2018 Michigan Football Statistics Make Wolverines Comparable To... Actual Wolverines

2018 Michigan Football Statistics Make Wolverines Comparable To... Actual Wolverines

Football

2018 Michigan Football Statistics Make Wolverines Comparable To... Actual Wolverines

Are Wolverines Michigan Football’s Actual Spirit-Animal?

Looking below the surface at some relevant statistics for the 2018 Michigan Wolverines.

Consider, for a moment, THE wolverine

On the outside, these small predators may not seem all that ferocious – they’ve even been mistaken for badgers from time to time. But look a little closer, and you’ll realize that behind their unassuming exterior is a selfish, hungry and extraordinarily unsympathetic killing machine – very much like the 2018 Michigan Wolverines.

At first glance, their statistics look unassuming.

Michigan averages 67.4 offensive snaps per game, a quite pedestrian number. Nine other Big Ten teams run more plays per game than Michigan and several teams run a lot more plays – Ohio State averages 81.3, Northwestern 78.3, Michigan State 71.4, even lowly Rutgers approaches Michigan’s mark with 64.7.

Surprised? I was too! – perhaps even more so when considering that…

Michigan is outstanding on third downs

On offense, they convert at a 50.00% rate (4th in the nation). On defense, opposing teams convert at 28.24% (9th in the nation). They easily lead the conference in both statistics, with Ohio State the only other team in the same ballpark (converting 46.26% and allowing 30.07%).

In general, Michigan’s offense stays on the field and their defense doesn’t.

This, of course, raises an obvious question. If Michigan consistently wins third downs (allowing them to possess the ball) why do they generate so few offensive snaps per game? How can we account for the apparent lack in offensive output? How is it possible that Ohio State, Nebraska, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin all out-gain Michigan on average?

The answer is found in what Michigan actually does when it has the ball, and what makes their offense so special – they simply don’t try to run a lot of plays, and they’re remarkably efficient when they do. In short, they win by seriously limiting opponent possessions and maximizing the effectiveness of their own.

Just how do they do this?

Well, first and foremost…

THE Wolverines LOVE to run

Michigan rushes the ball on the vast majority of its offensive snaps (63.6%).

Their run imbalance is among the highest in the Big Ten, trailing only Maryland (66.4%) and Wisconsin (64.6%) – two teams that are awful in passing efficiency. In fact, Maryland is 101st nationally (6.4 Yards Per Pass) and Wisconsin is 84th (6.9). Maryland can’t pass very well when they want to, Wisconsin can’t pass very well when they need to, so both teams default to the run at a significantly imbalanced rate.

Michigan, however, is an excellent passing team, and among the leaders in passing efficiency. They are 24th nationally in yards per pass (8.4), 22nd in Completion Percentage (65.71), and 27th in percentages of passes intercepted (1.63%).

If Michigan wants to pass the ball, it has the ability to compete with most Top-25 offenses. If Michigan needs to pass the ball, they do so without fear or reservation. And yet, in spite of their ability, 63.6% of the time Michigan runs the ball. Yes, Michigan wants to run the ball.

But why? Why not use that efficient passing game to generate more points?

The answer is that Michigan feels it has a superior way of breaking down an opponent: selfishly starving them to death.

Slowly, and methodically – with incredibly varied formations and looks, the Michigan offense stays on the field and keeps marching at a steady and unperturbed pace. Their weapon of choice is to stay on the ground and hammer their way down the field. They huddle. They’re extraordinarily selfish. They hoard the play clock. Why hurry when you can simply kill an opponent 6.1 yards at a time? Why go hurry-up (we see you Big-12), when you can actually win utilizing a different primary strategy? And what is Michigan’s strategy?…

To Win By Possessing the Ball and Limiting Opponent Possessions

What is Michigan’s identity? They are an exceptionally efficient ball-possession team.

Michigan’s offense and defense are like two older brothers dominating their younger sibling in a back-yard game of keep-away. They are 5th nationally in overall Time of Possession Differential: 57.66% of the time, Michigan has the ball (on their 3-game Revenge Tour it was almost 63%). Michigan is 4th nationally in opponent’s Plays Per Game (57.5) and second nationally in opponent’s Points Per Game (12.9, Alabama is 12.7).

It may look pedestrian that Michigan runs a mere 67.4 plays per game, but don’t assume it is because they’re yielding to their opponents – they are actually starving them. Michigan possesses the ball. Even with an offense that seems to lack in total number of plays, on a game-by-game basis Michigan still averages 9.9 more plays than their opposition. Michigan may not run a lot of plays, but imagine how their opposition feels!

Michigan has held every conference opponent WELL below their average number of plays. Nebraska averages 74.0 plays per game, Michigan held them to 54. Penn State average 68.0, but were on the field for a paltry 47 snaps against Michigan.

The Michigan defense has been on the field for an astonishing 116 fewer plays than they would have been if their conference opponents hit their season averages!  Because they posses the ball, their defense has played almost two full games less defensive snaps in total.

Wolverines are gluttonous animals (the term “Wolverine” gulo gulo is Latin for “a gluttonous glutton”). They are also expert scavengers. Wolverines have been observed in the wild eating entire carcasses all by themselves, and they waste nothing. They devour the flesh, meat, and even bones (yes, bones do contain protein, and wolverines grind up and eat the bones of their prey). They engorge themselves on everything and are not so keen on sharing –  just like their football counterparts. When the Michigan Wolverines come to the Thanksgiving dinner table, they are selfish. They eat everything. They hoard the Time of Possession. Everyone else is left begging for scraps.

It is an obvious strategy, and an obvious identity, but like anything worthwhile, it also comes with risks…

The Downside of Limiting Possessions

Any time a football team decides to win a game by limiting possessions, an obvious problem arises: you also limit your own. The amount of time left on a clock is the same for both teams.

This means that each possession is extremely valuable, and if Michigan’s long drives don’t often end in points (or if Michigan yields a big play), games that they are slowly and systematically dominating will appear closer than they actually are (especially at the beginning).

Think about the Rutgers game for a moment.

Michigan’s opening drive was 12 plays, it used 6:11 off the clock, and then they were stopped on 4th and 1. 12 plays, No points.

Their second drive was 8 plays, used 4:28, and they scored a touchdown to go up 7-0. The vast majority of the opening quarter was dominated by Michigan, and yet one play later (a Rutgers’ 80-yard TD run), and the score is tied 7-7. The game looked much closer than what was actually occurring on the field, and that’s a risk you take when you are willing to pound the ball up the middle vs. a stacked box on 4th and 1.

This is why it is critical that Michigan is very efficient in scoring, because lost points will harm the Wolverines more than it would most teams (it is because they purposely limit possessions that they will also have fewer chances to make up for them). Fortunately, for Michigan they do exactly that.

Michigan leads the Big Ten in Points Per Play Differential (they actually dominate the conference in this statistic). On every offensive play, Michigan scores 0.540 points (best in conference, 10th in the nation). On every defensive play, they yield 0.214 (4th in the nation). Michigan scores a lot of points on a limited number of offensive plays, and they allow very very few.

On every play, Michigan is an outstanding +0.326 points better than its competition (Penn State is a distant second with a differential of +0.223, no one else is above 0.200).

You might say that the 2018 Michigan Wolverines are remarkably similar to their spirit-animal, they scavenge for every second they can get, hoarding their main resource (time), keeping it all to themselves.

So far, they have made the most use of it. Going forward against Indiana, and then at the last stop of the Revenge Tour in Columbus… it may be time (quite literally) that will determine whether or not Michigan’s ravenous strategy will yield their biggest prize in over a decade.

Time will tell.

Contact/Follow @WolverinesWire@WesleyWeberJr

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