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Mining the Box Score: MSU-Michigan Recap

Box score is here.

Here's a stat for you: Through 55 minutes of football this afternoon, the Michigan State defense had held the Michigan offense to a total offensive output of 88 yards.  Those 88 yards consisted of:

(There's a missing yard there somewhere, perhaps due to rounding error.  Football box scores are SO inelegant.)

Now, in the final 5 minutes of football, plus 5 untimed plays, Tate Forcier and company managed to nearly double that output, accumulating 166 yards on 3 possessions.  Mr. Forcier was directly responsible for all but 1 of those yards, picking up 49 yards on 6 rushing attempts and throwing for 114 yards on 7-13 passing.  The man (the 19-year old, 188-pound man) simply makes football plays when the situation calls for it.

Fortunately for us, the final play he made resulted in the ball coming to rest in Chris L. Rucker's hands.  In his attempts to make things happen for the Wolverine offense, Forcier had floated a few passes on the final three drives.  The MSU secondary was unable to make him pay until that final throw.

We'll wait for DrDetroit's defensive MSUFR to determine exactly what changed at the 5 minute mark of 4th quarter.  (For as much as Pat Narduzzi's taken the brunt of the MSU fan base's anger over the last 3 weeks for being too stuck in his ways, I guess you have to give him credit for not falling back into a prevent defense.  Straight 4-3 all the way.  For whatever reason, it just didn't work.)  But even taking into account Michigan's total offensive output for the day, you get numbers that look very encouraging relative to MSU's previous defensive efforts:


The table is courtesy of Doc Saturday (who shows one more sack than the official box score--presumably a QB run for a negative gain.).  The Doctor:

But the Spartan defense deserves more credit than just bringing in the game-icing pick after falling apart at the end of regulation. Even if you weren't entirely sold on the Wolverines' September drive into the polls, you couldn't have guessed their return to earth would look like this. Seven first downs and negative rushing yards prior to the game-tying drive? One yard per carry by the No. 8 rushing offense in the country, against a defense that had been ripped for at least 400 yards and 29 points in three consecutive losses? Maybe you could see Michigan State winning -- the Spartans were slight favorites, weirdly -- but it was supposed to be by virtue of the emerging passing game, not by putting the Big Ten's top scoring offense in a strait jacket for the vast majority of the game.

The MSU defense racked up 10.0 tackles for losses in this game--5.5 of them by (7 different) defensive linemen.  There's your stat of the game.

Things didn't exactly go to plan on the other side of the ball, either.  The leading Spartan rusher/receiver was . . . a quarterback who played most of the game on a bad ankle (and didn't play much of the second half and OT).  Kirk Cousins rushed for 95 yards on 5 (nonsack) attempts.  Sadly, his longest gain of the day, 41 yards, was more or less wasted when MSU couldn't convert on 4th-and-4 in the 4th quarter, preceding the Forcier-led comeback.  (Going for it was the right call IMO: MSU was kicking into the wind.  I saw Brett Swenson make a 50+ yard attempt in halftime warmups, but it had a very low trajectory.  A blocked FG is definitely not what you want at that point.)

For a guy with the rep of being a quick-release passer, Cousins held on to the ball a lot today.  That led to some good things: the rushing yards and some big conversions on 3rd-and-long.  But it also led to some bad things: 2 sack and the 2 interceptions (edit: "plus a lost fumble"), both of which resulted from a defender hitting Cousins' throwing arm.

Overall, the offensive play calling was on the conservative side--as if the coaching staff had built the game plan on the assumption they'd be playing in 3 hours of steady rain and didn't want to deviate from the plan.  (As it turns out, fate did its best to smile on us and it rained mainly when Michigan had the ball late, not that it seemed to slow them down.)  Larry Caper and Glenn Winston totaled 37 rushing attempts for a pedestrian 88 yards.  (Well, the final 23 of those 88 yards weren't pedestrian).  The two quarterbacks, meanwhile, attempted only 29 combined passes.  Only two of those passing attempts resulted in gains longer than 20 yards--the longest being 27 yards to B.J. Cunningham.  There wasn't much picking-on-the-non-Warren-CB action.

In the final analysis, all's well that ends well.  And this one ended VERY well.  Back-to-back wins against our friends from Ann Arbor for the first time since the LBJ administration.  And a major leap forward defensively to build on going forward.

Other nuggets:

  • Keith Nichol was solid when he was called upon: 5-8 for 68 yards.  The offense operated more seamlessly today when the QBs rotated in and out (presumably by necessity due to Cousins' ankle injury).
  • Aaron Bates matched the mighty Zoltan Mesko, as both averaged exactly 43.0 yards per punt.  And Bates dropped 2 of his 3 punts inside the 20-yard line.
  • Eric Gordon: 8 tackes, 5 of them solo and 1.5 of them for a loss, and a forced fumble.  All was as DrDetroit foresaw.
  • Greg Jones also posted 8 tackles (and recovered the fumble), but missed at least a few plays in the second half.  Anyone know the story on that?
  • Almost a 2-1 edge in time of possession for MSU (39:46-20:14).  Bizarre.  And glorious.

P.S. With the prognosis for our football season being upgraded from "critical" to "serious but stable," the moving-on-to-basketball vibe should dissipate a bit.  Nevertheless: We're just 13 days removed from the opening of hoops practice!  Midnight Madness is Friday, October 16.  Doors open at 9:30; the proceedings begin at 10:30.  Special bonus proceeding this year: A Final Four banner will be hoisted.  (The guys were presented with their Big Ten championship rings during the football game today.)

P.P.S. Speaking of basketball, do you remember when Tom Izzo addressed the Izzone a few years back and told them to knock off the R-rated stuff?  Mark Dantonio needs to do the same thing with the football student section.  (Issuing a press release doesn't do the job.)  My 5-year old son went to the game with my wife and me and today.  It was one thing to have to put up with the Michigan fan behind us who couldn't comment on any development in the game without using a profane descriptor.  It'll be another thing when, at some point, he realizes 20,000 students at a research university are yelling, "First Down, B****!" 20 times per game.  Beyond making the stadium a more hostile place for children, the whole thing certainly doesn't do anything to dispel the couch-burning, Appalachian-State-shirt-wearing, couldn't-get-into-Michigan stereotype of the MSU student body that circulates in many places.  Personally, I'd much rather be known for traditions of the "It's a beeeeautiful day for football" and "See their team is WEEEEAKening" variety.