By the Numbers: Week 8 @ Penn State

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines put together a dominant performance @ Illinois, but turnovers and lack of energy on both sides of the ball in the third quarter still made fans very anxious.

NEXT UP: @ Penn State: 6th, 24.4

PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 8.2, Michigan Win Probability 32%
The Michigan-PSU series has swung wildly from year to year with the home team winning by an average of 34 points in the last three seasons.  Michigan won 28-16 @ PSU in Jim Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan. 

Michigan Offense (53rd) vs. Penn State Defense (10th) 
Various sports media outlets generate wide discussion around the “Most Tortured Fan Base” pretty regularly.  Fan negativity really garners attention and gets consumers talking. The volume and intensity of fans’ negativity really ramp up when results do not match the fans’ established expectations.  This phenomenon made it very hard to evaluate the 2018 defense after the OSU mess. It makes it very hard for fans to evaluate the 2019 Wolverines’ offense. We know there are flaws, but we expected much more fire power at this point in the season.  For me, I still maintain optimism that we will see late-season growth from the offensive unit. I don’t expect to see #SpeedInSpace throw a coming out party at night in a Happy Valley white out. However, I do believe they are capable of making critical explosive plays against a very good Nittany Lion defense.  The key will be maximizing their scoring opportunities because they likely will be few and far between.

Michigan Defense (3rd) vs. Penn State Offense (10th)
The Wolverines’ defense dismantled Penn State 49-10 in 2016.  The Nittany Lions adjusted and utilized new offensive wrinkles for Saquon Barkley in 2017 as they exploded for 42 points.   Last year Don Brown stayed awake late into the night to design his counter attack, and nearly shut out Penn State. For this season, the first central question will be: who has processed the available film and data into the better game plan?  The second question will be: which group of players will execute better and make plays in big moments? Michigan will crank up the blitz machine to ensure redshirt junior QB Sean Clifford is under pressure on every pass. PSU offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne knows this.  He will try to utilize plays that get slot WR KJ Hammler into the space voided by blitzers. Don Brown knows this, and he will change up coverages to anticipate where Clifford’s pressure release valve will be. In my mind, the victor of this chess match will determine the winner of the game. 

PREDICTION: Uncharacteristically poor special teams performance also contributes to the Wolverines’ overall performance.  In the SP+ rankings Michigan’s special teams unit has plummeted to #62, down 58 spots since the Rutgers game. Even the play of the game @ Illinois, a blocked punt by Jordan Glasgow, was counteracted by a 70 yard Illini punt to Michigan 1 yard line.  Statistics and history suggest the special teams performance will improve and push Michigan back up into the 30’s in SP+ special teams ranking. This week would be an absolutely perfect time for the third phase to show up big and put points onto the board.
Michigan 21 Penn State 20 (PRESEASON Michigan 31 Penn State 17)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/14/2019)

  • SP+ Overall: 13th (↑4), 18.8
    • SP+ Offense: 53rd (↑13), 30.3
    • SP+ Defense: 3rd (↓1), 11.5
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 62nd (↓25) 0.0
  • AP Poll: 16th (same), 648
  • Coaches’ Poll: 16th (same), 674
  • CFP Rank: N/A
Week 8 Resume

Podcast– Jim Harbaugh Press Conference – Penn State Week, Shea Patterson has been the best quarterback on the field in every game Michigan has played this year

Michigan Head Coach Jim Harbaugh Monday Press Conference, Harbaugh talks about his team after its 42-25 road win over Illinois and preparations for Penn State.

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Michigan Football Game 6 – Game Grades – Michigan 42 Illinois 25

Have you ever had to talk to the person you love most?
To tell them it’s going to be all right, when you know that it’s not?

Two-Face (Harvey Dent)

Phil’s Game Grades

OffenseA/D
DefenseA/D
Special TeamsB
CoachingIncomplete
OverallIncomplete


So Michigan was cruising along up 28-0 at halftime and then roof fell in…only to wake-up in the 4th quarter to make it appear like a more comfortable win then it was…

Offense-  The first half looked like a Michigan clinic on running the football, but the wheels fell off until a 4th quarter surge put the game away. Another bad turnover gave Illinois life…The Wolverines are 126th in nation in lost fumbles (only one team has lost more).

Defense –  The Michigan defense allowed Illinois to score 18 points between 0:55 of the 2nd quarter and 12:50 of the 4th quarter. This was the first start for redshirt freshman QB Matt Robinson.

Special Teams –  The wind played havoc with the kicking game but field goals weren’t needed in this game.

Coaching –  Michigan needed an easy win, they need to get backup players some reps in the 4th quarter. Instead a disappearing act in the 3rd quarter only raised more questions about the focus of this team.

Comments – The first half of the season is over. Next up is a 6 game gauntlet unlike any in recent Michigan football history. Michigan’s 5 wins are versus teams with a combined 12-14 record, the next 6 teams they play are 27-9. Those games include 3 teams who are ranked in the top 10 nationally and an instate rival who would like nothing better than to upset the Wolverines at home (again). Michigan’s offense and defense have been inconsistent from game to game and even quarter to quarter.

Each of the next 6 games will be a measuring stick for Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines. There is nowhere to hide and nowhere to run but straight through the fire…

Michigan 42 Illinois 25 – Week 7 Recap

WEEK 7 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 42-25, Michigan by 17 over Illinois
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 15.4 (+1.6)
CD Projection: Michigan by 21 (-4)

FIVE FACTORS

WEEK 7 RECAP @ Illinois

I answered the question I heard most this week consistently. When I heard, “What do you want to see against Illinois?”  I said a clean, fast start on the road.  Be careful what you wish for.  We definitely saw a fast start. Michigan jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.  The Wolverines had doubled Illinois’ total yardage at that point. Then the third quarter arrived, and fans remembered suddenly that Michigan still has issues.  I don’t think most of the fan base is going to feel any better after that 42-25 victory over the Illini.

Offensively, there was a clear commitment to running game from the start.   Michigan ran on 66% of their 68 plays. That represents the highest run ratio of 2019.  It seems the offensive line was challenged to steady the struggling offense, and they answered the call.  The 6.5 yards per rush today is nearly a full yard more than the previous high of 5.8 versus MTSU in Week 1.  When we pair that explosiveness with a 56% success rate on run plays, the Wolverines had a clear identity today.  Shea Patterson added 194 yards passing and 4 touchdowns (1 rush).

Reading that text implies that it was a great day for the offense.  Unfortunately, that is not the case. The fumbles continue to plague Michigan. They put it on the deck officially 3 more times today and lost 2.   A fourth fumble by Christian Turner didn’t make the box score because he was ruled down by contact. At a minimum, this offense was more explosive, but fumble-itis still appears to be a potential fatal flaw.

For the defense, Michigan was again dominant for 3 of the 4 quarters of this game.  Coming out of half time, while the offense could not move or hold onto the ball, the defense wore down.  Illinois was on the field for 24 plays in the third quarter, and Michigan only 11. During that stretch and into the fourth quarter, Illinois scored 25 unanswered points and cut the lead to just a field goal.  Finally, multiple senior leaders stepped up and made big plays to save the Wolverines. A strip sack by Jordan Glasgow, another strip sack by Mike Danna evened the turnover margin. That response allowed the offense to take advantage of the short field and create some breathing room.  

Michigan has now completed half the regular season.  I predicted the Wolverines would be 5-1 at this point, but something still feels off.  So far, this season feels like driving a car with the check engine light on, and the smell of burning oil in the air.  We are still moving forward toward the destination, but there is an ominous feeling that this thing could blow up at any moment.  The coming week is absolutely gigantic, and will be pivotal for the 2019 season. This staff and these players must get under the hood and tighten up all the loose connections and seal the leaks.  These Wolverines will need all systems functional to have any chance against Penn State. Once we get to the White Out on Saturday night, Michigan must press the gas pedal to the floor and pray for the best.