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Michigan did not have a 50-yard pass play this season

It was a difficult year to find separation in Michigan’s pass offense.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When Michigan brought in Pep Hamilton from the Cleveland Browns, Michigan fans were mostly optimistic that he would add a discerning eye and some better execution to an offense that had dipped in 2016.

Instead, Michigan’s Offensive S&P+ continued to slide under Pep’s watch, as a carousel at quarterback and youth all over the offense proved enough to sink the Wolverines in 2017. Michigan’s three starting quarterbacks combined for 2,226 yards, a 53.5% completion rate and 9 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. Michigan’s passing offense as a whole had only 33 pass plays of 20 yards or more, less than half of which (15) came from the wide receivers.

Advanced stats tell us further that Michigan’s offense was actually better at producing explosive plays (68th in Passing IsoPPP) than they were at producing passing efficiency (109th in passing success rate). That’s hardly a surprise given Michigan’s young athletes, who were able to make highlight plays occasionally but couldn’t provide the degree of consistency that often comes with experience.

Still, trying to find a way to maximize those explosive plays could have provided at least a few more points to a struggling offense. But the Wolverines couldn’t really capitalize on that, either.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Michigan vs South Carolina
Interestingly, a large majority of Brandon Peters’ big pass plays came to non-wide receivers: 3 to Gentry, 2 to Evans, 1 each to Higdon, Hill, and McKeon, and then 1 to both Peoples-Jones and Crawford (10 total).
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the year, Michigan failed to complete a 50-yard pass play, something that happened to only one other Big Ten team: Rutgers. To be fair, the Wolverines did come close (as did Rutgers) - since Donovan Peoples-Jones had this 48-yard grab against Wisconsin and Nick Eubanks also hauled in a 48-yarder against Florida, one of only two catches he would make all year.

Those who watched Michigan’s offense struggle all season will know that the quarterbacks’ inconsistencies on throwing an accurate deep ball, a running game that would disappear at times and probably didn’t force enough stacked boxes to open up one-on-one coverage, and the famously frustrating struggles by the offensive line in pass protection all contributed to the lack of big passing plays. Combined with the inefficiency, this produced a downright anemic pass offense by Jim Harbaugh’s standards.

The 2017 season certainly felt like one thing after another keeping the team back from reaching success. Another statistical oddity: on drives where Michigan had a big pass play, they became more likely to score a touchdown ... and to lose a fumble. Twice, the ball-carrier fumbled on the big play itself.

Receiving Stats

* Rec. Yards Big Plays (20+ Yards) BP Yards Avg.
* Rec. Yards Big Plays (20+ Yards) BP Yards Avg.
Grant Perry (WR) 25 307 5 130 26.0
Zach Gentry (TE) 17 303 7 207 29.6
Sean McKeon (TE) 31 301 4 109 27.3
D. Peoples-Jones (WR) 22 277 2 85 42.5
Kekoa Crawford (WR) 17 243 4 133 33.3
Chris Evans (RB) 16 157 3 64 21.3
Tarik Black (WR) 11 149 3 107 35.7
Karan Higdon (RB) 8 131 2 57 28.5
Eddie McDoom (WR) 11 81 1 24 24.0
Khalid Hill (FB) 5 62 1 22 22.0
Nick Eubanks (TE) 2 61 1 48 48.0

We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks as Jim Harbaugh hopefully takes steps to address the large-scale problems on Michigan’s offense. Schemes and strategy aside, some growth by the personnel - from the offensive tackles to the route-running by the receivers and the jump-ball ability by the tight ends, combined with some more accurate down-field throws and the return of Tarik Black - should also help.

Some more big plays would certainly make life a little easier here in Ann Arbor.