Live and Die by the Run Game

Submitted by UMVAFAN on January 3rd, 2018 at 6:45 PM

I rarely post, but with all the talk about the offensive struggles, I was curious about how Michigan's rushing yardage over the past three years by game and how it correlates to success on the field. Since I don't have time to adjust for sacks, I used 125 yards per game as the threshold for deeming a game a successful rushing afternoon/evening. Here are the results:

2015: 4 games under 125 rushing yards, 3 losses during these particular games

2016: 4 games under 125 rushing yards, 3 losses during these particular games

2017: 5 games under 125 rushing yards, 5 losses during these particular games

The past three seasons, Michigan has only one 2 games when rushing for fewer than 125 yards (87 yards against Penn State in 2015 and 119 yards against Central Florida in 2016). The rest are all losses!

I know this is an overly simplistic and not very surprising if you know anything about football, but with so many irrational and over the top takes on how the season unfolded and what's killing our success, this is the statistic that matters to me. Whatever Harbaugh and Co. can do to ensure a successful rushing game is where the focus needs to be. The three things we need the most: 1) Better Offensive Line play -- great run blocking and average pass blocking, 2) An average or better QB that can make the play action pass a viable threat to make the run game more effective, and 3) Some game changing running backs that can break some big plays.

We saw spurts of #1 and #3 this year against weaker teams, but rarely saw #2. 

(For what it's worth, I looked at turnover differential as an important variable for predicting losses. In the past 3 years, Michigan has had a turnover differential of -2 or worse five times, with 4 of these resulting in losses. Two of these games were against teams we should have beat (MSU and South Carolina this year) and two were in toss up games (Utah in 2015 and OSU in 2016). The one game we had -2 or worse and won was against Minnesota in 2015.)

I know this was long, so don't neg too hard.

Comments

s1105615

January 3rd, 2018 at 6:55 PM ^

If you win at the line of scrimmage, you win the game. That may be simplistic, but it’s true. Better O line play is something UM fans have been dying to see as long as I’ve been watching (1997).

DonAZ

January 3rd, 2018 at 8:51 PM ^

Nuke LaLoosh: "A good friend of mine used to say, 'This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.' Think about that for a while."

I love that movie.  I saw a game in the original Durham Bulls park. It was awesome.

The Fan in Fargo

January 4th, 2018 at 12:39 AM ^

And that's the main reason Drevno has to go. He has improved it but there are many that point out the flaws in his teachings and it's really sad that he isn't able to hammer some of these simple things home to the players. He either doesn't know it or doesn't care because he thinks he's overworked as both o-line coach and coordinator. 

PapabearBlue

January 4th, 2018 at 9:16 AM ^

Part of winning at the line of scrimmage means not having more defenders at the LOS than you can cover and that's done with making teams fear the pass.

Only gimmicky offenses get away without having a pass game and those teams end up only being a scare to good teams (at best).

Neversatisfied

January 4th, 2018 at 11:31 AM ^

I wouldn't say only gimmicky offenses do.  Purdue was pretty gimmicky, and they gave us fits because of the gimmicks.  But the pro style system is built to run the ball until the defense stacks the box, then hitting the defense with playaction.  If we can't run against an honest box(which we haven't been able to of late against quality teams), the playaction doesn't work because the safeties and linebackers don't bite, then we are left trying to pass it outright.  

 

This system can work in this day and time, but we need to beat good teams at the LOS.  Our biggest issues the past year and a half and so is not getting good gains on 1st down, leaving us behind the sticks on 2nd, then we have to run a draw or some crap doomed pass play on 3rd and long because the team just isn't built to convert 3rd and longs.  

 

SCjr defensive players said our offense was predictable, and it was, because it is.  Its predictable because we weren't winning on 1st down, and setting up the PA.  Once teams fear the run, everything else can be built off of that.  

ST3

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:47 PM ^

If JBB plays the bowl game, we win. I think we get at least the OP's 125 yards rushing and we don't have Peters throwing 44 times. Now, I don't know if he comes back next year. With him, at least there is a JBB floor to the line - good run blocking, iffy pass protection. Without him, there is a big question mark at right tackle. I hope one of the RS Frosh steps up and beats out JBB for the job, but there's not much evidence to support that since high school highlights for linemen are not that instructive. 6'6" 300 pound high school seniors should dominate 6' 220 pound (or thereabouts) high school defensive linemen.

DairyQueen

January 3rd, 2018 at 10:52 PM ^

since i'm not exactly sure how the S&P crunches the numbers, does anyone have any alternate statistics on our running game?

I get that this one ranks us as 14th, but given the modest amount of statistics i remember (an 8:30am class and living on north campus at the time didn't help), i do recall that there are many ways to quantify performance, especially given the extreme reduction to just one relativized scalar of "14th". 

Any other telling statistics for our run game?

From the, obviously fallible but sometimes telling, eye-test, I certainly wouldn't have put us at 14th, especially if you erased some of the lesser teams we ran all over (outliers).

WestQuad

January 4th, 2018 at 12:03 PM ^

Thanks Trust and Frank.  Even though I played guard for 10 years (starting at age 8), I don't know what makes a guy a guard rather than a tackle other than size (tackle) and speed (guard).    Filiagia  is 6'6" and 320 pounds so he has the size and if they're saying guard he has the speed.   What makes him a guard instead of a tackle?    

UMfan21

January 3rd, 2018 at 6:59 PM ^

not sure I agree. A large factor for our inability to run the ball is the fact we have no passing threat. defenses don't have to play us honest, especially this year.

some meteoric, be it yards per play or something else that takes into account run/pass balance should show this.

We could have bamas Oline and still struggle if our QBs can't consistently hit passes >5 yards.

CRISPed in the DIAG

January 3rd, 2018 at 8:04 PM ^

Even before advanced metrics, the notion that "you run WHEN you are winning" as opposed to "you MUST run to win" was taking hold in places like Football Outsiders, etc.  In other words, teams will run successfully after passing successfully. Moreover, wins are predicated more closely with more favorable "yards per passing attempt" than "yards per rushing attempt." 

That's not trying to discount the success of power rushing teams like we see in college. Doing at least one aspect well - running or passing - will win games. But apparently, passing the ball works betterer with the whole game winning thing. 

M-Dog

January 3rd, 2018 at 8:05 PM ^

TING.

We could not run against S. Car because they could load up the box with 9 players w/in 5 yards of the LOS.  We had no passing threat to back them off.

Our problem has been that any even average defense has been able to do that to us all season. 

Load the box, stuff the run, get us in 3rd and long, blitz our leaky OL and our QB with the yips.  Profit.

Our 27-for-27-esque playcalling did not help the situation to keep us out of 3rd and long.

The run game follows the passing game.  We have no passing game nor did we even try to have one in the bowl.

Whatever.

Time to reboot and move on.

 

 

Blue_by_U

January 3rd, 2018 at 8:54 PM ^

Take that perspective further. Perhaps inconsistent play and starters at QB are as much to blame as anything and the evidence is suggestive of that. Speight was tabbed the starter and schemes set around him. Okorn takes over, clearly not spieght, and not likely big ten caliber. By default peters steps in quite young and inexperienced...the playbook goes vanilla and teams tee off. For South Carolina they too were in a bowl game and could take risks with nothing more than losing at stake...sky isn't falling and football is t dying at UM.

Rhino77

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:02 PM ^

I didn’t have a huge problem with the run game this year. The good teams with athletic DB’s were able to stack the box against Michigan and handle the receivers 1 on 1. The Black injury really hurt the deep ball threat as well. I didn’t think the O-Line play was awful (though the patchwork bowl squad wasn’t great). I just think they had REALLY BAD QB play.

bluepalooza

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:02 PM ^

you put 8 in box.  M QB's and WR's did little to soften the safety's and corners.  Watch how good the run game gets when there is a legitimate threat of pass.

Arb lover

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:29 PM ^

Thanks for the statistics. I've always thought Michigan is best over the years when they force teams to respect the run, and can open up the pass game as a result. However as stated above, you can't be simply running 3x in a row ever series for the first half; they will just stack the box with 8. 

The issue with looking backwards when we think of past success we are generally speaking of the Michigan run first, pass second mentality. It works pretty well even if your QB isn't great, but it generally isn't going to win championships in todays game. 

Give us a great quarterback with pass pro and receivers that catch most things in their vicinity and lets talk about the future. Shea's probably the best thing to come out of (Toledo so not so bad) Ohio in a very long time so I'm super hopeful for the future (and he has friendly competition). Like Blue said, if you have run and pass threats, you open up opportunities for both. 

goblue12820

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:05 PM ^

It's a hell of a lot easier to run the football when there is a threat to complete a pass. Running game will be a lot better next year (against good teams) if we can have a little success throwing it. 

jsquigg

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:05 PM ^

This also shows how when the run game isn't working, the pass game isn't good enough to win.  When you have nothing to keep safeties honest, good defenses will eat you alive.

bluepalooza

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:05 PM ^

you put 8 in box.  M QB's and WR's did little to soften the safety's and corners.  Watch how good the run game gets when there is a legitimate threat of pass.

Blue Warrior

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:18 PM ^

The o line needs to be coached up. They need to play fast and violent in the run game yet be smart and communicate in pass pro.

I agree that the combination of young receivers and poor quarterback play has ailed us all year. This comes down to coaching and development. If not then the offense is too damn complicated and must be simplified. I believe peters is a smart kid but if he doesn’t understand his receiver checks or check downs then it’s no good.

I would love to see more of a spread look with some zone read mixed in. I just believe that Harbaugh is too stubborn and will live and die by his system.

Blue Warrior

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:20 PM ^

The o line needs to be coached up. They need to play fast and violent in the run game yet be smart and communicate in pass pro.

I agree that the combination of young receivers and poor quarterback play has ailed us all year. This comes down to coaching and development. If not then the offense is too damn complicated and must be simplified. I believe peters is a smart kid but if he doesn’t understand his receiver checks or check downs then it’s no good.

I would love to see more of a spread look with some zone read mixed in. I just believe that Harbaugh is too stubborn and will live and die by his system.

MGoStrength

January 3rd, 2018 at 7:55 PM ^

If the run game doesn't work because everyone knows we can't pass, then it's really the passing game that's the problem and not the running game.  If there is any semblence of balance and the defense can't sell out on the run then the running game tends to work.  So, just because the running game is the most important part, doesn't mean that fixing it is best accomplished by focusing on it.  Sometimes fixing it means fixing other things so it can do what it already is capable of doing.

 

The part about finding game changing running backs, idk man.  We used to recruit top backs all the time in the 90's and early 00s, but we haven't had one for a while.  Evans is shifty and good out of the backfield, but not a game changer.  Higdon can break away and has great speed, but also not going to make plays without holes.  We haven't had a great one for a while and seem to miss on most of the big name RB recruits.