Michigan Football By the Numbers: Notre Dame

 

First, before we get into the analysis, let’s agree that none of us are happy about a disappointing loss for Michigan Football.  Let’s do our best to quit arguing about who is “allowed” to complain about it, and let’s figure out how to express our frustration without demeaning the players.  Onward…

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

DEFINITIONS

IsoPPP: Points per Successful Play – Average change in Expected Points (yard line values) only on successful plays

Success Rate: Successful Plays / Total Plays (“Success” = 1st Down 50% of yards needed; 2nd 70%; 3rd & 4th 100%)

Pts/Trip40: Average points scored on trips inside opponent’s 40-yard line

Offense Net Penalty Yds: Offensive Unit’s penalty yardage – Opponent Defensive Unit’s penalty yardage

FACTOR EDGE STATS
Explosiveness Notre Dame – small Yards/Play (ND 4.57 / MICH 4.63);          IsoPPP (ND 0.61 / MICH 0.50)
Efficiency Michigan – small Success Rate (MICH 42.6% / ND 34.3%)
Field Position Michigan – LARGE Avg Start (MICH Own 27 / ND Own 26);     MICH 99 yd KO Ret TD
Finishing Drives Notre Dame – LARGE Pts/Trip40 (ND 5.67 / MICH 2.50)
TO’s & Penalties Notre Dame – LARGE TO Margin (ND +1);                                  Offense Net Pen. Yds. (ND +35 / MICH +10)

MICHIGAN OFFENSE

For Michigan’s offense, the performance can be boiled down to staying on schedule, but an utter failure to convert to points.  After removing the bomb to Nico Collins to start the second half, Michigan averaged a very successful 5.3 yards on first down for the game.  Also on first down, Harbaugh was clearly looking for run/pass balance: 14 called runs, 16 called passes (11/14 complete), 2 QB scrambles.  I am certainly not going to complain about this complement-the-defense game plan for a road, non-conference, season opener versus Notre Dame.  Also, the data tells us they executed the initial phase of the plan.  These successes are major improvements over the 2017 offense, and we should be encouraged by these numbers.

All that being said, the frustration boiling over for many Michigan fans is still absolutely justified.  The difference in the game was Notre Dame’s ability to convert three red zone trips (inside 40-yard line) into two touchdowns and a field goal.  By contrast, Michigan converted four red zone trips into just one first-half field goal, and one fourth-quarter touchdown.  A brutal whiff for Michigan was in the first quarter, after Notre Dame had scored to go up 14-0.  On 2nd & 6, from the ND 25-yard line, an unblocked edge rusher hit Shea Patterson as he threw.  Notre Dame only rushed five on this play, and Michigan should have been able to pick up the rush from tackle to tackle.  On the ensuing 3rd & 6, the left guard gets beaten 1-on-1 by the 3-tech, and Patterson fails to throw the ball away.  The sack moves the Wolverines back out of field goal range.  These untimely failures of execution must be ironed out versus WMU & SMU before Michigan enters the Big Ten schedule on September 22nd against Nebraska.

MICHIGAN DEFENSE

Defensively, the stats show a different, equally toxic combination.  First, Don Brown’s defensive units still struggle to avoid sporadic-but-critical explosive plays, as shown by Notre Dame’s edge in IsoPPP.  On 3rd downs, Notre Dame was faced with an average of 8.6 yards-to-gain for the game.  Despite that, they managed to convert 46.7% (7 of 15)!  Again, these execution failures are what stick in the memory for most Wolverine fans, and were shocking coming from the defense.  In the first quarter, somehow Noah Furbush is covering a slot fade route on 3rd & 9.  Not only is the pass completed, but Metellus goes out for targeting.  In the 4th quarter, on 2nd & 13, Notre Dame tried to expose this issue again, and was nearly successful as pressure in Wimbush’s face allowed Josh Uche to gain ground in coverage.  This is a significant Achilles heel for Don Brown’s scheme, and I am BEGGING for some creativity to shore this up.

The other major issue for the defense to solve is defending run plays that target the aggression of the defensive line.  In one example from the 3rd quarter, we saw Notre Dame call a QB Draw on 3rd & 18 from their own 20-yard line. The conservative call showed that Brian Kelly expected to punt, but Wimbush gained 22 yards and moved the chains.  Another example came in the 4th quarter on 1st down, Notre Dame ran a “no trap” play where the entire OL blocked down, but there is no pulling lineman to trap the defender.  Chase Winovich was the trap guy, and his up-field momentum took him out of the play.  Meanwhile, the running back gained 10 yards into Michigan territory.    

TL; DR SUMMARY

Some Michigan fans must continue to wait for the offensive “savior”.  Other fans, myself included, have realized that expecting Shea Patterson, or really any one player, to be a “savior” is a mistake.  While the 24-17 loss to Notre Dame is a painful snap back to reality, it also provides us more reliable information about what we can expect the remainder of this season.  The S&P+ Five Factors give us a better sense of how the game stats line up with our perception from Saturday night.  Michigan laid a solid foundation to build on, but we can’t settle there.  The staff must quickly address critical flaws on both sides of the ball.

MICHIGAN FOOTBALL 2018-IRISH OUTPOINT WOLVERINES 17-24

Obviously one game does not make a season of games, but an opening game loss to a high-profile team like Notre Dame can make for a season that appears much tougher, and increases the realism of fan apprehension.

ND punished a napping M defense early with a 75-yard drive for a TD in the first quarter, and then scored another TD on a 43-yard pass around the 7:09 mark of the second quarter.

A defensive mistake by M’s Josh Metellus got him ejected for targeting.  Brad Hawkins replaced him at safety for Brad’s first  significant playing time as a Wolverine.  The Wolverines managed a 28-yard field goal before Ambry Thomas made an extraordinary kick return, toting the leather 99-yards for one of the finest kick-off returns I’ve ever seen. It was10-21 Irish at the half.

The Wolverines opened the third quarter with a 52-yard reception by Nico Collins, and it seemed things were looking up.

Then errant handling of a snap by the M holder, turned an M FG goal attempt into a desperation run to the sideline, and the drive was ruined.  The only score of the third quarter was a 48-yard Irish FG.  The quarter ended with a Brandon Watson interception and 19-yard return.  Again, an attempt to convert a first down on fourth down failed, and the Wolverines went empty handed.

Finally, Karan Higdon ran the ball into the end zone for the first M offensive TD of the season, but a final of 17-24 in favor of the Irish was posted into the books.

SHEA PATTERSON’S DEBUT AS A WOLVERINE WAS ROUGH, BUT THERE IS NOW GAME EVIDENCE THAT THE FUTURE OF THE POSITION IS ASSURED.

While Shea Patterson had an interception and fumble late in the game, he displayed enough poise, pass accuracy, determination, and other characteristics to believe the future at the QB is sound, despite a late interception and fumble.  Extreme pressure by the Irish defensive pass rush created the problem, but he should have thrown it away.  As to  the fumble, he was again under heavy pressure.  I am not making excuses for him, but like Dragnet’s Joe Friday used to say, “Its just the facts”. Even in a losing cause Shea cause, Shea competed well and displayed many of the characteristics of a good QB.

Early in the fourth quarter Shea Patterson was injured and left the game in favor of Dylan McCaffrey.  Dylan handled himself with poise under pressure, and was substituted into the game again a short time later.  Finally, Karan Higdon ran the ball into the end zone for the first M offensive TD of the season, but a final of 17-24 in favor of the Irish was posted to the books.

I wish I could write the same about the offensive line. They did not protect well, allowing 3 sacks, 7 TFLs, as well as 6 hurries.  They did not provide the holes for a successful running game. 58-yards on 33 carries is dismal.  Granted this was against a good defense, and the M offensive line is probably better than last year, but their play needs to become more prolific.  One offensive TD is obviously not enough.

DEFENSE GETS A LESSON: While there was a touch of Michigan defensive domination in the second half, the first half was a disaster. The stats for the first half show 233-yards for the Irish, and two early TDs.

M’s second half defense did improve dramatically.

SPECIAL TEAMS:  Prior to the game I worried about special teams.  They scored points, and made only one significant gaffe.  They allowed no large returns.  Ambry Thomas was player of the game.

AFTERTHOUGHTS: The Wolverines faced Notre Dame sorely needing a “prestige win” in order to set the path for the high order of success that Coach Harbaugh needed to validate his 4th season as the Wolverines Head Coach, and the Wolverines needed as a team to sink the memory of their three dismal losses to end last season.  Since 2006 or thereabouts, away wins against ranked teams have become scarcer.  But there will be other chances for a prestige win, this season, and all other goals remain intact.

It was not to be as the Irish owned the day.  The Wolverines never led, and scored only one offensive TD before late in the fourth quarter.  ND played the much better game, offensively and defensively.

The Wolverines have not acheived a Big Ten Championship in more than a decade, and everything else must build on that foundation.

Let’s step back from the ledge as that goal is still intact.  This M team will be a good team still, with a chance to taste greatness.