Michigan Football By the Numbers: Nebraska

That was a VERY satisfying way to take a 5-4-1 series lead over the Cornhuskers.  Onward to Evanston!

TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

Raise your hand if you had Week 4 circled as the first “take ’em to the wood shed” performance from Michigan’s offensive line. Nobody?  Me either.  In my opinion, the raw statistics tell more of the story than the S&P Five Factors do, because I did not remove garbage time for my analysis.  And by garbage time, I mean the entire second half.  Michigan was able to take Shea Patterson out in the 3rd quarter after another solid performance, and again Dylan McCaffrey was strong in his mop up role.  For me, the most encouraging sign for the offense was the return of the explosive run play.  The offensive line not only achieved great initial push along the front, the big run plays imply that blocks are being maintained at the second level, including by the wide receivers.

DEFENSE

Nebraska managed to salvage a small edge in Finishing Drives because they cashed in on both of their scoring opportunities, while Michigan went 6-of-7 thanks to an interception thrown by the third string QB.  However, Nebraska did not cross Michigan’s 40-yard line until their sad, “no shutout” field goal in the 3rd quarter.  Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich did not play any longer into the 3rd quarter than Shea Patterson did.  Devin Bush is clearly a step (or two) faster than Nebraska’s best offensive weapons.  Again, the lopsided raw statistics are more indicative of the butt kickin’ in this game. Nebraska increased their Yards per Play above 3.0 by finding some room to breathe against the 2nd and 3rd string Wolverines.  It was the first truly dominant performance in 2018 from Don Brown’s guys. Let’s hope there is more where that came from!

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 4

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 21.2, 6th (up 4)
Offense: 37.7, 24th (up 14)
Defense: 12.9, 4th (up 3)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

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

@ Northwestern: Overall 3.1, 60th
M Offense 37.7 (24th) vs. O Defense 20.6 (24th), Midpoint: 29.15
M Defense 12.9 (4th) vs. O Offense 24.0 (96th), Midpoint: 18.45

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
S&P+ gives a 10.7 point edge to Michigan. The Wildcats have not been impressive at all, but this Michigan team still needs to show it can be sharp on the road.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: The match-up to watch is Michigan’s offense versus Northwestern’s defense, as both are ranked #24 in the S&P+. Harbaugh will look to maintain balance between pass & run, while wearing down the Wildcats into the 3rd and 4th quarters.
Michigan 31 Northwestern 14 (PRESEASON: Michigan 17 Northwestern 14)

TL;DR SUMMARY

One team out-hit the other by a significant margin. The scoreboard reflects which is which. To his credit, Scott Frost did not try to spin any fictional moral victories during his 2018 post-game press conference.

 

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
FACTOREDGESTATS
ExplosivenessMichigan – smallYards/Play (MICH 7.36 / SMU 4.89);

IsoPPP (MICH 0.73 / SMU 0.73)

EfficiencyMichigan – LARGESuccess Rate (MICH 54.2% / SMU 32.3%)
Field PositionMichigan – LARGEAvg Start (MICH Own 32 / SMU Own 22)
Finishing DrivesMichigan – smallPts/Trip40 (MICH 5.17 / SMU 4.67)
TO’s & PenaltiesSMU – LARGETO 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
FACTOREDGESTATS
ExplosivenessMichigan – LARGEYards/Play (MICH 8.55 / WMU 2.72);

IsoPPP (MICH 0.90 / 0.29)

EfficiencyMichigan – LARGESuccess Rate (MICH 54.7% / WMU 32.4%)
Field PositionMichigan – LARGEAvg Start (MICH Own 39 / WMU Own 22);

MICH Blocked Punt Included

Finishing DrivesMichigan – LARGEPts/Trip40 (MICH 5.83 / WMU 3.00)
TO’s & PenaltiesMichigan – smallTO 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.

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

FACTOREDGESTATS
ExplosivenessNotre Dame – smallYards/Play (ND 4.57 / MICH 4.63);          IsoPPP (ND 0.61 / MICH 0.50)
EfficiencyMichigan – smallSuccess Rate (MICH 42.6% / ND 34.3%)
Field PositionMichigan – LARGEAvg Start (MICH Own 27 / ND Own 26);     MICH 99 yd KO Ret TD
Finishing DrivesNotre Dame – LARGEPts/Trip40 (ND 5.67 / MICH 2.50)
TO’s & PenaltiesNotre Dame – LARGETO 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.