Bafflement

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Bit rantier than my typical posts. That sort of game tho.

MSU probably should have won this game. They did not, mostly due to some insane decisions. Let's talk about those, huh?

A crippling game-plan.

Alright, so let's ignore the kneel-down at the end of the half. MSU had 11 drives. They had three 'good drives' of 50 or more yards. They also had eight 'bad drives' that failed to reach 20 or more yards. It was very much feast or famine, and it was mostly famine. Boy, I would sure hate if there was anything in those successful drives that we stopped doing in the unsuccessful drives. Haha, you know there was:

Good Drives

Drives

Runs

Total Plays

Yards

Drive 1

8

14

79

Drive 2

10

15

75

Drive 3

4

10

51

Total

22

39

205

And:

Bad Drives

Drives

Runs

Total Plays

Yards

Drive 1

3

5

18

Drive 2

1

5

17

Drive 3

2

3

7

Drive 4

1

3

1

Drive 5

2

4

18

Drive 6

1

6

19

Drive 7

0

3

3

Drive 8

0

4

-2

Total

10

33

81

To be frank: on drives where MSU ran more than it threw, good things generally happened. On drives that were the opposite, bad things happened. But only 4 drives were predominantly runs, 1 was 50/50, and the other 6 were more passes than runs.

How does MSU end up throwing the ball more than they run it in a game where they never trailed by more than 7? How can the identity of this team, right now, be a balanced attack, when every data point against a D-I opponent has screamed to unbalance it? Why is Cook throwing 33 times and running it 3 times? Why was the 4th quarter 17 passes to 5 runs? Someone help me understand. It's clear that throwing the ball, because every second pass is an incompletion, is just putting MSU behind the chains. And that often requires the sort of long third down conversion that the other, completed, pass, because it only averages a little over 9 yards, often can't even convert. It's bad strategy and our QBs haven't even thrown any picks yet, which, thank God, because we all saw what happens when MSU throws an interception and it's not pretty.

Langford vs the Field

So, I kind of understand how the run distribution among MSU's RB could happen, at least initially, I just don't know why our coaches let it happen.

1st quarter-

Langford: 4 rushes for 16 yards

Other RBs: 2 carries for seven yards.

Langford is running alright, but not that much better than MSU's other guys. And the three-headed RB attack has worked well. So sure, give Hill and Bullough a shot in the 2nd quarter, we'll see what they can do.

2nd quarter-

Langford- 4 rushes for 16 yards

Other RBs- 10 carries for 27 yards

MSU had just two series in the 2nd quarter. They gave one to Bullough who had one carry for 1 yard, and one to Hill who had 7 carries for 26 yards and a couple converted first downs on a TD drive. Again, understandable, you tried them, they didn't impress too much. I'd get Langford a lot more carries in the 2nd half.

3rd quarter-

Langford- 13 carries for 64 yards

Other RBs- 10 carries for 27 yards

Coaches agreed! OK, it's Jeremy Langford time in the 4th, clearly. You fed him the ball and he responded in a big way. It's still a 10-10 game at the end of the 3rd. ND will score a TD early in the 4th, but there's plenty of time to run the ball.

4th quarter

Langford- 14 carries for 68 yards

Other RBs- 14 carries for 35 yards.

And Langford gets 1 carry to Hill's 4, WTF. Why?

Ride your hot hand. Like, first off, run the ball, but secondly, give it to the guy who's averaging 4.9 yards a carry, a number MSU running backs haven't posted against Notre Dame since 2010. After the 4th quarter, the decision calculus at RB should have been super easy and it got mucked up anyways.

Maxwell Switch

A Twitter follower argued that Cook had to be hurt from the hit about two drives earlier and coaches had seen enough from him on the drive after that one, to be skeptical about if he had a healthy enough arm to move them the 67 yards that they needed on the final drive. And then after the game, they didn't want to admit that, for whatever reason, and Cook thought he was healthy enough and was still pissed about it. OK. Maybe. And if that's the case, fine. Although I could still ask "why Maxwell?" and not O'Connor, last week's #2 QB.

But if he wasn't hurt, as the coaches have insisted, what the hell? There's a handful of ways to look at Andrew Maxwell in this situation, but none of them are especially good. Before this game he was:

Last drive in one possession games: 8/16, 60 yards, 3.75 YPA, 1 TD, 1 INT.

Last drive of regulation in one possession games: 16/28, 130 yards, 4.64YPA, 1 TD, 0 INT

4th quarter (all games) 47/98, 593 yards, 6 YPA, 4 TD, 0 INT

Obviously this game tacks an 0/4, 0 yards onto those stat lines. I guess that last one looks good relative to what we're used to this year, but it's worth noting that in the vast, vast, majority of those 98 4th quarter attempts Maxwell had been playing the whole game prior and was not coming in ice cold on the last drive of the game, after not playing the week before. The other two do not really indicate a statistical 'closer's mentality' that make that move seem logical (it's basically the good Wisconsin game vs four or five other bad or mediocre data points). I'm willing to see if the other guy can do better than those low benchmarks. This isn't the dumbest move they made, but it sure was a quick way to piss off a bunch of people, including, potentially, all three active QBs. So that's cool.

Trick Play

I think I'm not as mad about this as most of you guys are, but oh man, nothing looks dumber than a failed gadget play, does it?

I think I'm not as worked up because I accept the basic volatility of the trick play which is that you are betting on the trick portion to work because the rest of the play is horribly inefficient.

So yeah, a pass from a RB/WR is totally stupid because it's supposed to be totally stupid. The stupidity of R.J. Shelton pulling up to pass is the reason why there should not be double coverage with a bunch of other players in the vicinity to pick off Shelton's overthrown ball. I mean, another play worked beautifully under the same sort of stupid concept:

3rd and 2 at TCU 45 Le'Veon Bell pass complete to TyQuan Hammock for 29 yards to the TCU 16 for a 1ST down.

But there was double coverage here because, to my memory, Shelton pulled up to pass way too soon and tipped the trick off, then threw the ball when he shouldn't have. The trick portion didn't work, the player made a bad decision, it looked crazy embarrassing. OK. But I'm willing to file this away under the 'win some, lose some' category until I feel like the trick plays start to become more of a pure detriment to the MSU offense.

The refs

Not as willing to file this away. Let's survey the damage.

3rd and 9, ND 21, 10 yard holding penalty on Darqueze Dennard

-what happens without the call: ND punts.

-what happened with the call: next play Rees hits a 37 yard pass down-field, four plays after that ND kicks a 41 yard field goal for the early 3-0 lead.

3rd and 8, MSU 30, 15 yard penalty on Trae Waynes

-What happens without the call- the field goal try is 47 yards instead of 37

-What happens with the call- ND misses the FGA, MSU takes the ball and scores 14 plays and 79 yards later. No harm, no foul. I guess.

4th and 1, MSU 41, 15 yard penalty on Trae Waynes

-What happens without that call: TO on downs. MSU gets the ball in good field position with a 7-3 lead that they would very likely be able to take into halftime.

-What happened after the call: 6 plays and 27 yards later Ress finds Jones in the back of the end zone to give the Irish a 10-7 lead going into the half.

2nd and 10, MSU 37, 15 yard penalty on Darqueze Dennard

-What happens without the call: a ND turnover. Dennard had picked the ball off.

-What happens after the call: a rush for 5 yards and a rush for -5 yards sets up 3rd and 10. And on 3rd and 10 from the MSU 22...

3rd and 10, MSU 22, 15 yard penalty on Trae Waynes

-what happens without the call: ND has a 39 yard field goal attempt. Brindza made a 41 yarder and missed a 37 yarder earlier in the game. Probably makes it, but game is then 13-10.

-what happens with the call: two plays later, ND runs it in for a 7 yard TD. Game is 17-10.

So, on three drives that should have been ND turning the ball over to MSU in one form or another, Notre Dame scored 17 points, in a game they won by 4 points. Haha, Isn't that annoying? Isn't that fucking annoying?

The ND game-plan was clearly to pick on the deep sidelines of MSU's cover 4 defense, where the CBs would be one-on-one with no chance of safety help. And Waynes and Dennard accepted that challenge, played their asses off, and made Rees throw into these impossible windows between them and the sidelines again and again. And he. Could. Not. Do. It. Unfortunately, the refs bailed him out the 2 or 3 times ND needed to win the game.

Look, no one's saying MSU doesn't play physical pass defense. And no one's saying some of those calls weren't correct. But some of them weren't, and in a tight game where four of those five pass defense penalties were instrumental to ND scoring all 17 of its points... Gah.

But wait! There's a bunch of other mistakes that didn't quite as blatantly swing the outcome of the game

-Spartan defender Ed Davis took a swing at a guy after a MSU punt. Not only was he not penalized, the Notre Dame coaches who ran out on the field, presumably because they just saw a player get swung at, were. Welp.

-Tommy Tuck Rule: I thought it was a fumble but then, I'm a Michigan State fan, so of course I did. The problem is this seemed like the type of call where it was hazy enough that whatever got called on the field should have stood, and it was called a fumble. Alas, overruled by the replay booth.

-0 holding penalties on either team's linemen. Let's rephrase this: 5 penalties for 70 yards on MSU defensive backs for being too physical and using their hands too much, and no, none, 0 penalties for offensive (or defensive) linemen doing the same thing. And no offensive pass interference calls on any of those deep balls? I mean, for crying out loud refs, are you calling a tight game, or are you not? If you're going to call a game one way, call it one way.

Just irritating.

Conclusion

Honestly, I'm not even mad at the players. They kept it six points closer than I thought they would in the pregame and generally were competent enough against real competition on the road, that I can talk myself into 5-3 against our easy Big Ten schedule right now. Yeah, they made some mistakes, and I'll look at those as the week goes on, but I expected mistakes. I sure as hell am not mad at the defense, but even the offense played about as well as I thought they would against a good team in their first road game of the year. Muma missed his second chip-shot, but Dantonio quickly yanked him, and it's not like we lost by 3 or less anyways. Players seemed generally fine. Everyone else did not.

Why this loss really stings, is that coaches and officials tossed away a 'good enough' performance. I can handle losses if it feels like my team got outplayed. Yesterday, whether you're looking at raw numbers, or adjusted numbers, or your eyeballs, it did not feel like my team got outplayed, and yet I'm still looking at a nice, fat, L in the loss column.

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