Life and Death in Statistics, Finding Hope for Michigan Football in the Numbers

Five games into the season we really don't need statistics to tell us what is right and wrong with the 2010 Michigan Wolverines football team. The synopsis is easy: "OFFENSIVE GOOOOD. DEFENSE BAAAAD." That doesn't take a lot of effort or intellectual capacity to process, hence, big letters and poor spelling. Still, there are numbers out there, free time on our hands and things to think about, so why not make use of all three.

Even though statistics may not show us anything new or earth shattering, they're a fun toy to play with when you want to get a better sense of how Michigan stacks up with the rest of the Conference or Nationally. They also provide some interesting tidbits regarding the performance of several of Michigan's key players not named Denard Robinson. So, we figured it'd be a good time to take a gander at the numbers and see how our players stack up.

Offense

I'm not going to get into the Denardification of the Universe. When you keep winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards (his third in five weeks), get named the National Player of the Week twice, and have the Davey O'Brien people drooling oon you, there's little a dive into the statistics can show you. However, there is one thing that's worth pointing out. Robinson is ranked 4th in the country in passer efficiency. Fourth! That's simply amazing for a kid that admittedly couldn't hit water from a boat last season. And for all you "the spread is dead" people, the top four players in passing efficiency (Terrance Cain, Cam Newton, and Dan Persa) are all spread quarterback. As was Colt McCoy (who led the nation in passing efficiency last year).

Taking a look at the receivers, Roy Roundtree (who quietly had another 100 yard game on Saturday) ranks 4th in the Big Ten in receptions per game and 2nd in passes caught. He's also 5th in the conference in receiving yards per game. The reason I bring up the passing efficiency rating is because I believe it's a great messure of both the competence of the quarterback and the receivers. You can have the most accurate quarterback in the world, but if his receivers' hands are made of stone, he's going to score low here. Usually a quarterback will have a favorite target throughout the season and that player will get the bulk of a team's receptions. Here, Robinson is the 4th rated passer in the country despite spreading the ball around as much as he does. 'Tree's only averaging 67.4 yards a game. The rest of the receiving corps (Junior Hemingway to Darryl Stonum, to Kelvin Grady, to Martavious Odoms, to Terrence Robinson) have been pass catching vacuums as well. Denard's numbers are a tribute to just how well this unit is playing.

Defense

As much fun as it is to pile superlatives onto the offense, Michigan fans desperately need something to feel positive about on the defensive side of the ball. Beleive it or not, there are some great statistics for Michigan on the individual level.

The most surprising stats of the season lie in the total tackles leaderboard. Jonas Mouton and Jordan Kovacs arenot only averaging more tackles per game than anyone else in the conference, they're well ahead of the rest of the conference in total tackles. Mouton is first in the conference with 47 tackles and Kovacsis right behindhim with 46. In fact, Michigan has players ranked 1, 2, 6, and 9 (Mouton, Kovacs, Cameron Gordon, J.T. Floyd) in terms of total tackles, and three players in the conference top ten in terms of tackles per game.

These high tackle numbers are somewhat indicative of how much better both Mouton and Kovacs are playing, and how much better Cameron Gordon and J.T. Floyd have been than we expected. On the other hand, these numbers are also indicative of how much this defense has played this season. When your last five games have featured opponents running, 98, 58, 78, 76, and 68 plays, you're going to get a lot of chances to make tackles. But, thankfully, these four players have stepped up and made some great plays. Certainly there are tackles all four could've made and mistakes we wish they hadn't, but overall these numbers indicate a fairly productive core in the defensive backfield.

Likewise, Obi Ezeh's 30 total tackles through 5 games are fairly disappointing. As a middle linebacker, Ezeh's supposed to be one of Michigan's main gap fillers and someone who collects a number of solo tackles. On the contrary, his total combined tackle number of 30 is the same as Jonas Mouton's 30 solo tackles amassed in the same number of games. Ezeh has only 19 solo tackles at the MLB position, and having watched him closely this season, I think that's pretty generous. For a point of comparison, Tyler Replogle (Indiana's MLB) has 26 tackles in just three games, and Greg Jones (the MSU 1st Team All Big Ten MLB) has 41 tackles on the season. These numbers serve to emphasize the the importance of the position and underscore the lack of production Michigan is getting there.

What it comes down to is the need to change things up on defense. Namely, if Rodriguez is sticking with 5 defensive backs, why not switch to a 4-2-5. I'll get in to this tomorrow. (Tune it!)

Special Teams

Finally, a little bit of good news on the special teams front. With Zoltan Mesko's graduation, everyone was a little nervous as to how Michigan would fair in the punting game. A couple of shanks by Will Hagerup, Zoltan's replacement, early in the season didn't help matters. But Hagerup has responded andcurrently sits 5thin the conference with a 41.4 yard per punt average on just 15 kicks in four games. Not bad for a freshman, eh?

So What's It Mean?

Not much, really. These are just numbers, and unlike in baseball, they really aren't accurate predictors of future performance over the near term. But on a less scientific scale, they reinforce just how good several of our players have been. The obvious stuff like Denard goes without saying, but the under the radar contibutions of 'Tree, Gordon, Floyd, and Kovacs are kindof nice to back up with numbers. All these guys have notched some great numbers, and hopefully these little numbers will give us something positive to think about on defense and something else to reinforce our faith in the offense.

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