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.
TABLE: FIVE FACTORS
The coaching staff chose to incorporate more passing plays and concepts into 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 YPP for pass plays 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 the 8th ranked S&P+ 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.
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
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
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)
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.