Here's your statistical nutshell. Michigan State snapped the ball 72 times on Saturday with the intention of advancing the ball.
- On 46 of those plays, the ball ended up, or was targeted to end up, in the hands of Le'Veon Bell or Dion Sims. The average gain on those plays was 7.8 yards.
- On the remaining the 26 plays, the ball was intended to end up in someone else's hands. The average gain on those plays was 2.8 yards.
This is a one-and-a-half-dimensional offense--and it took until the second half to even reveal the half dimension. Playing against an opponent that ranks in the bottom five nationally in total defense, you shouldn't have to run the ball for a full two quarters before your play action to the tight end starts working.
MSU wide receivers combined for 55 yards on 9 catches. That sentence might actually be less depressing if the second number were smaller.
In terms of divvying up the blame, my untrained eyes thought the offensive line was a little better than last week (EMU's disruption percentage was just 13.9%), but it's hard to gauge given the large drop off in opponent quality. EMU collapsing the MSU pocket with a three-man rush on the first drive was an early sign it was going to be a long day.
Meanwhile, Andrew Maxwell seemed a tad shakier throwing the ball. But it's impossible to grade him right now, given what little margin for error he's got. I'm not as convinced as Chris that the wideouts are even getting any separation. And, of course, they're dropping the ball even when it hits them in the chest. If the receivers hang on to even 3 of the 6 or 7 passes they dropped, Maxwell's completion percentage would have been above 60%.
There obviously wasn't much information to be gleaned from Mark Dantonio's press conference, but it's pretty clear he lays most of the blame at the receivers' feet (or, rather, hands), too.
Mini-box (big box):
(Technical: Sack-adjusted. Excludes EMU drive/kneel down to end first half. Excludes MSU kneel down to end game.)
MSU racked up most of its yardage late. The team's first 10 drives averaged 18.9 yards, while its final 4 drives averaged 62.8.
But, hey, how 'bout that defense! The defense continues to play about as well as you can ask it to, posting a season-high disruption percentage of 34.5. (Leading the way: a re-emergent Denicos Allen, with a sack, a forced fumble, a pass break-up, and a QB hurry.) I suppose you could ask it to score for you (only one sack and one turnover created), but that's not really, you know, their job. Here's hoping Narduzzi's been holding back the really good stuff.
Through four games, the MSU defense has yet to allow a touchdown drive of longer than 51 yards. As for the EMU drop of a long TD pass in the fourth quarter, we'll call that a wash with the phenomenal TD catch Donald Scott made earlier in the game. Lower division MAC team receivers with 20 career catches are showing up our guys.
If you want some positive spin, here's the best I can do: About the only rock solid thing any Big Ten team has going for it going into the conference play is the MSU defense, which ranks first in the league in scoring defense, total defense (by 60 yards/game), rushing defense, pass efficiency defense, first downs allowed per game, and third down conversion percentage. When they're playing from ahead, this team will be fine.
But, while the Big Ten may be packed full of LOLs, there are still playmakers out there (the guy who will line up behind center for the other side on Saturday, for example) and at some point MSU will fall behind by multiple scores. This offense looks uniquely unqualified to function in any kind of competent manner once that happens. (The spin sort of reversed itself there.)
Le'Veon-Going-Busted Watch. I think we should just go ahead and assume he's going to go bust at some point. We can only hope (1) it comes fairly late in the regular season and (2) the busting is mild enough he can recover in time for the bowl game. Bell is now on pace for
468 351 regular season carries. [Yay, multiplication!] That's almost 100 more times than very near the number of times Javon Ringer carried the ball in the 2008 regular season (370). Not sustainable. And he's now being exposed to the even larger hits players tend to take on punt return duty.
Penalty Watch. Only 3 penalties for 30 yards--one of which was the dubious only-a-QB-gets-that-call personal foul on Max Bullough. The team's average of 54.0 penalty yards per game now stands as the fifth best (lowest) in the conference. There's a small sign of optimism for you. Our opponents, meanwhile are only racking up 29.0 penalty yards per game, which is lowest in the league. I have no idea whether opponents' penalty yards has any sort of predictiveness. Let's hope not.
Stat zero people in the world saw coming. Wisconsin ranks last in the Big Ten in total offense. So I guess, technically speaking, it could be worse.
Another strange stat, which I refused to get alarmed about. MSU has only one player each in the top 20 in the conference in both tackles for loss (Bullough, tied for 16th) and passed defended (Johnny Adams, tied for 9th). Until proven otherwise, we are chalking this up to massive amounts of balance/depth. (And technically, I think William Gholston, Marcus Rush, and Adams are tied for 19th in TFLs.)
Speaking of Gholston and Rush. Can we trade a defensive end to someone for a feature receiver? (I kid, I kid.) With Gholston sitting out the first half--due to a minor injury, presumably--Shilique Calhoun (2 tackles, 0.5 for a loss, 1 QBH) stepped up quite nicely. Again, depth is good.
Lloydball! Yes, EMU's chances of winning had already dropped to zero at that point, but maybe go for it on 4th and 1 and less than 2 minutes left in the game, Ron English. Live a little.
Thinking Outside the Box Score. They've apparently worked out the technical kinks now and have statistics running on both the scoreboard on the south end and the ribbon on the north end of the stadium during timeouts. So that's good. Except that it only added to the miserableness of Saturday's experience. At least it never rained hard.
Also: They've been showing replays on the scoreboards during official reviews. It's the small things that make it worth going on, right?