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Michigan State Spartans Football Five Factors: Central Michigan

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Joe's weekly advanced statistical breakdown

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

This is more like it (big box score):

And in graphical form:

[Notes: I eliminated the last drives of each half for MSU where three knees were taken for -4 yards. Check out my stats primer for more information. As always, this data is sack-adjusted]

S....L....O....W Pace

Michigan State had just three true drives in the first half, and scored on every one of them. Though MSU got a more-usual five drives in the second half, just eight drives overall in a game is pretty slow. For comparison, MSU had at least 10 drives in every game in 2014, and a maximum of 18(!) in the Nebraska game. The generally slow pace contributed to a misleading 20-point margin, because there were just so few opportunities for MSU to score.

Which leads me into...

#DeathToTotalYardageStats

Last week, I told you that despite getting outgained by Air Force by more than 100 yards, that MSU was more efficient than the Falcons because of possession inequities and field position.

That's also the case in this game. Though Central outgained MSU by a few yards, MSU was significantly more efficient in terms of available yards gained and a fair bit more explosive to boot. The Chips also had one more true drive.

And is it so hard to believe that total yardage stats would be akin to rebounding margin or points per game in basketball? Total yardage stats conflate lots of factors, like pace, field position, and turnovers. There might be reasons to be worried about this MSU team, but getting outgained by Air Force and Central Michigan is one that I don't buy.

Positive Signs for Run Blocking

On The Only Podcast (really, there aren't any other podcasts) I mentioned that I was a little concerned about MSU's inability to finish teams off at the end of games by running the ball. This game soothed some of my concern about that; Central knew MSU was going to try and run the ball on the final two drives, but MSU still churned out 5.6 yards per rush on the day, and Gerald Holmes cashed in with two scores.

I liked the use of three running backs on the day, too. It is probably pretty hard to manage, but using all three of L.J. Scott, Madre London, and Holmes seemed effective. I'm reserving the right to change my position on this when one of the three is left in the game for far too long.

The potential loss of Jack Conklin is obviously huge, but the ability of the rushing offense to finish things off in the fourth quarter was a positive.

Positive Signs for Special Teams

I know, I know, there was the blocked extra point at the very end. But overall, field position was on MSU's side all day, and the coverage teams were improved. The two blocked CMU field goal attempts prevented what could've been a 17-16 score for a larger chunk of the game than I would've liked.

Overall, special teams were a big plus. That's probably the first time we can say that this year.

Finishing Drives is a Real Strength

Coming into the game, Bill Connelly ranked MSU 14th nationally in terms of offensive points per drive inside the 40, and 38th nationally in terms of defensive points per drive inside the 40. This game will strengthen those numbers; MSU held Central to three field goal attempts (two blocked), one touchdown, and one turnover on downs when CMU got past MSU's 40 yard line. That's superb.

Notes Elsewhere

I wanted to comment on the Utah-Oregon game very briefly. Sure, Oregon got demolished. But that essentially changes nothing for MSU; beat OSU and win the Big Ten and we're in the playoff. Lose to OSU (or in a hypothetical B1G title game) and things get dicey and require chaos elsewhere.

Oregon not being an "elite" win would be unfortunate, but Oregon could certainly create some chaos in the Pac-12 going forward that would be helpful.

There were real reasons to be encouraged by this win over Central, and MSU is 4-0 headed into Big Ten play. The last time that happened was 2010. So enjoy it!