Phil Callihan and Clint Derringer discuss Michigan’s upcoming versus Michigan State.
Support the Podcast, Get Gear -> shrsl.com/12ybi
LAST WEEK RECAP
During the Week 11 Bye, we looked at 2018 & 2019 through 9 games, and we kept an eye on what to expect in the final 3 games.
PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 12.7, Michigan Win Probability 77%
Bill Connelly’s metric system is now dialed in with eleven weeks worth of data. With that said, the SP+ spread has moved in Michigan’s direction by only 1.2 points, with a small 2-point bump in Win Probability.
Michigan Offense (43rd) vs. Michigan State Defense (11th)
Michigan’s offense has not been quite as good as expected, but the Spartan defense hasn’t either. When I have watched Michigan State games in 2019, it feels an awful lot like watching the Wolverines in 2017. This defense is good, but they just cannot maintain a high level of play for a full 60 minutes. A lot of that is because the offense does not give them breaks in time of possession or field position. But, the Michigan State defense is also prone to making mistakes that turn into explosive plays. Offensively, Michigan has shown that they can be effective against top defenses. The Wolverines have played three top 10 SP+ defenses (Wisconsin, Iowa, & Penn State), plus Notre Dame is 23rd. The key will be whether Josh Gattis’ group comes out of the bye week sharp enough to exploit the inevitable MSU mistakes for big plays.
Michigan Defense (4th) vs. Michigan State Offense (84th)
The match up between Michigan’s defense and MSU’s offense will determine whether this game remains tight, or gets out of hand. The Spartans will definitely want to turn this game into a rock fight by grinding out first downs and playing the field position game. As Don Brown has transitioned to multiple fronts, and mixed in more zone coverage, Michigan has allowed some yardage but has tightened up on scoring opportunities. In this game, MSU would gladly march between the 20 yard lines and milk the clock. The Wolverines must turn the rivalry game energy and emotion into a laser focus on run fits during standard downs. Once they’ve forced Michigan State into passing downs, Michigan will be looking to create havoc.
PREDICTION: As bad as the Spartan offense has been, SP+ thinks their special teams are worse. They are currently ranked 108th nationally. This doesn’t bode well for the field position rock fight strategy that I expect from Mark Dantonio. I was happy to hear Jim Harbaugh using “High Alert” as the program mantra this week. This season was reduced to a one-game season in October. Potentially winning this game is the last shred of opportunity remaining the Spartans. Dantonio will have them playing at their highest level, but that won’t be good enough. #LeaveNoDoubt
Michigan 24 Michigan State 7 (PRESEASON Michigan 17 MSU 13)
Michigan gave up zero points on defense, and beat Maryland by 31 points. Somehow these facts did not produce the same celebratory tone within the fan base.
Match up breakdown and prediction will return in Week 12 vs. Michigan State
Michigan’s second bye week arrives as the Wolverines transition from the third quarter of the season to the fourth. The early season existential crisis for the fan base seems to have dwindled a bit. Most of that anxiety is probably just on the shelf until the last two rivalry games. Many Michigan fans continue to brace for the impact of the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes’ visit to the Big House. During the off week, we can compare how the 2018 metrics through nine games compared to the fourth quarter of the season. In the far right column, I’ll share my expectations for the final three games of 2019.
In terms of average SP+ ranking, the 2019 season has a much tougher conclusion for Michigan. In 2018 the final three games against Rutgers, Indiana, and Ohio State produced an average ranking of 61st. In 2019, Michigan State, Indiana, and Ohio State average out to 17th!
Last season, the offense stayed very consistent through the final three games. The two significant changes were a slight improvement in Points per Opportunity and an increase in turnovers. For 2019, I expect to see more of the same in terms of Explosiveness and Finishing Drives. While the decrease in Yards per Play in 2019 was not what we expected under Josh Gattis, the successful plays have still produced the same IsoPPP. I expect the Wolverines to make their most impactful offensive improvement in Efficiency. In the first part of the 2019 season, success rate has been significantly hampered by lack of rhythm due to turnovers. As Michigan has taken better care of the ball, the success rate has trended upward. I expect both of those upward trends to continue through the end of this season.
Curiosity about the 2018 Defensive splits drove this particular comparison article. As expected, the numbers were significantly worse. The surprise came in seeing the downward trend really started in the tenth game, a 42-7 win at Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights finished with 4.8 Yards per Play, and the same IsoPPP (1.24) against Michigan as the Buckeyes did. These 2018 problems triggered the 2019 scheme and personnel changes by Don Brown. The metrics show Michigan’s defense has not been quite as strong as they were the first nine games last year. However, this year I expect them to maintain the current levels. Utilizing multiple fronts and coverages, Brown has been able to stay true to his aggressive philosophy. The focus on QB pressure allows this defense to make key plays on critical downs. I believe being less predictable with blitzes and coverages will result in maintaining the current 2019 results, as opposed to the November melt down that we saw last season.
Michigan’s special teams just stopped a mid-season slide that saw them down to 80th in the SP+ special teams rankings. The poor field goal kicking plays a large part in that slide, but we can also check the impact on field position. The Wolverines average start at their own 33 yard line is exactly the same as 2018. However, the 2019 number comes as a result of the increase in turnovers forced by the defense balancing out some losses in the kicking and return game. Against Maryland Will Hart returned to booming 50+ yard punts (50.8 on average). In his previous five games, Hart was only kicking the ball 44.7 yards on average. He and the coverage team pushed his net punt average back up to 39.6, still not as good as 2018. Pinning teams deep into their own territory will be a critical factor in the final three November games. I expect to see the net punting improvement continue with Hart back in form. Continuing the explosiveness in Michigan’s own return game would also be a welcome surprise.
Final Score: 38-7, Michigan by 31 over Maryland
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 16.3 (+14.7)
CD Projection: Michigan by 17 (+14)
The narrative that the media preferred was Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis vs. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley. After some chippiness back in the summer, both coaches downplayed that media angle going into the Week 10 game in College Park. Instead, Michigan won this game by controlling every phase of the game, although by a smaller margin than many expected. The Wolverines had a smallish edge in each of the Five Factors in the box score above.
Offensively, Michigan chose a very balanced approach with 55 % of play calls being run plays. The ground game accounted for 46% of the total yardage. Zach Charbonnet continues to churn out yards and find the end zone. This week he became the all-time record holder for rushing touchdowns in a freshman season. In the first half, explosive plays were the difference between the Wolverines and Terps. On a key 51 yard bomb to Nico Collins, quarterback Shea Patterson looked to be in much better rhythm and hit Collins in stride over the top of the defense.
On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan’s opponents continue to come up with successful game plans versus Don Brown. However, that success has a shelf life of only the first quarter. Once Brown’s adjustments are made, Michigan dominates statistically, and the opposing offense is left seeing stars. Only 0.3% separated Maryland’s success rate and Michigan’s. But after missing a 37-yard field goal attempt in the 2nd quarter, the Terrapins punted on their next seven possessions. Maryland only amassed 78 total yards on those seven drives.
Michigan now heads into their second bye week. The additional time off should serve the Wolverines well by providing additional opportunity to nurse bumps, bruises, and minor injuries. Michigan did not perform well coming out of the first bye week to play a road game at Wisconsin. This time, the second of three home rivalry games awaits on the other side of the bye. I am sure Jim Harbaugh’s staff will be digging deep into their detail prep while watching the Michigan State Spartans try to right the ship against Illinois.