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Checking the Numbers: Finding Indications of Improvement in Michigan's Defense and Getting Ready for Purdue.

(It appears SBN's editor ate the rest of my post. I've set fire to everything around me out of anger. Here's a newish version of what I previously wrote. - Ed)

No. You read that right. Improvement in the defense.

It's an odd thing to type when you think about the fact that your defense gave up 45 points in regulation, and another 20 in three overtimes. But it's true. Michigan's defense was actually statistically better against Illinois than it's been against any Big Ten opponent since the opening week against Indiana.

I know what you're thinking. 561 total yards. 65 points. Have I lost my friggin' mind!? No. I haven't. As I've said before, you can make statistics say anything if you manipulate them properly. However, if you leave them alone and let them tell their own story, you might learn something. In re-watching the game it struck me as awesome that our defense managed for force Illinois to punt six times during the game. I know it's a sad state of affairs when that impresses me, but I'm living in the now. So I thought I'd check to see if the Wolverines had managed to force that number of punts previously in the Big Ten season. Not surprisingly, the win over Illinois was the first time in conference play Michigan had forced that many punts.

That wasn't what surprised me.

As I started looking through the numbers in the conference season I realized that Michigan had forced its opponents to punt just 4, 4, 5, 2, and 6 times in five conference games. That's appalling, right? Not in comparison to the next stat. Opponents had the ball 13, 11, 11, 10 and 16 times for "real" possessions during those games. What it comes down to is that Michigan isn't even coming close to forcing opponents off the field at a 50% rate. The rate of opponent punts to possessions on the reason is just 34%. Yikes.

So if their not punting the ball, maybe they're getting it back on downs, right? Nope. Michigan's only forced a turnover on downs three times this season during conference play. Two of those were against Indiana. So where is the ball going if Michigan's not getting the ball back? Unfortunately, in our endzone, but you didn't need a chart to tell you that.

Team Drives TD TD/Drive
Indiana 13 5 38.4%
Michigan St. 11 4 36.3%
Iowa 11 5 45.45%
Penn St. 10 5 50%
Illinois 16 (no OT) 5 31.25%

The weird thing is I thought this would be much, much worse. With the exception of the Penn St. game, I would've pegged the MSU game as our worst defensive performance. Maybe the Iowa game. At least in terms of giving up points. Well, this was just to talk about giving up touchdowns. This next chart is about giving up scoring chances.

Team Drives FGA TD Scr-Opp/Drives
Indiana 13 0 5 38.4%
Michigan St. 11 2 4 54.54%
Iowa 11 1 5 54.54%
Penn St. 10 2 5 70%
Illinois 16 (no OT) 4 5 56.25%

This particular table is a little more telling. Over the course of the conference season, Michigan's giving up scoring opportunities on 54.09% of the true drives that occur against them. And almost 40% of the time those drives end up in touchdowns (39.34%). So when Michigan was >8% below it's seasonal opponent-TD scoring average, that's worth noting. It's also worth noting that prio to the Illinois game, Michigan was allowing a TD on 42.22% of it's drives against. So Michigan was actually 11 percentage points better about prevent TD's against Illinois than it's season average.

Another good thing to drag out of the numbers is that Michigan forced six punts against Illinois. That was a 37.5% average possession to punt. Prior to that, Michigan had only forced punts on 33.33% of its defensive stands. The reason that's significant is taht Purdue is not only dead last in the conference in scoring offense at 17.6 PPG, they're first in the conference in punting. Purdue has punted 50 times on the season (the whole season), and managed to turn the ball over 19 times. That means that Purdue will give you the ball back an average of 7 (7.6, actually)possessions a game.

Michigan, on the other hand, has punted just 30 times and coughed the ball up 17 times. That means that the Wolverines are giving opposing offenses only 5 non-scoring chance possessions back a game. So Michigan should get the ball two extra times against Purdue, and given that the Wolverines are 2nd in the conference in scoring at 38.9 PPG it should mean more points on the board for Michigan.

Despite the score of the Illinois game, there were positives to take away. I just hope they carry over to Saturday.