What Does Great Offense Look Like and How Close is Michigan?

Submitted by The Mathlete on June 7th, 2010 at 9:06 PM

[ed: bump.]

Pulling the content a little closer to home this week in an effort to keep a higher R squared value with the MGoBlog readers!

As always, this analysis only considers games between two D1 opponents and takes only plays during competitive game situations into account.

Not all great offenses are created equally

If we are going to know what it takes to become a great offense under Rich Rodriguez, we must first know what it will look like, because great offenses can take on many different appearances.  Below is a play success distribution for my top rated offense last year (Georgia Tech, option baby), the top passing offense (Captain Leach Texas Tech) and a look at West Virginia from 2007, Rodriguez’s last year at the helm.  I went ahead and threw in the BCS’s worst, Washington St, just for comparison.


The Paul Johnson option is working with big plays, rather they are taking out the bad plays.  Over three-quarters of Georgia Tech’s plays go for positive yardage.  This balances out no strong tendency towards big plays.  The end result is old school football: lots of long drives and moving the chains. 

At the Captain’s helm, Texas Tech had nearly a quarter of all of their plays go for no gain.  As always, there are tradeoffs.  For Tech they came in the form of the 10-20 yard gain.

Under Rodriguez, West Virginia saw something different than either of those two.  Even with a run-pass split close to Georgia Tech, the distribution of the spread 'n' shred was much different than the Option.  Where the Yellowjackets saw a heavy dose of positive but small gains, the Mountaineers had a solid lead in everything from 4-20 yards.  The end results where similar with both teams producing touchdown drives with regularity, but the path was much longer for Georgia Tech.  West Virginia’s ability to get the somewhat big play allowed them to shorten drives, add possessions to the game and eliminate some of the variance through an increase in scoring chances.

How close are we?

As everyone knows, we are much closer coming in to this year than we were last year.  Here is another chart to support that notion.

image There are many charts to look at that show the dreadfulness of 2008, so we won’t dwell on that.  What is becoming clear is that the shape of 2009 is becoming quite similar to West Virginia 2007.  The big difference, and its a big one, is that Michigan still has a lot of plays going for no gain, where West Virginia was able to get 5+ yards out of those same plays.

If Michigan is going to mirror the West Virginia offensive success, it appears to have a made very clear first step last season. 

How does this compare to previous years?

image The biggest difference between the Carr era and the Rodriguez era in terms of yardage gained distribution is the passing game bump from the Carr era in the 10-20 yard gain range.  The Rodriguez system is more geared towards to the 4-9 yard gains where the Carr offense excelled in the 0-3 and 10-20 yard ranges.

What does this mean for 2010?

The cliché: Take the Next Step. 

It looks like framework of what Rodriguez wants to do is in place after two rough years, but the execution is still behind his days at West Virginia.  The offensive line now has two years in the system and for the first time there is a quarterback (in fact two!) who have both experience and talent. As I noted in a previous diary, a jump from average in 2009 to good in 2010 is certainly a good possibility and with a break or two and improved quarterback play, it could go from average to great.



June 7th, 2010 at 6:04 PM ^

...factors seem to be trending in the right direction.  I just can't see how the team won't do enough to earn RichRod a fourth year.  I'm going with 8-4.


June 7th, 2010 at 8:43 PM ^

On defense you really are only as strong as your weakest link.  An offense can have the fortune of exploiting a defense's weak points all game if the defense is not able to stop them.  This year our weak points will be stronger and not such gaping liabilities.  Obviously the secondary will still be young and fragile, but atleast it will have more experience and depth. 

True Blue In Ohio

June 7th, 2010 at 7:14 PM ^

When we have a receiver that is worthy of the #1 jersey, who will stretch the field and draw two sets of eyes, the run game will be that much better and so will the offense.  Great data!  I would love to see our defense analysis as suggested in a previous comment.

Go Blue!


June 7th, 2010 at 7:29 PM ^

Now thats an offense, and if you watched near the end he took out Brian kelly's ranked cincy. If you look at the OLine in WVU, it was alot smaller than the one he has in UM. I wont be surprised next year if the defense turns out to be descent. They have some solid plaers that are goin to play, and Greg Robinson won 2 superbowl rings as DC, im sure he'll get them prepared before the season starts


June 7th, 2010 at 7:39 PM ^

Very, very interesting way to look at offensive trends over years. I'd like to see something similar done for the defense in yards against per play as well? I am wondering if we could see similar trends.


June 7th, 2010 at 8:08 PM ^

I'd love to have more consistency out of the running game. If we can be a team that can not only get big runs, but also plug away and move the ball down the field, we'll be solid.

That of course, depends on the development of the passing game, and if/or Denard is the starting quarterback. Lots of questions, many answers to look for in the fall.


June 7th, 2010 at 8:15 PM ^

but still has a ways to go.  If you look at the big ten rankings for just the 8 conference games played, UM's offense ranks in the bottom half of just about every significant offensive stat.

Scoring Offense - 9th

Pass Offense - 7th

Rushing Offense - 6th (based on yds/game if you look at yds/carry they drop to 8th)

Total Offense - 9th

Pass Efficiency - 8th

First Downs - 9th

4th Down Conversions - 11th

Red Zone Offense - 11th (the good sign is they had more red zone attempts then anyone else, the bad news is they did a really poor job of converting those into points)

3rd Down Conversions - 6th

Sacks Against - 10th (which probably hurts the yds/rush attempt noted above)

TOP - 11th (if RR gets the offense going the way we hope I doubt UM will ever be 1st in the this stat but don't think they'll be this low either - maybe middle of the pack)

If RR gets to stay for the long haul and he gets the offense we all envision I don't think UM will ever lead the conference in some of those stats (TOP, first downs - hopefully lots of big plays not grind it out drives.

I think they're making progress and we should hopefully see an improved offense, but I think we're still a year away from seeing what most of us might consider a 'great' offense.


June 7th, 2010 at 8:21 PM ^

I think we will have a very good offense next year. We have two quarterbacks with experience, a experienced offensive line, and a loaded slot wide receiver position. If Michael Shaw and Darryl Stonum break out like I expect them to our outside wide receiver and running back postions will be really good as well.


June 7th, 2010 at 8:37 PM ^

I think (wish) that the QB situation this year is going to make a hugh difference for the positive.  If our D can hold up and play better than expected it will open even more up for the Offense.

Marley Nowell

June 7th, 2010 at 8:45 PM ^

Looking at Michigan 2007 vs. 2008 its crazy how close those charts are before the 20 yd mark. Could this type of analysis be used to "predict" what we could reasonably expect to happen next year?


June 7th, 2010 at 8:47 PM ^

Mathlete: thank you once again.

With solid offensive snaps last year, the graphs may have shifted even more favorably.  I remember quite a few exasperating moments after the injury.

Question: do these stats include Baby Seal U?  It might be interesting to see data for B10 only games between 08 and 09, to keep a relatively consistent opposition.


June 7th, 2010 at 9:28 PM ^

Is there no way to extrapolate from the first two years and the expectation of a WV07 eventuality, where we might hypothesize the offense to be this season?

Great work as always and thank you.

Also, the Mich09 line makes some kind of sense to me that I can't quite put my finger on.  It sums up what I remember of Tate's game somehow.

steve sharik

June 7th, 2010 at 11:44 PM ^

...the offense will improve in terms of x% of plays gaining y yards or more per play, that may or may not yield a higher scoring or more time-consuming offense.  An offense's ability to score is directly related to the performance of the team's defense and special teams.  Even if the defense is poor, a different kind of poor can lead to different offensive results.

Suppose that the defense is generally solid, but gives up big plays.  In other words, lots of 3- to 5-and-outs and lots of 25+ yd. scores.  The offense gets the ball back quickly and has more possessions in which to move the ball and/or score.  Result = higher scoring offense.

Now suppose that the defense is a bend-but-don't-break type that gives up a lot of time-consuming drives and is so/so in the red zone, giving up some TDs while holding the opponent to a decent # of FGs.  The offense gets the ball back slowly and has fewer possessions in which to move the ball and/or score.  Result = lower scoring offense.

Both defenses may yield the same # of ppg but have a drastically different effect on its offense's ppg and, therefore, wins and losses.

In terms of what to expect out of the defense, remember that it is experienced and best-coached on the line and ILB positions and green on the perimeter and in the secondary.  This suggests an ability to be successful in run situations and unsuccessful in passing ones; i.e., good on 1st-and-10 and 2-and-long runs and poor in 3rd-and-mid to 3rd-and-long, as well as giving up big plays. 

This is exactly what happened in the scrimmage for the 1st D against the 2nd O (read: not good offense) and I expect this to happen during at least the early part of the season.  Naturally a defense wants to limit big plays, but if I had to choose b/w giving up 2 long TDs a game and giving up 12/16 on 3rd down conversions, I'd take the former every single time.

[email protected]

June 8th, 2010 at 11:24 AM ^

I've never seen an offense visualized like this before.  Excellent work.  If this got broken down on an game-by-game basis, would there be enough pass snaps to make the numbers statistically worthwhile?




June 8th, 2010 at 11:57 AM ^

Mathlete, as always the the analysis is tremendous.  Mostly because I also believe we are this/close to having an elite offense, too.  But I don't think the offense will have the same kind of profile (run/pass distribution, yards per attempt) as WVA in 2007, and that will have an impact on the offense. 

WVA in '07 had a 70/30 run/pass distribution and only gained 159 passing ypg.  That's OK when you have a Pat White, a Steve Slaton, and weak WRs in a weak Big East, but stronger Big Ten defenses and UM's level of talent at WR and slot will likely force a more equitable run/pass distribution.

I see the UM 2010 offense having a profile similar to Oregon, 2007-2009. For those 3 seasons the Ducks averaged 455 ypg, with 255 rushing ypg and 200 passing ypg.  They averaged anywhere from 5.3 to 6.2 yds per rushing attempt, and right around 7 yds per pass attempt.  They did this with a 60/40 run/pass distribution, and they've averaged 38.7 ppg over the last 3 seasons.     And they won 9, 10 and 10 games over that span.  We'd take that, wouldn't we?

Incidentally, the Ducks have had a middling defense during that period as well.  I don't know if that's because they give up lots of yards because the offense plays at such a fast pace (giving opposing offenses more chances), or if they're actually pretty meh.  At any rate, I think that's the profile and the model.

The Mathlete

June 8th, 2010 at 12:17 PM ^

Very intriguing comparison.  I pulled up Oregon from that era and found something interesting.  Even though Oregon passed it more often and for more yards per game, West Virginia under RR got more value for their plays.  Numbers are from my expected value model and opponent adjusted.  POA = Points per game Over Average

WV06: 15.5 POA, 10.8 Rush, 4.7 Pass

WV07: 12.4 POA, 9.3 Rush, 3.2 Pass

Oregon07: 8.5 POA, 6.8 Rush, 1.8 Pass

Oregon08: 10.9 POA, 9.5 Rush, 1.4 Pass

Oregon09: 7.9 POA, 5.7 rush, 2.1 Pass

WV averaged about 4 points per game through the air vs Oregon at less than 2, despite the increased attempts and yards.  Not only was WV's production more efficient in fewer attempts, but the absolute production (in value, not yards) was greater even with fewer plays.


June 8th, 2010 at 1:18 PM ^

I certainly don't have numbers to back me up, but anecdotally I could agree.  A super strong rushing attack will have more value in going against their own grain on occasion.  But I'd argue also that WVA in '07 passed just as much as it needed to, relative to the defensive strength of the Big East.  Passing any more would have diminished value.

However, the Big Ten's top D's (OSU, PSU, Iowa, Wis.) are stronger than anything in the Big East, and will likely adjust very quickly to a steady diet of UM run reads.  RR will probably have to get a better run/pass balance than he had at WVA to be similarly successful -- hence the Oregon comparison.