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File Under "Discrepant Statistics"

Michigan State University leads the Big Ten in total offense:

TOTAL OFFENSE            G  Rush Pass Plays Yards Avg/P TD Yds/G
1. Michigan State...... 4 471 1283 264 1754 6.6 16 438.5
2. Wisconsin........... 4 791 921 274 1712 6.2 18 428.0
3. Michigan............ 4 961 728 279 1689 6.1 19 422.2
4. Purdue.............. 4 706 978 273 1684 6.2 17 421.0
5. Northwestern........ 4 522 1145 295 1667 5.7 16 416.8
6. Indiana............. 4 637 956 277 1593 5.8 11 398.2
7. Penn State.......... 4 509 990 270 1499 5.6 13 374.8
8. Ohio State.......... 4 724 744 256 1468 5.7 12 367.0
9. Iowa................ 4 574 817 274 1391 5.1 11 347.8
10.Illinois............ 3 576 467 198 1043 5.3 7 347.7
11.Minnesota........... 4 423 886 250 1309 5.2 11 327.2

You have to do a lot of things wrong to turn that table into a 1-3 record.  A partial list of those things follows the jump.

  • Ranking 10th in the league in pass defense (only 4 yards per game ahead of last-place Illinois).
  • Producing a turnover margin of negative 3--tied for second worst in the league.  (That's entirely a function of the Wisconsin game.)
  • Ranking 10th in first downs allowed.  ("Bend and then bend some more" defense.)
  • Ranking 10th in opponents' third-down conversion percentage.
  • Ranking last (in a tie) in opponents' fourth-down conversion percentage (4/5=80%).
  • Ranking 11th in time of possession.
  • Ranking 3rd in most penalty yards perpetrated (although that's actually been offset by ranking first in opponents' penalty yards).
  • Ranking 10th in kickoff coverage 

The #1 total offense ranking has been overwhelmingly a function of the passing game.  MSU ranks first in the league in passing offense--a full 35 yards per game ahead of #2 Northwestern.  Meanwhile, the team ranks 10th in rushing offense, ahead of only Minnesota (and that's not a function of sacks: only 3 allowed for 17 yards to date). The passing stats are padded by the 231 passing yards the two QBs racked up after MSU had already fallen behind Wisconsin by three TDs on Saturday.  But even if you take, say, the 91-yard TD to Keshawn Martin out of the equation, MSU would still rank first in the league in pass offense and in the middle of the league in total offense.

(Note regarding the passing game: Let's not overlook the plays our receivers made on Saturday.  Imagine what the final score of the game would have looked like if Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham hadn't made those TD catches in tight coverage.)

(Additional sidenote: I suppose it make sense that ranking first in the Big Ten in passing offense wouldn't get you anywhere this season.  After all, the key conference win thus far this season was posted by a team whose quarterback threw for 135 yards and 2 INTs.)

Looking ahead to the Michigan game, our hopes can only rest with the offense.  The defense has now allowed at least 29 points and over 400 total yards to three consecutive opponents of the good-but-not-exactly-national-championship-contender quality.  It's unlikely things suddenly gel the week before we play the most exotic offense we've seen yet.  (The Forcier injury may help some--but it also means you have to be that much more prepared for a Denard Robinson-led run-heavy scheme.)

The good news is that Michigan's defense has only been a notch less horrid than ours has.  They've actually allowed more total yardage than MSU--albeit in a more balanced manner, ranking 8th in the league in both pass defense and run defense.  Offsetting the yardage numbers, they've been significantly better in the red zone defense and turnover creation departments.

If ever the term "must-win game" applied, it applies this week.  A loss to our recently basement-dwelling in-state rivals wouldn't just hurt from an emotional standpoint.  It would also mean that 5 wins in 7 games would be needed just to get to (maybe-)bowl-eligible status.

Let's hope our redshirt sophomore quarterback (and captain) and his ten colleagues on offense are up to the challenge.

(Prediction/hope: Mark Dantonio continues to pay lip service to the two-QB system, just to throw a mild wrinkle in Michigan's defensive game planning.  But Kirk Cousins plays every series on Saturday.  Please?  If we lose this game, then I'm fine with rotating QBs every other quarter/series/play for the remainder of the schedule.)