Moar Michigan

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.


Filed under Big Ten Football, Strategery And Mechanics

19 responses to “Moar Michigan

  1. This type of stuff really does make me think this match-up is very, very good for our defense. No one has lined up and bullied our front 6/7 in the run game. If they can do that, I’ll tip my hat to them. If they can’t, field position will constantly tilt against them. That plays right into Kirby’s anaconda defense strategy – suffocate the other guy.

    Liked by 6 people

    • On the flip side, I’m very concerned about our ability to move them to keep SBIV (I’m resigned to the fact he’s going to be the guy and he’s a DGD) out of down, distance and field position situations where he hasn’t flourished.


  2. Derek

    Identity and personnel-wise this match-up is clearly in our wheelhouse.

    I just hope our heads are in the Orange Bowl game and not thinking ahead to Indy. If so, we should be fine even if Santa doesn’t give me my present of a healthy, accurate JT Daniels starting at QB…

    Liked by 5 people

    • rigger92

      Ha! What a small world! I have JT on my list too! Where’s that reindeer bait?

      Liked by 2 people

    • Spell Dawg

      Guys…I need to talk to you about Santa…..

      Liked by 3 people

      • Derek

        If you aware of any actual, real entities with whom I can place such a request and get the desired result, I’m happy to change the address on the envelope.

        Until then I’ll assume Santa is as good a repository as any other.

        I’m within a reasonable driving distance to the crossroads if anyone thinks It is still taking requests.

        As Tommy Johnson says in Oh Brother: “I wasn’t doing nothing with it anyway.”

        Well at least nothing superior to a natty for UGA….



    I like the matchup with Michigan…for a couple of reasons…

    Not a repeat of last year, which I think is what would have gotten if we had beaten Bama in Atlanta…and the fans would be bitching about playing Cincy again..

    2ndly, I don’t see anyway we can be overlooking Michigan…I could have seen that happen with a Cincy rematch.

    That and I think we match up well physically with them. I expect a slobber knocker of a game.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. otto1980

    Interesting article. Just about any team has a unique flavor. I still think it helps to practice team built like a us. Who know maybe the film study will expand what UGA does, I know that maybe dreaming.


  5. Ran A

    By no means am I just checking the box as a win for Georgia. But will note that games come down to talent/match-ups. Alabama beat Georgia because they had a superb QB, who could avoid the rush and hit his receivers on big play after big play. They did not run it down Georgia’s throat. Very fast, very talented receivers with a ‘just enough’ mobile QB with pin-point accuracy beat the Dawgs.

    Michigan does not have either. They are aa physical hazard nose group that plays football ‘as a team’ on both sides of the ball. In short, they are built very similar to Georgia.

    Harbaugh has built a team that is perfect to run against today’s defenses… Except two. One is OKS and the other is Georgia. His team will finally play a team built to stop the run first, which happens to be the most talented and physical defense in the country, that is embarrassed and more than a little pissed off.

    In short – games like this com down to how you are built and how you match up. Gotta like the Dawgs chances.


  6. classiccitycanine

    I’m not worried about how we match up against their offense. I’m worried about how our offense matches up with their defense.


  7. timphd

    Honestly my biggest worry is a hangover from the SEC championship game. I am concerned that we may still be thinking about that and may let Bama beat us twice. If the team’s head is on straight and they are focused on Michigan, I like our chances, but if not we could get steam rolled by a team that finished hot, with tons of confidence. Unlike the Dawgs, Michigan got the Ohio St monkey off their back. Now they can move on. Can we?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. benco04

    I don’t see a single team on our schedule that is as committed to running (and blocks as well) as Michigan. Not one. This whole “we match up well with them” thing is a concern for me. If they successfully block the POA off-tackle or on the edge, our linebackers and safeties better be extremely gap sound AND fast to that gap. If Michigan has any sort of early moderate success running, my guess is our secondary will be tested.

    After Bama I’m not taking the Pollyanna approach with our D no matter who we play. Michigan is very sound offensively.


    • As far as committed goes, Arkansas and Tennessee ran the ball as much as Michigan.

      I do agree with you, though, about UM’s run blocking prowess. Their o-line is damned good at that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • benco04

        To quote Dr Frank N Furter, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

        I understand the season-long propensity to run, statistically. But from a commitment perspective, Michigan beats UT and Ark on the eye test. They scare the bejesus out of me. More than Alabama even after the SECCG.

        Call me bonkers, but I think losing to Alabama when we did is exactly what they says it is, a wake up call. And “Film Don’t Lie” has me feeling decent about a rematch should we get past Blue. The mistakes are correctable on D, and without that explosion, maybe Monken doesn’t abandon the run.

        But Blue scares me.


    • otto1980

      I see your point this year but UGA’s strength is the front 7 As the Senator posted UGA has been good against the run. I would add Kentucky and Auburn in prior years. The Gus wanted to run the ball and used an H back.

      What scares me about Michigan is Smart will settle for a lower scoring slug fest leaning on a 2 TD or less lead, making us nervously wait it out. .