By the Numbers: Week 6 vs. Penn State

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines survived three OTs against Rutgers to win 48-42 on the road.  The offense did a near-180 degree turnaround under Cade McNamara.  The defense did not.

NEXT UP: vs. Penn State: 29th, 9.8

PREGAME SP+: Penn State by 1.0, Michigan Win Probability 48%
Michigan & Penn State both look radically different than anybody expected before the Big Ten kicked off in October.  Michigan has underperformed SP+ expectations on defense allowing an average of 12.8 points more than SP+ projections.  Penn State has underperformed on both sides of the ball.  The Nittany Lion defense gives up an average of 11.2 more points than projections.  Their offense has scored 6.6 points less than projected.

Michigan Offense (44th) vs. Penn State Defense (30th) 
Michigan may have answered a couple big questions on offense.  It looks like Hassan Haskins will get a larger share of the running back carries going forward.  Also, Josh Gattis seemed to have more plays that use post-snap reads at his disposal once Cade McNamara took over at quarterback.  Still, the largest question mark still looms: how healthy will the Wolverines’ offensive line be?  We asked the same question headed into the Rutgers game, but lost center Andrew Vastardis to injury instead of regaining Jaylen Mayfield or Ryan Hayes at tackle.  Regardless, this Penn State defense is also short handed and just gave up 34 points to Iowa (54th SP+ offense).

Michigan Defense (37th) vs. Penn State Offense (34th)
In my mind, this game will be decided in big moments while Penn State has the ball.  First, it’s critical for Michigan to get off to a solid start.  Penn State has yet to score more than 7 points in the first half in any game in 2020.  That includes games against Maryland (67th SP+ defense, PSU 19 points) and against Nebraska (76th SP+ defense, PSU 23 points).  Second, the Wolverines need to keep the Penn State quarterbacks uncomfortable.  If Don Brown can get back to using havoc and confusion to create turnovers, then the defensive unit could give their offensive teammates a big boost.  That may be too big an “IF” statement though, given the injuries stretching the defensive two deep perilously thin.

PREDICTION: Michigan should be able to string together successful offensive plays against this diminished Penn State defensive unit.  If I was confident that Michigan would have their best 5 offensive linemen healthy, I would feel much more comfortable heading into Saturday.  While we are starting to see a few playmakers emerge on offense, the Wolverines need some young defenders to step forward.  I will be looking for DT Chris Hinton, LB Michael Barrett, and S Daxton Hill to be difference makers during crunch time in Ann Arbor.

Michigan 28 Penn State 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 27 Penn State 21)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/24/2020), 2-3

SP+ Overall: 40th (↓13), 6.8
SP+ Offense: 44th (↓9), 31.6
SP+ Defense: 37th (↓11), 24.7
SP+ Special Teams: 81st (↑2), -0.1

AP Poll: NR (same), 0

Coaches’ Poll: NR (same), 0

CFP Rank: NR

By the Numbers: Week 5 @ Rutgers

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan was steamrolled by the Wisconsin Badgers 49-11 in Ann Arbor.  Even with low expectations, the fan base was still mortified by the poor performance.

NEXT UP: @ Rutgers: 108th, -10.5

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 19.3, Michigan Win Probability 87%
A quick note: Bill Connelly’s content at ESPN has moved behind the ESPN+ paywall.  In addition to his rankings article I always link (PREGAME SP+ above), I’ll also share this article where Connelly discusses why SP+ missed on Michigan (the defense).  He mentioned that without preseason projections, the Wolverines would be in the 60s in SP+ overall ranking.  They are currently 27th overall.

Michigan Offense (35th) vs. Rutgers Defense (90th) 
Here is some bad news, then some good news, then some unknowns.  The bad news is Michigan’s offense has only looked viable in one game versus Minnesota.  The Gophers were the 44th ranked defense per SP+ heading into week 1, but have plummeted to 85th after four games.  The good news is the week 5 opponent is Rutgers and they are putting the 90th ranked defense out there on Saturday.  Will Michigan be able to mount any successful offensive rhythm this Saturday in prime time?  We won’t know much until we’ve seen whether the two OTs, Jaylen Mayfield and Ryan Hayes, are back in the lineup.  Also, we need to find out who steps forward at quarterback after Joe Milton was benched in favor of Cade McNamara last week.

Michigan Defense (26th) vs. Rutgers Offense (112th)
Rutgers has been boom or bust from drive to drive this season.  They have scored at least 20 points in every game, including 27 against Ohio State.  They were able to cash in on Michigan State’s 7 turnovers to score 38 in week one.  However, in terms of efficiency and explosiveness, they are still lacking severely and have slipped to 112th in offensive SP+.  I expect they will attack Michigan the same way the last three opponents have.  They will test the corners deep down the sidelines.  Also, running back Isaih Pacheco will run right at the edge defenders who struggled so mightily against Wisconsin.  

PREDICTION: This may very well be Jim Harbaugh’s last stand.  A loss to Rutgers will signal that the 2020 team may have decided to pack it in.  While I do expect to see many frustrating plays on both sides of the ball, I don’t think the program will roll over.  I am prepared to see a close game throughout, but in the 4th quarter Michigan’s playmakers will have to step forward.  I would feel better about this prediction if I knew for certain who those playmakers are.

Michigan 33 Rutgers 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 41 Rutgers 10)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/17/2020) 1-3

SP+ Overall: 27th (↓9), 10.7
SP+ Offense: 35th (↓5), 33.0
SP+ Defense: 26th (↓7), 22.2
SP+ Special Teams: 83rd (↑21), -0.1

AP Poll: NR (same), 0

Coaches’ Poll: NR (same), 0

CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: Week 4 vs. Wisconsin

LAST WEEK RECAP

The Wolverines fell flat against Indiana, losing 38-21 in Bloomington.   The loss increased considerable hot seat conversations for multiple Michigan coaches.

NEXT UP: vs. Wisconsin: 4th, 25.7

PREGAME SP+: Wisconsin by 9.8, Michigan Win Probability 29%
As a predictive system, the SP+ numbers are really handcuffed by Wisconsin.  They have only played one game, and could be missing numerous players to COVID protocol.  However, given Michigan’s struggles, the projected margin has increased by about two points since the Big Ten preseason.

Michigan Offense (30th) vs. Wisconsin Defense (2nd) 
The first question of many for the Wolverines: who are the healthiest offensive lineman?  Michigan has struggled desperately to find success in the run game in their two losses.  Even if they had the week one offensive line, the yards would be tough to come by against the Badgers’ defensive front.  Strategically, I’m still looking for Josh Gattis to utilize his skill guys to put edge defenders into conflict.  If those types of plays bring the defensive backs up into press, we need to see the fastest WRs like Roman Wilson stretch the field vertically.

Michigan Defense (19th) vs. Wisconsin Offense (12th)
This matchup is a total wild card.  Michigan is limping through key injuries up front to Aidan Hutchinson and possibly to Kwity Paye.  Missing key pass rushers does not bode well for a team trying to support struggling cover corner guys.  At the same time, Wisconsin will either have their fourth-string quarterback under center, or a QB returning from foot surgery (Jack Coan), or a redshirt freshman returning from COVID isolation (Graham Mertz).  With so much unknown in this matchup, I expect Don Brown to double down on his aggressive philosophy.  That means blitzers from all directions, and could be another challenge to some young CBs trying to make a name for themselves like freshman Andre Seldon.

PREDICTION: Sometimes the different metric systems like SP+ cannot “see” the important mitigating factors from week to week.  This game between struggling Michigan, and virus-depleted Wisconsin seems like it is wholly made up of unknown mitigating factors.  Amidst all that chaos, I am expecting that the more experienced and higher-ranked defense for the Badgers will be the greatest difference.  The Wolverines will need to find some big plays, maybe on special teams, to upset the Badgers.
Michigan 20 Wisconsin 37 (PRESEASON Michigan 17 Wisconsin 23)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/10/2020), 1-2

SP+ Overall: 18th (↓2), 14.0
SP+ Offense: 30th (↓1), 34.0
SP+ Defense: 19th (↓6), 19.9
SP+ Special Teams: 104th (↓27), -0.2

AP Poll: NR (23rd), 0

Coaches’ Poll: NR (25th), 0

CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: Week 3 @ Indiana

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan State upset the Wolverines 27-24, as Michigan was outplayed at home in stunning fashion by their rivals. 

NEXT UP: @ Indiana: 25th, 11.5

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 2.1, Michigan Win Probability 55%
The Hoosiers are 2-0, and have performed pretty much as expected according to SP+.  The win over Penn State was a statistical anomaly.  Indiana would have lost if Penn State had taken a knee instead of handing off.  They were also kick-started by two short fields in the first half against Rutgers.

Michigan Offense (29th) vs. Indiana Defense (26th) 
The Michigan rushing attack will be my main offensive key on Saturday.  Indiana ranks 10th in Big Ten rushing yards allowed per game.  Michigan was able to produce a 48% success rate on called run plays versus Michigan State (ranked 7th in B1G rush yds/game).  Despite being somewhat successful, the offensive line had trouble adapting to how MSU  attacked their blocking scheme.  This produced far more negative yardage plays than Josh Gattis would like.  The Wolverines may also be dealing with some injuries up front, including their best lineman Jaylen Mayfield. 

Michigan Defense (13th) vs. Indiana Offense (33rd)
Regardless of which two Michigan cornerbacks get the start in Bloomington, I expect Don Brown to give them additional help from the safeties.  The success of MSU’s chuck-it-deep approach last week will definitely be imitated by the rest of the Big Ten teams versus Michigan.  The key questions I’ll be looking to answer: How well can Dax Hill and Brad Hawkins perform in coverage? Can the corners function in coverage without overtly grabbing the Indiana wide receivers?  Can the defensive line and blitzing linebackers get to QB Michael Penix before he can find the holes in more frequent zone coverage by the Wolverines?  

PREDICTION: Indiana has been pretty consistent through two weeks, and they are now 2-0 and ranked 13th nationally.  Michigan has already visited both ends of the performance and expectations spectrum.  No metric system can answer whether or not the 2020 Michigan team can bounce back from a shocking loss.  I expect a better-prepared and more enthusiastic showing this week, but the stat sheet might not reflect that.  This game could remind Michigan fans of last year’s Iowa game, a 10-3 home victory.  My advice is to focus on what really matters…win the game!
Michigan 28 Indiana 27 (PRESEASON Michigan 35 Indiana 20)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/2/2020), 1-1

SP+ Overall: 16th (↓7), 15.7
SP+ Offense: 29th (↓6), 33.6
SP+ Defense: 13th (↓3), 17.8
SP+ Special Teams: 77th (↓6), -0.1

AP Poll: 23rd (↓10), 151
Coaches’ Poll: 25th (↓11), 141
CFP Rank: N/A

By the Numbers: Week 2 vs. Michigan State

Lack of accuracy from Storm Troopers leads to notoriously weak offensive efficiency. Pew! Pew!

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan opened the 2020 season on the road, at night, against a ranked opponent.  The 49-24 victory over Minnesota was impressive, and many national pundits are taking notice.

NEXT UP: vs. Michigan State: 60th, 2.0

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 19.2, Michigan Win Probability 87%
After the Spartans lost their home opener to Rutgers in week 1, the expectations for this game have drastically shifted.  I still think SP+ is under-rating Michigan a bit, and the system is definitely over-rating the Spartans.

Michigan Offense (23rd) vs. Michigan State Defense (17th)
Josh Gattis kicked off his second year as Michigan’s offensive coordinator with a 59% Success Rate (garbage time removed).  That is the most efficient offensive performance for Michigan since November 5th, 2016 versus Maryland.  While Minnesota’s defense was not strong, the last five outings have produced these efficiency results: 52% at Maryland, 52% at Indiana, 45% vs. Ohio State, 49% vs. Alabama, and 59% on Saturday in Minneapolis.  Because SP+ still weighs returning production and preseason ranks after one game, I think the Wolverines’ offense is drastically under-rated.

Michigan Defense (10th) vs. Michigan State Offense (113th)
The Spartans have had some anemic offensive performances the past few seasons as Mark Dantonio refused to adapt and modernize the offense.  Mel Tucker’s offensive squad produced seven (!) turnovers at home vs. Rutgers, and struggled to run the ball.  I expect Michigan will be able to bottle up the MSU rushing attack as well.  Defensive wins on standard downs will set up QB Rocky Lombardi vs. Don Brown’s pass rush in clear passing downs.  That promises to be quite an adventure.

PREDICTION: A short time ago, in the preseason, I was giving the Spartans the benefit of the doubt.  I thought they would be coming off a relatively easy victory.  I also thought that easy victory would allow them to hide a few “kitchen sink” plays that they were saving for the rivalry game.  One short week later, it’s clear to me there is a wide gap between how Jim Harbaugh and his staff were able to prepare during COVID, and how Mel Tucker was able to prepare.  This should become a horror show for Sparty fans.  Happy Halloween!
Michigan 48 Michigan State 3 (PRESEASON Michigan 31 Michigan State 14)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (10/28/2020), 1-0

SP+ Overall: 9th (↑8), 18.8
SP+ Offense: 23rd (↑15), 35.5
SP+ Defense: 10th (↑4), 16.7
SP+ Special Teams 71st (N/A) -0.1

AP Poll: 13th (↑5), 839
Coaches’ Poll: 14th (↑3), 789
CFP Rank: N/A