Probably the Worst

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Welp.

3.1 yards per pass attempt- The Spartans' aerial output last night, the worst of Coach Dantonio's 80 games in charge of the Spartans.

Heck Dorland's five worst raw passing performances of the Dantonio era:

1. 2011 Nebraska 11/27, 86 yards, 3.2 YPA yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT

2. 2007 Boston College, 14/36, 131 yards, 3.6 YPA, 2 TDs, 4 INTs

3. 2013 Western Michigan, 17/37, 116 yards, 3.1 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT

4. 2012 Notre Dame, 23/45, 187 yards, 4.2 YPA, 0 TD, 0 INT

3. 2012 TCU, 11/27, 104 yards, 3.9 YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT

Now, the problem is, four of the teams on that list had good pass defenses, averaging the 29th best unit in the country by YPA, and were otherwise good teams, with average end of the year AP ranks of 18th in the country. The other team is, of course, Western Michigan who absolutely could post a top 30 pass defense unit this year (aided no doubt by this outstanding week 1 number), but man, I kinda doubt it; and WMU will be the 19th best team in the country at some point before the sun explodes, but not this year, I'd wager.

So, maybe 3rd worst in the raw numbers, but like, almost surely the worst when adjusted for the relative strength of the opponent, unless WMU does something really unexpected with the rest of their season.

1.41 yards per play- When the game was close, the difference between how the offense moved when Andrew Maxwell was on the field, and how it moved when Connor Cook was on the field, confirming my knee-jerk observation that as bad as Maxwell was, Cook was considerably worse in his time on the field.

Maxwell vs Cook while game was close

Maxwell

Cook

Plays

Yards

Plays

Yards

Drives

7

32

6

17

3

7

6

17

5

4

9

28

3

4

6

29

6

23

3

1

7

69

4

19

3

-1

4

31

Total

42

188

30

92

Average

4.7

20.9

6

18.4

YPP

4.48

3.07

While the game was close, the team had three drives over 30 yards, Maxwell had all of them. The team had six drives over 20 yards, Maxwell had four out of the six. He did have 3 three-and-outs to Cook's 1, but that's about it as far as pro-Cook stuff goes on the entire game level.

What if we just consider each player's first five drives?

Maxwell v. Cook First Five Drives

Maxwell

Cook

Plays

Yards

Plays

Yards

Drives

7

32

6

17

3

7

6

17

5

4

9

28

3

4

6

29

6

23

3

1

Total

24

70

30

92

Average

4.8

14

6.00

18.4

YPP

2.92

3.07

If we try and equalize their drives, does it paint a better picture for Cook? Yes. Does it paint a picture where the coaches should have been convinced to give him the majority of the games drives instead of Maxwell? Nope. Unfair though it may be, if you're the backup, just barely better isn't good enough.
If you would like to see Tyler O'Connor or even Damion Terry next week, you have reasonable, statistical reasons to hold that view, because though fans often falsely claim, "It's not like they could be worse!" when calling for back-ups, in this case, it might be true for once.

6th out of 14th- Where Jeremy Langford's 4.7 yards per carry last night would've been slotted in on a list including Le'Veon Bell's 13 games from 2012.

4th out of 14th- Where MSU team 4.31 yards per carry would've slotted in on a list of MSU's 13 games from 2012. So at least through the first game, replacing Le'Veon Bell's output does not seem to be the issue. But don't confuse a lack of drop-off with good.

11th out of 16- Where MSU's 4.31 yards per carry last night ranks in out of all the non BCS opponents MSU has played under Dantonio. It should be noted that MSU statistics against these gimmie teams aren't ever particularly great either, so it isn't like the bar is set very high.

6 drops- The number estimated by MSU beat writer Chris Solari last night, one more than MSU's near impossible rate of 5 per game in 2012. Even being generous and assuming he's being a bit harsh and setting the tally at 5, and then being understanding of a Connor Cook to Bennie Fowler drop in the middle of a torrential downpour in the 2nd quarter, a very kind assessment of even 4 drops last night is still really, really, bad. It appears from the initial viewing that Bennie Fowler is still the prime culprit on this issue.

6.82 yards per catch- Also, as you might expect given the YPA stats, the worst yards per catch number of the 80 game Dantonio era so far. So even on the 46% of the time we were completing a pass, the receivers weren't making plays with the ball.

0- the number of offensive plays that gained over 30 yards. Awful.

1- the number of offensive plays that gained over 20 yards. Over the course of 79 plays, as the Spartans had last night, you almost have to try to not break two of them for more than 20 yards.

1 turnover in 15 drives: The saving grace of last night on the offensive side of the ball. I lack the data to properly contextualize this, so you'll just have to trust me that this is really, really, good and seriously, thank God we at least held onto the ball.

There a lot of games you can sugar coat and say, "it's still early in the year." or "they just had a bad night." Those are, in fact, my go-to reactions in situations like this (see: Youngstown State in 2011 and Eastern Michigan in 2012) and sometimes that reaction has been right, and sometimes it's been wrong. But there are bad offensive nights, and then there's arguably the worst offensive night, and last night was arguably the worst offensive night, not just of season openers, not just of non-conference games, but potentially of any game of the Dantonio era so far. This doesn't mean the team can't rebound starting next Saturday, but I think it's really important to sit down and recognize that the offense likely just hit rock bottom last night and has a long, long, climb back to even get to average.

I'll hop into the film side of things during the week, and who knows, maybe there's some hope there, and I'll talk about the Spartan defense some, which was possibly better than ever, but man, this offensive performance was bleak, bleak, bleak. There are things to fix on offense, and there are about seven days to fix them. #SpartansWill?

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