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
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
|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)|
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.
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.