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Posts Tagged ‘John O’Korn’

Michigan 35 – Rutgers 14: Peters takes over, steady in win over Rutgers

Monday, October 30th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

After suffering its second defeat in three games last weekend, Michigan got the benefit of a Homecoming matchup with Rutgers on Saturday to ease back into the win column. And they did just what they had to do with a 35-14 victory.

Final Stats
Michigan  Rutgers
Score 35 14
Record 6-2 (3-2) 3-5 (2-3)
Total Yards 471 195
Net Rushing Yards 334 94
Net Passing Yards 137 101
First Downs 25 9
Turnovers 1 0
Penalties-Yards 3-25 3-20
Punts-Yards 3-125 8-352
Time of Possession 36:44 23:16
Third Down Conversions 3-of-9 3-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-0
Sacks By-Yards 5-25 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-5 1-of-1
Red Zone TDs-Chances 4-of-5 1-of-1
Full Box Score

Despite a 21-point margin of victory, it didn’t start out easy, however. John O’Korn started and led the first four possessions, which resulted in two punts, a touchdown, and an interception, before giving way to redshirt freshman Brandon Peters, who made his long-awaited debut. And he did it in style, leading three straight touchdown drives to turn a 7-7 second-quarter score into a 28-7 third-quarter lead. And just like that, the Peters era had begun.

On his first drive, Peters completed passes of 15 yards to Ty Wheatley, 10 yards to Henry Poggi, and 12 yards to Nico Collins as Michigan went 77 yards on eight plays. Karan Higdon ran it in from 10 yards out.

After the Michigan defense forced a three-and-out, Peters got the ball back and completed a 12-yard pass to Zach Gentry on 3rd-and-3. Four plays later, he connected with Chris Evans on a wheel route for a 20-yard touchdown.

On his third drive — Michigan’s first possession of the second half — Peters needed just one pass attempt, a 10-yard completion to Ty Isaac, as the Wolverines marched down the field for a 4-play, 54-yard touchdown drive. Fellow redshirt freshman Kareem Walker scored his first touchdown of the season, carrying it in from five yards out.

Rutgers answered with a touchdown on its ensuing possession to pull within 28-14, but that was as close as they would get.

Peters led another promising drive, completing a pair of 15-yard passes to Grant Perry and Sean McKeon, but Michigan had to settle for a field goal attempt. Quinn Nordin missed it from 35 yards out.

The Michigan defense forced another punt, and Higdon followed up a 12-yard run with a 49-yard touchdown run to put Michigan ahead at the final score of 35-14.

Michigan’s offense racked up 471 total yards, 334 of which came on the ground on 6.5 yards per carry. Peters completed 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards and a touchdown, while O’Korn went 3-of-6 for 13 yards and an interception. Higdon rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns, while Isaac also topped 100 with 109 yards. The two averaged 8.8 and 7.8 yards per carry, respectively. Ten different Wolverines caught a pass, led by McKeon’s three for 31 yards.

Defensively, Michigan held Rutgers to just 195 total yards and just 94 rushing yards. Rutgers entered the game 11th nationally with just six sacks allowed through seven games, but Michigan got to the quarterback five times. Devin Bush led the way defensively with 11 tackles, two for loss, and half a sack. Chase Winovich recorded 1.5 sacks, while Maurice Hurst and Rashan Gary each had one and Kwity Paye and Michael Dwumfour were each credited with a half.

Michigan stays home to host Minnesota next Saturday at 7:30pm. The Gophers are 4-4 overall and 1-4 in the Big Ten under first-year head coach P.J. Fleck.

Game Ball – Offense

Brandon Peters (10-of-14 for 124 yards and 1 touchdown)
Yes, it’s a stretch to give the game ball to a quarterback that completed just 10 passes for 124 yards, especially considering the game Higdon had with 158 yards rushing and two touchdowns. But Peters is easily the story of the game, taking over an offense that looked stagnant under O’Korn and making an immediate impact. I’m cautious to draw too many conclusions from his performance in one game — against Rutgers nonetheless — but it was a great first step and showed enough to earn his first start next Saturday. Was he perfect? No. The play before his touchdown pass, he should have been picked off. He also underthrew a wide open McKeon on the last possession of the day, a play that may have been another touchdown. But he took command of the offense, looked to be in control, made some nice plays, made the right reads, and didn’t make any costly mistakes.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Week 7 — None

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 2 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
This was a tough one to pick this week because a bunch of different players made big plays for the Michigan defense. Although Devin Bush led the team in tackles, when I think about who made the biggest impact on the game, I have to go with Hurst. He was constantly in the Rutgers backfield, recorded eight tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack. Throughout the season he has cemented himself as a high draft pick next April and that was no different on Saturday.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 7 — Khaleke Hudson (4 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackle for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)

#2 Penn State 42 – #19 Michigan 13: Hapless Michigan outplayed, outcoached in State College

Sunday, October 22nd, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

Michigan entered Saturday night’s matchup with No. 2 Penn State with a chance to make a statement in front of a Beaver Stadium whiteout and a primetime national television audience. They did make a statement, but not the kind they wanted, falling 42-13 and dropping out of the Top 25.

Final Stats
Michigan  Penn State
Score 13 42
Record 5-2 (2-2) 7-0 (4-0)
Total Yards 269 506
Net Rushing Yards 103 224
Net Passing Yards 166 282
First Downs 16 25
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 6-59 1-10
Punts-Yards 6-233 2-99
Time of Possession 32:56 27:04
Third Down Conversions 6-of-16 4-of-7
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-11 7-49
Field Goals 0-for-0 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-2 6-for-6
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Red Zone TDs-Chances 2-of-2 4-of-5
Full Box Score

It was all Penn State from the outset as the Nittany Lions scored touchdowns on each of their first two drives while Michigan went three-and-out on their first two.

Heisman Trophy frontrunner Saquon Barkley didn’t waste any time making his statement, taking the game’s second play 69 yards for a touchdown. On Penn State’s second possession, it took just four plays to move 78 yards for another touchdown.

Michigan cornerback David Long intercepted Trace McSorley on Penn State’s third possession — which was threatening to score once again — and that allowed Michigan to show a little life. John O’Korn led a 11-play, 59-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 1-yard Karan Higdon touchdown run. But freshman kicker Quinn Nordin, who was once committed to Penn State before flipping to Michigan, missed the extra point to a chorus of boos.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out, but the offense wasn’t able to do anything. Penn State’s next possession stalled at the Michigan 33-yard line on a failed fourth-down conversion, and Michigan took advantage with a 8-play, 67-yard drive capped off by a 6-yard Ty Isaac touchdown run to pull within 14-13.

But it was all downhill from there. Penn State drove for another touchdown to take back the momentum just before the half and when Michigan couldn’t put points on the board on the first possession of the second half, Penn State put the nail in the coffin with a 9-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-13. From there, the only drama was whether or not James Franklin would try to top the 49 points that Michigan hung on Penn State in Ann Arbor a year ago. They didn’t quite get there, but the damage was done.

Penn State gained 506 yards on a Michigan defense that was allowing just 223.8 yards per game. Penn State rushed for 224 yards on a rush defense that was allowing just 85.5 yards per game. Penn State scored 42 points on a defense that was giving up just 14.7. Barkley rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns on 7.2 yards per carry and also caught three passes for 53 yards and a score. McSorely completed 17-of-26 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown and added 76 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry.

Michigan, meanwhile, failed to top 20 points in regulation for the third straight week, managed just 269 total yards, and gave up seven sacks. O’Korn went 16-of-28 for 166 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third straight game. Higdon rushed for 45 yards on just three yards per carry, while Grant Perry led the way in the air with three receptions for 46 yards.

It was an outcome that most expected, even die-hard Michigan fans, but the matter with which it happened was a worst-case scenario. And now it has a chorus of hot takes and Twitter crusaders calling for Jim Harbaugh’s head. It will die down a bit if Michigan can take care of business the next three weeks against Rutgers, Minnesota, and Maryland, but it won’t go away completely until he wins a big game. With Wisconsin and Ohio State scheduled to close the regular season, he’ll get that shot, but unless there is significant improvement between now and then, it’ll likely just turn up the noise.

Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-4, 2-2) next Saturday at noon. The game will be televised by Big Ten Network.

Game Ball – Offense

None
Higdon averaged just 3.0 yards per carry. Issac averaged 6.0 but got just six carries. O’Korn threw for just 166 yards with no touchdowns and was sacked seven times. Kekoa Crawford made a nice catch, but it was his only one. Donovan Peoples-Jones got involved in the passing game but dropped a bubble screen that had potential for a huge play. Eddie McDoom is probably the best candidate for this week’s game ball with three receptions for 29 yards and a rush for eight yards, but it didn’t have much impact on the game. The offensive line was horrendous. So no game ball is being given out on offense this week.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
Week 6 — Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)

Game Ball – Defense

Khaleke Hudson (7 tackles — 4 solo — 1 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 pass breakup)
Michigan’s defense had its worst game of the season defensively as Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead did a great job of picking on matchups where the Nittany Lions had advantages. That mostly involved getting Barkley matched up with linebacker Mike McCray who couldn’t keep up, but it also involved utilizing slot receivers against Michigan’s safeties. Hudson certainly wasn’t perfect himself, but he made his impact felt with a tackle for loss and a pass breakup that was nearly an interception in the end zone early in the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
Week 6 — Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)

#17 Michigan 27 – Indiana 20 (OT): Michigan survives overtime scare in Bloomington on Higdon’s big day

Saturday, October 14th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

It wasn’t pretty, and the offensive struggles were still evident, but Michigan bounced back from its loss to Michigan State with a 27-20 overtime victory at Indiana.

The Michigan defense gave up 10 points in the fourth quarter — the first they’ve allowed all season — to send the game into overtime, but it held strong in the first overtime period to secure the win.

Michigan began the game as if it would make an easy go of it, scoring on each of its first three possessions and blocking an Indiana field goal to take a 13-0 lead.

Final Stats
Michigan  Indiana
Score 27 20
Record 5-1 (2-1) 3-3 (0-3)
Total Yards 329 278
Net Rushing Yards 271 80
Net Passing Yards 58 198
First Downs 17 14
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 16-141 5-55
Punts-Yards 9-367 8-354
Time of Possession 35:09 24:51
Third Down Conversions 2-of-13 5-of-17
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-20 0-0
Field Goals 2-for-2 2-for-3
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 3-of-3 3-of-4
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-3 2-of-4
Full Box Score

The first drive went 49 yards in 13 plays, taking up 6:35 and ended in a 40-yard Quinn Nordin field goal. Indiana responded with a 12-play, 54-yard drive, but Maurice Hurst blocked a 51-yard field goal attempt and Lavert Hill returned it 35 yards to the Indiana 27-yard line. Michigan’s offense couldn’t go anywhere and had to settle for a 38-yard field goal. After forcing an Indiana three-and-out, the offense finally found the end zone when Karan Higdon carried it in from 12 yards out to cap an 80-yard drive.

But Michigan’s offense would stall from there and Indiana kicked a 32-yard field goal of its own just before the half.

The second half started as poorly as possible as Michigan went three-and-out on its opening possession and Indiana marched right down the field for a a touchdown to pull within 13-10.

Neither team could muster any offense the rest of the third quarter, combining for just 39 yards on 24 plays from there on. In fact, aside from a 7-play, 30-yard possession for Michigan following IU’s touchdown, the two teams combined for seven straight three-and-outs.

Michigan broke the stalemate when Higdon broke free through the middle and raced 59 yards for a touchdown to widen Michigan’s lead to 20-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Yet again, the two teams traded three-and-outs, and then Hill came up big with an interception to give Michigan a chance to seal the win. But the offense wouldn’t make it easy, punting away to J-Shun Harris, who showed why he leads the Big Ten in punt returns this season, taking it back 53 yards to the Michigan 20. Indiana converted six plays later with a 8-yard touchdown pass from Peyton Ramsey to Whop Philyor with 3:27 remaining.

Indiana receiver Simmie Cobbs recovered the ensuing onside kick, but it was overturned as he didn’t have complete control prior to stepping out of bounds. What has become a familiar refrain during the Jim Harbaugh tenure, Michigan’s offense couldn’t pick up a first down to end the game, settling for a punt, which resulted in a touchback, and a holding call advanced the ball to the 30, meaning the punt only changed the field position by 15 yards.

With no timeouts, the ball at their own 30-yard line, and 1:05 remaining, Indiana completed passes of nine yards and 24 yards to the edge of field goal range. A false start backed them up five yards, but Ramsey found Cobbs for 14 yard and the Hoosiers were able to nail a 46-yard field goal as time expired to force overtime.

Michigan lost the coin toss, but wasted no time on its first possession. Higdon took a handoff from John O’Korn, ran into congestion in the middle of the field, and bounced outside to his left. He turned the corner and raced to the end zone to give Michigan a 27-20 lead.

Indiana got a pass interference call on David Long on its first play to move the ball to the Michigan 12, then back to back runs gave the Hoosiers 1st-and-goal at the 1-yard line. Rashan Gary stopped Morgan Ellison for a 2-yard loss on first down, then Ramsey threw an incomplete pass on second. Ramsey tried to run it himself on 3rd-and-goal from the three, but Gary and Noah Furbush stopped him for a loss of one. On 4th-and-goal, Ramsey rolled out to his left, and with Chase Winovich bearing down on him, lobbed the ball into the end zone, but Tyree Kinnel picked it off to end the game.

Michigan rushed for 270 yards on 6.2 yards per carry while holding Indiana to just 80 yards on the ground. Higdon became the first Michigan running back to top 200 yards rushing since Mike Hart in 2007. Higdon totaled 200 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries, averaging eight yards per carry. O’Korn managed just 58 yards on 10-of-20 passing and didn’t throw for a touchdown or an interception. Donovan Peoples-Jones led the Wolverines with four receptions for 34 yards.

Defensively, Devin Bush led Michigan with eight tackles, but Gary had his best game of the season statistically with seven tackles, 2.5 for loss, one sack, and two quarterback hurries. Hurst and Long each added half a sack.

Now 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan travels to State College next Saturday for a primetime showdown with Penn State. ESPN’s College GameDay has announced that it will be broadcasting live from Happy Valley, and with Clemson’s loss to Syracuse on Friday night, the Nittany Lions will likely move up to No. 2 nationally behind Alabama.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (25 carries for 200 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8.0 yards per carry)
Last week against Michigan State, Higdon was the lone bright spot offensively, averaging 5.4 yards per carry and totaling 98 yards from scrimmage. He was inexplicably given just 12 carries despite consistently gaining yards. This week, he continued that momentum, cementing his spot as Michigan’s featured back with a 200-yard, three-touchdown performance. His 59-yard touchdown run put Michigan ahead by 10 points in the fourth quarter, and then his vision to bounce outside from what should have been a tackle for loss on the first play of overtime resulted in a 25-yard touchdown run. Eight of his 25 rushes were categorized as big plays (10 yards or more) against a defense allowing just 4.2 explosive runs per game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)
Week 5 — Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Rashan Gary (7 tackles — 3 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hurries)
Rashan Gary has taken some criticism this season for his perceived lack of production — just one sack and 2.5 tackles for loss entering the Indiana game. But the coaching staff and those who know have raved about his play, noting that he has constantly been drawing double-teams, which frees up other players to make plays. On Saturday in Bloomington, he finally got to show his production, adding a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss in addition to two quarterback hurries. His play was most apparent when the defense had its back up against the wall in overtime as he tackled Ellison for a loss of two on 1st-and-goal from the one and stopped Ramsey for a loss of one on 3rd-and-goal.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks
Week 5 — Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)

Michigan State 14 – #7 Michigan 10: Turnovers, sloppy offense doom Michigan versus rival

Monday, October 9th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

With a storm promising 60 miles per hour wind gusts and torrential rain bearing down on Ann Arbor’s primetime matchup between the state’s two premier schools, getting out to a fast start was imperative to winning the game. While neither team featured much offense on Saturday night, it was Michigan State who beat Michigan to the storm and ultimately secured the 14-10 victory.

Michigan appeared to be getting out to a fast start, methodically moving down the field on the game’s opening possession mostly by running right at the Spartan defense. But as it has for much of the season, a promising drive stalled in the red zone and Michigan settled for a field goal to cap its 16-play, seven-minute drive.

Final Stats
Michigan  Michigan State
Score 10 14
Record 4-1 (1-1) 4-1 (2-0)
Total Yards 300 252
Net Rushing Yards 102 158
Net Passing Yards 198 94
First Downs 17 13
Turnovers 5 0
Penalties-Yards 7-53 11-81
Punts-Yards 7-298 11-430
Time of Possession 30:52 29:08
Third Down Conversions 5-of-17 2-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 0-0 4-33
Field Goals 1-for-1 0-for-0
PATs 1-for-1 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 2-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 1-of-2 2-of-2
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Wolverines went right back to the ground game, picking up gains of six and five, but Ty Isaac fumbled at the end of an 8-yard run and Michigan State recovered at the Michigan 38. Six plays later, the Spartans took a 7-3 lead on a 14-yard touchdown run by quarterback Brian Lewerke.

After back-to-back Michigan punts, the Spartans got on the board once again, this time driving 83 yards in nine plays for a 16-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Madre London.

The Michigan defense made its typical halftime adjustments, gaining a big edge in field position, and it paid off on Michigan’s second possession of the half. A Michigan State punt from the back of their own end zone gave the Wolverines possession at the MSU-33, and four plays later Michigan scored its first touchdown of the game on a 1-yard Khalid Hill run to pull within 14-10.

But the storm hit a short time later and neither offense was able to move the ball the remainder of the game. John O’Korn threw interceptions on three straight possessions, but Michigan’s defense held Michigan State to seven straight three-and-outs, keeping the game within reach.

Michigan got one last chance on the game’s final possession, starting on their own 20 with 34 seconds remaining. O’Korn found Karan Higdon for a 15-yard gain and another 15 yards were tacked on for a late hit. On the next play, O’Korn found Eddie McDoom for what would have been a big play, but McDoom dropped the open pass. O’Korn connected with Higdon again for 18 yards, stopping the clock with five seconds remaining at the MSU-37. O’Korn heaved a prayer into the end zone as time expired, but the ball was batted down and Michigan State earned its eighth win in 10 tried against the Wolverines.

Michigan out-gained Michigan State 300 to 252, but that’s no consolation in defeat. The Wolverines managed 102 rushing yards, but only 2.6 yards per carry — the first time in 24 tries under Jim Harbaugh that they lost despite rushing for 100 yards or more. The Isaac fumble was a major turning point early in the game as Michigan was averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry on 13 carries prior to that. But Michigan averaged just 1.7 yards per carry the rest of the game.

Higdon led the way with 65 yards on 5.4 yards per carry, but Michigan inexplicably only gave him 12 carries. Instead, in blustery and rainy conditions, the playcalling put the ball in O’Korns arm 35 times, something Wilton Speight has done just three times in 16 games and Jake Rudock did just three times in 13. That may be the most damning statistic for an offense that has regressed in each game this season.

It’s clear that there’s a reason that, until his injury, Speight was the starter despite his early-season struggles, and that with Tarik Black out for the season with injury the offense is full of young talent, but lacking in established playmakers. It’s also clear that for those reasons and more, the offensive coaching staff is lacking in confidence in its offense’s ability to move the ball and find the end zone. Something has to give as the schedule only gets tougher from here on, or Michigan could be looking at four or five losses.

It’s gut-check time and everyone from walk-ons to Harbaugh has to take a long look in the mirror and decide what kind of season they’re going to have. Speight is reportedly done for the season with three cracked vertebrae. Is O’Korn the best option to keep Michigan in contention for the Big Ten title? Or is it time to give Brandon Peters or Dylan McCaffrey a chance to build on the future?

Personally, I ride with O’Korn as long as the title is within reach. But he’s going to need upperclassmen like Isaac to take care of the ball and experienced receivers like McDoom, Grant Perry, and Kekoa Crawford to catch open passes. Offensive line issues that have plagued Michigan for years won’t get fixed this year, but Harbaugh and staff need to devise a way to overcome that. With the nation’s best defense, the offense doesn’t have to be great. It may not even have to be good. Slightly above average would probably do the trick. But can Harbaugh, Tim Drevno, and Pep Hamilton attain that? The next two weeks will be telling.

Game Ball – Offense

Karan Higdon (12 carries for 65 yards, 5.4 yards per carry, 2 receptions for 33 yards)
In a game in which Michigan showed little ability to move the ball consistently — save for the first possession of the game — Higdon was the one offensive standout, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He had rushes of six and three yards on that opening possession, but Chris Evans was the more featured back on that drive with five carries for 20 yards. Midway through the third quarter, Higdon had four straight carries that went for five, six, six, and six yards before a holding penalty on Mason Cole set the offense back to 1st-and-20. Two plays later, O’Korn was picked off. Often the only back that could gain positive yards, that Higdon got just 12 carries while O’Korn threw the ball 35 times is a big miss by the coaching staff.

Previous:
Week 1 – Quinn Nordin (4-of-6 field goals, 2-of-3 from 50-plus)
Week 2 — Ty Isaac (20 carries for 133 yards, 6.7 yards per carry)
Week 3 — Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 4 — John O’Korn (18-of-26 for 270 yards, 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 5 rushes for 12 yards)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (8 tackles — 6 solo — 2.5 tackles for loss)
The game followed a similar trend for Michigan’s defense this season. It’s susceptible to a few big plays early in the game, but Don Brown makes halftime adjustments and shuts down the opposing offense in the second half. Michigan State managed just two first downs the entire second half — both on their last possession — and 66 yards on 30 plays in the second half. Hurst was a big part of that, stuffing the Michigan State running game with 2.5 tackles for loss, and drawing high praise from MSU center Brian Allen after the game.

Previous:
Week 1 – Devin Bush (7 tackles, 5 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 2 – Tyree Kinnel (9 tackles, 8 solo, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, 1 interception return for touchdown)
Week 3 – Chase Winovich (9 tackles – 3 solo – 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Week 4 — Chase Winovich (6 tackles — all solo — 4 tackles for loss, 3 sacks

#7 Michigan vs Michigan State game preview

Saturday, October 7th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Note: Work sent me to Atlanta and Charlotte for the week, so my writing time has been sparse. I had planned to write the game preview on my flight home, but Southwest’s in-flight wifi had other plans. So here I am at midnight on Friday night, fighting a cold and a lack of sleep, so this will just be a brief one this week.

Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 7:30p.m. EST – ABC
MSU Head Coach: Mark Dantonio (11th season)
Coaching Record: 110-60 (93-43 at MSU)
Co-Offensive Coordinators: Jim Bollman (5th season)
Dave Warner (5th season)
Co-Defensive Coordinators: Mike Tressel (2nd season)
Harlon Barnett (3rd season)
Last Season: 3-9 (1-8 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 32 – MSU 23 (2016)
All-Time Series: Michigan 69-35-5
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 34-19-3
Jim Harbaugh vs MSU 1-1
Last Michigan win: 2016 (32-23)
Last MSU win: 2015 (27-23)
Current Streak: Michigan 1
Michigan State schedule to date
Opponent Result
Bowling Green W 35-10
Western Michigan W 28-14
Notre Dame L 18-38
Iowa W 17-10

The tide has begun swinging back to Ann Arbor in the state’s biggest rivalry and Michigan State fans are struggling to come to grips with the loss of the bragging rights they have enjoyed for much of the past decade.

They were the biggest beneficiary of The Great Experiment that Michigan undertook when it hired Rich Rodriguez in 2008 to transform Michigan football and then swung the pendulum in the opposite direction with Brady Hoke after just three years.

When Rodriguez started deemphasizing recruiting the top players in the state of Michigan Mark Dantonio welcomed them with open arms and took the upper hand in the rivalry. Hoke came in and won his second attempt — 12-10 on a last-second field goal — but lost the other three.

Jim Harbaugh reestablished the Wolverines as the premier destination for the state’s top recruits, securing commitments from the top two in the 2016 class, then the top six and seven of the top eight in the 2017 class. In his first season, Harbaugh had a big win over the Spartans secured until a fluke botched punt in the closing seconds handed MSU their seventh win in the last eight seasons. In 2016, Michigan finished the job, topping Michigan State 32-23 in East Lansing, a game that was closer than it should have been, but given the recent history, it was a welcome win.

Now, after a loss that should have been a win, and then a narrow win, the pattern would say a resounding win is in the cards for Harbaugh. Michigan is, after all, coming off a bye week, which means they had an extra week to prepare.

But as we all know, nothing is guaranteed against Michigan State. Dantonio has mastered the art of playing with a chip on their shoulder, especially when it comes to playing Michigan. It simply means more, and Spartan players are constantly reminding us that they do a little extra every day to prepare for Michigan.

Prediction

Michigan State has already matched last season’s win total and looks good on paper. But when you dig a little deeper, you realize that they’ve beaten a bad Bowling Green team, a Western Michigan squad that isn’t close to the darling it was a year ago, and a so-so Iowa. The one good team MSU has faced, Notre Dame, pounded the Spartans, 38-18.

Their leading rusher is quarterback Brian Lewerke, who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But their rushing offense is right about on par with Michigan’s, averaging about three yards more per game. It’s not going to scare a Michigan defense that leads the nation against the run — especially with a pair of running backs (L.J. Scott and Gerald Holmes) who are averaging less than 3.8 yards per carry. The passing game isn’t much to be concerned about either, averaging just 208 yards per game in the three games that it wasn’t playing from behind all game. I’m not worried at all about Michigan’s defense stopping the MSU offense. They’ll have success for a couple of drives, like Purdue did, but when the scripted plays run out, the Don Brown defense will take over.

What I am worried about, however, is Michigan’s offense moving the ball consistently. This certainly isn’t the Pat Narduzzi defense, but it is more solid that it was a year ago. Iowa managed just 19 rushing yards on 25 carries last week, and Michigan hasn’t shown that it can run the ball consistently yet this season. The Wolverines have done well at big plays via the run, but those are hard to rely on, especially when you’re getting stuffed at the line. But Michigan State’s defense is allowing more than four big runs (10 yards or more) per game, so there is hope.

Where I see Michigan having some success is in the air — that is, if the rain holds off. If it rains throughout the game, it’s anyone’s guess. But if not, it will all depend on whether the offensive line can keep John O’Korn clean, of course. I see a big game for tight ends Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon. Michigan State’s defense will try to keep O’Korn out of rhythm, but he’ll find comfort with his tight ends and finish with a nice passing number.

The forecast currently calls for a 35-50 percent chance of showers throughout the game with thunderstorms starting later on. If they hold off, I think Michigan wins comfortably, but not in a blowout. If the heavens open up, we can pretty much just flip a coin. I’ll make my prediction based on a mostly dry ballgame. Michigan is the more talented team and will win a relatively low-scoring affair.

Score Prediction: Michigan 23 – Michigan State 9

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!

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

Sunday, September 24th, 2017


(Patrick Barron)

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

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

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

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

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

The second half was all Michigan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Ball – Offense

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

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

Game Ball – Defense

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

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

Four Bold Predictions Results

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

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

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

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

Season Bold Prediction Results
= 5
 = 4
 = 3

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

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017


(Kevin Goheen, Land of 10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Game Ball – Offense

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

Game Ball – Defense

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

Four Bold Predictions Results

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

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

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

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

M&GB staff predictions: The Game

Saturday, November 26th, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

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

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

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

Justin (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michigan 26 – Ohio State 24

Derick (1)

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

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

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

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

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 14

Sam (3)

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

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

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

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

Ohio State 24 – Michigan 17

Josh (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio State 27 – Michigan 13

Joe (6)

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

Michigan 21 – Ohio State 20

The Numbers Game: 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.