7 percent at the midway point a year ago.

Can this year’s pass defense continue its pace? One disparity between this year’s and last year’s is quarterback pressure. This year’s defense has recorded 24 sacks compared to just 15 at this point last season. The pressure hasn’t translated into an increase in turnovers, though, as this year’s team has six picks compared to seven last season. But this year’s secondary has returned two of those interceptions for touchdowns compared to one at this point last season.

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

Total Defense

total-defenseTotal defense average (national ranking in circle) 

There was a big disparity in Week 1 as Utah racked up 105 more yards on the Michigan defense than Hawaii did this year, but as we hit the midseason point, the two units find themselves both ranking first nationally. Last year’s defense allowed 31.5 fewer yards per game.

Last year’s defense really was a tale of two halves as it allowed just 181.3 yards per game in the first six but 365.9 per game in its final seven. This year, Michigan is giving up 212.8 yards per game and it’s hard to see many teams having much success against it in the second half. The only offense Michigan faces in the next six games that ranks higher than 50th nationally in total offense is Ohio State, which ranks 12th. That bodes well for Michigan’s defense as it looks to win a championship.

First Look: Illinois

Monday, October 17th, 2016

illinois-cheerleaders(Craig Pessman, Illinois Athletics)

After cruising through the first half of the season, Michigan got a week off to rest up for the title race over the next six weeks. They begin with another Big Ten bottom-feeder in Illinois. Will the Wolverines have another big day offensively? Or could Illinois pull off a huge upset? Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare so far this season.

Illinois & Michigan statistical comparison
Illinois | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 26.0 | 50.0 84 | 2
26.2 10.3 61 1
Rushing Yards 1,139 1,530 1,111 595
Rush Avg. Per Game 189.8 255.0 49 | 15
185.2 99.2 86 9
Avg. Per Rush 5.7 | 5.7
4.3 2.9
Passing Yards 1,089 1,290 1,220 682
Pass Avg. Per Game 181.5 215.0 103 84 203.3 113.7 32 1
Total Offense 2,228 2,820 2,331 1,277
Total Off Avg. Per Game 371.3 470.0 99 32 388.5 212.8 57 1
Kick Return Average 19.4 15.5 92 128 24.1 19.7 108 | 48
Punt Return Average 4.5 18.6 97 3 8.5 9.7 79 89
Avg. Time of Possession 28:39 33:07 83 23 31:21 | 26:53
3rd Down Conversion Pct 31% | 48% 120 20
46% | 12.0% 106 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 12-76 | 9-66
55 33
15-62 | 24-161 44 | 1
Touchdowns Scored 18 | 41
19 | 8
Field Goals-Attempts 9-12 4-9
8-12 | 2-5
Red Zone Scores (15-19) 79%|(31-35) 89% 91 38
(21-24) 88%|(4-6) 67% 81 5
Red Zone Touchdowns (9-19) 47%|(27-35) 77% (14-24) 58%|(3-6) 50%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 26.1 36.6 88 25 29.3 0.9 70 1

While Michigan enjoyed a bye week, it’s last opponent and its next opponent faced each other in the Battle for the Big Ten Basement™. The next opponent, Illinois, came out victorious 24-7 to pick up their first Big Ten win in the Lovie Smith era.

Illinois comes in with a 2-4 record overall and 1-2 in the Big Ten. They opened the season with a 52-3 win over Murray State of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), but then lost four straight to North Carolina (48-23), Western Michigan (34-10), No. 15 Nebraska (31-16), and Purdue (34-31).

Offensively, Illinois isn’t quite as bad as Rutgers, but still ranks near the bottom of the conference in most categories. They rank 10th in scoring (25.7 points per game), 12th in total offense (371.3 yards per game), sixth in rushing (189.8 yards per game), and 12th in passing (181.5 yards per game). Similar to Rutgers, they are a better running team than passing and their national rankings in those two categories entering this game are comparable to Rutgers entering the Michigan game two weeks ago. Rutgers’ rushing offense ranked 51st while Illinois’ ranks 49th. Rutgers’ passing offense ranked 123rd while Illinois’ ranks 103rd.

The Illini put up big offensive numbers against Murray State (515 yards) and Purdue (499 yards), but managed just 320 against Rutgers this past Saturday. Yes, the same Rutgers defense that yielded 600 to Michigan. They rushed for 315 yards against Purdue and 287 against Murray State, but Western Michigan held them to just three rushing yards on 15 carries. The passing game, however, put up 312 yards on WMU, but hasn’t topped 184 yards in four of six games.

Defensively, Illinois is similar to where Penn State was entering the Michigan game a few weeks ago: poor against the run and decent against the pass. Illinois held Murray State to minus-10 rushing yards, but if you count only FBS opponents — which bowl eligibility does — the Illini are allowing 224.2 rushing yards per game, which would rank 111th nationally and 12th in the Big Ten. Rutgers, which managed just 34 rushing yards against Michigan, ran for 203 yards on Illinois on Saturday.

Only two opponents — Murray State and Rutgers — have fallen short of 400 total yards against Illinois and the Scarlet Knights were close with 385 — their highest of the season against an FBS opponent. North Carolina, Western Michigan, Nebraska, and Purdue averaged 445.3 yards. Three of six opponents have passed for more than 200 yards on the Illinois defense, led by UNC, which totaled 265. Opponents have completed 64.4 percent of their passes on the Illini defense, but average just 17.5 pass attempts per game compared to 42.8 rushing attempts.

Michigan opened as 32.5 point favorites for this Saturday’s matchup and the line quickly moved to 34. The Wolverines may not put up 78 like they did against Rutgers, but expect a very similar game with a big game on the ground and a lot of backups getting playing time.

Midseason comparison: Michigan’s 2016 offense vs 2015 offense

Sunday, October 16th, 2016

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

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

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

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

Scoring Offense

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

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

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

Let’s take a look at the running game.

Rushing Offense

rushing-offenseRushing average (national ranking in circle) 

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

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

How about the passing game?

Passing Offense

passing-offensePassing average (national ranking in circle) 

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

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

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

Total Offense

total-offenseTotal offense average (national ranking in circle) 

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

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

#4 Michigan 78 – Rutgers 0: Michigan decimates Secret Society of Something University

Monday, October 10th, 2016


Bobby Henderson took a quick handoff, bulled his way up the middle and crossed the goal line for a 13-yard touchdown. On that run, Michigan’s nth-string fullback who hadn’t had a single carry in his first four seasons at Michigan, outscored Rutgers 7-0. His three fourth-quarter carries for 26 yards finished just eight yards short of Rutgers’ entire running game on Saturday night. It was that kind of night in Piscataway as Michigan demolished Rutgers 78-0.

Rutgers hung around longer than expected, taking advantage of rainy conditions early in the game, holding Michigan to just five yards on eight plays in its first three possessions of the game. The Rutgers offense, however, fared even worse, gaining just three yards on nine plays in its first three possessions.

Final Stats
Michigan Rutgers
Score 78 0
Record 6-0, 3-0 2-4, 0-3
Total Yards 600 39
Net Rushing Yards 481 34
Net Passing Yards 119 5
First Downs 23 2
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 3-25 7-41
Punts-Yards 4-169 16-603
Time of Possession 33:16 26:44
Third Down Conversions 6-of-11 0-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 4-28 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 10-for-10 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 8-of-8 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 8-of-8 0-of-0
Full Box Score

Then Jabrill Peppers took over. On the third play of Michigan’s fourth possession, Peppers lined up at quarterback, faked a handoff, and took off down the left sideline. Rutgers safety Anthony Cioffi pushed him out of bounds at the four after a 63-yard gain. Ty Isaac punched it in on the next play and Michigan never looked back.

The Wolverines rushed for 481 yards, averaging 8.6 yards per carry with 11 different players getting at least one carry. Two — Chris Evans and Karan Higdon — eclipsed 100 yards and Isaac and Peppers came close to joining them.

Michigan racked up 600 total yards and the only reason it wasn’t more was because of the job the defense did in holding Rutgers to just 39. Michigan’s average starting position for the entire game was its own 41 yard line. The Wolverines started four drives in Rutgers territory.

When Michigan came out of the locker room to start the second half already up 43-0, the starters’ night was over. The Michigan bench in the second half out-gained Rutgers’ full-game offense 286 to 39 and had four individual drives that went for more yards than Rutgers’ entire game.

Defensively, Michigan was just as brilliant. It took Rutgers into the third quarter to get above water in total yards. The Scarlet Knights rushed for 35 yards — 25 of which came on their final two drives — and completed just 2-of-18 passes for five yards. They converted none of their 17 third downs and punted 16 times for 603 yards.

It was a thorough a beatdown as a game between two Division 1 college football programs could be. After Michigan’s fourth touchdown, point-after holder Garrett Moores picked up the hold and ran it into the end zone for a two-point conversion. Whether Jim Harbaugh planned it to send a message to Chris Ash for challenging his summer satellite camp or whether he put it in simply to make future opponents spend time preparing for it is anyone’s guess. But with a bye week looming, Michigan’s performance on Saturday sent a message to the rest of the Big Ten that it is for real and it doesn’t care who is in its way.

Game Ball – Offense

Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards, 1 touchdown)
The entire Michigan offense could be nominated this week — aside for maybe De’Veon Smith who fumbled on Michigan’s third possession — but since I have to pick one, I’ll go with Khalid Hill. The senior H-back had one of the most efficient stat lines you will ever see. Hill is Harbaugh’s favorite goal line back and got the ball at the 1-yard line twice in the first half on Saturday, powering his way into the end zone both times. On Michigan’s first possession of the second half, he took a short pass from backup quarterback John O’Korn and found the end zone for his first receiving touchdown of the season. Through six games, Hill now leads Michigan with eight touchdowns and also leads the team in scoring, a stat that kickers usually dominate.

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

Game Ball – Defense

Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Like the offensive side, when a defense holds an opponent to just 39 total yards and no points, you could just close your eyes and point to someone on the stat sheet to choose the player of the game. But when I think about the player who made the most impact on the game, Taco Charlton comes to mind. Although they were his only two tackles of the game, senior defensive end recorded two of Michigan’s four sacks. Like the other starters, he only played the first half, but made his presence felt in the Rutgers backfield. He’s now tied with Chris Wormley for the team lead with four sacks on the season.

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

M&GB staff predictions: Rutgers

Saturday, October 8th, 2016


Michigan passed its first big test of the season with a 14-7 win over No. 8 Wisconsin last week. Rutgers, meanwhile, lost to Ohio State 58-0. Michigan visits Rutgers on Saturday for its first road game of the season.

Sam picked up his first weekly prediction win last week with his prediction of Michigan 24 – Wisconsin 10. Here are this week’s picks:

Staff Predictions
Michigan Rutgers
Justin 49 7
Derick 48 3
Sam 48 3
Josh 52 7
Joe 54 3
M&GB Average 50 5

Michigan picked up a big win over a top 10 opponent last week and now hits the road for the first time this season. It’s a night game in what should be a raucous environment. If ever there was a letdown game, this would be it. I’d expect Michigan to start slowly on Saturday night, but never be in real danger of losing. Perhaps an early turnover or a few early penalties that stall the first couple drives. But once the Wolverines settle in and exert their will, they’ll pull away and cover the 30-point spread.

Expect a big rushing day for Michigan as the running back by committee keeps going and going and going. Wilton Speight won’t be asked to do too much. A few timely tosses to Jake Butt and a couple tries downfield will be all they’ll need to keep the defense honest. De’Veon Smith cracks 100 yards and either Chris Evans or Karan Higdon busts a long touchdown run.

Michigan 49 – Rutgers 7


Michigan’s last trip to Rutgers didn’t go so well, but the Scarlett Knights will see a different team this time around.

It’s Michigan’s first road game, but it should be a good game to feel things out away from home. Rutgers is coming off an ugly 58-0 loss to Ohio State and won’t have star player Janarion Grant back this season.

Michigan’s defense is one of the best Rutgers will see all season, so the loss of Grant will loom large. Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling have a chance to shut down a passing attack that managed just three completions and 33 yards in Columbus.

This is one of the best home games Rutgers has this season, and those fans think Michigan is a rival. But even in that atmosphere, I think Michigan will run away with the game.

Michigan 48 – Rutgers 3

Sam (1)

After a hard fought battle against Wisconsin to cap off an undefeated five game home streak, the Wolverines take to the road to play their wannabe rivals in Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights, coming off a couldn’t-have-been-worse 50-8 shellacking at the hands of their partners Ohio State, are running a defense that is on life support and sending out an offense that has no pulse. While Rutgers fans are calling this their Super Bowl, I can’t see it being much more than a leisurely walk on the beach for Michigan. The defense dominates once again while the rushing attack maintains its momentum with five touchdowns. Give me the Maize and Blue big.

Michigan 48 – Rutgers 3

Josh (1)

As I said in this week’s The Numbers Game, 2016 Rutgers is bad, and they should feel bad. If Chris Ash sticks around long enough I’m sure he’ll turn them around but for now this Rutgers team is pretty bad, on both sides of the ball.

Quarterback Chris Laviano isn’t a threat on designed runs but can make things happen if the pocket breaks down. Unfortunately for him Michigan’s defensive line will be the best he’s faced thus far and he shouldn’t break more than one or two runs. From what I’ve seen he doesn’t really ever get a chance to pass the ball downfield much because his offensive line cannot protect him. Also unfortunately for Laviano — and the entire offense — their one good player, Janarion Grant, is out. This has the makings of a shutout, but Laviano’s ability to scramble worries me. I think they’ll end up with a few points as a result of a busted play or two. That said, if Michigan was to completely bottle up a team and keep them off the scoreboard this is probably their best chance.

There isn’t much that this game will tell us about Michigan that we don’t already know. Michigan will dominate on both sides and win with ease.

Michigan should be able to play plenty of back-ups throughout the second half and that’s a good thing as the showdown with Sparty looms. I’d really like to see is Michigan get their kicking game in order. If Quinn Nordin is healthy again, and it appears he is, I’d love to see him lockdown one of those three spots, or even Ryan Tice. But someone needs to step up and get some real game action over the next two games.

I’m not sure Rutgers can score but then again Michigan has been prone to giving up big plays it shouldn’t (it just doesn’t give up many). A bad turnover by Speight sets them up in scoring position, but that’s all they manage. Michigan wins big and heads into the bye week 6-0.

Michigan 52 – Rutgers 7

Joe (3)

The first road game of the season comes after the biggest test so far. That battle against Wisconsin will help this team down the line, but not this week. This Rutgers team is a bad football team. I’ve tried to find some positives to talk about but the best that I can come up with is how the best players from this state wear Maize and Blue. Let’s start with the quarterback play. Ughhhh. Moving on to the defense. Blaaaahhh. Special teams may be even as long as they can make 50 percent of their field goal attempts. Heck, we’d take that right about now. This one will get ugly fast! The defense will get pressure and force two turnovers a half, maybe more, and the ground game will be a focal point as the Wolverines try to gel with a new left tackle. I can’t see this one staying close any longer than it takes to cook a few brats on the grill. Michigan big.

Michigan 54 – Rutgers 3

#4 Michigan at Rutgers game preview

Friday, October 7th, 2016

um-rutgers-game-preview-header(AP photo)

Previously this week: First Look: Rutgers, Five-Spot Challenge, Tailgate Tuesday, Week 5 Big Ten power rankings, Rutgers game poster, The numbers game

When you’re Michigan everyone else wants to be your rival. Ohio State is the gold standard, forming half of college football’s best rivalry, simply known as ‘The Game.’ Michigan State is the in-state rival and Notre Dame is the out of conference rival. Everyone else gives Michigan their best game.

Rutgers, meanwhile, is simply desperate for Michigan to be its rival. It certainly didn’t help that Michigan became Rutgers’ first Big Ten win two years ago. That Rutgers fans rushed the field after beating a team that finished the season 5-7 shows the desperation.

Quick Facts
High Point Solutions Stadium – 7p.m. ET – ESPN2
Rutgers Head Coach: Chris Ash (1st season)
Coaching Record: 2-3 (0-2 at Rutgers)
Offensive Coordinator: Drew Mehringer (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Jay Niemann (1st season)
Last Season: 4-8 (1-7 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 49 – RU 16 (2015)
All-Time Series: Tied 1-1
Record in Piscataway: Rutgers 1-0
Jim Harbaugh vs Rutgers 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (49-16)
Last Rutgers win: 2014 (24-26)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Rutgers Schedule to date
Opponent Result
at #14 Washington L 13-48
Howard W 52-14
New Mexico W 37-28
Iowa L 7-14
at #2 Ohio State L 0-58

Jim Harbaugh has recruited the state of New Jersey heavily since he arrived in Ann Arbor, landing the No. 1 player in last year’s class, Rashan Gary, just a couple years after Michigan pulled Jabrill Peppers from the Garden State. He also hired Paramus Catholic head coach Chris Partridge as a director of player personnel and then promoted him to linebackers and special teams coach following D.J. Durkin’s departure from the staff.

When Harbaugh announced a satellite camp over the summer at Paramus along with his brother John, the Baltimore Ravens head coach, new Rutgers head coach Chris Ash planned his own camp at the same time. But knowing he couldn’t draw a crowd to rival Michigan’s on his own, he teamed up with Ohio State.

Rutgers fans declared war on Michigan. Their secret society littered the Paramus campus with magnets and sent a letter to the media urging Harbaugh to go home and stop poaching their recruits. They coined a cute mantra, ‘Fence the Garden’, and declared the Michigan game a primetime game called ‘Stripe the Birthplace.’

Harbaugh doesn’t care. He doesn’t see Rutgers any differently than he sees Hawaii or Central Florida or any other team standing in his way of a Big Ten championship and a national championship. He also sees Rutgers as a 2-3 Big Ten bottom feeder that will treat Michigan as its biggest game of the season.

Last week, Rutgers’ ally, Ohio State beat the Scarlet Knights 58-0. They have also lost to Iowa (14-7) and Washington (48-13). Three of the first five games have been a daunting task to be sure, but that’s a combined 120-20. Ash has a lot of work to do to make Rutgers competitive in the Big Ten. He can start by beating Indiana, Maryland, Purdue, and Illinois and trying to stay within four touchdowns of the big boys.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Rutgers has the ball

Drew Mehringer is Rutgers’ seventh different offensive coordinator in the past seven years. At just 28 years old, Mehringer was the wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Houston under Tom Herman in 2015 and the co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at James Madison the year before that. He was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2012-13 and played quarterback at Rice in the mid-2000s.

His power spread offense currently ranks 108th nationally in scoring (21.8 points per game), 116th in total offense (333 yards per game), 51st in rushing (192.8 yards per game), 123rd in passing (140.2 yards per game), and 101st in third down conversions (35 percent). They have averaged just 267.7 yards per game in the three losses, including just 116 total yards against Ohio State last week.

Senior quarterback Chris Laviano is completing just 49.6 percent of his passes for 680 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. His 136 yards per game are 63.5 yards away from ranking the top 10 in the Big Ten. He hasn’t reached 200 passing yards in a game yet this season. His best was 190 yards against Iowa two weeks ago. Ohio State held him to just 33 yards on 3-of-12.

The offense suffered a major blow when leading receiver Janarion Grant was lost for the season with an ankle injury. He had caught 20 passes for 210 yards. Redshirt freshman Jawuan Harris is the leading active receiver with 194 yards and two touchdowns on 11 receptions. Senior Andre Patton is the only other receiver with more than 100 yards, but he does lead the team with three touchdowns. Senior tight end Nick Arcidiacono — the cousin of Villanova basketball star Ryan Arcidiacono — has caught seven passes for 54 yards.

Junior Robert Martin is the team’s leading rusher with 398 yards and one touchdown on a respectable 5.6 yards per carry. He actually ranks fifth in the Big Ten with 99.5 yards per game. He didn’t face Washington’s stifling defense and Ohio State limited him to just 40 yards on 13 carries, but he did most of his damage against New Meixco (169 yards) and also topped 100 against Iowa (106). Senior Justin Goodwin is the second leading back with 144 yards on 4.5 yards per carry. Before his injury, Grant was actually the team’s leader in rushing touchdowns with three, averaging 8.6 yards per carry.

The offensive line should be no match for Michigan’s stout defensive front. They’ve allowed 11 sacks so far, which isn’t terrible — Michigan has allowed nine — but Ohio State got to Laviano three times.

When Michigan has the ball

On the defensive side, Rutgers isn’t much better. Coordinator Jay Niemann has been in the coaching business for over 30 years, but is in his first season at a power-5 gig. He spent the past five seasons as the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Northern Illinois and had stints at Hardin-Simmons, Simpson, Northern Iowa, and Drake before that. The last time he coached in a major conference was as a graduate assistant at Washington from 1986 to ’88.

His defense this season ranks 97th nationally in scoring defense (32.4 points per game), 84th in total defense (423.8 yards per game), 115th agains the run (227.4 yards per game), 32nd against the pass (196.4 yards per game), and 50th in third down defense (36 percent).

The best player on the defensive line is fifth-year senior tackle Darius Hamilton. He has 17 tackles and just one tackle for loss, but is stout against the run. The rest of the line isn’t something to worry about. Nose tackles Sebastian Joseph and Kevin Wilkins have two combined sacks. Fifth-year senior end Julian Pinnix-Odrick leads the team with four sacks and five tackles for loss but he’s a weakness in the running game. The other end currently is junior Darnell Davis, who is the opposite of Pinnix-Odrick: decent against the run, but not a pass rushing threat.

The linebackers are a weakness for Rutgers. Middle linebacker Deonte Roberts ranks second on the team with 33 tackles, while weakside linebacker Trevor Morris has 30. Strongside linebacker Greg Jones suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit last week and won’t return this week according to Ash. True freshman Tyreek Maddox-Williams was his replacement last Saturday, and he recorded 11 tackles.

If there’s a relative strength of the Rutgers defense on paper it’s the secondary, but opponents have had such success running the ball that they’ve only averaged 28 pass attempts per game. In other words, why pass when you can be just as effective running the ball? Senior strong safety Anthony Cioffi has been around forever and is tied for the team lead with five passes defended. He has also reeled two of them in. Redshirt sophomore free safety Kiy Hester leads the team with 36 tackles and five for loss. However, he’s questionable for Saturday and Saquan Hampton is back and ready to start. Redshirt sophomore Isaiah Wharton and sophomore Blessuan Austin are the corners. Austin leads the team and ranks third in the Big Ten with five pass breakups.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker David Bonagura has made 6-of-7 field goal attempts in his first season of action. His longest made field goal was 41 yards and his lone miss was also from 41. Redshirt sophomore punter Michael Cintron averages a paltry 38.3 yards per punt, which ranks outside the top 10 in the conference. He has downed 11 of 53 inside the 20 and only two have been touchbacks.

Grant was the danger man in the return game with a touchdown on both a kick return and a punt return already this season prior to his injury. Harris is now the punt returner, though he has just one for zero yards thus far. Junior running back Josh Hicks is now the main kick returner, averaging just 12.8 yards per return on six tries.


Michigan picked up a big win over a top 10 opponent last week and now hits the road for the first time this season. It’s a night game in what should be a raucous environment. If ever there was a letdown game, this would be it. I’d expect Michigan to start slowly on Saturday night, but never be in real danger of losing. Perhaps an early turnover or a few early penalties that stall the first couple drives. But once the Wolverines settle in and exert their will, they’ll pull away and cover the 30-point spread.

Expect a big rushing day for Michigan as the running back by committee keeps going and going and going. Wilton Speight won’t be asked to do too much. A few timely tosses to Jake Butt and a couple tries downfield will be all they’ll need to keep the defense honest. De’Veon Smith cracks 100 yards and either Chris Evans or Karan Higdon busts a long touchdown run.

Michigan 49 – Rutgers 7

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

Thursday, October 6th, 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New arrival: Rutgers game poster

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016


Rutgers head coach Chris Ash wants a war with Michigan. But as far as we’re concerned — and Jabrill Peppers, Rashan Gary, and others can attest to — New Jersey has already been claimed by Jim Harbaugh. 

Download the high-res version here, good up to 18×24.

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Our weekly game posters are designed by Christian Elden, a designer and illustrator who happens to be a Michigan fan. He lives in northwest Ohio where he runs his own design firm. He has illustrated a picture book for Warner Press and has been featured in Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse Jr. Magazine. Visit his personal site to view some of his other works.