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Michigan State Spartans Football: Penn State Five Factors

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Breaking down a fun win

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, a nice blowout win (big box score):

[As always, the data is sack-adjusted. I kept in the garbage-time drives mostly because there was only one such drive for MSU. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors here for more information on these stats.]

And in graphical form:

Field Position is a Real Strength

I sometimes use average field position difference as a proxy for special teams play and while it does okay in that regard, it isn't always perfectly descriptive. Still, in 8 of 12 games this year, field position has been an advantage, including thee times by 9 yards or more:

Net Average Field Position by Opponent

This will be interesting against the puntasaur Kirk Ferentz in the Big Ten Championship.

The Return of the Cook

Without Connor Cook, MSU averaged 3.3 and 4.4 yards per passing attempt against Maryland and Ohio State, respectively. The previous low was 6.0 yards per attempt against Oregon, and I was concerned about the ability of MSU to pass the ball if Cook was injured.

Well, Cook cleared that right up. This was actually the best passing day of the season on a per-attempt basis, with 9.2 yards per dropback. It helps that Penn State's pass rush was totally stifled by the offensive line, and by Aaron Burbridge doing stuff like this:

MSU seems to be in fine shape in the passing game. Cook should be even more healthy next week.

#DeathToTotalYardageStats Yet Again

Defensive scores, and particularly long defensive scores, skew total yardage statistics badly. This game is a great example; you might look at the 436-418 total yardage difference and think, "MSU didn't outplay PSU by that much." And you'd be wrong, because MSU had one fewer true drive, and a sizable field position advantage to boot. That adds up: MSU only had 636 yards available to achieve, while PSU had a possible 811.

Total yardage stats are misleading! Don't use them! Use Brian Fremeau's available yardage splits from every game, here.

Defense Takes a Step Back

Speaking of defensive scores, the two defensive touchdowns covered up for a defense which took a step back from their performances against Maryland and Ohio State. Penn State doubled the yards per play of Ohio State, getting to 5.8 (where OSU was at 2.9). Especially concerning was the play of Penn State tailback Saquon Barkley, who managed 6.1 yards per rush. Penn State made good use of the run on passing downs, something that MSU has been pretty averse to doing in the Dantonio era. But this was the second-worst the rushing defense has been all season on a per-rush basis, and unlike the Purdue game, you can't really point to a single long run which skewed the average badly.

Penn State was down by three scores in this game pretty quickly, and spent the entire second half trying to throw the ball to catch up. So perhaps the yardage total was thrown off by game conditions. But against Iowa, 6.3 yards per carry will spell doom.

Your Moment of Zen