What would Michigan look like with a better defense?

Submitted by The Mathlete on November 10th, 2010 at 3:57 PM

You can’t count on more progress from the offense

Michigan is not going to get much better on offense. They can reduce turnovers, they can improve in the Red Zone, they can find a back who can reduce the load on Denard. All of these things can and hopefully will happen. But after two years of making the Rodriguez leap, this team is pretty close to the ceiling offensively. There are no more leaps to be made. Any progress at this point is incremental as this team already sits on good end of the bell curve, 2.5 standard deviations above the average team.

In 2008 Michigan was –5 PAN and ranked 102nd in the country in offense. Last year leap #1 happened Michigan jumped to +3 and 38th in the country offensively. This year the team has made an even bigger leap and is currently at +13 and second only to Auburn among all FBS offenses. Prior to this year, here are the offenses in AQ conferences that have exceeded +13:

Oklahoma 2008, +16

Florida 2007, +17

USC 2005, +16

Texas 2005, +14

Four teams from 2003-2009 did better offensively than Michigan has done this year. The offense will hopefully be a slightly more polished version of what you see right now. Another leap would mean a once in a decade offense, don’t think we can count on that.

So if we are going to progress, all the change is going to have to come from the defense. The goal is obviously to have a shut down defense to go with a can’t be shut down offense, but there is little chance of the defense turning around that quickly next year. For comparison I found three teams that had best in class offenses and average defenses (not good, not bad) and this is what I found.

The Test Cases

Florida 2007, +17 Off, –0 Def

West Virginia 2006, +13 Off, –0 Def

Auburn 2010, +14 Off, +0 Def

Florida 2007 lost three SEC games and eventually to Michigan in the Citrus Bowl. Those four losses were by an average of 6 points. It was good enough to get the Tebow Child his Heisman but going 2-4 in close games was the difference between the season being good and truly great.

With Rodriguez at the helm the 2006 Mountaineers went 11-2. This was the year that the Big East was good. Louisville had yet to be Kragthorped and beat West Virginia and South Florida upset West Virginia as the only team to hold the Mountaineers below 27 points.

Auburn still has 3-4 big games left and we may not know how this one is going to end depending on how Newton-gate ends. But at the current pace, Auburn is providing the best case that an exceptional offense and can keep you in the title hunt into November.

How plausible is a strong defensive improvement

This question obviously depends on who’s coaching the defense, does the system change, if it does is that a good or bad thing, how do the young players progress, how does Angry Michigan <Blank> Hating God fill in the blank and many other questions.

From 2003-2009 69 teams have been –6 or worse on defense. 59 of those improved the next year (law of averages, yo) and 17 or about 25% moved all the way up to the test case range –1 or better. The average team improved about 4 points.

Based on the amount of talent returning next year and the youth on this squad, a jump of 4 points would seem to be the minimum. Michigan road to average is starting at –8 right now. Strong showings in the last four games could improve that number slightly but nine games in the number isn’t changing that much. I would say the 25% chance of getting back to average seems about right. This defense should at least progress to 2009 levels (yeah?) and will have a shot at the average defense that would likely lead to New Year’s Day at the bare minimum.

So What

An offense at this level plus an average defense in the Big Ten will probably mean at least ten wins. If the defense makes an average bad defense improvement, it will probably be more like 9 wins. If the defense can make a strong leap (entirely possible) to positive territory, Michigan could be a couple good breaks away from where Auburn is at right now. Let’s just hope somebody didn’t hear from somebody’s sister that Denard was asking Danny Hope to get paid.

Comments

tmurda1234

November 10th, 2010 at 4:46 PM ^

And like some other commenters have said, the next DC (if it's not gerg again) will look like a genius, simply because of all the returning players/talent.  Think Demens, Roh, Martin, Woolfolk, JT Floyd, Cam Gordon, Avery and Co. returning leaner and meaner and smarter and faster than ever.

Add in Beyer and Kellen Jones and Delonte Hollowell, all of whom will likely contribute (at least somewhat) right away.  Then add in all the experience these players are getting now... and it gun' be zoppity

joeyb

November 10th, 2010 at 4:20 PM ^

Do you have any data to show what type of improvement teams with bad PAN make with a DC change? I'm looking at Illinois last year and this year and I'm wondering how often that happens. I think between a new DC, Demens and Woolfolk back, and a plethora of young players in their second year in the program, we might revert to a little more than the mean.

Also, can you give us an idea of roughly what PAN would have won us each of our 3 losses and what we would need in PAN to be favored against OSU?

oriental andrew

November 10th, 2010 at 4:34 PM ^

 I think between a new DC, Demens and Woolfolk back, and a plethora of young players in their second year in the program, we might revert to a little more than the mean.

I think even with the same DC, but accounting for all those other factors, we're looking at a significant reversion toward the mean.

WeaponX

November 10th, 2010 at 4:22 PM ^

"An offense at this level plus an average defense in the Big Ten will probably mean at least nine wins. If the defense makes an average bad defense improvement, it will probably be more like 9 wins."

Umm...I'm confused.  Are these things co-eval, hence nine wins?  Or did you mean to say  a different win total in one of these cases?

qed

November 10th, 2010 at 4:42 PM ^

I think we are probably close to our offensive ceiling, with respect to your metrics.  But we are not near our ceiling if not for the simple reason that our execution, specifically against the best teams like Michigan State or Iowa, have been lacking (I realize Illinois was good defensively).  Part of this is the defense putting us in bad situations but I think when we can pound Michigan State like they are Indiana, then we hit our ceiling!

Wolverine Pride

November 10th, 2010 at 4:50 PM ^

I think the law of averages is on our side with the defense next year.  If they can take a better than average leap, watch out Big 10, watch out college football.......Michigan will be back on top!

tlh908

November 10th, 2010 at 6:35 PM ^

 

You can’t count on more progress from the offense

Michigan is not going to get much better on offense.

Actually, I think RR would like to have a word with you.  He said the other day in his press conference that this offense can get better.  That is the scary part for other teams, next year there will be no stopping us.

Gene

November 11th, 2010 at 10:17 AM ^

The point is we can't count on it. Every coach anywhere will tell you that their team can get better on both sides of the ball. Every one of those other top offensive teams up there that was compared to Michigan could have gotten better. That's because even once-in-a-decade teams aren't perfect. There's always room for improvement. And we can hope (I do) that we'll still see significant improvement. It's just objectively huge leaps are not likely when you're already so high.

markusr2007

November 10th, 2010 at 6:41 PM ^

there are a lot of plays that Illinois ran last weekend, that RR used to run as basic bread n' butter at Tulane, Clemson and WVU that haven't seen the light of day at Michigan yet.  We're approaching game 10. I'm surprised we haven't seen all of the plays in that spiral notebook of his.

Search4Meaning

November 10th, 2010 at 8:28 PM ^

With an average defense, Michigan picks up one more game this season.  

And, yes - next year will be much better than this year.  I think we will move up to an average (ranked 50th to 70th) next year.  Regardless of DC.

But hat's not up to us.  That's why we have Rodriguez.

uphillfrombighouse

November 10th, 2010 at 8:31 PM ^

for showing in your respected mathlete way, how our defense will most certainly be better next season, as well as this year.  My problem is that some of us know these coaches. Yup. I am really getting fed-up with the "Gerg" thing. The name is Greg, better yet Coach Robinson. Coach Robinson will be here next season and has, is and will continue to bring in good recruits. Call him Greg, GR, GRob but come-on, this is Mgoblog. We are better than this, quit with the Gerg. Ok, let the neg commence. By the way, GRob bought a house and is no longer renting.

Edward Khil

November 11th, 2010 at 1:28 AM ^

RR and GERG (I don't agree that we shouldn't call him GERG) knew each other pretty well before the hire.  As long as Michigan wins one more game, I don't think RR is going to fire GERG, unless DB commands it.  The talent deficit (due to underclassmen) is so great that it accounts for at least 75% of the defensive shortcomings this year.

Get ready for one more year of GERG.  (And, probably, that's all.)

jmblue

November 10th, 2010 at 10:59 PM ^

This year the team has made an even bigger leap and is currently at +13 and second only to Auburn among all FBS offenses.

We're ahead of Oregon even?