I GIVE UP ON HATING WISCONSIN
The upcoming Michigan - Michigan State game has a certain life all its own inside my brain right now. There are weird images (a feral MSU linebacker with no facial features except glowing eyes gnawing on Denard's bad knee after a tackle)...
...uninformed thoughts (why doesn’t GERG use press coverage when blitzing?), stark colors (radiant maize, cerebral blue, chyme green and an ink cloud of black despair waiting to descend, hovering just out of view), graphic sounds (Fight Club quality bone crunching, the Victors after the winning touchdown, a cartoon whoosh whoosh whoosh sound in my mind that accompanies every Denard breakaway), numbers (200/200, 120, 0.73663, 480, 9-3, 877, 16, 4) and a whole lot of emotions; quite honestly, more bad ones than good ones. All this wraps up into an ill-defined knot inside me as I both anticipate and dread the opening kickoff.
It occurred to me that 25 years ago my impressions of Saturday's contest would be so different as to be unrecognizable. I was just as big a fan back then. Yet, today, my love of Michigan football has so many more data points as to render my 1980s fandom a primitive, low-tech thing resembling Ken Mattingly in Apollo 13 sweating inside a simulator with a flashlight between his teeth trying to figure out how to splash down a spaceship on 20 amps of power.
All this data has, I think, distorted our view of the game. We have analyzed our way into believing that Michigan State is an emerging power that inevitably must eviscerate a statistically helpless Michigan defense.
I say hogwash.
Two decades ago, I would be moving about my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory, because two decades ago it would be the résumé that mattered, not hyper-analysis of data that promotes fear and generates such concepts as RPS-3, Chappellbombing and PAN. My understanding of the team would be that we have a great offense with a great quarterback and a schizophrenic defense, but that we were still winning. I would never have tried (and failed) to figure out a Cover-2 zone or known our national pass defense ranking or even known where Greg Robinson had coached before.
But I would know the résumés, and based upon the résumés, I would have concluded that an oddly unbalanced, uncharacteristic Michigan team nonetheless possessed the strongest résumé of any team in the Big 10.
Say what?! Prove it.
No numbers; we are in a variable-free zone and channeling both 1985 and common sense at the same time.
Michigan Wolverines Résumé
Michigan has beaten two major teams back to back, the second one on the road. The first was a beatdown of a bowl winning team from the year before with almost everyone back. The second was an always talented and very emotional Notre Dame team at home with an unexpected bonus: a competent coach. Michigan won its first Big 10 game, an away game against a serious offense. A shaky squeaker against a good FCS team mars the résumé.
- Ohio State? Four home games with a solid win against a charitable Miami team, three cupcakes, and a lackluster win over a bad Illinois team. Fail.
- Iowa? Not bad, but they lost to Arizona. Fail.
- Wisconsin? Three cupcakes, a squeaker and a beatdown. Fail.
- Northwestern? Five cupcakes with extra icing, cherries, sprinkles and a cream filling. Fail.
- And Michigan State? Five home games, three cupcakes, a less impressive win against a common opponent at home, and a solid win against an overrated Big 10 “power.” Fail.
If preseason polls were outlawed and this year’s Big 10 teams, like 11 sprinters in the blocks, were off at the sound of the gun, Michigan would be in the lead. That’s what I would have known.
I am going to finish my week calmly expecting a Michigan victory.
I didn't see this posted or in my search results. It is John Chait's take today on the importance of this MSU game.
Having lived outside Michigan and now being back in Michigan, I couldn't agree more. Some of us in state Michigan fans have a skewed perspective.
A few highlights:
If you're a Michigan fan living in state, you probably think this is a must-win game. Having lost two straight year to the Spartans, a third loss would signal an irrevocable shift in momentum. MSU would take its place as the state's dominant program, recruiting will follow, and Michigan will be plunged into a Dark Age.
You'd be wrong.
On the story vs. fact ...
Dantonio has positioned his team as the embodiment of the old Michigan virtues that have supposedly fallen by the wayside under Rodriguez: toughness, discipline, Midwestern values. That in actual fact Rodriguez has run a tight ship, and Dantonio a halfway house disguised as a football program, has not blunted the force of this message. Stories are more powerful than facts.
Each week I trundle off to my favorite sports bar in Brooklyn, pumped up with expectations that far exceed what could ever possibly happen, promising myself I will behave in front of the other patrons, and that I'll remain calm when inevitably the other team scores or when Michigan goofs up.
And yet I was compelled to blurt out "Don't fumble it! Don't fumble it!" when Cam Gordon picked off Ben Chappell. The singular defensive highlight of the day and I respond as if Michigan had been the team committing a turnover on that play. I got some strange looks for sure.
That's how you know you're traumatized.
We still live under the spectre of the 2009 season and the reality that our defense is likely not going to stop any team we play.
The statistics tell me (Mathlete) that Michigan is absolutely going to win at least another couple Big10 games this year. I am resolutely impatient, however, and cannot wait until Illinois week in November to finally claim "improvement" from 2009. In fact if we lose the next three games - games we had already written off (Brian) no less - we'll be 5-3 and in crisis mode*.
A record of 7-5 was always the most likely outcome. But at 5-0, none of us could stand finishing the season 2-5, for so many reasons. So we reach a tipping point.
Win, and no one can ever claim again that this is 2009 all over again. Reclaim bowl eligibility, set the stage for a run at the Big10 title, and silence one of our most loathed rivals in one fell swoop.
Lose, and face the reality that our defense is going to limit us from getting over .500 in conference play, no matter how amazing and awesome Denard Robinson is.
*It's not really crisis mode when that's what we had as a baseline expectation, but it is the undeniable flaw of reaching 5-3 from 5-0 instead of 2-3.
But what do the numbers say?
Last week I laid out a chart of our opponents and what kind of offensive output we can expect from each.
The numbers predicted a 36.3 (15.7% under) to 32.2 (8.7% under) Michigan victory - the margin of victory (4.1) was exactly correct. I extrapolated those considering likely real football scores and came up with a 42-31 prediction.
We had a turnover neutral game and special teams played no special role, so that levelled out any scoring variance, making these prediction about as accurate as they could be. Not bad for a first time, by the numbers prediction, all things considered.
- Michigan's offense exceeded expectations, netting 80 yards over predicted.
- Michigan's turnover was crucial. It's safe to say that we will lose every game in which we lose the turnover battle.
- I predicted Indiana would kick a field goal. Bill Lynch, however, after losing by three points while kicking four field goals in 2009, decided he was never ever going to only go for three. That attitude was the difference between Indiana's 31 and actual total of 35.
- Michigan's defense lived up to its bad expectations, yielding 175% of expected yardage.
- While Michigan gave up almost double the expected yardage, it yielded precisely 100% of the expected points. This, my friends, is how you would define a bend-not-break defense.
- Prediction wise, Michigan should have had an offensive multiplier greater than 100% against a defense as bad as Indiana.
- Prediction wise, Indiana's multiplier was slightly too low at 125% (actual was 136%). Hard to determine if it was our defense or Ben Chappell that made up that difference. I will assume it was quality play by a senior QB until he proves me very wrong this week @osu.
How about the rest of our opponents?
Chart of Offensive Expectations (through 5 weeks)
N-PPG or Normalized Points-per-game is taken from the teams average PPG with a SoS multiplier factored in to deflate numbers from playing bad competition and inflate numbers based on playing good competition.
N-YPG or Normalized Yards-per-game is calculated using the same SoS multiplier as N-PPG but using this metric will help us determine a less variant guess as to how offenses will perform (PPG is subject to wild variance based on turnovers and special teams).
Strength of Schedule is taken from Sagarin rankings.
Usage: The chart doesn't predict that #3 would beat #5. Instead it tries to predict with the most accuracy how many points/yards on average each of these teams would score against a common opponent.
Michigan's N-PPG jumps into lead this week after a suspect outing by osu versus Illinois, and further expands their staggering lead in N-YPG, eclipsing 500 yards expected even after it has strength of schedule reducing it to normalized amounts, a full 100 yards more than anyone else on the schedule (120 yards more than anyone else on the Big10 slate).
- There is a full touchdown gap of production between the top two teams and the next five on the list, suggesting a competitive plateau of Iowa-Wisconsin-MSU-Indiana, all shadowed by The Denard Show.
- Indiana makes a leap with their outburst against Michigan. If they can even put up half of those numbers against osu expect their rank to continue to climb upwards as their SoS will jump way up after this week.
- Iowa made modest gains this week after a fairly conservative game against Penn State, which they were in control of the whole way.
- Wisconsin struggled big time against MSU. They are at best the 4th place team in the Big10 behind osu, Iowa and MSU.
- Illinois had as good an opportunity as they were going to get to make a run at an upset (at home, injured opposing QB), but couldn't produce.
- Penn State has been absolutely shut down now by two really good defensive teams (Iowa/Alabama).
- UConn continues to perform decently after two letdowns in their first three games.
- BGSU and UMass fall with their strength of schedule. The rest of the Big10 saw their SoS jump higher this week (duh!).
Conclusions Based on Almost Enough Data
Until given reason to expect otherwise, I am giving our opponents 125% of their N-PPG and 150% of their N-YPG for predictions vs Michigan.
However!!! The elephant in the room is not Michigan's defense. Our defense remains a constant, an ugly constant. The biggest factor remaining is whether or not Michigan can sustain it's offensive play into the Big10 schedule.
Last year, this is where Michigan's offense fell off a cliff. The last seven Big10 games they averaged 20.1 PPG. They did not outgain any of their opponents and they lost the turnover battle nearly every time. Michigan's 2010 unit, however, is light years ahead of where they were last year and, more importantly, healthy (knock on wood).
A week ago had a Big10 best case scenario of 6-2. That remains the outlook this week except instead of our second loss coming from Wisconsin it comes from Iowa (We will beat Wisconsin 37.1 to 37.0!).
In a worst case scenario, wherein our offense drops off to 75-80% of current production and we still yield 125% to our opponents, Michigan will go 3-4 the rest of the way with wins over Purdue, Penn St, and Illinois. This is the same from last week (3-5) except we scratch off Indiana from the possible loss column.
Our new outlook ranges between 8-4 and 10-2!
Bottom line: our record improves with a sustainable, explosive offense. Even with a loss saturday, if our offense still shows up to expectation, we have much to be happy about. If our offense takes a dive, however, run for the hills.
Prediction for Michigan State:
Michigan lost a close game at East Lansing due to primarily yakety sax, snapping issues, and botched fake punts. This year sets up much more favorably for Michigan despite having serious defensive issues.
Here are a couple of statistics that might give us hope:
|Rank||Team||Sacks Allowed||Sack Yards|
|Rank||Team||Third Down||Conversion %|
MSU is 10th in the Big10 in sacks allowed, turnovers coughed up and last in the Big10 in 3rd Down conversions, all of which will play a part in getting our defense off the field. Sparty is also the most penalized team in the Big10 (41 penalties for 362 yards).
In addition MSU, unlike Indiana, will kick field goals - they are 7 for 7 on the year.
NSFMF! MSU has a more experienced QB and a better rushing game than last year. What would you call a Chappellbomb that happens mostly on the ground? A Bakerrush? A Bellringing? A Capernickledandy? Whatever it's called, that's the likeliest of outcomes.
But based strictly on the numbers:
|Team||PPG vs Mich||YPG vs Mich|
It's sobering to see 35 points and 500+ yards as an expected value. Yet there is reasonable hope we will maintain yardage parity with such ridiculous numbers.
I sincerely doubt MSU will hold Michigan to their defense's season average of 101 yards rushing. If they do, it will be a blow-out for Sparty. Last year Michigan gained 28 rushing yards on 28 rushing attempts. You can bet the house that won't happen again.
Even if you believe the assertion that "Michigan hasn't played any real defense yet", you can't argue with the fact that all five opposing defenses have yielded their largest yardage totals on the season (tpilews).
The numbers say 37.1 - 35.1 in favor of Michigan but I can't help but feeling this is a game where special teams is finally going to cost us. Yet after all of this analysis, everything is evenly divided, so I'm not going to pick against Dilithium at home.
Michigan State 38
/By Saturday at 3:30 I will have convinced myself Michigan is going to win 49-14.
It is a statement perpetuated on many outside of Wolverine-fandom in response to the 2010 start, and the deep dark fear inside the hearts of many Michigan fans: This year isn’t going to end up like last year, is it?
The argument for "Yes" usually boils down to the only teams Michigan has beat this year are the same ones they did last year (more or less) before the fallout, oh and because after five games we had a hyped young quarterback last year as well. The response from Michigan fans is subsequently, "Yeah, but Denard!!!"
Until we play a few more games and win one that we didn’t last year, we’re stuck answering the question in purely philosophical form. And who is better at throwing some numbers out there and seeing what sticks than The Mathlete?
Here is the normal disclaimer/overview of what I do for the uninformed:
All numbers included in this article are using my PAN metric: Points Above Normal. PAN is essentially how many points above an average FBS team was a team/unit/player worth. For reference, an average FBS team is approximately equal to Illinois or a top team from the MAC.
All games against FCS teams are excluded, as well as any plays in the second half where one team leads by more than 2 touchdowns or any end-of-half, run-out-the-clock drives.
For this particular exercise I will look at this year’s performance-to-date through two different lenses: 1) raw performance with no adjustment for opponent and 2) an opponent-adjusted view using how that opponent has performed this year to date. Normally I would forgo the unadjusted view to do a comparison but it is still early enough in the season that both views can provide perspective.
The Matchup: Offense
Let me just kill the suspense right now: this offense is better than last year’s. Shocking, I know. Through four FBS games this year, Michigan is averaging an unadjusted +23 PAN per game, +13 rushing and +10 passing. In the four FBS games Michigan won last year, Michigan was +12 overall, +8 rushing and +4 passing, and it’s pretty safe to say that UConn is a solid step up from Western Michigan and BG is probably a slight step up from Eastern.
To put more focus on the magnitude of this season's success, look at last week against Indiana, where the Michigan offense posted a +33 on only 44 plays. The 0.75 points per play is higher (by 10%!) than any other performance in my database, which stretches back to 2003. In fact, Indiana, Bowling Green and UConn are the three highest-rated offensive performances from Michigan I have on record. Western and Eastern Michigan were the only games last year that ranked higher than any game this year (Notre Dame is behind them).
Although impressive under any circumstances, those numbers were all without adjustment for the respective strengths of opponents' defenses. When you look at how Michigan’s performance compares with other offenses that ND, BG, Indiana and Uconn have faced this year, Michigan still comes out pretty well. All four games are at least +6 PAN and the average is +15, with +8 coming on the ground and +7 coming through the air. Last year in the comparable games, Michigan was +8 with +3 coming on the ground and +5 through the air.
Based on the sets of numbers, Michigan initially has been 7 to 11 points-per-game better than year’s offensive unit. This represents a very high level of play.
The Matchup: Defense
Unadjusted, Michigan has allowed +9 PAN per game this season. Almost all the damage has come through the air, and almost all of that was against Indiana. Excluding the Indiana game, the number was +6, with the damage split almost evenly between rush and pass defense. The Hoosiers' performance was +17 PAN with –5 on the ground and +22 through the air. This pushes the overall numbers to +9 with +8 coming through the air.
In the same games last year, Michigan’s defense was much more effective. Through four games, the defense held opponents to –7 PAN and was –6 against the pass. The defense moved to the middle through the rest of the season, finishing –2 PAN on the year, with –1 apiece coming on the ground and in the air.
How you evaluate this year really depends on good you think Indiana’s offense is going to be. If they continue to have success in Big 10 play, Michigan’s defensive prospects could be trending to on-par or slightly better than last year. If you think the Chappellbomb will be a dud against the rest of the Big 10, then last year’s performance is probably a best-case scenario.
One thing to consider about this defense is that its traditional stats are going to look bad no matter what. Based on the pace and success on the offensive side of the ball, Michigan is going to face more aggressive versions of their opponents, and they are going to face them on more drives, especially if the offense keeps scoring within the first minute of touching the ball. Everything you see from me will be adjusted to account for the pace. Remember: just because we gave up a ton of yards, it doesn’t mean that we had a bad day.
I am giving the defense an incomplete so far. Until we see how we fare against MSU and how Indiana does against Ohio State, the verdict is still out. If the defense can hold serve occasionally against Sparty, and Indiana can find some success against the Buckeyes, then the defense should at least be good enough to let us stretch a lead in a few games. If MSU torches us and Ohio St shuts down Chappell and Doss, we could be in for a full season of excruciatingly exciting games.
Our health, especially at key offensive positions, remains good.
The offense remains highly potent against the top tier Big 10 defenses.
The Indiana game was more of a reflection on Indiana’s great passing attack, and not our poor pass defense.
Although it doesn’t look like the defense has progressed like we had hoped (or maybe at all), the dilithium-powered offensive quantum leap has moved this team well beyond last year’s. There are still plenty of question marks out there, but it looks like until we face Ohio State’s defense to end the regular season, a Denard-led offense should be the best unit on the field. That fact alone should make a 2009 like swoon all but impossible. How much better is a question of defensive progress and Denard’s ability to shine as the defenses get better.
Alternative Title: "We Already Knew This, But I Spent The Entire Day Working On It Just To Be Sure"
I am picking up where my Notre Dame diary left off. No video was readily available for UMass, Bowling Green, or Indiana.
As noted previously, legitimate scouting of an offense should have 2-4 of the most recent games, but time and resources have forced me to focus solely on last week's game. Defensive scouting based on an a single context is limited to what that offense thought necessary to be successful at a moment in time, and impacts the validity of this diary.
Some positive notes are that the Wisconsin game is MSU's most recent, its offense had some success in the game, and it was a pivotal, contentious game (meaning MSU was unlikely to hold back much in order to win).
The focus was on data and not particular players’ ability. I didn’t review the film trying to figure out how good a particular player or position group is. Regardless, I picked up some things I note at the bottom.
I recorded 71 of 75 plays. 2 plays were not on the video and 2 were used to exhaust the clock.
I link to my own site to explain some terms.
Nominal analytical errors certainly exist, but don’t effect points made in a meaningful way.
The Badgers played both a 4-3 and 4-4 front nearly equally. (In some respects the amount doesn't matter because Wisconsin's employment of man coverage makes it less relevant.) I have them in Cover 3 over 50% of the time and in Man Free for another 25%. They didn't try to disguise what they were doing much, making rotations way before the snap. Cover 3 allowed them to bring an extra man up against the run, where they yielded a respectable 3.9 YPC. In man coverage they mostly rolled the corners up to press. I think WIS knew MSU sometimes leaves eligible receivers (TE/WR) in for protection. So when WIS went man, anyone assigned to cover an eligible who stayed in to protect rushed the passer. This forced Cousins to get rid of the ball quicker if the corners could hold out for a few seconds. Indeed, I only have Cousins connecting deep down the field once vs. man (though others ended up there with YAC.)
As you might expect, WIS was not flashy on D, bringing an extra rusher 9 times and an actual blitz twice. When WIS used 5 man games, it always played Man Free behind it. The Wisconsin front 4 and ILBs are very solid. The Front 4 had some ability to generate pressure without extra rushers. Cousins was sacked, hit, or hurried multiple times. MSU offset this some by using more bootlegs or faster developing play action. The biggest problem for WIS was its perimeter guys vs. the run. Often they didn't come close to making the play when it was possible or couldn't get off blocks.
On with the chlorophyll:
By Down & Distance
1 & 10 had 16 runs/9 pass for 64% run. 5 of those passes were play action.
2 & 3 or less - 4/4 run
2 & 7+ - 8 runs, 7 pass (split between dropback/ PAP)
3 & 3 or less - 4/4 run
3 & 4-6 - 4 pass (all 5 step), 1 run
3 & 7+ - 6 pass (all 5 step), 1 run, 1 screen
4 & 1 (x3) - Misdirection pitch, PAP, Iso strong
By Field Zone
Red Zone: 18 plays, 13 run/5 pass for 72% run. Of the 5 passes, 3 were PAP
MSU was never inside its own 15
By Personnel, Backfield, and Formation
11 Personnel (19x)
Used in 1 & 10 seven times, 2nd or 3rd and long another seven times (total)
In 17 of the 19 times 11 personnel was used, MSU lined up in Dallas or (what I call) Dolphin. These are both 2 x 2 sets. Dallas sets the 2 WRs to the field and TE, WR to the boundary. Dolphin is a mirror image with TE, WR to the field and 2 WRs to the boundary. This is the only personnel group where MSU set its passing strength into the boundary (5x).
MSU used a Gun Near/Far backfield 15x, Ace 4x
12 Personnel (17x)
I look at this personnel as MSU's go-to group. It is used in any 2nd down situation and in 3rd and short. To me, this says the offensive brain trust believes it can call a play with this group to get a first down or get themselves into a manageable 3rd down. 15 of 17 times it was used, MSU was in one of these situations.
9 runs/8 pass, 5 of which were play action
- 10 Personnel - in 6 of the 8 times used, it was 3rd and 4+. 6 of the total 8 were 5 step
21 Personnel (9x)
22 Personnel (8x)
7 of 8 plays were in Red Zone, other for 4th & 1 outside red zone
7 were runs, 1 was play action pass for final touchdown of game
This is an odd personnel group for the current age of football and it was employed in no specific situations or portions of the field. Right or wrong, it leads me to believe it was a game-specific wrinkle to mess with WIS or exploit particular defenders. Each time, MSU used a Power I Weak backfield. 4 times MSU ran in that direction.
Zone Run (23x) - Lead (10x); Outside (7x); Inside (5x); Split (1x)
5 Step (16x)
Play Action Pass (10x)
3 Step (4x)
Top 5 Plays By Result
TB Screen +35 (threw over blitzers with man coverage behind, blown assignment)
5 step +35 (Scissors concept; rubbed off defender in man coverage)
Play Action Pass - +30, +26, +24
The ESPN box score has MSU at 60% run overall (45/74)
MSU relationship between personnel on the field, down & distance, and play call is as strong as any you will see. With 3 WRs/1RB on the field you'll probably see a pass and there are probably many yards and/or few downs to go. With 2 RB and 1, 2, or 3 TE it's going to be a run (16 for 19 in this game) and probably 1 & 10 or in the Red Zone. Play action is nominally added to keep the D honest or surprise for big gain/TD. The only time MSU approaches balance is in 12 Personnel (1 RB, 2 TE). As noted before, they use this when they need a chunk of yardage and will mix run, play action, and the occasional 5 step.
I thought I'd pick up more about particular players than I did. I blame this partially on the fact that I think MSU wants to run particular plays in particular spots of the game more than get the ball into certain players hands. Are the skill guys good? Yes. Did MSU showcase any of them due to their ability? No. Also, to repeat, WIS did get good pressure with only a 4-man rush.
What does all of this mean for Michigan's defense? I don't really know other than I would bet on a lot of Cover 3.
- I apologize for the funky formatting. I copied and pasted some of this from Google Docs.