Analyzing the Box Score: Northwestern

[Bump.  --LVS.]

Because it seems as though the guys at the TOC are a little busy this week, I thought I'd contribute with my own version of "mining the box score."

Official box score can be found here.  Some quick thoughts on the numbers:


  • The offense racked up 457 total yards.  However, for the second straight week, the offense departed from its balanced ways of the past to rely heavily on Cousins' arm. The ground game was only able to muster 105 yards, 25 of which came on the Baker's amazing/dangerous/dread-inducing touchdown run at the end of the game.  Again, the passing game led the way with 352 yards - averaging 8 yards per attempt and accounting for three touchdowns.  
  • MSU had 26 rushing attempts compared to 44 passing attempts.  While this unbalanced play calling may be attributed to the fact that MSU was forced to play from behind for most of this game, the trend in play calling since our first game suggests that the balanced offense of the first half of the season may be regressing to the more one-dimensional offense we saw last year:
    • Vs. Illinois: 31 rushing attempts and 24 passing attempts
    • Vs. Michigan: 42 rushing attempts and 26 passing attempts
    • Vs. Wisconsin: 45 rushing attempts and 29 passing attempts
    • Vs. Northern Colorado: 37 rushing attempts and 25 passing attempts
    • Vs. Notre Dame: 43 rushing attempts and 34 passing attempts
    • Vs. FAU: 30 rushing attempts and 17 passing attempts
    • Vs. WMU: 37 rushing attempts and 22 passing attempts
  • Of those 26 rushing attempts, Edwin Baker had 10 for 73 yards (7.3 avg), Le'Veon Bell had 8 for 12 yards (1.5 avg.), and Larry Caper only had 1 for 3 yards.  Le'Veon Bell has struggled for the second straight week, as he gained only 13 total yards on 10 carries last week against Illinois.  After all of the articles written about how the offensive line vowed to redeem itself against Northwestern after a poor showing against Illinois, there were surprisingly few holes created for Bell.
  • Not enough can be said about Kirk Cousins' second half performances this season. Cousins continued to impress this week, completing 7 of 8 attempts for 98 yards on MSU's go ahead drive in the fourth quarter.  Cousins' leadership and efficiency helped MSU chew up 9:35 in the 4th quarter and put 21 points on the board.  As many of you know, Cousins' impressive stats and MSU's unblemished record have caused him to start receiving Heisman (!) attention from a number of sources.  
  • Northwestern posted a disruption percentage of 22.8.  They posted 7 quarterback hurries, 2 sacks, 4 pass breakups, and 3 non-sack tackles for loss.  Considering that Illinois, whose defense appears to be superior to Northwestern's, only had a disruption percentage of 20%, this is a step in the wrong direction.  With Iowa and Adrian Clayborn looming large next week, let's hope the offensive line pulls it together.
  • Perhaps the largest source of frustration on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball was the third down conversion.  On offense, MSU converted only 5 of 14 third down attempts, relying on two successful fourth down conversions to slightly mitigate their third down failures.  On defense, Northwestern converted 8 of its 16 third down conversions, many of which were of the third and LONG variety.  Not only is this frustrating to watch, but it also will cost us games in the future against more complete opponents.


  • Northwestern had 170 yards on 47 carries, leading to a respectable 3.6 yards per carry.  However, this speciously impressive figure doesn't tell the whole story. Between Persa and the running backs, Northwestern amassed 208 yards on the ground, but MSU's 8 sacks reduced that positive yardage by 38 yards.
  • MSU held Persa to a season-low 63% completion rate (19 of 30) and a passer rating of 109.34.  While Persa's completion percentage and passer rating have been on a steady decline since Northwestern's first game against Vanderbilt (90.5 completion pct. and a 226.4 passer rating), his numbers against MSU were a significant statistical drop.
  • Granted, I would expect MSU's defense to be the strongest group he had faced, as their previous opponents were Vanderbilt, Illinois State, Rice, Central Michigan, Minnesota, and Purdue.
  • The MSU secondary also recorded Persa's third interception of the season, and kept Persa from having a passing TD for the second straight game.  Michigan State has 13 interceptions on the season, tying them for 5th in the nation.  Also, combining this interception with the fumble recovery and fumble lost, MSU sported a +1 turnover margin, helping to maintain it's statistical domination in this category and sustaining it's #9 ranking in the nation in this category.
  • Sticking with Persa, MSU limited him to 46 yards on 22 carries (2.1 YPC).  However, it should be noted that Persa's 81 yards gained on the ground were tempered by the 8 sacks and subsequent loss of 35 yards.  Compare: Persa rushed for 24 yards on 20 carries against Purdue, though he had more success in the air against their defense.
  • MSU posted a disruption percentage of 20.8.  I was a bit surprised to see that the disruption percentage was so low on this game, considering MSU recorded 8 sacks. However, our line was only credited with three quarterback hurries, and our secondary only had one pass break up and one interception.
  • Surprisingly absent from the defensive stat sheet was Will Gholston.  However, I for one believe that it will only be a matter of time before he starts racking up some impressive numbers.

Special Teams:

  • Aaron Bates averaged 43 yards per punt. Looking at his punts individually, you'll see that he averaged just under 46 yards per punt with the wind and had one punt of 53 yards (2nd quarter) and one punt of 22 yards (4th quarter) into the wind. Notably, while Bates' kicks int he 4th quarter appeared to be affected by the wind, Cousins' passes did not. 

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.

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