U-M offense relies heavily on big plays for production

Take a look at the top 10 programs, in plays of 30 yards or more.

Nine of those programs ranked 22nd or better nationally in total offense: Baylor (No. 2, 572.2 yards per game), Texas A&M (No. 3, 558.5 yards per game), Oklahoma State (No. 4, 547.0 yards per game), Clemson (No. 9, 512.7 yards per game), West Virginia (No. 10, 500.5 yards per game), Fresno State (No. 16, 477.5 yards per game), Northern Illinois (No. 20, 469.6 yards per game), Utah State (No. 21, 469.6 yards per game) and Georgia (No. 22, 467.6 yards per game).

Yes, all of them racked up a lot of big-chunk plays, but they were clearly moving the ball consistently, with or without the home run.

Michigan, on the other hand, finished 79th nationally in total offense, averaging just 383.1 yards per game. The big plays were necessary.

Comparatively, the 2011 Wolverines were 42nd nationally in total offense (404.7 yards per game) but didn't generate as many big plays: 32 over 30 yards; 19 over 40 yards, seven over 50 yards and just three over 60 yards.

Interestingly, the Wolverines were the only team in the country ranked worse than 65th nationally in total offense that still managed to average more than six yards per offensive play (6.07) last year.

There were 36 teams in the country that averaged 6.0-or-more yards per play last year, and all but eight of them were ranked in the top 40 nationally in total offense. At 79th, Michigan was by far the lowest ranked among those 36 teams - and that was thanks, in large part, to their ability to gain huge swaths of yardage in a single play.

Michigan fans surely look back at the explosive long runs of Denard Robinson and think that is how the majority of the Wolverines' big plays were generated.

But the offense was just as - and arguably more - dynamic in the last five games of the season, when quarterback Devin Gardner took over under center after Robinson sustained an ulna nerve injury.

In the first eight games of the year, under Robinson, the Wolverines racked up 16 runs of at least 20 yards - and average of two per game. In those eight games, they also racked up 20 total pass plays of at least 20 yards (2.5 per game), for a grand total of 36 (4.5 per game).

Under Gardner, Michigan's ground game was slightly less explosive, tallying five rushing plays of 20-plus yards (one per game).

Incredibly, though, Gardner threw 20 passes that covered at least 20 yards in those five games (four per game), for a total of 25 plays covering 20 or more yards (5.0 per game).