"I don't mean much to you, but you mean everything to me."
- Nearly Every Michigan Opponent, 2010.
After reading the excellent diaries prescribing proper fourth down etiquette according to the numbers, odds, and expected values, it makes sense to me that when you have the nation's leading rusher on a 4th and 1, you go for it. Period. But this isn't about our offense's decisions.
Most defenses must put together three consecutive good plays. Michigan's defense has a hard enough time doing that as is, but for whatever reason I've noticed this year that our defense has faced an usually large number of aggressive opponents making the (tactically correct) decision to go for it on 4th down. Part of me thought this was just me being paranoid. But tonight after the game I wanted to see the actual numbers, and boy was this hunch right.
Here is a chart with Michigan and our Big10 opponents in 2010 and the number of 4th downs each team has had to face:
Chart of Opponents Going For It On 4th Down
|Average Per Game||Total||Converted||
Does that jump of the page at you? It should.
Michigan, through five games, is facing almost twice as many fourth down conversion attempts as the next team (MSU) and three times or more as many as the rest of our Big10 opponents. Our defense is facing an enormous task of shutting down these hyper aggressive teams.
Does that mean our defense is just bad?
Contrary to that, I assert that it is an underlying trend in the games that Michigan plays, one that reconciles nicely another statistical blip coming from my stats on Normalized PPG and YPG, wherein our opponents typically far exceed their season standards when playing against Michigan.
Our opponents most of the time play their best game of the year against us.
Michigan is by far and away the red-letter, circled-twice, highlighted, make-or-break game of the year for every single team we have played. This will likely continue through Ohio State. Our opponents each and every week have thrown (and will throw) the whole playbook at us, and take risks when they normally would not - for a chance at knocking off Michigan.
- UConn wanted ever so badly to bust open it's season as a Big East Title contender.
- UMass wanted to be The Horror II.
- BGSU wanted to be Toledo.
- Indiana was absolutely out for blood big time.
Only Notre Dame, with their new head coach and coming off of a win and playing us at home, (despite us being rivals neither ND nor Michigan believes the other to be THE big rival), doesn't fit the bill of someone willing to sell their own mother in order to beat Michigan....and Notre Dame was 0 for 0 on 4th downs this year.*
There is playing to win and then there is playing as if the season ends today, and that is what we often times find ourselves facing on defense.
Can anyone really argue against the notion that the four teams listed above weren't playing their lights out when they played Michigan this year? Indiana's season, for all intents and purposes, is now over. They had hopes for an eight win season, now it's likely they will struggle to reach six. I have a hard time believing Indiana is going to come out anything but flat next week @osu.
Looking ahead, can we take some positive away from this?
As a direct result of our opponents being hyper aggressive against us this far into the season, it inflates our opponents' PPG, YPG, and TOP. Don't get me wrong, what UConn, UMass, and Indiana did was absolutely the correct strategy - but from a Michigan perspective we don't want our opponents to play correctly by the math. We would much rather them settle for 3 or punt the ball back to Denard. All of these things result in less of our defense on the field, less points for the opposition.
And if our big remaining opponents do that we will allow fewer PPG, and this gives our offense a better chance to equalize for the win. PSU, Iowa, Wisconsin, osu - all of these teams could fit the bill as a more "stodgy" and "conservative" Big10 school. (MSU has already shown a preponderance for trick plays and going for it on fourth down).
Ok. Sounds good to me, but I'm still pissed off about our defense!
Fine. Do yourself a favor and only read the offensive UFR and only watch the youtube highlights of Every Offensive Snap. It does wonders for the blood pressure. Understand that our defense performed precisely to expectations today, but so did our offense!
But seriously, in the meantime, take a deep breath. We now have three road victories in as many years. Road games in the Big10 are brutal (PSU lost, Wisconsin lost, OSU/UM/NW all nearly were upset). And for godssakes get excited! It's MSU week!
*In other years, the UM/ND game builds up differently and everyone lets loose, but this particular year it did not set up that way.