Evaluating the 2014 OL

Submitted by UMaD on December 1st, 2014 at 3:57 PM

Football outsiders (the same site that produces FEI and S&P ranks) has OL stats up for the season (through last week/ Maryland game).  Here is where Michigan ranks:

Pass Protection

  • Standard down sack rate:  105th out of 128 (7%)
  • Passing down sack rate:  45th out of 128 (6%)

Quite a split.  You have to wonder how much of the relative 'success' on passing downs can be attributed to Nussmeir's conservative play calling on 3rd and long (i.e., draws and screens).  Having a lower sack percentage on passing downs might also result from Gardner being more apt to scramble.


  • "Stuff" rate:  69th out of 128 (20% of RB carries stopped at or before line of scrimmage)
  • Success rate: 56th out of 128   (40% of carries got 5 yards or more)
  • Power (Short yardage) success rate:  63rd out of 128 (67% successful on 3rd/4th down with 2 yards or less to go)
  • Standard down line yards:  93rd out of 128 (2.7 ypc)
  • Passing down line yards:  43rd out of 128  (3.6 ypc)

Big split in the line yards by situation, as we saw with sacks.  Is it really true that the Michigan OL struggled to run on standard downs and short yardage, but did well on passing downs?  Is that also the result of more run calls on 3rd and very long?

Adjusting for Opponents

  • Adjusted line yards:  54 out of 128
  • Adjusted sack rate:  58 out of 128

Not that awful?

As a sanity check on these numbers, OSU ranked 3rd in line yards and 91st in sack rate. (Makes sense given their offensive system and relative inexperience).  Penn State ranked 119th and 109th. It could be worse!  We're generally ranked in the same neighborhood as Maryland-Rutgers-Northwestern.


Unfortunately, there is no data for 2013 available on the site, so we can't compare to last year.  This is interesting data in isolation, but there are too many variables with playcalling, running back ability, health, passing game threat, and schedule difficulty to say if the OL got better or not

My opinion is that the pass blocking regressed significantly. Cole and Braden looked lost far too frequently.  Nussmeir knew it and had to resort to conservative play-calling in passing situations to avoid a pile of sacks and far nastier looking statistics.  That inflated the run stats a bit, but the run game still seemed to get better thanks to a consistent identity (playcalling) as well as improved health and experience along the interior of the OL. Those standard down running numbers still look awful, but some blame falls on the RB too. The short yardage number is far from great, but not nearly as embarrasing as last year's felt.

One thing we can say pretty definitively is that the OL was bad.  Their highest rank in ANY category was in the 40s and that was with the help of some conservative play-calling. The low yardage on standard downs and poor showing in short yardage are pretty damning even for the supposed strength of this line (run-blocking).  The sack numbers are embarrasing, even before the OSU game.

Next Year

For those hoping to build the 2015 offense around a good solid veteran OL; even with everyone back, there is still a long way to go.



Tracked down last years stats.

Michigan got better in every single OL stat except for a small increase in sack rate on standard downs.  All the run game stats are better.  The "stuff rate" stat went from near 30% to 20%. Short yardage success leaped from 52% to 67%.  Standard down line yards went from 2.2 to 2.7.  So your "eyes" weren't lying to you --  The OL was better, especially the run game.

I will stick with my argument that these stats are a little inflated by Nussmeir's play-calling adjustments, but the OL clearly did better overall.  Count me as surprised.



Monkey House

December 1st, 2014 at 4:03 PM ^

I enjoy your post but I can't stand theses "stats" for football. stats say our defense was good, which they were average at best. go with the eye ball test. oline was better this year, they will be better next year. which will make them average.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:18 PM ^

the adjusting to the numbers and how that an account for a team playing an opponent with their starting QB and top (insert anything here) out vs. playing a fully healthy team. It's also about rivals and how teams tend to perform better against their main rivals.

Stats are awesome, but with only 12 games a year and so much variability (e.g. Hoke can't win on the road, injuries, rival status...) the stats are often times misleading.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:21 PM ^

Damn the stats! :)

Actually the advanced stats showed UM was anywhere from 5th to 8th in the Big 10 in defense most of the year which sounds exactly right.  Only the simplistic "total defense" that Griese quoted and is used by the  mainstream media has UM as a top 10 defense.  All that is is "total yards per game given up" which is a massive advantage for teams in conferences with pathetic offenses.  Hence the Big 10 dominates. (a few weeks ago the Big 10 had "8 of the nation's top 25 defenses" using that useless measure)

When you look at advanced stats the best Big 10 defenses (Wisconsin and PSU) were around 10-12 and UM was in the mid 30s to early 40s most of the year.  That sounds fair and much more real than "#7".  And within the Big 10 it was behind OSU, MSU, PSU, and Wiscy and at times teams like Iowa and Nebraska.  (until Wisconsin destroyed Nebraska)   I think the advanced stats is pretty darn good in that ranking.

I would also suggest our "last drive of 1st half defense" is last in the world.

(did not downvote you)

To the OP - since there are not 2013 stats for NCAA OL, showing how these individual categories looked vs a cross section of 5 other Big 10 teams in 2014 would be useful.  Forget PSU - they are UM 2013.  Throw in Wisconsin, Nebraska, UM, OSU, MSU and a middling team from our division like say Rutgers or Maryland in 1 chart and it will be easier to understand these figures in relation to a peer group.  OSU's OL  in particular had the same # of starts (off by 1) vs UM's coming into the year.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:37 PM ^

Agree with you but this post was long enough already.  Could certainly take a deep-dive into each stat but I don't think it would change the story much.  We are near the bottom of the Big 10 at most of these statistics -- and the Big 10 is not good.  Do we care if we are 6th or 11th in a bad conference? I think asking the question says enough.

If Michigan is where we want/expect them to be, they would rank in the top 10 in some categories and not be below the top 50 anywhere.  If we're a pro-style team, we might accept lower line yardage numbers for the sake of sack avoidance (e.g., MSU).  If we're a run-oriented O we might take some sacks related to high-risk deep shots, as long as we could keep safties honest enough to get the gains on the ground (e.g., OSU, Minnesota).

Right now, we are neither -- ranking closer to the dregs (PSU, Illinois) than the elite. We're near Northwestern, Rutgers, and Maryland in the lower half of the division behind the mid-range OLs of Iowa and Minnesota.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:26 PM ^

Certain "stats" said our defense was good. Those "stats" were mainly YPG, which many around this site have bebunked as an unreliable metric given the poor offensive state of the B1G.

As Mat said FEI and S&P both show that our defense was rather middling.

EDIT: alum96 beat me to it while also providing a much better explanation.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:03 PM ^

While I'm not positive, those ranks do look like an improvement from last year. It's not good, but you can't go from terrible to top ten in 1 season. And Michigan played a true Freshman RT. 

The Geek

December 1st, 2014 at 7:44 PM ^

than I expected, due to their youth. They got stronger and better as the season progressed. 

This offense just killed itself all season long. I couldn't stand to see Gardner continue to get put under center, have passes dropped, etc. 

The big problems on this team are correcting the awful turnover margin and getting a QB ready. 


December 1st, 2014 at 4:33 PM ^

I didnt intend for it to sound snarky. I appreciate the time it took to compile and post the stats, but OP stated he thought the OL pass pro regressed this year, then next sentence mentioned Cole and Braden in particular. I've been pleased with Cole's development this season and wondered if OP was basing his opinion on OSU game where Cole had to contend with Bosa. It was Cole's toughest assignment all year.

turd ferguson

December 1st, 2014 at 4:13 PM ^

I think our 2014 OL was better than I expected this year but worse than I expect for a Michigan OL.  I came into this season thinking that the OL was an awful Achilles' Heel to an otherwise very talented, good team.  Leaving the season, I think the OL's performance was subpar but no worse than every other position group on offense, along with the DBs.

Ron Utah

December 1st, 2014 at 4:38 PM ^

I don't think the OL regressed in any aspect this year.  I don't think it was very good, but 2013 was a tire fire, and this year's OL did a MUCH better (still bad) job in the run game and the pass game.

We improved, but still didn't get to average, which would probably be our destination next year if this staff is retained.


December 1st, 2014 at 4:55 PM ^

They clearly got better in the run game.

The pass protection is a little more murky.  Sack rate on standard downs actually got a little worse.  On passing down the numbers look significantly better, but how much of that was play calling? 

The offense got a lot more conservative and scored fewer points.  I don't think it was all Gallon & Dileo...


December 1st, 2014 at 5:02 PM ^

some of the sacks can be attributed to Gardner as much as OLine. His inability to step up in the pocket and sense where pressure was coming from while still keeping his eyes downfield contributed to the sack count.


December 1st, 2014 at 5:03 PM ^

I think there is some value to these stats but they don't tell the whole story.

The passing game was a disaster. Gardner did not handle pressure well this year and the receivers could not get open consistently. I'd be curious to know the average amount of time Gardner was holding the ball before he was hit or sacked.

I think the line will be much much better next year.  This year's experience plus an offseason of strength training will help.  There should also be younger guys that push the starters...

Of course, if they have to digest a whole new system, it will probably be a wrench in some of those potential gains.


December 1st, 2014 at 5:12 PM ^

It was talked about some in a thread the other day, but the 40% or so drop in negative rushing yardage point to improvements in the ability of the OL to run block / hold the pocket, although there are a few other things which are lumped into that number as well. As for my own expectation, I would be in the school that was - in some respects - pleasantly surprised considering how things had been in 2013. It wasn't great, but it was not 2013. It was definitely progress.


December 1st, 2014 at 5:51 PM ^

This is why I am completely baffled when people keep talking smack about Nuss. Most statistical renderings of offensive performance improved from last year to this year. Yet everyone keeps bitching about how we regressed and Nuss made us a tire fire. Like, what?

Nuss changed our scheme; any person who watches football with a critical eye sees that half of Gardners interceptions are based on miscues between his receivers and him. Who knows what really happened, but what Gardner expected is not what the receivers did. Miscommunication. A major problem? Hell yeah. Fault the coaches for not fixing that? Damn right. Nussmeier's fault for making us a "dumpster fire"? Give me a break.


December 1st, 2014 at 7:22 PM ^

Only one thing more important that points per game, and that's wins: regressed from mediocre to bad where it counted. What these stats show is that that regression is not on the O line. It could still be on poor RB, WR, and especially QB play, and I buy especially the first & last of those, but it's also on Nuss. Borges was better after all -- again: to say better is not to say good, that's a different question....

Mr Miggle

December 1st, 2014 at 8:08 PM ^

It's not about his playcalling. He is the QB coach. Nowhere has our play regressed more. He taught Gardner to read the defenses differently. I think it's fair to say that was a disaster. Has he helped Morris develop? I wasn't expecting Morris to challenge for the job like some were, but I was expecting to see a lot more.


December 1st, 2014 at 5:31 PM ^

 the way Drake Johnson pass protected against OSU. That kid is a football player. Any talk of keeping Nuss around is crazy. If he was a good talent evaluater he would have gotten that kid on the field earlier.


December 1st, 2014 at 5:50 PM ^

That sounds too hasty based solely on that. Compound it with not throwing more jump balls to Funchess, not teaching Gardner how to step up in pocket, not throwing more passes to Butt, some obvious play calling that rarely worked...
I do agree with you that Drake has much better vision and speed than the other RBs.


December 1st, 2014 at 6:59 PM ^

I said, at the very start of the season, "that this OL will be great... in 2016."

Just go with that.  Give most of these guys 2 more years and we'll be fine.  I expected very little out of them this year and frankly my expectations were not missed and might have even been exceeded a very little bit.


December 1st, 2014 at 7:08 PM ^

Not a big fan of these "OL" stats.


Here's what I saw.


Mason Cole has the potential to be All B1G.  He made some mistakes, had some times where his youth showed, but as he gets stronger, will improve.


Graham Glasgow is a big body, not much more.


Jack Miller is making the most of his talent.  He recognizes defenses well, and had a couple games where after rewatching Sunday morning, was impressed with some of his pulls.  But he's not strong or dominant enough when the NT lines up over top of him.  He is what he is.


Kyle Kalis may have the most talent on the OL, but either takes plays off or makes mental errors, tough to tell the difference.


Ben Braden is a very average RT in the B1G.  Another big body who at times took advantage of smaller opponents, but wasn't overly impressive.


Got some highly touted younger guys in whom I'm interested, after a new set of eyes evaluates them and after some new coaching comes to AA.  It'll be interesting to see where guys like Kugler, Magnuson, and Dawson end up on the depth charts.

Class of 1817

December 1st, 2014 at 7:16 PM ^

pretty much verify my own personal conclusions just from watching over the year.

The whole "they're young, they're developing" isn't really an argument anymore. The way that teams have had freshmen/sophomores/redshirts playing OL has shown that they can do it at UCLA, Oregon, Auburn, and a lot of other schools without having to rely on mediocrity. 

It was tough to tell before whether this was a combo of Borges/Funk before...but now it's clear that Funk hasn't been able to develop linemen over his tenure here. He's had 4 years and he's created an OL that a lot of people see potential in just because they don't lead the NCAA in tackles for losses. I feel bad for these kids, but I hope we can get someone in here who can take our kids and give them a solid base for their final 2 years or so. The mental breakdowns also fall on the coach preparing these kids to be men out there on the field.

After this long with the same position coach, these kids should be better than they are. You can only blame so much on volatility within schemes. When a 100-yard rushing game and only 2 or 3 sacks feels like a miracle effort, there's a problem.


December 1st, 2014 at 10:48 PM ^

There are some teams that do ok with a young, inexperienced OLine, like you mentioned, and others that don't, like Okie State and Penn State.  Also, there has been discussion previously on the board that it's easier to accomodate inexperience at the tackle position than at center or guard.


December 1st, 2014 at 7:52 PM ^

It was clear the OL improved as the season progressed, but they have developed as slow as my facial hair in high school. 

The lack of QB & OL developement is the main reasons why Coach Hokie is a goner. 

I'm hoping for a leap forward from this group(OL) next season.  I'm not sure if they are talented enough for a leap, but lets hope so.  I expect there will be a transfer from the OL group to find playing time somewhere else.  This happnens at every program. 

Next year - We have hope, but a lot of questions.

-Improved OL?

-One more year for the RB's & Ty? 

-D = Peppers & another year older for the rest of the D.  

-QB - Someone has to step up from this group.   



December 1st, 2014 at 7:57 PM ^

The OL played about how I expected.

Better in pass protection, because they couldn't be much worse and because protection is less physical than it is mental. Youth (less strength) is less of a killer in protection.

Where I was surprised is how much they improved in the run game during the season. Before the year, I thought there would be a net gain in run blocking, but the early-season struggles against decent teams made me doubt that. They came together nicely. Not good enough, but pop a tape in from last season if you need a reminder of where they've come from.

This line will be amongst the best in the conference and a top 20 unit next season. Miller will be a Rimington finalist. Cole will compete for All-B1G.


December 1st, 2014 at 9:26 PM ^

The o-line was clearly not great this year, but it did look to me that they improved from last year, especially in the running game.  One the one hand Gardner's feet and athleticism probably bailed them out at times.  On the other hand, his awful ability to read defenses, find the open reciever, and be decisive with his throws probably hurt their sack numbers too.  Morris hasn't looked great thus far either, but I'm hoping that a talented junior can be better and if not Speight can step in and provide a consistent ability to accurately hit open recievers and keep the offenseive moving. 


The o-line is still probably only average next year.  But, their run blocking especially should improve.  The depth chart likely goes 2nd, 5th, 5th, 4th, and 4th year players...no youth excuse any longer.  Plus you'd have to assume that whoever is in the backfield is an upgrade as they are a year older and more experienced regardless of if it's Isaac, Johnson, Green, Smith, or Hayes.  Ultimately with how good the defense CAN be, I think it really comes down to having an effective QB that can hit open recievers and not turn the ball over so much.  If we get that I'd think the o-line comes off looking much better and we can have an 8-10 win season.