Monday, October 12, 2009

The Michigan Difference - Part 2: Taking Inventory After Game 6

I wanted to do a post-game Iowa post-game write up, but I’m entering crunch time for a series key projects this week. More than this I'm still recovering from a serious bout of post-game depression and a shameful drunken stupor only 24 hours ago. Sean over at Michigan SportCenter blog does an excellent, quarter-by-quarter summary of Saturday night’s events in Iowa City. Also, Dave over at Maize N Brew offers a great run-through of the game as well. Highly recommended reading. Man, does Iowa owe Michigan a team-signed “Thank You!” card for all of those turnovers (5) and coverage mistakes, or what?

Well, OK. So the 2009 Michigan football season is now half-baked. If you had told me back in August that the Michigan Wolverines football team would be 4-2 after 6 football games, I would have said that you too were “baked”. Like a space cake. Yeah, probably one of those hashish-laden donuts or something.

Anyway, here we are. Four and freaking two! Woo-hoo!

Thanks to this strong start, and with teams like Delaware State (1-3), Penn State (5-1), at Illinois (1-4), Purdue (1-5), at Wisconsin (5-1) and Ohio State (5-1) on the cold fall horizon, Michigan might very well secure bowl eligibility by or before the November 7th contest against Purdue, if all goes well. An upset by Michigan over one of the three conference leaders (Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State) certainly isn’t out of the question either.

Taking another look at Michigan’s numbers in 2009 compared to 2008 after 6 games played, this is what we know:

The Michigan Difference - First 6 Games

Rushing Yds1229784445
Passing Yds102796562
Yards Per Point11.6117.35-5.74
Fumbles Lost 511-6
Avg Time of Poss.26:44:1026:27:5016 min 20 sec

Offensively After 6 Games
  1. Michigan has scored 85 more points than 2008, and is scoring almost 14 points more per game (2 TDs more) this year: 33 points per game in 2009 vs. 18.8 points per game at this point in 2008.
  2. Offense has rushed for 445 more yards and passed 62 more yards than during same six game time frame in 2008.
  3. Wolverines are averaging 85 more yards per game than 2008.
  4. Michigan has run 20 more plays than it did during the first 6 games of 2008.
  5. Offense is now gaining 1.1 more yards for every play it runs than it did during the same 6 game time frame in 2008.
  6. Michigan is scoring .20 more points per play that it runs than in 2008.
  7. Michigan’s offense is far more effective in 2009 than 2008 in that it must travel less distance on the field in order to score points: 5.74 yards less for every point scored, to be exact.
  8. It goes without saying that fewer team turnovers makes winning games easier and losing far less likely. Michigan has 8 fewer turnovers in 2009 that it did over the same number of games in 2008.
  9. Though time of possession is quickly becoming a less relevant statistic in the modern game of college football (if don’t believe me, ask Wisconsin, which had the ball over 42 minutes against Ohio State last weekend and still lost. By 18!), Michigan is holding on to the ball far longer than 2008: 16 minutes and 20 seconds more over the same number of games in 2008. Not a surprise considering better offensive effectiveness, fewer turnovers, and rather poor defensive performance.
The Michigan Difference - First 6 Games

Pts Allowed147149-2
Yards Per Point19.3119.120.19
Fumbles Recovered48-4
Avg Time of Poss.33:15:5033:32:10-16 min 20 sec

Defensively After 6 Games

  1. Michigan’s defense is only nominally better against the score in 2009. They’ve given up only 2 fewer total points than at this point in 2008, and average giving up about 25 points per game.
  2. Michigan’s defense is giving up 40 more yards per game than this point in 2008.
  3. Michigan opponents are enjoying 2.8 more plays per game and therefore more opportunities to gain first downs and score points. This means allowing 17 more plays over the same time frame in 2008.
  4. Michigan is giving up about one half yard more per play than 2008.
  5. Michigan remains more stingy against the score than in 2008, allowing .03 of a point less than same time period of 2008.
  6. Michigan is about the same as 2008 in yard per point category, forcing opponents to travel about 19 yards for every point they score.
  7. In the turnover category, it’s a wash. Michigan’s defense has 4 more interceptions than at this point last year, but it also has 4 fewer fumble recoveries. The delta at this stage on defense forcing turnovers is zero.
  8. Opponent average time of possession is decreased by 16 minutes and 20 seconds per game in 2009.
And That All Means What Exactly?
It means that at mid-season the 2009 Michigan Wolverines football team are going to continue playing football games on the edge, losing games by the width of a butthair one weekend, while vanquishing foes by the same micronic measure the next.

Nobody is safe. This Michigan football team simply cannot be trusted.

Sure, they'll give up tons of yards through the air and even on the ground at times. They even give up quite a few points per game. When the Wolverine defense isn't handing out free huge big plays on third-and-long to lull you into a sense of false security, then they're actually holding opponents to field goals. What's really different this year is that the offense can score from anywhere and at anytime on the football field and there are 9 to 10 different guys who are more than vaguely familiar with the endzone. The special teams are more or less rock solid except for punt returns, and the Wolverines have two quarterbacks that can inflict major property damage running or passing. We'll continue to see Michigan games going down to the wire (4 of the last 6 certainly did). Nobody celebrate until the clock says "00:00".

Michigan has two decisive wins (WMU by 24, EMU by 28), two close wins (ND by 4, Indiana by 3), two very close losses (MSU by 6 in OT, Iowa by 2), and no decisive (or bad) losses.

The “no bad losses” part is important (and not a little bit unexpected) when we consider that Michigan was 3-9 last year with their only wins coming against 7-6 Wisconsin (bowl team), 2-10 Miami and 7-6 Minnesota (bowl team). Five of Michigan’s 9 defeats last year were by 14 points or more. In 2009 Michigan is outscoring opponents by about an average 8 point margin per game.

Offensively speaking, Michigan’s offense has regressed since the Eastern Michigan game in both points scored, yards gained and most notably in 3rd down success rate. Such statistics do not bode well for the Wolverines in the more competitive games down the road vs. Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State where frequent 3-and-outs means picking up the Michigan defense with a Dust Buster at the end of the game.

Defensively speaking, Michigan has struggled to stop just about every opponent from gaining tons and tons of yards. Michigan opponents can pretty much decide for themselves how they want to move the ball on Michigan and end up with 400+ yards total offense by game end. Only Illinois’s defense is more pathetic right now in total rushing and passing yards surrendered per game. This is very worrying at midpoint of the season considering Michigan’s most prolific offensive opponents to date have been Notre Dame and Michigan State. Actually, and it sounds really sort of strange to say this but, the best offensive team Michigan plays next might very well be – of all teams - Purdue. Against the score Michigan’s defense leaves a lot to be desired: 7th in the league, surrendering 24.5 points per game.

Things to Look for Games 7 through 12

1. New offensive plays
If there’s an opportunity, I recommend WCA visitors go and check some of the video highlights from WVU football seasons between 2002 and 2007. Check some of the formations utilized (particularly two-back sets), and some of the fakes run by Pat White. It’s not only impressive to watch, but it’ll make you salivate about Michigan future with Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson. I submit to you that after 6 games Michigan is no where near having installed Rich Rodriguez’s playbook.

Maybe 30-40% max. There’s a lot more to install. Most of this is due to having two true freshman at quarterback who must learn and perfect the functional pieces first and run them at full-speed with 100% confident of position and timing. That takes time to achieve. We did see some new plays instituted in the Iowa game including some speed option pitchouts by the quarterback to a trailing tailback that gained good yardage every time. I think we can expect to witness more full-fledged triple option plays, slot option pitch plays, and counter run plays involving slot backs.

More INTs and Improved Defensive Press Coverage on the Edges
The truth is, there are far less talented secondaries in the Big Ten than Michigan’s right now. That’s right. This is not to say that Michigan has a “diamond-in-the-rough” situation right now in the defensive backfield. Michigan has massive deficits in speed and talent here which must be shored up with better recruiting. However, Donovan Warren and Troy Woolfolk are fine cornerbacks and truly do belong opposite each other at that position. As for the safety positions, well, every man and his dog knew it was going to be a long season with plenty of “you’ll-gouge-your-eyes-out-kid!” 3rd-and-forever conversions along with a healthy helping of WTF wide open downfield flies for six.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Michael Williams is a only sophomore who was on special teams most of last year. He can hit like UCLA’s Don Rogers at times, but he’s still learning his role and coverages. He’s not very fast, but should improve his coverage skills with on the job training. The other safety, Jordan Kovacs*, has been freaking everywhere on the playing field this fall. If he can put some meat on his bones and learn to stop making ridiculously weak arm tackles at times, then I really like where this kid’s career may be heading at Michigan. I swear, if Kovacs wraps his arms every time when tackling, there’d be a buckeload more TFL for the Wolverines this year.

(Sidebar *: Frankly, I don’t give a goddamn if Jordan Kovacs (or anyone else) is a walk-on or not. I’ve read a number of dismissive comments from Michigan fans about Kovacs on other blogs coming from Thurston Howell III-types suggesting the words “Michigan walk-ons” comprise of an oxymoron, equal to something along the lines of undesirable Michigan State enrollees, or disease-ridden filth. I say bullshit, Skippy, Buffy, or whatever your yacht-driving, down-in-front whining, fondue-eating parents call you. Kovacs is physical. He’s smart, and he just happens to be leading the damn team in tackles for the last 4 football games. He’s not fast, yet the kid seems to be on every freaking tackle. He’ll earn a scholarship from Rodriguez this season and a degree from Michigan. I don’t get it. What’s not to like?)

More Downfield Passing Yards to the Outside Receivers
Even Rodriguez pointed to this in today’s press conference. Greg Mathews and JR Hemingway have been completely underutilized this year, and that is a shame. I’m sure they’re getting open more often, but you can only connect so many times with young kids operating at quarterback trying to make all their reads in a matter of nanoseconds and not royally screw stuff up. I expect quarterbacks coach Rod Smith to show greater emphasis on this in coming weeks as Michigan displays more of it’s playbook, and while Forcier and Robinson improve the speed and progression of their reads.

Improved Rushing Numbers
Once Dave Molk returns at center for the Illinois game (my best guess), watch out for greater nastiness along the Michigan front wall. For the next two weeks, however, I expect more regression in the running game and sub-par performance (i.e. less than 200 yards rushing per game).

In 2002, West Virginia rushed for 38 touchdowns. Thirty-freaking-eight, people! And seventeen of those mo-fo’s were delivered personally via express service from then starting Mountaineer tailback Avon Cobourne who must have possessed an X-Men-like force-field or something to ward off injuries that year. Unlike “Wolverine”, Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are not mutants. They do not have an adamantium exoskeleton and does not possess any other such wizardry. Come to think of it, if Minor had his own X-Men role-playing card, it would no doubt state “Not A Mutant, Plus 100 for Speed, Plus 2,000 for Battle Damage-Wield, and Minus 1,000 for Longevity”

Brandon Minor: "Well, I do run as though my exoskeleton is made of admantium."

Yet, you’ll find no joy convincing Big Ten opponents that both aren’t great running backs for Michigan. Unfortunately neither Minor nor Brown has been “reliably durable” during their entire Michigan careers. Not a knock on them. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. I do expect Rodriguez to try and make hay while the sun shines and as long as these two fine players occupy the Wolverine roster. They’ll be used as much as possible. Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown in a two back set? Alright…but just this once!!

Why I Bought An Entire Crate of Pepto-Bismol and Keep An Open Bottle on Ice
Injuries. Christ. This is something I've worried about a lot this year more than any other. Ever. The Big Ten slate only gets tougher. The weather gets colder and the surfaces get more slippery. We’ve seen a troubling regression offensively with center David Molk out. When he returns, it will make a difference. When Brandon Minor is healthy, Michigan plays better and opponents get trucked. But not much else has changed about this Michigan team on the injury front. Thankfully there have been few injuries on the defensive side of the ball. If there ever are injuries at linebacker or the defensive secondary over the remaining 6 games, then fly away little sparrows. Fly far away.

1 comment:

Don said...

Nice stuff, but your av. time of possession stats are confusing. You've got virtually identical numbers year-to-year for both offense and defense, yet you've somehow calculated 16 minutes of variance. How is 33 minutes and a few seconds versus 33 minutes and a different number of seconds equal to a 16 minute difference?

Aside from all that, the defensive numbers are exactly why I believe getting to 6-6 is going to be a struggle, and that the predictions of 9-3 simply ignore the defensive reality. It's like people have split brains. While the defense has been playing better, everybody we play is piling up huge numbers on us yardage-wise, and the points given up is still lousy.