Michigan RB YPC vs Good Defenses

Submitted by Space Coyote on February 16th, 2018 at 12:22 PM

Lots of talk around here that the offense is broken, it isn't innovative, Michigan can't pass, and it can't even run against good defenses. Blame is spread all around, Drevno gets a lot of it. I found a specific stat in the recent Ian Boyd article interesting though, and felt compelled to compare.

Here are the teams that finished top 25 Rushing S&P+ Defense: OSU (2), MSU (4), Purdue (6) Wisconsin (12), South Carolina (17), PSU (18), Florida (25). Indiana also finished 33. So Michigan ran into quite a guantlet of good rushing defenses, and they didn't have much of a pass game to avoid loaded boxes. Still, Michigan's offensive rushing S&P+ was 14th

But again, there were lots of complaints about the offense as a whole, including the run game and how it whimpered during big games. So despite loaded boxes, I wanted to look how Michigan's top RBs fared compared to some other notable RBs to get a true feel for how the pure running game was in those games.


  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 11 Carries - 6.09 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 11 Carries - 5.00 ypc
  • LJ Scott (MSU) - 8 Carries - 3.75 ypc
  • Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) - 15 Carries - 2.73 ypc
  • Saquon Barkley (PSU) - 21 Carries - 2.10 ypc
  • Gerald Holmes (MSU) - 6 Carries - 1.83 ypc
  • Chris James (Wisconsin) - 5 Carries - 1.20 ypc


  • Mike Weber (OSU) - 9 Carries - 18.00 ypc
  • JK Dobbins (OSU) - 18 Carries - 6.89 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 12 Carries - 5.42 ypc
  • Saquon Barkley (PSU) - 14 Carries - 4.50 ypc
  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 12 Carries - 2.25 ypc


  • Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin) - 30 Carries - 7.30 ypc
  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 14 Carries - 6.93 ypc
  • Ish Witter (Missouri) - 7 Carries - 3.57 ypc
  • Bradrick Shaw (Wisconsin) - 12 Carries - 3.42 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 10 Carries - 3.10 ypc
  • Damarea Crockett (Missouri) - 10 Carries - 1.90 ypc


  • JK Dobbins (OSU) - 17 Carries - 10.24 ypc
  • Travis Homer (Miami) - 12 Carries - 5.33 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 7 Carries - 2.86 ypc
  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 11 Carries - 2.27 ypc
  • Mike Weber (OSU) - 4 Carries - 1.50 ypc

South Carolina

  • Ish Witter (Missouri) - 12 Carries - 6.00 ypc
  • Adam Choice (Clemson) - 7 Carries - 5.57 ypc
  • Damarea Crockett (Missouri) - 18 Carries - 5.39 ypc
  • Nick Chubb (Georgia) - 20 Carries - 5.10 ypc
  • Sony Michel (Georgia) - 16 Carries - 5.06 ypc
  • David Williams (Arkansas) - 7 Carries - 4.57 ypc
  • Travis Etienne (Clemson) - 9 Carries - 4.56 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 17 Carries - 3.82 ypc
  • Chase Hayden (Arkansas) - 9 Carries - 3.11 ypc
  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 9 Carries - 2.67 ypc

Penn State

  • JK Dobbins (OSU) - 13 Carries - 6.77 ypc
  • Ty Isaac (Michigan) - 6 Carries - 6.00 ypc
  • LJ Scott (MSU) - 14 Carries - 3.07 ypc
  • Karan Higdon (Michigan) - 15 Carries - 3.00 ypc
  • Mike Weber (OSU) - 7 Carries - 3.00 ypc
  • Gerald Holmes (PSU) - 3 Carries - 2.00 ypc


  • Sony Michel (Georgia) - 6 Carries - 22.83 ypc
  • Ty Isaac (Michigan) - 11 Carries - 10.36 ypc
  • Nick Chubb (Georgia) - 13 Carries - 5.92 ypc
  • Larry Roundtree (Missouri) - 15 Carries - 5.53 ypc
  • Ish Witter (Missouri) - 17 Carries - 4.88 ypc
  • Chris Evans (Michigan) - 22 Carries - 3.55 ypc
  • Derrius Guice (LSU) - 17 Carries - 2.94 ypc
  • Darrel Williams (LSU) - 12 Carries - 2.92 ypc


Space Coyote

February 16th, 2018 at 12:28 PM ^

Obviously, some of these have some huge sample size issues. It doesn't take into account injuries, or how defenses played each team, or how each team was performing at various times of the year.

A few of my observations:

  • Michigan struggled against Wisconsin's defensive game plan, though the number of legit backs that went up against them was limited and their defense was generally great at stopping the run all year until the last two games
  • The South Carolina game was awful (and Michigan is likely a major contributor to their ranking). That game is driving a lot of the negative energy right now.
  • Michigan was great against OSU.
  • Michigan was essentially solid against MSU, despite the weather and QB issues (and recall Isaac was having success before his fumble)
  • Michigan was moslty fine against Florida, though it looks like Florida was a boom/bust style defense given Michel's number.
  • Michigan was mostly fine in the run game against PSU, but got too far behind too early and forced to abandon it.
  • The Purdue game felt bad at the time (particularly the first half), but actually didn't look that horrible. 

Overall, the run game with the RBs was solid. The scheme of the run game is not the issue, despite some young OL on this team, the RBs produced well even against most of the tougher competition. What didn't produce well was the pass game (resulting in stacked boxes). The run scheme, however, is fine, and doesn't need an overhaul.


February 16th, 2018 at 12:49 PM ^

I think we all know pass protection and QB play is the main problem (and WRs to a lesser degree).  But, it wasn't the run blocking or the RBs running the ball.  The play calling if memory serves me right was much better against OSU than some of the other games.

Space Coyote

February 16th, 2018 at 1:07 PM ^

You can't do that all the time, to that degree, or then you never have a base set of plays. They did a lot more of it against OSU, and it worked to get people open. They still need to execute on a play-by-play basis much better, lest they basically be Purdue.

But yeah, QB play certainly did not help Michigan this year, in their execution on their base plays or when they broke tendencies.


February 16th, 2018 at 1:17 PM ^

I don't think any QB was beating PSU that day.  I probably could have played QB and beaten MSU however.  Wiscy & OSU are two questionable ones, but you can't just say that inserting another QB would have won the game and assume all other variables would have remained unchanged.  The dynamics of the game would have played out completely differently with a different QB rendering a completely different outcome.  I think both teams were better than UM last year and would found a way to win even with Speight.  So that would give us a victory over MSU.  We probably could have beaten S. Carolina.  But, 10-3 sounds a lot better than 8-5 and would quell some of this offseason's concerns.


February 16th, 2018 at 1:10 PM ^

The South Carolina game which nobody really gave any fucks about going into the game turned on a dime when Higdon fumbled and Michigan melted down.   Those 15 minutes have soured the fans on a team and coach that has really kinda shocked me.

Your numbers are more confirmation to me as to what the stats and my eyes told me.   Last years offensive line was the best run blocking line we've had since Rich Rod.   We moved people out of the way in ways we have not in several years.   

Considering the potential Ruiz showed as a true frosh and the returning contributors there is no reason to think that next years rushing offense won't be one of the best in school history.

Aside from the line consider the contributing factors.

TE- Very young group last year.   Every contributor is back.  Their blocking has to improve.

WR- Also young.  All contributors back  Many of them have shown an ability to block pretty well.   Definitely improved.

FB-  Debatable on improvement but I think Mason is a stud and will be better than Hill and Poggi.   Make your own determination.

RB-  Same guys...only better.   Definite improvement.

Passing Game-  No doubt the biggest help to this run game will be the emergence of Black, Jones etc... downfield.   The ability for teams to load the box without fear of getting beat deep slowed the run game down.   

Because of the schedule the raw numbers may not pop to the average talk show caller or ESPN but this will be a top 5 rushing offense in the advanced metrics come year end. 



Perkis-Size Me

February 16th, 2018 at 12:56 PM ^

I feel like a lot of this upcoming season will be for naught, even if the QB play improves drastically, if the OL can't get any better. 

I know some will disagree, but if I had to build my team from the ground up, I'm starting on the line. On both sides of the ball. A great OL sets up every QB for success. Even an average QB. 


February 16th, 2018 at 1:23 PM ^

Why wouldn't the line get better?

Ruiz is a once in a generation recruit.   He showed flashes of brute strength as a true freshmen.   He has gotten some experience and should be excellent next year.

Bredeson and Owenu are coming into their 3rd years.   If you had never seen them play and only heard buzz you would be excited.   Players improve and the 3rd year is a sweet spot for lineman.  these guys moved guys in the run game.  Pass protection wasn't great but again improvment.

Tackles we have bullets in the chamber and as bad as some of the struggles were last year that is the floor for this year.   The buzz on Hudson is exciting and personally I think Spanellis looked great as the extra lineman last year and should get a shot at tackle.  

Maybe the line won't be great, but to spend the next 7 months thinking we will suck seems like a pretty depressing way to go about things.   There is definitely room for optimism on this line.  Considering how we have went into years over the last decade knowing we were having to start 3 star true freshmen or walk ons and knowing things would probably be a disaster this is way better shape.   


Do you really think our coach and the way he is looked at the pass blocking last year and said "yeah it's fine"?    Seriously.  Do you believe that?   Again if you do I can't help you.    Our coach is a competitive lunatic.   I guarantee you they are addressing this issue...hard.   It will get fixed.      

Perkis-Size Me

February 16th, 2018 at 1:46 PM ^

I never said all was already lost or that next year is going to automatically be a failure. All I said is that IF the line doesn't improve considerably, whatever other progression happens throughout the rest of the offensive unit is almost all for naught. The OL is the engine that makes everything else work smoothly. 

It doesn't matter if DPJ becomes Julio Jones if he doesn't have time to get open before Patterson/Peters/McCaffery are sacked. It doesn't matter if Higdon becomes Ezekiel Elliott if his OL can't block for him and he's constantly running into a brick wall of defensive linemen. Again, not saying that's what's going to happen. But so much of what happens next season hinges on the play of our OL. 

If they play cohesively as a unit and play to their potential, the sky's the limit for what this team can do. We already know what we're getting with Don Brown's defense. But if the OL struggles to put anything together yet again next season, it could legitimately be a 6-6 or 7-5 type of year. The OL has been nothing but hype that's lived off of recruiting rankings for years. I'm hoping Harbaugh can take that sizzle and make it into a fine ass 72 oz. Delmonico Steak next Fall. 

The Fox Says Hail

February 16th, 2018 at 1:38 PM ^

This is true. I don't understand how many fans cannot see that O-line play and QB play go hand in hand. How is an unexperienced and timid QB supposed to develop into a star when he's constantly worried about getting smashed? How is he supposed to develop poise and timing when he has no clue as to when he can safely get a throw off? Not even to mention the fact that our QB's didn't have much (if any) chemistry with our WR's yet. QB play was not the biggest issue last year. Fix the O-line and QB play will follow. My take? Even though Peters doesn't look like the next Tom Brady he would have likely been serviceable with a solid O-line. Alright, rant over.


February 17th, 2018 at 12:05 PM ^

Last year, better QB play with the line we had would have served the team better than better line play with the QBs we had.  It doesn't matter how long the QB has to throw if even infinite time causes him to miss the target.  When WR were open and the QB had time to throw, they still couldn't complete the pass.  The line was bad but the QBs were positively incompetent (though I believe they tried their best).

I think Peters could have been a lot better with sme more time as a starter.  I think he should have started earlier, especialy if the staff knew what O'Korn was like from practice.

Perkis-Size Me

February 16th, 2018 at 12:40 PM ^

I'm curious how much of our running stats were also inflated by the Rutgers, Minnesota and Maryland stretch. While I don't at all blame Harbaugh for wanting to ease Peters' transition into the game, it was made abundantly clear that running the ball in those games was Harbaugh's first, second and third choice. The ball wasn't placed in Peters' hands too much during that timespan. 

Sure, it was working so why not? But that stat about us being 14th may be a little deceiving when a good chunk of the yards picked up were against awful defenses. 

Naked Bootlegger

February 16th, 2018 at 12:41 PM ^

Nice analysis.  I recall a certain 28 for 28 team rushing game that launched us into collective football depression.  These results do not come close to that abyss.   

I'm looking half glass full on this one - we have a pulse of a running game against some good defenses, even though our passing situation was suboptimal.    Yeah, South Carolina was a total implosion, but I still see the pulse of a running game in the complete body of work.


February 16th, 2018 at 12:47 PM ^

Space Coyote shining a light into the 'Void of Despair' to add some balanced analysis that provides some actual context for the current program narratives? 

Yes, please.


February 16th, 2018 at 12:51 PM ^

That was a two score game in the 4th quarter.  There was some curious playcalling in that 3rd quarter and early 4th quarter.  They moved the ball on the ground, then went to the air and the offense fell apart with sacks.  I'm not sure why they didn't stick with the ground game until PSU stopped it.


February 17th, 2018 at 12:30 PM ^

Early 4th quarter I seem to remember McKeon dropped a good pass that would have meant a 17-20 yard gain, good throw by O'Korn.  Would have had M just past mid-field down 28-13.  Still getting killed, but score there and it's maybe not a massacre.  After that drop, O'Korn was sacked/fumbled on the next down.  PSU immediately went to the McCray-covers-Barkley long TD and the rout was on. 

We weren't winning that game.  But if McKeon catches that ball, the passing maybe makes more sense.  


February 16th, 2018 at 12:52 PM ^

I'd be curious to see a comparison of success rate on running plays. It seems like we had a lot of big plays, but also a lot of negative or short plays.

It's better to go 6 yrds, 6 yrds, 6 yrds, 6 yrds than -2 yrds, 2 yrds, 1 yrds, 23 yrds. Both come to 6 YPC. One leads to punting, the other doesn't.

To me this data shows that our RBs were pretty good, and when they got in space they were able to make the most of it to boost their YPC. But I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if our success rate was abnormally low due to a lot of very short and negative plays due to our OL missing assignments.


February 16th, 2018 at 1:49 PM ^

but root cause wasn't QB or WR play - it was the OL who couldn't pick up the twists and stunts, leaving free running 240lbs LBs on the blitz.  And we too often relied on a 190lb RB trying to take on that ton of bricks - getting either the ole' or blown back 10 yards.  Just not a great pass blocking team.  Drevno has the toughest and most important job going forward.  He with Jay's assistance needs to get this improved. But Drevno needs to take charge and own it completely.  I think he can fix it to produce good enough pass pro like he did for Stanford and USC.


February 16th, 2018 at 4:46 PM ^

Just wanted to thank you, Space Coyote - this is the type of analysis I come to MGOBLOG to read about. I would love to see a whole set of off season articles comparing various aspects of the Offense against other teams.