Moving The (Stati)Sticks: Utah

Moving The (Stati)Sticks: Utah Comment Count

Adam Schnepp September 11th, 2015 at 1:53 PM



Brian recently wrote a great Picture Pages that wrapped the “football is a game of inches” trope in a box and tied a nice, neat bow around it. Reading it is a visceral experience, a reminder of the miniscule events that can swing a game. If that’s looking at football through a microscope, what happens when we climb up to the photo deck and pull out a wide-angle lens?

We’re lucky enough to have people like Bill Connelly and MGoBlog’s own The Mathlete wondering the same thing and working toward achieving focus with a zoomed-out view of the game. Connelly wrote an influential piece about the five factors that he found to influence the outcome of a game, while The Mathlete’s research has come up with four. The purpose of this new weekly post is to pick through those factors and find what influenced last weekend’s outcome, as well as whether it was expected (turnovers are not great, Bob) or unexpected (I’d give you an example but then it’d fall into the “obvious” category, wouldn’t it).

I can hear my boss down the hall give me a quick summary of what I need to know about advanced stats before I have to switch to a different tab.

That’s oddly specific. It’s almost like the author of this piece has some prior experience with a scenario very similar to this one in a prior job. Anyway, Bill Connelly’s five factors are:

  • Explosiveness: If you’re averaging more yards per play than your opponent you’re in good shape. Win probability swings wildly here; averaging just 0.1 yards per play more than your opponent raises win probability from 50% to 55%. Connelly also has a more advanced Equivalent Points Per Play metric that also accounts for the equivalent point value of the yard line from which a play is run.
  • Efficiency: Last season the coaches often said that they “fell behind the sticks.” In effect, they were saying that the offense wasn’t very efficient. Success Rate is basically a measure of how well your offense stays on track; to be counted as a success a first-down play needs to get 50% of necessary yardage, a second-down play needs 70%, and third- and fourth-down plays need 100%.
  • Field Position: Turns out starting closer to the endzone than your opponent is kind of a big deal. I’ll let Connelly explain it numerically.
  • Finishing Drives: Connelly looks at how successful a team was inside the opponents’ 40-yard line. His argument is that there isn’t that big a difference in how teams perform inside the 20, but you do see some difference if you expand the range you’re looking at by 20 yards. It’s a pretty intuitive thing to look at; if you’re getting into opponent territory and not coming away with points you’re probably not going to win.
  • Turnovers: Just don’t do them. Giving up the ball cuts off your opportunity to score while handing the opponent an extra one. We’ve already talked about field position, and with that being a component of a turnover you can understand how costly they can be from the standpoint of win expectancy.
    The Mathlete’s four factors are similar in principle to Connelly’s, but are calculated differently. In his words, they are:

Conversion rate = [1st Downs gained]/[1st Down plays (including first play of drive)]. A three and out is 0/1. A one play touchdown is 1/1. Two first downs and then a stop is 2/3, etc.

Bonus Yards = [Yards gained beyond the first down line]/[Total plays from scrimmage]

Field Position = The expected point difference per game for where a team’s offense starts and where a team’s defense starts. Each drive is given an expected value based on the start of scrimmage, all of the drives for the offense and defense are totaled and compared. This accounts for all elements of field position: turnovers, special teams, drive penetration etc.

The fourth one is points per trip inside the red zone, which is self explanatory.

I’m back. Can you start writing about numbers so it looks like I’m doing something important and work related?

I mean, I guess? I’d recommend opening a sheet in Excel but that’s just me. Let’s look at The Mathlete’s factors first.

Team Field Pos Rank Conv Rate Rank Bonus YPP Rank Red Zone Rank
Michigan 21.0 60 73 30 1.52 59 5.6 27
Utah 27.9 28 73 30 1.64 55 5.6 27

That’s about as close as it gets with the exception of field position. Mathlete has Michigan’s average start at their 21 while Bill Connelly’s advanced stats box score has Michigan’s average start at their 30.9. I did some charting myself and also came up with 30.9, so the 21 is likely just a typo. The national average starting position is 29.6. With both schools a little over a yard away from that mark, field position turns into another category that’s essentially a wash.

Switching from where they started to where they finished, Michigan and Utah both made six trips inside the 40 and 3 inside the red zone, and both came away with 17 points from those trips. As Mathlete has noted, that results in both teams averaging a fairly good 5.6 points per red zone trip.

From this we can conclude that field position data doesn’t do a good job of explaining what happened. Looking at efficiency doesn’t unmuddy the waters much either. Bill Connelly uses a stat called Leverage Rate as a part of efficiency. Leverage Rate basically tells you what percentage of plays the offense was on track (i.e. all first downs, second and seven or less, and third or fourth and four or less). Michigan’s leverage rate was 70.8%, while Utah’s was 72.9%. Both topped the national average of 68.3%.

Digging through more of Connelly’s advanced box score tells us what the eye test already has: the run game was a little below average, while the passing game was actually really good if you exclude the three interceptions.

I’m hiding in the bathroom please just get to the point.

The first place there’s any real separation is passing downs success rate, where Michigan was successful on 33.3% of throws while Utah was successful on only 10.5%. The separation in passing games is echoed by Michigan’s 25.8 to 19.1 advantage in equivalent points from passing (I highly recommend checking out the definition of equivalent points here).

That doesn’t mean that Utah’s passing game was a total flop; their IsoPPP, which is basically a measure of explosiveness, was 3.37 while Michigan’s was just 1.95. (The national average is 1.84). As mentioned above, I did some rudimentary charting where my criteria for explosiveness was a 10+ yard run or a 20+ yard pass. I had Utah with two such passes in the game while Michigan had three. I’m not sure I’m using the best explosiveness proxy, as Utah did have a number of throws in the range of 15 yards that didn’t meet my criteria for explosiveness but certainly could have had an effect on IsoPPP.

Hey thanks I had to go back to my desk and you still haven’t given me a good explanation of what happened.

If I had to pin it on one thing it’d be turnovers. Utah was +2 in turnover margin, while their turnover points margin was +13.8. In a game where all other factors were relatively close this is massive. In fact, Connelly’s projected scoring margin had Michigan losing by 13.0, but they managed to lose by only seven.

That, along with a good statistical performance from the passing game, was counterintuitively positive. The running game, however, was a fairly clear negative. The offensive line’s struggles resulted in 2.38 line yards per carry, well below the 2.82 LY/carry national average. Even Utah’s line generated 2.74 LY/carry despite the outward perception that Devontae Booker was bottled up. Michigan’s rushing success rate was 31.0%, which isn’t even in the neighborhood of the 42.9% national average. Not having an explosive run game is tenable if your success rate is high, which Michigan’s wasn’t. Improvement there and some regression to the mean in the turnover department should lead to success for Michigan.


Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Utah

Upon Further Review 2015: Offense vs Utah Comment Count

Brian September 10th, 2015 at 3:29 PM

Upon Further Review still has a sponsor.


We have managed to maintain our sponsorship relation for a day, which is progress for us. During this day we would like to reiterate that Seth and I both refinanced with Homesure, which was both easy—everything's over a secure internet dropbox, so you don't have to put on pants—and efficient—he asks all the banks which one will give you the best deal. He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.

FORMATION NOTES: Where the defense alternated between basically two setups, the offense was a smorgasbord of stuff ranging from five wide…


…to unbalanced goal line packages…

goal line unbalanced

To this, which I called "offset Maryland I":

offset maryland i

FWIW, I filed Poggi as a tight end in the table.

PERSONNEL NOTES: Rudock your QB. Line was Cole/Braden/Glasgow/Kalis/Magnuson the whole way except for a few snaps on which Logan Tuley-Tillman came in to play tackle that used Mason Cole as an inline tight end (who can't go downfield).

Butt played almost every snap—maybe every single one. There was a lot of rotation aside from him. Henry Poggi got the most time as an H-back; Kerridge was your traditional fullback. Williams got the most time other than Butt as an inline TE. We saw a little bit of Hill and Bunting.

WR was mostly Darboh and Chesson on the outside, with Harris rotating in. Perry played in the slot, sometimes in twins formations in which there were two TEs.

Smith was the main back with Isaac getting maybe 20% of the snaps behind him. Green and Taylor-Douglas got a few snaps each.

[After THE JUMP: throwing guys in the wrong direction.]


Upon Further Review 2015: Defense vs Utah

Upon Further Review 2015: Defense vs Utah Comment Count

Brian September 9th, 2015 at 3:06 PM

Upon Further Review has a sponsor!


UFR is the ur content of MGoBlog. We've had sponsor offers in the past, but they were never the right fit. This is the right fit. Longtime reader and MGoBlog supporter Matt Demorest started Homesure Lending on the same principles as Upon Further Review: chart the information that's out there, and try to turn it into sense.

As a mortgage broker he has the flexibility to get the right lender and right pricing structure, and as a small niche outfit for Southeast Michigan he doesn't have to charge much to get you the right deal. He refinanced my house and Seth's house, and I was really happy about my rate until I heard Seth's rate. He bought everyone drinks at Ashley's last week. This was an undertaking.


He's got a ticket offer going for a Michigan football or basketball game. If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.

FORMATION NOTES: Michigan spent the entire game in nickel save for scattered snaps in a dime package with three safeties (Hill, Thomas, Wilson) on it. Their first drive they came out in an odd front featuring the buck as a standup end:

30 nickel press

Either they weren't happy with the play there or it was just a stunt, because after the first drive Michigan spent most of the rest of the day with an even four-man front:


On occasion they'd do this or something similar with a standup end; this pinched formation saw a hard line slant that got Wormley through for one of his impressive penetration plays:

nickel even tight press

And that was about it. Michigan spent the entire game with one very deep safety—generally 15 or more yards off the LOS; sometimes they'd offer a two high look but they always came down with one or the other presnap.

PERSONNEL NOTES: Line was mostly Henry/Glasgow/Wormley/Ojemudia. Matt Godin got the most time of any backup, spotting both Wormley and Henry frequently and pretty effectively. Charlton played a reasonable number of snaps behind Henry as well. Maurice Hurst was mostly a passing down sub for Glasgow; he did get a few standard down snaps. RJS saw a little bit of time.

At linebacker it was mostly Morgan and Bolden. Gedeon got a drive; Ross got a couple. Secondary was Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill 100% of the time and a mix of Stribling and Clark at the last spot. Thomas got some snaps in the dime package.

[After THE JUMP: battling a very spread out spread]


Picture Pages: Circle Routes

Picture Pages: Circle Routes Comment Count

Brian September 8th, 2015 at 12:17 PM

Despite some post-burial kicking at the ceiling, Jake Rudock's pick six was the final nail in Michigan's coffin against Utah. It came on a route that I've called a "circle" for a bit now. The idea is that you run a slant, then abort that halfway through into an out route. Corner jumps the slant, you get some nice separation and hooray beer. Or you run an out, corner jumps the out, etc.

The general idea is that it is a horizontal double move. I've called it "circle" probably because NCAA football did back in the day; you can see that on a successful one the WR does tend to run in a little circle after his first break:

Both Utah and Michigan tried to run these routes on Thursday, with different results. Here are those plays… AT THE SAME TIME.

On the left will be a Utah throw on their first touchdown drive. It's second and six; Michigan is in the nickel they ran the whole day, showing press coverage on the outside.

On the right, Michigan attempts to convert a third and three halfway through the fourth quarter while down a touchdown.


As far as we're concerned these plays are completely identical to start: we are looking at the slot receiver to the bottom of the screen with a corner who is locked up in man coverage three yards off the line of scrimmage.


A couple moments after the snap both WRs have crossed the LOS; the only difference in the corners is that the Utah guy has taken a step forward, perhaps anticipating this route.

[After the JUMP: everything goes fine because HARBAUGH? Probably!]


MGoPodcast 7.1: Beckman Memorial Podcast

MGoPodcast 7.1: Beckman Memorial Podcast

1 hour 26 minutes


[Bryan Fuller]


Welp. Hopefully Loluteleileileilei is just that good; otherwise maybe not so much. Rudock dissected.


Pretty good, pretty much where they left off. Second corner not targeted much, so that's good. Run defense stiff, Bolden replaced, Wormley rampant.


Neither depressing nor immediately impactful.


Our Tim Beckman Memorial Podcast section, with special WTF Bobby Petrino asides. Extensive discussion of Rutgers-Norfolk State.


"Across 110th Street"
"Short Skirt Long Jacket," CAKE
"The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald," Gordon Lightfoot
"Fighting In A Sack," The Shins


One Frame At A Time: Utah

One Frame At A Time: Utah Comment Count

Ace September 7th, 2015 at 9:51 AM

There's so much going on here.

  1. Harbaugh discarding all his playsheets except the green one in a way that would seem exasperated except he looks completely calm the entire time.
  2. Harbaugh has a guy for this, and that guy is ready.
  3. The coaches behind Harbaugh are unfazed by all of this.
  4. Except, that is, for the guy holding the giant Tennessee Titans helmet placard, who's ready to spring into action and grab that wayward playsheet until Mr. B snags it. Strong situational awareness there.
  5. Oh, right, and then Harbaugh licks his fingers and smacks his own ass.

For the record, Green Ass Smack was a pass that very well might have worked except Michigan blew the protection.

[Hit THE JUMP for more Harbaugh, Peppers, and the best BUTTDOWN yet.]


You Have Read This Column Before

You Have Read This Column Before Comment Count

Brian September 4th, 2015 at 1:45 PM

9/3/2015 – Michigan 17, Utah 24 – 0-1


[Bryan Fuller]

I feel like I wrote this column already. In 2008, Michigan played a Utah team people expected would be pretty good. (They ended up very good, going undefeated, beating 'Bama in a bowl game, and finishing #2.) Michigan lost a somewhat close game. After, I used the then-skeletal luxury boxes as a metaphor for the team: under construction.

Michigan is still under construction. It has been under construction for going on eight years now. We brought in one company that insisted on turning half the building into pudding storage, and then it was a snake museum, and then a sand silo. Eventually the thing looked like the world's most totally rad Porsche hooked up to a pile of pudding, snakes, and quicksand. The next company fixed that at the same time they turned the rad Porsche into a Yugo full of clowns and if NEITHER OF THESE THINGS SOUNDS AT ALL LIKE A BUILDING YOU MAY BE ON TO SOMETHING THERE.

I also feel like I wrote this column already. Last year Michigan played Utah relatively even down to down, in fact outgaining the Utes, and lost because they were minus three in turnovers. This year they played Utah relatively even, outgained the Utes, and lost because they were (functionally) minus three in turnovers. Oh look, it's the game we play against Utah.

That there is a game we play against Utah that is a loss in which Michigan's offense spends much of its time armpit farting says a lot about the state of the program now, but you can go two paragraphs up if you'd like to relive that some more. You might. You're a Michigan fan. By now you must be into some pretty weird stuff.

The game wasn't quite the same as those other two. This one was less depressing. The first featured a walk-on at quarterback; afterwards it was clear that Michigan was going to struggle to maintain their bowl streak.

Last year was this game:

You know, the one with the downpour that everyone left during that was the end of Brady Hoke before THE END OF BRADY HOKE against Minnesota. The one with the ten-man punt return. The one with the column titled "By This Grainy Screenshot We Will Curse Thy Name."

So it wasn't that. Neither was it the grand debut of a Stanfordized Michigan. Despite the occasional media doofus retcon about Michigan fans being brought back to reality, nobody actually expected that in year one, and especially not game one.

I will admit was hoping they'd have a run longer than seven yards.

Not so much. Utah's burly front straight up whipped the Michigan offensive line. One replay of a failed third-and-short sneak featured Ben Braden getting moonwalked back into the quarterback. Mason Cole specialized in second-level whiffs. Kyle Kalis got dumped on his ass in the first half. Large creases were virtually nonexistent. Other than De'Veon Smith missing a cutback lane on second and three in the second half, lanes eschewed weren't obvious enough to induce groans.

They just could not cope with the defensive line, and that sounds like the most familiar thing of all. So we reset expectations again. Once more they have an offensive line working towards competency in a new system, and this will hold them back until such time as it doesn't anymore.

I wish I knew when that was going to be. It should be coming, as it always seems to for Harbaugh. It's hard not to be impatient when you've seen this all before. I have, and it's fine, I guess. I have faith that Jim Harbaugh is going to get there and everything will be wonderful and full of sprinkles topped with sprinkles. Yes, the struggle to the top is critical to the reward at the end. I would still like to fast forward to that bit.


Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award. #1 Jake Butt quickly established himself one of those WR/TEs that is basically Ertz/Fleener Voltron.

#2 Chris Wormley tore through the Utah line like it was made of tissue paper several times in the first half; by the second Utah had just about given up on trying to run Booker inside.

#3 Willie Henry also thundered his way through the line with frequency, pressuring Wilson and dissuading

Honorable mention: Amara Darboh had a bunch of catches and one unfortunately critical drop; De'Veon Smith looked like a guy who will be a nightmare if he gets gaps consistently; Jourdan Lewis shut his guy off; Jabrill Peppers erased screens.


3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: Chris Wormley (#2, Utah)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah)

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

For the single individual best moment.

Jake Butt skies over two defensive backs to bring in a spectacular #buttdown.

Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill drops a delayed punt at the two yard line. Wormley storms through the center of the line for a TFL.


Utah: Crazy #buttdown.


This week's worst thing ever.

Rudock throws a pick six in the general direction of Grant Perry, who was in the general direction of Rudock's two other picks.

Honorable mention: The two other picks. That 74 yard Utah punt. That Utah fumble that bounced directly to the only other Ute in a six-block radius.


Utah: circle route pick six.

[After THE JUMP: a much shorter bullets section than normal because usually I have an extra day to pull this all together, Thursday games are stupid]


Utah 24, Michigan 17

Utah 24, Michigan 17 Comment Count

Ace September 4th, 2015 at 12:22 AM

Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog

A coaching change can only do so much.

Michigan flashed their potential to turn the corner. De'Veon Smith had some punishing runs. Jake Butt couldn't be covered. Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson consistently got open. The alignment of Chris Wormley and Willie Henry looked like a stroke of genius at times. Jourdan Lewis locked down one side of the field. After an up-and-down first half, Jabrill Peppers looked like a five-star talent in the second. Blake O'Neill had that punt.

But the mistakes were numerous. Jake Rudock's first interception looked to be the fault of freshman slot receiver Grant Perry, who hitched when Rudock expected him to cut outside. The next two Rudock picks, both thrown in Perry's direction, looked to be the fault of the quarterback; the third proved especially costly when Utah's Justin Thomas jumped a throw to the flat and took it back 55 yards for a score, giving the Utes a late 24-10 lead. Rudock also missed a few open deep throws that could've changed the outcome of the game; he finished with an underwhelming 279 yards on 43 attempts and didn't tally his second touchdown until desperation time.

The errors weren't limited to Rudock. Michigan's second cornerback spot is far from settled; neither Channing Stribling nor Jeremy Clark stood out there. Joe Bolden missed a handful of tackles on slippery Utah running back Devontae Booker. The offensive line got manhandled in the run game, losing leverage and missing assignments. Smith offset many of his broken tackles by failing to hit the correct hole. Kenny Allen pushed a 44-yard field goal wide right, after which Jim Harbaugh could clearly be seen muttering "I should've gone for that."

There were flashes, chief among them Peppers' second-half TFLs and Jake Butt's spectacular third-quarter touchdown catch to briefly pull Michigan within seven.

But on the road against a decent team, Michigan simply made too many mistakes, big and small, to expect to come away with a victory. They'll be better than they looked tonight, there's little doubt of that. There'll also be rough patches. Home games against lesser teams lie ahead until BYU comes to the Big House, by which time the Wolverines should look more impressive.

At least there was Harbaugh, a sensible gameplan, and a solid outing from the defense. That's something to build on. If this turns out to be an anomalous performance from Rudock, this squad still could be very good. After all the offseason excitement, it's painful to wait through the development process, but even tonight it wasn't hard to see that the process is underway. It just might take a little longer than we had hoped.


Preview: Utah 2015

Preview: Utah 2015 Comment Count

Ace September 3rd, 2015 at 2:05 PM


WHAT Michigan at Utah
WHERE Rice-Eccles Stadium
Salt Lake City, UT
WHEN 8:30 pm Eastern
September 3rd, 2015
THE LINE Utah –4.5
TELEVISION Fox Sports 1/Fox Sports Go
TICKETS From $225
WEATHER mid 80s, partly cloudy, 10-20 mph wind



It's here. It's finally here.

It's safe to say things are little different this year. Yes, Utah beat Michigan in 2014, but even by that early juncture in the season M fans certainly weren't saying "IT'S HERE" in tones normally reserved for Christmas Day or a particularly indulgent Amazon Prime order.

The Utes enter the game as the favorite, though the line has creeped down a point after holding at -5.5 for much of the offseason. Both teams should look substantially different than they did last fall. That bodes well for Michigan; we'll see how it goes for Utah.

Since we don't run a FFFF in the first week, Seth threw together a diagram of the Utah starters (click for big):

Booker, Norris, Dimick, and Hackett (seriously) qualify as dangermen.

Run Offense vs Utah

holes like this one would be quite nice [Fuller]

If the biggest loss for the Utes wasn't DE Nate Orchard, the nation's leader in sacks a year ago, it was up-and-coming defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, who left for the same job at Oregon State during a tumuluous offseason. In Sitake's place steps John Pease, whom Kyle Whittingham coaxed out of retirement; Peace last served as Whittingham's defensive line coach from 2009-10. Whittingham is a defensive specialist, so the impact of the coaching shakeup may be minimal, but it's worth keeping in mind. They're also switching to a 4-3, though like Michigan's "3-4" the difference may be more semantic than anything else.

Peace inherits a strong front seven even without Orchard. While the Utes only finished 50th in rushing S&P+ last year, their worst performances came against spread teams, and Michigan is very much not one of those. They're anchored on the interior by sophomore DT Lowell Lotulelei, younger brother of Star Lotulelei, who's coming off an impressive freshman campaign. The other tackle spot could be a weak point; Filipo Mokofisi is a 285-pound sophomore with two starts to his name. Utah boasts a pair of playmakers at defensive end; Hunter Dimick (4.5 run TFLs) and Jason Fanaika (4.5 run TFLs as a backup) were overshadowed by Orchard last year, but both are good players in their own right.

The linebackers are both experienced and productive; all three starters are seniors. MIKE Jared Norris led the team with 116 tackles in 2014, with 13 of those coming behind the line (nine against the run). "Rover" Gionni Paul is something of a poor man's Darron Lee, a 225-pound linebacker who's comfortable making plays in space. "Stud" Jason Whittingham, nephew of the head coach, missed most of last season but played well in ten starts as a sophomore.

The departure of strong safety Brian Blechen, a longtime standout who tallied 45 solo tackles last year, could hurt the run defense, but the Utes appear to have a ready-made replacement. Tevin Carter was one of Utah's best defenders in the four games he was healthy last year and he'll step into his more natural spot at strong safety this season.

There aren't many obvious holes in Utah's run defense, but their mediocre performance last year suggests they can be worn down; as Bill Connelly noted, they got worse as games went on last year, and depth could be even more of an issue up front this season. If Michigan's offense can control the ball for long enough stretches to force the Utes to rotate, De'Veon Smith and the rest of the committee could be in for a solid night of work.

Key Matchup: Ben Braden vs. Utah's interior line. Braden had some trouble keeping leverage in the run game last year and the Utes have guys who can get under your pads and make you go places you don't intend. I'm expecting M's line to hold up pretty well, but if Braden has a rough outing it could submarine the run game.