October 4, 2012

Borton's Blog: By the numbers

Michigan is turning the page on the non-conference season, mostly so the kids can look again, following fright night in South Bend. Some of the four-game numbers, set against last year's four-game totals, are worth a look.

Here are some categories that jump out…

Interceptions - This is an obvious one, given the pick-fest at Notre Dame. But what isn't so obvious involves how closely this pre-conference period resembles the last in that regard.

Denard Robinson tossed six interceptions in four non-conference games last year. He's chucked eight this season, half of them against Notre Dame. We're throwing one away (so to speak), because it was a meaningless Hail-Mary shot at the end of the half in South Bend.

So call it 7-6, this year versus last. Of course, you argue that he's supposed to be getting better in that department, and that the Wolverines talked about improvement on ball security as a key to their Big Ten hopes throughout the offseason.

And you'd be right. So it remains a chief concern.

That said, Alabama isn't Western Michigan, and three of the Wolverines' picked-off throws (two of them by Robinson) occurred in the opener. Four more cropped up in the toughest night of the QB's career.

Making that second multi-interception contest an aberration has to be where the Wolverines start in their quest for Indianapolis. If they can't do it, not much else matters.

Fumbles -- The Wolverines had recovered nine fumbles at this point last season. They've snagged two so far, with U-M coaches reemphasizing ball pursuit.

Add in two fewer interceptions (two now, four in the non-conference last year), and it's easy to see why turnover margin remains a glaring deficit.

Sacks -- The Wolverines have sacked the quarterback just three times for 45 yards worth of losses thus far, prompting defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to sound the alarm about getting more pressure. It's safe to say he was probably doing the same thing at this point in the 2011 campaign.

Through four games last year, Michigan had recorded four sacks for 36 yards in losses. Obviously, not a big gap there. The Wolverines wound up sacking the quarterback 30 times in 2011, for 180 yards in losses.

Somewhere along the line, U-M's pass rushers learned to get home. Now, an NFL-bound freak of nature like Mike Martin is no longer in the mix. But redshirt sophomore Jake Ryan can certainly get to the quarterback, while others like sophomore Frank Clark and even freshman Mario Ojemudia have that potential.

Moreover, Mattison says safety Jordan Kovacs is his best blitzer, one who really hasn't been turned loose yet. It will be very interesting to see how Michigan gets after the quarterback in the next several games.

Opponent Scoring -- One of the storylines of Michigan's head-turning 2011 season involved moving from 108th in the nation in scoring defense in 2010 to No. 6 in the first year under Mattison and head coach Brady Hoke.

The Wolverines surrendered an average of 17.4 points per game, and just 12.8 points in last year's non-conference campaign. This year, U-M has given up an average 23.0 points per game, but gain, Alabama skews the numbers.

Take the Doomsday in Dallas out of the picture, and U-M has yielded 17.0 points per game. Hmmm, sound familiar? And yes, Big Ten teams will provide more formidable offensive than UMass. At the same time, Michigan's defense should continue to improve throughout the season.

Red Zone -- Here's where the Wolverines came through in the clutch, defensively, in 2011. Through four games of the '11 season, they'd allowed red zone scoring at a 54 percent rate. Foes were cashing in touchdowns just 38 percent of the time.

So far this season, the numbers are at 80 percent and 47 percent, respectively. By the end of the 2011 season, opponents scored 68 percent of the time they entered Michigan's red zone, coming away with touchdowns at a 51-percent clip.

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