By the Numbers: Game 4 vs. Rutgers

2021_03_UM63__NIU10_0-10

LAST WEEK RECAP

Northern Illinois had no answers for Michigan’s offense as the Wolverines raced past the Huskies 63-10 in the final non-conference game of 2021.

NEXT UP: vs. Rutgers: 71st, 1.8

PREGAME SP+: U-M by 21.2, Michigan Win Probability 89%
The SP+ model is in love with the Wolverines.  So much so, that Bill Connelly trolled Michigan fans this past Sunday:

The (way too early) SP+ Resume model is also keeping Rutgers on the radar, currently ranking the Scarlet Knights’ 3-0 start as the 5th best resume to date. Look who is #2:

Michigan Offense (13th) vs. Rutgers Defense (43rd) 

Josh Gattis and the Michigan offense have rolled relentlessly right over the top of their first 3 opponents.  The offensive line is led by super-senior center Andrew Vastardis, who currently sits atop PFF’s blocking grade list for centers in all of FBS.  The Wolverines’ average Expected Points Added (EPA) per play reads an astounding 0.508, even after removing garbage time.  For context, the previous high average EPA for seasons I’ve tracked (back to 2016) was 0.209 in 2018.  In that 2018 season, the offense only eclipsed this current squad’s average EPA in two individual games: vs. WMU (0.750) and vs. Nebraska (0.633).

In 2020, Rutgers’ defense was able to bottle up the Michigan attack for the first half.  However, Cade McNamara’s entry to the game seemed to unlock the Wolverines’ offensive efficiency.  Michigan stormed back with 28 second-half points, and eventually held on in 3OT for a 48-42 victory.  The Scarlet Knights have also made the challenge harder on themselves.  News broke this week that two Rutgers’ defensive players, including starting CB Max Melton, will be suspended for at least this game. 

Michigan Defense (9th) vs. Rutgers Offense (87th)

When Rutgers has the ball, defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald will prioritize stopping the Knights’ rushing attack.  While they amassed 220 yards rushing in their opening win against Temple, and another 163 yards last week vs. Delaware, Rutgers could only manage 67 rushing yards in Week 2 at Syracuse (#57 defense in SP+).  This team is not built to rely on their quarterback, Noah Vedral, and the outside receivers to put up points in bunches either.  To continue their defensive success, Michigan must limit RB Isaih Pacheco’s big play ability.   

PREDICTION:  The 2021 Michigan football team is accomplishing the objectives they have communicated since Spring Ball.  First, the offense wanted to strengthen the run game and get off to a better start in each game.  Check and check.  Second, the defense wanted to install a new system that focuses on being less predictable while maintaining their aggressive nature.  Check and check.  Jim Harbaugh and his revamped staff seem energized by the early success within their respective position groups on both sides of the ball.  The upperclassmen are leading by example on the field.  Publicly all the players have maintained focus on the big picture season goals.  The program seems to effectively prioritize improving each week.  

Good vibes have started to rumble deep within the Michigan fan base.  Many folks are still very cautiously guarding their optimism and hope because they’ve been so scalded in recent seasons.  I can understand that, but try to make sure you’re appreciating and enjoying the excellent football that these kids are playing right now.  Greg Schiano has done well to improve the Rutgers program in just over one full season, but I don’t think this is a team that can disrupt Michigan’s current avalanche of enthusiasm.
Michigan 39 Rutgers 10 (PRESEASON Michigan 33 Rutgers 24)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/19/21), 3-0

  • SP+ Overall: 6th (same), 22.4
  • SP+ Offense: 13th (same), 37.5
  • SP+ Defense: 8th (↑1), 15.6
  • SP+ Special Teams: 2nd (↑3), 0.5

AP Poll: 19th (↑6), 456

Coaches’ Poll: 19th (↑6), 423

CFP Rank: N/A

U-M Resume after Game #3

2021 Michigan Football — Play Diagram — Blake Corum’s 51 yard TD Run

Let’s break down Blake Corum’s 51 yard TD run in the 3rd quarter versus Northern Illinois.

First, I love this formation. The Wolverines line up with trips to the wide side of the field. In this case the receivers are in a trips diamond alignment but they also could have used a stack (all in a row). We’ll look for both of these options as the season progresses.

Why do I live this formation? Well, the trips formation gives the offense numerous options and warps the defense to match the offense. With proper blocking the offense can play 3-on-3 or as in case effectively take 3 defenders out of the play.

Pre-snap, the first thing to notice is how how room to run the trips open up on the left side of the field.

Michigan snaps the ball, the trips execute their patterns, but the key on Saturday was what happened on the other side of the formation.

Michigan QB Cade McNamara hands off the RB Blake Corum and fakes a pass to one of the the retreating receivers from the trips formation. #99 Pierce Oppong for Northern Illinois is unblocked, and despite being untouched is no match the speed and agility of Blake Corum. #77 Trevor Keegan bounces the defensive tackle and seals the linebacker while #86 Luke Schoonmaker engages and the Northern Illinois corner back #12 Eric Rogers and blocks him off the field.

With the playside defenders blocked, Blake Corum only needs to contend with the safety who can’t make the tackle. Corum streaks to a 51 yard touch run.

Meanwhile across the field the two of the trips receivers have tangled with the Northern Illinois defenders, showing that the Wolverines had other options for positive yardage from this formation.