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Sunday, September 8, 2013
Gardner leads Michigan with efficiency

By Alok Pattani & Sharon Katz


Rick Osentoski/US PresswireMichigan’s offense has been more efficient since Devin Gardner took over as starter last November.
Below are some storylines from Week 2 of the college football season using ESPN’s new set of analytical storytelling metrics for college football. For more background on these metrics, read Dean Oliver’s primer on all of them and his explanation of college Total QBR. For complete college Total QBR information, go here.

Michigan’s Offense the Key to Victory over Notre Dame
Michigan came away with a 41-30 victory over Notre Dame in large part due to its excellent offense. The Wolverines averaged 6.4 yards per play, scored 5 times on their 6 first-half possessions, finished 4-for-4 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and had only one big mistake (Devin Gardner’s interception in his own end zone). The offense finished with an expected points added of +14.3, meaning they provided a 14-point difference in an 11-point victory. That was the 3rd-highest EPA allowed by the Notre Dame defense in 41 games under Brian Kelly.

Saturday was the latest example of how Michigan’s offense has become much more efficient since Devin Gardner took over as starter last November. They’ve moved the ball better, converted third downs more frequently, and gotten much better overall quarterback play than they had in the first 8 games last season.

The net result is that Michigan’s offense has increased from a very average +2.1 EPA per game before November 3 last year to a +13.5 mark since, which would rank in the Top 20 in FBS in that span.

Gardner finished with an 87.9 Total QBR on Saturday, his 5th game with a QBR above 85 in 7 starts. Though Gardner runs a lot less frequently than Robinson did, he’s been an upgrade over Denard Robinson as both as a runner and a passer from an efficiency standpoint. Gardner has a Total QBR of 99.1 on rushing plays and a 68.8 QBR on pass plays the last two seasons; Robinson had a 88.3 QBR on rush plays and a 61.9 QBR on pass plays last year.

Florida’s Red-Zone Ineptitude Gives Miami the Victory
Florida outgained Miami by 201 yards and 12 first downs in its 21-16 loss on Saturday. However, the Gators’ offense posted its lowest offensive EPA (-15.9) since their 17-9 loss to Georgia last October (-28.5 Off EPA).

Stagnation on offense is nothing new for the Gators. Since the start of last October, Florida’s offense contributed fewer than 10 points towards its net margin of victory in all 11 of its games, with a negative EPA in 7 of those games.

While they moved the ball down the field with some success, the major issue for Florida was the red zone. Excluding a red-zone touchdown resulting from a blocked punt, Florida’s other five red-zone trips ended in 2 interceptions, a turnover on downs, a fumble, and a field goal. Overall, Florida’s offense lost 19.0 expected points in the red zone, the most by a team in a single game this season (and the 3rd-most over the last 2 seasons). This means that if the Gators had just an average offense in the red zone and kept everything else the same, they would have won the game by about two touchdowns.

Most teams with a red-zone EPA that poor lose by a lot, but Florida only lost by 5 (in part due to a strong +9.8 EPA from their defense). If you look at teams that lost by 10 or fewer points, Florida’s offensive EPA in the red zone was the lowest in a single game in the last 10 years, increasing their remorse over how just 1-2 better plays close to the Miami end zone could have changed the result.