[Ed: bumped for general interestingness.]
Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielma made the following statement after the Badgers 48-28 victory over Michigan on Saturday:
"We're not the spread offense, so it's not sexy," he said. "We're not on the [top] of everybody's wish list. But I tell you what—48 points is fun."
This, after Michigan’s vaunted offense had stalled out at inopportune times and Wisconsin’s pro-style attack had done as it pleased throughout the game en route to 48 points on 558 yards with only one punt along the way. The Wisconsin offense had more fun than Michigan’s.
Despite claims that it cannot be successful in major college football, there is little doubt that the spread offense, in general, works at the highest level of the NCAA. The top two teams in the nation this season, Oregon and Auburn, both employ it in some fashion. The spread is viable, just as the pro-style is viable. However, there is wide variation in productivity across teams within the same basic offensive scheme.
Michigan’s spread offense this year has been something of a revelation, thanks largely to the ascendance of Denard Robinson. The feats that Robinson has accomplished as a true sophomore in his first season as a starter are truly remarkable. This is virtually indisputable. With two games remaining in the season, he has already broken the all-time FBS rushing record for a quarterback and has become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards while rushing for 1,500. His season has been an historic one.
Behind Robinson, Michigan’s offense has been at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five nationally for much of the season in terms of yards per game. Big plays abound, and 500-yard games have become more the rule than the exception. This prolific output has created much buzz around the offensive side of the ball (and stand in stark contrast the immense struggles of the defense). Indeed, the offense has almost single-“sidedly” carried the team to victories against Illinois, Indiana, and Notre Dame, and its fluency has become the loudest argument for Rich Rodriguez to stay at the helm in Ann Arbor beyond this season.
However, the offense has been outshined in Michigan’s losses. In these contests, Michigan's offense didn't just fail to play like a top-five unit nationally. It wasn't the better unit on the field during the game. In these games, Michigan produced 377, 522, 423, and 442 yards against Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin, respectively, while yielding 536, 383, 435, and 558 yards. Michigan’s maligned defense was party to these opponents’ gaudy offensive outputs, but Michigan’s offense did not keep pace. Not surprisingly, these four opponents also have some of the best scoring defenses of the teams that Michigan has faced this year, and the question arises as to whether Michigan’s “sexy” offense can be successful against good defensive teams.
The offense has improved in three seasons under Rodriguez, and, even now, it remains young. Its leader, Robinson, is a true sophomore, as is starting tailback Vincent Smith. The starting offensive line has only one senior [ed: depending on the health of Perry Dorrestein] and the wide receiver corps has none. One could argue that there is still room for growth and that the trajectory demonstrated over the past two years under Rodriguez is positive. Still, it bears examining exactly where the offense is at present. Is it an unstoppable force or a paper tiger? Or something in between? This analysis dissects the Michigan offense with one game to go in the 2010 season.
Yards, scoring, games, and drives
Michigan’s offense works fast. There is no huddle. They get to the line of scrimmage quickly. They gain yards in chunks. They score in a flash. All of this, in part, leads to shorter times of possession per drive, which generally leads to more drives per game (the defense giving up long, run-laden drives to the opponent notwithstanding). Michigan, as of November 19, had the most drives in the Big Ten this season (105, tied with Illinois) against BCS competition. Wisconsin had the fewest number of drives in the Big Ten against BCS opponents with 71.
A more useful way of understanding offensive effectiveness than looking at yards per game is to examine what an offense does with a typical drive. The importance of drives was illustrated in the first half of the Michigan-Wisconsin game, as Michigan had only four full drives to work with. What a team does with a drive is a means of measuring offense that allows for fair cross-team comparison. As of Friday, Michigan averaged 2.57 points per drive (PPD) this season against BCS teams, good for third in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin (3.72) and Ohio State (3.19) and tied with Iowa.
Table 1 - Points per drive against BCS opponents
Calculated with data from www.cfbstats.com: drives = punts + fumbles lost + interceptions + failed 4th down conversions + FG attempts + TDs
Michigan’s offense is above-average relative to other teams in the conference in this stat but not as dominant as the yardage number suggest. Stated alternatively, this statistic suggests that Michigan scores a touchdown roughly one out of three drives against BCS competition. When taking into consideration the number of drives in which an offense has an opportunity to score, Michigan's offense is still among the leaders in the Big Ten.
“Michigan’s offense can score on anybody”
It goes without saying that an offense typically performs worse against a better defense. One would expect an offense to do less with a typical drive against a good defense compared to a bad defense. However, with Michigan this season, this relationship is ambiguous. Table 2 shows Michigan's BCS opponents’ points-allowed-per-game (PAPG) against BCS competition alongside Michigan’s PPD against them.
Table 2 - Michigan's PPD by BCS opponent and opponent's scoring defense against BCS competition
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com and team statistics from www.cfbstats.com
Michigan’s most productive games, in terms of PPD, came against Indiana, Connecticut, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin, in that order. Against these foes, Michigan’s PPD was better than what would be considered average in the Big Ten this season and better than their own average through the Wisconsin game. Indiana has the worst scoring defense among Michigan’s nine BCS opponents, and Michigan’s offense enjoyed their best PPD output against them. Otherwise, Connecticut has the fifth best scoring defense, Penn State the seventh, Illinois the sixth, and Wisconsin the third. Michigan’s worst PPD came against Purdue, who has a poor scoring defense (eighth among opponents), but weather conditions during that game may explain this apparent deviation. Further, it could be argued that Connecticut’s relatively low points-allowed-per-game is due their membership in the Big East and a weaker slate of BCS competition. Regardless, with a sample size of well over one hundred drives, opponents’ scoring defense does not predict Michigan’s PPD with statistical significance (p = .42). These results would appear to support claims that Michigan’s productive offense can “score against anybody” and could perhaps provide evidence against arguments that Rodriguez’s spread offense cannot succeed against good defensive teams.
All drives are not created equal
The success of a drive varies in importance based on the circumstances of the game. Scoring a touchdown when the score is tied is more valuable than scoring a touchdown when down 30. One criticism of the Michigan offense this season is that it struggles to capitalize on opportunities to extend leads and put teams away. Table 3 shows that Michigan has scored a touchdown on 48% of drives when the game is tied, 44% of drives when they are behind, and only 17% of drives when they are ahead. This difference in scoring percentage across these three situational categories is statistically significant (χ = 12.12, p < .05). Michigan’s drives are apparently more successful when the score is even or when they are behind. They have scored touchdowns at a much lower rate when in position to go up by multiple scores.
Table 3 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Ahead||34 (81%)||1 (2%)||7 (17%)||1.21|
|Tied||10 (44%)||2 (9%)||11 (48%)||3.61|
|Behind||22 (51%)||2 (5%)||19 (44%)||3.23|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
A further criticism of Michigan’s offense is that it not only fails to put games away when presented with an opportunity, but also that it is successful against good defenses only when the game is already out of hand, that is, when the opponent is ahead by a wide margin. In all games against BCS competition, Michigan has scored touchdowns on 46% of drives that begin with them down by ten or more points; they have scored touchdowns on only 30% of drives that begin with them within ten points, tied, or ahead. This difference, however, is not statistically significant (p = .21). How does this difference bear out against good defenses?
The best defenses Michigan has faced this year are Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, which are also three of the top four teams in the Big Ten (along with Ohio State). Against these teams, Michigan’s offense has performed well when they are down by ten or more points. In these large-deficit scenarios, the offense has averaged 2.80 PPD, above their overall season average and toward the top end of the Big Ten. When down by ten or more, they have scored touchdowns on eight of 20 occasions, a rate of 40%. When the game is close (i.e., when Michigan is within ten, tied, or ahead) the story is considerably different for this team. When the game is still in the balance, Michigan has averaged 1.43 PPD, with two field goals and two touchdowns (14% rate) in 14 opportunities—this is significantly worse than when the deficit is large (χ = 4.87, p < .10).
Table 4 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes against top defenses (count and row percentages shown)
|No points||Field goal||Touchdown||PPD|
|Down 10+ points||12 (60%)||0 (0%)||8 (40%)||2.80|
|Within 10 points, tied, or ahead||10 (71%)||2 (14%)||2 (14%)||1.43|
Calculated with data from boxscores at www.mgoblue.com
The data show that Michigan’s offense has been poor—as bad as the worst Big Ten teams’ average PPD output—against the best teams in the Big Ten when the game is close. Their most impressive offensive work against these good teams has come once they already trail significantly, in which case they have performed above-average relative to average Big Ten PPD standards.
So is the Michigan offense an elite offense?
Looking at the success of offensive drives, a statistic that controls for the pace of the game and the number of overall opportunities an offense has, Michigan has a good offense relative to the rest of the Big Ten—they are tied for third in productivity with Iowa, behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan averages the most yards per game and has scored the second most points in the conference, but they have also had the most opportunities to accumulate yards and points, most likely due to the fast pace at which they execute their offense, the quickness with which they have sometimes scored, and their high rate of turnovers. They are third best in the Big Ten at capitalizing on drives.
So, is Michigan’s spread offense under Rodriguez elite? The answer appears to be, “circumstantially.” They perform very well when the game is tied or when they trail. The offense struggles, however, to pull away when they have a lead. Further, the offense has struggled in close-game situations against the best Big Ten teams. There is much variability in how the offense performs, dependent, in part, on the score of the game when the offense assumes possession.
This situational inconsistency may be attributable to a variety of factors (e.g., youth and inexperience on offense, conservative play-calling when ahead, nerves), and one can speculate as to which are most salient. These analyses are intended to deconstruct the offense and offer a more nuanced picture of the state of that side of the ball, beyond a rough yards- or points-per-game. With the travails of Michigan’s defense this season, it is tempting (and perhaps healthful) to look at the offense as being “solid” and not something to worry about. Compared to the defensive unit, this may be true, but there are interesting and complicated phenomena at play with Michigan’s sexy side, as well.
Other tidbits from the data
Starting field position does not significantly affect the likelihood of the Michigan offense scoring a touchdown (odds ratio = .98, p = .20).
Michigan’s offensive productivity, in terms of PPD, is highest in the first quarter (2.81), followed by the third (2.72), fourth (2.33), and second (2.00) quarters.
Michigan’s offensive productivity against good defenses (Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin), in terms of PPD, is highest by far in the third quarter (3.50), followed by the fourth (2.63), first (1.43), and second (1.11) quarters.
Michigan has yet to score on its third drive of any game versus a BCS opponent this season; its highest PPD is on its second drive of the game (4.22).
There is variation in the point outcome of a drive, that is, some drives end in zero points, some in three, some in seven. This variation may be due to factors associated with the opponent (e.g., the quality of their defense) or factors associated just with the drive (e.g., whether the team is ahead or behind when the drive begins). Cluster analyses show that almost 100% of the variance in Michigan’s points earned on a drive is due to factors associated with the unique drive. This suggests that our opponent, per se, has little bearing on the outcome of a drive, once one takes into consideration unique aspects of the drive, such as the how far ahead or behind Michigan is.
It's the Turkey Day Special! One team gets a three-peat, one team goes for a win and has a chance!, and two teams are happy it's basketball season. Unfortunately, Florida managed to avoid HORROR, so therefore there is no God. I was right all along. Bonus game: the Lions play the Patriots for all to see on Thursday. I know very little about the NFL, but I know that 8-2 versus 2-8 equals bad. But first:
Rutgers took possession of the Big East basement in impressive fashion by getting smoked by Cincinnati 69-38. Rugters gave up 660 yards of total offense, and had -9 yards on 27 carries. That's not very good. In fact, that's outstandingly bad. If I had post-season awards, that would get one. In fact, I may create post-season awards just to be able to give one to them for that. I don't remember ever seeing a negative total yardage. I don't think I've done that in NCAA football. Tecmo Bowl, maybe.
Idaho took care of Utah State (motto: What do you mean Utes is already taken?) 28-6 in a punt-fest that saw Utah State's punter outgain the offense. Utah State left their QB in for the entire game, even though he was 14 for 35 for 103 yards and 2 INTs. C'mon, throw a halfback pass or something.
Last, Tennessee limped past Vanderbilt and can become bowl-eligible if they beat Kentucky this week. Both teams were offensively ineffective, but Vandy's 20 for 41 passing, for 222 yards gets the "Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing" award for the week.
The Alternative Thanksgiving Protein award this week goes to Akron versus Buffalo. Mmm, delicious Buffalo. Akron is the only team in D-I without a win, and Buffalo only has wins against Rhode Island and Bowling Green. Plus Buffalo is on the road. I didn't even realize that Buffalo's mascot is the Bulls, not the Buffalos. I mean, who else gets a chance to be the Buffalo Buffalo?
Hooray, it's basketball season in North Carolina, as Duke plays UNC in... football? Well, UNC's basketball team isn't doing much better. UNC has scraped out wins against the likes of William and Mary and Rutgers, but been competitive against FSU and Clemson. Duke, well, is Duke. They won shootouts with Virginia, Navy and Elon and that's it. Right, that takes care of that one.
Last, Vanderbilt gets an Award for Excellence in the Field of Outstanding Achievement for being mentioned three weeks in a row. This week they play Wake Forest who is holding down the ACC basement. Like the Big East, being at the bottom of the ACC is an accomplishment. Speaking of Duke, Wake Forest's last win came in week two against the Blue Devils, and has been off track since. Three points against NC State? Vandy has been equally bad, hosting a six-game losing streak of their own. I look forward to handing out my own Madden Golden Drumstick award to at least one of the punters in this game. Boom! Turducken-ed!
LB/WR Kris Frost was on campus this weekend, and I got the chance to discuss his visit and how he feels about Michigan. Here's his film, then the interview.
TOM: How was the visit, and what was the game like?
KRIS: I've been to Michigan a few times, obviously, but that was my first time there for a game. The tradition just comes out through everything, it was awesome to see that in person and be a part of that game. I actually got an earlier flight than my parents, because I didn't want to miss them running out and touching the banner. You see that on TV and it sends chills, so to get to see that in person was pretty cool. It was really like no other college game.
TOM: Unfortunately Michigan didn't win, but the crowd seemed pretty loud and into it. You being a Michigan fan, were you as into it as everyone else?
KRIS: I was really impressed by the amount of dedication by the fans. That really excited me. I told my mom I was probably the happiest person in that stadium even though they were losing. I'm not really looking at it as just a win and loss total. You have to look at Michigan and give them the benefit of the doubt because they have injuries, they're playing freshman, and they're a young team. You have to take all that into account with them. I really realized that on this trip. I really don't think my experience would have been any different if they had won or lost the game.
TOM: I know you've been up to Auburn quite a bit, and they've been able to explain how you'd fit in there. That was one of the main aspects you wanted to see at Michigan for this trip. Who did you talk to, and what were they saying about how you'd fit in?
KRIS: I met with the offensive coordinator, Rich Rodriguez, Tony Dews, and Coach Gibson who's recruiting me. I talked to them about I would fit in there, and it was just as good as how Auburn explained everything. Michigan is a lot younger, and more inexperienced and Auburn has a lot of guys that are already there, and they're kind of loaded. Michigan is trying to get back into the groove of things. How many freshman they played, that really opened my eyes and my parent's eyes that I could really play early there. That caught my attention, and by what they showed me I would fit in perfectly.
TOM: After meeting with the coaches, the players, and being there for a game did you feel like it was comfortable?
KRIS: Yeah, I felt comfortable with everyone. That was one thing that I really wanted to see how the atmosphere was, and I wanted to see what it was like being there away from home like that, and it was great.
TOM: Besides the business aspect of this trip, since you're a fan what all did you get to do outside of recruiting?
KRIS: We talked to the academic people, we drove around campus and saw where all the buildings are. We went down to the train station and ate, hung out a little bit. We went to the Michigan store and bought some stuff from the store, so it was fun.
TOM: You plan on graduating early, what's the plan from here?
KRIS: I'm going to LSU and then to Cal, and then I'm going to announce at the Army All American game. We are actually going to try to make it back up to Michigan one more time before the big announcement too, but that depends on my schedule.
A heads up: Don't ask what depths of my mind made this connection, because I don't know. But something did. Also, if you've never seen the movie Cube, SPOILERS!
September, 2008 -
Michigan fan nation awakens in an unfamiliar place. The last they remember, Lloyd Carr was being carried off the field by Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart and co as victors of the 2008 Capital One Bowl vs. Florida. Suddenly, nothing is the same.
Michigan fan nation stumbles around, looking in every room for some sign of famliarity. All the coaches are different. All the players are different. Wait... what's this? A red room? That's Utah! The start of the 2008 season! I think I know what's going on!
MIchigan fan nation was totally unprepared for what was presented. Fortunately, a few in the group soon get their bearings, and realize that if you're careful and simply look at what's in front of you, you might just survive this ... place. This Coaching change.
"Listen, we can't just go wandering around here. I looked in on the Miami-OH game down there and nearly got my head cut off."
But it turns out, even the experienced among the fanbase can't predict all the traps that will befall them.
"I wasn't expecting that face melting experience at the Toledo game."
Then, when all seems lost, a breakthrough! Perhaps we've discovered the way out of here! Perhaps we can be safe! Prime numbers, I can't believe I didn't see it before!
But... no. Hopes are dashed utterly.
Nothing makes any sense at all! The numbers on the field don't add up to any sensible answers! Somebody must be sabotaging the team. The coaches! Fire them! Get them! Kill them!
"That's right. We know this coach's type. No respect for the kids. No wins to boost you. Not a Michigan man. So we'll put a hit piece on you, stick our nose in your business."
But all is not lost! Michigan fans are still Michigan fans!
"How dare you say that about him? You don't know anything about him! Fielding Yost couldn't have led us out of here with these numbers!"
And so, we rested through a horrible, infitnite, terrifying offseason as we awaited what 2010 was to bring.
And when the season drew near, still... we had no answers. We could see what the solution was, but our players simply weren't up to it.
"It's not primes, it's factors of primes. Maybe if I had 2006's defense. I can't do it. Nobody can do it! It's astronomical!"
Yes, our savior had arrived just in time for the 2010 season. The afterthought. The one that was nothing. The third wheel in the quarterback race... he could do the impossible. He could do the astronomical. And he can lead us from the deadly maze.
Unfortunately, that means that, as Wisconsin proved, we still have to get stabbed through the chest with a bar by Quentin, but... he has led us to the light at the end of the tunnel.
The greatest rivalry in college football? It certainly hasn't felt like it for the last decade as Ohio State has dominated Michigan, winning 8 of 10 games since 2000.
This week's wallpaper is an artistic expression of the questions I'm asking as a Michigan fan. Will the darkness cast by the dominance of our bitter rival continue to spread, lending credibility to the sentiment that the program is eroding, or is the growth we've seen this year a genuine indicator of a future return to glory? I'm a defensive optimist at heart, so this season I've maintained realistic expectations while believing that better days are ahead.
I wanted the artwork for 'The Game' to capture the epic feel of the rivalry. My initial concept called for colliding planets, but I like the simplicity of one planet where the battle is fought over the same land. I also wanted the artwork to have an otherworldly feel, like how the rivalry would look if it was interpreted as a photo-real animated film where the good guys are represented by light and life and growth, and the bad guys are all shadow and concrete and harsh technology. I'm not sure if the message is any stronger here than it is with some of my simpler artwork (i.e. Maize is Blue) but I enjoyed the challenge of creating something with a high level of depth and detail.
The image below is a preview only. You can get this week's widescreen, 4:3, iPad and mobile wallpapers at The Art. The Art. The Art!.
How it was made
I've captured the creation of this week's wallpaper artwork and sped up the footage to condense a whole bunch of hours (more than I care to admit) into a little under 5 minutes of video. If you like edge-of-your-seat action and nonstop excitement, then you probably shouldn't bother to watch this video.
All of the 2010 Schedule Wallpapers
[please tell me if you think that these stats need to be manipulated better. I’m still working on the ideas behind these concepts, and any ideas are welcome. This is meant to be a look to his likely stats next year through stats and deduction. I will continue to try and do this with other players and units as the off-season starts. Any ideas for further analysis helps.]
He’s already set the record for most rushing yards in a season, on a 6.8 yards/attempt average. Let’s admit that he’s most likely not going to do that again, although I’d bet his average will stay around the same. Because he’s a more athletic version of Pat White, I’ll use those stats to try and show what I think Denard will do on the ground.
Pat White had 197 attempts for 1335 yards at 6.8 YPC his junior year. I would imagine that Denard would have about the same stats. So, we’ll get a drop in yardage by about 100 yards, but this will be made up by his throwing stats I’d assume.
Other things to note:
- Denard still does not scramble very often. Vince Young, Pat White, and others did this much more and were able to get a lot of yards of scrambles. As Denard gets another year under his belt, I’d expect much more scrambling and bigger gains. This will, of course, help open the passing lanes.
- Denard runs the iso and zone read a lot. I don’t know how many times White ran it, or V. Young, but I think Denard has many more designed runs than any other QB has had. This will most likely get cut down because of his injuries this year, Dee Hart coming in, and his passing game getting better. With that being said, on to the…
(I wanted to take passing stats from players who are like Denard. I believe these are the closest guys to him.)
THE LONG BALL:
As most of us know, Denard doesn't throw the long ball as well as we'd like him to. He does not use much touch yet, and this is something that we can expect growth on in the off-season. He throws the short passes decently, but without the deep ball threat he's still not 100% effective. There have been great throws, but they are too few. The long ball will be one development, but along with throwing the ball deep, we get a much higher chance of INTs. Based on this, I wanted to try and predict Denard's INT totals for next year from other prolific running QBs. Below are the stats and their significance.
Int thrown/100 passes by year in the league:
Denard is at 4.3 INT/100 attempts
If you look at the stats you’ll see that Denard’s average is about where V. Young was in his sophomore year. Young then made an impressive downswing of one less interception thrown every 100 passes. However, when you look at the total averages there isn’t much of a jump from sophomore to junior year.
Dixon’s stats are the ones which screw this up, so if you throw out that outlier you do get a decent jump in INT/100 passes.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
Assuming Dixon’s stats are a outlier, we can expect Denard to throw about 1 less interception per 100 attempts. He’s going to have about 250 attempts this season so that’s 2.5 less interceptions next year. Assuming he throws 300 passes, that’s 9 interceptions next year. (Vince Young had 10 the season he won his Heisman.)
Denard should have around 1400 rushing yards at about 7 YPC. I believe he will have less designed runs, but more sneaks. He will also throw about 9 INTs next year, when I believe he'll have just shy of 300 attempts.