Michigan 4th in Time of Possession and 3rd Down Conversion %

Submitted by Maizinator on November 14th, 2018 at 12:02 AM

The narrative on Michigan has been that we have an elite dense and an offense that is "good" and "improved".  

In fact, our scoring offense is now up to 20th overall at 37.2 PPG, which might be better than just "good".  Incredible, really, given where we were a year ago. 

But, perusing the stats two numbers really jumped out even more to me and are areas where our offense appears to be elite.

Time of Possession:  4th
3rd Down Conversion:  4th

In other words, teams simply can't get us off the field.   Then when they do, they get to face Don Brown's havoc with well rested guys.

I would love to hear comments from people smarter than me about football on this.  But, it seems like this is the key feature of the Harb-offense that when coupled with this defense makes this team so lethal.  Not sexy, but lethal all the same.  This team just has the capacity to simply bludgeon and suck the life out of its opponents.  I love it.  Somewhere Bo is smiling.

If we get through the next 3 games and into the CFP, then we likely face Alabama or Clemson who are obviously good on both sides of the ball.   Tough tests for sure, but I really hope this team gets a chance to do it.  Those would be interesting games to watch.

That said, I think it would be even more fun if those teams had to travel north and play in some adverse weather. I'd like our chances even more.




November 14th, 2018 at 12:28 AM ^

With respect to Alabama at least, that has some merit.    They are 3rd in 3rd down conversion %, have a good defense and still only 31st in TOP.   It's a scary team.  To beat them, we would have to disrupt that offense and have a great day offensively ourselves.

For Clemson, it seems like we could play our normal game and be very competitive.




November 14th, 2018 at 12:21 AM ^

Did you watch last year though? Our defense which was still great didn't let opposing offenses have the ball for very long. But eventually the defensive players got tired having to be on the field constantly which made us start giving up more yards and points late in games.

Having a competent offense has eased that burden for an even better Michigan defense this year and M's offense being good has increased that burden on opposing defenses.

I love it. It's exactly how Alabama was winning championships in the beginning of their run.


November 14th, 2018 at 9:44 AM ^

Only to some degree. Look at last season, we had a top 10 defense but we still weren't dominating in time of possession.

TOP is more about the offense controlling the clock by keeping the ball on the ground. A single good, long, sustained drive can wipe more than 8 minutes off the clock.

Gotta have a strong D, but TOP is ultimately won via a strong offense.


November 14th, 2018 at 12:27 AM ^

We're really efficient and explosive on 1st and 2nd down, being good at staying ahead of the chains and getting and portion of our 1st downs on 1st or 2nd down or getting into 3rd and short. Our run game and play action games are working very well together on standard downs.

When we do get into 3rd and medium, we're actually very good in that situation relative to other offenses.

In 3rd and long or any obvious passing down our offense is not good, at least according to the statistics. They are still developing the receivers and Shea in this regard.


November 14th, 2018 at 12:35 AM ^

I'll follow this up with an additional comment. If Shea sticks around next season it gives Michigan continuity in the passing game we haven't had since... yeesh. There's a real opportunity to build something special.


We actually aren't great at getting 1st downs on 1st or 2nd down, we just spend /a lot/ of time in 3rd and short. And our passing down offense has improved since I last looked at the stats two weeks ago:



November 14th, 2018 at 2:23 AM ^

It's fun to speculate, but as far as I'm concerned, the CFP is all gravy.   Beating OSU is the real prize this year.   The two just happen to be interlinked.

It's been a long, long time since I've felt like we have the edge going into the game.    If the team avoids mental mistakes and turnovers, we likely win.  They don't have to play above their normal game.  Just execute and play an efficient game.

If we get to Alabama?  Not so much.  Using the snake analogy...   they are more of a genetic combination of a King Cobra and Anaconda...  quick strike, shoot you full of venom and then squeeze you some more after your dead just to make sure. 

Beating them would be like Bo beating OSU in 1969.   That's why I hope we get to play them.    People would be talking about this team for decades if we knocked them off.


November 14th, 2018 at 6:46 AM ^

You may very well be right about Bama, but to be fair, they haven’t played anybody this season. LSU is their best win and by all accounts, most of the SEC is benefitting from “conference brand bias” in the CFP polls. 

Michigan-Alabama would be the most interesting matchup IMO. Clemson is another juggernaut, according to the media, but look at who they’ve beaten...


November 14th, 2018 at 9:46 AM ^

I tend to agree.

Beat OSU and win the Conference title. This, in my opinion, is the ONLY reasonable expectation to place on a team year in and year out as both are 100% within the team's ability to control...win your games and you accomplish these goals.

Anything beyond the conference championship game is bonus because you never know what nonsense the playoff committee is going to come up with next. 


November 14th, 2018 at 11:10 AM ^

I would posit that our offense is not good by design on 3rd and long.  I have argued this most of the season.  "Good" here is measured by conversion, and M is not good at that.  M also doesn't turn the ball over.  And by not good by design I mean not turning the ball over is valued much higher than conversion, much more so than probably any other team. 

On 3rd & 10 if you're expecting an elaborate play call, forget it.  Maybe on the opponent's side of the field, or if it's near the half, or if it's not a competitive opponent, Michigan may work something up.  But 3rd and 10 vs. a good opponent is going to get a safe play call: give a WR a chance underneath or some other play that is very safe first and foremost.  If M converts, great, if not they'll happily punt. 

This is a result of 1) defense being the strength of the team, and 2) couldn't trust the OL to block early in the season. 

If Michigan gets behind, this will change.  If they feel more trust in the OL, this could change.  And at OSU they may say fuck it and let it all rip.  Otherwise it won't change, this is what they've done all year. 


November 14th, 2018 at 5:48 AM ^

on a somewhat related point, yesterday somebody here put up a link about that MSU beat writer flaming out in articles.  one of the links had an article where he was basically calling chase 'foghorn leghorn' and mocking chase for being lots of hype but not a lot of production.  to prove his point he used the stats of MSU's DE, willekes (sp?), who is a good football player.  willekes numbers in total were better than chase's in terms of TFL's, sacks, etc. 

however one major thing that wasn't factored in is that state's defense has had to play so many more plays than our D.  we get off the field fast and our O then takes up all the game time.  i'd be curious if there is any comparison available on a per play basis as opposed to a to in gross.  i have to think that those stats mean a lot less if willekes racked his numbers up with, say, 650 total defensive snaps and chase racked his up with 4-500.  


November 14th, 2018 at 6:58 AM ^

Chase wins the eye test. Sparty kid is a genuinely good player.  Chase is an All-American.  Sparty kid has some good plays throughout the game. Chase is 100% full go 100% of the time, and it shows.  Ok, Sparty kid might (_MIGHT_) outdo Chase on a small handful of snaps each game, but over the course of the game, over the course of the season?  It's not even close.  Sparty homer writer being Sparty homer writer.  Better luck next year, in the meantime, do us a favor and hold this L, thanks.


November 14th, 2018 at 7:04 AM ^

I'm sure PFF tracks something like that.  I feel like I've seen one of their graphics with like "top 5 players in pressures per snap" or something like that.  Of course, probably just their overall player grades would likely give you a more direct way of seeing which of the two guys is playing better.  Unfortunately most of PFF's stuff is paywalled and without a subscription I don't think you can just pick two players and compare them.  

Even apart from the per-snap issue, though, I've always just found defensive counting stats in general to usually be at least double edged and sometimes meaningless.  If a cornerback has a lot of interceptions, does it mean that he's locking guys down or does it just mean that he gets picked on a ton?  If a guy has a lot of tackles, is that because he "has a nose for the ball" or is it because his team gives up lots of first downs and so there are just more tackles to be made?  If one guy has a lot of fumble recoveries and another guy doesn't, what the hell does that say about them?

Sacks and TFLs seem almost random--the credit goes to the player who makes the actual tackle but often (if not most of the time) it's a different player (or group of players) who caused the pressure that led to the sack or TFL.  And while some teams seem record lots of sacks because they have dominant pass rushers, other times it's because of good secondaries that force QBs to hold the ball longer.  And then look at a guy like Josh Uche.  He leads Michigan in sacks--does that mean he's our best defensive lineman?  Looking on a per-play basis would probably make Uche's numbers look truly ridiculous, because he's gotten all those sacks on a pretty limited number of snaps.  Of course, those numbers are misleading out-of-context because Uche right now is pretty much a pass-rush specialist.  If he improves in other areas next season and starts playing more on standard downs, then his number of per-snap pressures will almost certainly decrease even though he'd be a more well-rounded, better overall player.  

That SpartanWire guy, though, seems to have a real problem with Winovich.  He was going to say that Willikes is better no matter what evidence might be to the contrary.  It's pretty freaking immature, if you ask me.  I'm just a fan of Michigan and I root for our guys and I obviously don't have any kind of professional obligations or reputation to uphold around college sports, and yet I can recognize that Willikes is also a great player and respect him for what he brings to his team.  You'd think a guy working in the industry could do the same.  Spartans gonna spart, I guess.  


November 14th, 2018 at 8:33 AM ^

Crowley Sullivan seems like he might legitimately have mental issues. His level of obsession with Michigan, and Winovich in particular, is beyond unhealthy. Dude's world is probably crashing down on him as he finds it harder and harder to deny that the tide of the rivalry has shifted and that MSU's run of dominance is over. Add to that the fact that he acted like a complete jackass at B1G Media Day and is probably getting that thrown in his face by people on social media and I wouldn't be surprised if he had a full-on meltdown.


November 14th, 2018 at 6:15 AM ^

Time of possession is such a huge stat... it governs the entire game. Keep opposing defenses out there as long as you can and keep ours rested. 

It’s been a terrific year. We all hoped but it’s now a reality. Thank you Jim! Go Blue!


November 14th, 2018 at 8:53 AM ^

Here is the top 10 in average time of possession this year:

  1. Army
  2. Texas A&M
  3. Charlotte
  4. Michigan
  5. Georgia Tech
  6. Navy
  7. UAB
  8. Coastal Carolina
  9. Air Force
  10. Iowa

Time of possession is a meaningless stat.  It's merely an effect of style.  If Michigan's offense were more explosive, or more up-tempo, its time of possession would be lower.


November 14th, 2018 at 9:48 AM ^

Meaningless?  Seriously?  If Michigan holds the ball for 40 minutes while scoring 40 points, do you think the opponent can score 41 points in 20 minutes against the consensus #1 defense in the country?

Taking any stat on its own, and therefore out of context, is dumb.  You should feel foolish for this take.


November 14th, 2018 at 12:24 PM ^

Yes, I'm serious.  It is a meaningless stat.  It is not correlated with winning, and certainly not causally so.  The best way to "win" TOP is to throw a pick-six on every play.  You'll end up with a near-perfect TOP.

It's a style measure.  Michigan has high TOP because they run the ball a lot and move at a glacial pace.  If they had a more explosive / more uptempo offense, they would win games by more points, but the defense would be on the field for more plays -- since there would be more drives -- and the TOP stats would suffer.

What this stat is telling you is "Michigan is a slow team," not "Michigan is a good team."

Michigan is a good team, but there's nothing in the TOP stats that tell you that.


November 14th, 2018 at 10:08 AM ^

I wouldn't go that far, but TOP is overvalued and has been for a long time.

A smart poster above cited Clemson and Alabama's TOP numbers. Another one (you) showed the Top 10.

Run-oriented teams will often have good TOP stats. Doesn't mean they're effective.

OP: What if we score quickly every time through the air and a run-oriented team (like Wisconsin, which consistently gives a large subset of MGoBlog's readers a big chubby) "burns clock" but fails to score much?


November 14th, 2018 at 12:36 PM ^

I think that is a great question.  I didn't do a great job articulating it, but I was trying to say the combination of the strong defense (force the air oriented team to make some mistakes), TOP (don't give them many extra chances to make up for it, and 3rd down efficiency (consistently getting us into good field position and wearing down their defense) is the key.

TOP on it's own isn't enough as evidenced by the other teams in the list.

Also, at least in the Big 10 that air oriented team tends to have some trouble with the weather in these November games (more mistakes to take advantage of).

If you believe this, then the path through Indiana and OSU looks pretty promising.

If we were to play Clemson, the key might be to get ahead early and force the very good but young quarterback to carry the team against our defensive front and corners.  Need to get some early hits on him.

Alabama?  I have no idea how to beat them.  But, I know we don't want to get behind.  They can play the same game we do.   This is the game I want to see though.


Harbaugh is my…

November 14th, 2018 at 7:03 AM ^

3rd down efficiency is a big indicator of how successful a team is during a season. Just look at last year. The main reason for 3rd down efficiency is having a QB who can make plays.


November 14th, 2018 at 7:18 AM ^

Sooo....do people still want to dump Pep?

Think he was a scapegoat for much of UM's problems last year and even into the early part of this season. But you could see from the beginning what Pep and JH were trying to do. Build consistency and confidence throughout an offense with so many new and critical pieces. And hold back on some of the more exotic stuff until the schedule stiffened.  

It has paid off handsomely. 

Its a tremendous staff on both sides of the ball. 

4th and Go For It

November 14th, 2018 at 7:35 AM ^

I think some of the more rational criticism of Pep wasn’t that he couldn’t run a good passing game and offense in general but that we were trying to run a version of it last year that wouldn’t adapt to the personnel and problems we had. With less than solid QB play and a pourous o-line, it seemed at times like we’re still trying to run things like we were Stanford with Andrew Luck. 

Not sure if that was more Harbaugh or Pep but either way it was another place to point fingers for fans who were frustrated by our elite defense being let down by our offense’s play. The same critics of Jay have fallen off as Higdon and Wilson have looked good and big recruits are being pulled in at the position. When things are going well we generally shrug and assume the coaches are all doing well. when it’s not we look for answer and assign blame wherever we can even plausibly assess it. the truth is somewhere in the middle in all likelihood. 


November 14th, 2018 at 7:49 AM ^

Fair enough...its almost always far more complicated than fans assume. Last year was about as bad as anyone could have imagined with the QB injuries and cluster at Oline. Not sure if any one person could have salvaged that Oline and QB-less offense. But I just assume that Harbaugh knows what he's doing and he would get it fixed...

That plus...8-5. As bad as that season felt...8-5 now feels like a floor for JH's program and considering where the program has been for the last decade that's not all that bad..

True Blue in CO

November 14th, 2018 at 8:56 AM ^

Success on the football field correlates to balance between the offense and defense.  Bo and Carr were very good at balance. RichRod could not make it happen here. Hoke had it for 1 year and Harbaugh fully understands this principle. Last year the OLine and QB play left us out of wack. This year is a great formula of balance and it looks like we are on the way to more and more consistency with good to great players at every position. 

Ecky Pting

November 14th, 2018 at 9:41 AM ^

Much of this TOP stat is related to M's adjusted pace. At 3.8 seconds/play longer than average (ranks #127), the M offense is in no hurry to snap the ball. This may be related to the various motions and pre-snap shifts in alignment that are done to create mismatches and imbalances with the opposing defense. It also means the M offense is running fewer plays than the average team in the given time, so to that extent, the physical drain on the opposing defense is reduced.


November 14th, 2018 at 10:00 AM ^

These are the stats I've been watching for several weeks, and they make it easy to predict big wins.  The offense is very efficient this year - the running game is a step up from 2016, and it's just churning forward on every play.  When drives have stalled, it's usually because of a questionable play call or a badly missed assignment (or cut back).  It's pretty rare when the opposing defense has actually put together three good plays to get off the field.  The passing game has been the hitch in the giddy-up, and that seems to get incrementally better each game.  If it gets to the point of operating as smoothly as the run game, this offense will be as unstoppable as Oklahoma's!  Only slower...

I said it Monday as well - this team is going to strangle OSU the same way it strangled UW, MSU, and PSU.  Which is also the same way it strangled ND and NW in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters of those games.  Give back those two first quarters, and Alabama has a serious problem at the top of the polls.