Things to note:
- Since last week, Ohio State and Michigan State have improved, both on offense and on defense -- not by a lot, but there is still improvement. So too with Iowa.
- Nebraska is regressing according to the advanced stats, as are Illinois and Penn State.
As a side note, we all know that Michigan's November is tough. But did you know that the difference between Michigan's future strength of schedule and it's past strength of schedule is the 5th biggest in the FBS? This table is from Football Study Hall and is based on Brian Fremeau's FEI stats:
|Rk||Team||SOS Previous||SOS Future||Difference|
It's Novembers like these that make and break Big Ten championships.
CALL IT THERMOPYLAE, THEN.
Someone in this diary is going to get all ancient Greek savvy on me and tell me that Spartans didn't believe there was anything to look forward to in the afterlife ("300 isn't HISTORY, man!"). Or something. I don't care, okay? Good. Now that we got that out of the way, I decided upon a theme of Elysium because it does two things for me, symbolically.
One, it establishes that I respect the toughness and fight that the Spartans give in their game. While I may despise their very existence, only a blind homer (no pun intended - ANCIENT GREEK HIGH FIVE) wouldn't give them credit for being a formidable opponent as of late. To that end, should they die in battle (symbolically, of course), they would have earned an eternity in Elysium for dying in a worthy manner.
That brings me to my second thing that using this symbolism does for me. It establishes that they lose this "battle." They fight hard, but every one of the Spartans perish in my world here. We'll just call it "Thermopylae" for good measure.
Anyway, it's a pretty wallpaper that also has a bloody helmet on it with a spear marking a job well done in the battle by our Wolverines against their worthy (and eternally annoying) younger brothers. I hope you like it. If you don't, just dig up any other number of good MSU wallpapers from the past couple years and use that. Just don't look at the date...As always, constructive criticism and/or ideas for current or future wallpapers is encouraged. After all, even if we do piss off Space Coyote with our lack of playcall commentary acumen, we're all still united in our love of Michigan and our hatred of Sparty. I do this, and every wallpaper I design, for your enjoyment alone, MGoBlog.
No mobile version yet...sorry...I'll get on that ASAP.
HDR Version (with M logo in sky):
Since the 2011 game is what everyone keeps talking about, let’s not do this again – uniformz or result (AnnArbor.com)
1. Field Position
|Off Exp Pts||Def Exp Pts||Gap|
|Michigan St||29.1||23.2||+5.9 (6)|
This is the most critical factor in the game. Michigan can not afford to spot Michigan State seven points in field position. Not all turnovers are created equal and in this game the most dangerous ones will be ones that set up Michigan State in great scoring position (or are a TD on the return). Michigan State’s 6th best gap is largely driven by a nation leading five defensive touchdowns. At one point, Michigan State looked like they might be around 25% non-offensive touchdowns, the peak over the last ten seasons for any team, but based on their current trajectory that seems less likely (besides South Florida is on pace to blow away the record with 57% non-offensive TDs this season).
A neutral result on field position will be a huge win for Michigan in this game, but that could be a tough task. The Spartans have won field position in 5 of 7 FBS games this season and never given up more than a minor 2 point difference. Michigan has won field position against Minnesota, Central Michigan and Penn State and trailed in its other four games.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan wins the turnover margin and has a slight advantage in field position
Worst Case Scenario: Devin Gardner get the yips again and Michigan yields multiple Spartan short or no field drives.
2. Early Downs
|Early Conversions||Avg 3rd Down|
|Michigan Offense||48% (34)||6.9 (95)|
|MSU Defense||28% (1)||7.6 (6)|
|MSU Offense||38% (107)||5.7 (34)|
|Michigan Defense||44% (45)||7.1 (19)|
For Michigan State opponents, barely 1 in 4 first downs gets converted before facing a third down, best in the nation. When the offense does get to third down, an average of nearly 8 yards to go doesn’t make things any easier.
When Michigan State has the ball, they aren’t very good at generating early first downs but they are pretty good at staying ahead of the chains to give themselves manageable third downs.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan forgoes attempting to put together drives 3-5 yards at a time and is able to push for the chains on first and second down, putting together a few quick drives in exchange for less running into the wall on first down. The defense continues to hold out on first and second down and generates enough long third downs to consistently end MSU drives.
Worst Case Scenario: The Penn State offensive game plan but against a much better defense, Michigan routinely finds themselves in long down and distance situations without any tradeoff of attempted big plays. On defense, Michigan can’t get Michigan State behind the chains and a repeat of Minnesota happens.
3. Leverage Situations
|Adjusted 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Michigan Offense||-2% (72)||5.1 (54)|
|MSU Defense||+1% (64)||4.7 (35)|
|MSU Offense||-10% (121)||4.1 (111)|
|Michigan Defense||+9% (109)||4.5 (29)|
As good as the Spartans have been on standard downs they have been average on regular down and distances. If Michigan can effectively use Devin Gardner on third down, there is evidence that Michigan State’s largest vulnerability could be on key third downs and in the red zone. Not that they’re bad at either, they’re just not nearly as dominant.
Michigan State third downs should be a battle of who struggles the most. A lot will be dictated by the early downs. Michigan’s advantage is that they will likely only have to win 1 in 3 or 4 third downs to end a Spartan drive. Michigan should be prepared for all kind of trick plays in the red zone as Michigan State’s status quo once arriving has been field goals.
Best Case Scenario: Devin Gardner, high leverage play savant returns and Michigan can do enough in other situations to keep Michigan State from being in advantageous position on leverage plays.
Worst Case Scenario: Michigan State’s high leverage numbers are a small sample size issue and they pressure Michigan into disastrous third downs and red zone play. The defense does its work on early downs but cedes ground regularly on third down. Anything more than one red zone trip resulting in a touchdown for the Spartan offense would be a major disappointment.
4. The Key Factors
|Bonus Yards||Total Conversion Rate|
|Michigan Offense||188 (13)||75% (38)|
|MSU Defense||79 (4)||57% (1)|
|MSU Offense||97 (114)||71% (69)|
|Michigan Defense||122 (35)||67% (30)|
Total Conversion Rate = First downs achieved/First downs initiated
Besides turnovers/field position, if I had to pick one measure for which the Michigan offense had to have a positive day on, it would be Bonus Yards. If Michigan can get Gallon and Funchess loose in the Spartan secondary or if Devin Gardner can break out some long runs I really like their chances. At a 57% conversion rate allowed the odds of putting five first downs together in a row is about 1 in 16. If Michigan’s game plan is to plod down the field then its only hope is to win another 12-10 slugfest. If Michigan can put together even 150 yards beyond the line of scrimmage their odds go up dramatically.
Michigan State is moving close to the middle of the pack in terms of conversion rate as the season has progressed. At this point they are an average team at moving the chains, but they are really bad at generating big plays, with less than 100 yards per game beyond the first down mark. Michigan’s defense and Michigan State offense are really following the same path, minimize mistakes and drive the field. Michigan is planning that even at 70% chance of converting a first down that 30% is going to happen before your drive is done. Michigan State is hoping it has enough short fields that it only needs 3 first downs to get a score.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan’s playmakers are able to generate yards in chunks and the defense sees a lot of mild bending and minimal breaking.
Worst Case Scenario: Michigan attempts to drive the field a couple yards at a time and isn’t able to look down field until its too late, the defense faces a lot of short fields and Michigan State’s able to string together enough offense to put it away.
5. Special Teams
|Kicking||Punting||Punt Ret||Kickoff||Kick Ret||Total|
|Michigan||-5 (102)||-6 (97)||-5 (105)||-1 (75)||-1 (63)||-17 (112)|
|MSU||+0 (60)||+22 (1)||-4 (104)||+4 (16)||+4 (23)||+26 (7)|
All numbers are total points vs. average over the whole season to date
Nick Baumgardner pointed out on Saturday that Michigan State might be a 3 loss team with an average punter. It’s impossible to go back and assess that question, but Sadler has been worth an NCAA best 22 points on the season (that includes punts and returns/touchbacks). Even beyond the punting brilliance, Michigan State has a clear special teams advantage over Michigan. For the year, swapping the two units would be worth 43 points in either direction. Michigan has been 17 points below average, with subpar showing in all categories while Michigan State has been strong in all categories but place kicking and punt returns.
The one thing I’ll be looking for on Saturday, does Al Borges put the game in Devin Gardner’s hands and does Gardner look comfortable with it. I like Michigan’s chances if that happens. I feel relatively certain that Michigan’s defense will hold Michigan State’s offense to about a touchdown less than their field position would expect. What Michigan does on offense is anybody’s guess. I think as ugly as it looked at the time, Notre Dame’s game plan against Michigan State is the one to replicate. There are a couple teams out there who could put together multiple sustained drives on Michigan State, Michigan isn’t one of them and probably won’t be one for another two years. Three big downfield plays that turn into touchdowns should be enough for Michigan to win as long as they don’t consistently set up Michigan State in short fields.
Michigan 24 Michigan St 16
Now that I'm back in the states and am able to attend the games, I've seen some pretty disturbing things; the "you suck" chant (Just chant the damn Down Number, if we stuff them on 3rd down, chant "4TH DOWN!", if we stuff them on 4th down, chant "1ST DOWN!"), nearly losing to Akron, nearly losing to Uconn, actually losing to Penn St. But I do love football, so I'll try to get tickets to saturday's game in E. Lansing. I must be a glutton for punishment.
What that means is I won't be able to get on here and bitch about the game until several hours after it ends. So this diary is to get all my bitching out of the way beforehand. I'm not a psychic and all predictions are guaranteed to be incorrect. So if I betray any pessimism, consider it a chance for the team to prove me wrong.
Things that will probably happen before the game:
1. I will have to ask about 20 people before I can get a good price on a ticket.
2. Someone will bring up Dickhead Gholston. Which doesn't matter much since he's long gone.
3. Someone will bring up Dickhead Narduzzi's quote about "60 Minutes of unnecessary roughness". Which does matter because that's how his defense plays.
4. MSU's Band will bring out their fake wolverine mascot.
5. MSU fans will be annoying. Conveniently forgetting anything that happened earlier than 5 years ago.
6. I might refer to the Sparty mascot being gay, not that there's anything wrong with that, and how if he wants to marry Brutus, they could elope during the Rutgers game.
Things that will probably happen during the game:
1. We will not be able to run conventionally. Period. Unfortunately, Max Bullough seems to be the real deal. Remember 27 yards on 27 attempts? This game could be that bad, at least on a yards-per-carry basis. Hopefully we won't have as many attempts. I'd be ecstatic if we threw the ball 60 times and rushed 15. That ain't gonna happen.
Denard Devin will be good for at least 3 turnovers, probably two picks and one fumble. And he'll have two or three sacks, at least one of which is caused by his reverse spin and loses 15+ yards.
3. Funchess will make an amazing play, and then we'll be frustrated the rest of the game as he mysteriously disappears.
4. The Sparty defense will be jumping our snap count and we'll take major tackles for loss because of it.
5. Devin will rush for at least 80 yards and two TD's.
6. Gallon will get 100 yards receiving.
7. Spartan players will take cheap shots that aren't flagged.
8. One of our offensive linemen will get injured.
9. MSU will put together annoyingly long drives because we won't be able to stall their running game on 3rd down.
10. MSU fans will be annoying. Some fat idiot will yell "CHEATERS" whenever a flag is thrown. A brazenly foulmouthed pre-teen will get dangerously close to being slapped by me. That's just how they raise their kids.
11. Jake Ryan will save the day.
Things that will probably happen after the game:
1. Bipolar coordinator love will swing to the defensive side, Mattison will again be a genius and Borges will be on the hot seat. This will of course have everything to do with playing MSU instead of Indiana and not actual merit. (But yes, if we can UPGRADE Borges after the season, we should.)
2. Both fan bases will be upset with the referees. MSU will have about 4 pass interference penalties called against them, 3 of which spartans will think are ridiculous. Meanwhile I'll be able to freeze-frame 8 other instances that should have been called P.I. or defensive holding but weren't.
3. MSU fans will argue that any personal fouls called on them or other dirty plays that weren't flagged were somehow justified. Insert your own non-sequitur here. I'm partial to the idea that you should always beat up frat boys while wearing ski masks, because you know, "they had it coming".
4. If MSU wins, they'll probably win the division. If we win, I'll complain about how the division title is determined by conference record instead of division record since we'll probably lose to Ohio and have our only two losses being to the other division.
5. Win or Lose, something will be set on fire in E. Lansing.
6. MSU fans will be annoying.
Points of Quantum Uncertainty:
(aka, things that will swing the game)
1. Weather. The forecast calls for 40% chance of rain. With our dependence on the passing game and pass blocking, I'm guessing the more moisture, the worse for us.
2. Connor Cook's passing. Somewhere between 3.5 yards per attempt and whatever the hell that was last week will probably determine the game.
3. Al Borges the mad magician vs. Al Borges the stubborn coach looking for a new job. Self explanatory. (If you see Fitz catching wide open swings and screens, it could be a good day.)
4. The refs. THROW THE DAMN FLAG.
5. MSU Defensive scoring. We'll probably turn the ball over a few times. But will those be turned directly into TD's or will Mattison get a chance to make Connor Cook look like Andrew Maxwell?
1. Our basketball team looks good.
2. I hate cold weather.
3. I hope they didn't screw up Ender's Game.
4. I'm gonna do a Native American dance for sunshine and clear skies on Saturday. So like, an 'anti-rain-rain dance'.
THE BIG TEN BEGINS TO SORT ITSELF OUT: YOUR WEEKLY SUMMARY
NOTE: Normally, this would have gone up yesterday, but as I was at an offsite and only intermittently available to do, well, anything for most of the day, I had to put this off until this morning. If you were looking for it, that’s what happened and I apologize for the delay.
We’re getting to a point now where some teams have now played a full two-thirds of their schedule, so the conference looks as if it is beginning to sort itself out on paper.
SCORING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
When it comes to average points scored, we have an interesting separation now. There are basically five teams that are averaging 40 points or more per game (39.9, 40….close enough), and then production drops quite a bit. After Nebraska and Wisconsin, the next nearest team to the top is Illinois at 30.7 points and they are the top of a wide tier of teams in the 30-27 range. Then, of course, there is Purdue.
The progression on defense, on the other hand, is fairly steady from the stingiest to the most generous, and aren’t we lucky that we get to play the stingiest team in a few short days? The point differential graph basically is the result of Ohio State’s drubbing of Penn State this past Saturday.
TOTAL OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
There is a fair amount of stability here at this point – Ohio State, Wisconsin, Indiana and Nebraska tend to be the top four most weeks at this point. Michigan, buoyed somewhat by a prolific performance against Indiana, comes next after those teams. On the other side of the ball, Michigan State is firmly asserting itself as the most difficult team to get yards against, and it might even be the case that their average would be sub-200 if not for, well, their experience against Indiana.
RUSHING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
We are still one of the toughest teams to run against, so we’ve definitely go that going for us, and we sit near the mean for rushing offense, which I suppose I will take given the noted woes in this aspect of offense. The top teams in rushing offense again should not shock anyone, although Minnesota is quietly climbing that chart. If you want to be able to run the ball all day, Illinois and Indiana are the teams for you.
PASSING OFFENSE AND DEFENSE:
This aspect of the game, at least when it comes to offense, is getting to be “Indiana” and “Others” at this point, but Michigan is third here, sandwiched between Penn State and Nathan Scheelhaase’s resume of wasted performances. At the far end, you see Minnesota putting out passing numbers usually reserved for triple-option teams. If you’re just looking for Michigan’s stats by now, the passing defense numbers are, thanks to Indiana and one or two other games, not the best.
THIRD AND FIRST DOWNS:
As we know, not winning this battle makes it difficult to win the game typically. In other words, the tempo-free chart is starting to align with the story of the Big Ten this season when it comes to relative success or lack thereof. The first down differential is telling you a similar story, I believe.
SPECIAL TEAMS DATA:
Turnover Comparison: MSU is just not turning the ball over this year. With 1.1 giveaways per game, they are ranked #16 in the nation. That would be a lot better if MSU did not have an almost unbelievably poor 17% recovery rate (ranked #121) on their own fumbles. Sparty is not doing as good on takeaways with 1.9 takeaways per game – ranked #43. Overall, their turnover margin of +0.7 is excellent and ranked #18. At home, MSU is +1.0 in TOM and away they are +0.3
On paper, Michigan's giveaways are 2.43 per game and ranked #103. However, M dug itself into a huge hole with 12 giveaways in the first 4 games (an average of 3.0 per game). Over the last 3 games, Michigan has 5 giveaways (an average of 1.67 per game which would be ranked #58 ). Michigan is doing very good in takeaways with 2.14 per game and is ranked #28. At home, M is 0.0 for TOM and away we are –1.0.
Gardner threw 8 interceptions in the first 4 games (an average of 2.0 per game) but has thrown just 2 in the last 3 games (0.67 per game which would be ranked #22). Since it will be very difficult for Michigan to run the ball against MSU, Gardner will be tossing the ball around a lot.
Obviously, going into the game, MSU has the statistical advantage for turnovers. However, TOs are highly variable from game to game and are not very predictable. Almost all teams that end the year with very good TOMs have one or more games with negative TOMs during the year.
Keep your fingers crossed.
National Rankings: The chart shows Michigan's detailed turnover numbers (top 3 rows) compared to MSU's. All rankings include games between two FBS teams ONLY and are from TeamRankings except for forced fumbles which is from CFBStats. The four columns with *** show the best correlation to offense and defense (per Advanced NFL stats).