Mike Lantry, 1972
Is this not what you expected to see?
This week we're going to try a little Michigan defense word association. I'm gonna say a phrase and you're going to tell me what you're feeling. All set? Okay:
3rd and 1.
Lemme guess: Confidence? Excitement? Anticipation? A center sent airborne by a launching pad named Martin?
It is that, and Jake Ryan coming off the edge and hugging an opponent's running back two yards behind the line of scrimmage. And then it is RVB past his block and stopping all forward progress even though the running back's legs are still moving because Ron Zook told him if he keeps his legs moving he can still get yards. Then Heininger arrives. And maybe Demens, or a safety, and you know for certain it is over. You know, and now you've seen it so many times you think you knew before they even snapped it...
Dragging behind you the silent reproach of a million tear-stained eyes…
You slip out of your depth and out of your mind
Now I want you to wind your mind back one year. Michigan has just defeated Purdue to get to 7-3, with Wisconsin and Ohio State left. Same exercise, I say a phrase, you tell me what your last year brain is feeling:
3rd and 1
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter?
This isn't just your imagination. Opponents' conversion rates on 3rd- or 4th and 1 the last three years, from UFR-ed drives plus Illinois (:
- 2009: 15 for 22 (68.18%)
- 2010: 20 for 28 (71.43%)
- 2011: 12 for 27 (44.44%)
What shall we use to fill the empty spaces?
The going rate, I've been told, is generally 70% so those '09 and '10 numbers are average-ish (help me Enjoy Life, Mathlete, anyone?) That would make sense with RVB and Martin around both years. But it makes this year's numbers just ridiculous. Michigan has stopped their opponent at least once in every game this year. Two of those conversions were from Illinois's 4th quarter drive down 24-7 versus Brink-Campbell-Heininger-Roh-Beyer.
This isn't a competition thing either. When I excise MAC and FCS opponents from all years it's far more pronounced:
- 2009: 10 for 13 (76.92%)
- 2010: 15 for 19 (78.95%)
- 2011: 6 for 19 (31.58%)
Notre Dame (0 for 3), Michigan State (0 for 1), and Iowa (0 for 3) have extant pound-it tailbacks and went a combined zero first downs in 7 attempts. Thanks to the above-mentioned Letterman-collaring 4th quarter TD drive, the Illinois game actually made Michigan look worse than they've been since conference play started.
Of all the things Michigan's defense is doing this year, the sudden and remarkable ability to stone teams on 3rd and 1 is likely a big part of the Mattison Renaissance. Using a simple calculator (made for the NFL), that stop in the 1st quarter was worth 1.56 expected points for Michigan, the equivalent of a 28-yard gain on the first play from scrimmage.
Who could be responsible for such success? Just a couple bricks in the wall:
Don't leave me now. How could you go, when you you know how I need you
to beat to a pulp on a Saturday night? (Greilick|DetNews)
We are really, really going to miss these guys next year, period. But a glance at this year's UFR tracking of 3rd and 1, 4th and 1, and anything from the Michigan 1—not a perfect resource but useful for this at least—and it shows those aren't the only two guys showing up in the hole this year:
|Kenny Demens and Ryan Van Bergen each||6.5||0|
|Campbell, Hawthorne, and Heininger each||2.5||0|
|Black, Morgan & Woolfolk each||1||0|
Just a little pinprick. There'll be no more aaaaaah!
Keep in mind these sorts of plays make guys look overly good in UFR since giving up one yard generally doesn't net anybody minuses while stuffing them in the backfield causes them to rain. The encouraging part is many of these plus-earning pieces will be around next year. Even Campbell (who moved the line backwards in two chances v. Illinois) looks to be an asset in short situations. The cleanup crew of Demens, Roh, and Ryan should be around next year. Of course with freshmen etc. at the big man DL positions next year I expect this outrageous level of success to regress. /shakes Brian's fist at Rodriguez DT recruiting.
After the jump you can re-live the UFRs of every 3rd/4th and short since 2009 (but not Illinois 2011 'cause it's not written yet). This is entirely optional since hopefully my point has been made already. By clicking you agree to absolve MGoBlog of all damages from GERG-related coronary failures, strokes, embolisms, and/or cranial pyrotechnics. Fortunately, I have become comfortably numb.