Mining the Box Score: MSU-Florida Atlantic

A lot of ground has already been covered by CPT Hoolie and LVS--not to mention by all of you in the comments sections of those posts--but, if you're like me, you just can't get enough numbers.  Box score is here.

Offense

  • Running game looked fantastic again.  232 yards on 25 running back carries for a stupendous 9.3 yards/carry.  Only negative gain in those 25 carries was the Le'Veon shoulda-gone-down-that-time fumble play.  21 of the 25 carries went for at least 3 yards (5 carries for exactly 3 yards).
  • Kirk Cousins was quite pedestrian by his standards: 9-17 for 142 yards and the TD to B.J. Cunningham.  The 52.9% completion percentage is problematic given that there were few (if any) drops by receivers.  Still 8.4 yards/attempt is nothing to sneeze at.  The interception in the end zone was partially poor judgment (and/or a late throw), but also a "look what I found" kind of a pick-off by the FAU defender, who happened to turn into the path of the ball at the last moment.  I think Cousins will be fine as he starts to get more regular passing opportunities against defenses that won't allow MSU to consistently rip off 5-10 yards at a time on the ground.
  • Only 1 of 7 on 3rd down conversions.  Cousins was actually 3-4 for 46 yards on 3rd down (not counting the 3rd-and-goal interception), but two of those pass completions came up short of the first down markers.  Again, I'm not going to get too worked up about this: Small sample size, etc.
  • FAU was only credited with one sack and one QB hurry.  Pass protection was acceptable.
  • FAU's disruption percentage was just 12.8%.  MSU generally ran its offense as it pleased again this week.  The main issue was that FAU's 6 disruptive plays resulted in 2 turnovers (really, 3 of the 6 disruptive plays came on turnovers, since FAU post both a TFL and a FF on Bell's fumble).
  • On MSU's 9 non-half-ending drives, they scored 3 TDs, kicked 3 FGs, turned the ball over twice, and punted just once.  Just one three-and-out.  I'm going to chalk both the turnovers up as fairly nonpredictive events (although I suppose you can do that with most turnovers) and call that a relatively successful day at the (branch) office on offense.

Defense

  • FAU's two main running backs carried the ball 24 times for 76 yards for 3.2 yards/carry.  Six non-sack tackles for loss for MSU, so they created some good penetration against the run.  A couple longish runs bumped the Owls' average up a bit.
  • The FAU quarterbacks combined to go 24-37 for 256 yards and 1 TD through the air.  Same basic story as the pass defense vs. Western: allowed a lot of short passes (64.9% completion percentage) but not a lot of long gains (3 completions of 20+ yards).  Put the two things together, and FAU's 6.9 yards/attempt is a little higher than you'd like to see.
  • Only 2 sacks and 1 QB hurry for the MSU defense (although the QB-hurry stat can be a little fuzzy, as noted by LVS).  Less-than-ideal production against a completely rebuilt offensive line.
  • Add it all up and you get a middling disruption percentage of 19.7%.  Amidst all the back and forth we've had in the comments over the last couple days about the defense's performance, that's my #1 concern from Saturday: When FAU's drives petered out, it was generally more a function of their lack of execution than of MSU disrupting their rhythm.  For now, I guess we'll fall back on the vanilla playcalling as an excuse.  (On the topic of vanilla playcalling, I am dying to see that first trick play against Notre Dame on Saturday).
  • 10 drives for Florida Atlantic.  5 of them went for more than 30 yards.  5 of them did not.  Detailed analysis (and the definitive glass-is-half-empty take on the defense) is here.
  • Bonus Slappie award! Nonexpert-but-still-pretty-solid-I-think advice for Chris L. Rucker: When the receiver you're covering downfield slows down, the thing to do is to look back at the ball, not extend your arms into him.  Rucker continues to be one of MSU's most talented defenders (4 disruptive plays to date, ranking behind only Greg Jones and Colin Neely), making those kind of plays all the more frustrating.

[Skipping special teams.  LVS covered it all.  Here's hoping the many glorious successes in this area on Saturday reflect repeatable skills.  Ditto on the absence of discipline-related penalties.]

Overall, my outlook for the season is half a notch more optimistic at this point than it was before the opener.  The ceiling on the offense is very high.  If the team can maintain even a somewhat reduced level of success in the running game against Big Ten-level front sevens, it should set some very big things up for Kirk Cousins et al. in the passing game.  Cousins was pretty darn good last year with almost no threat of the run in Big Ten play.  The 2008 team was too rush-reliant; the 2009 team was too pass-reliant (in terms of success, if not quantity of attempts); maybe, just maybe, the 2010 team will be juuuust right.

The defense certainly doesn't look dominant.  But, on balance, it looks marginally more competent than last year's version.  There were some missed tackles on Saturday, but, overall, the tackling has been improved, with few (if any) completely blown coverages deep in the secondary.  That's a start, and will hopefully allow MSU to avoid a repeat of last season, when the team lost 4 games in which it scored 30+ points.

The upside to starting the season with two cupcakish opponents is that the team gets some time to build up toward competitive play.  The downside is that bloggers (and blog commenters) are forced to microanalyze data that contains very little in the way of real information.  We'll get some meaningful statistical data on this team in just 5 days.

And, with that, I hereby declare Notre Dame Week at TOC officially open for business.

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