State of the Offense

Submitted by Magnum P.I. on November 23rd, 2010 at 12:09 PM

[Ed: bumped for general interestingness.]

Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielma made the following statement after the Badgers 48-28 victory over Michigan on Saturday:

"We're not the spread offense, so it's not sexy," he said. "We're not on the [top] of everybody's wish list. But I tell you what—48 points is fun."

This, after Michigan’s vaunted offense had stalled out at inopportune times and Wisconsin’s pro-style attack had done as it pleased throughout the game en route to 48 points on 558 yards with only one punt along the way. The Wisconsin offense had more fun than Michigan’s.

Despite claims that it cannot be successful in major college football, there is little doubt that the spread offense, in general, works at the highest level of the NCAA. The top two teams in the nation this season, Oregon and Auburn, both employ it in some fashion. The spread is viable, just as the pro-style is viable. However, there is wide variation in productivity across teams within the same basic offensive scheme.

Michigan’s spread offense this year has been something of a revelation, thanks largely to the ascendance of Denard Robinson. The feats that Robinson has accomplished as a true sophomore in his first season as a starter are truly remarkable. This is virtually indisputable. With two games remaining in the season, he has already broken the all-time FBS rushing record for a quarterback and has become the first player in NCAA history to pass for 2,000 yards while rushing for 1,500. His season has been an historic one.

Behind Robinson, Michigan’s offense has been at the top of the Big Ten and in the top five nationally for much of the season in terms of yards per game. Big plays abound, and 500-yard games have become more the rule than the exception. This prolific output has created much buzz around the offensive side of the ball (and stand in stark contrast the immense struggles of the defense). Indeed, the offense has almost single-“sidedly” carried the team to victories against Illinois, Indiana, and Notre Dame, and its fluency has become the loudest argument for Rich Rodriguez to stay at the helm in Ann Arbor beyond this season.

However, the offense has been outshined in Michigan’s losses. In these contests, Michigan's offense didn't just fail to play like a top-five unit nationally. It wasn't the better unit on the field during the game. In these games, Michigan produced 377, 522, 423, and 442 yards against Michigan State, Iowa, Penn State, and Wisconsin, respectively, while yielding 536, 383, 435, and 558 yards. Michigan’s maligned defense was party to these opponents’ gaudy offensive outputs, but Michigan’s offense did not keep pace. Not surprisingly, these four opponents also have some of the best scoring defenses of the teams that Michigan has faced this year, and the question arises as to whether Michigan’s “sexy” offense can be successful against good defensive teams.

The offense has improved in three seasons under Rodriguez, and, even now, it remains young. Its leader, Robinson, is a true sophomore, as is starting tailback Vincent Smith. The starting offensive line has only one senior [ed: depending on the health of Perry Dorrestein] and the wide receiver corps has none. One could argue that there is still room for growth and that the trajectory demonstrated over the past two years under Rodriguez is positive. Still, it bears examining exactly where the offense is at present. Is it an unstoppable force or a paper tiger? Or something in between? This analysis dissects the Michigan offense with one game to go in the 2010 season.

Yards, scoring, games, and drives

Michigan’s offense works fast. There is no huddle. They get to the line of scrimmage quickly. They gain yards in chunks. They score in a flash. All of this, in part, leads to shorter times of possession per drive, which generally leads to more drives per game (the defense giving up long, run-laden drives to the opponent notwithstanding). Michigan, as of November 19, had the most drives in the Big Ten this season (105, tied with Illinois) against BCS competition. Wisconsin had the fewest number of drives in the Big Ten against BCS opponents with 71.

A more useful way of understanding offensive effectiveness than looking at yards per game is to examine what an offense does with a typical drive. The importance of drives was illustrated in the first half of the Michigan-Wisconsin game, as Michigan had only four full drives to work with. What a team does with a drive is a means of measuring offense that allows for fair cross-team comparison. As of Friday, Michigan averaged 2.57 points per drive (PPD) this season against BCS teams, good for third in the Big Ten, behind Wisconsin (3.72) and Ohio State (3.19) and tied with Iowa.

Table 1 - Points per drive against BCS opponents

Team PPD
Wisconsin 3.72
Ohio State 3.19
Michigan 2.57
Iowa 2.57
Michigan State 2.53
Illinois 2.39
Northwestern 2.00
Penn State 1.84
Minnesota 1.77
Indiana 1.48
Purdue 1.10
Calculated with data from drives = punts + fumbles lost + interceptions + failed 4th down conversions + FG attempts + TDs

Michigan’s offense is above-average relative to other teams in the conference in this stat but not as dominant as the yardage number suggest. Stated alternatively, this statistic suggests that Michigan scores a touchdown roughly one out of three drives against BCS competition. When taking into consideration the number of drives in which an offense has an opportunity to score, Michigan's offense is still among the leaders in the Big Ten.

“Michigan’s offense can score on anybody”

It goes without saying that an offense typically performs worse against a better defense. One would expect an offense to do less with a typical drive against a good defense compared to a bad defense. However, with Michigan this season, this relationship is ambiguous. Table 2 shows Michigan's BCS opponents’ points-allowed-per-game (PAPG) against BCS competition alongside Michigan’s PPD against them.  

Table 2 - Michigan's PPD by BCS opponent and opponent's scoring defense against BCS competition

Opponent PAPG U-M PPD
Iowa 17.9 2.33
Michigan State 21.4 1.81
Wisconsin 22.4 2.55
Notre Dame 23.5 1.75
Connecticut 24.2 3.44
Illinois 26.8 3.00
Penn State 27.4 3.10
Purdue 30.1 1.40
Indiana 40.7 3.50
Calculated with data from boxscores at and team statistics from

Michigan’s most productive games, in terms of PPD, came against Indiana, Connecticut, Penn State, Illinois, and Wisconsin, in that order. Against these foes, Michigan’s PPD was better than what would be considered average in the Big Ten this season and better than their own average through the Wisconsin game. Indiana has the worst scoring defense among Michigan’s nine BCS opponents, and Michigan’s offense enjoyed their best PPD output against them. Otherwise, Connecticut has the fifth best scoring defense, Penn State the seventh, Illinois the sixth, and Wisconsin the third. Michigan’s worst PPD came against Purdue, who has a poor scoring defense (eighth among opponents), but weather conditions during that game may explain this apparent deviation. Further, it could be argued that Connecticut’s relatively low points-allowed-per-game is due their membership in the Big East and a weaker slate of BCS competition. Regardless, with a sample size of well over one hundred drives, opponents’ scoring defense does not predict Michigan’s PPD with statistical significance (p = .42). These results would appear to support claims that Michigan’s productive offense can “score against anybody” and could perhaps provide evidence against arguments that Rodriguez’s spread offense cannot succeed against good defensive teams.  

All drives are not created equal

The success of a drive varies in importance based on the circumstances of the game. Scoring a touchdown when the score is tied is more valuable than scoring a touchdown when down 30. One criticism of the Michigan offense this season is that it struggles to capitalize on opportunities to extend leads and put teams away. Table 3 shows that Michigan has scored a touchdown on 48% of drives when the game is tied, 44% of drives when they are behind, and only 17% of drives when they are ahead. This difference in scoring percentage across these three situational categories is statistically significant (χ = 12.12, p < .05). Michigan’s drives are apparently more successful when the score is even or when they are behind. They have scored touchdowns at a much lower rate when in position to go up by multiple scores.

Table 3 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes (count and row percentages shown) 

  No points Field goal Touchdown   PPD 
Ahead  34 (81%) 1 (2%) 7 (17%) 1.21
Tied 10 (44%) 2 (9%) 11 (48%) 3.61
Behind 22 (51%) 2 (5%) 19 (44%) 3.23
Calculated with data from boxscores at

A further criticism of Michigan’s offense is that it not only fails to put games away when presented with an opportunity, but also that it is successful against good defenses only when the game is already out of hand, that is, when the opponent is ahead by a wide margin. In all games against BCS competition, Michigan has scored touchdowns on 46% of drives that begin with them down by ten or more points; they have scored touchdowns on only 30% of drives that begin with them within ten points, tied, or ahead. This difference, however, is not statistically significant (p = .21). How does this difference bear out against good defenses?

The best defenses Michigan has faced this year are Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin, which are also three of the top four teams in the Big Ten (along with Ohio State). Against these teams, Michigan’s offense has performed well when they are down by ten or more points. In these large-deficit scenarios, the offense has averaged 2.80 PPD, above their overall season average and toward the top end of the Big Ten. When down by ten or more, they have scored touchdowns on eight of 20 occasions, a rate of 40%. When the game is close (i.e., when Michigan is within ten, tied, or ahead) the story is considerably different for this team. When the game is still in the balance, Michigan has averaged 1.43 PPD, with two field goals and two touchdowns (14% rate) in 14 opportunities—this is significantly worse than when the deficit is large (χ = 4.87, p < .10).

Table 4 - Michigan's situational drive scoring outcomes against top defenses (count and row percentages shown)

  No points Field goal Touchdown    PPD  
Down 10+ points 12 (60%) 0 (0%) 8 (40%) 2.80
Within 10 points, tied, or ahead 10 (71%) 2 (14%) 2 (14%) 1.43
 Calculated with data from boxscores at

The data show that Michigan’s offense has been poor—as bad as the worst Big Ten teams’ average PPD output—against the best teams in the Big Ten when the game is close. Their most impressive offensive work against these good teams has come once they already trail significantly, in which case they have performed above-average relative to average Big Ten PPD standards.

So is the Michigan offense an elite offense?

Looking at the success of offensive drives, a statistic that controls for the pace of the game and the number of overall opportunities an offense has, Michigan has a good offense relative to the rest of the Big Ten—they are tied for third in productivity with Iowa, behind Wisconsin and Ohio State. Michigan averages the most yards per game and has scored the second most points in the conference, but they have also had the most opportunities to accumulate yards and points, most likely due to the fast pace at which they execute their offense, the quickness with which they have sometimes scored, and their high rate of turnovers. They are third best in the Big Ten at capitalizing on drives.

So, is Michigan’s spread offense under Rodriguez elite? The answer appears to be, “circumstantially.” They perform very well when the game is tied or when they trail. The offense struggles, however, to pull away when they have a lead. Further, the offense has struggled in close-game situations against the best Big Ten teams. There is much variability in how the offense performs, dependent, in part, on the score of the game when the offense assumes possession.

This situational inconsistency may be attributable to a variety of factors (e.g., youth and inexperience on offense, conservative play-calling when ahead, nerves), and one can speculate as to which are most salient. These analyses are intended to deconstruct the offense and offer a more nuanced picture of the state of that side of the ball, beyond a rough yards- or points-per-game. With the travails of Michigan’s defense this season, it is tempting (and perhaps healthful) to look at the offense as being “solid” and not something to worry about. Compared to the defensive unit, this may be true, but there are interesting and complicated phenomena at play with Michigan’s sexy side, as well.

Other tidbits from the data

Starting field position does not significantly affect the likelihood of the Michigan offense scoring a touchdown (odds ratio = .98, p = .20).

Michigan’s offensive productivity, in terms of PPD, is highest in the first quarter (2.81), followed by the third (2.72), fourth (2.33), and second (2.00) quarters.

Michigan’s offensive productivity against good defenses (Iowa, Michigan State, and Wisconsin), in terms of PPD, is highest by far in the third quarter (3.50), followed by the fourth (2.63), first (1.43), and second (1.11) quarters.

Michigan has yet to score on its third drive of any game versus a BCS opponent this season; its highest PPD is on its second drive of the game (4.22).

There is variation in the point outcome of a drive, that is, some drives end in zero points, some in three, some in seven. This variation may be due to factors associated with the opponent (e.g., the quality of their defense) or factors associated just with the drive (e.g., whether the team is ahead or behind when the drive begins). Cluster analyses show that almost 100% of the variance in Michigan’s points earned on a drive is due to factors associated with the unique drive. This suggests that our opponent, per se, has little bearing on the outcome of a drive, once one takes into consideration unique aspects of the drive, such as the how far ahead or behind Michigan is.



November 21st, 2010 at 7:42 PM ^

     Thanks for a very worthwhile analysis.  It has appeared that the offense is more dynamic when we are losing and this seems to support that observation.  It is unreasonable to expect comebacks when trailing by three touchdowns to Iowa in the 4th quarter or by twenty four points to Wisconsin at the half.  I would think some of our success is due a letdown by the opponent.  If true, this would diminish the achievement of our offense.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:21 PM ^

The players play more loosely once they are down by that much bc there is nothing to lose.  I don't know about you but I saw that the players were dropping balls, missing wide open passes and anxious to get through the line when the game was close and this changed once we were down.  I didn't see too much different out of Wisconsin, JJ Watt continued to dominate, they tackled well and the DBs were always within a step of our receivers.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:43 PM ^

I Could not agree more. The only difference between the first and second half yesterday was execution. In the first half, Denard overthrew open receivers and wideouts dropped catchable balls. In the second half, Denard's deep throws were right on the money and there were not as many drops from the wideouts. Nerves definitely play a huge part in this. Denard is a young player who has openly talked about his anxiety early on in games during post-game interviews. As he gets older, this will change. 


November 21st, 2010 at 7:42 PM ^

Unfortunately, I think it shows that the best defenses do let up on us a bit. The most intereseting bit though is how, against good defenses, we come out of the half strong, and stay relatively strong through the end of the game. I guess it takes us some time to settle in.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:09 PM ^

When teams are way ahead, they will tend either to defend differently or have a letdown.  What I have seen is that when the game against a good opponent starts, Denard does not get the job done.  As a result, when we have played good teams - MSU, Iowa and UW - we have fallen far behind.  Even against one of two of the decent teams - PSU - we fell far behind.  In those games, our offense and Denard got their numbers when it scarcely mattered.  When we played the other decent team - Illinois - we won only because of a herculean effort from Tate.  All in all, the more I see of our offense, the more I think that against good teams it would do better with a passing quarterback who can run - Tate - than it has done so far with a running quarterback who can pass - Denard - regardless of Denard's gaudy numbers, run up against either poor competition or against good teams after the game is essentially over.  That's a long way of saying that I don't think it is so much that we come out strong in the second half as it is that our offense does not seem to work well against good teams with Denard at the controls while the game is on the line.  I may be the only Michigan fan who feels this way, but I would like to see Tate start against OSU to see if our offense works any better with him at QB when we still have a chance to win.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:27 PM ^

If you look at all those times where we couldnt score against those teams it was execution errors.  A seasoned QB with receivers that can make catches and an OL that can carry out their blocks would have done just fine early on in those games.  The fact of the matter is that this team is still coming together and they are subject to having nerves at the beginning of games against good teams.  Particularly when you are in a position that you MUST score with the defense that we have.

Denard has absolutely been off in the second half of the season but he will improve vastly again this off season and will likely be a better passer than Forcier next year (he already may be after seeing Tate the last 2 games).


November 23rd, 2010 at 7:33 PM ^

I don't have a good answer for you. I was trying to interpret the data, so I'll take you through my thought process.

I'm open minded. Our offense is good, they make mistakes early, especially in the passing game. I think we've had success in the running game but aren't mature enough to consistently execute and keep long drives going. I believe this maturity issue is true in both the first and second halves.

Opposing defenses are NOT running the prevent against us, that much I know. Maybe they're focusing on the run a bit more, since it is successful always, and that opens up more downfield passes.

The data showed that our O plays well in the second half, but struggles in the first. I could see the D letting up on us, but they're clearly not running the prevent on us. I could see defenses overreacting to the single succesful drive we have in the first halves of these games. Usually these first half drives have not had big plays over the top, and the opposition doesn't fear Denard's deep ball because of his accuracy issues. So maybe they're consciously playing the run and the underneath passes with aggressive LBs and safeties. That's what I was thinking, but writing it down it seems a little silly. Wouldn't they, after the first two TDs out of the half, say "screw it let's go back to what we were doing?"

Basically I'm in neither camp, since i don't break down the film. Since Brian does, I'm leaning to his camp, which is the "settling in" one. But 28 points against Wiscy is no joke, even if their D does let up a bit.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:26 PM ^

that our SO QB is sore and or injured from a bruising season and is hesitant to run for fear of further injury.  Not to mention that any shoulder issues would definitely impact his mechanics which are way off when compared to the start of the season.

I think he is pretty banged up . . . hopefully next year when he is bigger and stronger he will withstand a full season of hits better than this year (where he has taken a bunch of hits cause he is 75% of our offense).


November 21st, 2010 at 8:35 PM ^

But is there a conclusion in there?  Here's mine:  Given the inexperinece of the quarterback, the indications are that the Rodriquez offense has already effective in the Big Ten and will get more so next year.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:39 PM ^

That being said, while PPD is perhaps a more useful and telling metric than points per game, I think your analysis somewhat obscures a key fact:

While we may be tied for third in productivity per drive, our offense regularly executes at a speed that is not matched by Iowa, Wisconsin, MSU, or OSU. As such, while we may only be "towards the top of the Big Ten" in terms of productivity, by virtue of generating more drives, our offense is better than the PPD stats (in isolation) reflect.

Also, I'm curious, to what extent does the lack of a field goal unit affect this analysis? Our kicking percentage on the year is pretty putrid  at 33% (Gibbons = 1/4, Broekhuizen = 3/8); this is by far a statistical outlier among typical U-M kicking units.

If we see an improvement in kicking next year, I would venture to say our offensive PPD would jump up quite a bit, independent of the 2nd-year-starter-bump we're likely to see with Denard, and a general 1-year-older-and-wiser effect across the offense.

Magnum P.I.

November 21st, 2010 at 9:51 PM ^

To your first point, PPD is a fair metric for comparing offensive productivity between teams. We generate more drives per game because we operate faster, but that means that we generate more drives for the opponent, as well. So, while we score roughly 2.5 points per drive on our many drives per game, Wisconsin scores over 3 points per drive on its many drives manufactured by our pace. The result is that they outscore us. Alternatively, you could say that with Wisconsin's slow pace, they have fewer drives, but that mean their opponent does, as well (as in the first half on Saturday). Again it's what you do with a drive that matters.

To your second point, poor field goal kicking absolutely affects this analysis and is one of the key reasons that our PPD is lower than it could be.


November 22nd, 2010 at 12:32 AM ^

Didn't put two and two together with regard to realizing other teams get about as many offensive possession as we do over the course of the game (excluding turnovers).

+1, sir; this makes already impressive analysis even more so to me. Thanks for the exhaustive write-up! I feel much more informed in thinking about how good the offense is.


November 21st, 2010 at 8:37 PM ^

Very good breakdown. Unfortunately, it confirmed my thoughts that the offense has not been very effective against quality teams when the game was truly in doubt.

I think there are reasons for the variability (lack of experienced QB, lack of a dynamic RB, feeling pressure to score every drive because of the D, etc.) but it is a big concern.

On another, note Wisconsin's PPD really looks impressive compared to the rest of the league. Curious how that would stack up nationally.

Magnum P.I.

November 21st, 2010 at 11:07 PM ^

Good point. It would make for a fairer comparison between teams' PPD. That would take a ton more data-entry work than I'm going to do.

However, just looking at the variation within Michigan's drives, field position doesn't matter. I included it as a control in the statistical models and it doesn't make a difference.


November 23rd, 2010 at 2:41 PM ^

Internet.T.Guy nailed it, that is why Yards Per Play is a much more accurate statistic than PPD.


Even if you controlled for field position in regards to Michigan's chances of scoring, that doesn't mean that their offense still doesn't have to regularly go farther to score than the opponents do.


Additionally, if you want to isolate the offensive performance, you have to remove kicking, so looking at points scored is not as accurate as YPP.


November 23rd, 2010 at 3:27 PM ^

but they're really measuring different things, and as such I'm not sure it's meaningful to describe one as more or less accurate than the other. Yards per play is a good starting point, but it's a very coarse measure, doesn't distinguish between consistency and big play/big mistake offenses, and doesn't take into account other factors (penalties, turnovers) that prevent scores.

As Brian's noted, Football Outsiders does take this a step farther, adjusting for strength of opponent and filtering out drives that occur outside normal parameters (end-of-half and garbage-time drives). Prior to last week's game, Michigan and Wisconsin were two of the top five offenses in the country (the SEC's A contingent completes the group: Auburn, Arkansas, Alabama).

That doesn't contradict the points made here, though: the fact that Michigan's offense shreds weak defenses and can produce against strong defenses some of the time doesn't mean it's bad, it just means it's not totally dominant. (And honestly, with the way the defense has struggled, a dominant offense would be required to make some games winnable.) And the fact that it struggles in close games against good defenses illustrates the situation that causes some people to question RR's job security ... flip just one of those losses to a win, and at 8-3, 4-3 in the conference, things would be a lot different.

Despite Bielema's smart-ass comments (redundant, I know; perhaps he had a point, but if you work hard enough at making people believe you're a dick, no one will care when you do have a point), offenses like Michigan's are getting attention for a reason. An offense like this with a more experienced QB will be even better, and paired with even a mediocre defense, it should generate at least a New Year's Day bowl. (Those same rankings have the three SEC schools from 15th to 21st in defense; Wisconsin is 35th, and Michigan is 100th.)


November 23rd, 2010 at 4:32 PM ^

YPP is more accurate because you are isolating the offense from most of the things it can't control- Field position, Field goal kicking, and bad luck in re: turnovers.


Of course there are turnovers that aren't bad luck as well, but it does better as a rough metric than PPD.

And attempting to isolate the offensive performance by the game situation has a sample size problem. Its a short season already, and when you break it down into quarters, and then further into against good Ds/against bad Ds and losing/close/ahead, you are beginning to look at very small slivers of data.


November 21st, 2010 at 9:15 PM ^

I agree with something Mathlete posted recently about how we can't really expect the total yardage to improve much over this season.  But if Denard continues to improve as a passer and if the defense gets better (please tell me it can't get worse) we should see the PPG totals rise a bit.

One big thing to factor in is that Denard's completion percentage this season in BT play is better than Stanzi's, Tate's, Juice Williams', and Kirk Cousin's were last year.  Stanzi and Cousins definitely struggled with consistency last season and the Illini had to give up on making Juice a pass-heavy QB and reverted back to making him primarily a rushing QB.

Next season Denard should move north of 60% completion in league play.  If the defense shows some improvement we'll probably get better overall field position than we had this season.  So my guess is the biggest improvement we'll see next year is in points per game.  Right now we average 37 points per game and it wouldn't surprise me to see us average well over 40 points per game.


November 21st, 2010 at 9:27 PM ^

The assertion that, "One could argue in [contests against the better Big Ten teams], not only did Michigan’s offense fail to play like a top-five unit nationally, but that it was not the better of the two offensive units on the field during the game" seems a bit flawed. You do concede that Michigan's poor defense had much to do with this, but saying that an outstanding offense should be able to "keep pace" with our opponents scoring seriously undervalues the importance of an opponents defense.

When the Michigan defense is at the whim of the opposing offense, the other team controls the pace of the game The better competition this season has been smart enough to slow down the pace and keep Michigan's offense off the field. It stands to reason that if our defense could stop anyone, we would have more opportunities on offense, and inevitably, more points on the board. In other words, I don't believe our offense's failure to "keep pace" has much to do with our offense. 

In a world where everyone's defense was as bad as ours, I would take Michigan's offense over anyone else in the conference.

Magnum P.I.

November 21st, 2010 at 10:35 PM ^

Most statistics indicate that Indiana's defense is actually worse than ours. Against this awful defense, our offense scored 3.5 points per drive, or a touchdown every other drive. That's a great clip by any standard. We punished a defense that is arguably as bad as ours.

Wisconsin has been averaging 3.72 points per drive across all of its BCS games, which include Ohio State, Michigan State, and Iowa. They have clearly been a better offense than ours this year.


November 22nd, 2010 at 9:10 AM ^

Again, I think you are disregarding the effects a teams defense has on its offense. Being able to force 3 and outs prevents the opposing offense from getting in a rhythm, which will translate to fewer points on the board. As we have seen many times this season, Michigan struggles in the first half and falls behind, then finds their rhythm in the second half and tries to play catch-up.

Don't get me wrong, I think your statistical analysis is sound, but I don't think the numbers tell the whole story.

Magnum P.I.

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:27 AM ^

Maybe the defense's struggles have thrown of the offense's rhythm, but I would actually argue that it's the offense that hasn't lived up to its end of the bargain in many cases. In order for the offense to start a drive with a lead, the defense must come up with a stop (no small feat for this defense). The defense has actually done that quite a few times this season, and the offense has rewarded them by scoring on only eight of 43 opportunities, basically giving the ball right back to the opponent and forcing the defense back out on the field, their accomplishment squandered. Defenses have rhythms and  feed off of momentum, as well.

I'm by no means arguing that the defense is anywhere near as good as the offense, but our situational scoring figures imply that the offense has let the defense down at times.

Another interesting figure about our maligned defense is that they've actually had to defend more drives against BCS opponenets than any team in the Big Ten this year. That has surely made their per game stats look more awful than they could.

Gulo Gulo Luscus

November 25th, 2010 at 12:19 AM ^

that is pretty astounding.  both the fact that our defense has only made 43 stops all year and that our offense doesn't seem to reward them.  while its possible our starting field position on those 43 stops is below average, its unlikely to be statistically significant.  there may be no solid explanation, but that is by far the most eye-catching stat you've brought out that was not included in the original post.  cheers.


November 21st, 2010 at 10:04 PM ^

I think your analysis just proves why RR keeps saying the offense lacks consistency. It's true. It needs to execute all the time, whether ahead, behind, or tied, and not just when behind. I'm inclined to believe that youth is the major culprit for that lack of consistency and sputtering to start games against quality opponents.

I'm also inclined to believe that the defense is skewing these stats and making the offense appear to be worse than they are and in more ways than we may think. Yeah, so what if the opposing defense goes into prevent mode in the 2nd half? fact is the UM offense put up 21 points in the 3rd quarter. If that doesn't even get you within one score then your defense has let you down in some ways. IN other words, I think the lack of competent defense is overshadowing the resurgences that our offense has made in each game. Had our defense stopped Wisco just two times in the second half, the game would be closer. The offense showed up, the defense did not. Of course, Wisky had a monster of an offensive line and a great offense overall...but not being able to stop the run even a little bit in that half was very disconcerting 


November 21st, 2010 at 11:22 PM ^

We all know the defense (and ST) need to be better, but the offense has just as much work to do. Your diary makes some valuable analysis, and really quantifies something that I'm sure we've all kinda felt throughout the season (I especially remember the ND and Indiana games as prime examples of our offense not being able to take advantage of chances to increase leads to 2 scores or greater). It also points out that ypg only goes so far. Sure, it's being kinda nitpicky to do such an analysis, but there's enough of a trend here that's hard to ignore. 


November 21st, 2010 at 10:30 PM ^

The "All Drives Are Not Created Equal Section" is eye-opening.  I've noticed that UM hasn't been able to jump up on opponents and bury them when ahead.  I've also noticed a good ability to score when we need to (Tate to Stonum against Illinois, end of Indiana, etc).

An ability to jump ahead on opponents would drastically change the pace of some of these games.  It would leave opponents scrambling, rather than leave them with room to breathe.

If we jumped up after our opening stop against Wisconsin, we could have dictated the tone of the first half.

Generally, I can't complain about this offense, but going forward this unit should learn how to pile on points early.  This will take some pressure off the defense and lower the blood pressure of the wolverine faithful


November 21st, 2010 at 10:50 PM ^

a young team choking under pressure.  Learning to jump out fast and play confidently with a lead is a mark of poise and experience.  I expect them to be better in this regard next year.

It's scary to consider that wth all the problems and weaknesses in this offense, it is already dominatitng the conference.  As Rod continues to develop his system and the players get more comfortable in it, it's just going to get better and better.


November 21st, 2010 at 10:41 PM ^

with turnovers or missed field goals is zero.  The breakdown above would be interesting with turnovers factored in, seems to me the most are occuring in first and second quarter of the game - situationally I think they are all happening when the game is "in doubt", I also think that 10 points is not a comfortable lead for any DC that we face - I don't see prevent when the opponent goes up by ten.

Magnum P.I.

November 21st, 2010 at 11:18 PM ^

Yeah, I think I'll save the disaggregation of "no points" analysis for after the season. I think most turnovers are happening in the second half when we're forcing the issue, though.

To your second point, the story is similar when you use 14 points as the margin. There are fewer data points in that case, though, so it's harder to achieve statistical significance. You're point is a good one, though, in arguing that our proficiency in such cases may not merely be the result of the defense letting up.


November 22nd, 2010 at 6:52 AM ^

Bielema's statement doesn't really reflect on Michigan; it is a response to the criticism of his dull offense.  Michigan just happened to be an easy target because Wiscy had won so convincinigly.  Because of the criticism he has recieved, Bielema will probably be "crusading" against the spread in front of anyone who will listen, bragging about his product as "superior." 

Funny that MIchigan, OSU, Iowa, and PSU's coaching staffs don't feel that it is neccessary to brag when they are having decent years, but Wiscy and MSU's coaches act like carnival shills when their teams do well. 

Maybe MSU and Wiscy should get a rematch in a newly-formed "Open Mouth Insert Ego Bowl."  They could play in the Disney Complex.  The loser gets a statue of Mickey Mouse, and the winner gets a statue of himself for a trophy. 

Kilgore Trout

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:56 AM ^

Great work.  This sort of stuff really is why this blog is so great.

This does back up what we've all seen against the best teams on the schedule.  It seems the offense has kind of run in place until they are so far behind it's almost hopeless.  Disheartening.

One comment is that I'd like to see your table two have UM's PPD compared to the PPD allowed by the respective defense they're facing.  I realize would probably involve a lot more work, but I think that would be a better, more direct comparison than PPD vs PAPG.


November 22nd, 2010 at 12:28 PM ^

 this is the first time these defenses have faced DR. Next year they will be better prepared and their defensive schemes much more effective. DR performance early this year was a total surprise to everyone including the coaching staff. 

I doubt very much he will be breaking his own rushing record next year. Teams will have had a year to prepare for him.


November 23rd, 2010 at 12:42 PM ^

If this were generally true, then 2nd year starting QBs as a group should have worse stats than 1st year starters. The reverse is true.

If you argue that Robinson is such a unique player that you shouldn't expect the normal pattern to apply to him, then let's use the most obvious comparison: Pat White.

In his first year as a starter in 2005, he ran 131 times for 952 yards (7.27 ypc) and completed 65 of 114 passes (57.0%) for 828 yards (7.26 ypa)  with 8 TDs and 5 picks (4.39%).

In his second year as a starter in 2006, he ran 165 times for 1219 yards (7.39 ypc) and completed 118 of 179 passes (65.9%) for 1655 yards (9.25 ypa)  with 13 TDs and 7 picks (3.91%).

His opponents may have had an extra year to prepare, but any effect was dwarfed by the effect of his own extra year to get better.

Blue in Yarmouth

November 23rd, 2010 at 1:20 PM ^

and you have made two of the more absurd comments I have seen on this board in the years I have been here.

Everytime someone says anything remotely positive you interject with your "yeah but...." or "keep in mind"..

If you want to be negative fine, that's your business, but stop typing the shit in an attempt to make everyone as miserable as you.


November 23rd, 2010 at 3:44 PM ^

or nearly two, thinking about the current group of QBs, or more than that if they're actually studying the offense itself under Rodriguez. No, Robinson didn't start last year, but he did play. The teams that played Michigan both last season and this season probably spent a lot of time looking at many of the same guys in the same offense, and look at the results.

For one thing, Robinson himself showed a lot of improvement, and while he probably isn't going to improve to the same extent next season, we certainly hope he improves somewhat.

For another, it isn't just about Robinson, it's about the offense as a whole. Sure, there may be games where defenses will force Robinson to give up the ball ... but that's happened this season as well, and it didn't really work out for some of those teams. If Denard improves his mechanics and decision-making, it won't matter much what defenses decide to do ... barring injury, what would stop him from rushing for a similar number of yards would be a) the rest of the team rushing for 3000 yards or b) Denard throwing for 4000.

Sure, maybe that's a bit of exaggeration, but the schedule may be a bit easier (dropping Penn State, Wisconsin, Indiana for Minnesota, Northwestern, Nebraska; the non-conference schedule will probably be about the same). Do you think that defensive coordinators at Eastern Michigan or Purdue or Minnesota are really going to have an answer for Denard next season?


November 22nd, 2010 at 12:40 PM ^

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Sten Carlson

November 22nd, 2010 at 1:13 PM ^

Great work!

In watching every game this season I have to say that the problem is that Michigan, due to its complete lack of consitency on defense, is NOT able to play the "field position game" that is a staple of football strategy.  In years past, when the OC was confident that playing conservative and punting the ball deep into the opponent's territory was likely NOT going to result in a score, Michigan could play the field position game.  Punting, if you have a good defense (and a good punter and cover team) is not looked at as a negative (read the Denny Green comment about "if you're kicking, you're winning...")  But with Michigan's defense, a punt (barring a turnover) is almost certainly a scoring opportunity for the opposition.  This is obviously a bit overstated, but it's amazing how many times Michigan pinned the other team deep with a nice punt, only to have them be across mid-field in a just three plays.  Now the field position game is tipped in their favor, and even with a stop, there is the very real possibility of going for it on 4th down (because the defense cannot stop them anyway) and FG (because every other team seems to have a kicker that can kick a 40 yarder).

I don't think its fair nor productive to bag on the offense and try to claim,, "they're not THAT good..." even given the statisical analysis above.  They are that good, and if the defense was getting just the conference average number of stops, the offense would probaly have double the number ot drives, and would be able to play the field position game rather than the "score every possession" game that they're forced to play now.

Things will improve on both sides of the ball, but without begin able to swap field position due to a lack of defense, winning football becomes very very difficult in deed.

Go Blue!

Magnum P.I.

November 22nd, 2010 at 5:05 PM ^

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it sounds like what you're suggesting with your first point is that if Michigan's defense were better, then we would actually punt more often (i.e., if we had confidence the defense could make good on pinning the opponent deep). This would lower our PPD and make our offense appear less potent, no?

Our FG kicking, though, is definitely a contributer to our low PPD.

Regarding field position, our average starting field position against BCS team is our own 28 yard line. However, as mentioned above, this season we have had as good a chance of scoring a touchdown from our own ten as the fifty. Field position hasn't significantly affect our likelihood of scoring.

Last, I'm not sure what you mean by "it's not fair or productive to bag on the offense." These results show that the offense is good. They also show that the offense has played quite poorly when in tight contests with good teams and that the offense has stalled with opportunities to put BCS teams away. I'm not sure how presenting these facts constitutes "bagging on" the offense. You said that if the defense were good, that would give the offense more drives. That's true, but the crux of this analysis was that the offense isn't taking advantage of its drives in opportune circumstances, regardless of how many they have.  

The offense is good, but it clearly has kinks to work out.

Sten Carlson

November 22nd, 2010 at 9:07 PM ^

Yes, you're wrong.  I am NOT claiming that Michigan's offense would punt more if the defense were better, only that they would feel more comfortable punting, i.e., playing the field position game, rather than feeling that they MUST score on every drive.  I think that a sophomore QB and WR's are under a lot MORE stress to score than they would normally be if they felt that they could pin the other team deep in their end, and count on the defense to get the ball back intto DR's hands consistently.  Further, I am not overly concerned with the appearence of potency or impotency by the offense.  What I am concerned about is the fact that Michigan cannot really play BASIC OFFENSIVE FOOTBALL given the defensive liabilities.  Basic football says that an exchange of field position, in the long run, will work out in your favor -- just not so much for Michigan.  That also exposes the double-edged sword of the fast strike offense -- you score quick and give the ball right back to the other team.  The RR scheme is not meant to control the clock the way Bo used to, it is meant to be a barrage.  But, the defense is so bad, that it almost seemed to work against Michigan at times, unless they were up.  But, if we kick off, and go down 7-0 on the first possession, it's an uphill battle from there on out.