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Mining the Box Score: A Hello to an Arm

Plenty of separation.
Plenty of separation.

So the big concern after the win over Boise State was Andrew Maxwell's shakiness. His rate stats were so-so, and the three picks he threw kept Boise in the game.

Saturday, against a more standard nonconference opponent, Maxwell's numbers were much less vexing: 64.5% completion percentage, 8.9 yards per attempt, 2 touchdown passes, and zero interceptions. He had a couple moments where he threw questionable balls in the face of pressure--and he could've added a third TD throw if he'd taken a little off a pass to a wide open Bennie Fowler--but it was about as efficient a performance as you could ask for.

Maxwell's combined stats from the first two games now find him ranked 2nd in the Big Ten in total passing yardage, 6th in completion percentage, and 5th in yards per attempt. That's not bad for a freshly minted starter. His yards/attempt figure is actually tops in the league among traditional pro-style guys; the four guys ahead of him have all, as I interpret it, used the threat of their legs to rack up some big throws downfield in games to date.

I think it's safe to say that Maxwell is going to give us all some heartburn at times this year, but you'd rather have a guy who needs to learn to dial it back a little then a guy whose arm puts limitations on the offense. And some of his bad throws will disappear if and when the offensive line starts picking up blitzes more effectively. CMU was only officially credited with one quarterback hurry, but that seems low.

I really think if MSU had punched the ball into the end zone on that last drive vs. Boise to create a 24-13 final scoreline, the media narrative would have been much more "MSU DEFENSE!!!" than "MSU QB???." We'll find out a lot more (about everything) this Saturday, obviously.

Here's your mini-box score (bigger box score is here):


(Technical notes: Rush/pass averages are sack adjusted, of course. Drive numbers exclude MSU's final drive of the game, which consisted of three handoffs to Jeremy Langford to run out the clock.)

Not much to complain about there. The rush average is meh, but CMU was stacking the box most of the game (which did, to be fair, create some easier throwing opportunities for Maxwell). CMU, on the other hand, did break off a few more longer runs than ideal, as Zurlon Tipton made some moves to the edge. Given the insanely small rush defense numbers MSU posted against Boise, we'll chalk that up to the "nobody's perfect" category.

On to the boldets:

Le'Veon Bell Carry Watch. Bell only carried the ball 18 times, which was still a few too many for my taste. Could have mixed Larry Caper in a little more in the first half (7.3 yards per carry for the game, but he only had one carry before halftime). Bell is now on pace for 372 carries over 12 games, which is still a huge number but is at least a plausible one.

Penalty Watch. The overall penalty numbers were back within acceptable parameters: 6 for 40 yards. But all of them were on the offense, so there are still some glitches to be worked out on that side of the ball.

Defense, Defense. Perhaps the most impressive part of the defensive performance was how well the second stringers played. The backups held CMU to 56 yards on their final two drives, forcing a fourth down incomplete pass to preserve the defensive shutout. (I'm pretty sure CMU still had their first-team offense in at that point.) Five backups posted at least 2 tackles, and Kyler Elsworth had a pass breakup and a forced fumble. Depth be good.

Gholston emerges. MSU posted a very good disruption percentage of 30.0%. William Gholston accounted for 5 of the team's 18 disruptive plays. That's reassuring after Gholston made nary a statistical impression in Week 1. (CMU's disruption percentage, meanwhile, was just 9.0%. The offensive line is allowing very few negative plays, which is a pretty good place to build your offense from.)

Solid returns. Hill showed a couple glimpses of his big play ability on special teams. He's currently second in the Big Ten in kick return average and would be first in punt return average except he's one return short of the minimum to qualify. He's going to make a difference-making return at some point in a big game this season.

We don't often punt, but when we do... Can't do it much better than this:


Thinking outside the box score. I had the chance to see this game in person, and it was worth the drive up to Mount Pleasant. It was fun to see the team play in a smaller venue. There were lot of families with members on both sides of the game, and I think the fact CMU didn’t have any real shot at winning made the whole environment friendlier. (I didn't observe any of the stuff referenced here.) We sat near the biggest MSU contingent and the band (opposite end from the student), so that made things feel even friendlier. Mark Hollis clearly got a large block of tickets written into the contract.

As much as I wanted the shutout, I was kind of glad the CMU fans who stuck around got a small moment with the TD return at the end. (Now don't ever do that again, Connor Cook.) CMU is probably my second favorite college football team, although it’s a very distant second. Relative to other games I've attended up there, there was definitely a buzz in the parking lots. That may be a little harder to replicate in Kalamazoo and Ypsilanti--given that those fan bases haven't seen the kind of success the CMU fanbase has in recent years--but so far, so good on Hollis' celebrating of the state.

Also: It really was very windy the whole game, making Maxwell’s passing numbers that much more impressive.