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Michigan State Football Five Factors: Indiana

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When it rains, it pours

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This was more like it, eh? (Big box score)

And in graph form:

[Notes: I didn't include IU's second-quarter kneeldown, nor their final two offensive plays since they were irrelevant. As always, this data is sack-adjusted. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors for more information on these categories.]

Special Teams!

A week after being -12 in terms of average field position against Regular Michigan, MSU flipped that and was +10 this week. The interception on the first play of the game certainly helped, too, but generally special teams were an actual positive in this game.

Efficiency and Pace Talk

This was probably MSU's second-best offensive game of the season, just behind the game against Rutgers. You may look at the final score and say I'm crazy, but MSU had three extra true drives in this game (13 total against IU, 10 against RU) and because of that ended up with more total yardage and more points. #DeathToTotalYardageStats

Strangely, the longest play of the day for MSU was just 31 yards (there were two such plays, one to Aaron Burbridge and one to Josiah Price) despite the fact that Indiana likes to give up big plays on defense. Connor Cook continues to take long shots downfield, so I don't necessarily think this is an issue. The other way you could interpret the lack of long plays is MSU's desire to control the ball offensively; time of possession stats typically don't mean much to me, but it is noteworthy that MSU had nearly 40 minutes of possession time.

I heard before the game the notion that MSU should control the ball and limit Indiana's ability to get their offense on the field; this was taken as sound advice. But when you've got the (presumably) objectively superior team, additional plays and possessions should reduce the total variance in the game. Thirteen possessions is still not a huge number, though it is the largest of the season (the 2014 average was 13.7 possessions per game). MSU got it's largest win of the season on the day where total possession numbers were the largest, and I don't believe that to be a coincidence.

Turnover "Luck"

MSU got a little turnover luck on the day according to my metrics. However, MSU deserved to win the turnover battle on the day, if by a slightly smaller margin. However, this doesn't include the fumble-ruled-forward-progress-stopped play, which cost MSU a half of an adjusted turnover, since fumbled balls are, on average, recovered an equal amout of the time by each team on the field. That would swing the turnover luck towards IU. Ultimately I don't think they played a major role.

Bend-But-Don't-Break

Though MSU gave up 6.8 yards per play, the second-worst figure of the year (Air Force got 7.1), MSU limited IU's big plays to longs of 37 (passing) and 33 (rushing) yards. Given the long plays ceded to Purdue and Rutgers, that's improvement against a much better IU offense that had both Nate Sudfeld and Jordan Howard healthy. Credit the safeties, here.

I do believe that bend-but-don't-break is going to be a winning strategy for this MSU team. The offense is very good, even if the running game can struggle at times. Leaning on a senior quarterback with a blossoming receiving corps seems like a good plan.