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Tuesday Morning Brews: Taking stock

Michigan’s defense is top notch, but is susceptible to surrendering big plays

Dustin Johnson—Maize n Brew

Happy Tuesday, folks. Welcome to the first Morning Brews of Game Week. This morning I’m taking a look at explosive plays, both how they help and hurt Michigan—and how they might factor into Saturday’s game. We also check in on a few Michigan non-rev teams as well.

Let’s get to it:

NCAA Football: Michigan at Maryland Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Michigan is losing the battle of explosive plays

If you will permit me, this morning’s Brews will be have on the advanced stats. Perhaps it’s my fondness for baseball, but I’m a big believer in advanced stats and sabermetrics. I think they provide insight into sports that the ‘eye’ test just doesn’t. They allow you to quantify and explain what you see on the field, and they allow you to extrapolate—to predict or anticipate future outcomes—in ways beyond oblique statements like ‘well, we’re strong against the run so we can shut down team X.’

This morning I want to talk about IsoPPP, or, as Bill Connolly calls it in his simplified “five factors” version of the S&P system he posts on SBN, explosiveness. What this stat shows is how successful a team was on plays when that team was ‘successful’. Put another way, IsoPPP seeks to quantify on a points per play basis how much each successful play was worth. Bill’s definition of a successful play is, “50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down.” So, 5+ yards on a 1st and 10 situation, and so forth.

Now, even the best teams aren’t going to have a ‘successful’ outcome on every play. In fact, the national average this year is 40.4%. The best team in this category is Ohio State, which has a successful outcome on 55.7% of their play - which is pretty great, to be honest. The team that holds opponents to the least successful plays is Michigan. Don Brown’s defense holds opponents to a paltry 29.5% success rate (which is also pretty great). But, as the IsoPPP stat seeks to illustrate, it’s not just rate of success that matters, but how successful teams were on their successful plays that matters.

For Michigan, the problem is the big play - which we’ve seen haunt Michigan in several games this year. Plays like Saquon Barkley’s long TD runs in the Penn State game are but one example of this. How important is the big play? Connolly says, “If you win the explosiveness battle (using PPP), you win 86 percent of the time.”

While Michigan’s defense routinely keeps opposing teams behind the chains, when they slip up it’s usually costly. Despite massive turnover from last year’s unit that finished the year ranked No. 2, Don Brown has again put together a formidable squad. This year’s defense is No. 3 against the pass and No. 11 against the run. However, the IsoPPP against the run is 116th in the FBS and the IsoPPP against the pass is 93rd in the FBS.

On offense, Michigan and Ohio State both have an IsoPPP of 1.21. Unfortunately, Ohio State’s defense has an IsoPPP of 1.07—meaning that Michigan will find it hard to spring big plays for the second week in a row (Wisconsin’s defense has an IsoPPP of 1.03). On the other hand, Michigan’s relative susceptibility to surrendering big plays means that Ohio State may have more explosive plays than normal against the Wolverines.

Big plays could, one way or the other, could make the difference on Saturday. Last night, Jim Harbaugh said that he believed this squad was close to being a great team. Limiting the damage done by big plays would be a step toward that great team we would all like to see on the field.


After rattling off 18 consecutive victories, Michigan field hockey’s season came to an end in the Final Four. No. 9 Maryland topped the No. 3 Wolverines by the score of 5-1 last Friday. The Terrapins jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half, and stretched their lead to 3-0 in the second half before Michigan found the net. Alas, Carly Bennett’s goal wasn’t enough to spark a comeback from the Wolverines, and Maryland added two more before the game was through. Michigan’s 21 wins this season set a program record.

Hockey was on the road this past weekend at No. 9 Wisconsin and the Wolverines came away with a loss and a shootout win. On Friday, Michigan fell by the score of 7-3. Michigan outshot the Badgers 37-28, but Wisconsin found the back of the net early and often. On Saturday, Michigan and Wisconsin played to a 4-4 draw, before the Wolverines took the conference point in the shootout 2-0. Michigan is now 6-4-2 (2-2-2) in Mel Pearson’s inaugural season.

Michigan Volleyball tallied two big victories this past week, topping No. 8 Michigan State and No. 15 Purdue. On Wednesday, the Wolverines bested the Spartans in straight sets (25-20, 27-25, 25-23). On Saturday, Michigan needed a fourth set to get by the Boilermakers, but got the job done nonetheless (23-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-22). With last week’s results, Michigan moves to 19-11 (9-9) on the year. Their regular season will conclude with two matches this week. They’ll again face Purdue on Wednesday, and on Friday the team will take on Indiana.