A Leap Towards Average?

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Maybe Purdue was the blip. What if- what if Purdue was the blip, you guys?

You've said it, I've said it, we've all said it.

I say, "If the Spartan offense can..." and then you all drone out, "be even average this season." and then we all finish together, "expect big things from MSU."

Well, after four games, MSU was not average. The Spartan offense (or, to be specific, its passing game) was in Badtown, population: us. And big things, with a 3-1 record and a trip to Iowa on the docket, did not seem especially expected.

But now, five weeks later, the Spartans are eight games in, and the verdict is, *chews lip* like, alright, I mean, probably? I hink we're close?

Let me explain what I'm talking about.

How's the run game?

Through 8 games

Unproductively average:

MSU Rushing O first 8 games

YPC

TDs

Rushing TFL
Allowed per game

Stat

4.57

12

3.25

B1G rank

6th

8th

6th

Nat'l rank

51st

73rd

38th

There's still a lack of a big play threat, but the Spartan run game has powered itself towards mediocrity on the back of many a 5 five yard carry on first down.

But chopping he data up a bit, we see a clear difference between the first 4 games:

MSU Rushing O first 4 games

YPC

TDs

Rushing TFL
Allowed per game

Stat

4.56

5

3

B1G rank

10th

11th

4th

Nat'l rank

67th

77th

35th

where the running game was shouldering the heavy weight of nearly the entire offensive production and the next four games of the season:

MSU Rushing O last 4 games

YPC

TDs

Rushing TFL
Allowed per game

Stat

4.58

7

3.5

B1G rank

4th

5th

7th

Nat'l rank

37th

47th

55th

where, I mean, that's pretty good, right? I hesitate to say unqualified 'good', but like, probably pretty good.

How's the passing game?

Through 8 games:

MSU Passing O first 8 games

YPA TD/INT Sacks per game
Stat 5.9 4.3 0.75
B1G rank 11th 2nd 1st
Nat'l rank 109th 12th 7th

Productively bad: Avoids negative plays, doesn't turn the ball over, scores surprisingly many TDs, and struggles to move the ball through the air from play to play.

MSU Passing O first 4 games

YPA TD/INT Sacks per game
Stat 4.8 5 0.75
B1G rank 12th t-2nd 3rd
Nat'l rank 123rd t-20th t-12th

Productively horrifying. Still few picks, few sacks, and a decent touchdown haul, but horrible, horrible, efficiency marks on a per play yardage basis.

MSU Passing O last 4 games

YPA TD/INT Sacks per game
Stat 7.1 4.0 0.75
B1G rank 6th 2nd 2nd
Nat'l rank t-64th t-20th t-10th

Prodcutively... productive? Few negative plays, 2 TDs a game and, average efficiency marks? Could it be? Dare we dream?

Graph

If your impression was "As goes the MSU passing attack, so goes the MSU offense', well, you're correct. The rushing game has been reasonably stable, while the passing game and thus the overall output, is subject to the whims of week to week swings towards good or bad.

Progress_zpsdbe40c83_medium

So, uh, about SOS.

The expected accessory to this leap towards respectability is what the defense has already encountered and dismissed, concerns about the seaworthiness of MSU's opponents. Unfortunately for MSU's offense, I think there's a much stronger case to be skeptical of Michigan State's offensive gains, though it's not all bad news. Consider this:

MSU opp through 8 games- yards per play against

Rank

Team

Def. YPP

1

Iowa

4.81

2

Michigan

5.05

3

Notre Dame

5.13

4

Northwestern

5.38

5

Youngstown State

5.44

6

South Florida

5.61

7

Minnesota

5.64

8

Purdue

5.66

9

Nebraska

5.82

10

Western Michigan

5.83

11

Indiana

5.97

12

Illinois

6.54

The bolded teams are those MSU has already played, the unbolded are those who remain. On one hand, MSU's easiest three defensive opponents are in the review mirror. On the other hand, 4 of the top six toughest defensive opponents are behind them as well. On one hand, Purdue, Indiana, and Illinois are ranked 75th, 95th, and 113th nationally in this category respectively. On the other hand, Michigan, Northwestern, and Minnesota are just 28th, 47th, and 79th.

The fact of the matter is that after years and years of playing either two or three of Ohio State, Penn State, and Wisconsin during an era when those three generally bossed the Big Ten, they finally rotated off our schedule for one year and one year only. Happily, this means MSU gets to duck three of the conference's top six defenses and, because it does not have to play itself, ducks a fourth.

So yeah, MSU's defensive strength of schedule over the first four games was bad. And its defensive strength of schedule over the next four games was bad too. But its defensive strength of schedule over the final four games of the regular season is also pretty bad. It's simply a weak defensive schedule, and I for one, am not complaining. Michigan coming off a bye week should be a tough test, but the other three are at best above-average defenses.

Conclusion

So, has the MSU offense gotten all the way to average yet? Maybe not quiiiiite yet. But it's awfully close. Those two ugly performances to start off the season will, deservedly, weigh around the team's offensive stats like an anchor, but conference play has shown an improvement of nearly a full yard per play, a significant rise that is understandably making people take a second look at this Spartan squad. A decent performance against a good, maybe very good, Michigan defense should win many more converts. #BeatMichigan

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