MnB B1G Preview: New Math -- Revisiting Michigan at Illinois

Even though Denard Robinson had an up-and-down game against Illinois, a strong performance by the Michigan defense keyed an easy win over the Illini.

As a part of our continuing series looking at how Michigan did against their opponents last year with some sabermetric-like statistics from Football Study Hall, here's Michigan's 31-14 victory over Illinois last year. Below the table is a brief glossary on these statistics, but if you want a more thorough explanation, check out the beginning of this post.

Michigan 31 - Illinois 14

EqPts Differential: Michigan +14.547
Michigan Illinois Michigan Illinois
TOTAL PLAYS 58 65 STANDARD DOWNS 38 36
Success Rate 43.1 % 35.4 % Success Rate 47.4 % 41.7 %
Points Per Play 0.473 0.198 Points Per Play 0.362 0.241
SR + PPP 0.904 0.552 SR + PPP 0.835 0.658
PASSING PLAYS 14 33 PASSING DOWNS 20 29
Success Rate 50.0 % 42.4 % Success Rate 35.0 % 27.6 %
Points Per Play 0.700 0.231 Points Per Play 0.684 0.145
SR + PPP 1.200 0.656 SR + PPP 1.034 0.420
RUSHING PLAYS 44 32 1st Down S&P 0.894 0.624
Success Rate 40.9 % 28.1 % 2nd Down S&P 0.784 0.405
Points Per Play 0.400 0.163 3rd Down S&P 1.223 0.448
SR + PPP 0.809 0.445

1st Quarter S&P 1.286 0.156
Standard Down Rush S&P 0.722 0.709 2nd Quarter S&P 0.711 0.267
Standard Down Pass S&P 2.162 0.593 3rd Quarter S&P 0.328 0.748
Passing Down Rush S&P 1.150 0.004 4th Quarter S&P 1.541 0.666
Passing Down Pass S&P 0.938 0.714

Leverage Rate 65.5 % 55.4 %
TURNOVERS 3 3 % of plays past midfield 48.3 % 30.8 %

Stat Definitions (via Football Study Hall):

Leverage Rate: A team's ratio of standard downs to passing downs. National average: 68%. Anything over 68% means a team did a good job of avoiding being leveraged into passing downs.

Passing Downs: Second-and-7 or more, third-and-5 or more.

PPP: An explosiveness measure derived from determining the point value of every yard line (based on the expected number of points an offense could expect to score from that yard line) and, therefore, every play of a given game.EqPts is the sum PPP of every play run by an offense. National average: 0.32.

S&P: Think of this as an OPS (the "On-Base Plus Slugging" baseball measure) for football. The 'S' stands for success rate. The 'P' stands for PPP, an explosiveness measure that stands for EqPts Per Play. For more about this measure, visit the main S&P+ page at Football Outsiders. National average: 0.747. Standard downs S&P average: 0.787. Passing downs S&P average: 0.636.

Standard Downs: First downs, second-and-6 or less, third-and-4 or less.

Success Rate: A common Football Outsiders tool used to measure efficiency by determining whether every play of a given game was successful or not. The terms of success in college football: 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down. National Average: 42%.

Analysis after the jump:

It was a very different game than the 67-65 thriller a year ago: Michigan's defense came into Champaign and promptly shut down the Illini offense after an absolutely horrible showing in 2010 and the Michigan offense couldn't stay out of its own way after scoring at will against Illinois in Ann Arbor. Since I like dwelling on the positive, I'll talk about the defense first:

Illinois's Total S&P (0.552) was the second-lowest allowed by Michigan's defense over the course of the entire year, better than every game except for Minnesota. The first half was extremely impressive -- dominant, even -- as Michigan held Illinois to an S&P of 0.156 and 0.267 in the first and second quarters respectively. The Illini weren't able to cross midfield until the second half, and somehow only managed to have one drive that lasted longer than three plays in the first half. Michigan was very good at shutting down the Illinois rushing attack for the entire game, and between Jason Ford and Nathan Scheelhaase, the Illini did have some weapons in the backfield. Since Michigan's first half performance was pretty unsustainable, there was a bit of a drop-off in the second half, but overall, this was a tremendous game for the Michigan defense and quite possibly the best half by either the offense or the defense over the course of the entire season. Also, this analysis pretty much disregards turnovers as random, but the three forced by the Michigan defense came at opportune times, including a late interception by JT Floyd to seal the win. The dichotomy between the track meet in Ann Arbor two years ago and the dominance in Champaign last year is staggering, and proof that Greg Mattison was worth every penny.

Offensively, it wasn't so great. S&P-wise, Michigan played well enough, but blown opportunities and key turnovers were frustrating and squandered a lot of that good performance. Denard Robinson fumbled twice in Illinois territory and was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the Illinois one yard line, and Brendan Gibbons missed one of his two field goal attempts. If not for a few of those miscues, Michigan would have blown out Illinois -- Michigan's offensive mistakes kept Illinois in the game, but Michigan's defense was stellar enough that it really didn't matter. The Wolverines ran the ball a lot (on over 75% of their plays) and Fitzgerald Toussaint had quite a few of those carries. Toussaint did most of the damage on the first drive of the game with a 65-yard run that brought the ball into the redzone (Denard scored later in the drive) and sealed the game with a late touchdown run. He finished with 192 yards on 27 carries, his best game of the year. Denard was actually injured late in the game and did not return, but Devin Gardner played well and a late touchdown pass from Gardner to Martavious Odoms pushed the lead to 24-7 in the fourth quarter. Between the two quarterbacks -- and disregarding a end-of-the-half heave that was intercepted -- Michigan was 8-14 for 139 yards and a touchdown through the air, a solid line. Overall, Michigan did well moving the ball and it was encouraging to see Gardner run the offense competently, but several mistakes prevented this from being an elite performance.

Key Stat: Illinois's Passing Down S&P (0.420). Michigan's defense was very good on short-yardage situations as well, but when the Illini were faced with long down-and-distance situations, the Wolverine defense did even better, in terms of both limiting the big play (Illinois only managed one play over 20 yards on a passing down -- it was a late, garbage time completion on fourth down when the game was out of reach) and of keeping the Illini from picking up enough yardage to gain a first down or make the situation more manageable. Sacks distort the "runs on passing downs" S&P a bit, but 0.004 was excellent regardless.

What this means for next year:

Michigan was a much better team than Illinois was last year, and unless the new-found coaching competency in Champaign drastically reverses things, Michigan should be able to replicate this type of performance again this year. The defense did a phenomenal job of containing Scheelhaase and now that AJ Jenkins is gone to the NFL, the Illini will have even fewer offensive weapons and will be breaking in a new offensive scheme, a dominant performance like this could possibly happen again. Even if it doesn't, Michigan's offense will likely minimize its mistakes and convert on more of its opportunities next year.

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