So I'm a little worried about next week, now (Big Box Score):
[As always, these are sack-adjusted. I removed the final MSU drive as it was irrelevant. For more explanation of these factors, check out Bill Connelly's introduction here.]
Western's Offensive Efficiency
Strangely, the MSU defense in this game bent some but didn't break, with just one play over 40 yards. For comparison, Oregon in the 2014 game wasn't as efficient as WMU was in this game; Oregon posted 32.5 yards per drive and achieved just 46% of available yards. Western posted three drives of more than 10 plays and two more with at least 7 plays. That's unusual.
Now, does that hint at a schematic defensive change? I don't think so. Based upon my (admittedly flawed) eye at the game, it appeared that Harlon Barnett is indeed "staying the course" defensively. Western's quarterback Zach Terrell was simply patient and took what was given to him, with 5.7 yards per attempt and a 66% completion rate. Credit Western some, here.
It's a concern, but a one-game sample size is simply too small to make any conclusions.
Dantonio Teams "Starting Slow"
A common thing I've seen around the Intertubes is that Dantonio teams "start slow." And because we have GFEI data on a weekly basis, we can confirm or deny that claim.
In the following chart, I looked at mid-major non-conference opponents during the Dantonio Era. This does not include Notre Dame, Boise State (they were too good and skewed the analysis) or FCS schools. The columns: average team FEI (general opponent strength), average Game Efficiency (raw efficiency), and GFEI (opponent-adjusted efficiency).
Non-P5 Opponents During Dantonio Era
In the first couple of weeks, Mark Dantonio teams are roughly as dominant as they are against all non-P5 teams, regardless of week. I'm not convinced that MSU teams "start slow." This game is a valid data point.
The Kick Return Coverage
Headed into 2015, MSU's kick return coverage ranked 15th nationally per Bill Connelly. He had this to say:
The Big Ten was a returns-heavy conference. Nearly every team had a great return man, and consequently, most teams had bad coverage numbers. That didn't apply to Michigan State.
You can take this one of two ways. First, you could suggest that we #FireConnelly and decide to be concerned after the two big returns conceded against the Broncos. Or, you could chalk it up as an aberration. I side towards the latter.
You can only learn so much in the first week. Western could end up winning the MAC West and making this game look like a decent win on the road. Or, they could be a middling MAC team and this game still doesn't look too shaky, given the 13-point final spread.
There are positives, too. The running back trio of Madre London, L.J. Scott, and Gerald Holmes looked terrific. Vayante Copeland looked like a starting corner and made the game-clinching interception in the end zone. Both the offensive and defensive lines appeared to as good as advertised, especially in the passing game (a 7 sack differential is something special). Also, Jake Hartbarger had a solid day punting the ball.
Or, you can look at the special teams gaffes, the inconsistency of Connor Cook (just 15-for-31) and the 383 yards conceded to a MAC school.
Either way, we'll learn significantly more about this MSU team against Oregon in Week 2.