By the Numbers: Week 14 vs. Ohio State

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan finished up the road portion of their regular season schedule with an impressive 39-14 disassembly of the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.

NEXT UP: vs. Ohio State: 1st, 36.2

PREGAME SP+: Ohio State by 11.0, Michigan Win Probability 26%
The Buckeyes’ SP+ rating score (36.2) is 59% higher than #10 Michigan’s (22.7).  On the other hand, Michigan has beaten the SP+ projected margin in 8 consecutive games.  The Wolverines have outperformed the projected margin by an average of 14.5 points since Week 4 @ Wisconsin, and by an average of 21.4 since Week 8 @ Penn State.

Michigan Offense (26th) vs. Ohio State Defense (1st) 
With just under 5:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Ohio State’s Sevyn Banks returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to increase the 2018 Buckeyes’ lead over Michigan to 15 points 34-19.  This is the moment the wind left the sails for the Wolverines and for the fan base. With 19+ minutes remaining in game time, I did not believe the Michigan offense would be able to change gears to the hurry-up passing attack necessary to come from behind.  That need to be able to change gears on offense, I believe, led to the January 10th hiring of Josh Gattis as offensive coordinator. The early season transition costs were steeper than I predicted, and a Big Ten Championship berth is not possible. However, those transition costs were absorbed to buy the chance for success in this game vs. Ohio State.  In that regard, Gattis and Jim Harbaugh have this unit peaking at the right time with added flexibility to exploit scoring opportunities against the Buckeyes.

Michigan Defense (5th) vs. Ohio State Offense (5th)
Like Harbaugh and Gattis, Don Brown and his staff designed a sharp transition triggered by the 2018 Ohio State game.  The defensive evolution also came with significant cost. Wisconsin exploited major mistakes in the run game in Week 4, and Penn State did so through the air in Week 8.  But, as October turned into November the Michigan defense re-emerged as a top-tier unit. The Wolverines drowned Notre Dame in a first-half rain storm and the Irish could only muster 180 total yards.  Indiana’s passing attack leads the Big Ten in 2019, but barely crept over 200 yards passing last week versus Michigan. Don Brown does not have to be perfect in this game, but he will have to utilize every tool in his belt to bottle up JK Dobbins and Justin Fields on standard downs.  If Michigan can force the Buckeyes into passing downs (2nd & 8+ or 3rd/4th & 5+), the Wolverines’ speed personnel can attack Ohio State from all angles.

PREDICTION: The Wolverines and Buckeyes share 3 SP+ top-25 opponents: Wisconsin, Penn State, and Indiana.  Michigan’s resume also includes victories over 2 more: Iowa and Notre Dame. I believe this particular version of The Game sets up much more evenly than most analysts.  The Wolverines are averaging 26.8 points in 5 games against current SP+ top-25 defenses. The 4 top-25 offenses have scored an average of 22.8 points against Michigan’s defense.  Ohio State is better than those other teams, but this isn’t the same Michigan team either.
Michigan 30 Ohio State 27  (PRESEASON Michigan 37 Ohio State 33)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/26/19), 9-2

  • SP+ Overall: 10th (same), 22.7
    • SP+ Offense: 26th (↑8), 35.0
    • SP+ Defense: 5th (same), 12.7
    • SP+ Special Teams 52nd (↓3) 0.3
  • CFP Rank: 13th (same)
  • AP Poll: 10th (↑2), 913
  • Coaches’ Poll: 11th (↑1), 893
Week 14 Resume vs. Ohio State

By the Numbers: Week 13 @ Indiana

LAST WEEK RECAP

A totally satisfying 44-10 pounding of the MSU Spartans highlighted the different trajectories of the two programs.

NEXT UP: @Indiana: 20th, 17.5

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 2.4, Michigan Win Probability 55%
In an interesting coincidence, Bill Connelly’s SP+ model produced the same prediction (28-25 Michigan) that I came up with in my Season Preview in August.  Another comparison for the Indiana game is Week 9 vs. Notre Dame.  The Irish also ranked 20th overall in SP+, with the 13th Offense, and the 35th Defense.

SP+ Picks are made weekly via Twitter by ESPN’s Bill Connelly

Michigan Offense (34th) vs. Indiana Defense (34th) 
Michigan comes off perhaps their most impressive offensive outing.  The Wolverines have improved 38 spots, up from 72nd after the loss to Wisconsin.  In three road games after Wisconsin, Michigan averages a 45% success rate and 5.9 yards per play.  In 2018, the Wolverines managed a 47% success rate and 6.7 yards per play. This contest with Indiana presents the final regular season road challenge for Josh Gattis and the offense.  Based on the matching SP+ rankings for Michigan’s offense and Indiana’s defense, Saturday’s matchup will likely come down to who can execute more cleanly. If the Wolverines can avoid major mistakes, especially turnovers, I expect them to move the ball and score consistently.

Michigan Defense (5th) vs. Indiana Offense (13th)
In last year’s 31-20 victory, the Michigan defense generated significant angst among the fan base.  Even worse, the Hoosiers’ success versus man coverage can be pointed to as a blueprint for the Buckeyes 62-point domination the following week.  We know these events triggered Don Brown’s 2019 evolution, making the test against Indiana particularly interesting. After dealing with the cost of significant change early in the season, the Wolverines’ defense is back into the top 5 nationally, including 5th in SP+.  The 2019 game shifts to Bloomington and opposing offensive units have had some success in road games since Wisconsin. The Wolverines allowed a 35% success rate and 4.3 yards per play at Illinois, at Penn State, and at Maryland. Also, because of the game waiting in Week 14, the prep for this game may be a delicate balance between executing vs. the Hoosiers without tipping your hand to the Buckeyes again.

PREDICTION: I made a big deal out of the 2018 trend in home versus road performance.  Michigan was +7.9 to the SP+ projections at home, and -7.1 on the road. That 15 point swing was particularly startling for me.  So far In 2019 the Wolverines are +7.2 at home, and a much more reasonable +0.8 on the road. I think Michigan will continue to show their growth on the road and will improve that +0.8 number.
Michigan 31 Indiana 17  (PRESEASON Michigan 28 Indiana 25)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/19/2019), 8-2

  • SP+ Overall: 10th (↑5), 22.4
    • SP+ Offense:34th (↑9), 33.8
    • SP+ Defense: 5th (↓1), 12.0
    • SP+ Special Teams 49th (↑21) 0.5
  • CFP Rank: 13th (↑2) 
  • AP Poll: 12th (↑2), 829
  • Coaches’ Poll: 12th (↑2), 851
Week 13 Resume

By the Numbers: Week 12 vs. MSU

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.

NEXT UP: vs. Michigan State: 35th, 9.8

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 RESUME UPDATE (11/11/2019), 7-2

  • SP+ Overall: 15th (↓4), 19.9
    • SP+ Offense:43rd (↑3), 32.3
    • SP+ Defense: 4th (↓1), 12.3
    • SP+ Special Teams 70th (↓1) -0.1
  • CFP Rank: 15th (↓1)
  • AP Poll: 14th (same), 744
  • Coaches’ Poll: 14th (same), 731
Week 12 Resume

By the Numbers: Week 10 @ Maryland

LAST WEEK RECAP

The running game clicked on offense, and the defense swarmed as Michigan dominated Notre Dame 45-14.  The win will be remembered as Jim Harbaugh’s second over a top 10 team, but SP+ had Notre Dame ranked 19th going in.

NEXT UP: @ Maryland: 56th, 2.3

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 16.3, Michigan Win Probability 83%
Michigan’s defensive unit ranking continues to climb, currently up to #2 in SP+ rankings.  The offense, after an early season drop to #72, has clawed back to 41st against some solid defensive teams.  The special teams unit continues to drop, now down another fourteen spots to #80.

Michigan Offense (41st) vs. Maryland Defense (64th) 
My calls for patience regarding this offense are starting to look better.  If the Wolverines can put together another dominating offensive performance on the road versus an average defense, then I will officially feel vindicated.  In the preseason preview I mentioned that SP+ ranked Maryland defense exactly in the middle (65th). As the calendar turns to November the Terps defense is 64th, and gave up 42 points per game in their last three contests (@ Purdue, vs. Indiana, @ Minnesota).  I wonder if offensive coordinator Josh Gattis and Jim Harbaugh remember the Terrapins’ head coach making snide comments (“Josh who?”) at Big Ten Media Day regarding his former assistant at Alabama.

Michigan Defense (2nd) vs. Maryland Offense (58th)
In 2018, most of us (Michigan fans) were taken by surprise when Ohio State sprung an offensive assault on Don Brown’s defense.  The defense’s performance in late season games may have been sending us warning signs. After a tremendous week 8 performance last year in East Lansing, Michigan’s YTD success rate against was 33%.  At that point, the defense allowed an average of 3.9 yards per play (YPP), and IsoPPP (Points gained per successful play) was 0.84.  I compared those averages to what we saw in those metrics from games #9-12 in 2018 below. Going into Game #9 of the 2019 season, on the road versus an average opponent, the Michigan defense MUST maintain their high level of play and attention to detail.  The last thing the Wolverines need is another downward trend through November.

  • Michigan 2018 Defense Avg. through 8 Games
    • Efficiency: 33% Success Rate
    • Explosiveness: YPP 3.9 IsoPP 0.84
  • Game 9 vs. Penn State
    • Efficiency: 28% Success Rate
    • Explosiveness: YPP 4.0 IsoPP 0.95
  • Game 10 @ Rutgers
    • Efficiency: 25% Success Rate
    • Explosiveness: YPP 4.8 IsoPP 1.24
  • Game 11 vs. Indiana
    • Efficiency: 35% Success Rate
    • Explosiveness: YPP 5.1 IsoPP 1.01
  • Game 12 @ Ohio State
    • Efficiency: 51% Success rate
    • Explosiveness: YPP 8.8 IsoPP 1.24

PREDICTION: Michigan’s dominance over Notre Dame made most of us feel better, and I am relieved for that.  I started to wonder where my own optimism was coming from after the heartbreak in Happy Valley.  Now, going into this road tilt in College Park, I think the pendulum may have swung the other way.  The fan base is back to expecting a total blowout, and I am more conservative. Until I see at least one complete performance away from the Big House, it will be tough for me to predict one.  I expect this game to feel similar to the Illinois game, with a handful of problems smearing our memory of a multi-score victory.
Michigan 30 Maryland 13 (PRESEASON Michigan 35 Maryland 7)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/27/2019), 6-2

  • SP+ Overall: 11th (↑3), 21.1
    • SP+ Offense:41st (↑11), 32.6
    • SP+ Defense: 2nd (↑2), 11.4
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 80th (↓14) -0.1
  • AP Poll: 14th (↑5), 744
  • Coaches’ Poll: 15th (↑5), 652
  • CFP Rank: N/A
Week 10 Resume

By the Numbers: Week 9 vs. Notre Dame

LAST WEEK RECAP

Another slow start cost the Wolverines as they fell short against Penn State, 28-21.   There were signs that the offense will indeed continue to grow through the season, but the Nittany Lions won 4 of the 5 SP+ factors.

NEXT UP: vs. Notre Dame: 19th, 17.0

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 4.0, Michigan Win Probability 59%
Through 3 away games and 4 home games: Michigan is under-performing the SP+ pregame margin projection by 1.3 points at home and by 3.9 points on the road.  In 2018, they were +7.9 points at home and -7.1 points on the road.

Michigan Offense (52nd) vs. Notre Dame Defense (35th)
The most encouraging bit from last week in Happy Valley was the continued return to form for the offensive line.  Shea Patterson’s success stems directly from the protection improvement. There is still room to grow, as the offense continues to build on plays and concepts that have been successful to this point.  The success of Michigan’s short passing game out wide to their talented wide receivers will put pressure on edge defenders. That in turn should continue to widen the running lanes inside for Zach Charbonnet and Hassan Haskins.  Notre Dame’s defense started the season ranked 9th in SP+, but has slid down to 35th. The Wolverines’ success versus 12th ranked PSU defense last week should translate at home against the Irish. The question for this week will be whether or not we see the return of explosive plays.

Michigan Defense (4th) vs. Notre Dame Offense (13th)
The evolution of the 2019 Michigan Defense continues.  Michigan successfully limited Penn State’s success rate by mixing man-to-man and zone coverages.  However, the lack of interior pressure allowed Sean Clifford enough time to exploit coverage breakdowns and mismatches in the Wolverines’ secondary.  Notre Dame will pose a similar challenge this Saturday. The Irish consistently develop a strong offensive line, and Ian Book is a more seasoned quarterback than Sean Clifford.  As always, Don Brown will anchor his game plan on stopping the Irish running attack. Michigan absolutely must win more one-on-one battles than they lose. That starts up front where Carlo Kemp and Mike Dwumfour will be tasked with pushing the pocket into Book’s face.  On the outside, Lavert Hill and Ambry Thomas will need to keep 6’4” senior Chase Claypool from getting behind the defense.

PREDICTION: I don’t expect to see a lot of surprises or new phenomena inside the Big House against Notre Dame.  I think we’ll see Michigan’s defense perform well, but still allow 2 or 3 explosive plays in key moments.  Offensively, we’ll probably see the Wolverines out-gain the Irish in total yards. The struggles may continue down near the goal line, however.  When the dust settles, I think Michigan will narrowly hold on in a nail biter.
Michigan 24 Notre Dame 21 (PRESEASON Michigan 33 Notre Dame 13)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/21/19), 5-2

  • SP+ Overall: 14th (↓1), 18.5
    • SP+ Offense: 52nd (↑1), 30.9
    • SP+ Defense: 4th (↓1), 12.3
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 66th (↓4) 0.0
  • AP Poll: 19th (↓3), 440
  • Coaches’ Poll: 20th (↓4), 369
  • CFP Rank: N/A
Week 9 Resume