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Posts Tagged ‘Michigan Football’

The numbers game: U-M’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace

Thursday, September 29th, 2016


peppers-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson, Maize n Brew)

Previously: Is Don Brown’s defense high-risk? The numbers say noMichigan’s Harbaughfense will be more explosive in Year 2, Run game makes big plays in Week 1, While UCF loaded the box Michigan went to the air for big plays, Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

I didn’t think Penn State would put up much of a fight but that was just embarrassing on their part. James Franklin seriously kicked a field goal to make a four score game a four score game. After he called a timeout to think it over. Wow. But enough about a once proud program who’ve fallen on hard times.

After the offense carried the way with big plays the last two weeks it was the Michigan defense that owned this game. Just four big plays were given up — three run and one pass.

On offense Michigan had nine big plays — eight runs and one pass — which was lower than their season average of 12 coming in. But we expected them to drop off as the season went on (I’m still sticking with my projection of eight or nine per game).

Through four games in 2016 the Michigan offense has averaged 7.5 big run plays per game (20th nationally) and 3.75 big pass plays per game (38th) for a total of 11.25 big plays per game (20th) with a big play percentage of 15.2 percent (24th). Their big play differential (percent of big plays for minus percent of big plays against) is 5.6 percent (18th). Their total toxic differential is 25 (good for 10th on a per game basis).

Contrast that to the 2015 Wolverine offense who, through four games, averaged 3.75 big run plays and 2.75 big pass plays for a total of 6.5 big plays with a big play percentage of 9.09 percent. Their big play differential was a paltry 0.58 percent and their total toxic differential was 4.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first four weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 30 17 47 15.20% 5.60% 25
2015 15 11 26 9.09% 0.58% 4
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 4.50 1.50 5.75 9.60% 5.60% 25
2015 4.00 1.00 5.00 8.51% 0.58% 4

As I mentioned last week, Michigan is faring so well in the toxic differential metric, not due to a huge turnover margin (plus-4 versus minus-2 at this time last year), but because of the offense’s giant leap forward in big plays (11.25 per game versus 6.5 per game).

I haven’t gone back and tracked all of 2015 by game yet but I’m willing to bet the 2016 offense will continue to be far ahead of them on a week by week basis.

On to the defense.

As I mentioned above, Michigan gave up only four big plays to Penn State. Not surprisingly, Saquon Barkley had two of them — one run and one reception. Thus far, Michigan’s defense has given up 4.5 big run plays per game (56th) and 1.5 big pass plays (8th) for a total of 6 big plays (21st) with a big play against percentage of 9.6 percent (33rd). It will be interesting to see how those numbers are affected now that cornerback Jeremy Clark is out for the year with a torn ACL.

Last year at this point the defense had given up four big run plays per game and one big pass play per game for a total of five big plays given up per game with a big play against percentage of 8.51 percent.

Yes, Michigan is giving up slightly more big plays per game through four weeks (6 versus 5). Yes, they’re giving up a higher percentage of big plays (9.6% vs 8.51%). But as we know, the offense is more than making up for it by almost doubling the amount of big plays as opposed to last year. So this shouldn’t be any cause for concern. Remember, giving up around six big plays per game will still have Michigan ranked around the top 10.

Michigan’s Week 4 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 39 Run
2 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 11 Run
3 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 30 Run
3 1st and 10 Chris Evans 37 Run
3 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 10 Run
4 2nd and 11 Ty Isaac 10 Run
4 2nd and 15 Karan Higdon 40 (TD) Run
4 2nd and 10 Ty Isaac 25 Run
Penn State’s Week 4 big plays
2 1st and 10 Trace McSorley to Saquon Barkley 30 Pass
3 1st and 10 Saquon Barkley 33 Run
4 3rd and 14 Trace McSorley 13 Run
4 2nd and 7 Miles Sanders 11 Run

However, since there has been more and more clamoring on the interwebs about the high risk/high reward nature and complaints about ALL the big plays we’ve given up, I dug up something interesting that should put all that nonsense to an end. If the big play numbers haven’t already.

It’s not a stat we track as part of our explosive play numbers feature but consider this: through 13 games last year Michigan had 88 tackles for loss (6.77 per game) and 32 sacks (2.46 per game). Through four games, Michigan already has 44 tackles for loss (11 per game) — half of their entire 2015 total — and 17 sacks (4.25 per game) — just over half of their 2015 total. Through just four games. Let that sink in for a moment. Seriously, go back and read it again.

On that same note, Michigan leads the country in both total tackles for loss and sacks and is tied for second in tackles for loss per game and third in sacks per game.

Don Brown’s defense is on pace to give up around six big plays per game — roughly the same as Michigan did last year (and about what his Boston College defense did as well). But they are also on pace to finish top five for both tackles for loss and sacks per game. High reward/LOW risk.

Fun fact: In 2015 Brown’s BC defense finished second in total tackles for loss (Clemson was first but played three more games) and first in tackles for loss per game.

Wisconsin comes to town this weekend having just knocked off a top-10 Michigan State team. Yes, they also beat a top-five LSU team earlier this season, but seeing as LSU is not even ranked anymore it’s not as impressive as it once looked. Still, the Badgers are a tough, well-coached team who will give Michigan all they have.

Michigan & Wisconsin offense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 28 17 45 16.00% 6.00% 26
WIS Off. 19 13 32 10.63% 1.99% 15
Michigan & Wisconsin defense comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Def. 18 6 24 9.60% 6.00% 26
WIS Def. 9 10 19 8.64% 1.99% 15

Wisconsin’s offensive numbers, as far as explosive plays, are rather pedestrian: 4.75 big run plays per game (82nd) and 3.25 big pass plays per game (65th) for a total of eight big plays per game (89th) with a big play percentage of 10.63 percent (101st).

However, their defense is where they hang their hats. They allow 2.25 big run plays per game (8th) and 2.5 big pass plays (36th) for a total of just 4.75 big plays given up per game (8th) with a big play against percentage of 8.64 percent (22nd). A very solid defense indeed. Their big play differential is 1.99 percent (60th) and their total toxic differential is 15 (good for 29th on a per game basis).

Saturday’s game should be a good one.

Big Ten power rankings 2016 – Week 4

Wednesday, September 28th, 2016


power-rankings_header

Each Wednesday throughout the season we will release our Big Ten power rankings. These are voted on individually by the five members of our staff and then each team’s ranking is averaged to reach our power rankings. As these are simply power rankings, they are based on each team’s performance to date, not what happened last season or what will happen in the future.

Previous: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3

week-4-power-rankings*Black dash signifies previous week’s ranking

Ohio State and Michigan remain in the top two spots for the fourth straight week. Ohio State gained all the No. 1 votes and Michigan gained all the No. 2s. Wisconsin leaped two spots after their 30-6 thumping of Michigan State, who fell two spots to fifth. Nebraska remained fourth. Minnesota moved up one spot after a respectable non-conference win over Colorado State, while Iowa fell after an uninspiring 14-7 win over Rutgers. Maryland and Indiana both jumped Penn State, who was throttled by Michigan. Like Minnesota, Purdue picked up a nice non-conference win over Nevada and moved up two spots to 11th. Might as well give Darrell Hazel a contract extension at this point. Rutgers dropped one spot after losing to Iowa. Northwestern and Illinois round out the standings. The Illini earned all of the last place votes.

Big Ten power rankings – Week 4
Team Up/Dn Last Week This Week
1. Ohio State (3-0) Even Bye Sat. vs Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), 12pm, BTN
2. Michigan (4-0, 1-0) Even Beat Penn State 49-10 Sat. vs #8 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC
3. Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) Up 2 Beat #8 MSU 30-6 Sat. at #4 Michigan (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ABC
4. Nebraska (4-0, 1-0) Even Beat Northwestern 24-13 Sat. vs Illinois (1-2), 3:30pm, ESPN2
5. Michigan State (2-1, 0-1) Down 2 Lost to #11 Wisconsin 6-30 Sat. at Indiana (2-1, 0-0), 8pm, BTN
6. Minnesota (3-0, 0-0) Up 1 Beat Colorado St. 31-24 Sat. at PSU (2-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, BTN
7. Iowa (3-1, 1-0) Down 1 Beat Rutgers 14-7 Sat. vs Northwestern (1-3, 0-1), 12pm
8. Maryland (3-0, 0-0) Up 1 Bye Sat. vs Purdue (2-1, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
9. Indiana (2-1, 0-0) Up 1 Lost to Wake Forest 28-33 Sat vs. #17 MSU (2-1, 0-1), 8pm, BTN
10. Penn State (2-2, 0-1) Down 2 Lost to #4 Michigan 10-49 Sat. vs Minnesota (3-0, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
11. Purdue (2-1, 0-0) Up 2 Beat Nevada 24-14 Sat. at Maryland (3-0, 0-0), 3:30pm, BTN
12. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) Down 1 Lost to Iowa 7-14 Sat. at #2 Ohio State (3-0, 0-0), 12pm, BTN
13. Northwestern (1-3, 0-1) Up 1 Lost to #20 Neb. 13-24  Sat. at Iowa (3-1, 1-0), 12pm
14. Illinois (1-2, 0-0) Down 2 Bye Sat. at #15 Neb. (4-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Tailgate Tuesday: Tomato pie

Tuesday, September 27th, 2016


tailgate-tuesday_2016_week5

Tailgate Tuesday is our weekly contribution from our resident pitmaster, Joe Pichey from GoBlueBBQ. These tailgate recipes will be posted each Tuesday throughout the football season and will feature a variety of appetizers, main courses, and sides to help you be the king of your next tailgate. Lane’s BBQ, a Bethlehem, Ga. based BBQ company, sponsors this season’s feature by providing their killer rubs and sauces for use in the recipes. Buy them here. In addition, Fogo Charcoal provides charcoal to use in each recipe. Buy it here.

Previous: Cedar planked scotch eggs, Pork tenderloin sliders with grilled cheese, Chicken street tacos, Sausage and cheese poppers
Full Archive here.

Joe is taking an early bye week, so I’m pinch hitting. This week’s recipe may scare off some simply by the name, but I assure you it’s a worthy side to add to your next cookout. It’s full of flavor and an easy way to get your serving of veggies — nevermind that they’re covered in cheese and mayo.

I first heard of tomato pie from my parents who had it at the Tomato Shed Cafe at Stono Market in Johns Island, S.C., just outside of Charleston. They raved about it, but I’ve never been a huge fan of tomatoes, so I thought how good could it possibly be? Finally, they took me to the Tomato Shed last summer and I saw what they had been raving about. So much flavor. It just pairs perfectly alongside your pulled pork or ribs or brisket. So naturally, I thought, if it’s so good like this it has to be even better smoked. So I went home and gave it a try, and lo and behold it is.

Ingredients

• 6-8 tomatoes (any variety will work but I prefer heirloom)
• 1 yellow onion
• Fresh basil (can also use dried)
• Fresh chives
• 1 cup mayo
• 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• Biscuit dough
Lane’s BBQ Sweet Heat Rub
• Salt and pepper

Directions

This one is much better suited for a cookout at home rather than tailgating at the stadium since it involves so much cutting and the ingredients don’t really lend themselves to making ahead of time. Also, it takes just about as long to prep as it does to actually cook.

Start by baking your biscuit dough. If you want to really go for it, you can make your own biscuits, but for ease I like the Pillsbury Grand’s flaky layers butter tastin’ biscuits. One tube is likely enough. Just line the bottom of your pan with them, flatten them and bake until golden brown. It won’t look pretty at this point, but it doesn’t need to.

tomato-pie-2-3-4

Next, slice up your tomatoes, sprinkle them with salt and let them rest for a few minutes. You can use any kind of ripe tomatoes you can find, and most will likely recommend red juicy ones. But I prefer multicolored heirlooms because I think they are sweeter and the variety of colors looks great. After a few minutes, lay out a layer of sliced tomatoes on top of the baked, flattened biscuits. Add a thin layer of sliced onion, some fresh basil and chives, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Keep repeating this process in layers until you run out of tomatoes and onions.

Mix your mayo and cheese together in a separate bowl. Folks down south swear by Duke’s mayo — it’s the only mayo on the market without any natural or artificial sweeteners — but if you live in Big Ten country it’s pretty much impossible to find. Any mayo will do just fine.

Take your mayo and cheese mixture and slather it on top of your tomatoes, onions, basil, and chives. Make sure to rub it all over so it covers the top. Then sprinkle some Lane’s BBQ Sweet Heat Rub on top of the mayo. I like the small amount of kick this gives to complement the sweetness of the tomatoes and the pepperiness of the basil.

tomato-pie-5-6-7

Toss your tomato pie into the smoker at 300-350 for 30-45 minutes with some hickory wood. You want the mayo and cheese to be nice and melty and the tomatoes and onions to soften. Since you’re cooking it in a cast iron skillet or a pan, that topping will absorb most of the smoke. You can also just as easily make this in the oven, but I love the extra touch the smoke adds. After about 45 minutes it should be done and you can cut and serve.

tomato-pie-8-9

The biscuits at the bottom ground the pie with a nice buttery texture — just make sure you bake them beforehand or else they’ll just become mushy. The sweetness of the tomatoes and onions, the pepperiness of the basil, the creaminess of the mayo and cheese, the kick of the Sweet Heat Rub, and the touch of smoke just make this a fantastic side. Your guests will love it despite their initial misgivings.

Visit Lane’s BBQ to purchase their fantastic line of rubs and sauces. You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram.

Visit Fogo to purchase their premium lump charcoal. You can follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

After growing up in Michigan, Joe now lives in North Texas where he can barbecue year ’round. He cooks mostly on Big Green Eggs and some Webers and has competed in BGE competitions. When he’s not watching Michigan football, he also teaches BBQ classes at a local grilling store and does some catering. You can follow Joe on Twitter at @mmmgoblubbq and Instagram at @gobluebbq.

Five-Spot Challenge 2016: Wisconsin

Monday, September 26th, 2016


Congratulations to JD Mackiewicz for winning last week’s Five-Spot Challenge. His deviation of 96 was 13 points better than second place Wolfetd. JD Mackiewicz was only one away from Jabrill Peppers’ all-purpose yards (54), six away from Saquon Barkley’s rushing yards (59), and 16 away from Penn State’s second half total yards (141). He wins a prize box of product from our sponsors, Lane’s BBQCultivate Coffee & Tap House, and Chayder Grilling Company.

Tooty_pops and Wolfetd were the closest to Barkley’s rushing yards (four away). HTTV137 and Jaeschke were both just one away from Penn State’s second half yards. Nobody correctly predicted that Matt Godin (number 99) would record Michigan’s first sack. Zigmun and Maizenblu62 were the closest with their predictions of 96 (Ryan Glasgow). Chris Wormley had the most predictions (10 of 33). Finally, DBenney09 was the only contestant to correctly predict the length of Kenny Allen’s longest punt (44 yards).

All 33 contestants picked Michigan to win by an average score of Michigan 42 – Penn State 17. No one correctly predicted the score, but BadBlu was the closest with his prediction of 49-13. Had Penn State kicked another field goal he would have had his highest deviation reduced to zero and moved all the way up to fourth place for the week.

The weekly results and season standings have been updated.

This week, Michigan hosts No. 8 Wisconsin in what should be a tough defensive battle. Here are this week’s questions.

First Look: #8 Wisconsin

Monday, September 26th, 2016


Sep 5, 2015; Arlington, TX, USA; The Wisconsin Badgers mascot Bucky Badger takes the field before the game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226178 ORIG FILE ID: 20150905_lbm_am8_089.JPG

Michigan throttled Penn State in their Big Ten opener on Saturday and now faces their biggest test of the early season when eighth-ranked Wisconsin comes to town. Let’s take a look at how the two teams compare four games into the season.

Wisconsin & Michigan statistical comparison
Wisconsin | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 30.8 | 52.0 63 4
11.8 13.8 7 | 11
Rushing Yards 737 919 322 490
Rush Avg. Per Game 184.2 229.8 58 29
80.5 122.5 10 40
Avg. Per Rush 3.9 | 5.4
3.2 3.4
Passing Yards 905 952 786 589
Pass Avg. Per Game 226.2 238.0 70 65 196.5 147.2 39 12
Total Offense 1,642 1,871 1,108 1,079
Total Off Avg. Per Game 410.5 467.8 75 40 277.0 269.8 12 11
Kick Return Average 21.4 15.7 67 121 14.6 20.0 6 | 52
Punt Return Average 6.8 23.6 76 2 17.5 17.5 119 119
Avg. Time of Possession 37:01 32:26 3 31 22:59 | 27:34
3rd Down Conversion Pct 45.2% | 54.4% 43 7
23.9% | 12.0% 11 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 6-30 | 5-34
39 | 29
11-65 | 17-144 32 | 4
Touchdowns Scored 14 28
5 | 7
Field Goals-Attempts 8-9 4-6
4-5 | 2-5
Red Zone Scores (14-18) 78%|(22-24) 92% 89 | 31
(5-7) 71%|(3-5) 60% 21 9
Red Zone Touchdowns (11-18) 61%|(18-24) 75% (3-7) 43%|(2-5) 40%
Off. S&P+/Def. S&P+ 27.7 36.6 80 23 14.6 9.1 6 2

Michigan and Wisconsin haven’t met since the 2010 season when Bret Beilema beat Rich Rodriguez 48-28. Jim Harbaugh was in his fourth and final season at Stanford and Paul Chryst was Wisconsin’s offensive coordinator. After a brief stint as Pitt’s head coach, Chryst returned to Madison last season and has maintained the success where Bielema and Gary Andersen left off.

While Michigan has played a weak schedule to date, Wisconsin has beaten two top-10 teams already. The Badgers knocked off 5th-ranked LSU, 16-14, in the season opener in Lambeau Field and blasted 8th-ranked Michigan State in East Lansing this past Saturday, 30-6. In between, they beat Akron (54-10) and Georgia State (23-17).

Wisconsin has done it mostly with its defense, which ranks 12th nationally in total defense (277 yards per game), seventh in scoring defense (11.8 points per game), 10th in rush defense (80.5 yards per game), and 39th in pass defense (196.5 yards per game).

The Badger defense has held three of four opponents under 100 yards rushing. LSU was the only one that cracked 100 behind Leonard Fournette’s 138 yards, but he didn’t find the end zone. Michigan State managed just 75 rushing yards on 27 carries. Georgia State is the only team to score a rushing touchdown against Wisconsin, but that came in a 28-carry, 33-yard performance.

The pass defense hasn’t been quite as dominant as the past two opponents have thrown for at least 250 yards. Georgia State went 20-of-30 for 269 yards and a touchdown, while Michigan State went 20-of-43 for 250 yards, but the Badgers were able to pick off MSU quarterback Tyler O’Conner three times.

Like Michigan, Wisconsin’s defense excels in getting off the field on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 23.9 percent, which ranks 11th nationally. Michigan is the nation’s best, allowing just 12 percent.

Offensively, Wisconsin is statistically comparable to where Penn State was entering last week’s game. The Badgers boast the Big Ten’s eight-best total offense (410.5 yards per game), eighth-best scoring offense (30.8 points per game), seventh-best rushing offense (184.2 yards per game), and ninth-best passing offense (226.2 yards per game).

Wisconsin features a better running game than Penn State, but a weaker passing game. The Badgers rushed for 294 yards and four touchdowns against Akron, but then again, Appalachian State rushed for 307 on the Zips. In the other three games, Wisconsin has averaged 147.7 rushing yards per game and just 3.4 yards per rush. Michigan State’s defense limited the Badger running game to just under three yards per carry on Saturday.

The passing game is pretty much a mirror of the running game. It had a big game against Akron — 292 yards and three touchdowns — but has averaged just 204 passing yards per game in the other three. It didn’t crack 200 yards against MSU on Saturday.

Special teams is an interesting area that Michigan may be able to take advantage of. Wisconsin isn’t dangerous returning kicks or punts, ranking 67th and 76th nationally, and has allowed a punt return for a touchdown. Jabrill Peppers leads the nation in punt return yards by a wide margin and already has one return for a touchdown — and barely missed another one last week.

Overall, Wisconsin is a solid team that is lead by its defense. That alone will keep the game much closer than Penn State was able to, as Michigan won’t be able to rush for 300 yards. Michigan boasts the nation’s fourth-best scoring offense, but expect a much lower scoring contest this Saturday.

#4 Michigan 49 – Penn State 10: Michigan defense smothers Penn State

Saturday, September 24th, 2016


um-d-vs-penn-state(Dustin Johnson)

On the first play of the game, Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley was sacked for a loss of two. On the second play, he completed a pass to tight end Mike Gisecki for one yard. On the third play, McSorley was sacked for a near safety by Chris Wormley. Unlike the start of last week’s game against Colorado, this game was over, basically, three plays in.

Michigan’s defense came to play from the opening whistle and Penn State never stood a chance. It set the tone from the start that it wasn’t Kent State. It wasn’t Pitt. It wasn’t Temple. And it certainly wasn’t a RichRod defense or a Brady Hoke defense. It was a Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown defense. It was a Michigan defense.

Jabrill Peppers damn near took the ensuing Penn State’s punt to the house. After beating the last defender he got tripped up at the 9-yard line. Michigan took advantage of the short field and never looked back.

um-psu_small-final
Final Stats
Michigan Penn State
Score 49 10
Record 4-0, 1-0 2-2, 0-1
Total Yards 515 191
Net Rushing Yards 326 70
Net Passing Yards 189 121
First Downs 25 12
Turnovers 0 2
Penalties-Yards 7-80 2-13
Punts-Yards 1-44 6-240
Time of Possession 35:49 24:11
Third Down Conversions 11-of-16 2-of-12
Fourth Down Conversions 2-of-4 2-of-3
Sacks By-Yards 6-27 0-0
Field Goals 0-for-0 1-for-1
PATs 7-for-7 1-for-1
Red Zone Scores-Chances 6-of-6 2-of-2
Red Zone Scores-TDs 6-of-6 1-of-2
Full Box Score

The first half was as thorough a beatdown of a Big Ten power program as one could get. Michigan led 28-0, sacked McSorely five times, outgained Penn State’s offense 259 yards to 50, converted 7-of-10 third downs and 2-of-3 fourth downs, and found the end zone on four of five possessions.

While four Penn State beat writers talked themselves into choosing James Franklin over Harbaugh if they were given the choice, the reality of the chasm that exists between the two head coaches was never more evident than on Penn State’s opening drive of the second half. Down 28-0 in the third quarter, facing 4th-and-goal from the Michigan two, Franklin sent his field goal team onto the field, called timeout to think about it, and sent them back out to kick the 19-yard field goal. The television cameras may have missed it, but Franklin was waving a white flag.

On Michigan’s next possession, Harbaugh faced a 4th-and-4 from the Penn State 28 and went for it, up 28-3. The conversion failed, but message was clear. Harbaugh plays to win.

Not content to simply win, Michigan flexed its muscle on the next drive, running the ball eight of nine times right through the Penn State defense. Chris Evans for 37. De’Veon Smith for eight. Ty Isaac for five. Karan Higdon for three. Evans for five. Smith for eight. Higdon for 11. Evans for three. Touchdown.

Penn State would add a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth, but Michigan added two more to double the point spread and improve to 4-0 on the season.

The Michigan offense racked up 515 total yards — 326 on the ground and 189 through the air — and the defense held Penn State to just 191 total yards. Wilton Speight completed 21-of-34 for 189 yards and a touchdown. Smith led Michigan with 111 yards on 8.9 yards per carry and a touchdown. Higdon gained 84 yards and scored two touchdowns, while Isaac finished with 74 yards and a score. Nine different Wolverines caught a pass, including freshman tight end Devin Asiasi, who caught the first touchdown of his career.

Linebacker Ben Gedeon led the Michigan defense with 11 tackles, 1.5 of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Maurice Hurst led the Wolverines with three tackles for loss. Hurst, Matt Godin, Chris Wormley, Chase Winovich, and Taco Charlton each recorded a sack, and Mike McCray picked off McSorley in the fourth quarter. Peppers finished with five tackles, but was unable to add to his Big Ten-leading 9.5 tackles for loss. Michigan held Saquon Barkley — who came in averaging 5.1 yards per carry — to just 59 yards rushing on 3.9 yards per carry.

At 4-0 overall and 1-0 in the Big Ten, Michigan will likely remain ranked fourth nationally and will face its toughest test to date next week when Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0) comes to town. The Badgers stunned Michigan State in East Lansing, 30-6 on Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Grant Newsome, Ben Braden, Mason Cole, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson (326 rushing yards, no sacks allowed)
Michigan’s offensive line has been much maligned over the past few seasons, and although it’s not the big, mauling line Harbaugh wants just yet, it has made considerable progress from the days of negative rushing yards. Against Penn State on Saturday it was nearly flawless. It paved the way for Michigan’s backs to rush for 326 yards and six touchdowns and it didn’t allow a sack against a Penn State defense that entered the game with 10 in its first three games. Four different running backs rushed for more than 50 yards, five different backs scored touchdowns, and the Wolverines rushed for 6.7 yards per carry.

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)

Game Ball – Defense

Maurice Hurst (6 tackles, 3 solo, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack)
Michigan’s defense was all over Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley and running back Saquon Barkley, but Hurst stood out the most. He seemed to be in the PSU backfield all afternoon, recording three tackles for loss and dropping McSorley once.

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)

M&GB staff predictions

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


StaffPicks_banner20152

Michigan opens Big Ten play on Saturday against 2-1 Penn State. The Nittany Lions are three games into a new up-tempo spread offense that has fans in State College excited, but is still in its infancy. They’re also missing their entire linebacking corps.

Joe was the winner of our staff predictions last week with his prediction of Michigan 45 – Colorado 17. He now has the lead in our staff picks challenge. Here are our picks for this week:

Justin
Staff Predictions
Michigan Penn State
Justin 48 20
Derick 38 20
Sam 34 10
Josh 38 13
Joe 42 10
M&GB Average 40 15

This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win.

Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.

On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.

Michigan 48 – Penn State 20

Derick

I think the up-tempo offensive style of Penn State will give Michigan some issues, but if Jourdan Lewis returns, the secondary will obviously have a huge lift.

On offense, Michigan will have to keep being creative in the running game to open things up for Wilton Speight in the short passing game.

I don’t think Penn State is much better than Colorado, but this might be Michigan’s toughest test to date. With that said, Michigan’s wake up call came last weekend and I expect Jim Harbaugh will have them firing on all cylinders to start Big Ten play.

Michigan will cruise past Penn State, 38-20.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 20

Sam

Michigan cruised through weeks 1 and 2 against clearly inferior competition…then came week 3 against a Colorado team that we also thought would be a mere speed hump (not even a bump!). Alas, as the first quarter was drawing to a close, I was already reasoning with myself that “it’s just a game”.

But the recovery came quickly, and things will hopefully be back on track as Penn State comes to town tomorrow. Wilton Speight is probably not as good as the first two weeks showed, and probably not as bad as last week either.

Will it be enough to win the Big Ten? Only time can tell. But it should be plenty to beat a Penn State team that is going to struggle to find space for Saquon Barkley to run into. Taco Charlton should be back in a big way as Michigan dumps the Nittany Lions.

Michigan 34 – Penn State 10

Josh (1)

Ah, Penn State. What a wonderful team. Wait, no that’s not right. Apparently they have a saying there, “It’s -blank- o’clock and Michigan still sucks.” Yes, Michigan sucks. Clearly they haven’t checked their place in the conference hierarchy lately. Even so, I think they’ll provide yet another stout test for Michigan this week. They have a new spread-y type offense, one of the best running backs in America and a dominating defensive li… What’s that? Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel graduated? And they’re also missing two of three starting linebackers? Oh well then, disregard any mention of their defense. So maybe the defense isn’t a force to be reckoned with anymore, but their new spread offense might be and Michigan will need to be on their best game if they want to avoid getting caught on too many busted plays again.

I’ll go ahead and say it, Saquon Barkley scares me. He is shifty, he has excellent vision and he is fast. Taking the wrong angle on him could end up with six on the scoreboard. Michigan absolutely has to contain him if they are to win this game. That said, it’s been the passing game that has generated the big plays for Penn State this year (4.67 per game, same as Michigan). Luckily, Michigan is getting Jourdan Lewis back this week so that should do wonders for the defense. And maybe Taco too? Either way, this is a game Michigan should win but will likely be test once again.

On offense – I’d like to see Wilton Speight bounce back from an iffy performance with confidence and make some big plays once again. At this point I’m not sure anyone really respects Michigan’s run game (I don’t blame them) so Penn State will probably be content to let Speight try to beat them with his arm. It would be nice to see the run game get some momentum heading into the Wisconsin match-up but my gut says Penn State is going to stack the box so I’m not so sure this is the week we see our traditional run game get going. Thank God for jet sweeps and guys like Jabrill Peppers, Jehu Chesson and Eddie McDooooooooooom. I’d also like to see the left guard spot get sorted out, as neither Ben Braden nor Ben Bredeson has looked all that good there and it’s beginning to become a concern for me as we head into the meat of the schedule.

On defense – I’d like to see them shore up some of the containment/missed assignment issues that plagued them the last two weeks as well as how they adjust to another spread/no-huddle team. Penn State isn’t exactly a tempo spread team, they are no-huddle but don’t run a ton of plays. In fact, they’re averaging almost 5.5 plays fewer per game than Michigan is right now. Either way, I’d like to see how Michigan continues to adjust to a no-huddle team. How they manage to improve upon this could be the difference between 12-0 and 10-2. Hopefully adding Jourdan Lewis back into the mix is a shot in the arm for both the pass and run defense.

For the record, I’m not too worried about Penn State causing issues here as it seems they line up quickly and look to the sideline for the play-call but it could be an issue anyway. Michigan has done a fairly good job of hiding their coverages/blitzes so far but when a defense is spread out it can become tricky to hide those blitzes as well as before. On that note…

Maybe a new wrinkle, or two, as far as formations or crazy blitzes to keep that spread offense from clicking. Don Brown has hung his hat on not only his aggressiveness but also his ability to stop spread teams, with three games under their belts I think now is the time we need to start seeing some progress on that front. Holding Penn State to under three big run plays and two big pass plays would be HUGE in my opinion. Remember, holding an opponent to under six big plays per game would be on par with a top ten ranking (stats-wise) based on 2015 big play stats. This needs to be the game where Michigan really asserts itself on defense and shuts down all those big plays they’ve been giving up lately.

On special teams – All I want to see is Kenny Allen keep his punts out of the endzone, consistently. That and maybe another block/deflection. I won’t be greedy and ask for another special teams score, OK maybe I will.

Michigan is the better team. They have better players and a far superior coaching staff. Any Penn State fan who thinks Franklin will outcoach Harbaugh (I saw it on twitter) clearly needs their head examined. Penn State will put up a fight, probably not a jump-out-to-an-early-lead like Colorado fight but a fight nonetheless. After getting punched in the mouth last week Michigan should come out focused and ready to roll. Michigan wins going away but the game is much closer than the score.

Michigan 38 – Penn State 13

Joe (2)

This is a game where the lines should dominate early and often and wear the Nittany Lions down over the course of four quarters. While the Penn State quarterback is leading the Big Ten in passing yards (second in passing yards per game) he will not have much time to survey his options. Our defensive front should have a field day and generate tons of pressures and quarterback hits. That will lead to turnovers and points for the Maize and Blue.

If Michigan can keep Saquon Barkley in check most of the time and force them to throw, things will get ugly in the second half. Barkley is the best and only option coming out of Happy Valley.

Wilton Speight should come back strong and have a solid day thru the air. I think Michigan will look to establish the run early and then open things up. Speight goes for 250 and three scores through the air with two of them going to Butt. Michigan wins this one big.

Michigan 42 – Penn State 10

#4 Michigan vs Penn State game preview

Friday, September 23rd, 2016


um-penn-state-game-preview-header

Michigan skated through its first two games before receiving a test against Colorado last Saturday. The Wolverines spotted the Buffaloes 14 points and — to paraphrase Jim Harbaugh when he tripped entering his introductory press conference a year and a half ago — a lesser athlete would have gone down.

It remains to be seen over the next 10 weeks, but this year’s Michigan team may be the closest to the Michigan of old that we’ve seen in a decade. This isn’t RichRod’s Michigan. This isn’t Brady Hoke’s Michigan. Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan absorbed early blows, shrugged them off, and still won by 17 points, holding Colorado to barely 100 yards of offense over the final three quarters, 70 of which came on one play.

um-psu_small
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30p.m. EST – ABC
Penn State Head Coach: James Franklin (3rd season)
Coaching Record: 40-28 (16-13 at PSU)
Offensive Coordinator: Joe Moorhead (1st season)
Defensive Coordinator: Brent Pry (3rd season)
Last Season: 7-6 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: UM 28 – PSU 16 (2015)
All-Time Series: Michigan 12-7
Record in Ann Arbor: Michigan 6-3
Jim Harbaugh vs PSU 1-0
Last Michigan win: 2015 (28-16)
Last Penn State win: 2013 (43-40)
Current Streak: Michigan 2
Penn State Schedule to date
Opponent Result
Kent State W 33-13
Pittsburgh L 39-42
Temple W 34-27

Time will tell just how good Colorado is, but it was an important early challenge for Michigan and the Wolverines passed. Now the real season begins. Michigan opens Big Ten conference play tomorrow against Penn State, and although they opened as 16-point favorites, the margin for error will shrink.

For the first time this season the narrative leading up to the game doesn’t center around an opposing coach’s comments towards Harbaugh or previous animosity toward Michigan, although the Penn State beat writers are trying their hardest. They’ve been hard at work sending zingers Harbaugh’s way and submitting applications for the Onion.

No matter how much they try to distract from what’s happening on the field or try to convince themselves that their program is headed in the right direction with better leadership than Michigan, their doing so signals that they have plenty to worry about this Saturday.

Penn State is 2-1 with wins over Kent State (33-13) and Temple (34-27) and a 42-39 loss to in-state rival Pittsburgh. Kent State and Temple stand at 105th and 56th in S&P+ thus far, but Penn State hardly won convincingly. Kent State — whose only win is over Monmouth — was down just 16-13 at halftime and within two scores until Penn State put the game away with two minutes left. Temple — whose only win is over Stony Brook — hung with the Nittany Lions all game and was within as few as three points midway through the fourth quarter.

According to the final score, Penn State played Pitt close — and they did — but they were playing catchup all game after falling behind 14-0 in the first quarter and 28-7 before scoring just before the half. They made it a game late in the fourth, but Pitt’s lead was too much to overcome.

Let’s be honest. Penn State is an average football team. But that doesn’t mean they have no chance tomorrow. They have plenty of athletes even if they don’t have a lot of depth. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Penn State has the ball

After a second straight 7-6 season in 2015 that saw Penn State pose one of the worst offenses in the Big Ten — 108th nationally — James Franklin fired offensive coordinator John Donovan. He turned to Joe Moorhead, who guided Fordham to a 38-13 record over the past four seasons. There, he was known for his up-tempo offense that averaged 453.2 yards and 36.8 points per game over the past two seasons. While Penn State has featured a statue at quarterback the past few seasons in Christian Hackenberg, Moorhead’s offense is a spread with a run-pass option that utilizes the quarterback’s ability to run.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Trace McSorley may not be the perfect fit to run Moorhead’s offense — he has just 63 rushing yards, sacks removed, with a long of 17 — but Moorhead is determined to make it work regardless. McSorley is the Big Ten’s second-leading passer through the first three games of the season, averaging 276 yards per game. In terms of total passing yards, he leads the conference with 828. He is completing 64.4 percent of his passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions.

In the loss to Pitt, McSorley completed 24-of-35 passes for 332 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. However, is that a reflection of Penn State’s offense or the weakness of Pitt’s secondary. The Panthers allowed 540 passing yards in a 45-38 loss to Oklahoma State last Saturday. Yes, the same Oklahoma State that lost to Central Michigan — and threw for just 288 — the week prior.

McSorley has some talented receivers to throw to, most notably junior Chris Godwin, who ranks second in the Big Ten with six catches per game. His 1,101 receiving yards a year ago ranked second in the conference behind only Michigan State’s Aaron Burbridge, which was good enough to earn second team All-Big Ten honors. He has 18 receptions for 220 yards and a touchdown so far this season. Senior DaeSean Hamilton and redshirt sophomore DeAndre Thompkins are the other two talented receivers. Hamilton has 12 receptions for 141 yards and a touchdown, while Thompkins has seven for 166 yards — a team-leading 23.7 yards per catch. Junior tight end Mike Gesecki has caught nine passes for 158 yards and a score.

Sophomore running back Saquon Barkley is one of the best in the Big Ten. In 2015, he rushed for 1,076 yards — behind only Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott and Northwestern’s Justin Jackson — and seven touchdowns as a true freshman. He’s averaging 86 yards per game so far this season on 5.1 yards per carry and has already found the end zone six times. However, there’s not much proven depth behind him. No other back has more than eight carries and true freshman Miles Sanders is the second-leading running back with 27 yards on three carries. By contrast, Michigan has six rushers — including Eddie McDoom and Jehu Chesson — with more than 27 yards, and Jabrill Peppers has 24.

The offensive line has struggled mightily in recent years but hasn’t let up as many sacks in the early season as it did a year ago, though it hasn’t faced a stellar defense yet. Redshirt junior Brendan Mahon is in his first season at left tackle after starting 20 games at left guard and right tackle the past two seasons. He’ll have a tough task against Rashan Gary and Co. Next to him is redshirt freshman left guard Ryan Bates, who will be facing the best defensive line he’s seen to date. Senior center Brian Gaia was the only lineman to start all 13 games last season. Fifth-year senior right guard Derek Dowry has nine career starts under his belt, while redshirt junior right tackle Andrew Nelson has 24. As a unit, they’ve allowed five sacks, which is equal to what Michigan has allowed.

When Michigan has the ball

While the Penn State offense is still a work in progress under new guidance, the defense has been the side of the ball that has carried the team the past few years. But in the third year under Brent Pry, it’s not quite as stout as it once was. The Nittany Lions rank 77th nationally in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 46th in total defense (345 yards per game), 92nd against the run (176.3 yards per game), and 23rd against the pass (168.7 yards per game).

Pry’s defense has been banged up already and suffered a major loss when fifth-year senior linebacker Nyeem Wartman-White was lost for the season with a torn ACL against Temple. The other two starting linebackers, redshirt junior Brandon Bell and junior Jason Cabinda, both missed the Temple game with injuries and may not play tomorrow eight. That leaves sophomores Jake Cooper and Manny Bowen and redshirt junior Brandon Smith — who had a combined one start heading into the season — to handle the linebacker spots.

That’s an area that Michigan will look to exploit. Even with Wartman-White, Bell, and Cabinda, the Penn State defense got gashed by Pitt for 341 rushing yards on 6.1 yards per carry. Michigan’s running game hasn’t been outstanding, but there are enough playmakers — especially when the jet sweeps with McDoom and Chesson and the wildcat snaps to Peppers are added — that Michigan could have success on the ground this week.

The defensive line lost three starters to the NFL who combined for 45.5 tackles for loss, most notably Carl Nassib, who led the Big Ten with 15.5 sacks and ranked second with 19.5 tackles for loss. Redshirt sophomore Torrence Brown and redshirt junior Garrett Sickels are the starting ends. Sickels started 12 games last season and has two tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far this year. Redshirt freshman end Shareef Miller leads the team with two sacks. Redshirt freshman Kevin Givens and redshirt junior Parker Cothren are the tackles.

The secondary features the two leading tacklers, junior free safety Marcus Allen and fifth-year senior strong safety Malik Golden. Allen was an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection last season, but Golden started just four games. This season, they have combined for 39 tackles, 3.5 for loss, an interception, three passes defended, and a fumble recovery. The corners, sophomore John Reid and junior Christian Campbell, are first-year full-time starters. Reid has a pair of takeaways, but the secondary as a whole allowed Temple quarterback Phillip Walker to complete 25-of-34 passes for 286 yards last week.

The other third

Redshirt junior kicker Tyler Davis has made all five field goal attempts so far with a long of 40, while freshman punter Blake Gillikin ranks third in the Big Ten with an average of 44.3 yards per punt. He has downed seven of his 14 punts inside the 20 with three touchbacks.

The return game has been average, ranking 61st nationally in kick returns and 74th in punt returns. Miles Sanders and redshirt sophomore safety Nick Scott are the main kick returners, averaging 23.4 and 22.4 yards per return, respectively. Reid is the punt returner, averaging 8.8 yards per return. One area in which Michigan might be able to exploit is kick returns as Penn State ranks 122nd nationally with an average of 30 yards allowed per kick return.

Prediction

This game just has the makings of a big Michigan win. The Wolverines faced adversity for the first time this season last week and showed they can overcome it. Now, with that added confidence, they’ll kick off conference play with a convincing win. Like Michigan’s previous opponents, Penn State will load the box to stop the run and force Wilton Speight to beat them. But the Nittany Lions won’t be able to get consistent pressure on Speight and he’ll approach 300 yards passing. Watch for another big game from Jake Butt, who will capitalize on Penn State’s linebacker inexperience.

On the other side of the ball, Moorhead will try to keep the PSU offense moving quickly, getting the ball out of McSorley’s hands quickly and utilizing his feet. Michigan may give up a few big plays and some points, but it won’t be consistent. McSorley hasn’t faced the type of pressure Michigan will bring and will make a couple of mistakes. Michigan’s defense leads the nation on third down, allowing opponents to convert just 11 percent, while Penn State’s offense ranks 118th, converting just 27.3 percent. That doesn’t spell success with Don Brown bringing the heat.

Michigan 48 – Penn State 20

New arrival: Penn State game poster

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016


michigan-penn-state-game-poster

With a dominant defensive line licking its chops in wait of a porous offensive line, we went a little different route with this week’s game poster, reflecting on one of the best hits in Michigan-Penn State history.

This one isn’t printable poster-size.

Previous: Hawaii, UCF, Colorado

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

The numbers game: Michigan offense doubles 2015 big play pace through 3 weeks

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016


peppers-vs-colorado(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

Well, I did not panic at all during the first quarter last weekend. Nope, not one bit.

But in the end Michigan pulled off the comeback and now we can look at the numbers. Spoiler alert: they’re not quite as bad as you might think given how the first quarter played out.

Okay, let’s just rip the Band-Aid off and get the defensive numbers out of the way first.

Michigan gave up seven total big plays, four of which came in the first quarter. Colorado had four big run plays (10-yards or more) and three big pass plays (20-yards or more), which is right about in line with their season average of 6.5 big plays against per game coming in. After that horrendous first quarter, Michigan settled down and Colorado had just two runs of over 10-yards and only one big pass play, although it was a 70-yard touchdown pass. Hooray for a coaching staff that makes adjustments!

Through three games the 2015 Michigan defense gave up 4.33 big run plays per game, 1.33 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.67 big plays given up per game and a 9.19 percent big plays against percentage.

Adding in the Colorado numbers, the 2016 iteration of the Wolverines now gives up five big run plays per game (75th), 1.67 big pass plays per game (14th), for a total of 6.67 big plays per game (44th) and a big play against percentage of 10.26 percent. All are slightly higher than this point last year. Keep in mind that All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis has yet to play this season and starting defensive linemen Taco Charlton and Bryan Mone have missed the last two games.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first three weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
2015 10 8 18 8.57% -0.62% -1
Michigan defense – 2015 vs 2016 averages
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 5 1.67 6.67 10.26% 6.72% 18
2015 4.33 1.33 5.67 9.19% -0.62% -1

Despite a slight uptick in big plays given up by the defense, Michigan’s offense fared quite well in the big play department against Colorado, with 10 total — four big running plays and six big passing plays. However, despite a solid offensive outing, Michigan’s 10 total big plays were less than their season average of thirteen. Let’s see how Michigan’s offense compares to last year through three games.

In 2015, Michigan averaged 3.33 big runs per game and 2.67 big passes per game, for a total of six big plays per game and a big play percentage of 8.57 percent.

Through three games in 2016 Michigan has averaged 7.33 big run plays (19th), 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 12 big plays per game and a big play percentage of 16.98 percent (12th). That is literally double the amount of big plays on offense compared to last year and nearly double the big play percentage. Let that sink in for a moment. Michigan has had twice as many total big plays through three games this year than they did through three games in 2015. That is remarkable, even given any quality of opponent caveats.

Michigan’s big play differential is 6.72 percent (18th) and their total toxic differential is 18 (15th on a per game basis). Last year, those numbers were -0.62 percent big play differential and a total toxic differential of -1. I actually had to go back and double check my numbers because the difference was so glaring. I figured the offense would get better but this is just an astronomical improvement thus far.

To sum up: through three games Michigan is giving up one big play more per game over last year (6.67 versus 5.67) while putting up twice as many big plays of their own (12 versus 6). Their big play differential has gone from a negative, -0.62 percent to a solid 6.72 percent and their toxic differential has taken a massive jump from -1 to 18. The toxic differential number is not inflated by a lot of forced turnovers either, which are mostly random anyway. Michigan is only plus-2 in that category. The jump is due to the plus-16 difference in big plays for/against compared to a plus-1 in big plays for/against at this time last year. This is not your grandfather’s three yards and a cloud of dust pro-style offense.

Michigan’s Week 3 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
1 1st and 10 Jabrill Peppers 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 10 Run
1 1st and 10 De’Veon Smith 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 21 Pass
2 1st and 10 Jehu Chesson 17 (TD) Run
2 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
3 2nd and 7 De’Veon Smith 42 (TD) Run
3 1st and 19 Wilton Speight to Ty Isaac 21 Pass
3 3rd and 14 Wilton Speight to Grant Perry 54 Pass
Colorado’s Week 3 big plays
1 2nd and 12 Sefo Liufau to Devin Ross 37 (TD) Pass
1 2nd and 7 Phillip Lindsay 10 Run
1 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Bryce Bobo 50 Pass
1 2nd and 8 Phillip Lindsay 11 Run
2 2nd and 3 Phillip Lindsay 15 Run
3 1st and 10 Sefo Liufau to Shay Fields 70 (TD) Pass
4 2nd and 12 Steven Montez 10 Run

What stands out here is the obvious improvement in the offensive numbers. And of course, the slight regression in the big plays given up by the defense. Any concern we may have about the defense though has been mitigated by a massive explosion in offensive production.

Earlier I predicted the offense should be able to add about one big play more per game via Harbaugh’s magic touch and the defense would be able to eliminate about one total big play per game with Don Brown’s scheme. I also predicted there would be some hiccups in the early going regarding the defense.

The offense is way ahead of schedule; did I mention they’ve literally doubled their total big plays? The hiccups we’re seeing on defense now are likely compounded with the absences of Mone, Charlton and Lewis. I don’t think either of these trends — the offense recording an inordinate amount of explosive plays and the defense continuing to give up more than expected — will continue though. However, I should note that the 6.67 big plays given up per game by the defense is still about half a big play less per game than their final 2015 total.

As the season progresses and competition level increases I think we’ll see the offensive numbers drop a bit (likely around the 8-9 total per game range) and as the team gets more comfortable in Don Brown’s scheme (and the three missing starters return) the defense should start to contain some of those big plays. The defensive improvement may not quite reach that one less big play per game I predicted but even if they keep it steady at around 6.5 plays per game I think they’ll be fine. Based on 2015’s numbers anything under 6.5 per game should have them in the top 15 nationally, while anything under 6 per game and they’d be around the top 10 (fewest given up).

And now let’s take a peek at our first conference opponent, Penn State, and see how they stack up in the big play department.

Michigan offense vs Penn State defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 20 16 36 16.98% 6.72% 18
PSU Def. 20 3 23 11.39% 1.37% 0
Penn State offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
PSU Off. 11 5 16 12.76% 1.37% 0
UM Def. 13 4 17 10.26% 6.72% 18

The Nittany Lions’ offense currently averages 3.67 big run plays per game (105th) and 4.67 big pass plays (21st), for a total of 8.33 big plays per game (78th) with a big play percentage of 12.76 percent (57th). I’ll admit, I was a bit surprised to see Penn State’s big pass plays higher than their run plays given that Saquon Barkley is one heck of a running back.

On defense they give up an average of 6.67 big running plays per game (101st), only one big pass play per game (4th) for a total of 7.67 total big plays per game (65th) with a big play against percentage of 11.39 percent (71st). Their big play differential is a paltry 1.37 percent (70th) and their toxic differential is zero, good for 75th on a per game basis.