It means everything to them.

Submitted by mistersuits on October 3rd, 2010 at 1:59 AM

"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


MICHIGAN 3 15 9 60%
MSU 1.6 8 4 50%
Indiana 1.5 6 2 33%
Penn St 1 5 3 60%
Wisconsin 1 5 3 60%
osu 1 5 2 40%
Iowa 1 5 1 20%
Illinois 0.75 3 1 33%
Purdue 0.5 2 0 0%

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.


Dan TrueBlue

October 3rd, 2010 at 2:41 AM ^

I agree with you that teams come super-motivated to play against Michigan.  But that's not all that's going on here.  A big part of why opponents are going for 4th down against us is our offense.  They almost have to score on every possession just to keep up with us.  And given our defense, they know they have a decent chance of converting on 4th down too.  

It's the same reason that we've been going for 4th down a lot, in reverse.  It's the effect of the nature of our team.

Louisville Wolverine

October 3rd, 2010 at 7:15 AM ^

You could feel it yesterday at the game. Every IU fan there knew that they needed to score a touchdown on every possession to keep up and I'm sure the Indiana coaches felt the same pressure. Michigan had 3 scoring drives of three plays or less! That kind of offensive potential has to be countered in some way and the best way to do it is to maintain possession (i.e. go for it on fourth and string together really long drives). Thankfully the defense played just well enough to win and IMO pretty well considering how long they were on the field.


October 3rd, 2010 at 10:18 AM ^

If opponents keep up this all-out, go-for-broke strategy of countering Michigan's offense (which seems to either score quickly or go three and out -- feast or famine -- which means it doesn't matter where you give us the ball on the field), not every quarterback is going to be as experienced and skilled as Chappell. 64 pass attempts are 64 interception opportunities.

It's a high-risk strategy that not every quarterback is going to execute as impressively as Chappell -- even he threw some wounded ducks that could easily have been picked off, and of course he did throw one critical pick that killed a long drive.

On a related note -- Denard throwing zero interceptions is arguably his best statistic in yesterday's game. I'll take that in exchange for the return of Tacopants -- or was that his 4' 6" younger brother who runs a 3.23 forty?


October 3rd, 2010 at 10:42 AM ^

When you give receivers a 10-yard cushion there is 0% chance of getting an interception. Many of the 64 pass attempts were pitch and catch with no defender on the TV screen.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that, given our dilithium-powered offense, perhaps we should be playing a higher risk-reward style of defense?


October 3rd, 2010 at 11:50 AM ^

would also decrease the chances of Michigan losing the time-of-possession battle b/c reward equates to stops and risks equate to quicker drives for the opponent.

Michigan has its big ten opener in the new big house against instate sparty.  Just a few reasons of many to get motivated to get your work done this week.  Go Blue, gentlemen. 


October 5th, 2010 at 3:22 AM ^

When you give receivers a 10-yard cushion there is 0% chance of getting an interception.

Granted, that kind of cushion makes it easier to complete a pass, but no pass play has a 0% chance of an INT.  The QB could be hit as he's throwing, or the pass could be tipped at the line, or he simply could overthrow it.  The odds of any of those happening may not be great, but if you make the other team methodically drive down the field and have to run a bunch of plays before it scores, the chances of a mistake will increase.


October 3rd, 2010 at 10:22 AM ^

That is why I get way more concerned when the offense goes on extended lulls like it did for big chunks of the 2nd half after Denard's injury.

The defense was about what we expected, but our whole game plan is predicated on them not having to do too much.  Our offense is a required weapon for our defense. It must be productive all the time no different than a top 5 lock down defense has to be for a team with low wattage offense.


October 4th, 2010 at 9:46 AM ^

Isn't it interested that, while the offense was sputtering in the second half, the defense was stopping Indiana?  They never took the lead though we were never ahead by more than one TD.  Something somewhat similar happened at Notre Dame.  Sure when Crist came back the rattled off 10 pretty quick, but after that the denfense held for a long while until the 95-yarder. Doing just enough.

Please don't read any internet-style sarcasm into this.  I'm really just wondering aloud.


October 3rd, 2010 at 11:07 AM ^

I agree with Dan that the reason so many teams are going for 2 against us has a lot to do with our offense. I was also absolutely convinced as Indiana was going down the field to tie it at the end that if they scored a TD they would go for 2 (and i breathed a sie (sp?) of releaf when they didn't).

But so far in the season, if I was an average team (Like an IU) I would be going for it from everywhere on the field. For the majority of the first half, it didnt matter if we had 85 or 50 yards to go down the field we did. They should probably have gone for it every 4th down, from anywhere.

By the same token, Denard has yet to be stopped for less than 1 yard on a called QB run that I can remember. It is almost a lock to pick up that yard and we should probably go for it as well (benefits of drive continuing, scoring more, keeping D off the field). And with our FG situation, we should be going for it on anything between the 20-45 yard lines, and from anywhere if 4th and 5 or less.


October 3rd, 2010 at 2:42 AM ^



October 3rd, 2010 at 8:59 AM ^

Minor quibble:



October 3rd, 2010 at 2:55 AM ^

I don't exactly remember what the charts for 4th down strategy said but if I were coaching against us, I would go for it on 4th down anytime I pass my own 40 and the distance was less than 10 yards.

I'm not sure how good we are at stopping teams on long distances (how many 3rd and longs did Indiana convert?  I distinctly remember them convering a 3rd and 18).  Our offense is pretty explosive; not sure how much shortening the field against our offense would really change things.  Even if the opposing defenses were able to stop us after 10 or 20 yards, do you honestly expect our kickers to consistently be able to hit 37 yard fieldgoals?

I'm assuming RR is following a similar type rule on offense where we go for it once we pass the opponent's 40?

I have to say though, as scary as the defense is, this team is definitely one of the most entertaining to watch offensively; I honestly feel that every play is a big-play waiting to happen.  I'm looking forward to the final half of the season.


October 3rd, 2010 at 4:59 AM ^

Good job, but I just want to note that you have "Conversion %" listed as your chart title, but you don't actually have percentage below it.  Multiply by 100 for the percentage.

Sorry, it was bugging me.


October 3rd, 2010 at 8:00 AM ^

Other teams should go for it against us. Our offense can score from anywhere. For Indiana their punter was off so punting would only get them a few yeards anyway. I would be interested in the mathlete's thoughts.


October 3rd, 2010 at 8:02 AM ^

I left this as a diary, mostly because the chart you provided is very interesting.

Your analysis, though, I think is way, way off.

The reason the teams we have played are going for it on 4th down is stated right in your entry: it was by far the right thing to do, because our defense is putrid and our offense is spectacular.

So now imagine you are playing an opponent who is not a rival and not a measuring stick and there's nothing more than wanting to win every game motivating you. Now imagine this opponent has the second-worst defense in the conference and the best offense in the country. Would you rather:

  • Take your chances at getting 5 yards on one offensive play, or
  • Give the ball back to their offense on their side of the field

If I'm Indiana, even if I don't give two shits about Michigan, I'm inclined to go on 4th down as much as possible. If I give Michigan back the ball at their 30 or mine, they're still just as likely to score a touchdown against Indiana's defense. I'm not at all afraid of putting Michigan in field goal range because Michigan can't kick a field goal. I am afraid of leaving any potential points on the field. Oh yeah, and 5 yards against this Michigan defense is as easy as playing "where's Ezeh?"

Did Indiana really use every play in the playbook? They stuck to a simple pistol throwing offense, in which they threw the ball over 60 times into 8-man coverages. The playcalling was incredibly vanilla -- what drove them was Chappell's arm, Chappell's poise, Chappell's accuracy, and our defensive backs being the alternates for the cast of Snow White.

Indiana's extra motivation to beat Michigan was not anything out of the ordinary. They wanted to beat us. They wanted to get rid of a two-decade bugaboo. But that is entirely irrelevant to their 4th down decision-making. If Indiana was playing the Alaskan School for Mimes (and ASM had Denard), Lynch should be making the same exact play-calls on 4th down.

MSU's fake field goal against ND is a gambler's move. But going for it against Michigan, especially when you've got the only defense in the Big Ten that's actually worse than Michigan's, takes no special guts or need for glory -- it's simply sensible.

Big circles on calendars mean diddlydoo. The reason teams are going for it on 4th down against Michigan is that our bend-don't-break defense doesn't create many 4th-and-long situations, and our offense is much more terrifying than 5 or fewer yards against our defense.

Bill in Birmingham

October 3rd, 2010 at 8:59 AM ^

Dead on.

As an aside, guys, don't overanalyze this. Our offense is awesome. Our defense is bad. We are going to win some games 42-35 or 56-49. We will likely lose some by similar scores or worse. My advice: load up on Maalox. But remember what everybody here was looking for going into this year was hope and seven (or maybe, maybe) eight wins. I think hope is being restored. Eight wins is a possibility. Know that the defense is going to make you sick at times. But try to enjoy. I am amazed how far this team has come in a year after losing BG.

To quote a wise person, this team is under construction.


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:01 AM ^

I agree completely.  The only way one could make the "big circle" agrument would be, over time, if one found that opponents consistently went for it on 4th down agaist Michigan.  This would include years when Michigan's defense was much better than it is this year.  Maybe you would find that teams DO go for it against Michigan than their other opponents ... but it definitely can't be assumed just from this analysis.


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:00 AM ^

I thought the most interesting point you made was about how every single Big Ten team struggled mightly on the road. This can not be understated. Great win for a young team.


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:08 AM ^

I agree that everyone plays Michigan with a sense of desperation that they are unable to channel for most other games.  Michigan does get everyone's "best game of the year;" it's part of being Michigan. 

I still haven't figured out what the team we all love has done to become everyone else's favorite hate object, but I think it may have something to do with being the winningest college football program of all time. 


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:43 AM ^

Good analysis. When they showed the Time Of Possession last night I had to laugh at how quickly we score. I like Rasmus' "feast or famine" correlation, well put.

Also just another note, props for charting that school to the south in lower case letters. I usually prefer o$u.


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:58 AM ^

Our bend but don't break scheme gets teams in no-man's land in our territory where punting gains little net yds. Plus teams know they cannot give the ball back to us without scoring TD's and expect to win. They know we don't kick field goals and have to match us TD for TD. And we simply give them good odds of converting based on our weak D. Nothing to do with circling us on the schedule. But since thats been brought up, we are the ones doing the circling the rest of the year. Payback time now.


October 3rd, 2010 at 9:58 AM ^

While I agree with the fact that the defense is young and will improve with more depth and growth with the freshman, I think that what I miss is the EXPECTATION that you will be good.  There just always seems to be the belief that we should expect them to not perform, which always sets a lower standard than what can be achieved. 

There are simply still alot of missed assignments still.  I think that you need to have Greg Robinson and RichRod get up and make statements such as it willl stop, it will not be the expected standard and they will continue to move and substitute until they find players ready to strap it on and sell out.  Watch the touchdown before halftime....the players sent on the blitz hesitated and did not look like they were committed to the plan, the touchdown by Willis at the end of the game, another missed assignment by a linebacker (Position GERG coaches). 

The reason Michigan is circled is not due to the fact everyone wants so badly to beat Michigan, it is because they now EXPECT to beat Michigan.  Our offense still has opportunities to improve which is great to see in all honestly.....they left about 3 touchdowns opportunities on the field with the fumble and a few missed open receivers. 

I am no big fan of Saban, but his post game presser on setting the EXPECTATIONS of performance to a standard, not to getting by an opponent just seem to be the atmosphere we just seem to be missing -  not just with GERG, but in general. 

I think Michigan needs to find a way to generate excitement about coming to play defense.....the offense is there.  I honestly think finding an up and coming D Coordinator that generates that level of excitement would take the team to the next level.  Right now, if I am a D recruit, other than early playing time, why do I want to go to Michigan (for football alone)....truly great team players want to play in a truly great system.  Robinson's defenses have never been known to attack, generate pressure or dominate.  Early playing time is great, but why do I want to play for him?

Trust me, I live in NE now, was here for the last year of watching the Callahan failure out there are big time recruits looking at how dominate the Cornhuskers can be because that is what Pellini demands.  I think RichRod is a great coach, but he needs someone to generate the same level of excitement about being a defensive player for Big Blue!. 



October 3rd, 2010 at 11:17 AM ^

To me this looks more like all these teams are disrespecting our defense. How are we different then OSU or PSU? Why only the games against us are "by far and away the red-letter, circled-twice, highlighted, make-or-break game of the year"?

There are only two reasons everybody goes on 4th down against us:

1. They think we cannot stop them (60% efficiency),

2. They know our offense eats yards for breakfast and it doesn't matter if they get the ball back inside their 20 or at midfield.


October 3rd, 2010 at 12:51 PM ^

It is always about weighing risk vs. reward.  Here are the scenarios from the opp HC point of view.

Scenario #1:  You punt.  Denard and the Michigan Offense get the ball, and you haven't been able to reliably stop them all game long.  Best Case = Michigan offense makes execution errors, Worst Case = Denard 87 yd TD run.  Probable Case = Michigan scores a TD.

Scenario #2:  You go for it on 4th Down and fail.  Denard and the Michigan Offense get the ball, and you haven't been able to reliably stop them all game long.  Best Case = Michigan offense makes execution errors, Worst Case = Pick 6 or fumble ret for TD.  2nd Worst Case = Denard 53 yd TD run.  Probable Case = Michigan scores a TD.

(So far Scenario #1 and Scenario #2 are equal.)

Scenario #3:  You go for it on 4th down and make it.  You can keep your drive alive.

In the end, the question is about which is more likely, we make it on 4th and ?? or we stop the Michigan offense.

Obviously, when the strength of your team is offense, you have to go for it if you have any hope of winning.

True Blue in CO

October 3rd, 2010 at 12:26 PM ^

A good defensive scheme even with average players should slow down the offenses we have played to allow us to win more easily. If you look at GERG's history as a coach, he has never had a great defensive scheme and he has never been a great leader. His success in Denver was due to having a great offense and a NFL style D with good to great players. He has eventually been run out of his DC positions due to performance of his defenses. I agree with others here that if we want to improve our D and get better D recruits, GERG will have to go even if we have 7 or more wins.


October 3rd, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

Very well written diary. A couple of observations..
Michigan plays very fast on offense that time of possession is ridiculously low, that is great for the offense, they get to rest and look very efficient and also great for our very much always needed 2 min drill. On the other hand though it's a killer for our young defense. Mile brawis needs to double the conditioning to make them last longer. The fact that Michigan is giving opponents long drives with 12 plays in each means that these teams are usually inside our 50 once they are on 4th, and our semi- prevent like defense will not be able statistically to stop the opponents on 4th and 5, it is just logical for any team to go for it at that point against a prevent defense.
It is mindboggiling and crazy that Michigan is not blitzing more, I know we're trying to not give up the big plays, great, play contain, but blitz one or 2 every other play. Giving a good pocket passer 1/2 an hour to pass is just plain stupid. I know GERG thinks he is a defensive mastermind, but in yards given up we are in the area of 118th nationally, I guess it wouldn't hurt to take some risks at this point, nothing to lose at all.
Anyways, if we start stopping those 4th down conversions they would stop attempting them.. Good luck with that blue and hail to the victors.


October 3rd, 2010 at 1:44 PM ^

I think that's a good point.  Why not against OSU?

I think there are 2 main reasons teams go for it on 4th down (this should be obvious):

1. risk/reward is worth it

2. it matters

If you're beating the crap out of a team, there's no point in going for it on 4th down (see Purdue, and likely Minnesota, which isn't on the list).  Except for BGU, Michigan's games have been close.

Also, if you're getting the crap beaten out of you, there's not much point.  Marshall and EMU didn't go for any 4th downs against OSU.

Since the "it means everything" factor has to be at least equal between OSU and UM, I would hypothesize the difference is more due to the scores, and the perceived weakness of the UM defense.


October 3rd, 2010 at 4:48 PM ^

Unfortunately, being hyper-agressive against the OSU defense will result in a lot of points ... for OSU!

Opponents do this against the Michigan defense because they can. I believe, barring injuries, our defense will improve under this kind of intense pressure -- especially the freshmen and other first-year starters -- but it won't stop until we start forcing turnovers and stopping drives.


October 3rd, 2010 at 1:39 PM ^

are more aggressive is a function of how great of an offense Michigan is.  My guess is the coaches are afraid of Michigan offense scoring TDs at will(it seems like it) that they are forced to be aggressive and keep up with Michigan TD for TD.  If they don't, they could fall to 2-3 TDs hole that it seems insurmountable considering the caliber of Michigan offense.


October 3rd, 2010 at 3:03 PM ^

After the last 3 years the only reason teams circle us and throw the playbook at us is to kick us while were down.  The teams we have played are not hyper agressive teams they knew our defense sucked and they also knew that our offense was going to score almost at will so they had to go for it.  There is a lot more that goes into going for it on 4th down other then a team being "hyper aggressive".  Down and distance, opponents performance, time in the game, quality of the defense.  A couple of times yesterday IU went for it on 4th and long.  This as because of our offensive scoring output and the crazy success IU was having all day.  Don't read to much into it.


October 3rd, 2010 at 4:37 PM ^

This appears to be a case of paralysis by analysis.  Yes, teams will always be up to play Michigan, and yes, our offense puts pressure on the opposing team to keep up.  But more than anything, our defense stinks.  Teams exceed their output against us because our defense stinks. Points are at a premium against Ohio State but teams are going for it on 4th down far less.  Their opponents will be just as up for them (you could argue even more so given their recent dominance).


October 3rd, 2010 at 5:36 PM ^

It's given that teams are going to be fired up for UM.  However, how about a few more years of data to show that teams are always going for it on 4th down against UM more than other opponents.  I have a hunch the data won't show that. It's a nice thought, but teams are going for it more against UM simply because they've got better odds than usual against the UM defense.


October 3rd, 2010 at 5:38 PM ^

That 4th down attempts happen most often in the 4th quarters of contestable games. UM so happens to have been in 3 games already that were still in the air late in the game.  A more interesting stat would be number of times teams are going for it in the first 3 quarters.


October 4th, 2010 at 3:08 PM ^

I'm not sure how to get that stat, but I will point out that he did note that ND did not go for it on 4th down at all, which is one of those 3 contestable games.  I know Indiana went for it on 4th a few times early, but I agree that would be an interesting stat to see.

Also, even though it wasn't a fourth down, the 3rd down play at the end of the first half against IN might as well have been, since there was no way there were getting off a second play with only 4 ticks on the clock.