I continue to scour the Intertubes for information about Georgia’s upcoming opponent. Here, for example, is a massive breakdown of the Wolverines’ offense from SecStatCat. For starters:
Michigan is a multiple-formation offense rooted in gap scheme designs. While it’s not quite of the mold of archaic, smashmouth attacks that littered the Big Ten for decades, the Wolverines very much prefer to slug it out with trench warfare. After all, their most repped concept against their four most challenging opponents was Counter, a classic, hard-nosed power run.
Blue has trotted out multi-tight end sets on nearly 40% of its snaps, which tracks as one of the highest marks in the SEC. But despite appearances and the perceived effect at wilting run defenders, 12/13 personnel hurt this offense’s efficiency in our sample. Modball and “three yards and a cloud of dust” delivered an underwhelming 3.9 Yards/Carry and 6.7 Yards/Pass. The Wolverines’ such Success Rate was five points below the average in SEC play with both facets respective clips souring.
On early downs, Jim Harbaugh’s horde established It on 57% of its early downs in those matchups. The average in SEC play this season was 50%. Compared to offenses from the Land Where It Just Means More, the Wolverines were the definition of an average offense in terms of Success Rate (45%) and Yards/Play (6.1). In these spots, their down-to-down explosiveness was akin to Texas A&M. The middling numbers unfortunately set them up for loads of 3rd down opportunities. Less than 61% of their conversions occurred on early downs – a threshold only LSU, Missouri, and Vanderbilt failed to beat in SEC play.
However, the conservative modus operandi consistently conjured manageable latter down chances thanks to hardly moving backwards. The Wolverines only tallied seven negative plays (including one sack) on 1st or 2nd down against their hardest opponents. By a rate basis, not even Georgia’s strong on-schedule steam engine bests Michigan’s 3.3% clip in this context.
The Wolverines averaged a mere 5.4 yards to gain on thirds versus their top foes, which facilitated firm figures in those spots. Their 43.9% Success Rate wasn’t far off from their cumulative clip in our sample nor their 45.1% figure across all of 2021, which is top 25-worthy ahead of bowl season. The short porch tries also led to more aggressiveness from the Khaki King in terms of going for it on 4th downs. On the year, Michigan has attempted the 19th-most such attempts with 24. Ten of them occurred in our four game sample; seven worked out for the Wolverines. Again, this offense has no issue playing small, getting gritty, or testing the fortitude of opposing fronts.
And while the run-heavy style theoretically presents possibilities to pummel itchy defenses with deception tactics, only about a tenth of Cade McNamara’s attempts used play action. While there’s a point of not giving iffy passers too many instances of taking their eyes coverages before firing a downfield strike, this is a concerted effort by this staff’s part. And looking at the production, fading play action was justified. Michigan’s Yards/Pass and Success Rate both worsened on play fakes. Plus, this staff noticeably had an aversion for RPOs…
Honestly, that sounds more manball-ish than Georgia is. And not as successful. So what is working in the run game? Motion.
The Wolverines’ panache also shows up with how they utilize at-the-snap motion. “Shoot”, or escort, motion has been a budding novelty within the SEC the last couple of seasons. Instead of asking a motioner jetting across the formation to function as simple eye candy or as a quick pass outlet, this subset of motion calls for these dudes to be key blockers. Formations create advantageous pre-snap angles, motion affects the numbers at the point of attack, and the timing element allows for positive blocking inertia. Plus, it allows offenses to run multi-headed run looks from 2×2 or trips. When not using shoot motion to help set up an RPO outlet, SEC offenses have primarily used it on split zone designs with tight ends mostly being the shooter. But, others like Tennessee and South Carolina have dabbled with Counters and Inserts.
No SEC offense comes close to matching Michigan’s affinity for this tactic. A tenth of the Wolverines’ snaps used Jet motion; and of those 28 plays, 24 were categorized as shoots. Plus, Blue’s receivers periodically get in on the action, which has expanded the potential offerings. Michigan has repped Split Zones, “double bluff” Zone Reads, Double Traps, Off-Tackles, and Counters when shooting either a wideout or a tight end. The Wolverines have only tried two passes with this tactic; both were successful Flea Flickers. And while a 3.7 Yards/Carry won’t excite, the versatility fueled a 50% Success Rate against Michigan’s hardest foes.
Additionally, Harbaugh and Co. use just enough ordinary pre-motion to prevent offerings from becoming too stale. Deployed on 14.3% of snaps in our sample, only four SEC teams finished under that benchmark in league play. Yet like shoot motion, reconstructing formations on the fly resulted in some of Michigan’s best outputs. The Wolverines’ Yards/Play increased to 6.5 with 61.0% and 52.6% Rushing and Passing Success Rates, respectively.
There’s plenty more to read there, if you’re interested. Needless to say, it’s a very different approach than Alabama’s was.