Michigan is officially halfway through the regular season, and at 4-2 are already have more wins than the 2008 squad had the entire season. We all know this team is better than last year’s, but by how much? Let’s take a look at the statistics through 6 games for both squads, starting with the offense:
[table id=3 /]
*NCAA does not have team rankings for yards per play. Also, 2008 YPP total is for whole season.
Well, we knew this: the offense is better in every facet of the game. The across-the-board improvement can be attributed to several things: the much-improved quarterback play, a competent offensive line, experience in the offense, more variety in the offense, etc. Also, we were really bad last year, so improvement was really the only viable option (the other being total implosion of a storied program, the consequences of which I would rather not think about). So, how about the defense?
[table id=4 /]
Hmmm. This one is certainly more interesting. On one hand, having an offense that scores quickly sets a team up for shootouts, which could explain some of the yardage given up. On the other hand, last year’s team exited the field very quickly, and usually in disastrous fashion. I thought one factor could be pace, but the total plays ran per game in 2009 is 139.5, while last year it was 135.6 — a difference, yes, but not enough to explain why the defense is giving up so many yards. The 2008 defense did get a little worse as the season progressed — finishing 67th in total defense and 84th in scoring defense — but that includes the much more difficult conference schedule.
To what can we attribute this regression in the defense? For one, having a new coordinator and new system for the third time in three years can’t possibly help a defense improve. The secondary and defensive line are razor-thin. The defense as a whole is undersized. However, it’s still disconcerting to see a complete lack of improvement from the defense. Hopefully, as the secondary becomes set and the team gets more comfortable in the system (remember, the 85-yard run against Indiana was — at least initially — caused by Van Bergen making the wrong check at the line), the defense can better this performance. More likely, the team will stay at about the same level throughout the rest of the season, and hope that the offense can carry them to victory.
How about special teams and turnovers?
[table id=5 /]
*Kickoff Returns Allowed not ranked by NCAA. 2008 stats for full season.
There are two things that should jump out at you from this table. 1) Zoltan is awesome in every way. 2) Last year’s team was practically handing the ball off to opponents. The second point is a factor that hasn’t been mentioned a whole lot when discussion Michigan’s improvement from last year: turnover margin tends to regress to the mean (the mean being zero, of course), and this year’s team is turning the ball over far less than they did last year.
What does this all mean? For one, we no longer suck, which is nice. However, the defense should definitely be a concern heading into the second half of the year. For how bad the 2008 defense was, this defense — at least on paper — is even worse. Let’s see if the team can turn it around and make a run at an eight- or nine-win season. If the D doesn’t get better, 7-5 appears to be the logical finish.