If you prefer to regard our beloved Meeechigan football teams through rose-colored glasses, then maybe you should stop reading here. Otherwise, if you have the intestinal fortitude to take a long, hard look in the cold light of day while the bombs fall around you, then by all means, keep calm and carry on.
Now that a couple of weeks have transpired since the Charlie Foxtrot that was the Orange Bowl, a consensus seems to have emerged that the root cause of many of Team 137's deficiencies is associated with the Offensive Line. Alas, this is not a new story, and the explanations as to how Michigan's OL has reached such a state are well documented. Nonetheless, some folks might still contend that the OL has improved under the tutelage of the new coaching staff, and any underperformance is simply a reflection of the available talent having maximized its potential. Maybe, but then again, maybe not.
Anyway, to get to the point of this post, Bill Connelly of S&P+ fancy stats fame now has available the 2016 season wrap-up metrics for OL performance. What's more, the same metrics are also available for the previous 2 seasons. So, after a bit of mousing around in the Excel, the following chart captures everything S&P you'd want to know about the OL's of Teams 135, 136 and 137:
To interpret the data, the pseudo-color scale is based on the ranking range of 1 to 128 (green = 1, yellow = 64, red = 128). Averages for the run-blocking and pass-blocking metrics are also calculated to give some sense of aggregate performance. The trend lines are keyed to the raw values, with green markers denoting the best performance values; red markers, the worst.
What these results show is a nearly wholesale regression in performance from 2015 to 2016, both in pass-blocking and run-blocking. All pass-blocking metrics have declined, with the PD Sack Rate being the worst over the past 3 seasons. As for run-blocking, SD Line Yards, Opportunity Rate and Power Success Rate are improved, but to start, SDLY and Opp. % couldn't have gotten much worse. On the other hand, Stuff Rate, PD Line Yards and Adjusted Line Yards all hit 3 year lows. In a nutshell, the OL shows qualified improvement in pass-blocking over Hoke's last season, but a general decline in the run-blocking metrics.
Just looking at the raw numbers is somewhat stunning in a few cases. A PD Sack Rate of 9.2% means that the QB is getting sacked about 1 in every 11 drop backs on passing downs. With that sort of sack incidence, it's no wonder the PD Line Yards are nearly the worst in the NCAA. Also, a Stuff Rate of 19.5% means that a TFL occurs on about 1 in every 5 rushing attempts. Poor damn Fitzgerald Toussaint has been replaced by poor damn Deveon Smith (and just nevermind poor damn Thomas Rawls).
To sum up, the bubble-gum-and-bailing-wire approach to installing an Offensive Line can only do so much and last so long. Talent, depth and experience make up the three-legged stool on which an Offensive Line Program is established. Alas, UM is still early in the process of building an OL Program. One or two five-star recruits do not an OL make, because like a chain, the OL is only as strong as its weakest link. A key injury can lead to disaster without depth to backfill and experience that can span the gaps.
Yours in football, and Go Blue!