Ah c'mon, not this stuff again.

Jonathan Daniel

Nation's best defense so far just not 'best enough' for some, I guess.

(read a certain argument one too many times in the last two and a half weeks. Given the option of saying nothing and saying far too much, well...)

Point #1: At present, if you are a future opponent of MSU's, your defense is not as good as MSU's. No, it's not that close right now.

Now, you could trick yourself into thinking this isn't true. After all, because a statistical rank is a fixed number between 1 and 125 this year, if you're the second best team, that's right next to number one, and if you're the 9th best team, that's still within 8 teams of number one, and if you're 17th, that 16 team gap is still pretty close and so on. We assume that teams are relatively equally spaced within these close groupings. After all, how big of a difference could it be between teams that close to one another?

It's big.

In total defense, MSU gives up 3.03 yards per play, the best in the nation. This is 0.7 yards per play better than the second best team in the nation Virginia Tech (3.73 yards per play). By comparison, the difference between MSU and 2nd place, is slightly more than the difference between 2nd place and 18th place (UCLA, at 4.42 yards per play).

The difference between MSU and the next best team left on their schedule, Iowa (4.31 yards per play), is 1.28 yards per play, the same difference between that second place team, Virginia Tech, and Wake Forest (5.01 yards per play), the 42nd place team. Or the effectively the same difference between Iowa, the 13th place team, and UNLV or South Carolina (5.6 yards per play, 1.29 yards per play more), the 69th best teams.

In run defense, MSU gives up 2.04 yards per carry best in the nation, 0.21 yards better than the two second place teams, Rutgers and Texas State (2.25 YPC). Or, the effectively the same difference as between 2nd place and 6th place Florida (2.43YPC, a 0.18 yard difference per carry).

The difference between MSU and the next best team left on their schedule, again, Iowa, is 0.87 yards per carry, effectively the difference between the 2nd place teams and Colorado (3.11 yards per carry, a 0.86 YPC difference) the 23rd best team. Or the difference between MSU and Iowa is the same as the difference between Iowa and Arkansas (3.78 YPC), the 48th ranked team in this category.

In pass defense , MSU gives up 3.9 yards per attempt, 0.3 YPA better than the second place team, Washington. Unfortunately, because the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place teams are so close to one another, I don't have an impressive differential stat between the 1st and 2nd place teams.

What I can say, is that the full yard and a half more per attempt Iowa (5.4 YPA), the 11th best team in this category gives up over MSU, is the same as the difference between Iowa and the, take your pick, 64th best teams of Tulsa, LA-Monroe, and SD State.

To sum it up, Iowa's defense is only 'close' to MSU's through five weeks if we accept that the defensive likes of UNLV, Arkansas, and Tulsa are 'close' to Iowa.

As an additional fun factoid: So far, MSU's defense has conceded 53 points and scored 28. This means, if MSU had been forced to play without an offense this year,  this defense-only MSU team still be 2-2 right now, courtesy of a 14-13 win over WMU, and a 14-6 win over USF, while suffering a pair of 17-0 losses to both Notre Dame and Youngstown State.

Point #2: No, MSU's defense isn't mostly being propped up by horrible competition.

I know that in some people's eyes, against a slate of opponents who've gone 6-9 in their other 15 games this season, outrageously strong numbers against weak competition don't mean much.

But I guess my main question for these people is: Given that they scheduled these teams years ago, what more do you want from them?

3 yards a play and 189 yards per game is too much? Would 2 yards a play and 125 yards per game be sufficiently dominating? Should they apologize for only having as many interceptions as passing touchdowns conceded? Literally no drive that has started behind an opponent's 40 yard line has scored points. So should we hold it against this team that is has conceded six 50 yard drives? 47% of opponent's drives have gone three and out. Would everyone be satisfied were that over 50%?

In short: how horrifyingly masticated do these cupcakes have to be to satisfy some people?

To expound on this, here's a defensive metric that adjusts for opposing competition:

Rk Team Def. S&P+ Succ.
Rt
Rk PPP Rk S&P Rk Rushing
S&P
Rk Passing
S&P
Rk Std.
Downs
S&P
Rk Pass.
Downs
S&P
Rk
1 Florida 173.4 30.60% 9 0.33 3 0.635 5 0.647 18 0.628 4 0.804 24 0.388 1
2 Michigan State 171.3 20.70% 1 0.25 1 0.461 1 0.465 1 0.458 1 0.492 1 0.423 2
3 Virginia 138.6 29.90% 7 0.4 18 0.7 11 0.82 57 0.585 2 0.721 14 0.674 19
4 Virginia Tech 137.4 31.90% 13 0.35 6 0.667 7 0.669 22 0.665 6 0.636 6 0.707 26
5 Louisville 132.2 27.00% 2 0.34 5 0.612 3 0.51 4 0.72 10 0.662 8 0.538 4

Among the top five teams in this metric, MSU's raw scores are again easily tops. Adjusted for their schedules, MSU drops from first to... second, right behind a UF team who has played three BCS teams already. It's also worth noting that the gulf between 2nd and 3rd in the composite statistic of Def S&P+ is the same as the gulf between 3rd and 43rd.

To put this another way, here is MSU, a team worse than MSU, and a team worse than that other team by a slightly higher margin:

Rk

Team

Def. S&P+

Succ.
Rt

Rk

PPP

Rk

S&P

Rk

Rushing
S&P

Rk

Passing
S&P

Rk

Std.
Downs
S&P

Rk

Pass.
Downs
S&P

Rk

2

Michigan State

171.3

20.70%

1

0.25

1

0.461

1

0.465

1

0.458

1

0.492

1

0.423

2

12

Iowa

128.5

30.50%

8

0.36

8

0.666

6

0.534

6

0.759

16

0.732

16

0.567

8

102

Houston

85.6

46.50%

98

0.47

42

0.936

65

0.793

51

1.053

76

1.005

74

0.782

46

Even adjusting for opponents, there's just one team who's kept up with MSU's defense through these early weeks (GO GATA) in this 2nd metric.

Furthermore, though the MSU offense has faced a very unimpressive slate of offenses so far, we can calculate just how big of a 'tax' each one of these offenses had to pay in playing MSU this year. It's pretty damn big.

Here's the numbers from MSU opponents including the MSU game.

Team

YPP

National Rank

Western Michigan

4.48

115

South Florida

4.38

120

Youngstown State (FCS)

6.77

9

Notre Dame

5.87

60

Avg

5.42

76

Avg (w/o FCS)

4.94

98

And here are their numbers if we pretend their games vs MSU were bye weeks instead:

Team

Adj. YPP

Adj. National Rank

Western Michigan

4.85

103

South Florida

4.98

99

Youngstown State (FCS)

7.29

4

Notre Dame

6.50

26

Avg

5.98

58

Avg (w/o FCS)

5.48

76

Essentially, just playing MSU single handedly dragged all these teams down 20 spots in the national rankings from average/below average to below average/bad.

Iowa is both our next opponent and the convenient point of comparison so far, so why not, let's keep that going. Here's Iowa's opponents including the Iowa game:

Team

YPP

National Rank

Northern Illinois

6.41

28

Mo State (FCS)

4.8

90

Iowa State

5.17

93

Western Michigan

4.48

115

Minnesota

5.53

77

Avg

5.24

81

Avg (w/o FCS)

5.38

78

And here's Iowa's opponents if we treat the Iowa game as if it were a bye week instead:

Team

Adj. YPP

Adj. National Rank

Northern Illinois

6.84

16

Mo. State (FCS)

4.98

82

Iowa State

5.21

93

Western Michigan

4.65

112

Minnesota

5.98

56

Avg

5.47

72

Avg (w/o FCS)

5.64

69

Iowa dragged it's opponents down 9 spots in the national rankings, about half of what MSU did.

Let's break it down one step further.

This is the best argument Iowa is able to make on a strength of schedule front: If you exclude the FCS teams, but don't adjust for the effect of Iowa and MSU's defensive performances, the offenses Iowa's faced do look reasonably better.

Team

YPP

Rank

Iowa Opponents

5.38

78

Michigan State Opponents

4.94

98

Difference

-0.44

20

If you continue to exclude the two team's FCS opponents, but do adjust for the downward effect of the two team's defensive performances, Iowa maintains its difference, but much less so.

Team

YPP

Rank

Iowa Opponents

5.64

69

Michigan State Opponents

5.48

76

Difference

-0.16

7

Considering all of the team's opponents, but not adjusting for the effects of the two team's defenses, the advantage flips to MSU by a very similar ratio.

Team

YPP

Rank

Iowa Opponents

5.24

81

Michigan State Opponents

5.42

76

Difference

0.18

-5

And finally, most discouraging for Iowa fans, considering all games, but adjusting for the downward effects of each team's defenses:

Team

YPP

Rank

Iowa Opponents

5.47

72

Michigan State Opponents

5.98

58

Difference

0.51

-14

Leaves us with this conclusion: Differences between the two team's offensive strength of schedule appear to be simply the effect of MSU shutting down its opponents more thoroughly than Iowa did, and not differences in actual quality of offensive competition. Possibly some teams can make these sorts of arguments. Iowa is not one of those teams.

Point #3: There's just no need to pretend the Spartan defense isn't a killing machine.

I think this is really the crux of my issue. I get that even when going up against the very strongest, most well-rounded, opponent, fans will look for reasons to believe their team is going to win. Fine, that's part of sports.

But why do this? Anything you'd ever need to have some hope or confidence of beating MSU this year can be found in our floundering passing offense here, and in the running game that is OK, but isn't good enough to drag the passing attack along with it, here. Targets for disrespect are not lacking!

Our passing game is one of five teams that has failed to break five yards an attempt. We just barely complete half of passes. The running game tries its best in a bad situation, but is still 11th in the Big Ten. The offense has only scored 87 more points this year than the defense, or about three touchdowns more per game, with 55 of those 87 points coming vs an FCS opponent. We have 0 plays of 40 or more yards. We have 1 play of 30 or more yards. Your defense isn't as good as ours, but there's a reasonable chance our offense will make it appear so (see: Dame, Notre).

Until there's some sort of evidence to the contrary, just assume your game vs MSU is going to be a bone-crushing, nerve racking, 17-14 game one way or the other. Until something clicks with the offense or breaks with the defense, you've got a 50/50 shot of winning, and that's about it, essentially whoever you are. There's just no need to live in some fairy-tale land where either team wins by, say, 10 points or more.

Naturally, by writing all this, I've guaranteed some sort of 42-3 Iowa win on Saturday. So... My bad, guys :D

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