Hokepoints: Removing Sacks

Submitted by Seth on April 15th, 2014 at 10:57 AM


This hurt. [Fuller]

Longtime readers will know the MGoBlog policy on sacking: sacks and sack yardage should be counted as passing, because they are pass plays, not rushing, as the NCAA and thus everybody else is wont to do. Counting sacks as passing leads to a better understanding of success and where yards come from, and prevents problems like the computer in the NCAA videogames passing every play because the sacks that generates keep making the rushing numbers look progressively more awful.

For the Hail to the Victors preview books (kickstarter coming soon) each year we put these "At-a-Glance" boxes into the opponent previews, complete with offensive and defensive stats that we've adjusted for this. Having done the calculations for that, I thought I'd share them with you.

First, the difference it makes to passing stats:

2013 Passing Unadjusted Sack-Adjusted
Team Pass Att Pass Yds YPA Rk Sacks Sack Yds YPA Rk
Indiana 470 3680 7.83 2nd 18 121 7.29 1st
Ohio State 368 2846 7.73 3rd 22 135 6.95 2nd
Penn State 409 3110 7.60 4th 22 135 6.90 3rd
Michigan 395 3221 8.15 1st 36 270 6.85 4th
Wisconsin 355 2562 7.22 6th 16 94 6.65 5th
Illinois 455 3452 7.59 5th 30 231 6.64 6th
Iowa 375 2562 6.83 10th 15 61 6.41 7th
Michigan State 430 2964 6.89 9th 17 127 6.35 8th
Nebraska 378 2557 6.76 11th 17 140 6.12 9th
Northwestern 382 2726 7.14 8th 36 198 6.05 10th
Minnesota 267 1925 7.21 7th 27 170 5.97 11th
Purdue 426 2590 6.08 12th 38 265 5.01 12th

By counting sacks as passing Michigan drops from 8.15 yards per attempt (good for the best passing team in the conference last year) to a more realistic 6.85 YPA, dropping them to fourth. Minnesota's passing game dropped from middling to awful, Iowa's climbed from the bottom to the middle.

And the difference to running stats:

2013 Rushing Unadjusted Sack-Adjusted
Team Rushes Rush Yds YPC Rk Sacks Sack Yds YPA Rk
Ohio State 635 4321 6.80 1st 22 135 7.27 1st
Wisconsin 557 3689 6.62 2nd 16 94 6.99 2nd
Indiana 458 2422 5.29 3rd 18 121 5.78 3rd
Nebraska 584 2804 4.80 4th 17 140 5.19 4th
Illinois 411 1668 4.06 10th 30 231 4.98 5th
Minnesota 586 2538 4.33 5th 27 170 4.84 6th
Northwestern 507 2069 4.08 9th 36 198 4.81 7th
Penn State 501 2088 4.17 8th 22 135 4.64 8th
Michigan State 569 2433 4.28 6th 17 127 4.64 9th
Iowa 556 2338 4.21 7th 15 61 4.43 10th
Michigan 498 1634 3.28 11th 36 270 4.12 11th
Purdue 319 805 2.52 12th 38 265 3.81 12th

Michigan's awful running game is still awful, but it no longer looks like the Scheelhaase option-running game was a disaster. Ohio State's 7.27 YPC isn't just first among the conference; OSU and Wisconsin were the #1 and #2 rushing offenses in the country. Michigan: 115th out of 125 teams.

This isn't perfect since quarterback scrambles still can't be pulled out of rushing stats, but that's not so big of a deal considering a running QB should be contributing to your rushing success.

[Jump for Devin Garder's passing season and profiles of next year's opponents]

Individual passing: Like an idiot I went and personally input every sack number for Big Ten QBs from NCAA's box score totals before thinking to ask Mathlete, who had all that already. Anyway here's the pure passing stats of QBs of interest:

Rk Player Team PA (Adj) P Yds (Adj) YPA
1 Tre Roberson Indiana 139 1079 7.76
2 Tommy Rees Notre Dame 422 3194 7.57
3 Nate Sudfeld Indiana 338 2400 7.10
4 Devin Gardner Michigan 379 2614 6.90
5 Caleb Rowe Maryland 136 933 6.86
6 Braxton Miller Ohio State 276 1879 6.81
7 Christian Hackenberg Penn State 413 2810 6.80
8 Joel Stave Wisconsin 352 2388 6.78
9 C.J. Brown Maryland 303 2046 6.75
10 Kenny Guiton Ohio State 110 740 6.73
11 Tommy Armstrong Jr. Nebraska 135 891 6.60
12 Nathan Scheelhaase Illinois 458 3021 6.60
13 Connor Cook Michigan State 396 2610 6.59
14 Jake Rudock Iowa 360 2330 6.47
15 Trevor Siemian Northwestern 315 2032 6.45
16 Gary Nova Rutgers 328 1979 6.03
17 Ron Kellogg III Nebraska 141 848 6.01
18 Philip Nelson Minnesota 200 1186 5.93
19 Mitch Leidner Minnesota 91 528 5.80
20 Chas Dodd Rutgers 143 795 5.56
21 Taylor Martinez Nebraska 116 589 5.08
22 Danny Etling Purdue 298 1469 4.93
23 Rob Henry Purdue 160 774 4.84
24 Kain Colter Northwestern 99 458 4.63

The Indiana offense is crazy-awesome and that plus the receivers they had last year made their quarterbacks' stats crazy-awesome. Tommy Rees was a good QB but he was also the beneficiary of a system designed for high-efficiency passing. My point is Devin Gardner is right behind them. He too was helped by good receiving—Jeremy Gallon and Devin Funchess were two of the higher-efficiency targets in the conference according to a study I'll share at a later date. And the TD/INT ratio will certainly reflect a higher level of risk from him. That's still some dang impressive pure passing stats.

But there's totally a QB controversy guys.

2014 Opponents (who were FBS last year, i.e. not App State):

Wallowing any further in the 2013 offense won't do us much good, so let's shift our focus to things we can learn about next year's enemies. How to read this: Ranks are given as if they were part of a 14-team Big Ten conference. YPP is total yardage/play. Show?

Team YPC Rush Rk YPA Pass Rk All YPP YPP Rk
Michigan 4.1 13th 6.8 5th 5.4 8th
Notre Dame 4.7 (9th) 7.4 (1st) 6.1 (5th)
Miami (Ohio) 3.8 (14th) 3.5 (last) 3.7 (last)
Utah 4.6 (11th) 6.5 (8th) 5.5 (8th)
Minnesota 4.8 6th 6.0 12th 5.2 13th
Rutgers 4.6 11th 5.9 13th 5.3 11th
Penn State 4.6 9th 6.9 3rd 5.7 6th
Michigan State 4.6 10th 6.3 9th 5.4 9th
Indiana 5.8 3rd 7.3 1st 6.6 3rd
Northwestern 4.8 7th 6.0 11th 5.4 10th
Maryland 4.8 8th 6.9 4th 5.8 5th
Ohio State 7.3 1st 7.0 2nd 7.1 1st

Tendency: A more accurate accounting of sacks provides a more accurate portrayal of teams' tendencies, although this still has all sorts of two-minute drills and comebacks or clock-killing all-runs-with-the-backups drives, etc.

Touchdown rate is simply touchdowns divided by total plays. Turnover rate is the percent of plays there ought to have been a turnover—given that 50% of fumbles ought to be recovered I took interceptions plus 50% of total fumbles and divided that total by the number of plays.

Team Run% Run % Rk TD Rate TD% Rk TO Rate TO% Rk
Michigan 52% 9th 5.4% 4th 2.6% 10th
Notre Dame 50% (11th) 4.5% (9th) 1.9% (4th)
Miami (Ohio) 54% (6th) 1.8% (last) 3.1% (14th)
Utah 52% (9th) 4.7% (6th) 3.2% (14th)
Minnesota 66% 1st 4.1% 10th 1.9% 3rd
Rutgers 47% 12th 4.3% 9th 3.3% 14th
Penn State 53% 8th 4.7% 7th 2.3% 6th
Michigan State 55% 6th 4.6% 8th 1.2% 1st
Indiana 47% 11th 6.6% 2nd 2.2% 5th
Northwestern 53% 7th 3.5% 13th 2.1% 4th
Maryland 50% 10th 4.0% 11th 2.9% 11th
Ohio State 61% 2nd 8.3% 1st 1.8% 2nd

What we get is a rough idea of how that team played. As you might imagine turnovers were inversely correlated with how good the offense was in general: Ohio State's highly efficient offense got into the end zone on a remarkable 1 out of every 12 plays, but they didn't turn the ball over either; Miami (not THAT Miami) was awful at scoring and turned the ball over a ton because they were awful on offense.

Michigan got into the end zone on 5.4% of their plays—good for fourth in the conference—but also had a high turnover rate, suggesting an offense playing risk-ball. Among next year's opponents only Utah (4.7% scoring rate against a 3.2% turnover rate) seems to have the same profile. Conservative teams were Minnesota, Michigan State, and Northwestern.

Interesting thing about the run/pass ratios: primarily running offenses were Ohio State, Minnesota and a lot of teams not on Michigan's schedule next year. Notre Dame, Utah, Rutgers, Indiana and Maryland are passing offenses. In other words, Michigan's likely to be facing a lot more passing this season than they did in 2013.

Defense: Sure, I can flip these to show how the defenses did.

Team YPP YPP Rk YPC Rush Rk YPA Pass Rk
Michigan 5.3 7th 4.4 6th 6.2 9th
Notre Dame 5.1 (5th) 4.7 (9th) 5.7 (4th)
Miami (Ohio) 6.4 (13th) 5.3 (12th) 7.6 (13th)
Utah 5.4 (9th) 4.5 (7th) 6.2 (9th)
Minnesota 5.7 10th 5.0 11th 6.3 10th
Rutgers 5.7 11th 3.8 3rd 7.0 11th
Penn State 5.3 8th 4.7 9th 5.9 5th
Michigan State 4.0 1st 3.6 1st 4.4 1st
Indiana 6.7 14th 5.9 13th 7.7 14th
Northwestern 5.5 9th 4.8 10th 6.1 8th
Maryland 5.1 4th 4.5 7th 5.7 4th
Ohio State 5.3 6th 4.3 5th 6.0 7th

Not a lot of surprises here. Among new opponents, Miami (NTM) is just really bad on defense, Rutgers is not good against passing, and Utah's defense was a lot like Michigan's. Notre Dame was weak against the run despite a very good defensive line, reportedly because their linebackers were a problem.

And tendency:

Team Run% Run % Rk TD Rate TD% Rk TO Rate TO% Rk
Michigan 50% 7th 4.1% 8th 2.7% 2nd
Notre Dame 54% (12th) 3.4% (4th) 2.0% (11th)
Miami (Ohio) 56% (13th) 5.7% (12th) 1.7% (14th)
Utah 46% (4th) 3.9% (6th) 1.7% (14th)
Minnesota 51% 8th 4.1% 9th 2.2% 9th
Rutgers 41% 1st 5.1% 11th 2.1% 10th
Penn State 48% 5th 3.9% 5th 2.5% 5th
Michigan State 45% 3rd 2.3% 1st 3.2% 1st
Indiana 54% 11th 6.3% 14th 1.9% 13th
Northwestern 49% 6th 3.9% 4th 2.6% 3rd
Maryland 51% 9th 4.0% 6th 2.0% 12th
Ohio State 42% 2nd 4.0% 7th 2.5% 6th

This has more to do with schedules than how the defenses play, e.g. Rutgers saw a lot of dinky-dunk offenses in the Big East/American, while MSU saw lots of passing plays because running on their defense was suicide. Notably Michigan was second only to MSU in generating turnovers.

Indiana's defense was just bad and MSU's was just really good, but the discrepancies in TD% and TO% ranks for Notre Dame, Utah and Maryland (bolded above) demonstrate defenses playing bend-don't-break. That fits with what we've heard about their defenses, though Notre Dame's new defensive coordinator says he's going to reverse that, having his backfield play a lot more man as opposed to the mostly zone they were in last year. Michigan's was the only defense that seemed to stand out as high-risk, or "aggressive" if you're using coach speak.


  • All the stuff they said about our offensive line was true. Giving sacks to the passing game didn't help the rushing game, but painted a picture of a devastating passing game if only could protect the quarterback.
  • Michigan is "aggressive," if you consider the high TD and turnover rates purposeful, and high-event if you don't. So there's a reason to watch, eh?
  • Ohio State's offense and Michigan State's defense were off-the-charts good. They should be emulated.
  • The 2014 schedule has way more passing offenses than last year, and that's not even considering Northwestern going from Kain Colter to Unstoppable Throw God Trevor Siemian and Penn State going to a dunky James Franklin offense.
  • Purdue was all kinds of horrible.
  • Utah is the most similar team to Michigan on our schedule next year.



April 15th, 2014 at 11:04 AM ^

But great analysis, as always!

[Jump for Devin Garder's passing season and profiles of next year's opponents]

(Meaning it isn't a link - it's plain text and the full article is displayed on front page)


April 15th, 2014 at 11:27 AM ^

I totally agree with removing sacks from the run game.  In doing so, to be fair you would almost have to add scramble yards to the passing game.  Then again, who wants to be fair these days?


April 15th, 2014 at 11:42 AM ^

Equivalent of 5th in Offense and 4th in Defense.  Hmm.  I was worried about Utah but now will also worry about Maryland.  It sucks to worry about Utah and Maryland.


April 15th, 2014 at 3:28 PM ^

I kind of disagree. I mean, sure, I'd like Michigan to be dominant, but an NCAA landscape where it's possible for most teams to beat most other teams on any given Saturday makes for much better college football in the long run.


April 15th, 2014 at 11:45 AM ^

Seth's post makes me sad.  I find myself uninspired looking forward to Michigan football.  Hope remains, but faith is disappearing.  For the first time the formula in my head for Michigan to succeed extends beyond our players and coaches playing and coaching well.  It now includes the need for MSU and OSU to regress, neither of which is likely with OSU probably improving their D, and MSU probably improving their O.  This is based on the disparity we witnessed last year between Ohio's O and our D, and MSU's D and our O.  This was a disparity I can only twice recall outside of the RR era and that was Dennis Dixon and Oregon 2007, and Donovan McNabb and Cuse two decades ago where an opposing team literally toyed with one side of the ball.

Hoke came in pledging to get back to Michigan's roots, and defense and toughness, and about the only thing Hoke's done right in regressing every year is recruit, and take us to a bowl win over VT where we were severely outplayed.   Firing Borges showed he had some semblance of a clue this offseason, but keeping Funk, and then this Spring that provided zero evidence that the O line will trend positively, quickly diminished any faith therefrom.

Road games at ND, MSU and Ohio...  Funk still on the payroll... Faith gone, but hope remains.  

There will always be hope.