Numbers. We deal with them pretty heavily at this site as a way to predict future performance and rank teams. Usually this method is pretty accurate, but then a game like yesterday's occurs and blows those notions to hell. Purdue had 28 first downs to MSU's 12. Purdue gained 524 yards to MSU's 362. The Spartans were completely dominated in all but a few categories. One of those categories was points, and State's three point win means that the Spartans will (hopefully) be going somewhere warm for December.
How did MSU pull this one out? Well, it helped that in the 4th quarter, down 34-23, Don Treadwell took the hammer to the "break in case of emergency" part of the playbook under glass. When you absolutely, positively need a win to get bowl eligible, standard operating procedures say to put the ball in the hands of the best playmaker. For the next two years, this person is Keshawn Martin. One of the joys of college football is watching a player develop from year to year, and watching Martin make the transformation from a receiver with a case of the dropsies to lethal returner in the past three games has been joyous. Kick returns, reverses, wildcat QB - he's the Leatherman of the Michigan State offense.
Underrated part of yesterday's game - the wind. Both of Brett Swenson's 52-yarders were wind-aided, and even though he's one of the best kickers in the NCAA, I'm not sure either of those kicks make it to the uprights without assistance. Enough criticism though - he's legitimately missed one field goal on the year (the other was blocked, I believe - correct me if I'm wrong), is a lock for All-Big Ten, and All-American status is a distinct possibility.
Kirk Cousins had an uncharacteristically inaccurate day (11-25), but two of those passes were huge - the 55-yard completion to Gantt in the second quarter set up a TD and the 73-yard TD throw to Cunningham composed about 60% of his passing yardage on the day. Hats off to Cousins though - even though he was a bit off today, he made the big plays when needed, and didn't throw a pick. Also, we have a running game? Baker and Caper both averaged over 4.0 yards a carry.
As for the defense...ugh. Joey Elliot completed about 70% of his passes and was finding receivers at will - in the flat, off of slants, down the sidelines - he was deadly today. Trenton Robinson made 14 tackles today, proof positive that the secondary was doing more than its fair share of the tackling. Does the defense need adjustment? LVS posted this quote in the afterglow thread, and I'll let Danny Hope's words make my point:
Boilermakers coach Danny Hope said Purdue was able to take advantage of things from a schematic standpoint.
"We had a great game plan. They have a very vanilla defensive formation," Hope said. "We knew what were up against and what we had to do. We just had to execute and I felt like we really did."
So...yeah. What adjustments do the Spartans need to make though? For those advocating a more drastic solution (FIRE NARDUZZI! BLLLLLLAAGGGHHH), I have one word for you:
Scott Shafer, by most metrics, was not a good defensive coordinator. Justly, he got the boot after Michigan's abysmal 3-9 season, and was replaced by Greg Robinson, the man who set Syracuse football back to the leather helmet era. This hiring was hilarious in and of itself; more hilarious was watching Michigan fans talk themselves into the hiring. "Hey, he was the defensive coordinator at Texas during the Vince Young era!" was probably my favorite justification. I don't need to tell you what happened next.
Here's my point - some serious retooling does need to be done with the base defensive scheme. Any team with a functioning quarterback has been picking us apart this year, and an adjustment needs to be made - more pressing by the corners at the line of scrimmage, more use of the nickel package, etc. - if MSU wants to compete for the Big Ten title next year. However, firing Narduzzi means we need to hire a new defensive coordinator. New does not mean better; new just means different; and sometimes different equals disastrous (see: Rodriguez, Rich). Let's not fire Narduzzi and GERG ourselves.
Anyway, back to the question at hand: how, how, how did MSU win this game? In a word - execution. Brett Swenson executed his field goals better than Carson Wiggs. The Spartan kickoff returns were much more well executed than the Boilermaker kickoff returns. The Michigan State defense did get enough stops, as evidenced by Purdue's five field goal attempts. Even though Purdue executed better on ~80% of the game's plays, Michigan State executed better in the other ~20%, and all plays are not created equal. That's why football stats are dubious - an assumption is made that all plays count the same - an assumption everyone knows is a lie.
Now we're bowl eligible and have a chance to go to a slightly classier locale (HELLO ORLANDO!) with a win against Penn State on Saturday. The
Motor City Little Caesar's Pizza Pizza bowl is definitely a possibility if Michigan beats Ohio State, so root against the Wolverines to your heart's content. As for now, enjoy the win, and never mind the defense - here's to a third straight bowl game.