By the Numbers: 2019 Football Season Preview

Eyes on the prize!

Hello again! The dog days of summer have arrived in Michigan. The weather is unbearably hot, but the August thunderstorms also signal the return of UMGoBlue.com By the Numbers content. In our By the Numbers articles and podcasts, Phil and I will review data and metrics to analyze the football team’s performance, and try to prepare ourselves for what may lie ahead. I’ll kickoff with my 2019 Michigan Football Season Preview!

The foundation for most of our analysis comes from the SP+ college football analytics model. While the system was meant to be predictive for beating the odds against Vegas, study of the Five Factors is extremely useful for picking out what a team needs to do to win football games.

What is SP+
SP+ is the tempo and opponent adjusted college football analytical model developed by Bill Connelly for Football Outsiders (he is now at ESPN). SP+ is based around the core concepts of the Five Factors of winning football: efficiency, explosiveness, field position, finishing drives, and turnovers.  The resulting metric is expressed in adjusted points per game, as compared to the average CFB team.
Full Explanation 

2018 Results

In 2018, the SP+ preseason predictions correctly selected the winner in 11 out of 12 regular season Michigan games (picked MSU to win). The SP+ weekly preview was correct in 11 out of 13 games (picked Michigan over OSU & Florida).

Full disclosure: in my 2018 preseason preview article I correctly picked 9 out of 12 games (picked Wisconsin, and Michigan over Notre Dame & OSU) . In the weekly previews, I corrected the Wisconsin pick and moved to 10 out of 12.

Michigan S&P+ Preseason Ranking

  • Overall – 9th
  • Offense – 14th
  • Defense – 13th

2019 Regular Season Schedule

vs. Middle Tennessee State: 104th Overall, 113th Offense, 86th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 33.4, Win Probability 97% – MTSU is a comfortable opening opponent for new defensive personnel, and a new offensive system. 

PREDICTION: Let’s hope another Week 1 night game doesn’t throw the players out of whack. Adrenaline coursing through athletes who are caged all day can significantly drain one’s energy. Don’t forget the cramp epidemic for Michigan last season in South Bend. That also needs to be solved. With all that said, Michigan is too talented on both sides of the ball for MTSU. There may be some hiccups, but there will be a lot of cheering echoing from the Big House throughout the night.
Michigan 34 MTSU 3, 1-0

vs. Army: 80th Overall, 55th Offense, 94th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 25.4, Win Probability 93% – Army’s triple-option offense befuddles the SP+ metrics. Prepare for a lot of 4th down conversion attempts.

PREDICTION: Certain nightmarish performances of the past have taught us one thing for sure: if you catch Don Brown’s defense off guard, the problems can escalate quickly. However, the Army game has been on the schedule for a long time, and Don Brown showed he can effectively prepare for the service academy option attack. In 2017, the Wolverines were very solid against Air Force, despite returning just one starter from 2016. Also, look for the Michigan offense to take a step forward against Army’s bottom-half defense.
Michigan 45 Army 14, 2-0

@ Wisconsin: 11th Overall, 5th Offense, 33rd Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Wisconsin by 1.0, Win Probability 48% – Both teams come off a bye week. Both will likely be 2-0.

PREDICTION: This is not your typical B1G opener, and the Badgers will present an early season-defining challenge in Madison. At home in 2018, Michigan outperformed the SP+ projections by an average of 7.91 points. On the road, the Wolverines under-performed by -7.14 points on average. That’s a negative 15 point swing between home and road games! The only game to qualify as a plus differential away from the Big House in 2018 was versus MSU. Before seeing more consistent leadership, play making, or results on the road I can’t pick Michigan @ Camp Randall.
Michigan 24 Wisconsin 26, 2-1

vs. Rutgers: 108th Overall, 121st Offense, 87th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 36.4, Win Probability 98% – There is no better balm to soothe a team coming off a tough week than a home game versus Rutgers.

PREDICTION: The Scarlet Knights fall into an unfortunate spot (for them) on Michigan’s schedule. Either the Wolverines will be very angry coming back home from Madison with something to prove, or they will be starting to roll as the offense irons out the wrinkles and the defensive staff finds their best personnel packages. Both possible scenarios spell trouble for Rutgers.
Michigan 55 Rutgers 10, 3-1

vs. Iowa: 25th Overall, 48th Offense, 18th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 11.6, Win Probability 75% – I think SP+ is under-rating Iowa in the preseason. Nate Stanley and the offensive efficiency will push them into the top 25 by this point in the season.

PREDICTION: The Hawkeyes will represent the second major conference test for Michigan in 2019, this one coming at home. I personally think this may be a preview of an Indianapolis match up for the B1G Ten title. I am intrigued to see how the numbers have shifted going into October. Will the Wolverines’ offensive and/or defensive units have moved up from the mid-teens in SP+ ranking? My feeling is that the projected margin will be razor thin going into Iowa week, but Michigan will ride a special teams advantage to the win.
Michigan 30 Iowa 23, 4-1

@ Illinois: 91st Overall, 54th Offense, 106th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 22.8, Win Probability 91% – The numbers project a lopsided win for Michigan, but watch out for this major TRAP GAME on the road.

PREDICTION: In addition to Brandon Peters’ revenge game, the Illini fan base has much stronger animosity for the Wolverines than you’d think. I will be watching for major improvement in road game preparation when Michigan travels to Champagne for this game. Even if there is a slow start (think 2018 Northwestern), superior talent should be enough to carry the Wolverines. Also, this point in the season may reveal a surprise contributor in a breakout performance, or perhaps in an explosive highlight reel play (eyes on the Freshmen).
Michigan 27 Illinois 14, 5-1

@ Penn State: 14th Overall, 51st Offense, 4th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 0.7, Win Probability 52% – Easiest prediction for this game: it will be at night, in a white-out @ Beaver Stadium.

PREDICTION: As I see it in August, this sets up as the pivotal moment for the 2019 football season. The Wolverines will have to prove to themselves on a national stage, and prove to the fan base that they can prepare for and execute against a good team in a hostile environment. This certainly could be a nail biter, perhaps similar to the 2018 MSU game that was tied 7-7 near the end of third quarter. However, I think Harbaugh and his staff will sense the critical nature of the moment, and will rise to the occasion.
Michigan 31 Penn State 17, 6-1

vs. Notre Dame: 12th Overall, 29th Offense, 9th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 5.0, Win Probability 61% – These two defenses will probably both be Top 10 in SP+ unit rankings by the last week of October. This one could end under the lights if it’s a 3:30 kick, and very well may get scheduled to kick off in prime time.

PREDICTION: I see Michigan’s return to the Big House as a continuation of whatever momentum is created the previous week in Happy Valley. If the Wolverines are riding the emotional high of a pivotal league victory, that portends well for their chances versus the Irish. If their B1G Ten East title hopes took a serious blow from the Nittany Lions, this non-conference game isn’t going to do much to change the narrative spun by Harbaugh’s critics. Third possible outcome may be the most likely: I have no idea what I’m talking about.
Michigan 33 Notre Dame 13, 7-1

@ Maryland: 67th Overall, 69th Offense, 65th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 17.0, Win Probability 84% – There is almost no reliability in the preseason metrics regarding the Terps and how they will adjust to Mike Locksley and his new staff. Maybe that’s why S&P+ ranks both Maryland units in the dead center nationally.

PREDICTION: There will be very little doubt about who creates the game plans, and who calls the offensive plays in this match up. A slight risk of a November TRAP GAME may have existed when the 2019 schedule was released. However, Maryland will now have the full attention of Mr. Gattis & #SpeedInSpace in College Park.
Michigan 35 Maryland 7, 8-1

vs. MSU: 23rd Overall, 96th Offense, 3rd Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 11.5, Win Probability 75% – Seems like there MUST be a regression to the mean for the Spartan offensive unit. They can’t be THAT bad again, can they?

PREDICTION: Despite the battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy moving to November, Michigan State still has a ferocious October gauntlet of their own in 2019: @ Ohio State, @ Wisconsin, bye week, vs. Penn State. No matter what happens in those three games, we will MOSTLY know who the Spartans are by the time they reach Ann Arbor. The B1G Ten East could be on the line, or it could just be another opportunity to be “Defeated With Dignity”. I think this will have major implications for the race in the East, and Dantonio will have MSU ready to go. Look for another weather-affected defensive struggle to be way too close for comfort.
Michigan 17 MSU 13, 9-1

@ Indiana: 46th Overall, 40th Offense, 59th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Michigan by 12.7, Win Probability 77% – Michigan has won 23 consecutive meetings against the Hoosiers. Indiana has been quite a nuisance in nearly every match up, including engineering the offensive game plan that led to the debacle in Columbus.

PREDICTION: This game will be closer than Wolverines fans think it “should” be. Memorial Stadium sure gives off quite a Horseshoe vibe, doesn’t it. The crowd may be up to 50% maize and blue, but the crimson and cream uniforms will look a little too much like scarlet and grey. If I’m struggling in August to stop myself from looking past the Hoosiers and toward The Game, can Harbaugh and the boys avoid the same pitfall in November?
Michigan 28 Indiana 25, 10-1

vs. Ohio State: 7th Overall, 6th Offense, 14th Defense

PRESEASON SP+: Ohio State by 0.2, Win Probability 49% – The main reason there is significant reliability in preseason SP+ metrics for the Buckeyes under new head coach Ryan Day is because they continue to be absolutely loaded with blue chip talent at every position.

PREDICTION: The narrative will be about Harbaugh and his legacy. There will be a well verbalized count of days since November 2011 when interim coach Luke Fickell took a loss to Brady Hoke’s Wolverines. Urban Meyer may have already taken a leave of absence from his interim media position and moved to Los Angeles to start understanding life as a Trojan. None of that will matter. November 30th, 2019 will be about Jim Harbaugh and his staff delivering on a long broken promise to the Wolverine seniors: Those Who Stay Will be Champions.
Michigan 37 Ohio State 33, 11-1,
B1G Ten East Champions

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.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Penn State

The first three stops on the Revenge Tour have been overwhelming for the opponents.  The challenge for Jim Harbaugh’s Wolverines will be to maintain the “one game at a time” focus for two more weeks versus Rutgers and Indiana without minds wandering to Columbus for the Grand Finale.

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

Memo to Jim Harbaugh & Warde Manuel: Please find a way to lock Ed Warriner up with a long-term contract!  The question marks we all saw along the offensive line during fall camp, and versus Notre Dame in week one, have been transformed to exclamation points in front of our eyes.  After wearing down what used to be the #1 rush defense two weeks ago in East Lansing, Michigan’s offensive line allowed just two negative-yardage plays versus the Nittany Lions’ defensive front that came in leading the Big Ten in that category.  In the last three Big Ten games versus Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State, the Wolverines’ ground-and-pound strategy has been led masterfully by the big guys in the trenches.  Over and above the rushing stats, and keeping Shea Patterson clean, Runyan Jr., Bredeson, Ruiz, Owenu, and Bushell-Beatty have enabled a multi-faceted offense because they are executing multiple zone and gap schemes.  Michigan has proven that they are capable of adapting their offensive approach to whatever an opponent gives them.  From this point forward, only individual lack of execution could still stand in the way of continued success for the offense.

DEFENSE

The King of Defensive Coordinators has done it again.  Don Brown’s squad smothered the Nittany Lions into the dirt.  When isolating to only successful plays, Penn State actually managed to be more explosive than Michigan (SEE: IsoPPP in the Five Factors table).  However, those chunk plays for Penn State seemed like gasps for air from a panicked swimmer in a “Jaws” sequel.  Trace McSorley was clearly less than 100% from the moment he stepped onto the field at Michigan Stadium.  It’s a safe bet that he left Ann Arbor even less healthy than he came in.  The Wolverines sacked PSU quarterbacks five times, and forced three turnovers.  Brandon Watson’s interception return for a touchdown matches the lone touchdown that Penn State was fortunate to salvage versus the backups on the final drive. Let me say it this way: Jim Harbaugh could have allowed the Nittany Lions to consider it a touchdown if they crossed Michigan’s 40-yard-line, and the Wolverines still would have won 42-14 (Trips inside opp40: Michigan 7 Penn State 2).

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 10

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 25.4, 3rd (up 1)
Offense: 35.2, 24th (up 6)
Defense: 10.0, 1st (same)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Penn State UM 42 PSU 7
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 5.8, 9-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 24, 8-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 8.3

NEXT UP

@ Rutgers: Overall -19.0, 126th
M Offense 35.2, (25th) vs. O Defense 32.3 (94th), Midpoint: 33.75
M Defense 10.0 (1st) vs. O Offense 13.1 (128th), Midpoint: 11.55

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint of S&P+ ratings gives a 22.2 point edge to Michigan. I don’t know if that’s enough to cover the halftime score. Rutgers has plummeted to fifth-from-the-bottom among FBS schools.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: I foresee a lot of carries for Chris Evans, and Tru Wilson. If 2016 is any indication, the Wolverines will want to execute a few new plays, and would like to be explosive in front of their east coast recruits. There are really two key things for this game: 1) stay healthy 2) stay focused on the task at hand.
Michigan 48 Rutgers 3 (PRESEASON: Michigan 34 Rutgers 3)

TL; DR SUMMARY

The Michigan Football team is building to a November crescendo exactly the way Jim Harbaugh envisioned when he overhauled his coaching and strength training staff last winter. Every goal set by the Wolverines is starting to appear on the horizon. Now the challenge is to maintain focus on all three Big Ten foes who remain in the way.  Onward!

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Wisconsin

The Wolverines put together a tremendous all-around performance to dispatch of the Wisconsin Badgers. We must give credit where it’s due, and I think that starts with Ed Warriner and the Offensive Line, with a tip of the cap to Don Brown and Greg Mattison. Shea Patterson is in a lot of headlines, but Warriner and his group are the biggest reason Michigan’s offense has improved from 85th in the S&P+ in 2017 to 27th in 2018 through Week 7. Defensively, Michigan retained the #1 S&P+ defensive ranking after clamping down on what was the 8th ranked S&P+ Badgers’ offense, despite Rashan Gary missing his second consecutive game due to injury.

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

*I found and corrected a bug in my modified S&P+ excel file that affected IsoPPP.  I have corrected previous weeks’ data in my workbook also.

OFFENSE

The simplest understanding of this game is this: Michigan did to Wisconsin what we’ve seen the Badgers due to B1G Ten opponents for a decade, they executed. Even though everyone knew what Jim Harbaugh wanted to do on offense, the players were able to execute successfully anyway. Coming in, Michigan’s average success rate was 49.2%. They managed 45.6% success against Wisconsin. In terms of explosiveness, Expected Points / Play (PPP) is a metric that quantifies each play based on starting yard line versus ending yard line. IsoPPP looks only at successful play, which helps separate it from the Success Rate metric. Michigan’s average in PPP coming in was 0.49. They were above average versus the Badgers at 0.51. The offense was also slightly above (0.98) their season average (0.92) in IsoPPP. For me, the most remarkable offensive characteristic from this encouraging performance was that we can definitively say the game went according to plan. We are starting to see Jim Harbaugh’s offensive vision come into focus.

DEFENSE

In year three under Don Brown, it’s quite a challenge to avoid sounding like a broken record as I compliment the defensive unit week in and week out. Saturday night on the national stage in prime time, versus the 8th ranked S&P+ offense coming in, was precisely the defensive performance that Harbaugh’s staff has been game planning around. Wisconsin had more success than average versus the Wolverine defense, but never enough to flip field position or to create scoring opportunities. Coming into the game, opponents were averaging 33.2% success rate, 0.29 PPP, and 0.83 IsoPPP against Michigan. The physical Wisconsin offense established a 38% success rate, 0.42 PPP, and 1.01 IsoPPP. However, after the Badgers scored to tie the game 7-7 in the second quarter, their next six drives went: Punt, INT, Punt, Punt, Punt, INT for TD.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 7

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 20.4, 4th (up 1)
Offense: 34.7, 27th (down 2)
Defense: 14.6, 1st (up 1)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Wisconsin UM 38 UW 13
Pregame Midpoint S&P+: UM by 3.65, 7-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 4, 6-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 6.3

NEXT UP

@ Michigan State: Overall 8.3, 33rd
M Offense 34.7, (27th) vs. O Defense 20.1 (21st), Midpoint: 27.4
M Defense 14.6 (1st) vs. O Offense 28.1 (75th), Midpoint: 21.35

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
My midpoint S&P+ method gives a 6.05 point edge to Michigan. The Spartan defense versus Wolverine offense is a key match-up of similarly ranked units. Defensively, Michigan will have to weather the storm as MSU empties the entire bag of tricks.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Can Michigan pack their balanced, complementary game plan with them for a short trip to East Lansing? The struggles on the road are still worrisome, and we know the Spartans will come out firing hay-makers. I expect Pep Hamilton and Shea Patterson to expose a weak MSU secondary. However, if the weather gets sloppy, this could turn into an old-fashion battle of will power.
Michigan 20 MSU 14 (PRESEASON: Michigan 27 MSU 17)

TL;DR SUMMARY

Now we have finally seen the Michigan game plan of an efficient offense complementing a dominant defense work to effectively grind a solid opponent into powder. There is still a significant amount of work to be done, and it is crucial for the Wolverines to show they can execute the game plan at a similar high level in a hostile environment in East Lansing this week.

Michigan Football By the Numbers: Maryland

We are now half way through the season, and the Wolverines are 5-1. I am going to look at the performance versus Maryland alongside some trends and averages to this point. My goal is to provide a useful prism through which we can view these critical upcoming games versus Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State.

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

Jim Harbaugh’s offensive philosophy is a popular topic both locally and nationally. Conversations and debates range from Pro-style vs. Spread, to Power vs. Inside Zone, and even Clock Control vs. Quick Strike. I am going to focus on one of Michigan’s main objectives: to use balanced play calling to provide max flexibility by situation. To this point in the season, the Wolverines are averaging 59.3% run plays, and 40.7% pass plays. Total yardage is split even closer at 51.2% run and 48.8% pass. The play calling in the Maryland game followed this trend very closely, dividing 60.9% run and 39.1% pass.
We can also see balance when looking at Success Rate. Through six games, Michigan’s overall offensive success rate is 49.2%. This breaks down to a 50.4% Success Rate on run plays, and 47.5% Success Rate on pass plays. The Maryland game provides reason for optimism by showing the offense is on an upward trend. On Saturday, the Wolverines were successful on 57.1% of their run plays, and on 55.6% of their pass plays.

DEFENSE

From game to game, the Michigan defense is amazingly consistent from a Success Rate perspective. The Wolverines are allowing successful plays only 33.2% of the time. The most successful team was Northwestern, with a 39.7% success rate, while the least successful team was Nebraska at 24.0%. Perhaps the statistic that is most emblematic of Don Brown’s philosophy is the yardage allowed on unsuccessful plays: 56 yards. That is TOTAL, through SIX games. Two-thirds of the plays run against Michigan’s defense have accumulated just 56 yards, or 0.2 yards per play. For even more perspective, Maryland’s average of 0.9 yds per play on unsuccessful plays is the BEST by any team versus Michigan so far in 2018.
Overall, the Success Rate versus Michigan’s defense is also very consistent by quarter and by half. However, the two most troublesome performances stand out pretty clearly in their 1st Half / 2nd Half splits. Notre Dame: 1st Half – 42.5% / 2nd Half – 22.2% & Northwestern: 1st Half – 44.4% / 2nd Half – 33.3%. In the three key games coming up for the Wolverines, it feels like the halftime score will be particularly predictive. The key for the Michigan defense will be to eliminate the fast starts for their opponents.

S&P+ THROUGH WEEK 6

MICHIGAN S&P+
Overall: 22.7, 5th (up 2)
Offense: 36.3, 25th (up 2)
Defense: 14.0, 2nd (up 2)

REGULAR SEASON PROJECTIONS vs. RESULTS

vs. Maryland UM 42 MD 21
Pregame S&P+: UM by 9.15, 6-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 5-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 5.4

@ Northwestern: UM 20 NEB 17
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.7, 5-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 17, 4-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 4.4

vs. Nebraska: UM 56 NEB 10
Pregame S&P+: UM by 8.6, 4-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 11, 3-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 3.6

vs. SMU: UM 45 SMU 20
Pregame S&P+: UM by 20.0, 3-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 39, 2-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 2.6

vs. Western Michigan: UM 49 WMU 3
Pregame S&P+: UM by 10.8, 2-0
Pregame Clint: UM by 25, 1-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 1.6

@ Notre Dame: ND 24 UM 17
Preseason S&P+: ND by 0.1, 1-0
Preseason Clint: UM by 4, 0-1
MICH Cumulative 2ndO Wins: 0.6

NEXT UP

vs. Wisconsin: Overall 15.3, 13th
M Offense 36.3, (25th) vs. O Defense 27.8 (55th), Midpoint: 32.05
M Defense 14.0 (2nd) vs. O Offense 42.8 (8th), Midpoint: 28.4

PREGAME EDGE: Michigan
The midpoint S&P+ gives a 3.65 point edge to Michigan. The Badger offense is producing right around the rate at which most predicted in the preseason. However, it is a big surprise to see Wisconsin’s defense just barely above average. They were 9th in the preseason S&P+ rankings.

GAME WEEK UPDATE: Michigan would love to buck the trend of slow starts on both sides of the ball. The last thing the Wolverines want to do is spot the Badgers a lead for Jonathan Taylor and their O-Line to protect. I expect this to be very close into the 4th quarter, with a handful of defensive and special teams big plays delivering a huge win for Michigan.
Michigan 24 Wisconsin 20 (PRESEASON: Wisconsin 24 Michigan 21)

TL; DR SUMMARY

Balance on offense, and an attacking defense have led to a 5-1 start for the Wolverines. However, Michigan started 5-1 in 2017 also. Finding success into the November schedule (i.e. wins over Wisconsin, MSU, & PSU) is absolutely required to eliminate Michigan’s reputation for fading down the stretch under Jim Harbaugh.