Stats that matter: passing percentages

The spring game is a preview for the season and with so many early enrollees this year, it really is going to give fans and the media a pretty good look at what next year could hold for the Wolverines. So, leading up to the scrimmage, we’re going to look a few stats that really matter for next season for Michigan if the Wolverines want to make the Big Ten championship game.

Stat: Michigan’s passing percentages

2013 review: Devin Gardner had an up-and-down season for the Wolverines. In the final stretch, he finally displayed the consistency and grit that the coaches had lauded him for, and was a big-time player for the Wolverines.

The stats certainly say that. Though most of the Wolverines’ passing statistics were below average, there are a few categories in which Michigan had a very good showing -- some very clutch categories. On third-down passing conversions, completions gaining a first down or touchdown and percentage of passing completions gaining 10-plus yards, the Wolverines were impressive.

Third-down passing conversions:

  • Michigan: 36.1 percent

  • National average: 34.7 percent

  • Big Ten leader: Indiana, 40.3 percent

  • National leader: Louisville, 52.2 percent

Completions gaining a first down or touchdown:

  • Michigan: 65.4 percent

  • National average: 56.5 percent

  • Big Ten leader: Minnesota, 69.3 percent

  • National leader: LSU, 73.7 percent

Percentage of 10-plus yard completions:

  • Michigan: 53.6

  • National average: 47.1

  • Big Ten leader: Minnesota, 63.5

  • National leader: Georgia Tech, 67.4

Of those three statistics, the third-down passing conversions number could use some improvement most at Michigan, but in a passing game that struggled last season, the fact that it finished above the national average and not too far from some of its rivals (Ohio State: 36.4, Michigan State: 38.1) is impressive.

Keep in mind that those latter two statistics skew toward teams that run more of a downfield passing game, as many teams run a variation of the spread with passes designed for a short gain. The latter two stats are impressive, though. The Wolverines' percentage of completions gaining a first down or touchdown was 12th-best in the nation last season and their percentage of completions that went for 10-plus yards was No. 21 in the nation.

However, many other passing stats fell far below the national average.

When it came to completion percentage (60 percent) and touchdowns per passing attempt (5.3 percent), Michigan was only in the top 60. When it came to completions per game (18.2) and touchdown-to-interception ratio, Michigan was only in the top 80.

If Michigan wants to find itself in a favorable postseason game in 2014, the Wolverines will need to improve their consistency in the passing game. Because if Michigan can convert well in clutch, high-pressure situations such as third and fourth down, then it should also be able to do it on first and second down.

2014 preview: With Michigan in the middle of its spring ball and a QB “battle,” it’s hard to say what exactly will happen down the road. If Gardner can stay healthy, it seems as though the job is his to lose, but crazier things have happened. So instead of discussing the possibility of what could, would or should happen, let’s look at what we do know.

Essentially, what are the statistics for successful teams that have good quarterbacks? If Michigan wants to be at an elite level, what exactly is that level from a statistics standpoint? What should the Wolverines be shooting for in 2014?

Here’s a breakdown of what Michigan could aim for in 2014 based on what the top teams did this past season.

Completion percentage:

  • Michigan: 60 percent

  • BCS bowl teams average: 63.3 percent (low of 60.7 percent, Auburn)

Touchdowns to interceptions ratio:

  • Michigan: 1.62

  • BCS bowl teams average: 3.3 (low of 2.1, Stanford)

Interceptions per attempt:

  • Michigan: 3.3 percent

  • BCS bowl teams average: 2.4 percent (high of 3.2, Stanford)

First downs per passing attempt:

  • Michigan: 37.7 percent

  • BCS bowl teams average: 35.9 percent (low of 27.7 percent, Oklahoma)

Michigan wasn’t too far away for some of these numbers -- it was close to the completion percentage and was better than the BCS bowl team average for first downs per passing attempt.

When it comes to completion percentage, the big difference between Michigan and Auburn is the run game. The Tigers didn’t need to complete as high of a percentage of their passes when they were putting up a nation-best 328.3 rushing yards per game. It’s all a balancing act and with how much the Michigan run game struggled last season, the Wolverines needed to be closer to that BCS average if they wanted to find success.

But the most glaring differential between Michigan and the teams that played in BCS bowl games were the statistics that involved interceptions. If Gardner hadn’t been so prone to interceptions early in the season, these numbers would be dramatically improved. But a lot of things would’ve been different if the Wolverines had played their whole season the way they did their final few games.

However, the interception statistics were also pretty close to Stanford’s, which is interesting. But, in the same vein as the Auburn comparison, Stanford had other parts of its game that made up for its deficits, while Michigan did not. Stanford averaged 207.4 rushing yards per game (as opposed to Michigan’s 125.7). And when a team has a defense like Stanford -- the Cardinals allowed just 31 touchdowns all season -- it gives the offense a bit of a cushion to underachieve at times.

These statistics just reinforce the fact that taking care of the ball needs to be an even bigger focus for the Wolverines in 2014. If they can limit their mistakes offensively and produce a stronger running game, they can put themselves in a good spot in the conference.

Other stats that matter in 2014: