FanPost

Why MSU Does Not Run a Plain Vanilla Run-First Offense, Part 1: Run-Pass Balance as Indicator of Game Strategy

(Update: Part 2 of CPT Hoolie's analysis is here.  Well done, sir. - KJ)

(Bumped to the front. I've had this idea for a while, but didn't know how to go about verifying it.  Great info and a great post. - Pete)

I was surprised like many of you at the analysis provided by  The Rivalry, Esq showing MSU was 5th -- 5th! -- in the Big 10 in pass attempts last year.  I've heard in many places that last season's Spartan offense was a plain vanilla, rush-happy, Ringer-first, "pile into the line" offense. The logical conclusion of this being that, without Ringer, MSU's offense will be much worse this year since MSU lacks a "home run" or "workhorse" back.

From the few games I actually got to watch (don't get too many MSU games here in Texas) I remember plenty of "Ringer into the line" plays, but also screens, misdirections, fumblerooskies, and other assorted trickery. For example, see MGoBlog's tremendous "Upon Further Review" charting from the MSU-UM game:  lots of shotgun 3- and 4-wide, fly pattern from I-formation big on 1st and 10, end around from ace big, etc., etc.

I decided to do some analysis with the help of CFBStats.com.

Michigan State, a supposed "run-oriented offense", ran the ball 56% of all plays from scrimmage.  By way of comparison, Michigan, a "spread & shred" offense, ran 57%.  So, I dug deeper and looked at the overall rushing offense leader's run-pass balance to determine what a true "run first" offense's play balance.  I threw out Navy, which has deliberately forsaken the pass, settling on Oregon.  Oregon's run-pass balance is 61%-39%.  [At the other extreme, Texas Tech, an undisputed pass-happy offense, has a run-pass balance of 32%-68%, although I understand that Mike Leach considers screens, shovel passes, and such other behind-the-LOS-passes as running plays.]

[One note on the statistics:  I am aware that the CFB stats count a sack as a run, when rightfully for this analysis it should be a pass attempt.  Since the situational stats don't account sacks by situation, I can't adjust the run-pass play selection balance without going through each game log, but the result would surely adjust the balance slightly more in favor of the pass.] 

I was interested in the situational stats provided by CFBStats.  Play selection by quarter seemed to have low correlation.  Much more telling was play selection by game score.

T2ev_medium

via img.imagedash.com

 

As you can see, Michigan State has a greater tendency to run when tied or leading (and an incredible 87.5% tendency to run when leading by 2 or more TDs).  This is is not necessarily some devotion to neanderthal, smash-mouth football.  Rather, it shows a deliberate, low-variance, ball control strategy, used to choke the life out of the game when leading and skewing the overall run/pass balance toward run.

However, when the game is still in doubt (i.e., leads by a touchdown or less, is tied, or trails by a touchdown or less), MSU's run-pass balance tips to "pass" when trailing by a touchdown or less.  By contrast, Oregon is more likely to run than pass even when the game is still in doubt; in fact, Oregon's run-pass balance doesn't tip to "pass" until Oregon is trailing by more than a touchdown.

2edn_medium

via img.imagedash.com

 

So, I submit that MSU does not use a run-first offense, but has a good mix of run and pass which adjusts heavily dependent on the game situation by score.

Next:  So what about the "plain vanilla" and all the "Ringer into the line" plays?

This is a FanPost, written by a member of the TOC community. It does not represent the official positions of The Only Colors, Inc.--largely because we have no official positions.