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Posts Tagged ‘The Numbers Game’

The numbers game: Michigan’s big play offense nonexistent against MSU

Friday, October 13th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewerO’Korn leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4; U-M defense still better than 2016 heading into MSU showdown;

First the good news.

Michigan’s defense is still basically perfect during the 2nd half this year. Don Brown’s ability to download the opposing team’s offense in one half and then make the right adjustments is incredible.

Now the bad news.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First six weeks comparison: 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
2016* 48 22 70 15.77% 5.60% 25
2015 27 14 41 9.58% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan recorded just two explosive plays last weekend, the lowest of the Jim Harbaugh era. Honestly, I was not too surprised given the issues the offense has had this year but it’s still disappointing. Michigan’s defense, however, was right about where they’ve been all year surrendering just six explosive plays — only one after halftime.

For the year, Michigan is averaging 4.6 explosive runs per game (77th nationally) and 3.6 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of 8.2 explosive plays per game (76th). Their big play percentage is 11.55 percent (79th). Not very good overall.

Comparing that to last year’s team through six weeks (five games this year versus six in 2015), Michigan was averaging eight explosive runs per game (11th) and 3.67 explosive passes per game (45th) for a total of 11.67 explosive plays per game (10th). Their big play percentage was 15.77 percent (11th). All those numbers are down from 2015 but given the inexperience on the offensive line and the regression in quarterback play it isn’t all that surprising.

I’m disappointed but not concerned. Harbaugh has a stellar track record and the improvements he has made at Michigan compared to his prior two predecessors is unfathomable. Hold your heads high Michigan faithful, for the offensive woes are almost erased by the defense led by Don Brown.

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 3.20 2.40 5.60 9.56% 1.99% 8
2016* 3.67 1.33 5.00 8.40% 7.36% 46
2015 3.50 1.00 4.50 7.61% 1.97% 13
*through six games

Michigan’s defense is surrendering a mere 3.2 explosive runs per game (18th) and 2.4 explosive passes per game (27th) for a total of just 5.6 explosive plays per game (13th). Their big play against percentage is 9.56 percent (26th) and their big play differential is 1.99% (50th). Their toxic differential, however, is just eight — good for 57th on a per game basis.

The 2015 defense averaged 3.67 explosive runs per game (30th), 1.33 explosive passes per game (2nd) for a total of 5 explosive plays per game (2nd). Their big play against percentage was 8.4 percent (11th) and their big play differential was 7.36% (6th). The defense has stayed about the same while the offense is apparently in hibernation as they prepare for a monster 2018 playoff run…I’m assuming, anyway.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan stands pat at 18 total sacks (11th nationally), which is the same as last week but they robbed Rashan Gary of one sack, with the play-by-play claiming it was a run. It was not. They are averaging 3.6 sacks per game, which is good for sixth overall. They have 40 tackles for loss (21st) but their eight TFL per game is good for 11th overall.

Individual Big Plays
Michigan’s Week 6 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
2 3rd and 12 John O’Korn to Sean McKeon 38 Pass
4 1st and 10 Karan Higdon 12 Run
Michigan State’s Week 6 big plays
1 2nd and 7 Gerald Holmes 15 Run
1 2nd and 13 Brian Lewerke 14 Run (TD)
1 1st and 10 Darrell Stewart Jr. 10 Run
2 1st and 10 Brian Lewerke to Darrell Stwart Jr. 30 Pass
2 1st and 10 Madre London 50 Run
3 3rd and 12 Brian Lewerke 10 Run

Individual big play leaders stayed the same but Sean McKeon’s big reception brought him into a three-way tie with Tarik Black and Grant Perry’s three explosive receptions.

Next opponent
Michigan offense vs Indiana defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
UM Off. 23 19 42 11.55% 1.99% 8
IU Def. 21 14 35 9.33% -1.58% -11
Indiana offense vs Michigan defense
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
IU Off. 17 14 31 7.75% -1.58% -11
UM Def. 16 12 28 9.56% 1.99% 8

Indiana is next up and our old pal Mike DeBord is their offensive coordinator. I think Michigan’s defense should be able to handle them. Whether the offense can do anything — and on the road — is yet to be seen.

Indiana is averaging 3.4 explosive runs per game (113th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (80th) for a total of just 6.2 explosive plays per game (113th). Their big play percentage is 7.75 percent (127th). They are not a big play offense, at all.

Their defense is much better than their offense (it’s weird to say that about IU), averaging 4.2 explosive runs per game (49th) and 2.8 explosive passes per game (47th) for a total of seven explosive plays surrendered per game (38th). Their big play against percentage is 9.33 percent (21st) and their big play differential is -1.58 percent (98th). Their toxic differential is -11, good for 102nd on a per game basis.

I’d like to think this is a game Michigan should win big, especially after last week’s letdown, but the offense is what it is and I don’t think we can expect much improvement on that front. Still, Michigan’s defense is championship caliber and if the offense can eek out 20-plus points they can beat anyone. Michigan should win this by at least a touchdown, so that means they’ll probably win 13-12.

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

Friday, October 6th, 2017


(Isaiah Hole)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The numbers game: O’Korn’s leads U-M with six big plays in relief in Week 4

Friday, September 29th, 2017


(Eric Upchurch)

Previous: U-M offense lagging behind 2016 big play pace but defense allowing fewer;

Michigan’s offense found new life after Wilton Speight went out with an apparent neck injury. John O’Korn came in and proceeded to orchestrate the offense with precision, making us wonder if last year’s Indiana game or this game was the outlier. Only time will tell.

Offensive big plays
Michigan offense – First four weeks comparison: 2017 vs past two seasons
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 22 18 40 13.88% 4.36% 17
2016 30 17 47 15.20% 5.60% 25
2015 15 11 26 9.09% 0.58% 4

Michigan had 12 big plays against Purdue. Yes, 12 — seven pass and five run. O’Korn hit five separate players for big pass plays and added one on the ground himself for good measure.

Michigan is averaging 5.5 explosive runs per game (54th nationally), 4.25 explosive passes (22nd) for a total of 9.75 explosive plays per game (42nd). Their big play percentage is 13.88 percent (41st).

Through four games the 2016 Michigan offense averaged 7.5 explosive runs per game (20th nationally) and 3.75 explosive passes per game (38th nationally) for 11.25 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play percentage was 15.20 percent (24th) and their big play differential was 5.60 percent (19th).

The 2017 offense is slightly behind the pace of the 2016 offense, but given the schedule and the offensive, um, hiccups, this isn’t actually that bad. The run game has struggled a bit but thanks to O’Korn’s performance last week the pass game is averaging over four big passes per game. If O’Korn’s playmaking remains it will help out the run game by opening things up. Fingers crossed!

Defensive big plays
Michigan defense – 2017 average to date vs past 2 seasons
Year Big Run Plays/gm Big Pass Plays/gm Total Big Plays/gm Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2017 2.75 2.75 5.50 9.52% 4.36% 17
2016 4.50 1.50 6.00 9.60% 5.60% 25
2015 4.00 1.00 5.00 8.51% 0.58% 4

On defense, Michigan surrendered just six big plays to Purdue, three run and three pass. Anything under six is elite, but you already knew this defense was elite. For the year, Michigan is allowing 2.75 explosive runs per game (12th) and 2.75 explosive passes (52nd) for a total of just 5.5 explosive plays per game (15th). Their big play against percentage is 9.52 percent (40th) and their toxic differential is 17, good for 29th on a per game basis.

After four games a year ago, the 2016 defense was giving up 4.5 explosive runs per game (54th) and a paltry 1.5 explosive pass plays (8th) for an even 6.00 explosive plays per game (21st). Their big play against percentage was 9.60 percent (33rd) and their toxic differential was 25, good for 12th on per game basis.

The defense is giving up fewer big run plays but more big pass plays than the 2016 team at this point, but is giving up half a total big play less per game overall. The big play against percentage is roughly the same.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Through four games last year, against all cupcakes (yes, Penn State was a cupcake), Michigan had 44 tackles for loss (11 per game) and 17 sacks (4.25 per game). This year’s team is slightly behind the tackle for loss pace at just 34, but their 18 total sacks and 4.5 per game are both tops nationally right now. They’ve had a tougher schedule and considering Air Force doesn’t usually allow any tackles for loss, this is still impressive. Don Brown for the win!

Since Michigan has a bye this weekend I’m going to save the individual big play stats and other metrics for next week, along with the Michigan State big play preview so we have more to discuss next week. Until then, Go Blue!

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

Thursday, September 21st, 2017


(Kaitlyn Cole)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Numbers Game: U-M big play offense fizzles, defense holds Bucks below average

Friday, December 2nd, 2016


um-defense-vs-osu(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, UM’s smothering defense narrows gap between 2015 D’s big play pace, U-M offense maintains big play pace versus tough Wisconsin D, Michigan out-big-plays Rutgers 16 to 1, Michigan’s big play stats continue to tell good news, U-M offense third most explosive, defense best at preventing big plays, MSU wins big play battle, Michigan wins the war, As big play defense falls back to earth, U-M offense continues to soar, U-M’s dynamic big-play offense stalls in Iowa loss, U-M offense, defense remain among nation’s best entering The Game

Let me get this out of the way first: while the officiating was egregious, it was NOT why Michigan lost last Saturday’s game. It sure didn’t help when Ohio State was getting the calls on identical plays where Michigan wasn’t, but in comparison to the three turnovers it was insignificant. You simply cannot turn the ball over three times, especially on the road, and expect to win. Take away just one of the interceptions and Michigan wins comfortably in regulation. Regardless, it was a game that came down to the wire and Michigan had shot itself in the foot too many times to win and still almost pulled out a win. Heartbreaking? Absolutely. But let’s not forget that just two years ago this was a 5-7 team.

Now, some good news. Michigan racked up an absurd 13 total tackles for loss and eight — yes EIGHT — sacks. They held a potent OSU offense that was averaging over 11 big plays per game to eight — two of which came in overtime. The bad news is the offense couldn’t generate many big plays of their own, recording just three total — one run and two pass. That’s well below their season average of 11.36 coming in. Add in losing the turnover battle three to one and Michigan’s toxic differential this game was minus-7, a far cry from their per game average of plus-6 coming in.

Losing both the big play battle and the turnover battle, on the road, is not a recipe for winning and yet they were still there in the end and could have won. Despite all that, with some chaos this weekend there is an ever so slight chance Michigan could make the playoff. #HarbaughEffect #DonBrownEffect

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

Michigan’s three  total big plays is by far the lowest total of the year. Wilton Speight’s undisclosed injury likely led to no downfield shots and a contributing factor for the lack of big plays, but that is neither here nor there.

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

The last three weeks of the season have seen Michigan drop dramatically in all of those metrics, from 12th to 27th in explosive runs, 14th to 46th in passes, second to 24th overall big plays, and 4th to 28th for big play percentage. Not ideal, as the end of the year is not when you want to see your team come back down to Earth, but as I said above, two years ago this was a 5-7 team. For some additional context, and to help hammer home the point that Jim Harbaugh is indeed building a DeathStar with this program let’s look at the 2015 end of regular season numbers.

The 2015 Michigan offense averaged 3.58 explosive runs per game and 3.5 explosive passes for a total of 7.08 explosive plays per game. Their big play percentage was 10.25 percent and their total toxic differential was minus-4.

The 2016 run game took huge leap forward, almost doubling the per game output, the pass game got slightly better and the overall was 50 percent better than last year’s at this point. Their toxic differential went from a negative to a very large positive (-4 to 59) and we’re only scratching the surface of what Jim Harbaugh is bringing to Michigan. It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.

Garbage time

There was no garbage time during this game, and I expect future versions of The Game to stay that way. For the year just over one-third — 35.94 percent — of Michigan’s explosive plays came during garbage time. They did the bulk of their damage before the game got out of hand.

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

The defense held its ground during regulation, keeping Ohio State to just six explosive plays, which is right at Michigan’s average coming in and almost half of OSU’s average. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes added two very big plays in overtime and finished the day with those eight explosive runs. Michigan did not allow a single explosive pass.

For the regular season, Michigan’s defense averaged 4.33 explosive runs per game (34th) and 1.92 explosive passes (2nd) for a total of 6.25 explosive plays per game (9th). Their big play against percentage was 10.04 percent and their big play differential was 4.67 percent (16th). Michigan improved upon every single defensive measurement under the tutelage of Don Brown. Not by leaps and bounds, but significant going by rankings.

Their 2015 numbers were 4.67 explosive runs per game and 2.25 explosive passes per game for a total of 6.92 explosive plays given up per game. Their big play against percentage was 10.95 percent and their big play differential was -0.70 percent. In 2016, those would rank, 45th in runs, 10th in passes, and 25th in overall big plays surrendered. Big play against would be 28th compared to this year’s numbers and big play differential would have been 82nd. Michigan had a very good defense last year, and Don Brown came in and managed to improve upon it. Taking out the two overtime explosive runs and this defense held OSU to half their 2015 total versus Michigan. I think it’s safe to say Don Brown knows what he’s doing.

Garbage time

Again, there was no garbage time during this game. For the year Michigan allows 37.84 percent of their big plays during garbage time.

Sacks and tackles for loss

Michigan’s eight sacks and 13 tackles for loss adds to their already impressive season totals. Their 44 total sacks at 3.67 per game both rank second nationally. Their 114 total tackles for loss and 9.5 per game are both first overall. They are the only team to average over nine TFL per game. This is just the first year under Don Brown’s aggressive scheme, and I think it’s safe to say the Michigan defense will find itself amongst the top teams in sacks and TFL as long as he’s in Ann Arbor.

Big plays by down

um-offense-big-plays-by-down-week-13

An explosive play was equally as likely on first down (54) as it is on second down (54). An explosive run was more likely on second (39) than first down (36) and an explosive pass play was slightly more likely on first (18) than second down (15). Third down is highly unlikely to see an explosive run (only 8.43 percent of explosive runs happen on third down) but better than a quarter (26.67 percent) of the explosive pass plays happen on third down.

opp-big-plays-by-down-week-13

On defense, Michigan was also about almost as likely to give up an explosive play on first down (31) than second down (29) with third down a good deal behind (13). They only surrendered one fourth down explosive play. Almost half of the explosive runs given up happen on second down (24), followed by first (20), and then third (7). Explosive pass plays are more likely to occur on first down (11) than second (5), third (6), and fourth (1) downs.

Big play percentage of total yards

Ohio State had six drives with at least one explosive play against Michigan and they scored on three of them. However, during regulation, they had four drives but only scored on one of them. They were two for two during overtime. Michigan had just one drive with at least one explosive play and scored on it. For the year, Michigan has had 82 total drives on which they’ve had at least one explosive play, and they’ve scored on 60 of them, or 73.17 percent of the time. On defense, they’ve surrendered just 20 scores on 54 drives with an explosive play, just 37.04 percent of the time.

What this means is that almost two-thirds of the time an opponent had a drive with an explosive play (which doesn’t happen often) they still can’t score on this Michigan’s defense. Remember, teams are likely to score 75 percent of the time they have an explosive play on a given drive.

Since we do not know Michigan’s bowl fate we cannot take a look ahead at their next opponent so we’ll end our regular season edition with a look at the individual big play leaders.

Michigan’s big play leaders

De’Veon Smith was the overall leader with 22 big plays (all runs), averaging an astounding 19.55 yards per big play. Amara Darboh led the pass catchers in big plays with 16 and a 33.81 yards per big catch average. Freshman Chris Evans was second overall in total and run plays with 17 and Karan Higdon held the highest average per run with 23.9 on his 10 big run plays. Overall, thirteen players recorded at least one explosive run, 10 recorded at least one explosive catch and five had at least one run and one catch.

The numbers game: While UCF loaded the box, Michigan went to the air for big plays

Thursday, September 15th, 2016


darboh-vs-ucf(Isaiah Hole, 247)

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

Week 2 is in the books and despite their delusional coach thinking they “outhit” Michigan, UCF was still the beneficiary of a 51-14 beat down. Let’s dive right in and see how Michigan’s big play and toxic differential numbers played out against the Knights.

Michigan had a total of 12 big plays against UCF, down from 14 the previous week. However, this time the plays were more evenly distributed amongst run and pass at five and seven respectfully (they were 11 and three last week). I think this was partially due to UCF stacking the box and selling out to stop the run. It’s tough to tell if a play is a run blitz or not but according to Pro Football Focus Speight was blitzed on 28 of his 39 dropbacks, so it’s probably safe to assume they had some sort of blitz dialed up on most downs (sounds familiar). It’s still novel to note that the coaching staff did not insist on running the ball into eight- and nine-man boxes but instead adjusted and decided to air it out.

After two games Michigan is averaging eight big run plays per game (17th nationally), five big pass plays per game (16th), and 13 total big plays per game (eighth) for a big play percentage of 18.44 percent (eighth).

Through two games in 2015, the Michigan offense was averaging 3.5 big run plays and 3.5 big pass plays for a total of seven big plays per game. Their big play percentage was 9.59 percent.

Adding the UCF game to their Week 1 totals, Michigan’s defense has taken a big hit in the big plays against rankings, most notably the run. Michigan has now given up 5.5 big run plays per game (90th nationally) and one big pass play per game (9th), for a total of 6.5 big plays per game (50th) and a big play against percentage of 10.16 percent (67th).

Their big play differential (big play percentage for, minus big play percentage against) is a very solid 8.2 percent (13th nationally), while their total toxic differential (big plays for minus big plays against, plus turnover margin) is 16 (11th nationally). On a per game basis they rank 12th nationally in toxic differential.

In 2015, Michigan gave up an average of four big run plays per game and 1.5 big pass plays per game for a total of 5.5 big plays given up per game. This works out to a 8.94 percent big plays against percentage. Their big play differential percentage was 0.65 percent. Toxic differential was minus-7.

Michigan offense – 2015 vs 2016 first two weeks comparison
Year Big Run Plays Big Pass Plays Total Big Plays Big Play % Big Play Diff Toxic Diff
2016 16 10 26 18.44% 8.2% 16
2015 7 7 14 9.59% 0.65% -7
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 5.5 1 6.5 10.16% 8.2% 16
2015 4 1.5 5.5 8.94% 0.65% -7

Michigan came out throwing the ball around to the tune of 37 pass attempts. This resulted in seven big pass plays, four of which were over 30-yards. The big run plays were down but it was still nice to see De’Veon Smith record two of them (17, 12). As I mentioned with UCF essentially selling out to stop the run, it was not a surprise to see Michigan’s big run plays limited while the big pass plays increased.

On the flip side of the ball I was surprised, as I’m sure many of you were, to see UCF come up with several big plays, all of them in the run game. I saw some comments on Twitter (speaking of, you should follow me at @jdemille9) about the high-risk nonsense we dispelled earlier and about guys not being in their correct lanes. I went back and re-watched the game to see what exactly happened. Three of the seven were quarterback scrambles in which Michigan either took a bad angle to the play and/or over-pursued. The 87-yard touchdown run came with Mike McCray being slightly out of position (and possibly held) and Dymonte Thomas taking a very bad angle of pursuit. Jawon Hamilton being super fast didn’t hurt either.

While concerning and frustrating in the moment, I’m not too worried about these big runs against Michigan, as it is an issue that will be corrected by the coaches. Missing Bryan Mone, Taco Charlton, and even Jourdan Lewis cannot be understated here. It’s also better for these hiccups (which we all knew would happen) to occur early in the season against teams that are not a threat to win the game.

I am not saying big runs like this will never happen again but once the adjustments are made in practice I don’t see another team on the schedule, outside of Ohio State, capable of gashing Michigan on the ground repeatedly like UCF did. Don Brown was brought in because of his ability to stop spread to run teams like Ohio State, and he will make the proper adjustments going forward.

Michigan’s Week 2 big plays
Quarter Down & Distance Player Yards Gained Run/Pass
1 3rd and 8 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 35 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jehu Chesson 32 Pass
1 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 45 (TD) Pass
1 1st and 10 Eddie McDoom 16 Run
2 2nd and 13 De’Veon Smith 17 Run
2 2nd and 1 De’Veon Smith 12 Run
3 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 23 Pass
3 3rd and 6 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 20 Pass
3 2nd and 10 Chris Evans 18 Run
4 1st and 10 Wilton Speight to Jake Butt 25 Pass
4 3rd and 5 Wilton Speight to Amara Darboh 30 (TD) Pass
4 3rd and 8 Kekoa Crawford 11 Run
UCF’s Week 2 big plays
1 1st and 10 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
1 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 30 Run
2 2nd and 10 Adrian Killins 87 (TD) Run
2 3rd and 9 Justin Holman 35 Run
2 2nd and 6 Jawon Hamilton 11 Run
3 2nd and 10 Nick Patti 26 Run
3 1st and 10 Dontravious Wilson 34 (TD) Run

Looking ahead to Colorado, I was a bit surprised to see how well they ranked in big play metrics, especially their defense. Of course, they did play an FCS team last week but they beat them as you’d expect.

The Colorado offense averages seven big run plays per game (33rd nationally) and 4.4 big pass plays per game (27th) for a total of 11.5 big plays per game (19th) and a big play percentage of 12.99 percent (50th).

On defense, the Buffaloes have looked very impressive. They give up an average of 2.5 big run plays per game (22nd nationally) and zero big pass plays (first) for a total of 2.5 big plays given up per game (second). Their big play against percentage is 4.2 percent (third). Their big play differential is 8.79 percent (11th) and total toxic differential is 20 (fourth).

Colorado is one of just four teams to not surrender a big pass play through the first two weeks of the season. I would expect that streak to end this week. Two of the other three are teams within Michigan’s division, whom I will not mention.

On paper it looks as though Colorado could give Michigan a run for their money, as far as not allowing big plays, and it should be a much more competitive game than the past two opponents, despite Vegas favoring Michigan by 20 points.

I expect Michigan to win but I am not excited about the inevitable Kordell Stewart Hail Mary replays. Why did Dave Brandon insist on rescheduling teams to whom Michigan lost epic heartbreakers, as if winning them the second time around would make those memories any less painful? And now it comes out that Colorado will be wearing the exact same uniforms they did on September 24th, 1994. My 15-year-old self would not be pleased to hear this.