By the Numbers: Week 4 @ Wisconsin

Hoping for improved ball security

RECENT SP+ HISTORY vs. Wisconsin

During the bye week, I was able to take a peek back to the three previous meetings between Michigan and Wisconsin. Here is a quick review of those games through an SP+ lens. When game statistics feed into Bill Connelly’s SP+ system, a Postgame Win Expectancy gets created. The system calculates the percentage of repeated games with those statistics that would result in a Michigan win. Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan has a 2-1 record versus the Badgers.

2018: #17 Wisconsin @ #5 Michigan; W 38-13; Postgame Win Exp. 86%
Michigan started to see the offensive line gel as a unit, and the Arc Read QB read option package made its debut. The defense was without Rashan Gary, but Kwity Paye and Josh Uche filled in admirably. Inexplicably, Wisconsin continually took Jonathon Taylor off the field on 3rd down.

2017 (SBNation): #27 Michigan @ #6 Wisconsin; L 10-24; Postgame Win Exp. 26%
Both defensive units established dominance in 2017, but the Wisconsin offense was able to make more big plays in key spots. Wisconsin edged Michigan slightly in success rate 31% to 27%, but had a much more prominent edge in explosiveness. The Badgers dominated the Yards/Play metric 5.27 to 3.68. On standard downs, the Badgers recorded an IsoPPP of 1.08 compared to 0.75 for the Wolverines.

2016 (SBNation): #11 Wisconsin @ #3 Michigan; W 14-7; Postgame Win Exp. 97%
In 2016, Michigan utilized an Army-style game plan to grind out a one-score victory. The Wolverines ran 80 offensive plays, compared to just 53 for the Badgers, and were also boosted by a +2 turnover margin. While being slightly less explosive, especially in the ground game, Michigan doubled the success rate of Wisconsin 42% to 21%. The game was kept close largely because of the Wolverines’ inability to finish drives. Michigan averaged 2.33 points in six trips inside Wisconsin’s 40 yard line. The Badgers only created three scoring opportunities in the game.

NEXT UP: @ Wisconsin: 7th, 24.9

PREGAME SP+: Wisconsin by 9.0, Michigan Win Probability 30%
Michigan’s defense has moved up to 1st in SP+ unit rankings, but the offense is down to 74th. That is below average for FBS, and way below Power 5 average.

Michigan Offense (74th) vs. Wisconsin Defense (10th) 
This match up will likely determine Saturday’s winner. The Wolverines absolutely MUST eliminate turnovers, and they would be well served to continually move the chains and give the defense a break. I expect to see an outing that looks more like Week 1 vs. MTSU (still not flawless) as opposed to what we saw in Week 2 vs. Army. The expected return of Donovan Peoples-Jones should lead to increased space for Shea Patterson to attack through the air. That in turn could stretch the Wisconsin linebackers out of the zone running lanes for Zach Charbonnet and Christian Turner.

Michigan Defense (1st) vs. Wisconsin Offense (16th)
Don Brown will come up with a creative game plan to contain the Badgers’ rushing attack. The key for the game will be whether Wisconsin can exploit Michigan’s lack of depth on the interior defensive line. The Wolverines will need to swarm to the ball on every tackle to limit +2, +3, and +4 yard running play add-ons by Jonathon Taylor. It would also be crucial for an opportunistic Michigan defense to create an early turnover and help take the crowd out of the game.

PREDICTION: Jim Harbaugh’s appreciation of this team’s work ethic, and their ability to string together good practices encourages me a bit. His short press conference answer about “having a good team” as the key to winning on the road seemed abrupt to some. However, he has previously discussed that being a “good team” is being able to find a way to be successful in the face of adversity. In the Army post game, he also alluded to good teams having to win a “football fight” like the Wolverines did against the Black Knights. These intangibles should be a program focus for improving road game performance in 2019. With all of that said, I haven’t seen enough offensive cohesion or explosiveness to outweigh my preseason concerns about Michigan winning away from Ann Arbor.
Wisconsin 27 Michigan 23 (PRESEASON Wisconsin 26 Michigan 24)


  • SP+ Overall: 16th (↓1), 18.4
    • SP+ Offense: 74th (↓20), 27.2
    • SP+ Defense: 1st (↑14), 9.0
  • AP Poll: 11th (↓1), 917
  • Coaches’ Poll: 10th (same), 928
  • CFP Rank: N/A

Michigan 24 Army 21 – Week 2 Recap


Final Score: 24-21 2OT, Michigan by 3 over Army
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 25.2 (-22.2)
CD Projection: Michigan by 20 (-17)


Click here for more description of the Five Factors from Week 1

WEEK 2 RECAP vs. Army

There was not much magic hidden beneath the surface of Michigan’s double overtime victory over the Army Black Knights.  Typically, the soldiers dominate time of possession. Today, Army only had a slight edge 31:35 to 28:25 for Michigan.  On the Five Factors table above, only the Explosiveness metric displayed a distinct advantage for one team. While the edge went to Michigan, there wasn’t a lopsided margin in YPP and IsoPPP that we expected from #SpeedInSpace.

The Wolverines were in serious trouble at the half.  Michigan was fortunate to only be down one score after two quarters. The Black Knights had cashed in on two short field opportunities for touchdowns.  Meanwhile, Michigan had only mustered one score as freshman Zach Charbonnet scored his first career touchdown as a Wolverine. After three turnovers and missing a long Quinn Nordin field goal attempt, Michigan averaged a paltry 1.75 points per first half scoring opportunity.

The uneasy feeling lingered into the second half. The referees called back a Giles Jackson kickoff return of 42 yards due to an illegal blindside block.  After Michigan went three and out, Army showed they had made some shrewd halftime adjustments and began to march. A 60 yard, 7:43 drive added to Michigan fans’ anxiety. However, once they reached the red zone, Army QB Kelvin Hopkins, Jr. was intercepted by corner back Lavert Hill.   5:19 later Charbonnet punched in his second touchdown of the day to tie the score. The interception by Hill was clearly a pivotal moment in this game, but not the final critical play.

The Michigan defense started the fourth quarter by forcing another three-and-out. Michigan’s offense took the momentum and drove back into Army territory with the score tied 14-14.  With the clock nearing 10:00 left in regulation, and facing 4th & 2 from the Army 19 yard line, Jim Harbaugh chose to keep the offense on the field. Shea Patterson handed off on a zone run to the right, but the Black Knights had called the perfect run blitz. Charbonnet was tackled immediately for a four yard loss. 

The decision to forego the 37 yard field goal attempt that could have broken the tie will be questioned for the next two weeks. The conservative play calls will also be a popular topic of discussion. Michigan chose to run the ball on 74% of their 4th quarter plays. A third confounding facet of this particular 4th down play is whether it was a called hand off to Charbonnet, or if it may have been a poor read by QB Shea Patterson.  Regardless, the ball went back to the Black Knights, and 110,000 Michigan heart rates increased rapidly.

A similar sequence followed: the Wolverines’ defense forced another Army punt, and again Jim Harbaugh kept the offense on the field for a failed 4th down conversion attempt, this time at the Army 42 yard line.  The Black Knights leveraged their one time out and marched into position for a potential 50 yard game-winning field goal. Somehow, Michigan fans were spared again as the kick fell short and wide right. Blood pressure continued to rise in the Greater Ann Arbor area as the teams prepared for overtime.

Both offenses converted in key spots to score touchdowns in the first over time period. Army used an unbalanced formation to outflank the Wolverines to score first.  Michigan answered with a clutch 3rd & 6 pass from Patterson to Ronnie Bell. After pass interference placed the ball at the 2 yard line, Charbonnet was able to burrow into the end zone for his third touchdown of the day.  

In the second overtime period, Michigan led off with three incomplete passes. Jake Moody provided some reliefe by converting a 43 yard field goal attempt to take their first lead of the game.  Again, Michigan called on their fatigued defense to at least hold Army to a field goal attempt. Defensive end Aiden Hutchinson answered the bell with a tackle for loss on 2nd down to force a 3rd & 11 from the 26 yard line.  As Army called just their fifth pass play of the game, Hutchinson was joined by Carlo Kemp in a huge inside pass rash to strip the ball from Hopkins. When Quity Paye fell on the fumble, he sealed Michigan’s second victory of the 2019 season.

I am sure this nail-biter may have been wildly entertaining for outside observers, but there was a deep and collectively frustrated sigh of relief from the Big House faithful after the Wolverines were finally able to move to 2-0. There will be no shortage of questions to answer during the upcoming first bye week.  Don Brown may have come up with some answers in Week 2. Let’s hope the offense can follow suit as Michigan preps for Wisconsin and the rest of the Big Ten.