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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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