Continental Divide

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

Some interesting stats regarding the narratives for MSU's offense and defense.

KJ is on vacation this week, so no "Mining the Box Score."

Instead, I'm just going to bullet some interesting stats I've come across while writing things. I'm not going to try to make any big points with them. Just some stats I found interesting that may follow or go against some criticisms of the Spartans this year. I'm not nearly as big of a numbers guy as KJ or Heck, so I'm not going to try to steal their thunder.

(This seems like a good moment to point out CFBStats.com is a great site)
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--Andrew Maxwell is second in the Big Ten in passing plays of 10+ yards (73), 20+ yards (22) and 30+ yards (10)

Then again, Maxwell leads the Big Ten in attempts (290), so that wouldn't be a huge surprise in theory. But given the perception that MSU hasn't been much of a big-play offense (ranked sixth or lower in long plays from scrimmage by each 10-yard marker), the Maxwell stat surprised me. It's worth noting Maxwell has 26 more passing attempts through eight games than MSU had at this point in 2009, the first year for Cousins/Nichol. He's being asked to do a lot with a little.

--MSU's defense is allowing field goals on 57.89 of red zone trips. That is the highest percentage in the nation.

The next closest is Vanderbilt at 50 percent. As would make sense, they're allowing touchdowns on 31.58 of red zone trips, which is fifth in the nation. The general idea here is, while they don't bend much, they break even less frequently. The 11 touchdowns allowed are the fewest among teams that have played eight games, and two of those were pick-sixes scored on the offense.

--To go along with the above stat, MSU's offense is making field goals on 34.62 percent of trips to the red zone, which is tied (with Michigan and Vandy) for the fifth-highest percentage in the nation.

MSU's touchdown percentage of 53.85 is tied for 86th. If a couple of these short field goals turn into touchdowns, maybe they beat Ohio State/Iowa/Michigan. In seven red-zone trips over those games, MSU scored five field goals to two touchdowns. Not having Dion Sims for the last two games has hurt greatly. The 16 total touchdowns scored on the season are the second-fewest among teams that have played eight games.

--MSU's defense is fifth in the nation in total defense at 277.1 yards per game.

Last year's defense finished sixth at 277.4 against obviously-better opponents. This year's defense has been criticized for the lack of big plays. They are averaging 5.75 tackles for loss and 0.75 sacks per game, while the 2011 defense averaged 7.57 TFLs and 3.21 sacks. They're clearly not getting the negative plays, which actually makes the total yardage number even more impressive, really.

--MSU is eighth in the country and tops in the Big Ten in time of possession at 33:23.75 per game.

Goes to show you how important that stat is. That's with the 86th-ranked rushing offense (140 ypg). They're only 69th in rush attempts per game, too (37 per game). They're also 87th in third-down conversions (36.84 percent), so it's not a bunch of cheap drives. You've got an offense that's out there more than almost anyone else, and still is 88th in the nation in total offense (370.8). There's no one problem for that mess. It's on everyone.
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I think the biggest key to finishing this season is avoiding a divide on the team, as damning as the above stats are. MSU's defense has been good. The offense has been bad. But a play or two the other way, and MSU would still be in the Legends race. Keeping things together down the stretch will be a major test for the perception of this program

Also, the latest episode of Spartan Football All-Access is up. Always great stuff:

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