Michigan Football By the Numbers: Wisconsin

The Wolverines put together a tremendous all-around performance to dispatch of the Wisconsin Badgers. We must give credit where it’s due, and I think that starts with Ed Warriner and the Offensive Line, with a tip of the cap to Don Brown and Greg Mattison. Shea Patterson is in a lot of headlines, but Warriner and his group are the biggest reason Michigan’s offense has improved from 85th in the S&P+ in 2017 to 27th in 2018 through Week 7. Defensively, Michigan retained the #1 S&P+ defensive ranking after clamping down on what was the 8th ranked S&P+ Badgers’ offense, despite Rashan Gary missing his second consecutive game due to injury.

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

*I found and corrected a bug in my modified S&P+ excel file that affected IsoPPP.  I have corrected previous weeks’ data in my workbook also.

OFFENSE

The simplest understanding of this game is this: Michigan did to Wisconsin what we’ve seen the Badgers due to B1G Ten opponents for a decade, they executed. Even though everyone knew what Jim Harbaugh wanted to do on offense, the players were able to execute successfully anyway. Coming in, Michigan’s average success rate was 49.2%. They managed 45.6% success against Wisconsin. In terms of explosiveness, Expected Points / Play (PPP) is a metric that quantifies each play based on starting yard line versus ending yard line. IsoPPP looks only at successful play, which helps separate it from the Success Rate metric. Michigan’s average in PPP coming in was 0.49. They were above average versus the Badgers at 0.51. The offense was also slightly above (0.98) their season average (0.92) in IsoPPP. For me, the most remarkable offensive characteristic from this encouraging performance was that we can definitively say the game went according to plan. We are starting to see Jim Harbaugh’s offensive vision come into focus.

DEFENSE

In year three under Don Brown, it’s quite a challenge to avoid sounding like a broken record as I compliment the defensive unit week in and week out. Saturday night on the national stage in prime time, versus the 8th ranked S&P+ offense coming in, was precisely the defensive performance that Harbaugh’s staff has been game planning around. Wisconsin had more success than average versus the Wolverine defense, but never enough to flip field position or to create scoring opportunities. Coming into the game, opponents were averaging 33.2% success rate, 0.29 PPP, and 0.83 IsoPPP against Michigan. The physical Wisconsin offense established a 38% success rate, 0.42 PPP, and 1.01 IsoPPP. However, after the Badgers scored to tie the game 7-7 in the second quarter, their next six drives went: Punt, INT, Punt, Punt, Punt, INT for TD.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 7

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 20.4, 4th (up 1)
Offense: 34.7, 27th (down 2)
Defense: 14.6, 1st (up 1)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Wisconsin UM 38 UW 13
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 3.65, 7-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 4, 6-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 6.3

NEXT UP

@ Michigan State: Overall 8.3, 33rd
M Offense 34.7, (27th) vs. O Defense 20.1 (21st), Midpoint: 27.4
M Defense 14.6 (1st) vs. O Offense 28.1 (75th), Midpoint: 21.35

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
My midpoint S&P+ method gives a 6.05 point edge to Michigan. The Spartan defense versus Wolverine offense is a key match-up of similarly ranked units. Defensively, Michigan will have to weather the storm as MSU empties the entire bag of tricks.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Can Michigan pack their balanced, complementary game plan with them for a short trip to East Lansing? The struggles on the road are still worrisome, and we know the Spartans will come out firing hay-makers. I expect Pep Hamilton and Shea Patterson to expose a weak MSU secondary. However, if the weather gets sloppy, this could turn into an old-fashion battle of will power.
Michigan 20 MSU 14 (PRESEASON: Michigan 27 MSU 17)

TL;DR SUMMARY

Now we have finally seen the Michigan game plan of an efficient offense complementing a dominant defense work to effectively grind a solid opponent into powder. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, and it is crucial for the Wolverines to show they can execute the game plan at a similar high level in a hostile environment in East Lansing this week.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Maryland

We are now half way through the season, and the Wolverines are 5-1. I am going to look at the performance versus Maryland alongside some trends and averages to this point. My goal is to provide a useful prism through which we can view these critical upcoming games versus Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State.

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

Jim Harbaugh’s offensive philosophy is a popular topic both locally and nationally. Conversations and debates range from Pro-style vs. Spread, to Power vs. Inside Zone, and even Clock Control vs. Quick Strike. I am going to focus on one of Michigan’s main objectives: to use balanced play calling to provide max flexibility by situation. To this point in the season, the Wolverines are averaging 59.3% run plays, and 40.7% pass plays. Total yardage is split even closer at 51.2% run and 48.8% pass. The play calling in the Maryland game followed this trend very closely, dividing 60.9% run and 39.1% pass.
We can also see balance when looking at Success Rate. Through six games, Michigan’s overall offensive success rate is 49.2%. This breaks down to a 50.4% Success Rate on run plays, and 47.5% Success Rate on pass plays. The Maryland game provides reason for optimism by showing the offense is on an upward trend. On Saturday, the Wolverines were successful on 57.1% of their run plays, and on 55.6% of their pass plays.

DEFENSE

From game to game, the Michigan defense is amazingly consistent from a Success Rate perspective. The Wolverines are allowing successful plays only 33.2% of the time. The most successful team was Northwestern, with a 39.7% success rate, while the least successful team was Nebraska at 24.0%. Perhaps the statistic that is most emblematic of Don Brown’s philosophy is the yardage allowed on unsuccessful plays: 56 yards. That is TOTAL, through SIX games. Two-thirds of the plays run against Michigan’s defense have accumulated just 56 yards, or 0.2 yards per play. For even more perspective, Maryland’s average of 0.9 yds per play on unsuccessful plays is the BEST by any team versus Michigan so far in 2018.
Overall, the Success Rate versus Michigan’s defense is also very consistent by quarter and by half. However, the two most troublesome performances stand out pretty clearly in their 1st Half / 2nd Half splits. Notre Dame: 1st Half – 42.5% / 2nd Half – 22.2% & Northwestern: 1st Half – 44.4% / 2nd Half – 33.3%. In the three key games coming up for the Wolverines, it feels like the halftime score will be particularly predictive. The key for the Michigan defense will be to eliminate the fast starts for their opponents.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 6

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 22.7, 5th (up 2)
Offense: 36.3, 25th (up 2)
Defense: 14.0, 2nd (up 2)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Maryland UM 42 MD 21
Pregame S&P+: UM by 9.15, 6-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 5-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 5.4

@ Northwestern: UM 20 NEB 17
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.7, 5-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 17, 4-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 4.4

vs. Nebraska: UM 56 NEB 10
Pregame S&P+: UM by 8.6, 4-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 11, 3-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 3.6

vs. SMU: UM 45 SMU 20
Pregame S&P+: UM by 20.0, 3-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 39, 2-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 2.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

NEXT UP

vs. Wisconsin: Overall 15.3, 13th
M Offense 36.3, (25th) vs. O Defense 27.8 (55th), Midpoint: 32.05
M Defense 14.0 (2nd) vs. O Offense 42.8 (8th), Midpoint: 28.4

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint S&P+ gives a 3.65 point edge to Michigan. The Badger offense is producing right around the rate at which most predicted in the preseason. However, it is a big surprise to see Wisconsin’s defense just barely above average. They were 9th in the preseason S&P+ rankings.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Michigan would love to buck the trend of slow starts on both sides of the ball. The last thing the Wolverines want to do is spot the Badgers a lead for Jonathan Taylor and their O-Line to protect. I expect this to be very close into the 4th quarter, with a handful of defensive and special teams big plays delivering a huge win for Michigan.
Michigan 24 Wisconsin 20 (PRESEASON: Wisconsin 24 Michigan 21)

TL; DR SUMMARY

Balance on offense, and an attacking defense have led to a 5-1 start for the Wolverines. However, Michigan started 5-1 in 2017 also. Finding success into the November schedule (i.e. wins over Wisconsin, MSU, & PSU) is absolutely required to eliminate Michigan’s reputation for fading down the stretch under Jim Harbaugh.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Northwestern

It’s tough to win on the road in the B1G Ten, especially when you’ve spotted a 17-point lead to a team with a top-25 defense.  Michigan definitely showed some guts as they pulled off the largest comeback in Jim Harbaugh’s NCAA coaching career.

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

I am not worried about the Offensive Coordinator Committee, yet. Maybe this game was more about a solid Northwestern defensive staff having a bye week to prepare. Michigan still averaged 5.7 yards per play against a top-25 defense. However, I have had this blind optimism in years past. I held out hope that there was an ace or two up Harbaugh’s sleeve that he would pull out at exactly the right moment, perhaps against a favored Buckeye team. If I recall correctly, those previous seasons ended in disappointment. Here’s hoping that the offensive game plan looks sharper against what should be an over-matched Maryland squad.

DEFENSE

Do you want the good news, or the bad news first? The good news is that Don Brown and his staff can be counted on to make superb in-game adjustments. Once Michigan’s defensive staff has diagnosed the offense’s plan of attack, they are almost lights out. The bad news? Slow starts on the road have resulted in giving up 31 first half points, as opposed to just 3 in the second half. The Wolverine defense has carried the lion’s share of the load under Harbaugh, but offensive success was the only thing that made this game feel different than Week 1 versus Notre Dame.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 5

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 21.6, 7th (down 2)
Offense: 35.6, 27th (down 3)
Defense: 14.5, 4th (same)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

@ Northwestern: UM 20 NEB 17
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.7, 5-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 17, 4-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 4.4

vs. Nebraska: UM 56 NEB 10
Pregame S&P+: UM by 8.6, 4-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 11, 3-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 3.6

vs. SMU: UM 45 SMU 20
Pregame S&P+: UM by 20.0, 3-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 39, 2-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 2.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

NEXT UP

vs. Maryland: Overall 3.2, 56th
M Offense 35.6, (27th) vs. O Defense 25.5 (50th), Midpoint: 30.55
M Defense 14.5 (4th) vs. O Offense 28.3 (76th), Midpoint: 21.4

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint S&P+ gives a 9.15 point edge to Michigan. The Terrapins have a slightly better-than-average defense, and slightly worse-than-average offense.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: The Wolverines simply play much better at home. I expect to see Maryland cause some early problems before Michigan settles in and starts to roll along. I am particularly interested to see if the Michigan defense can eliminate the penalty issues. On the offensive side, I wonder what happened to Grant Perry?
Michigan 35 Maryland 10 (PRESEASON: Michigan 45 Maryland 10)

TL;DR SUMMARY

Some concerning trends are emerging, but Michigan is 4-1 and still showing signs of growth offensively. A home tilt versus the wildly inconsistent Maryland Terrapins should be another opportunity for the Wolverines to correct mistakes before key games against Wisconsin, MSU, and PSU.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: SMU

Many Wolverine fans are clamoring for a return to the “good ol’ days” of Michigan football.  Some of those same fans forgot that those bygone days consist of complaining about the lack of domination in 25-point home victories…Onward into the B1G Ten season!

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS
FACTOR EDGE STATS
Explosiveness Michigan – small Yards/Play (MICH 7.36 / SMU 4.89);

IsoPPP (MICH 0.73 / SMU 0.73)

Efficiency Michigan – LARGE Success Rate (MICH 54.2% / SMU 32.3%)
Field Position Michigan – LARGE Avg Start (MICH Own 32 / SMU Own 22)
Finishing Drives Michigan – small Pts/Trip40 (MICH 5.17 / SMU 4.67)
TO’s & Penalties SMU – LARGE TO Margin (EVEN)

Offense Net Pen. Yds. (SMU +72 / MICH +5)

OFFENSE

I am calling this another business-like performance from the Michigan offense.  Jim Harbaugh’s staff has shown they are going to game plan around efficiency, and will stretch the field vertically via play action passes.  The offense exceeded 54% success rate for the second consecutive week, and only had to punt twice.  However, the fact that the first three drives went punt, punt, interception put a bad taste into the mouths of the Michigan fans.  While I certainly felt frustrated by the 0-0 first quarter as well, I am very encouraged that the offensive staff is adjusting to the defensive looks they are given early in the game, and the players are executing successfully more times than not.

I am particularly happy with the evolution of the pass attack, led by Shea Patterson.  He had a shaky first quarter, including a Red Zone interception, and another pass that should have been intercepted around Michigan’s 30-yard line.  However, after that, he made very accurate throws, to all six areas of the field (Short/Deep & Left/Middle/Right).  Patterson ended his day 14-of-18 overall for 237 yards & 3 TD’s, and eleven of the completions resulted in successful plays across first, second, and third downs.  After three games, I am very comfortable that Michigan is capable of maximizing their opportunities.  Going forward, I feel that we will only be limited by the O-Line’s execution.

DEFENSE

On defense, we have seen three very similar performances so far in 2018.  The Success Rate for opposing offenses is remarkably consistent: ND – 34.3%, WMU – 32.4%, SMU – 32.3%.  Where we’ve seen the greatest variation, and where my #1 concern rests, is in Explosiveness.  When using the Isolated Points per Play (IsoPPP), we are only looking at successful plays.  IsoPPP answers the question, “How big are your good offensive plays?”.  Remember in Week 1, after an explosive start, Notre Dame was held pretty much in check through the second half.  SMU outperformed Notre Dame in the IsoPPP metric versus Michigan’s defense, SMU – 0.73, ND – 0.61.  The coverage bust in the second quarter is the most egregious example, but 17 of SMU’s 65 plays went for 10+ yards.  Giving up big plays is a logical expectation, given Don Brown’s mantra “Solve your problems with aggression”.  Swinging for the fences produces many swing-and-misses, but it also produces home runs like the Josh Metellus pick-six to end the first half.  The key for Michigan remains the same: the star play-makers need to connect on enough big defensive plays to win the big games.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 3

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 21.2, 10th (down 1)
Offense: 34.8, 38th (up 14)
Defense: 13.7, 7th (down 4)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. SMU: UM 45 SMU 20
Pregame S&P+: UM by 20, 3-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 39, 2-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 2.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

NEXT UP

vs. Nebraska: Overall 6.9, 46th
M Offense 34.8 (38th) vs. O Defense 26.3 (58th), Midpoint: 32.4
M Defense 13.7 (7th) vs. O Offense 33.4 (45th), Midpoint: 23.55

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
S&P+ gives the edge to Michigan on both sides of the ball. Under first-year coach Scott Frost, the Cornhuskers’ offense is on the steep end of their learning curve, similar to Michigan with Shea Patterson.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Nebraska’s defense has performed better than the preseason outlook had suggested, as the Black Shirts have moved into the top half of the rankings. I still expect some surprises from Nebraska in this game, and I’d love to see Michigan start pulling out a few of their own.
Michigan 31 Nebraska 20 (PRESEASON: Michigan 27 Nebraska 20)

TL; DR SUMMARY

The Michigan offense continues to march toward Jim Harbaugh’s vision of an efficient, pro-style outfit capable of exploding a few times per game. On defense, the Wolverines continue to keep teams mostly bottled up, but still haven’t developed the killer instinct they need. As the Big Ten season kicks off, Michigan must utilize the next couple games against underwhelming opponents to take another step up to the level of the nation’s elite teams.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Western Michigan

We all had to step back from the ledge after the loss to Notre Dame.  Similarly, don’t buy your tickets for the National Championship Game just yet…

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS
FACTOR EDGE STATS
Explosiveness Michigan – LARGE Yards/Play (MICH 8.55 / WMU 2.72);

IsoPPP (MICH 0.90 / 0.29)

Efficiency Michigan – LARGE Success Rate (MICH 54.7% / WMU 32.4%)
Field Position Michigan – LARGE Avg Start (MICH Own 39 / WMU Own 22);

MICH Blocked Punt Included

Finishing Drives Michigan – LARGE Pts/Trip40 (MICH 5.83 / WMU 3.00)
TO’s & Penalties Michigan – small TO Margin (MICH +1);

Offense Net Pen. Yds. (WMU +35 / MICH +15)

OFFENSE

We can all breathe a sigh of relief.  Following an underwhelming performance in Week 1 versus Notre Dame, the Michigan offense found themselves in the triple digits on the S&P+ ranking.  After the Week 2 performance versus Western Michigan, the unit has moved back up above average, 52nd in the rankings.  The Wolverines dominated in all facets against the 125th ranked Broncos defense.  It’s important that we keep the level of competition in mind during our analysis, but Michigan’s success should not be dismissed.  Michigan ran on first down twenty out of twenty-five times, for an average of 9.65 yards per rush.  That explosiveness on the ground probably summarizes the day for Michigan as good as any other statistic.  Michigan had nine runs of 10+ yards, including rushes of 67, 44, & 27 (2x).  Give credit to the offensive line for continuing to improve their zone blocking, and to the running backs for good vision, and good acceleration through the gaping holes in the WMU defensive front.

Additionally, we saw Shea Patterson make some pin point throws throughout the day.  I was particularly impressed with Patterson’s delivery to Donovan Peoples-Jones on 3rd & Goal from the 5-yard line in the 3rd quarter.  The ball came out just after DPJ came out of his break, and the throw had to be extremely precise along the sideline.  The play calling showed increased diversity, as I hoped it would.  Michigan attacked short and deep through the air, although we haven’t seen them press the ball down the field to the offense’s right, to this point.

DEFENSE

Defensively, the S&P+ stats show dominance just like the score board did.  The Wolverines did a superb job of limiting explosive plays in Week 2.  Allowing just 2.72 yards per play is a significant improvement over their first game in South Bend.  Western Michigan relies on hitting some big pass plays to keep the defense back on their heels, and Michigan did not allow any completions on six deep pass attempts, including three in the first quarter.

While the defensive performance was extremely positive, it was surprising to see only one 3-and-out by the Broncos.  Western Michigan ran the ball 38 times for 123 yards, 3.2 yards/rush.  This also points to a small measure of success for the Broncos in the efficiency metric.  The S&P+ rankings also picked up on WMU’s success, as the Michigan defense moved down a spot in the rankings (ALL the way to #3).  However, Don Brown’s squad certainly played well enough to keep the Bronco’s from ever truly getting comfortable.  Western Michigan averaged 5.7 yards-to-go on third down for the game.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 2

MICHIGAN
Overall: 24.1, 9th (up 13)
Offense: 32.7, 52nd (up 51)
Defense: 8.6, 3rd (down 1)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

NEXT UP

vs. SMU
UM Offense 32.7 (52nd) vs. SMU Defense 39.7 (109th), Midpoint: 36.2
UM Defense 8.6 (3rd) vs. SMU Offense 23.8 (97th), Midpoint: 16.2

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
S&P+ analysis is still somewhat volatile because of the small data set in 2018. Margin this week is almost twice as big as last week.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Last week, the Broncos offense moved the ball, and WMU actually accumulated more time of possession. SMU’s Offense is not on that same level. I don’t think the Mustangs will be able to score the 10 points I originally predicted.
UPDATE Michigan 42 SMU 3 (PRESEASON: MICH 38 SMU 10)

TL; DR SUMMARY

**Whew**  Our offense isn’t the WORST!  Now let’s see if we can continue to improve through one more tune-up versus SMU before getting into the B1G conference games.  I know it sounds and feels strange to be concerned about the defense, but I am not 100% comfortable with continued penalty issues, and consistent first-half game plan success for opposing offenses.