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Posts Tagged ‘Karan Higdon’

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

Thursday, September 21st, 2017


(Kaitlyn Cole)

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

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

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First three weeks comparison, 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 17 11 28 13.59% 4.75% 13
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 2.67 2.67 5.33 8.84% 4.75% 13
2016 5.00 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#7 Michigan 29 – Air Force 13: Special teams save the day while offense sputters in red zone

Sunday, September 17th, 2017


(Dustin Johnson)

Last week, Michigan played ugly but still beat Cincinnati by 22 points, leaving fans wondering if it was simply a letdown after a big season-opening win over Florida or a sign of things to com. This Saturday, Michigan picked up an ugly 29-13 win over Air Force.

Michigan looked like it would take command early on as Ty Isaac took the fourth play of the game 62 yards for a touchdown. But it was called back as his foot touched the sideline at the Air Force 30. Instead, Michigan had to settle for three points as the offense stalled at the 17-yard line and Quinn Nordin kicked a 35-yard field goal.

The opening drive was emblematic of the way the rest of the game would go: the offense moving the ball but sputtering in the red zone and settling for three instead of six.

Final Stats
Michigan  Air Force
Score 29 13
Record 3-0 1-1
Total Yards 359 232
Net Rushing Yards 190 168
Net Passing Yards 169 64
First Downs 17 15
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 7-72 3-29
Punts-Yards 3-111 6-231
Time of Possession 29:35 30:25
Third Down Conversions 5-of-14 3-of-13
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 3-27 2-11
Field Goals 5-for-5 2-for-3
PATs 2-for-2 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 1-of-2
Red Zone TDs-Chances 0-of-4 0-of-2
Full Box Score

After forcing an Air Force punt, Michigan gave the ball right back when Chris Evans fumbled and the Falcons recovered at the Michigan 44. Air Force capitalized with a field goal to tie the game at three. That drive was also symbolic of the way the rest of the game would go as Air Force ran 12 plays but advanced just 24 yards.

Michigan settled for another field goal on its first possession of the second quarter, driving 77 yards in eight plays before stalling at the Air Force 8-yard line. Air Force answered with a 50-yard field goal and Michigan closed the half with a 49-yard field goal to take a 9-6 lead.

Michigan’s defense forced a three-and-out to start the second half and freshman receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones scored the first touchdown of the game, taking the punt 79 yards to the end zone for the longest punt return since Steve Breaston went 83 yards against Indiana in 2006.

But the breathing room wouldn’t last long as Air Force threw its first pass of the game and receiver Ronald Cleveland beat safety Tyree Kinnel for a 64 yard touchdown.

Both offenses went three-and-out on their next possessions before Michigan got on the board once again with another field goal after the offense stalled in the red zone. This time, Nordin converted from 29 yards.

The Michigan defense forced another three-and-out, and two plays later, Isaac reeled off another big touchdown run, but again it was called back, this time for a questionable holding on Kekoa Crawford. Michigan settled for another Nordin field goal, this time from 36 yards out to take a 22-13 lead.

Air Force refused to back down, however, putting together a 16-play drive that used nearly seven minutes of the clock and got to the Michigan 5-yard line. But the Michigan defense held strong, forcing a 29-yard field goal attempt that was missed.

Michigan finally scored its first and only offensive touchdown of the game when Karan Higdon scampered around the left side for a 36-yard touchdown run to reach the final score of 29-13.

Michigan’s offense compiled 359 total yards, 190 on the ground and 169 through the air while the defense held Air Force to its lowest yardage total since 2012 (232 yards).

Wilton Speight completed 14-of-23 passes for 169 yards. He didn’t throw a touchdown pass or an interception. Isaac led Michigan on the ground for the third time in three games, finishing with 89 yards on 5.6 yards per carry. Higdon added 64 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries, while Evans got just six carries for 30 yards and the fumble. Tarik Black led Michigan in receiving with five receptions for 55 yards, while Peoples-Jones caught two for 52. Nordin tied a program record with five field goals in the game, joining K.C. Lopata (Nov. 8, 2009), J.D Carlson (Nov. 10, 1990), and Mike Gillette (Nov. 5, 1988) as the only Wolverines to do so.

Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman completed 1-of-7 passes for 64 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 60 yards. Running back Tim McVey managed just 62 yards on 5.2 yards per carry, well below his career average of 8.4 yards per carry.

Michigan hits the road for the first time this season next Saturday at Purdue. The game will kick off at 4pm EST and be televised by FOX.

Game Ball – Offense

Donovan Peoples-Jones (2 receptions for 52 yards, 2 punt returns for 104 yards and 1 touchdown)
For the third week in a row, Ty Isaac could have gotten the game ball, and if his two touchdown runs wouldn’t have been called back he most certainly would have this week. But I’m going with Peoples-Jones because his third-quarter punt return began the second half with a statement, putting Michigan ahead by two scores and ultimately sealing the game. The true freshman has been a major weapon in the punt return game in the early season. He also gained 52 yards on a pair of receptions.

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)

Game Ball – Defense

Chase Winovich (9 tackles — 3 solo — 2 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry)
Devin Bush could have gotten the nod here as he was seemingly all over the field, playing a huge role in slowing down the Air Force triple option running game. But I’m going to split hairs and pick Chase Winovich because he recorded a sack and a half on just seven Air Force pass attempts. He also recorded nine tackles and a quarterback hurry.

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)

#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.

Iowa 14 – #3 Michigan 13: Offense stalls in Iowa City, title hopes remain intact

Sunday, November 13th, 2016


chesson-vs-iowa(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

After watching second-ranked Clemson get knocked off by unranked Pittsburgh on a last second field goal, Michigan took the field against unranked Iowa, looking to remain unbeaten. Midway through the game, fellow unbeaten Washington fell to USC, and Michigan had a chance to join Alabama as the undisputed t0p two. But it wasn’t meant to be as the Wolverines suffered defeat as well, 14-13.

While Michigan looked nearly invincible through the first nine weeks of the season, it wasn’t hard to see a game like this coming. In my prediction on Friday, I wrote the following:

um-iowa_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan   Iowa  
Score 13 14
Record 9-1, 6-1 6-4, 4-3
Total Yards 201 230
Net Rushing Yards 98 164
Net Passing Yards 103 66
First Downs 14 17
Turnovers 2 1
Penalties-Yards 5-48 3-24
Punts-Yards 6-244 6-282
Time of Possession 27:15 32:45
Third Down Conversions 5-of-15 4-of-16
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-0 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 3-20 2-10
Field Goals 2-for-2 2-for-3
PATs 1-for-1 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 2-of-2 3-of-3
Red Zone Scores-TDs 1-of-2 1-of-3
Full Box Score

“Although the numbers don’t support it, for some reason I have an eerie feeling about this one. Even the 1997 Michigan national championship team nearly had their season derailed in Iowa City by an Iowa team that finished just 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the Big Ten. That game required a second half comeback by Michigan to pull off a 28-24 win…

“Statistically, there’s no reason Iowa should be very competitive in this one, but that’s why they play the games. Maybe Michigan will struggle a bit offensively in the first half and let Iowa hang around longer than they should. Wilton Speight hasn’t really had a bad game yet this season and maybe he’s due. Michigan’s defense has allowed 20 explosive plays in the past two weeks after allowing an average of fewer than five per game the first seven weeks. Iowa’s offense ranks 99th nationally in explosive plays per game, but perhaps they gained confidence from what Michigan State and Maryland did.”

Ultimately, I thought Michigan would outlast Iowa at the end, and there’s still little doubt as to which team is better or more talented. But that’s cold comfort after a first loss of the season.

The good news is that very little has changed. The only team in the country that can be unanimously declared better that Michigan at this point is Alabama. Cases can be made for Ohio State, Clemson, and Washington, but they’ve all suffered similar — if not worse — setbacks. When the sun rose on Sunday morning, Michigan still found itself among the top four in both the AP Poll and the Coaches Poll, and whether or not the College Football Playoff committee ranks them the same on Tuesday night, they still have the exact same path they had prior to Saturday’s loss: beat Indiana at home next Saturday, win in Columbus, win the Big Ten championship game. Easier said than done, but not unthinkable.

So what exactly happened on Saturday? Michigan’s offense was a shell of itself, unable to run the ball consistently, and unable to keep Iowa’s defensive front out of the backfield. Wilton Speight missed open receivers and when he did hit them, they had a hard time catching the ball. The defense held strong for the most part, but let an Iowa offense that rushed for just 30 yards on 26 carries against Penn State gash them for 164 yards. The Wolverine defense was simply asked to do too much.

It’s hard to complain about an offense that ranked among the nation’s best through the first nine weeks of the season, but the offensive game plan seemed flawed from the start on Saturday. The creativity that Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno have displayed all season seemed to have no match for Iowa’s defense. In fact, there was too much predictability — running Jabrill Peppers every time he was in the game — and too many questionable calls — a sweep with De’Veon Smith and a sweep with Karan Higdon on 3rd-and-1 — that looked more like an Al Borges offense.

Still, there were plenty of missed opportunities as well. On at least two or three occasions, Michigan receivers had beaten their defender deep, but Speight overthrew them. And the tone was set early in the game when a series of special teams blunders proved costly. Devin Bush was ejected from the game for targeting when he tackled Iowa punter Ron Coluzzi — a questionable call for sure. Then, Michigan had back to back running into the kicker penalties gave the Iowa offense a first down, and although it resulted in a missed field goal and Michigan’s offense responded with a touchdown on its next possession, it put the defense in a tough situation and may have contributed to their inability to stop the Hawkeyes late in the game.

Next Saturday, Michigan hosts Indiana (5-5, 3-4) in the final tuneup before The Game. A loss to the Hoosiers would eliminate Michigan from Big Ten title and College Football Playoff consideration.

Game Ball – Offense

Kenny Allen (2-of-2 FGs, long of 51)
The senior kicker has faced his share of criticism this season after missing three of his first six field goals, which nearly proved costly early in the season against Wisconsin. He assumed the punting and kickoff duties this year, which may have lead to his early struggles, but he has rebounded nicely back to the reliable field goal kicker he has been dating back to last season. On Saturday, his leg was clutch as the Michigan offense was able to only find the end zone one time. Allen got the scoring started with a 26-yard field goal on Michigan’s second possession of the game. But it was his second field goal that earned him the game ball. Trailing 11-10 in the fourth quarter, Michigan’s offense stalled at the Iowa 33. Facing 4th-and-7, trying to convert was out of the question given the troubles the Wolverines had moving the ball. And punting was likely to yield only a few yards. So Harbaugh called on Allen to attempt a 51-yard field goal. The senior responded by drilling a line drive right through the uprights for the longest field goal of his career.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 8 — Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)
Week 9 — Wilton Speight (19-of-24 for 362 yards, 2 touchdowns, 3 carries for 16 yards, 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Chris Wormley (6 tackles (2 solo), 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Michigan’s defense didn’t play a bad game. They gave up just 230 total yards after all, limited Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard to just 8-of-19 for 66 yards — most of which came on a couple of timely screen passes –, and held the Hawkeyes to just 4-of-16 third-down conversions. Had Michigan’s offense performed anywhere close to its usual ability, Michigan would have won convincingly. But when the offense struggled to do anything and the defense let Iowa running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels run right up the middle, it looked worse than it actually was. One of the highlights was senior Chris Wormley, who made six stops, two tackles for loss, and recorded one of Michigan’s three sacks. His sack came late in the third quarter with Iowa driving to increase its one-point lead. On 2nd-and-9 from the 45, Wormley brought Beathard down for a 12-yard loss. Iowa had to punt and Michigan’s offense kicked the go-ahead field goal on its ensuing possession.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Week 8 — Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery for touchdown)
Week 9 — Delano Hill (6 tackles (5 solo), 0.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions)

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

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016


peppers-vs-msu(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garbage time

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

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

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

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

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

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

Garbage time

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

Sacks and tackles for loss

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

Big plays by down

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

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

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

Big play percentage of total yards

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

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

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

Big play scoring drives

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

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

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

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

Next opponent
Michigan & Maryland offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 64 34 98 16.39% 6.50% 52
MD Off. 73 18 91 16.37% 3.99% 17
Michigan & Maryland defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 32 14 46 9.89% 6.50% 52
MD Def. 56 18 74 12.37% 3.99% 17

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

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

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

#2 Michigan 32 – Michigan State 23: Redemption in East Lansing

Sunday, October 30th, 2016


peppers-vs-msu(mgoblue.com)

Michigan was favored by 24 points entering East Lansing on Saturday, but after suffering through a horrid eight year stretch in which it won just once against its bitter in-state rival, a win by any amount in Spartan Stadium was sure to feel good. The Wolverines spotted Michigan State seven points on Saturday, took a 20-point lead, and held on to win by nine, improving to 8-0 for the first time since 2006.

With Michigan State entering the game just 5-2 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten, many Michigan fans wanted Jim Harbaugh to keep his foot on the gas and not let up. And while a blowout would have been nice for the sake of bragging to family and coworkers, a win — any win — was just fine.

Any nervousness on Michigan’s part prior to the game was only exacerbated after Michigan State marched right down the field on its opening drive with a 12-play, seven-minute, 75-yard touchdown drive that saw 11 rushes and just one pass. Michigan’s defense, which ranked fourth nationally against the rush, got carved up by L.J. Scott.

um-msu_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan MSU
Score 32 23
Record 8-0, 5-0 2-6, 0-5
Total Yards 436 401
Net Rushing Yards 192 217
Net Passing Yards 244 184
First Downs 24 23
Turnovers 1 1
Penalties-Yards 5-62 7-57
Punts-Yards 3-122 1-49
Time of Possession 30:16 29:44
Third Down Conversions 5-of-12 4-of-11
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-1 1-of-4
Sacks By-Yards 2-10 0-0
Field Goals 3-for-3 1-for-2
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 3-of-6
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-6 3-of-6
Full Box Score

But Michigan answered with five straight scoring drives. Jabrill Peppers got the scoring started with a 3-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven. After the defense stopped a MSU fourth down, Michigan went 62 yards in five plays, lead by a 33-yard Eddie McDoom run and capped off by a 1-yard De’Veon Smith touchdown run.

Michigan State got back on the board with a 52-yard field goal, but Michigan answered with a 23-yarder from Kenny Allen.

The defense forced a three-and-out, and the offense put together a 10-play, 48-yard touchdown drive that saw Michigan convert two third downs. Smith picked up his second touchdown of the day, this time from five yards out.

On the first play of Michigan State’s next possession, quarterback Tyler O’Connor tried to take a shot downfield, but Jourdan Lewis picked it off, giving Michigan a chance to widen the lead before halftime. With just 27 seconds remaining, Wilton Speight completed passes of 14 yards and 20 yards, both to Amara Darboh to reach the MSU 20. A pass interference penalty put the ball at the five, but with time for only one more play, Harbaugh settled for a 23-yard Allen field goal and Michigan took a 27-10 lead into the locker room.

The second half did not go as well as Michigan seemed to go into cruise control, scoring just three offensive points on five possessions. Neither team scored a point in the third quarter, but Michigan widened the lead to 30-10 with a 45-yard Allen field goal to start the fourth.

On the next possession, Michigan went three-and-out and had to punt for the first time in the game. Michigan State capitalized with a 59-yard drive that featured back to back explosive plays — a 34-yard pass from backup quarterback Brian Lewerke to R.J. Shelton and a 20-yard touchdown pass from Lewerke to Monty Madaris.

Michigan State took over again with just 37 seconds remaining and moved the ball right down the field with a 35-yard pass to Scott, a 15-yard personal foul on Chris Wormley, a 10-yard pass to Trishton Jackson, and a 10-yard pass interference on Jourdan Lewis. O’Connor capped the drive with a 5-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Donnie Corley with one second remaining on the clock. At this point, a win was impossible for the Spartans, but Mark Dantonio elected to go for a two-point conversion to make the loss look a little better. The decision backfired as O’Connor’s option pitch was fumbled and Peppers scooped it up and raced 87 yards for a Michigan two-point conversion.

Michigan’s offense gained 436 yards, 192 on the ground and 244 through the air. Speight completed 16-of-25 passes for 244 yards and an interception. All three of Michigan’s touchdowns came on the ground. McDoom lead the team in rushing with 53 yards on two carries, while Karan Higdon had 44 on 10 carries, Smith had 38 on 11, and Peppers had 24 on five. Darboh had a career-high 165 yards on eight receptions.

Defensively, Michigan allowed 401 yards including 217 rushing yards and an average of 5.2 yards per carry. Scott became the first back to rush for 100 yards on Michigan’s defense this season, finishing with 139 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. MSU’s three quarterbacks combined to complete just 13-of-28 passes for 184 yards, two touchdowns, and a pick.

At 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan remains in the driver’s seat in the conference. The Wolverines host Maryland (5-3, 2-3) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Amara Darboh (8 receptions for 165 yards)
Darboh had the best game of his career on Saturday, channeling his inner Braylon Edwards with catch after catch against the Spartans’ secondary. Although he didn’t find the end zone, seven of his eight receptions resulted in first downs and two of them were third down conversions. Like Jehu Chesson did with Jake Rudock last season, Darboh seems to be hitting stride with Speight in the second half of the season, giving Michigan both a deep threat and a reliable pass catcher to move the chains.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)
Week 7 — Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)

Game Ball – Defense

Jabrill Peppers (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 1 two-point conversion fumble recovery for touchdown)
Michigan’s Heisman trophy candidate didn’t have the most tackles — Delano Hill lead the team with 11 — or the most tackles for loss – Mike McCray lead with 2.5 — but made the big plays that counted. When Michigan State still had a shot to pull within one score late in the game, Peppers sacked Lewerke for a loss of eight on 4th-and-5. Although the Spartans scored on their next possession, it was too little too late by that time, and Peppers made the final statement of the game by returning their fumbled two-point conversion to add two points to Michigan’s winning margin. Ultimately, it didn’t change the outcome of the game — aside from covering the over on the betting line — but it gave him a highlight for his Heisman campaign.

Previous
Week 1 — Mike McCray (9 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)
Week 2 — Rashan Gary (6 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks)
Week 3 — Jabrill Peppers (9 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1 sack, 2 kick ret. for 81 yards, 4 punt ret. for 99 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Week 5 — Channing Stribling (2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups)
Week 6 — Taco Charlton (2 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 2 sacks)
Week 7 — Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)

The Numbers Game: U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays

Thursday, October 27th, 2016


speight-vs-illinois(Isaiah Hole, 247 Sports)

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

One game after Michigan put up a season high 16 explosive plays on lowly Rutgers they came back and put up 17 on Illinois. They did however, give up four explosive plays to Illinois, which was three more than Rutgers managed.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first seven weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
2015 28 19 47 10.00% 1.52% 11

Those 17 explosive plays were fairly evenly distributed between 10 runs and seven passes. Coming in, Michigan had 22 total explosive passes through six games. The offensive outbursts over the last two games have vaulted Michigan up in the offensive rankings nationally. How high, exactly? Let’s dig in and see.

So far, Michigan has put up 8.29 explosive run plays per game (9th nationally) and 4.14 explosive pass plays (25th) for a total of 12.43 explosive plays per game (3rd). Yes, you read that right, only two teams in the country average more explosive plays per game than Michigan: Louisville (15.57) and Army (12.57). I think we can begin to put to rest the notion that this offense is a slow, plodding, pro-style offense.

Their big play percentage is 16.38 percent (9th), their big play differential is 7.78 percent (3rd), and their total toxic differential is 60, good for No. 1 nationally on a per game basis. Remember, teams that fare well in the toxic differential metric are usually the ones left standing at the end of the season.

Through seven games last season, the 2015 team — Harbaugh’s first — was averaging just four explosive run plays and 2.71 explosive pass plays for a total of 6.71 explosive plays — almost half of what the 2016 team is doing. Their big play percentage was 10 percent, their big play differential was 1.52 percent, and their total toxic differential was 11 (1.57 per game). I’ve hit this nail before but I’m going to keep hammering it: Jim Harbaugh is an offensive genius, and perhaps the greatest of our era. What he’s done with Michigan in just his second year is nothing short of miraculous.

Garbage time

Just under half (eight) of Michigan’s 17 explosive plays versus Illinois came during garbage time. So far this season, 41 of their 87 total explosive plays (47.13 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that more than half of Michigan’s explosive plays happen before the game is out of hand.

Defensive big plays allowed
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages through six weeks
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 3.43 1.43 4.86 8.61% 7.78% 60
2015 3.14 1.71 4.86 8.15% 1.52% 11

Michigan gave up four total explosive plays to Illinois last week, which is just below their new season average of 4.86. If you’ll recall what I’ve said previously: anything under six explosive plays per game is in elite territory. Michigan is well below five.

Overall, Michigan is giving up 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) and 1.43 pass plays (2nd) for the aforementioned total of just 4.86 explosive plays per game (1st). The next best is Auburn and LSU with 5.43 allowed per game. Michigan’s big play against percentage is 8.61 percent (7th).

Last year at this time Michigan was just coming off the last second collapse against Michigan State and didn’t fare too well against that team, giving up seven total explosive plays, six in the passing game. Their totals through seven games in 2015 were 3.14 explosive run plays and 1.71 pass plays for a total of 4.86 explosive plays given up. Exactly what it is this year. Unfortunately for the 2015 defense, injuries took their toll and they could not maintain that pace, finishing with 7.2 explosive plays given up per game, which was still an impressive 24th nationally. I don’t want to jinx this team but even if they slow their pace (doesn’t look likely with the remaining schedule) they should still finish with fewer than six explosive plays given up per game.

Garbage time

Michigan gave up three of its four explosive plays to Illinois during garbage time last week. So far this season, 20 of the 34 explosive plays Michigan has given up (58.82 percent) have come during garbage time. That means that most of Michigan’s explosive plays given up come after the game is well in hand and the other team is highly unlikely to come back and win. Only Penn State (3-of-4) and Wisconsin (5-of-5) put up most of their explosive plays before garbage time kicked in (there was no garbage time vs Wisconsin).

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan only registered one sack last Saturday, but their season total and per game average are still up there. After eight weeks Michigan has 25 total sacks and is averaging 3.57 per game, both good for fourth nationally. They have 63 total tackles for loss (4th) and average nine per game (3rd). Remember, Michigan only averaged 2.46 sacks and 6.77 TFL per game last year. This season, they’re averaging over one more sack per game and almost three more tackles for loss per game, all while giving up the fewest big plays per game in the nation. The “high risk/high reward” nonsense has been laid down in a wooden box, pending the final nails in the coffin.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-8

Michigan has 87 total explosive plays on offense — 58 run and 29 pass. An explosive play is just as likely on first down as it is on second down (37 for each down). An explosive run is slightly more likely on second than first down (27 versus 26) and an explosive pass play is slightly more likely on first than second down (11 versus 10). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 8.62 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than 27 percent of the explosive pass plays happen on third down).

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-8

On defense, Michigan is equally likely to give up an explosive play on first and second down (13 apiece) with third down a good deal behind (eight). Half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (12), followed by first (seven) and then third (five). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (six) than both second (one) and third (three) downs combined.

Big play percentage of total yards

I thought it might be fun to take a look at what percentage of yards Michigan gives up on explosive plays. It was eye opening when it came to what they do in the run game. Michigan has given up 672 total rushing yards and 501 of those came on just 24 explosive run plays. That means 74.55 percent of the total rushing yards Michigan has given up has come via an explosive run play at 20.88 yards a pop. So what are they giving up per play on non-explosive runs? A mere 0.83 yards per attempt.

To truly put that into some perspective consider this: Michigan has faced 231 total rushing attempts. Of those, 24 have resulted in explosive plays (501 total yards) and the other 207 rushes have yielded just 171 total yards. So what does this mean exactly? Michigan will give up an explosive run play about 10 percent of the time at just under 21 yards per rush. The other 90 percent of the time they give up just 0.83 yards per rush. You get a big gain once in a while, but most of the time you literally get almost nothing.

Let that sink in for a minute. Ninety percent of the time a team runs the ball against Michigan they average less than a yard per attempt.

On offense just over 63 percent of Michigan’s rushing yards come via explosive play and just under 53 percent of their passing yards come via explosive play. All in all, over 58 percent of Michigan’s total offensive yards come via explosive plays. I think they’ve come that long way already, eh Herbie?

Without the total explosive play yardage for the rest of the country we cannot see how Michigan compares. If you know how to get it without going through play-by-plays for every team/game hit me up at @jdemille9. But what we do know quantitatively is that Michigan has an explosive play 16.38 percent of the time — roughly one out of every six plays. Only two of the eight teams with a higher big play percentage than Michigan are in the playoff hunt — Washington (16.45 percent) and Louisville (20.11 percent). No, they are not quite in Louisville’s stratosphere percentage-wise, but their offense isn’t built to be basketball on grass.

UM’s big play leaders
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Run
Name Number of Big Runs Average Gain Big Play Pct
De’Veon Smith 14 18.43 yards 17.72%
Chris Evans 11 23.55 yards 22.44%
Ty Isaac 10 14.82 yards 17.46%
Karan Higdon 9 25.11 yards 20.93%
Michigan’s 2016 big play leaders – Pass
Name Number of Big Receptions Average Gain Big Play Pct
Amara Darboh 11 35.00 yards 36.67%
Jake Butt 6 19.00 yards 23.08%
Jehu Chesson 5 28.40 yards 27.78%

With Chris Evans out with a concussion after just one carry, De’Veon Smith was able to climb back to the lead with 14 total explosive runs, he’s also the overall leader with 14. I’m still amazed that his explosive run average is so high (18.43 yards). It’s amazing what one can do when healthy. Karan Higdon took the opportunity presented in Evans’ absence and moved to the top in average per explosive run with 25.11 yards. As a team, Michigan is averaging 19.62 yards on 58 explosive runs.

Amara Darboh stayed atop the explosive pass play list for both total (11) and average yards per (35). As a team, Michigan is averaging 28.32 yards on 28 explosive pass plays. Overall, Michigan averages 22.45 yards on their 87 explosive plays.

Big play scoring drives
Michigan’s 2016 big play scoring percentage
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Offense 56 39 69.64%*
Drives With Big Play Drives w/Big Play and Score Big Play Scoring Pct
Defense 26 8 30.77%*
*A drive with a big play typically yields points 75% of the time per recent NFL study

Against Illinois, Michigan had 10 drives in which they registered an explosive play and they scored on seven of those. Side note: one of those ten drives was the game ending drive in which Michigan ran out the clock, so that will skew the results downward slightly. Overall this season Michigan has had 56 drives with an explosive play and scored on 39 of them (69.64 percent). Just under 70 percent of the time they have an explosive play, they score on that drive. On a per game basis, they average eight drives with an explosive play and score on 5.57 of them.

On defense, Michigan surrendered four drives with explosive plays to Illinois and the Illini only capitalized on one of them. For the year Michigan’s defense has surrendered 26 drives with an explosive play and only allowed scores on eight of them. Opponents only score 30.77 percent of the time they register an explosive play. Remember, the NFL study we base this off of says that a team is likely to score on 75 percent of the drives on which they register an explosive play. Michigan gives up a score less than one third of the time. The Michigan defense is very good, in case you didn’t know already.

Next opponent
Michigan & Michigan State offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 58 29 87 16.38% 7.78% 60
MSU Off. 28 21 49 10.47% 1.36% 0
Michigan & Michigan State defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 24 10 34 8.61% 7.78% 60
MSU Def. 24 21 45 9.11% 1.36% 0

And now we take a look forward to our next opponent. This line from Star Wars always comes to mind when I think of East Lansing; “you won’t find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.” Unfortunately, Sparty isn’t who we thought they’d be, but they still consider this their championship game, a la Rutgers. We saw how well that worked out for the Scarlet Knights. For what it’s worth, Jim Harbaugh prepares for every team as if it’s a championship game. No one will ever say his Michigan teams weren’t prepared.

MSU is bad on offense — not Rutgers bad — but still very bad. They average four explosive run plays per game (102nd) and three explosive pass plays per game (75th) for a total of seven explosive plays per game (111th). Their big play percentage is 10.47 percent (101st) and their big play differential is 1.36 percent (53rd).

On defense it gets a little better, but not quite the Spartan teams of yesteryear. They give up an average of 3.43 explosive run plays per game (16th) — which is same as Michigan — and three explosive pass plays (53rd) for a total of 6.43 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play against percentage is a decent 9.11 percent (15th) but their total toxic differential is a flat zero (70th). Still fairly solid on defense as far as explosive plays given up are concerned, but just awful on offense.

I expect Michigan State to bring their A-game this weekend. Unfortunately, their A-game is light years behind Michigan’s A-game. Don’t think Michigan’s players (or Jim Harbaugh for that matter) have forgotten last year and how the Spartans celebrated the way they did in Ann Arbor. I’ll have my full prediction tomorrow, but for now all I will say is that I fully expect something similar to 2009 Stanford versus USC to go down in East Lansing this Saturday.

#3 Michigan 41 – Illinois 8: Michigan allows points, wins by 33

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


um-vs-illinois(MGoBlue.com)

In front of a homecoming crowd on Saturday afternoon, Michigan picked up right where it left off prior to last week’s bye, scoring touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game to kickstart a 41-8 win over Illinois.

Michigan got the ball to start the game and looked like it hadn’t missed a beat, marching down the field in 10 plays and scoring on a 3-yard drag to Jake Butt after lining up in the “train” formation that Jim Harbaugh debuted against Wisconsin. On the drive, Jabrill Peppers lined up at quarterback, running back, and receiver, running for five yards and catching a five yard pass.

um-illinois_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Illinois
Score 41 8
Record 7-0, 4-0 2-5, 1-3
Total Yards 561 172
Net Rushing Yards 270 77
Net Passing Yards 291 95
First Downs 29 6
Turnovers 1 2
Penalties-Yards 5-41 5-45
Punts-Yards 2-65 7-287
Time of Possession 41:23 18:37
Third Down Conversions 7-of-14 2-of-10
Fourth Down Conversions 1-of-2 0-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 1-13 2-17
Field Goals 2-for-2 0-for-0
PATs 5-for-5 0-for-0
Red Zone Scores-Chances 5-of-5 0-of-0
Red Zone Scores-TDs 3-of-5 0-of-0
Full Box Score

The defense forced a three-and-out and Michigan started its second possession at the Illinois 44-yard line. Three plays later, Wilton Speight found Tyrone Wheatley Jr. for a 21-yard touchdown pass.

After another Illinois punt, Michigan moved the ball right down the field for yet another touchdown, this time going 81 yards in 10 plays. Khalid Hill capped off the drive with a 1-yard scoring run.

Although Illinois crossed midfield, the defense held strong yet again and had a chance to pin Michigan’s offense deep. But this time Khaleke Hudson got a hand on the punt and Michigan got to start on its own 38. Eight plays later, De’Veon Smith found the end zone to put Michigan ahead 28-0.

Michigan’s next possession stalled at the 42 after 10 plays, but on the first play after a Kenny Allen punt, Dymonte Thomas intercepted Illinois quarterback Jeff George Jr. Smith got five straight carries as the first half clock ran down and Allen booted a 23-yard field goal to send Michigan into the half with a 31-0 lead.

The second half was much different as Michigan didn’t play with the same precision or intensity, but on their third possession of the half, they got on the scoreboard once again. Speight connected with Amara Darboh for 30 yards and Butt for 22 on the drive, and after stalling in the red zone, Allen kicked a 27-yard field goal.

Early in the fourth quarter, Illinois finally broke Michigan’s shutout streak after Michigan linebacker Ben Gedeon fumbled a fake punt attempt near midfield. The Illini capitalized on the great field position with a 43-yard strike from George Jr. to Malik Turner. After Michigan committed a penalty on the extra point try, they went for two and got it.

Michigan responded quickly with a 3-play, 61-yard touchdown drive as Karan Higdon raced 45 yards for the score to reach the final score of 41-8.

Michigan racked up 561 total yards and held Illinois to just 172. Speight completed 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, looking poised and making accurate throws most of the game. Higdon led all rushers with 106 yards and a score on just six carries, while Smith added 76 yards Darboh caught five passes for 99 yards. Thirteen different Wolverines carried the ball and 11 different players caught a pass.

Defensively, Michigan limited Illinois to just 77 rushing yards — 45 coming on one run — and 4-of-15 passing for 95 yards — 43 coming on the one touchdown pass. Gedeon and Taco Charlton led the way with five tackles apiece while Maurice Hurst recorded the team’s only sack.

Michigan visits Michigan State (2-5, 0-4) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Wilton Speight (16-of-23 for 253 yards, 2 touchdowns)
This week’s game ball could have gone to Karan Higdon for his 6-carry, 106-yard, one touchdown performance, but Speight got the chance to throw the ball around and he did it well. He averaged 15.8 yards per completion and was right on the money most of the afternoon. He did get sacked twice, but didn’t turn the ball over. Harbaugh said after the game that he thought it might have been Speight’s best performance of the season. Statistically, the one against UCF was better, but it was good to see the first-year starter perform well in a conference game midway through the season and it bodes well for the Big Ten title hunt.

Previous
Week 1 — Chris Evans (8 carries, 112 yards, 2 touchdowns)
Week 2 — Wilton Speight (25-of-37 for 312 yards, 4 touchdowns)
Week 3 — Jake Butt (7 receptions for 87 yards)
Week 4 — Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rush yards, 0 sacks allowed)
Week 5 — Amara Darboh (6 receptions for 87 yards, 1 touchdown)
Week 6 — Khalid Hill (2 carries for 2 yards and 2 touchdowns, 2 receptions for 19 yards and 1 touchdown)

Game Ball – Defense

Mike McCray (3 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 fumble recovery, 2 quarterback hurries)
Not one single player stood out on the vaunted Michigan defense this week, but the unit performed well collectively. If there was one player that was memorable more than others, it was McCray. He put pressure on George Jr., burst into the backfield to stop Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn for a 7-yard loss, and dove on a fumbled snap in the third quarter when Illinois was in field goal range.

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

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 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.