- Running game was obviously the big story. 260 yards on 28 running back rush attempts for 9.3 yards/attempt. 19 of those 28 attempts went for at least 4 yards. Only one negative rush, two no gains. Can't ask for much more than that, regardless of the level of competition. Consistent run blocking plus some shiftiness from Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell when they hit the second level. Plus 43 yards on the ground from Keshawn Martin.
- Kirk Cousins didn't put up particularly Cousinsesque stats: 13-21 for 186 yards, 1 TD, zero interceptions. Still, when a 61.9% completion percentage and 8.9 yards/attempt--with dropped passes representing half your incomplete passes--is a weak performance, you're doing OK.
- Cousins was sacked twice, but Western didn't record a quaterback hurry, so the pass blocking was competent.
- Mark Dell's 6 receptions were tied for the second most of his career (behind the 9 he posted vs. Cal in 2008). He looks like Cousins' go-to guy.
- 10 first downs on rushes; 9 on passes. Good balance.
- Only 3 of 11 on 3rd downs, contributing to a feeling of inconsistency on offense, but 3rd-down conversion percentage is a randomish stat.
- Western's defensive disruption percentage was just 13.6%. As much as any game over the last couple seasons, MSU ran its offense the way it wanted to on Saturday. The 8.2 yards/offensive play the team posted was higher than any game from last season.
- Excluding sacks and "team" rushes, Western went for 104 yards on 28 rushing attempts (3.7 yards/attempt). QB Alex Carder did the most damage with 58 yards on 7 attempts. The Western running backs maxed out at a 9-yard run, while the MSU defenders recorded 4 tackles for loss on running plays.
- Western seemed like it was throwing the ball all day, and they did: 30 completions on 53 attempts (56.6%) for 238 yards (4.5 yards/attempt). While you'd like to see the defense force Western off the field more (8 of 23 on 3rd downs plus 2 for 4 on 4th downs), that's a pretty solid performance by the MSU secondary. The tackling was solid, limiting big plays by the Broncos; only 4 of the 30 Western pass completions went for 20 yards or more.
- CPT Hoolie stole this point from me in his excellent FanPost: The fact that MSU only recorded one sack (on the second play from scrimmage) is tempered by the fact that they also recorded 5 quarterback hurries. Additionally, 4 passes were knocked down or tipped by defensive linemen (Anderson, France, White, Worthy). So that's 10 disruptive plays in the defensive backfield on 53 passing attempts, which is adequate.
- MSU's 7 total pass break-ups (4 by defensive linemen, 3 by linebackers/defensive backs) were well above last season's high of 4.
- Overall, MSU posted a pretty solid defensive disruption percentage of 22.4%. For reference that's slightly below what they did vs. Western last year (25.5%) but higher than the number they posted vs. FCS-level Montana State in last year's opener (20.4%). (Very technical note: I've decided to only include true forced fumbles as disruptive plays this season, which costs MSU about a percentage point relative to last year's standards).
- Normally, one interception isn't anything to write home about, but given that MSU only recorded 6 of them all of last season (including just 2 in the final 7 games), Marcus Hyde's pick is both notable and hope-inducing (he's already tied last year's team leaders in interceptions).
- Aaron Bates was very good: 44.6 yards per punt (on 7 attempts) despite the windy conditions.
- Kick-offs, less so: 59.7 yards/attempt. Chalk that up to the wind and/or basically brand new kickers.
- No real excitement (other than Martin's brain freeze) in the return game on either side.
The 11 penalties for 69 yards are the big negative indicator not easily explained away. That's more penalties than MSU posted in any game last season. That has to change going forward.
Overall, I'm more inclined to chalk the opener up as a success after looking more closely at the numbers. MSU did several things they wanted to do well. The only frustration was the feast-or-famine nature of the offense: 5 drives of 50+ yards plus 2 TDs off shortened fields vs. 7 three-and-outs. Western didn't really do anything well with any consistency, putting together only two drives that exceeded 40 yards.