Michigan Football By the Numbers: Rutgers

We’ve been here before. This is year four of the Harbaugh Era, and the November feeling we are sharing is quite familiar.  Take a look at Michigan’s record through ten games under Jim Harbaugh: 8-2 (2015); 9-1 (2016); 8-2 (2017); 9-1 (2018).  After a quick review of the 42-7 victory over Rutgers, let’s look for other historical clues about what may be in store for the 2018 team.

What is S&P+
The original system was based on Success rate and equivalent Points per play. It was an attempt at an OPS-style measure for football, a look at both efficiency and explosiveness. As so many things do, however, it has grown more complicated.In its current state, S&P+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnoversFull Explanation 
TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

The coaching staff chose to incorporate more passing plays and concepts into game plan for Rutgers. Michigan passed on 40.9% of plays in a 42-7 game.  That’s a tick above the 38.0% season average, and the highest passing ratio since the Big Ten opener versus Nebraska in Week 4.  Shea Patterson continued his improvement as he leads the evolution of the offense.  His performance (18/27, 260 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT) translated into a 63.0% Success Rate on pass plays, Michigan’s highest since Week 3 vs. SMU.  Michigan also averaged 9.6 yds per pass play, marking their third-highest YPP for pass plays of the season.

From a Harbaugh era perspective, the 2018 offense most resembles the 2015 offense led by another QB transfer, Jake Rudock.  While Rudock finished with 7.2 yards/attempt, completed 64%, and averaged 237.7 yards/game, the 2015 team finished ranked 32nd overall in S&P+ offense and the 8th ranked S&P+ passing offense.  Through ten games in 2018, Patterson averages 7.6 yards/attempt, is completing 67%, and averages 206.5 yards/game.  Michigan’s offense is ranked 21st overall by S&P+, and the passing game is 7th.  While those numbers are remarkably similar, there is reason to expect a stronger finish than 2015 when turning your attention to the run game.  The running attack is also ranked 7th in S&P+ in 2018, compared to 43rd in 2015.  Michigan’s 215.4 yards/game (2015: 158.2) and 48.4% success rate (2015: 43.8%) are key differences, enabling Jim Harbaugh and staff to dictate the flow and tempo of the game.

DEFENSE

Rutgers matched Michigan’s rushing output of 193 yards on the day, and capitalized on numerous missed assignments to put their 80-yard touchdown run on the board.  As scary and as frustrating as that might make us at first glance, this is no time to panic for Wolverine fans.  On the long touchdown run, simultaneous mistakes were made by DE Chase Winovich, LB Devin Gil, and S Brad Hawkins.  Rather than worry about this anomaly, I choose to be grateful that this will be a very teachable moment for all three levels of Don Brown’s defense, and that it came in a low-risk game with time to make corrections.

For a historical comparison, we have to revisit Michigan’s 2016 defense that put EIGHT draft picks into the ensuing NFL draft.  Both the 2018 and the 2016 units ranked 2nd in S&P+ overall, and 1st versus the pass.  Success Rate allowed is almost exactly the same, 29.5% (S&P+ 1st) for the 2016 defense, and 29.3% (S&P+ 2nd) this year.  In terms of explosiveness, the 2018 squad (through 10 games) has actually improved over two years ago allowing an IsoPPP of 1.02 (S&P+ 12th) compared to 1.18 (23rd) in 2016.  The defense will remain the centerpiece of each game plan as Michigan looks to reverse the trend of November and December disappointments in the Harbaugh era.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 11

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 24.9, 4th (down 1)
Offense: 35.7, 21st (up 3)
Defense: 11.6, 2nd (down 1)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

@ Rutgers UM 42 RU 7
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 22.2, 10-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 45, 9-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 9.3

NEXT UP

vs. Indiana: Overall -1.2, 81st
M Offense 35.7, (21st) vs. O Defense 29.6 (75th), Midpoint: 32.65
M Defense 11.6 (2nd) vs. O Offense 27.6 (82nd), Midpoint: 19.6

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint of S&P+ ratings gives a 13.05 point edge to Michigan. Given the weather forecast, and Indiana’s penchant to keep it close before giving way at the end, I think that sounds about right.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: There will be some motivation to score early and often to allow seniors down the depth chart to get onto the field in their last Big House appearance. Despite all of the external noise, the same two critical factors remain: 1) Stay Healthy 2) Focus on the task at hand
Michigan 24 Indiana 10 (PRESEASON: Michigan 24 Indiana 14)

TL;DR SUMMARY

Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Football continually puts themselves into solid position through the first ten games of the season. This year, with an improved offense and a dominating defense, the Wolverines will be judged on how they finish their run for a Big Ten title, and a berth in the College Football Playoff.

Nothing But ‘Net – Week #03 – 11/12/2018 – Ugly Wins Are Still Wins

The (#19) University of Michigan men’s basketball team played their first two regular season games last week, and they won both of them. On Tuesday (11/06/2018), they beat Norfolk State 63-44, then on Saturday (11/10/2018), they beat Holy Cross 56-37. Both games were in Crisler Arena. Michigan’s record is now 2-0.

Time for more Questions & Answers:

Q: Why were these “ugly wins”?

A: These were both opponents that Michigan should beat easily, and look good doing it. While they won both games by comfortable margins, they certainly didn’t look good doing it. The biggest problem is outside shooting, specifically, 3-point shooting. When the 3-pointers are falling, Michigan looks good. Everything else seems to fall into place: the inside game, rebounding, defense, everything. When the 3-pointers won’t go in, everything else seems to go wrong. So far, in an open practice, exhibition game, and two regular season games, no one on Michigan’s roster seems to be able to hit 3-pointers consistently.

Q: Wait. If everything else went wrong, how did Michigan hold Norfolk State to 44 points and Holy Cross to 37 points?

A: OK, you got me. In both games, the defense was fine. In fact, the defense was what kept Michigan in both of these games when the offense was flailing around. The 2nd half of the Holy Cross game was one of the better defensive efforts we’ve seen in a while. Michigan held Holy Cross to 13 points in the last 20 minutes, including a 7-minute stretch where Michigan held Holy Cross scoreless. It’s a good thing they did, since Holy Cross actually led the game (24-18) at halftime. Yes, you read that right: Michigan only scored 18 points in 20 minutes of basketball against Holy Cross. Ugh.

Q: How bad was the 3-point shooting?

A: Very bad. Michigan was 6-for-26 (23.1%) vs. Norfolk State, and 3-for-19 (15.8%) vs. Holy Cross. Most of these shots were good shots, wide open, out of the set offense. That’s the really frustrating part: Michigan is running their offense pretty well, moving the ball around, getting good open 3-pointers, and clanking them.

Q: What else went wrong?

A: Overall shooting was also pretty bad, pulled down by the really bad 3-point shooting. Michigan shot 36.7% (22-for-60) vs. Norfolk State, and 36.0% (18-for-50) vs. Holy Cross. Also, turnovers were a little high: 12 in the Norfolk State game, 9 in the Holy Cross game.

Q: Did Michigan do anything right?

A: Well, the defense was good, as mentioned above, and they did rebound fairly well. They out-rebounded Norfolk State 52-40 and Holy Cross 39-31. They also had 8 blocked shots vs. Norfolk State and 9 blocked shots vs. Holy Cross. Jon Teske had 4 and 5 for the week. Finally, they shot free throws well in the Holy Cross game (17-for-21 = 81.0%), although they were terrible shooting free throws in the Norfolk State game (13-for-29 = 44.8%).

Q: Who looked good?

A: Ignas Brazdeikis (12 and 19 points) and Charles Matthews (10 and 20 points) both hit double figures in both games. Teske (13 and 5 points) hit double figures in one game. Isaiah Livers had 10 rebounds in the Holy Cross game. Zavier Simpson ran the offense well, keeping the ball moving. He got the ball to the right players, they just bricked the shots. Eli Brooks is definitely the most improved player compared to last year.

Q: Who didn’t look very good?

A: I’m still waiting for Jordan Poole to wake up. He had 3 points in each game last week. I was counting on him to be one of the leading scorers in every game, on high volume shooting. So far, he’s 1-for-10 shooting, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range. Simpson also didn’t shoot well this week (1-for-4 and 0-for-3).

Q: What about the rest of the team?

A: Lots of players got in for a few minutes at the end of both games, but no one did anything noteworthy.

Q: What did we learn?

A: We learned that this is a young team, with lots of talent, but still (very) rough around the edges. We learned that Matthews and Iggy are the two “to-go” guys on the team offensively. We learned that this is not a very good shooting team, at least right now. We learned that the defense is way ahead of the offense at this point.

Q: What’s next?

A: Michigan has three games next week, all on the road. On Wednesday (11/14/2018, 6:30 p.m., FS1), they play at (#9) Villanova, as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games (Big East/Big Ten Challenge). On Saturday (11/17/2018, 12:00 noon, ESPN3), they play against George Washington in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall Of Fame Tip-Off Tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut. On Sunday (11/18/2018, TBA, ESPN/ESPN2), they play either Providence or South Carolina in the championship or consolation game of the tournament.

So, Villanova, again. The last time Michigan played Villanova was in San Antonio in April for the National Championship. Michigan led early, hung around for a while, then got buried under a pile of 3-pointers. Both teams are very different this season, with major departures from both rosters. This will be Michigan’s first big test, and the way they’ve played so far, I expect Villanova to beat them to a pulp.

George Washington is coming off a 15-18 season, with only 2 returning starters, and not much height. This is a game that Michigan should win, but they’ll need to play better than they have so far.

I’m not going to worry about Providence or South Carolina too much, since there’s no way to tell which one Michigan is going to play. Of the two, Providence is probably the better team.

That’s it for this week.

Go Blue!

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2018-TRAP AVOIDED AT RUTGERS 42 to 7

The 5th ranked Michigan Wolverines traveled to Piscataway, New Jersey to take on the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University last Saturday.  The Wolverines were a 39.5 favorite.  Rutgers had not won a Big Ten game in six attempts.  The Wolverines had captured 6 straight Big Ten Wins.

Rutgers has not enjoyed a good football season this year under Head Coach Chris Ash, and obviously, the Scarlet Knights aren’t riding high currently, but they believe they are improving.  They have some talented personnel on offense, and special teams.

They proved this by tying the score 7-7 in the first quarter with an 80-yard scamper from scrimmage much to the distress and surprise of both the Wolverines and their fans.

While a group of Wolverines was in close pursuit, they could not catch the speedy Scarlet Knight.  It was a beautiful serpentine run by Rutgers’ Isaih Pacheco for six.

He was in the end zone before the Wolverines caught him but he had the company of several Wolverines as they tackled him in the end zone, including Chase Winovich.  This was the biggest mistake the Wolverines defense made all evening, and they did not make it again.  The same play was stuffed a couple of times later.

The Wolverines do not have a long history against the Scarlet Knights, but have now bested the them four out of their five encounters.

They have only played since Rutgers was admitted to the B1G in 2014.  The one M loss is still celebrated in New Brunswick (campus location), and at Piscataway (stadium location). It was their first Big Ten win after entry into the conference, and a nasty blow to M fans at the time of its occurrence.

That 24-26 loss had an Appalachian State quality about it.  It is not a surprise that it is still celebrated at Rutgers.  Understandable, as anybody would forget a 78-zip loss, and remember their first Big Ten win instead.

THE FIRST COLLEGIATE FOOTBALL GAME WAS AT NEW BRUNSWICK, NEW JERSEY-Rutgers v Princeton. The sesquicentennial of that 6 to 4 Rutgers victory will occur next year on November 6, 2019.  Wonder how many spectators attended that first game and what the price of admission was, if there was one.

When I read about this on the Rutgers pages there were the usual pejorative comments from disgruntled fans that emanate from struggling programs that are consistently losing.

Slowly but surely, Coach Ash is improving the product.  Only the Buckeye dreadnaught (52-3), and the Badgers torpedoed the Knights badly prior to the Wolverines, this season.

All the pro-Wolverine hype could lull a fan or a team to sleep. The Wolverines had much acknowledged superiority, but fortunately it did not prevent them from giving very satisfactory effort.  This was a classic example of a “trap game”. Only once did the Knights break a significant big play. Rutgers were out jousted and dominated in this tournament.

The Michigan Coaches are to be credited for having the Wolverines ready after three straight tough encounters with ranked teams.  They had both the will and the way to win. As was expected.  Rutgers played hard, had good schemes, and left some bruises.  Coach Jim Harbaugh lauded the efforts of both sides in his post-game press conference, and so did Rutgers, Coach Chris Ash.

OFFENSE AND DEFENSE were outstanding against the Knights, although, in truth, it was not one of the best defensive games of the season against the run.

In my opinion, the offensive player of the game was Shea Patterson. He tossed 18 times for 280-yards, and 3 TDs.

Coach Harbaugh said at the post game presser: “He (Patterson) really played well tonight. He just does everything you ask him to do. That was a really tough night to throw the ball, it reminded me of my days back in Solider Field with that wind and conditions. But he made some unbelievable throws with that swirling wind. Also, our receivers did a great job catching the ball in the elements. Our guys continue to do a really good job catching the ball. That was really impressive. Rutgers was doing a good job containing the run game, but the protection was terrific all night. The throw and catch part was difficult with the conditions, but they did it at as high a level as you could have.”

Shea is the “guts and glue” (as the late great Bob Ufer used to say) that holds M’s offense together this year.  He rolled right and left, hit receivers, handed off perfectly, threw for three TDs, threw no interceptions, made good RPO reads, and played in a poised and workmanlike fashion.

That WRs Nico Collins (3/56-yards, two TDs with a long of 36-yards), Donovan Peoples-Jones (5/83 and a long of 32), and Oliver Martin (3/35) made fine catches, kept a toe in bounds when required, and ran intelligent routes helped to make this an outstanding offensive performance.

TE Zach Gentry (3/42, long of 2) made an outstanding leaping catch. Chris Evans and Bell nabbed 3 each, for a combined 41-yards.

The WRs did have a couple of muffs, but they generally overcame the wind and are improving every game.

The OL was up to the task.  They pass protected well and opened hole for a number of backs.

Asked why M was 9 of 13 on third down conversions Rutgers’ Head Coach Chris Ash addressed the subject after the game by stating that “Can’t put it any other way. Good players make good plays. They pass protected well. And some of their play actions, we couldn’t get to the QB, and that’s really the difference”.

The OL also was a benefit to the running game.  In rushing for 2 scores, Karan Higdon blew past 1,000-yards to date for the season. It cannot be said that his game was among Karan’s best.  He did not have the best first half of his career.

Still, it has been a long time since an M RB has accomplished that for the Wolverines. Karan has earned every yard.

The leading rusher was Chris Evans who broke a late game 61-yard TD scamper, Chris ran 6/75-yards and 1 TD, for a 12.5 average. Tru Wilson ran 8/58, long of 15, with a 7.9-yard avg. Karan Higdon was 15/44 with a 2.8 avg.  Martin, Hewlett, Edwards Bell, Mason and Milton also carried.  The group totaled  40 carries for 204-yards, 3 TDs, and a 4.8-yard average.

The Wolverines totaled 453-yards of offense to Rutgers’ 252, Rutgers had only 59-yards through the air.

The Wolverines continue to show improvement game by game.

Chris Ash said that Rutgers’ had their best rushing performance in a long, long time, with but one “misfit” that occasioned Chris Evan’s 61-yard bee line to the end zone.  Other than that, he (Ash) thought they played a really good run game, and that it was their best rushing of the year.  Said the Wildcat helped some, and was part of the game plan.

The M defense was effective enough to win big on this afternoon, but maybe a little less aggressive than they were in the prior three games against the run. Against the passing attack they were lights out.

It is no surprise that after the three-game revenge tour they could have a little let down in crushing the running game.  The longest Rutgers play of the passing game was a trick play to a second- string Rutgers QB, Giovanni Rescigno, that went for 19-yards.

This is beginning to look like a consistently productive offense and defense. As good or better than any in the Big Ten.  I am certain Don Brown will cure any dysfunctions in the run defense by Hoosier time.

HOW THEY SCORED:  Rutgers received the Kick Off, and then the teams traded blows with no scoring effect for most of the 1st quarter until the 45 second mark.  Karan then ran it in from the 1 yard-line for a TD to complete an 8 play 59-yard drive. TE Zach Gentry had a 16-yard catch, Higdon, Evans and Mason got it to the one via short runs before Karan ran it in.  M-7, R-0.

Some seconds later Rutgers’ Pacheco breezed 80-yards to score via Rutgers’ best play of the game. M-7, R-7.  It was a most beautiful execution of a zone read play.

The Wolverines answered in the second quarter on another Higdon  1-yard TD run.   That completed a 12-play 65-yard drive.  Shea Patterson completed passes to Martin Oliver (7-yards),  Ronnie Bell (12-yards), Donovan Peoples-Jones (9-yards) to move the ball to the Rutgers  20. A couple of short runs and Higdon scored again.  This series was an example of Shea’s value to the Wolverines at the QB position. M-14, R-7

Next it was the Nico Collins show, as he caught a great throw by Patterson in the end zone.  Both the throw and the catch were perfection. This completed a 6-play, 53-yard drive for 6.  Collins had previously contributed to the drive with a 10-yard catch. M-21, R-7.

The half ended at the above score with the Wolverines firmly in control and receiving to start the second half.

Patterson went to the air again, and with effect.  First came an in-completion, then Gentry nabbed a 21-yard pass to the M 49. Peoples-Jones caught one for 32-yards. Oliver Martin was wide open in the end zone as the Wolverines made it look easy. It was a 6 play, 53-yard drive.  M-28, R-7.

The next M scoring drive started with a 13-yard Tru Wilson run. He then toted two for 8-yard each, and one for three.  Tru had his best Michigan performance in this game. A ten-yard pass to Collins got the score, completing the 5 play 43-yard drive. M-35, R-7.

The Wolverines finished the scoring for the game with a Chris Evans dash up the middle for 61-yards and the TD.  It seems that he is finally back to 100% after an injury plagued season. Good timing.

The Final was M-42, R-7

TAKEAWAY: This was a much-needed game for the Wolverines.  The offense was relatively ineffective running the ball, so Shea Patterson showed them the way to a win through the air.  This was a definite trap game, and the Wolverines prevailed, giving up only one big play, They can be happy with the result,

While the Northwestern Wildcats have clawed their way to Indy, the fate of the Wolverines regarding the West Division title is still in the making.  They must beat Indiana at home next week end, and the Columbus denizens in their lair the next week to face the Wildcats in Indy.

You can bet that the team and their coaches, are correctly taking it one game at a time, and are seeing only IU Red at this time, but the bigger picture can now come into view for fans.  In the shadows, beyond the Hoosier Red, one can catch glimpses of Scarlet tinged with Gray.  Even deeper into the shadows there lies a snarling Wildcat.

Michigan sorely needs to be in the Big Ten Championship title game.  They need a shot at another Big Ten Championship soon.  Some of us are getting old.

I think this set of Wolverines is up to the task.  They have the required coaching, talent, ability, and the will necessary  to make the required  team effort.

Go Blue!