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 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

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

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