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MSU’s Offense has Failed its Defense...Again

It has been a three year run of terrible offense at MSU, and it cannot continue.

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Nebraska Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Normally on Mondays I do the film room piece, and break down some key plays or moments or drives or anything that stuck out from the game that I thought warranted further investigation. But as I said in last week’s film room piece, this is getting increasingly difficult to do with this team. That is because the games have become total slogs where very little of note really happens. The defense plays great, holds the other team in check for either the entire game, or as long as they can, while the offense continues to be anemic and disappointing.

I could talk about how the MSU running game was actually working decently, and show some examples, while then pointing out that they completely abandoned the run once they fell behind.

I could show how dominant the defense was, holding an increasingly explosive Nebraska offense to their second lowest yards per play average of the season, and their second lowest yardage total.

But we have been there and done all that, and I feel that no one really wants to go back and review film on a game that featured five field goals, four turnovers, and ZERO touchdowns.

So instead, we are going to look at the same issues on a broader scale. Basically, the MSU defensive performance versus the MSU offense over the last few seasons.

Let’s start with the good, the defense. We can start with some overall numbers, like the fact that MSU is currently 17th in scoring defense nationally allowing 18.7 points per game. Last year they were also a top-20 scoring defense, holding teams to exactly 20 points per game.

That works out to opposing teams averaging 19.4 points per game against Michigan State over their last 24 games. The Spartans have managed to win two-thirds of those games. Which sounds good, but really isn’t. That is eight losses over a 24 game span where your opponents average less than 20 points against you.

Over that same span only four MSU opponents have cracked 30 points. Utah State is the only team to do it this year, scoring 31 points, but that included a pick-six by their defense.

Last year Notre Dame got 38, which also included a pick-six. Northwestern scored 39 points, but that was a triple-overtime game that was 17-17 after regulation. And of course Ohio State rolled them in the Shoe last year 48-3.

So really, two teams have cracked 30 points on offense in regulation against the MSU defense in the last 24 games.

On the flip side the Spartan defense held its opponents to less than 20 points 13 times over that same span, and 14 if you include the Northwestern game last year.

They have eight games of holding their opponents to 10 points or less over that span as well.

So think about that, even just looking at the straight up final scores and not taking into account overtime or defensive scores, MSU is twice as likely to hold a team to 10 points or less as it is to give up 30 points over the last two years.

For general reference, over the last two years, the teams ranked in the exact middle of the road defensively have allowed 26.6 and 26.8 points per game, so let’s just call it 26.7 points against. That puts MSU at over a full touchdown and an extra point better (7.3 points), better than the median scoring defense over the last two years.

Michigan State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Now to the offense, where it’s pretty much the opposite.

First, the basic numbers. The Spartans are currently 121st in scoring offense at 20.3 points per game. They are the second lowest Power-Five team in the country behind only Rutgers, their opponent this weekend. Last year, MSU checked in at 96th nationally averaging 24.5 points per game. The year before that, they were 104th in the country at 24.1 points per game.

So yes ladies and gentlemen, over a 36 game span, the Spartans average national rank for their scoring offense is 107th. Over that span they are averaging 23.1 points per game.

They have scored 30+ points 11 times over that 36 game span. One of those was the triple OT game against Northwestern, so let’s throw that out and say 10 times in regulation over the last 36 games.

Two of those were against Rutgers. Only three of the rest were against Big Ten opponents not named Rutgers. One other was against Notre Dame in 2016.

Flip that around and you have 16 games over that same three year span where MSU failed to score 20 points in a game. They managed to win four of those games, which is a testament to their defense.

Over the last three years, the median scoring offensive team in the country has averaged a little over 29 points per game. That puts MSU a full touchdown, minus the extra point, behind the middle of the road team over that span.

If you just look at the last two seasons, it is about the same, with MSU 6.4 points below the average median scoring team.

So let’s work this out. If MSU had a “league average” scoring offense over the last two seasons, they would be outscoring their opponents by an average of 13.7 points per game. Basically two touchdowns better per game point differential.

Instead their point differential over the last 24 games is just 76 total points, or an average of 3.2 points per game. So instead of outscoring teams by two touchdowns on average, they are outscoring them by a field goal.

Want to get more depressing? How about the Big Ten scoring average over the last two years. Let’s throw out the Rutgers game last year since we don’t have that one for this year yet either. That leaves the Spartans averaging 18.6 points per game against conference opponents not named Rutgers over the last two years. And that includes the triple-overtime points against Northwestern last year.

For reference, UTEP is averaging 18.6 points per game this year, and they are the fifth worst scoring offense in the country.

In nine of MSU’s last 17 conference games (53%), the Spartans failed to score 20 points. They also failed to score 20 points against two of the three non-conference Power-Five/Notre Dame teams they played the last two years. So that is 11 of 20 games (55%) against Power-Five opponents where MSU failed to reach 20 points.

Again, scoring less than 20 points per game puts you in the bottom 10% of teams nationally. That is how bad MSU has been on offense over the last two to three seasons.

Mark Dantonio is a defensive coach. He has built this team on defense, and his defenses have ranged from decent to exceptional over his tenure at MSU. This program is built to win with defense, and it has largely done that.

But this current defensive group is being completely wasted, similar to the 2012 team, which largely made up the group that dominated the following year and led MSU to the Rose Bowl. Now maybe things will work out and MSU will find enough offense next year to have similar success. Or maybe this was the season that MSU needed to find the offense to capitalize on the defensive performance.

Regardless, the problem is pretty clear. This is now a three year run of being a bottom-20 offense nationally. All that while your defense has been close to dominant. Oh and they have had at least three probable NFL talents at the skill positions in Davis, White, and LJ Scott. So it’s not exactly like the cupboard has been totally bare.

This is not acceptable in a program that expects to compete for championships. And it’s even less acceptable when you remember that these three seasons have come immediately following a trip to college football’s final four.

It is beyond time to make a change and try something new. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter how good your defense is, your ceiling will be a Holiday Bowl win, and the floor is what happened in 2016. Neither of them are up to the standards that Dantonio himself has set for the program.