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

By the Numbers: Week 14 vs. Ohio State

LAST WEEK RECAP

Michigan finished up the road portion of their regular season schedule with an impressive 39-14 disassembly of the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington.

NEXT UP: vs. Ohio State: 1st, 36.2

PREGAME SP+: Ohio State by 11.0, Michigan Win Probability 26%
The Buckeyes’ SP+ rating score (36.2) is 59% higher than #10 Michigan’s (22.7).  On the other hand, Michigan has beaten the SP+ projected margin in 8 consecutive games.  The Wolverines have outperformed the projected margin by an average of 14.5 points since Week 4 @ Wisconsin, and by an average of 21.4 since Week 8 @ Penn State.

Michigan Offense (26th) vs. Ohio State Defense (1st) 
With just under 5:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter, Ohio State’s Sevyn Banks returned a blocked punt for a touchdown to increase the 2018 Buckeyes’ lead over Michigan to 15 points 34-19.  This is the moment the wind left the sails for the Wolverines and for the fan base. With 19+ minutes remaining in game time, I did not believe the Michigan offense would be able to change gears to the hurry-up passing attack necessary to come from behind.  That need to be able to change gears on offense, I believe, led to the January 10th hiring of Josh Gattis as offensive coordinator. The early season transition costs were steeper than I predicted, and a Big Ten Championship berth is not possible. However, those transition costs were absorbed to buy the chance for success in this game vs. Ohio State.  In that regard, Gattis and Jim Harbaugh have this unit peaking at the right time with added flexibility to exploit scoring opportunities against the Buckeyes.

Michigan Defense (5th) vs. Ohio State Offense (5th)
Like Harbaugh and Gattis, Don Brown and his staff designed a sharp transition triggered by the 2018 Ohio State game.  The defensive evolution also came with significant cost. Wisconsin exploited major mistakes in the run game in Week 4, and Penn State did so through the air in Week 8.  But, as October turned into November the Michigan defense re-emerged as a top-tier unit. The Wolverines drowned Notre Dame in a first-half rain storm and the Irish could only muster 180 total yards.  Indiana’s passing attack leads the Big Ten in 2019, but barely crept over 200 yards passing last week versus Michigan. Don Brown does not have to be perfect in this game, but he will have to utilize every tool in his belt to bottle up JK Dobbins and Justin Fields on standard downs.  If Michigan can force the Buckeyes into passing downs (2nd & 8+ or 3rd/4th & 5+), the Wolverines’ speed personnel can attack Ohio State from all angles.

PREDICTION: The Wolverines and Buckeyes share 3 SP+ top-25 opponents: Wisconsin, Penn State, and Indiana.  Michigan’s resume also includes victories over 2 more: Iowa and Notre Dame. I believe this particular version of The Game sets up much more evenly than most analysts.  The Wolverines are averaging 26.8 points in 5 games against current SP+ top-25 defenses. The 4 top-25 offenses have scored an average of 22.8 points against Michigan’s defense.  Ohio State is better than those other teams, but this isn’t the same Michigan team either.
Michigan 30 Ohio State 27  (PRESEASON Michigan 37 Ohio State 33)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/26/19), 9-2

  • SP+ Overall: 10th (same), 22.7
    • SP+ Offense: 26th (↑8), 35.0
    • SP+ Defense: 5th (same), 12.7
    • SP+ Special Teams 52nd (↓3) 0.3
  • CFP Rank: 13th (same)
  • AP Poll: 10th (↑2), 913
  • Coaches’ Poll: 11th (↑1), 893
Week 14 Resume vs. Ohio State

By the Numbers: Week 13 @ Indiana

LAST WEEK RECAP

A totally satisfying 44-10 pounding of the MSU Spartans highlighted the different trajectories of the two programs.

NEXT UP: @Indiana: 20th, 17.5

PREGAME SP+: Michigan by 2.4, Michigan Win Probability 55%
In an interesting coincidence, Bill Connelly’s SP+ model produced the same prediction (28-25 Michigan) that I came up with in my Season Preview in August.  Another comparison for the Indiana game is Week 9 vs. Notre Dame.  The Irish also ranked 20th overall in SP+, with the 13th Offense, and the 35th Defense.

SP+ Picks are made weekly via Twitter by ESPN’s Bill Connelly

Michigan Offense (34th) vs. Indiana Defense (34th) 
Michigan comes off perhaps their most impressive offensive outing.  The Wolverines have improved 38 spots, up from 72nd after the loss to Wisconsin.  In three road games after Wisconsin, Michigan averages a 45% success rate and 5.9 yards per play.  In 2018, the Wolverines managed a 47% success rate and 6.7 yards per play. This contest with Indiana presents the final regular season road challenge for Josh Gattis and the offense.  Based on the matching SP+ rankings for Michigan’s offense and Indiana’s defense, Saturday’s matchup will likely come down to who can execute more cleanly. If the Wolverines can avoid major mistakes, especially turnovers, I expect them to move the ball and score consistently.

Michigan Defense (5th) vs. Indiana Offense (13th)
In last year’s 31-20 victory, the Michigan defense generated significant angst among the fan base.  Even worse, the Hoosiers’ success versus man coverage can be pointed to as a blueprint for the Buckeyes 62-point domination the following week.  We know these events triggered Don Brown’s 2019 evolution, making the test against Indiana particularly interesting. After dealing with the cost of significant change early in the season, the Wolverines’ defense is back into the top 5 nationally, including 5th in SP+.  The 2019 game shifts to Bloomington and opposing offensive units have had some success in road games since Wisconsin. The Wolverines allowed a 35% success rate and 4.3 yards per play at Illinois, at Penn State, and at Maryland. Also, because of the game waiting in Week 14, the prep for this game may be a delicate balance between executing vs. the Hoosiers without tipping your hand to the Buckeyes again.

PREDICTION: I made a big deal out of the 2018 trend in home versus road performance.  Michigan was +7.9 to the SP+ projections at home, and -7.1 on the road. That 15 point swing was particularly startling for me.  So far In 2019 the Wolverines are +7.2 at home, and a much more reasonable +0.8 on the road. I think Michigan will continue to show their growth on the road and will improve that +0.8 number.
Michigan 31 Indiana 17  (PRESEASON Michigan 28 Indiana 25)

MICHIGAN RESUME UPDATE (11/19/2019), 8-2

  • SP+ Overall: 10th (↑5), 22.4
    • SP+ Offense:34th (↑9), 33.8
    • SP+ Defense: 5th (↓1), 12.0
    • SP+ Special Teams 49th (↑21) 0.5
  • CFP Rank: 13th (↑2) 
  • AP Poll: 12th (↑2), 829
  • Coaches’ Poll: 12th (↑2), 851
Week 13 Resume