Michigan Football By the Numbers: Rutgers

We’ve been here before. This is year four of the Harbaugh Era, and the November feeling we are sharing is quite familiar.  Take a look at Michigan’s record through ten games under Jim Harbaugh: 8-2 (2015); 9-1 (2016); 8-2 (2017); 9-1 (2018).  After a quick review of the 42-7 victory over Rutgers, let’s look for other historical clues about what may be in store for the 2018 team.

What is S&P+
The original system was based on Success rate and equivalent Points per play. It was an attempt at an OPS-style measure for football, a look at both efficiency and explosiveness. As so many things do, however, it has grown more complicated.In its current state, S&P+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnoversFull Explanation 
TABLE: FIVE FACTORS

OFFENSE

The coaching staff chose to incorporate more passing plays and concepts into the game plan for Rutgers.  Michigan passed on 40.9% of plays in a 42-7 game.  That’s a tick above the 38.0% season average, and the highest passing ratio since the Big Ten opener versus Nebraska in Week 4.  Shea Patterson continued his improvement as he leads the evolution of the offense.  His performance (18/27, 260 yds, 3 TD, 0 INT) translated into a 63.0% Success Rate on pass plays, Michigan’s highest since Week 3 vs. SMU.  Michigan also averaged 9.6 yds per pass play, marking their third-highest passing YPP of the season.

From a Harbaugh era perspective, the 2018 offense most resembles the 2015 offense led by another QB transfer, Jake Rudock.  While Rudock finished with 7.2 yards/attempt, completed 64%, and averaged 237.7 yards/game, the 2015 team finished ranked 32nd overall in S&P+ offense and 8th in passing offense.  Through ten games in 2018, Patterson averages 7.6 yards/attempt, is completing 67%, and averages 206.5 yards/game.  Michigan’s offense is ranked 21st overall by S&P+, and the passing game is 7th.  While those numbers are remarkably similar, there is reason to expect a stronger finish than 2015 when turning your attention to the run game.  The running attack is also ranked 7th in S&P+ in 2018, compared to 43rd in 2015.  Michigan’s 215.4 yards/game (2015: 158.2) and 48.4% success rate (2015: 43.8%) are key differences, enabling Jim Harbaugh and staff to dictate the flow and tempo of the game.

DEFENSE

Rutgers matched Michigan’s rushing output of 193 yards on the day, and capitalized on numerous missed assignments to put their 80-yard touchdown run on the board.  As scary and as frustrating as that might make us at first glance, this is no time to panic for Wolverine fans.  On the long touchdown run, simultaneous mistakes were made by DE Chase Winovich, LB Devin Gil, and S Brad Hawkins.  Rather than worry about this anomaly, I choose to be grateful that this will be a very teachable moment for all three levels of Don Brown’s defense, and that it came in a low-risk game with time to make corrections.

For a historical comparison, we have to revisit Michigan’s 2016 defense that put EIGHT draft picks into the ensuing NFL draft.  Both the 2018 and the 2016 units ranked 2nd in S&P+ overall, and 1st versus the pass.  Success Rate allowed is almost exactly the same, 29.5% (S&P+ 1st) for the 2016 defense, and 29.3% (S&P+ 2nd) this year.  In terms of explosiveness, the 2018 squad (through 10 games) has actually improved over two years ago allowing an IsoPPP of 1.02 (S&P+ 12th) compared to 1.18 (23rd) in 2016.  The defense will remain the centerpiece of each game plan as Michigan looks to reverse the trend of November and December disappointments in the Harbaugh era.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 11

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 24.9, 4th (down 1)
Offense: 35.7, 21st (up 3)
Defense: 11.6, 2nd (down 1)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

@ Rutgers UM 42 RU 7
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 22.2, 10-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 45, 9-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 9.3

NEXT UP

vs. Indiana: Overall -1.2, 81st
M Offense 35.7, (21st) vs. O Defense 29.6 (75th), Midpoint: 32.65
M Defense 11.6 (2nd) vs. O Offense 27.6 (82nd), Midpoint: 19.6

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint of S&P+ ratings gives a 13.05 point edge to Michigan. Given the weather forecast, and Indiana’s penchant to keep it close before giving way at the end, I think that sounds about right.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: There will be some motivation to score early and often to allow seniors down the depth chart to get onto the field in their last Big House appearance. Despite all of the external noise, the same two critical factors remain: 1) Stay Healthy 2) Focus on the task at hand
Michigan 24 Indiana 10 (PRESEASON: Michigan 24 Indiana 14)

TL;DR SUMMARY

Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan Football continually puts themselves into solid position through the first ten games of the season. This year, with an improved offense and a dominating defense, the Wolverines will be judged on how they finish their run for a Big Ten title, and a berth in the College Football Playoff.

The Tape, The Tape, The Tape– Michigan 78 Rutgers 0

I’ll freely admit my first attempt at this week’s post just came out as one long string of gibberish with runs of “LOL” interspersed between.  To be fair that probably would’ve conveyed the overall point just fine.  What do you say after that performance?  During the week, Rutgers fans proclaimed this to be their National Championship Game.  By the end of the night Saturday every single one of the 70 Michigan players that traveled to Piscataway saw the field.  Every. Single. One.

Do you remember those matching tests right before a holiday break in elementary school where the answers would inevitably spell out “Happy Thanksgiving”?  You no doubt recall the sense of relief you got once you realized it wasn’t a real test.  That would be the exact same feeling that sprouted up midway through the first quarter of Michigan’s first road test Saturday.  The dismantling took place in front of an announced 53,292 at High Point Solutions Stadium (the birthplace of college football indeed), although if there really were that many people in the stands ESPN didn’t feel the need to show it on TV.

The lead-up to this game was relatively quiet.  Every meaningful metric pointed to a comfortable victory over the Scarlet Knights; this lessened but did not completely quell concerns about the first away game.  Competent road performances in 2015 had helped heal emotional wounds from the previous decade, but even so, I had some slight trepidation right before kickoff.  Certainly this was not what one would call arational concern, but the loss to Gary Nova and Kyle Flood in 2014 briefly re-appeared on the radar well before ESPN mentioned it 29 times.  No doubt an intern brought this up in the ESPN production meeting to raucous cheers.  The broadcast crew didn’t make it past the opening kickoff before belting out “Rutgers trying to do in Michigan for the second time in a row here”.  I quickly found the mute button.  So too did the Wolverines.  What may be lost in the statistical smorgasbord of domination is that Michigan started this game offensively with two three-and-outs and a two play drive that ended with a fumble.  The next 13 possessions would feature 11 touchdowns and two punts.  Huzzah!

2016-rutgers-71

This was the most singularly dominating performance I have ever witnessed on a football field.  I say that without an ounce of hyperbole.  Pick a line from the box score.  Seriously, any line.  Now think “when is the last time I saw that in a Big Ten Conference football game?”.  You haven’t.  Michigan scored 78 points with eight completions for the game.  Eight.  The QBs combined for 119 yards through the air and 75 of those yards came on just two completions.  Jabrill Peppers carried the ball three times: two were for touchdowns, and the third? A 63 yard run that preposterously ended up as not-a-touchdown on a busted play.  Even the stuttering offensive start had a near miss:

On 3rd and 5 from the Michigan 24, Wilton Speight got solid protection and delivered a strike to Amara Darboh through the rain and unfortunately Darboh’s hands:

 

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From behind the line of scrimmage you can see the chasm that he is running into on this route, the safety is nearly 15 yards back and the corner well behind, he’s about to catch that ball dead in the middle of the field.  The sideline view below drives the point home that had this been completed it was at the very least a big gain.  Darboh was able to quickly separate from the corner and the timing and placement of the ball were on the money.  All in all a great slant opportunity that was probably complicated by the rain and velocity of the throw.  I also point this play out in particular because on a night where Speight didn’t look sharp early he once again demonstrated an ability to put the ball on the money with these intermediate slant routes.

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The staff rotated through several different OL combinations during the period where Juwann Bushell Beatty was on the sideline.

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-43-23-amOn the play that De’veon Smith fumbled there was immediate pressure from the middle of the line, this was the result of Patrick Kugler missing a block on #51 who broke through and eventually forced the fumble.  The following drive saw Mason Cole back at the center spot.  This was one of the few major mishaps on the OL at least on first viewing.  There was plenty to be encouraged about however, in particular was even more evidence of the maturation and “it clicking” for Kyle Kalis.  Below is a dive to Karan Higdon with Rutgers stacking the the box and the safety only six yards deep:

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As the play begins, Kalis pulls and seals off the LB coming into the lane:screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-54-52-am

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screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-12-55-51-amHigdon hits the lane quickly and bursts up field for an eight yard gain and a first down.

Another well executed set of blocks came on one of Ty Isaac’s first touches of the game.  Isaac demonstrated great patience in letting the blocks develop in front of him, Jake Butt seals his man while Kalis and Magnusson gwt outside.  Kalis engages the filling LB and Magnuson releases downfield to spring Isaac for a first down on a beautifully executed toss.

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Despite the level of the competition, I think we can safely say we are seeing meaningful progress in the rushing attack, both in terms of execution and in terms of the variety of guys carrying the football.

Once again, the completeness of this performance is still perhaps best shown in the box score.  Hats off to Coach Harbaugh, the staff, and the team for delivering a game that will go down in the history books as one of the most dominant in the modern era.  With a bye week approaching we’ll save the discussion of the defense for next week and take that opportunity to also look ahead to Illinois.  As always, Go Blue!