PJP Over/Under Game – Michigan

Courtesy USA Today

This week’s Over/Under game poses five hard questions about IU’s matchup against perennial B1G bully Michigan, the answers to which may well determine the answer to the bigger question: can IU end its 21-game losing streak to the Wolverines?

1. Power Success Rate by the IU Offense – Over/Under 49.5%

The definition of “power success rate” from our glossary:

As used in Football Outsiders’ pro line stats, this is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.

The national average for power success rate is 69.3%. Michigan leads FBS in power success rate allowed at 36.4%, while IU, somewhat surprisingly, is slightly above average at 73.1%, 48th nationally. There is no guarantee that IU will even reach 3rd or 4th and short against this defense, but when it does, picking up an extra 1st down or two could be crucial. If IU can convert on greater than 50% of those chances, it will not only keep the offense on the field, it will also indicate that IU’s offensive line can hold its own against a stout (to say the least) Michigan front seven.

2. Missed Fields Goals, Combined – Over/Under 0.5 

Although sparingly used in 2017, Griffin Oakes has been perfect, converting all five of his field goal attempts. Michigan’s Quinn Nordin, on the other hand, has been called upon early and often, and so far, he’s come through, making 12 of 14. These are two good college kickers…but college kickers they remain. In a game where points are likely to be at a premium, one missed kick could decide it.

3. Total 3-and-Outs – Over/Under 9.5 

Coach Allen, the man who declared time of possession an “irrelevant stat” and professed his preference for points-per-drive, continues to build his reputation as the most stats-savvy head man in the B1G. And we love him for it. In Monday’s press conference, Coach Allen highlighted another interesting stat, 3-and-outs forced. He noted that Michigan leads the nation in this metric, while IU is 2nd. Just so we’re clear, I define “3-and-out” strictly as three plays and a punt – going for it on 4th down and failing to convert doesn’t count, committing a turnover on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd play of a drive doesn’t count.

I couldn’t find this stat kept at any of my normal go-to CFB stats sites so I had to tally it up manually. By my count, through five games Michigan has forced 32 3-and-outs (6.4 per game), while IU has forced 28 (5.6 per game). This stat – and the strong performances by IU and Michigan in it – can certainly be questioned. Like all traditional counting stats, it suffers from a lack of opponent adjustment, and it includes unreliable stats from garbage time. IU, for instance, piled up the 3-and-outs against the Southerns, Georgia and Charleston. Likewise, Michigan racked them up against Air Force, Cincinnati and Michigan State in a monsoon.

Nevertheless, consistently forcing three-and-outs is a sign of a defense that keeps offenses off schedule and makes plays on 3rd down. Both defenses seem to do those things.

Also relevant: neither offense is particularly good.

4. Longest Reception by Simmie Cobbs – Over/Under 20.5 yards 

One would expect Simmie Cobbs, IU’s best receiver – and quite possibly the best receiver in the B1G – to have a long reception of more than 29 yards. Nope. Through five games, Cobbs only has three catches of more than 20 yards (29, 28 and 23). If IU is going to pull the upset, the offense will need to hit a few big plays. Cobbs is the most likely candidate.

For its part, the Michigan secondary has allowed 12 receptions of 20 or more yards and 5 of 30 or more.

5. Catches by Receivers Covered by Rashard Fant – Over/Under 1.5 

In last year’s game, John O’Korn put up a would-be-comical-if-he-didn’t-still-win 59 yards on 7 of 16 passes. He did not throw – let alone complete – a single pass to a receiver covered by Rashard Fant. So far in 2017, in three games against Power 5 opponents, Fant’s man has been targeted 15 times – 10 of those coming from the UVA game. Fant has allowed 7 catches.

Oh by the way, Fant was torched for the final TD in IU’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Michigan in 2015.

Additional O/Us that didn’t make the cut:

  • Jim Harbaugh complaints about IU’s facilities, .5 – He didn’t enjoy his time in West Lafayette (does anyone?), and while I’d like to think IU’s visiting team digs are a cut above Purdue’s, I wouldn’t put it past Jim to take a shot at an institution that his family doesn’t love at the moment…
  • Brandon Peters’ pass attempts, .5 – The former prep star from Avon is toiling on Michigan’s bench behind a generally unimpressive John O’Korn. If O’Korn struggles again and Peters doesn’t replace him, Brandon should probably just stay behind in Bloomington.
  • References to Peyton Ramsey being a “coach’s son” on the TV broadcast, 19.5 – I’d still take the over. Announcers cannot get enough of that factoid.

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