"He's a hard worker, and he watched me and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Nik (Stauksas) put work in to become (first-round picks), and I'm just happy he's getting better," Burke said. "It's great for the program, too. It shows what type of program the University of Michigan is and the direction it continues to go in."
There are two main metrics by which I look at an offense, with different philosophies emphasizing different elements. I look at how well an offense does at converting first downs ([# of plays gaining a first down]/[# of first downs started]) and how good an offense is at stretching the field with explosive plays (Any yards gained beyond the first down line).
Below are the season numbers for each of Doug Nussmeier’s seasons alongside of the last 11 Michigan seasons for reference:
Blue=Michigan Red=Alabama Purple=Washington Gray=Fresno St
The top right quadrant is the Oregon zone. Offense that are really good at both. They consistently generate first downs but also produce big plays. The lower right quadrant is feast or famine. Lots of big plays, but can’t consistently convert first downs. The top left is probably where Brady Hoke wants to be, not consistently pushing the tempo or the big plays, but able to grind out first down after first down. The bottom left is for offenses that can’t do either well.
The Washington Years
As noted by Brian, in 2009 Nussmeier took over a tire fire of an offense. If there was a dot for 2008 Washington, you wouldn’t see it because it would be even lower and left of 2008 Michigan! His first year the offense improved along both dimensions and moved to bad but not awful. 2010 saw a bit more explosiveness but in year three the offense took a major step forward along both metrics.
Consistent improvement over three years is a very good sign. In fact, if you compare 2008-2011 Washington and Michigan, every year but 2010 is very similar and demonstrate a lot of positive improvement.
The Alabama Years
For a reference starting point, 2011 Alabama was most similar to 2004 Michigan. That was the team that beat LSU in the national championship. You can have an offense like that when you have a defense like that allows 37 bonus yards/game and an absurd 42% first down conversion (MSU was 59% this year).
In his first year turned the mediocre 2011 offense into a very good chain moving offense in 2012. For 2013 the moved further in that direction. The 82.7% first down conversion in 2013 was the third highest number since 2013. Some of that was due to the overall regression of defenses in the SEC in 2013. Texas A&M actually set the record this year with 82.9% conversions.
This does seem to be the coordinator who can do the things that Borges can’t while still fitting into Hoke’s desire for what his team’s offense looks like. Where Michigan has spent the last three years moving backwards, every single Nussmeier coordinated offense has shown year on year improvement. There aren’t going to be fireworks or a spread offense, most likely, but there should be a lot of first downs and hopefully consistent improvement.
From a watchability standpoint, this won’t be the fun offense many of where hoping for. It is a system that in the presence of elite talent and great defense can do everything you need it to. I have a working hypothesis that if your goal is national championships this is the way to go. Great defenses seem to have lower variance than great offenses. Put a team together around an elite offense and you get 10 amazing games and 2 games where the wheels fall off. Build it around a great defense and you are probably in all 12 games. Elite offense is great for making the leap from bad to good but if you want to get good to great, it has to start on defense. I’ll be pulling some more data this offseason to test this out.
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
*All TD’s counted as 7 points, regardless of PAT outcome
Michigan finally got what it wanted on offense. They found the big plays, stayed out of bad third downs, converted the ones they had. Unfortunately that was paired with the defense flipping the script. After being a bend but don’t break unit, they mostly broke against the Buckeyes. The 71% early conversion was the second highest number of the Big Ten season behind only the 74% Ohio State achieved against Purdue.
2. Individual Game Scores
QBs: Opp. Adjusted EV, Win percent added (National Rank)
Devin Gardner: +23.9, +91% (2)
Braxton Miller: +18.9, +63% (3)
Derrick Green: –0.8, –3% (91)
Carlos Hyde: +7.4, +26% (3)
Jeremy Gallon: +12.9, +32% (6)
Jake Butt: +8.0, +29% (39)
Drew Dileo: +7.4, +26% (44)
Devin Smith: +5.5, +13% (88)
Although it was painful to watch Carlos Hyde abuse the interior of the Michigan defense again, it should be noted he is having an extremely underrated season. Hyde is currently +5.4 on the season, the best season average since 2003. Reggie Bush is the only other player to crack +5 in a season and only JJ Arrington and Melvin Gordon have been +4. It is very difficult for a running back to create significant value, especially over a large number of carries, but Carlos Hyde has done it at a level not seen in the last decade.
Jeremy Gallon finished the year first among all Big Five receivers nationally at +8.5. His omission from the First team All Big Ten was appalling. Devin Funchess finished the year fourth among all players listed as tight ends and 83rd for all players with a +4.6 receiving.
Devin Gardner’s season has certainly been up and down, but he currently holds two of the top six opponent adjusted games on the season (Ohio St and Indiana) and 3 of the top 50 (including Notre Dame). If Michigan can shore up its offensive line and Gardner can protect the ball, he should be in line for a big step forward, even though this season nearly cracked the top 10 for quarterbacks.
There are three key ways I evaluate quarterbacks, EV+ which is an opponent adjusted look at how many points per game a QB is worth versus the average offensive play, WPA which is a measure of when those plays occurred and their contribution to the game result and point versus team replacement which is a measure of taking one player’s plays and replacing them with the average play that didn’t go through them. Devin Gardner was one of only two players to rank in the top 15 in all three metrics, Johnny Manziel being the second.
Devin’s EV+ for the season was +7.0, 12th in the country (Petty +12.3, Winston +10.9 and Manziel +10.4). His total win percent added was +440%, 3rd in the country (Carr +510%, Manziel +450%). His points versus team replacement was 103 points which was also third (Gilbert SMU +168, Schroeder Hawaii +127). Devin Gardner has his rough moments but there aren’t more than a handful of players this season I would trade his output for, let alone his perseverance.
3. Game Chart
6. +13% Gardner to Gallon for 84 yards
5. –13% Miller to Smith for a 53 yard touchdown on 3rd and 10
4. +15% Gardner hits Jake Butt for to tie the game at 35
3. –15% Braxton Miller runs for 33 yards on the opening play of OSU’s final drive
2. +21% Gardner to Toussaint for 29 yards to set up the final touchdown
1. –35% Michigan’s two point attempt fails
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Last weekend, Hawaii punted from the Army 31 and it may have been the right call. Facing a 4th and 3 with about 30 seconds left, Hawaii held onto a 7 point lead in what would end up being their first win of the season. A first down would have ended the game, but after starting 0-11, Norm Chow’s Rainbow Warriors punted away, giving Army a 95 yard field and 24 seconds to try and tie the game. Most of the time this would get a dumb punt of the week, but we’ll give Hawaii a pass after this season.
Vanderbilt trailed Wake Forest by 3 early in the second half when the Commodores faced a 4th and 3 from the Wake 38 and opted for the punt over the try. Vanderbilt went on to win and Jim Grobe stepped down after the game. It’s hard to give the dumb punt to a winning team except in the most egregious cases.
Looking west, Colorado has hit on hard times of late, but 4 wins this year is actually a step forward. This weekend they trailed Utah by 14 and faced 4th and 2 at midfield. With seven minutes to go, down 2 scores, a makeable distance, going is not that hard of a call, right? Colorado decided that they didn’t want to risk it and punted away. Three minutes later they got the ball back, still down 2 scores, at the same spot. They got best case scenario and cost themselves 3 out of 7 minutes left.
Colorado gets your Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
5. The Shutout Streak
I raided Brian’s mailbag for a question:
Drew Hallett's blogpost about the non-shutout-streak mentions that Michigan is the most recent team to shutout Illinois, Indiana, MSU, Minnesota, OSU, and PSU, which is a neat stat.
I was wondering if there was any easy way to find which D1 team is the holder of "most recent shutout of the most other teams"? Seems like an interesting trivia answer to compute. Any idea?
Michigan’s six last shutout number is second in all of football. The fact that none of the six were against cupcakes makes it even more so. When the divisions switch next year, Michigan will have the last shutout against all four division foes from the 2013 Big Ten.
After crawling through the sports-reference.com archives, I found that the six team total is the second highest. Alabama currently holds the record with nine, tied at six against conference foes and adding three cupcakes to the total. Eight of the nine have come while Nick Saban was the coach.
For those looking in the rear view mirror in case Michigan gets shut out, the longest other active streaks in terms of dates (I didn’t bother to go to games) are:
Florida vs Auburn, 10/29/88
TCU vs Texas, 11/16/91
Air Force vs Ole Miss, 12/31/92
Ohio St vs Michigan, 11/20/93
Michigan has a full four year head start on Florida, but if both of the two teams survived this year’s offensive woes, it seems like the streak could last for a while. A few other observations:
- Ohio St, Michigan St, BYU, Texas, Mississippi St, Army, Oklahoma St and Auburn were all goose egged by rivals
- Four teams have their last shutout in a bowl games, besides LSU in the championship game all three others were on NYE games. Watch out if Michigan ends up playing on 12/31, it’s apparently the bowl day when offense’s take the whole night off.
- Behind Alabama and Michigan, Oklahoma has five last shutouts, followed by TCU, Ohio St, Nebraska and Florida St with 4.
- The median shutout is Tulsa’s 45-0 loss to Oklahoma on September 19, 2009
If you are curious how recent shutouts have occurred, here is a histogram of the season of the last shutout for every team in the FBS:
1997 and 2000 were apparently really good year’s to get shut out.
6. Prediction – Big Ten Title Game Edition
|Exp Pts||Conv Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|OSU Off||27.0 (63/5)||81% (10/1)||185 (11/1)||5.5 (29/3)|
|MSU Def||22.7 (9/1)||59% (2/1)||90 (6/2)||4.0 (7/2)|
|MSU Off||29.4 (18/1)||70% (78/10)||113 (98/11)||4.4 (113/12)|
|OSU Def||22.8 (11/2)||72% (67/9)||115 (24/5)||5.3 (83/10)|
As much as I don’t want to watch this game for Michigan related reasons it fascinates me for other reasons. Elite shut down defenses aren’t built with three star defenses. It’s been done on offense, but rarely on defense. Michigan State has crafted their defense into an elite offense strangulation machine. They have not played a dynamic offense like Ohio St yet this year.
While the Michigan St defense’s attempt to shutdown Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will be the matchup everyone will be watching, I think the game will be won on the other matchup. Ohio St’s defense is an OK unit, but the Michigan St offense still isn’t great. They are in the bottom three in the three key offensive metrics and while the Buckeyes don’t have Michigan State’s defense, they should have enough to keep things in check. I think the Spartans would need to go at least +2 in turnovers/special teams swing plays to pull this one out.
Ohio State 28 Michigan State 20
C’mon Fitz, Courage would have made the tackle there (Fuller)
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
Field position kept Michigan alive in regulation and a strong day of early downs helped offset what we know to be an abysmal third down stretch. The defense posted outstanding numbers across the board, holding Northwestern below 40% on early conversions while still generating a lot of long difficult third downs and that Northwestern did a below average job of converting. Michigan’s offensive day wasn’t very good until overtime, but you can see more positive signs in their day than you can in Northwestern’s.
2. Individual Game Scores
QBs: Opp. Adjusted EV, Win percent added (National Rank)
Devin Gardner: –7, +30% (99)
Kain Colter: –1, +21% (72)
Trevor Siemian: –6, –19% (94)
Derrick Green: –1, –5% (139)
Treyvon Green: +1, +11% (71)
Mike Trumpy: +0, +1% (96)
Jeremy Gallon: +6, +48% (61)
Devin Funchess: +3, +17% (163)
Devin Gardner had his easily his lowest rated game of the season with only 285 yards on 55 plays (all numbers with sacks removed). He was +4.3 in overtime though, adding 34% to Michigan’s win odds in the period. Northwestern’s quarterbacks equaled the ugly numbers with Trevor Siemian being the worst performer with a –6 on the day. Derrick Green’s –1 isn’t great out of context, but considering Fitzgerald Toussaint’s numbers have been some of the worst in the country, moving close to average is a major step forward.
3. Game Chart
6. +19% Gardner hits Jake Butt for a TD to open overtime scoring
5. +21% Gardner hits Gallon to set up the fire drill FG attempt
4. +24% Gardner runs it in for the 2 point conversion
3. –27% Gardner loses a yard on the big 4th down call
2. +27% Gibbons hits from 44 yards to sent it to overtime
1. –35% Gardner sacked for a loss of 13 on the final drive
Amazingly in a game this close all six of the biggest plays came when Michigan had the ball. Four of them were positive and two were negative. Overtime was unique in that even though it was triple overtime, Michigan was always in control. Scoring touchdowns when you go first will do that for you.
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
Some coaches are really stepping up their dumb punt game with the regular season nearing its close. Kent St saw a 4th and 5 with a 15 point lead in the fourth. Usually not a bad situation to punt in other than they were so deep in Miami (NTM) territory that a 14 yard turned out better than a touchback would have.
Sean Kugler, father of Michigan freshman Patrick was in a similar situation at UTEP. It was a ten point lead in the third and the Miners were facing 4th and 7 from the FIU 30. It would have been a classic no man’s land situation at the 40, but at the thirty? That’s practically punting from the red zone. It did work out for the Coach Kugler as the punt was downed at the four and resulted in a safety on the next possession. Ultimately having FIU as an opponent was more important than fourth down strategy as UTEP picked up its second win of the year.
Of course the Dumb Punt of the week just can’t escape Big Ten country, or Ron Zook’s previous employer for that matter. Normally punting on 4th and 13 from your own 17 is an automatic response. But what if there are only five minutes left and you are only down 12 to the team with the nation’s longest winning streak? Just like Gary Andersen did as Wisconsin played Ohio State, Tim Beckman puckered up and punted. Hoping to get the old stop, score on-side score again combination for the win. The Illini defense did half of their job well, getting the ball quickly back into the hands of the offense, unfortunately it was after allowing a 2 play 60 yard TD drive. Illinois then went three and out and punted again before allowing a one play 55 yard TD, turning a 12 point upset potential into a 25 point no-contest. Once again, Tim Beckman is your Ron Zook Dumb Punter of the week.
Bonus Pointless Field Goal of the Week:
Future B1G member Rutgers, got pasted by Cincinnati last week but they managed to cover the –35.5 point line by kicking a short 36 yard field goal with 16 seconds left to cut the lead from 38 to 35. Rutgers, getting their B1G on a year early.
5. Where Have All the Big Plays Gone
One of the stats I have started tracking this year is bonus yards which are defined as any yards gained beyond achieving a first down. Gain 11 on 1st and 10, that’s one bonus yard. 3rd and 1 play goes for 50 yards, that’s 49 bonus yards. It’s a measure of big plays that captures both quantity and magnitude. Michigan’s big play offense has been up and down but downfield success has been disappearing as Big Ten play has progressed.
The Indiana game has been removed because there is no doubt at this point that the results of that game were more about Indiana’s lack of defense than our presence of an offense. The last three games have struggled to crack 100 yards beyond the line of scrimmage after four of the first six games have crossed 140 yards. You can see it in the UConn game as well as early turnovers forced Devin Gardner into a safe place.
As currently constructed, this is Michigan’s only chance at generating offensive output. The offensive line struggles have made drive crimpling lost yardage a regular occurrence. If Michigan is going to get the offense to hold up the defense at all, I think it’s going to have to come in the form of big plays downfield because 12 play drives just aren’t going to happen.
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone||Total Conv|
|Mich O||29.7 (24)||47% (38)||158 (37)||8.7 (125)||-3% (88)||4.9 (74)||70% (75)|
|Iowa D||24.3 (30)||35% (3)||115 (25)||6.2 (110)||-2% (39)||5.0 (58)||64% (14)|
|Iowa O||26.7 (64)||41% (85)||114 (96)||5.7 (4)||-3% (88)||4.7 (83)||70% (76)|
|Mich D||30.1 (106)||43% (34)||113 (22)||6.9 (73)||0% (67)||4.5 (25)||67% (28)|
QB EV (National Rank/B1G Rank)
Devin Gardner: +6.2 (13/2)
Jake Rudock: +1 (70/??)
Fitzgerald Toussaint: –3 (160/19)
Damon Bullock: –0 (85/11)
Mark Weisman: –1 (120/17)
Jeremy Gallon: +8 (7/1)
Devin Funchess: +5 (52/6)
Iowa: No receivers in top 250 nationally
I feel like this season has turned into a broken record. Michigan’s defense should be in position to hold an average offense to a modest score relative to field position and the offense will then be tasked with finding away to put some points on the board. That may or may not happen. Iowa’s offense is just like Michigan’s defense, bed but don’t break. They aren’t great at big plays or early conversions but they are outstanding at staying ahead of the chains and managing third downs.
Can Michigan’s offense generate any big plays? That is the question at this point. The idea of consistently stringing together first downs seems so failed at this point. Too many negative plays, too much lost yardage. If Michigan can regain its big play swagger then they should be able to score some points but absent of that it should be another ugly Big Ten slog of a game.
Iowa [7 field goals] Michigan [5 field goals and a safety]
I’m not touching the play call itself. Most of have pretty strong feelings about it. Criticizing a failed play in hindsight is usually a pretty lazy thing to do, but Michigan has a set of plays this year that have a firm history of no success and should never be run in critical situations.
But what about the decision itself to go for the 1st down. In the situation there were two possible choices and two possible outcomes for each.
|Kick the FG||Success/Failure|
|Go for the 1st||Success/Failure|
Each choice has an associated odds of success and each outcome has a resulting win odds.
Kick The FG
The safe, NFL worthy decision would have been to kick the field goal (“Take the points,” because field goals are never missed). In a low scoring game this probably gets you to overtime and there are no guarantees you get another chance or that you can take advantage of it. The downside is that with about 5 minutes to go, you are opening the door to give Northwestern the ball with plenty of time to drive the field and run out the clock.
A successful field goal means kicking off in a tie game with about 5 minutes left. In this situation, the team kicking off wins about 46% of the time. A made field goal would have made Michigan a slight underdog.
In the fourth quarter of close games, college kickers make 94% of field goals from inside the 5 yard line. Those are pretty good odds, but still a 1 in 16 chance that the kick is missed or blocked. A missed kick would have given Northwestern the ball at the 20 and dropped Michigan’s odds of winning to 23%.
Go for the First Down
Picking up positive yardage has been a challenge for Michigan the last month. Had they been able to convert for a first down their win odds would jump up to 70% (74% with a touchdown). Still plenty of time for a Northwestern touchdown, but definitely putting Michigan in the driver’s seat.
The failure to secure the first down left Michigan with a 34% chance at victory. Far from over but a lot of leverage on the play.
The Break Even Point
A field goal attempt would have given Michigan a 45% chance at victory once the small chance of a miss or block is factored in. With 70% odds with a first down and 34% odds if they failed to get the first down, Michigan would need to be able to have at least a 30% chance of success to break even on going for the first down. Michigan has had its troubles on offense but a 30% break even point is a low bar. 3rd or 4th and 1’s from inside the 5 are converted at 57% historically. So even if Michigan was half as likely as an average team to convert it still would have been an even decision with kicking the field goal.
If the numbers seem too high or too low there are a couple of follow up dynamics in play. A failed fourth down would have left Northwestern with the ball and the lead late. Coaching history as taught us that this is a recipe for most coaches to curl up into a ball and try and ground out the clock and if they’re lucky get a first down or two. Because of this often failed mentality, giving the other team back the ball with a lead can be more valuable than giving them back the ball with a tie where there is some pressure to push forward.
I think this was absolutely the correct decision to go for the first down in the situation even if the “execution” was less than ideal.
I believe this photo was taken before the game (Upchurch)
Let’s try this again after accidentally deleting the original version.
1 The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
Gave up a few points in field position, that could be worse…
Actually did better getting early conversions than MSU, that’s encouraging…
Lost the bonus yards, that’s a bit troubling…
Oh wow, that average third down distance is awful…
And that adjusted 3rd down conversion is after adjusting for the 12.7 average…
At this point the red zone doesn’t even matter.
When it went bad on Saturday, it went really bad. Take out the final two drives and my prediction of holding the MSU offense a touchdown below field position is about spot on. Michigan State owned the world when Michigan had the ball. The 12.7 average is the third worst number on the season for any team in any game. It was not good.
2 Individual Performances
QBs: Points Added (opp. adjusted), Win Percent Added (Weekly National Rank)
Devin Gardner: +2, –4% (43)
Connor Cook: +1, +12% (54)
Fitzgerald Toussaint: +0.2, –3% (n/a)
Jeremy Langford: –1.5, +3% (72)
Jeremy Gallon: +4.5, +11% (101)
Bennie Fowler: +7.2, +16% (32)
[Game chart of impending doom followed by doom, follwed by more doom.]
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