By the Numbers: Week 11 Bye – Q3 Review

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan gave up zero points on defense, and beat Maryland by 31 points.  Somehow these facts did not produce the same celebratory tone within the fan base.

NEXT UP: Bye Week, then vs. Michigan State: 29th, 11.2

Match up breakdown and prediction will return in Week 12 vs. Michigan State

THROUGH 9 GAMES: COMPARING 2018 & 2019

Michigan’s second bye week arrives as the Wolverines transition from the third quarter of the season to the fourth.  The early season existential crisis for the fan base seems to have dwindled a bit. Most of that anxiety is probably just on the shelf until the last two rivalry games.  Many Michigan fans continue to brace for the impact of the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes’ visit to the Big House. During the off week, we can compare how the 2018 metrics through nine games compared to the fourth quarter of the season.  In the far right column, I’ll share my expectations for the final three games of 2019.

SCHEDULE
In terms of average SP+ ranking, the 2019 season has a much tougher conclusion for Michigan.  In 2018 the final three games against Rutgers, Indiana, and Ohio State produced an average ranking of 61st.  In 2019, Michigan State, Indiana, and Ohio State average out to 17th!

OFFENSE
Last season, the offense stayed very consistent through the final three games.  The two significant changes were a slight improvement in Points per Opportunity and an increase in turnovers.  For 2019, I expect to see more of the same in terms of Explosiveness and Finishing Drives. While the decrease in Yards per Play in 2019 was not what we expected under Josh Gattis, the successful plays have still produced the same IsoPPP.  I expect the Wolverines to make their most impactful offensive improvement in Efficiency. In the first part of the 2019 season, success rate has been significantly hampered by lack of rhythm due to turnovers. As Michigan has taken better care of the ball, the success rate has trended upward.  I expect both of those upward trends to continue through the end of this season.

Offense Q3 Review 2018-19

DEFENSE
Curiosity about the 2018 Defensive splits drove this particular comparison article.  As expected, the numbers were significantly worse. The surprise came in seeing the downward trend really started in the tenth game, a 42-7 win at Rutgers.  The Scarlet Knights finished with 4.8 Yards per Play, and the same IsoPPP (1.24) against Michigan as the Buckeyes did. These 2018 problems triggered the 2019 scheme and personnel changes by Don Brown.  The metrics show Michigan’s defense has not been quite as strong as they were the first nine games last year. However, this year I expect them to maintain the current levels. Utilizing multiple fronts and coverages, Brown has been able to stay true to his aggressive philosophy.  The focus on QB pressure allows this defense to make key plays on critical downs. I believe being less predictable with blitzes and coverages will result in maintaining the current 2019 results, as opposed to the November melt down that we saw last season.

Defense Q3 Review 2018-19

SPECIAL TEAMS
Michigan’s special teams just stopped a mid-season slide that saw them down to 80th in the SP+ special teams rankings.  The poor field goal kicking plays a large part in that slide, but we can also check the impact on field position. The Wolverines average start at their own 33 yard line is exactly the same as 2018.  However, the 2019 number comes as a result of the increase in turnovers forced by the defense balancing out some losses in the kicking and return game. Against Maryland Will Hart returned to booming 50+ yard punts (50.8 on average).  In his previous five games, Hart was only kicking the ball 44.7 yards on average. He and the coverage team pushed his net punt average back up to 39.6, still not as good as 2018. Pinning teams deep into their own territory will be a critical factor in the final three November games.  I expect to see the net punting improvement continue with Hart back in form. Continuing the explosiveness in Michigan’s own return game would also be a welcome surprise.

Special Teams Q3 Review 2018-19

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/5/2019), 7-2

  • SP+ Overall: 11th (same), 20.8
    • SP+ Offense:46th (↓5), 32.8
    • SP+ Defense: 3rd (↓1), 11.9
    • SP+ Sp. Teams 69th (↑11) 0.0
  • CFP Rank: 14th
  • AP Poll: 14th (same), 780
  • Coaches’ Poll: 14th (↑1), 746
Week 11 Resume

Michigan 38 Maryland 7 – Week 10 Recap

WEEK 10 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 38-7, Michigan by 31 over Maryland
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 16.3 (+14.7)
CD Projection: Michigan by 17 (+14)

FIVE FACTORS

WEEK 10 RECAP @ Maryland

The narrative that the media preferred was Michigan offensive coordinator Josh Gattis vs. Maryland head coach Mike Locksley.  After some chippiness back in the summer, both coaches downplayed that media angle going into the Week 10 game in College Park.  Instead, Michigan won this game by controlling every phase of the game, although by a smaller margin than many expected. The Wolverines had a smallish edge in each of the Five Factors in the box score above.  

Offensively, Michigan chose a very balanced approach with 55 % of play calls being run plays.  The ground game accounted for 46% of the total yardage. Zach Charbonnet continues to churn out yards and find the end zone.  This week he became the all-time record holder for rushing touchdowns in a freshman season. In the first half, explosive plays were the difference between the Wolverines and Terps.  On a key 51 yard bomb to Nico Collins, quarterback Shea Patterson looked to be in much better rhythm and hit Collins in stride over the top of the defense.

On the defensive side of the ball, Michigan’s opponents continue to come up with successful game plans versus Don Brown.  However, that success has a shelf life of only the first quarter. Once Brown’s adjustments are made, Michigan dominates statistically, and the opposing offense is left seeing stars.  Only 0.3% separated Maryland’s success rate and Michigan’s. But after missing a 37-yard field goal attempt in the 2nd quarter, the Terrapins punted on their next seven possessions. Maryland only amassed 78 total yards on those seven drives.

Michigan now heads into their second bye week.  The additional time off should serve the Wolverines well by providing additional opportunity to nurse bumps, bruises, and minor injuries.  Michigan did not perform well coming out of the first bye week to play a road game at Wisconsin. This time, the second of three home rivalry games awaits on the other side of the bye.  I am sure Jim Harbaugh’s staff will be digging deep into their detail prep while watching the Michigan State Spartans try to right the ship against Illinois.

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

Michigan 45 Notre Dame 14 – Week 9 Recap

WEEK 9 PROJECTION vs. RESULTS

Final Score: 45-14, Michigan by 31 over Notre Dame
SP+ Projection: Michigan by 4.0 (+27)
CD Projection: Michigan by 3 (+28)

FIVE FACTORS

WEEK 9 RECAP vs. Notre Dame

When was the 2019 turnaround, officially?  Could it have been the bounce back on the road after Illinois had scored 25 straight points?  Was it when Jim Harbaugh proclaimed the Wolverines were entering their “finest hour” after halftime in Happy Valley?  The staff continued to send positive signals that this team was close to clicking, even in the toughest times. They finally hit on all cylinders tonight in the Ann Arbor rain versus Notre Dame.  Michigan pulverized the Irish 45-14, and it could have been worse.

The offensive unit was led through a driving rain storm by their veteran offensive line.  Michigan ended the night with 303 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The Notre Dame defense employed a very blitz-heavy strategy, focused on taking away Michigan’s edge runs.  The high risk / high reward gambit turned out to be a mistake. Michigan was able to block the blitzing linebackers on the edges, while Hassan Haskins was led up the middle by pulling linemen and tight ends.  Haskins finished as Michigan’s leading rusher with 149 yards on 20 carries.

Defensively, I am sure the players and the coaches will be disappointed this game was not another shutout.  The Irish were still sporting a goose egg on the scoreboard deep into the third quarter, and were averaging just 1.5 yards per play at the time.  On 3rd and 10, Brad Hawkins’ interception was wiped out by a phantom pass interference call against Khaleke Hudson. Five plays later, Notre Dame got onto the board with a well designed tight end throwback pass from Ian Book to Cole Kmet.  Don Brown’s swarming defense held Notre Dame to 3.0 yards per play and only a 23% success rate when all was said and done.

Michigan moves to 6-2 on the season, and this rivalry win will help to remove some bad taste from their mouths.  Their Big Ten East division chances are on life support with Ohio State’s throttling of Wisconsin and Penn State’s handling of MSU earlier today.  Michigan still needs Ohio State to trip up before they come to Ann Arbor, and they need Penn State to lose twice. With that said, the Wolverines showed they are still very engaged in pushing this season to a successful conclusion.  This was a dominating victory over a top-ten ranked Notre Dame team that doesn’t play another ranked opponent. In the final four games, Michigan will need to avoid trap games @ Maryland and @ Indiana. These dangerous opponents are lurking in between the remaining rivalry games versus MSU and The Game versus the Buckeyes.  Onward to Maryland!

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