Our Defense Their Offense - tipping point!

Submitted by mistersuits on October 6th, 2010 at 6:10 PM

Each week I trundle off to my favorite sports bar in Brooklyn, pumped up with expectations that far exceed what could ever possibly happen, promising myself I will behave in front of the other patrons, and that I'll remain calm when inevitably the other team scores or when Michigan goofs up.

And yet I was compelled to blurt out "Don't fumble it! Don't fumble it!" when Cam Gordon picked off Ben Chappell. The singular defensive highlight of the day and I respond as if Michigan had been the team committing a turnover on that play. I got some strange looks for sure.

That's how you know you're traumatized.

We still live under the spectre of the 2009 season and the reality that our defense is likely not going to stop any team we play.

The statistics tell me (Mathlete) that Michigan is absolutely going to win at least another couple Big10 games this year. I am resolutely impatient, however, and cannot wait until Illinois week in November to finally claim "improvement" from 2009. In fact if we lose the next three games - games we had already written off (Brian) no less - we'll be 5-3 and in crisis mode*.

A record of 7-5 was always the most likely outcome. But at 5-0, none of us could stand finishing the season 2-5, for so many reasons. So we reach a tipping point.

Win, and no one can ever claim again that this is 2009 all over again. Reclaim bowl eligibility, set the stage for a run at the Big10 title, and silence one of our most loathed rivals in one fell swoop.

Lose, and face the reality that our defense is going to limit us from getting over .500 in conference play, no matter how amazing and awesome Denard Robinson is.

*It's not really crisis mode when that's what we had as a baseline expectation, but it is the undeniable flaw of reaching 5-3 from 5-0 instead of 2-3.

But what do the numbers say?

Indiana Post-mortem

Last week I laid out a chart of our opponents and what kind of offensive output we can expect from each.

The numbers predicted a 36.3 (15.7% under) to 32.2 (8.7% under) Michigan victory - the margin of victory (4.1) was exactly correct. I extrapolated those considering likely real football scores and came up with a 42-31 prediction.

We had a turnover neutral game and special teams played no special role, so that levelled out any scoring variance, making these prediction about as accurate as they could be. Not bad for a first time, by the numbers prediction, all things considered.


  • Michigan's offense exceeded expectations, netting 80 yards over predicted.
  • Michigan's turnover was crucial. It's safe to say that we will lose every game in which we lose the turnover battle.
  • I predicted Indiana would kick a field goal. Bill Lynch, however, after losing by three points while kicking four field goals in 2009, decided he was never ever going to only go for three. That attitude was the difference between Indiana's 31 and actual total of 35.
  • Michigan's defense lived up to its bad expectations, yielding 175% of expected yardage.
  • While Michigan gave up almost double the expected yardage, it yielded precisely 100% of the expected points. This, my friends, is how you would define a bend-not-break defense.
  • Prediction wise, Michigan should have had an offensive multiplier greater than 100% against a defense as bad as Indiana.
  • Prediction wise, Indiana's multiplier was slightly too low at 125% (actual was 136%). Hard to determine if it was our defense or Ben Chappell that made up that difference. I will assume it was quality play by a senior QB until he proves me very wrong this week @osu.

How about the rest of our opponents?

Chart of Offensive Expectations (through 5 weeks)

Rank Opponent N-PPG N-YPG SoS
1 Michigan 37.1 506 67.89
2 osu 36.8 386 63.18
3 Connecticut 30.1 337 65.94
4 Iowa 29.8 378 67.32
5 Wisconsin 29.6 363 61.70
6 MSU 28.1 357 58.82
7 Indiana 27.3 312 51.95
8 BGSU 25.2 271 69.16
9 Notre Dame 24.6 404 75.82
10 UMass 21.7 327 55.48
11 Illinois 20.9 311 71.12
12 Penn State 18.1 337 71.62
13 Purdue 18.1 311 62.92


N-PPG or Normalized Points-per-game is taken from the teams average PPG with a SoS multiplier factored in to deflate numbers from playing bad competition and inflate numbers based on playing good competition.

N-YPG or Normalized Yards-per-game is calculated using the same SoS multiplier as N-PPG but using this metric will help us determine a less variant guess as to how offenses will perform (PPG is subject to wild variance based on turnovers and special teams).

Strength of Schedule is taken from Sagarin rankings.

Usage: The chart doesn't predict that #3 would beat #5. Instead it tries to predict with the most accuracy how many points/yards on average each of these teams would score against a common opponent.


Michigan's N-PPG jumps into lead this week after a suspect outing by osu versus Illinois, and further expands their staggering lead in N-YPG, eclipsing 500 yards expected even after it has strength of schedule reducing it to normalized amounts, a full 100 yards more than anyone else on the schedule (120 yards more than anyone else on the Big10 slate).

  • There is a full touchdown gap of production between the top two teams and the next five on the list, suggesting a competitive plateau of Iowa-Wisconsin-MSU-Indiana, all shadowed by The Denard Show.
  • Indiana makes a leap with their outburst against Michigan. If they can even put up half of those numbers against osu expect their rank to continue to climb upwards as their SoS will jump way up after this week.
  • Iowa made modest gains this week after a fairly conservative game against Penn State, which they were in control of the whole way.
  • Wisconsin struggled big time against MSU. They are at best the 4th place team in the Big10 behind osu, Iowa and MSU.
  • Illinois had as good an opportunity as they were going to get to make a run at an upset (at home, injured opposing QB), but couldn't produce.
  • Penn State has been absolutely shut down now by two really good defensive teams (Iowa/Alabama).
  • UConn continues to perform decently after two letdowns in their first three games.
  • BGSU and UMass fall with their strength of schedule. The rest of the Big10 saw their SoS jump higher this week (duh!).

Conclusions Based on Almost Enough Data

Until given reason to expect otherwise, I am giving our opponents 125% of their N-PPG and 150% of their N-YPG for predictions vs Michigan.

However!!! The elephant in the room is not Michigan's defense. Our defense remains a constant, an ugly constant. The biggest factor remaining is whether or not Michigan can sustain it's offensive play into the Big10 schedule.

Last year, this is where Michigan's offense fell off a cliff. The last seven Big10 games they averaged 20.1 PPG. They did not outgain any of their opponents and they lost the turnover battle nearly every time. Michigan's 2010 unit, however, is light years ahead of where they were last year and, more importantly, healthy (knock on wood).

Best Case

A week ago had a Big10 best case scenario of 6-2. That remains the outlook this week except instead of our second loss coming from Wisconsin it comes from Iowa (We will beat Wisconsin 37.1 to 37.0!).

Worst Case

In a worst case scenario, wherein our offense drops off to 75-80% of current production and we still yield 125% to our opponents, Michigan will go 3-4 the rest of the way with wins over Purdue, Penn St, and Illinois. This is the same from last week (3-5) except we scratch off Indiana from the possible loss column.

The Truth!

Our new outlook ranges between 8-4 and 10-2!

Bottom line: our record improves with a sustainable, explosive offense. Even with a loss saturday, if our offense still shows up to expectation, we have much to be happy about. If our offense takes a dive, however, run for the hills.

Prediction for Michigan State:

Michigan lost a close game at East Lansing due to primarily yakety sax, snapping issues, and botched fake punts. This year sets up much more favorably for Michigan despite having serious defensive issues.

Here are a couple of statistics that might give us hope:

Rank Team Sacks Allowed Sack Yards
10 MSU 11 82
Rank Team Turnovers Fumbles Interceptions
10 MSU 9 5 4
Rank Team Third Down Conversion %
11 MSU 23/62 37.1%

MSU is 10th in the Big10 in sacks allowed, turnovers coughed up and last in the Big10 in 3rd Down conversions, all of which will play a part in getting our defense off the field. Sparty is also the most penalized team in the Big10 (41 penalties for 362 yards).

In addition MSU, unlike Indiana, will kick field goals - they are 7 for 7 on the year.

NSFMF! MSU has a more experienced QB and a better rushing game than last year. What would you call a Chappellbomb that happens mostly on the ground? A Bakerrush? A Bellringing? A Capernickledandy? Whatever it's called, that's the likeliest of outcomes.

But based strictly on the numbers:

Team PPG vs Mich YPG vs Mich
MSU 35.1 536

It's sobering to see 35 points and 500+ yards as an expected value. Yet there is reasonable hope we will maintain yardage parity with such ridiculous numbers.

I sincerely doubt MSU will hold Michigan to their defense's season average of 101 yards rushing. If they do, it will be a blow-out for Sparty. Last year Michigan gained 28 rushing yards on 28 rushing attempts. You can bet the house that won't happen again.

Even if you believe the assertion that "Michigan hasn't played any real defense yet", you can't argue with the fact that all five opposing defenses have yielded their largest yardage totals on the season (tpilews).

The numbers say 37.1 - 35.1 in favor of Michigan but I can't help but feeling this is a game where special teams is finally going to cost us. Yet after all of this analysis, everything is evenly divided, so I'm not going to pick against Dilithium at home.

Michigan 42
Michigan State 38

/By Saturday at 3:30 I will have convinced myself Michigan is going to win 49-14.




October 6th, 2010 at 6:27 PM ^

The accurate definition of a "bend-but-DON'T-break" defense is one that bends all the way down to the red zone and then HOLDS the other team out of the end zone, usually to a FG attempt.

Michigan has a classic "bend-AND-break" defense, which is never the intended design of a defense and is certainly NOT what GERG is trying to accomplish. 


October 6th, 2010 at 7:02 PM ^

But the points per yard for Indiana was very low, implying bend don't break. osu had only a few more yards vs EMU than Indiana vs us yet put up 70.

The caveat for "break" on this Michigan defense is that it means the bend-don't-lose instead of bend-don't-score!

blue in nola

October 6th, 2010 at 6:39 PM ^

at my usual gathering of michigan fans at the only good sports bar in uptown new orleans, our reaction to the gordon interception was the same - three of us yelling ou tplease don't fumble repeatedly until he was tackled....

myantoniobass …

October 6th, 2010 at 8:09 PM ^

"Would Mrs. Steelymax please report to the nearest first aid station.  And if anyone locates a severed left arm, please report to first aid.  Enjoy the blowout."  For some reason a blowout against Sparty would be even more satisfying than O-state.  The reason is I believe State has made a big deal out of beating us back to back when we were down.  O-state on the other hand respects the rivalry and knows how quickly things can turn from bad (thanks John Cooper) to good (grrr Sweatervest).   


October 6th, 2010 at 8:32 PM ^

Dominating the yards, losing the turnover battle, and still winning by double figures is "lucky"?

There's no way this is a blowout either way. Michigan's offense is too good to get blown out by any but the best defenses (and even that's arguable), and the defense is too awful to manage a blowout against non-baby-seal competition. I have no idea who's going to win, but it will probably be 38-35, 42-38, or 45-42.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 7th, 2010 at 8:29 AM ^

I would love to believe that we would blow you out but I just don't see any blowouts happening from here on out. I am hopeful we see an improvement on defense such that I can be confident we will win games before they actually are played but at this point, I can't say with any degree of confidence that we will win any given game remaining on our schedule.

By the same token, there is no game I look at and say "this is a loss, no question". This makes for a very exciting season, but it is taking years off my life I think.

Anyway, I agree with you, there will be no blowout on saturday. What I am hoping for is a win (obviously) and some visible improvement on the defensive side of the ball. If we start seeing that on a weekly basis I think we can make a run at the big 10 title.


October 6th, 2010 at 7:36 PM ^

If our defense can slow down sparty's run game, our offense should have more time of possession. I'd take my chances on Cousin's throwing INT or INC which will allow for more 4 and outs.  This game is HUGE for our program, RR and the team.  Win this game and I could see us winning at least 3 more games and finishing a 9-3 record.  If we lose, I still think a 7-5 record is possible. 

I actually feel better about this game then traveling on the road to IU last weekend.  I was really nervous last week at this time about a possible IU upset.  The defense should be quite motivated by the big crowd. I hope everyone at the game will make some noise.  My prediction.  UM 42  -  MSU 29 (lots of FG's for spartys)!


October 6th, 2010 at 9:17 PM ^

I coached high school football for several years and can say with some degree of confidence that the one thing you simply cannot prepare a team for is speed.  No matter how good your schemes are....no matter how well coached your players are..... you simply cannot get someone to mentally compensate for a person running at a rate of speed they've never seen before.   You can simulate power, you can simulate different passing formations and routes but you cannot simulate speed to a player if they dont see it in practice.  Muscle memory is too strong and the defensive player will take their expected angle only to find the player they are pursuing gone.  It's the #1 reason Denard is SO deadly and hard to stop.  Opposing coaches cant put players on the scout squad who can run at a pace that would train their defense to position themselves properly for containment.

If you dont think this is true simply watch the "highlights" of the Oregon-Michigan game 2007 and look at our defensive play.  We generally get into the right position but Dixon is gone by the time our players can react.  The only difference is that now WE have the speed and other teams in the Big 10 (12?) will have to react to us.

It was said that if given time Rich Rod would change the way football was played conference wide.  I believe on Saturday we will see the first evidence of the shift from power to speed when we beat MSU.

Go Blue!


October 6th, 2010 at 9:54 PM ^

And I love it, I do, but when did we start hanging on statistics so much to predict our season? Maybe it's due to being gun-shy and unsure of this team because of the last 2 years (3 if you count 2007, which I still do), but before then, I don't ever remember relying so much on statistics to tell me what to expect from a game.


I do love all the statistical analysis, but I yearn for the days when I can just look at our team and go, "Yea, we're gonna kick ass", and just KNOW there's a damn good chance of that happening. Sadly, this team still has a huge question-mark as their defense, so until that improves significantly (P<0.05), I guess all we can do is look at the statistics and hope they bode well for us.


October 6th, 2010 at 9:58 PM ^

MSU might be giving up a lot of sacks, but I'm guessing not many of those have been when the opponent is only rushing 3 guys.  That definitely appears to be a weakness of MSU, but not sure it is one that UM can exploit.


October 6th, 2010 at 10:50 PM ^

Actually, it's been primarily coverage sacks. Blitzes don't seem to be getting there (that or people aren't blitzing much), it's when they rush 4 and no one gets open; blockers can't win that fight forever, and Cousins doesn't seem to have the clock in his head that the best QBs have that tells them "oh shit, gotta get rid of this".

With Michigan's secondary, coverage sacks seem ... unlikely. So I'd agree that Michigan is not particularly well set up to exploit that.

Blue in Yarmouth

October 7th, 2010 at 8:40 AM ^

Not sure I agree with that. Last week against a team that I would say is better than MSU in both QB and WR's our secondary covered pretty well in the second half, allowing our linemen to get to the QB. We only came away with one or two sacks but we managed to get pressure quite frequently.

You don't always need to sack the QB to make a play, when they are rushed bad things can happen. I can see us getting some pressure on Cousins Saturday and likely a couple "coverage" sacks.


October 6th, 2010 at 10:46 PM ^

Stopping the MSU running game is the key. They will want to control clock with the run which keeps the clock moving more so than passing, and limit our possessions. I think they know if we get 10 or 11 possessions they are screwed. They will try to pound the ball, so getting up early on them is the key to negating that strategy.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:14 AM ^

The turnover and penalty statistics highlight a Sparty trend of shooting themselves in the foot.  Obviously enough, that may be the best hope for the defense to get stops on Saturday.

A drive where Cousins hands us the football, and another drive or two killed by penalties (early-down holding, false start, personal fouls...) may be all Denard & Crew need.


October 7th, 2010 at 1:31 AM ^

38-35 is the smart bet especially based on your numbers and the defense's propensity to do just enough (see Gordon, Cam INT) to let the offense win the game.

Perhaps a Craig Roh or Mike Martin sack that leads to a fumble and good field possession?

Of course, a score of 38 implies that we make a Field Goal making this prediction completely ridiculous.


October 7th, 2010 at 1:42 PM ^

Great stats, even better that they give us hope of the mathematical persuasion. Howeva, when it comes to the big rivalry games, I think the outcomes have as much to do with the effects of emotion as with anything else, and even more when the teams are so evenly matched like this year. That being said, I'm glad this game is at the Big House, where MSU should be more likely to cough up the football and/or make mistakes. Plus, the traumatic impact of screaming Michigan fans after a Denard Special is likely to be worth a few points. In past years I would have said that Denard plus home field advantage was enough to predict an MSU collapse, but I think Dantonio's teams are a bit better coached than that. Should be a great game. Blue team wins a close one!