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Football Five Factors: The Rebound

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Get it? It's basketball season now, too.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I think Pat Narduzzi got the defense fired up for this one (big box):

Defensive Identity

Maryland came into this game averaging more than 30 points and 350 yards of total offense per game, and were pretty much completely shut down by the MSU defense. The only reason why this game was close at any point was because of Maryland's ability to finish drives; that 7.5 points per drive inside the 40 would be impossible without the aid of a two-point conversion.

This implies that just two of Maryland's drives finished inside the MSU 40. In fact, just 4 of Maryland's 14 drives reached MSU territory at all, and that include the final drive which ended on downs. After giving up nearly 90% of available yards to Ohio State, the defense gave up 24.1% of available yards to Maryland, on the road.

Despite this improvement, it's still clear the defense is flawed. Flawed, but fun. There are flashes of a 2012 or 2013-level MSU defense, interspersed with touchdowns up the seam and long completions down the sideline. This is disappointing given the championship expectations, but that's going to be the story of the season.

Special Teams Reverse-Jinx

Last week, I suggested that the special teams might be improving given the two turnovers generated. The always stellar TOC community called me out on that and they were correct - there's really no way for those turnovers to be sustainable.

Except there was another muffed punt by Will Likely in this game. So I'm going to go ahead and say that maybe the special teams are improving. Don't worry about the shaky kickoff coverage. Nothing to see there.

In non-reverse-jinx news, it was good to see Michael Geiger convert 3 of 4 on the road. Much like the defense, you see the flashes of his 2013-level excellence, but he's clearly not at that level. He's almost certainly better than his performance this year, but worse than his performance last year.

The Curious Case of Connor Cook

In the ether of MSU fan circles, there seems to be some concern about Connor Cook, still. To me, this seems misplaced; MSU just set the single-season record for points scored in a season and there are still three games left. I think some part of it is just venom that must be unleashed somewhere, and the quarterback is always an easy target. I thought it might be helpful to put Cook's numbers in context with the other quarterbacks of the Mark Dantonio era, and here's what I found (unfortunately, this isn't sack-adjusted):

Not, bad, right? In fact, it would take an uncharacteristically bad game from Cook for this to be anything but the best season a quarterback has had under Dantonio. Cook isn't the precision passer that Kirk Cousins was, but he's largely made up for that by being more explosive.

For the following chart, think of the horizontal axis as explosiveness, and the vertical axis as decision-making (you're welcome, KJ):

So, yes, this doesn't take into account interception luck. Let's expand that out a bit and look at Big Ten play in general*. In Big Ten play, Cook has had 28 total passes defensed and just 3 intercepted. Typically, 22% of passes defensed are intercepted, which would suggest there should've been 6.16 passed intercepted. He's been a little lucky.

But even if we add three picks onto Cook's total, the chart looks like this:

Cook still compares favorably to the Kirk Cousins, even with neutral interception luck. He's not perfect, but he's certainly exciting.

*I used Big Ten play because it's difficult to separate out which QB had how many passes defensed, and Tyler O'Connor threw an interception in the non-conference. Looking at Big Ten play simplified things, plus Cook had no interception luck in the non-con.

The Rebound

I inadvertently discovered the right narrative for the 2014 MSU Football season while writing this post, and it is this: flawed, but fun.

The 2014 team is like that too-soon relationship right after a breakup: it's necessary to stop dwelling on the past (in this case, the 2013 team), and you think that the changes (like offensive improvement) will make you happy. Unfortunately there are issues you should've seen coming, and you can't exactly replace what you had. And while this won't be something you remember 20 years from now, it's always important to remember this: enjoy it while it lasts.