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

By the Numbers: Week 8 @ Penn State

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines put together a dominant performance @ Illinois, but turnovers and lack of energy on both sides of the ball in the third quarter still made fans very anxious.

NEXT UP: @ Penn State: 6th, 24.4

PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 8.2, Michigan Win Probability 32%
The Michigan-PSU series has swung wildly from year to year with the home team winning by an average of 34 points in the last three seasons.  Michigan won 28-16 @ PSU in Jim Harbaugh’s first season at Michigan. 

Michigan Offense (53rd) vs. Penn State Defense (10th) 
Various sports media outlets generate wide discussion around the “Most Tortured Fan Base” pretty regularly.  Fan negativity really garners attention and gets consumers talking. The volume and intensity of fans’ negativity really ramp up when results do not match the fans’ established expectations.  This phenomenon made it very hard to evaluate the 2018 defense after the OSU mess. It makes it very hard for fans to evaluate the 2019 Wolverines’ offense. We know there are flaws, but we expected much more fire power at this point in the season.  For me, I still maintain optimism that we will see late-season growth from the offensive unit. I don’t expect to see #SpeedInSpace throw a coming out party at night in a Happy Valley white out. However, I do believe they are capable of making critical explosive plays against a very good Nittany Lion defense.  The key will be maximizing their scoring opportunities because they likely will be few and far between.

Michigan Defense (3rd) vs. Penn State Offense (10th)
The Wolverines’ defense dismantled Penn State 49-10 in 2016.  The Nittany Lions adjusted and utilized new offensive wrinkles for Saquon Barkley in 2017 as they exploded for 42 points.   Last year Don Brown stayed awake late into the night to design his counter attack, and nearly shut out Penn State. For this season, the first central question will be: who has processed the available film and data into the better game plan?  The second question will be: which group of players will execute better and make plays in big moments? Michigan will crank up the blitz machine to ensure redshirt junior QB Sean Clifford is under pressure on every pass. PSU offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne knows this.  He will try to utilize plays that get slot WR KJ Hammler into the space voided by blitzers. Don Brown knows this, and he will change up coverages to anticipate where Clifford’s pressure release valve will be. In my mind, the victor of this chess match will determine the winner of the game. 

PREDICTION: Uncharacteristically poor special teams performance also contributes to the Wolverines’ overall performance.  In the SP+ rankings Michigan’s special teams unit has plummeted to #62, down 58 spots since the Rutgers game. Even the play of the game @ Illinois, a blocked punt by Jordan Glasgow, was counteracted by a 70 yard Illini punt to Michigan 1 yard line.  Statistics and history suggest the special teams performance will improve and push Michigan back up into the 30’s in SP+ special teams ranking. This week would be an absolutely perfect time for the third phase to show up big and put points onto the board.
Michigan 21 Penn State 20 (PRESEASON Michigan 31 Penn State 17)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/14/2019)

  • SP+ Overall: 13th (↑4), 18.8
    • SP+ Offense: 53rd (↑13), 30.3
    • SP+ Defense: 3rd (↓1), 11.5
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 62nd (↓25) 0.0
  • AP Poll: 16th (same), 648
  • Coaches’ Poll: 16th (same), 674
  • CFP Rank: N/A
Week 8 Resume

By the Numbers: Week 7 @ Illinois

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan powered through Iowa in a 10-3 defensive struggle.  Some questions were answered on defense, but many remain for the offensive staff.

NEXT UP: @ Illinois: 71st, -0.3

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 15.4, Michigan Win Probability 81%
The Wolverines are back into a spot where only under-performance against the Illini will garner any attention.  If they manage to win by 3+ scores, the caveats will lead every conversation.

Michigan Offense (66th) vs. Illinois Defense (82nd) 
Josh Gattis gets a second opportunity for a “get right game”.  This Illinois defense currently ranks twelve spots behind the Rutgers unit that gave up 52 points in the Big House.  I expect this week’s offensive strategy to mirror what we saw against the Scarlet Knights. Shea Patterson will be moving out of the pocket and the Big 3 receivers will be mixing and matching on a handful of downfield route combos.  Michigan will attempt to run only a handful of play types out of multiple formations and personnel groupings. The challenge will be to execute plays consecutively. I’d like to see a very specific script in the first quarter that let’s each play maker touch the ball at least once.  The concepts that work should come back in the second quarter forward.

Michigan Defense (2nd) vs. Illinois Offense (54th)
Illinois’ offensive coordinator, Rod Smith, just watched Don Brown flood Iowa’s backfield with varying blitz packages to rattle Nate Stanley.  How will the Illini adjust to what they’ve seen on tape? I expect to see max protection packages on the majority of snaps. That means limited short route combinations that require a quick release.  And if Brandon Peters cannot play in this game, then Smith will try to use the legs of either freshman QB Isiah Williams or freshman QB Matt Robinson to flee from Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye (Salt & Pepper). I cannot envision a scenario where Illinois can march down the field on sustained drives.  To make any impact on the scoreboard, the Illini will need explosive plays or turnovers from their defense to play on a short field.

PREDICTION: Illinois’ offense was ranked 54th in SP+ in the preseason and are still right in that spot.  However, the previous five games were started by Brandon Peters. Don Brown’s group will be teeing off this week.  For Michigan, the real challenge of this game is getting off to a quick start on the road. In 2018 Michigan averaged minus-7 to the SP+ projection in road games.  I still have to see the Wolverines respond effectively to adversity on the road before I can predict success ahead of time. I’ll keep my expected offensive prediction from the preseason, but the Illini aren’t going to reach the end zone twice. 
Michigan 27 Illinois 6 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Illinois 14)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/7/2019), 4-1

  • SP+ Overall: 17th (↓4), 17.6
    • SP+ Offense: 66th (↓18), 28.5
    • SP+ Defense: 2nd (↑4), 11.1
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 37th (↓33) 0.1
  • AP Poll: 16th (↑3), 618
  • Coaches’ Poll: 16th (↑2), 648
  • CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: Week 6 vs. Iowa

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines trounced Rutgers and kicked off the search to replace Chris Ash as head coach in Piscataway.

NEXT UP: vs. Iowa: 20th, 17.0

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 4.0, Michigan Win Probability 59%
Michigan finds themselves seven spots in front of the Hawkeyes in overall SP+ rankings.  However the margin has come down from 11.6 in the preseason to 4.0 in week six.

Michigan Offense (48th) vs. Iowa Defense (22nd)
The key question we need to see answered is whether or not Michigan will be able to run the ball successfully against a solid defense. Iowa has yet to give up 100 yards on the ground through their first four games. The only Power 5 opponent, Iowa State, did manage 4.8 yards per rush. That gives me reason for optimism that the Wolverines offensive line will have a fine day. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Shea Patterson’s role in the run game. It would be a major addition to the #SpeedInSpace concept to make the Hawkeye defense account for the QB as a run threat. Michigan may still be wary of Shea taking additional hits after he finally looked healthy and comfortable last week versus Rutgers. If he is not utilizing the QB rushing the ball on the read option, then Josh Gattis will likely be more focused on keeping Patterson clean in the pocket, or rolling out to ensure he can see his reads clearly downfield.

Michigan Defense (6th) vs. Iowa Offense (30th)
The fear for most Michigan fans is that Iowa will download the Wisconsin offensive road map to gash the Wolverines’ defense. I expect to see a much better performance against the Hawkeyes for a couple reasons. First, the depth at defensive tackle will be greatly improved with Michael Dwumfour available to start. Giving Don Brown the personnel option to put Dwumfour next to Carlo Kemp inside, and allow Kwity Paye and Aiden Hutchinson to stay on the ends is a major improvement over what we saw in Madison. Second, I was encouraged by the week-over-week improvement of Cam McGrone. The defensive game plan against the Badgers expected senior Josh Ross in the middle. The plan with McGrone in the middle against Rutgers looked to better utilize his speed, without requiring him to read and think a great deal on the snap of the ball. I’ll be looking at how often McGrone is sent as a blitzer, requiring upperclassmen Jordan Glasgow Kaleke Hudson, and Josh Uche to read and react more often than McGrone.

PREDICTION: The Hawkeyes’ offense and Michigan’s defense have both moved up the SP+ rankings since preseason. This creates a fascinating strength vs. strength match up. Who can limit the big mistakes when Michigan’s offense takes the field vs. Iowa’s defense? I think both teams will be relatively conservative to eliminate game-changing mistakes. If the Offense vs. Defense phases of the game turn into a wash, then the difference will be special teams where Michigan is ranked 4th in SP+ and Iowa 13th. I expect at least one key big play to come from the return game to go along with a significant field position advantage for the Wolverines.
Michigan 30 Iowa 23 (same as PRESEASON)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/2/2019)

  • SP+ Overall: 13th (↑13), 18.5
    • SP+ Offense: 48th (↑24), 31.8
    • SP+ Defense: 6th (↑6), 13.8
  • AP Poll: 19th (↑1), 350
  • Coaches’ Poll: 18th (↑2), 417
  • CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: Week 5 vs. Rutgers

Back to work! See you Saturday.

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines traveled to Madison.  Not good.  Actually, to quote Jim Harbaugh, “unacceptable”. 

NEXT UP: vs. Rutgers: 105th, -10.9

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 27.3, Michigan Win Probability 94%
If seeing Michigan at 26th overall in SP+ surprises you like it did me, you’ll be floored to find out that the offense moved UP two spots after the Wisconsin loss.

Michigan Offense (72nd) vs. Rutgers Defense (78th)
We see and hear many pundits calling for more deep shots and 50-50 balls to the outside wide receivers. Consider these words of caution: making downfield vertical attacks the core offensive philosophy puts even more responsibility on the shaky pass protection. Such a path could turn out disastrous. Personally, I advocate for a philosophy that draws the offense up toward the line of scrimmage, then attempts to hit three or four big plays over the top, perhaps on double moves. The core package should remain inside zone, split zone, the Arc Read on the ground. Through the air, we could probably start with a mesh concept that Indiana and Ohio State killed our defense with, in addition to the RPOs off of the inside and split zone runs. These are just my two cents. I would be happy with any game plan that ends up greater than 45% success rate.

Michigan Defense (12th) vs. Rutgers Offense (112th)
Don Brown is not the problem.  He remains one of the top five defensive coordinators nationally, in my opinion.  However, his aggressive philosophy and man-to-man scheme provide clear opportunities for opposing offensive coordinators to exploit his tendencies.  One repeatedly successful tactic is employing pre-snap shifts and motions that force Michigan’s outside run support players to be moving inward and away from the line of scrimmage at the snap.  The Wolverines’ typically identify these scripted attacks in real time during the game and Don Brown’s adjustments normally shut out the lights. Against Wisconsin, some individual players were beaten, and others were caught out of position trying to do too much.  This week against Rutgers, Michigan won’t be at the same disadvantage up front. I expect to see some frustrating run game success for Rutgers early, but very little after the first quarter.

PREDICTION: In the preseason, I expected Michigan to be returning to the Big House with something to prove.  Somehow I underestimated. The Wolverines have EVERYTHING to prove. Both the offensive and defensive coaches need to establish clear visions of how they plan to attack successfully.  More importantly, the players need to start experiencing some sustained success to rebuild trust and confidence in their respective systems and coaching staffs. The lingering injuries and what I expect will be simplified offensive and defensive game plans still make me anxious.  However, I think we’ll see a much more acceptable performance from the Wolverines this week.
Michigan 34 Rutgers 14 (PRESEASON Michigan 55 Rutgers 10)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (9/25/2019)

  • SP+ Overall: 26th (↓10), 13.9
    • SP+ Offense: 72nd (↑2), 28.3
    • SP+ Defense: 12th (↓11), 14.8
  • AP Poll: 20th (↓9), 287
  • Coaches’ Poll: 20th (↓10), 389
  • CFP Rank: N/A