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Michigan State Spartans Football Five Factors: Oregon

Joe breaks down the stats from the Oregon game

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Woo-hoo! (Big box score):

And, just for fun, I put this in graph form too:

MSU-Oregon Five Factors Comparison

[Notes: I didn't include the final drives to end both halves. Check out Bill Connelly's Five Factors here.]

Special Teams Weren't a Total Negative

Yes, yes. The punt and kick returns were scary. But the biggest advantage in the Five Factors that MSU had was in terms of average field position, and that was in large part thanks to Jake Hartbarger, who averaged 51.4 yards per punt.

In the first quarter for example, Oregon began their second drive of the game at just about midfield. After sputtering, they punted for a net of 25 yards, giving MSU the ball at their own 25. MSU in turn went three-and-out, but a 55-yard Hartbarger punt pinned Oregon at their own 11. Another Oregon 25-yard punt after a three-and-out gave MSU the ball at the Oregon 35... which then resulted in the missed Michael Geiger field goal. But still, the difference in punter quality had the effect of giving MSU a chance to score they otherwise might not've had.

And maybe Hartbarger is a little too good; Coach Dantonio suggested that the punt-return touchdown was due to out-kicking the coverage. Either way, it seems like the return coverages are fixable and in the past have been a strength for Dantonio teams. If those are corrected, special teams should be a major strength for MSU going forward.

Break-But-Don't-Bend Turned Into Bend-But-Don't-Break... And It Worked

In the preview, I wondered if a less aggressive MSU defense would be good enough to mitigate Oregon's big plays. The answer was, emphatically, yes. The longest offensive play of the night for Oregon was 30 yards, compared to 2014 when Oregon had plays of 70 and 64 yards. The Ducks had to grind out drives to score, and that's exactly what happened on their three touchdown drives; those drives consisted of 13, 12, and 9 plays respectively. But Oregon also had drives of 10 and 11 plays which ended on downs. Credit the coaching staff for correcting the bugaboo from the 2014 team.

Is Connor Cook Elite?

Cook was generally efficient, completing 63% of his passes and spreading the ball around to six different receivers. Cook had the beautiful passes to Aaron Burbridge for both the second touchdown and also the big fourth down conversion in the third quarter.

On the other hand, his interception was due to poor footwork which caused him to sail the ball, and there were two opportunities at the end of the game to finish off the Ducks which turned into three-and-outs. Cook passed for fewer than 200 yards total in the game, despite being largely unmolested by the Oregon defense.

So is Connor Cook and elite quarterback nationally? He did win a Rose Bowl. People forget that.

The WHYldcat is Back!

The Damion Terry package seems like a failed experiment to me. I understand the need for some interesting offensive packages if the offense is struggling (see: 2012). It feels unnecessary at this point.

#TeamScott and #TeamLondon > #TeamHolmes

Offensive coordinator Dave Warner mentioned that he felt bad that Gerald Holmes didn't get any carries, but I think everyone can understand why that happened. Madre London eclipsed 100 yards on just 18 carries, behind his 62-yard run on MSU's opening drive. L.J. Scott added two touchdowns on 6.9 yards per carry. Both looked great and are freshman(!) who will be around for a few years.

Also, both Scott and London looked comfortable in pass protection, which leads me to..

The Offensive and Defensive Lines are Good as Advertised

Usually if an offensive line is doing its job, you don't notice them. But the MSU offensive line was so good as pass protection that it was noticeable the couple times that Cook was pressured at all. Combine that with 5.3 yards per carry, and you've got yourself an incredible offensive line (despite the AMSUOLHG striking tackle Kodi Kieler).

Defensively, the line did a fantastic job bothering Vernon Adams all night and ended up with three sacks for its trouble (the fourth was by Chris Frey). That, plus 3.6 sack-adjusted yards per carry against a team which rushed for 485 yards last week, is incredible. Both lines should be major positives all season.

Bottom Line

On November 17th, 2012, MSU dropped a game to Northwestern at home 23-20 (halftime score: NW6 - MSU 5), giving MSU a 5-6 record. Since then, MSU is 28-3 with three bowl wins, a Big Ten Championship, and several wins against Top-10 opponents. This week, MSU got two first-place AP poll votes for the first time in almost 50 years.

The growth of the program has been incredible to watch, and this win against a perennial national contender just continues that upward trajectory.