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Michigan State Spartans Football Five Factors: Maryland

Breaking down the 17-point win over the Terps

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

You're in for a big surprise (big box score):

And in chart form:

[As always, this data is sack-adjusted. The final two kneeldowns for MSU were not included. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors for more information.]

Special Teams Were Dominant

I tweeted this during the game but I didn't think it would pan out to be so true: aside from the remarkably odd fake field goal, special teams were fantastic. Possibly even the best phase of the game for MSU. MSU had 7(!!) drives which started at the 50 or on Maryland's side of the field. Granted, one came on an interception and one came on a turnover-on-downs; still, that leaves 5 drives where special teams set up MSU at midfield or better. On the flip side, Maryland was more (Will) likely to have a drive start inside their own 10 than past their own 25.

Pace Talk

This was the fastest game MSU has played this season in terms of number of possessions, and that was largely due to offensive ineptitude from both sides. Maryland had 8 of their 15 drives end in 3 plays or fewer; MSU had 5 of their 14 drives end in 3 plays or fewer. I would love to say, "Hey look, a faster game resulted in beating an inferior opponent by more than one score!" since I've been hammering MSU for this all season, but that would be disingenuous.

Oh Hai, Defense

MSU started the game with a starting secondary of Demetrious Cox-Grayson Miller-Montae Nicholson-Arjen Colquhoun at CB-S-S-CB but ended up playing much of the game with a Darian Hicks-Cox-Nicholson-Colquhoun configuration. I think the latter configuration probably has the highest ceiling of any remaining possible defensive backfield after the injuries to Vayante Copeland and R.J. Williamson; I have been pleasantly surprised by the competence of freshmen Grayson Miller and Khari Willis but Cox is clearly more comfortable as a safety (and Cox/Nicholson have more time practicing and playing together). If Nicholson can correct his tendency to take bad angles and give up long running plays, his athleticism could be a huge boost. Having Darian Hicks back helps tremendously.

I wouldn't take too much from that 4.3 yards per pass metric, since Maryland has the worst passing efficiency as a team in the Big Ten (which has some pretty poor passing offenses). Health is more important. But it was nice to see the defense come together over the course of a game the way it did.

Quarterback Bickering

I was glad to see Tyler O'Connor get some playing time even before the Connor Cook injury. Giving both O'Connor and Damion Terry some run in non-garbage time is going to pay dividends next year and beyond, plus the handling of backup quarterback rotations has been one of the only areas in which I've been critical of the coaching staff. Mark Dantonio is approaching an Izzo-level of making critics look bad.

It seemed like many were already hopping aboard the #TeamTerry bandwagon:

It is way too soon to adopt a 2016 QB team. For all we know, the starting quarterback will be Brian Lewerke.

Anyways, the offensive stats weren't promising, but I'm not particularly concerned given the QB juggling act that went on. That 3.3 yards per pass attempt number isn't meaningful.

Bottom Line

In a week where #chaos was in the air, MSU drubbed an inferior opponent while continuing to get healthy. If the special teams issues are truly fixed, and the secondary play is actually improving, then the game in Columbus this week looks a lot less scary. We'll find out shortly.