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Film Room: Western Michigan

The offense comes alive in a blowout win over the Broncos.

NCAA Football: Western Michigan at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Well, well, well. A film room piece following a (checks notes) 51 point performance by Michigan State?! It feels like it’s been forever since we got to break down something like this. Let’s get right into it then.

Elijah Collins

Uh oh...Sparty found a running back. That’s right folks, after entering the season with Connor Heyward as the starting tailback more or less by default, the Spartan coaching staff saw something in Collins last week (as did many of the fans watching) and decided to give him the start. They were rewarded for their efforts.

It started right off the bat for Collins, but he also benefited because MSU finally decided to change up how they were trying to run. Right here it is first-and-ten across midfield and MSU comes out four wide with Lewerke shotgun and Collins in the backfield to his left.

The unbalanced formation and the wide set put MSU in an advantageous spot from a blocking perspective. Each WMU defensive lineman is accounted for by an MSU O-Lineman, with one to spare. In this case it becomes the center who assists first on the block in the hole before heading to block the linebacker coming downhill to fill the gap.

Collins hits the hole, using good vision and patience and follows his blocks. The center taking out the linebacker opens up the play for a big gain.

Collins bursts through the hole and his speed gets him 25 yards downfield before he is knocked out of bounds by the last player available to make a play.

Here is another one later in the game. This time it is the tight end Dotson getting out in front and clearing out the defender in charge of filling the gap and springing Collins for another huge run.

Collins showed tremendous vision and burst in this game and was able to consistently rip off big chunks of yardage. We saw flashes of this in the opener as well. If he gets into space, he is a big threat, and he will find the space if he continues to show this type of vision and patience as a runner.

Play Action

And wouldn’t you know it but when the running game is effective, the play action pass becomes a huge weapon.

Once again it is first-and-ten in almost the exact same spot on the field as the first Collins run. The formation is very similar as well. This time MSU has three wide to the near side and a tight end on the line at the top of the formation. Lewerke is in the shotgun with Collins to his left again.

Just like before Collins is going to make like he is running to the right side of the line, the side with the tight end this time.

Western has eight defenders in the red box area, leaving just three to deal with the entire left side, the side which MSU has three wideouts.

The linebacker on the near side slides down to help on the three wideouts, specifically Stewart in the slot. You can see him coming down in the green circle.

Meanwhile, the fake to Collins has sucked in the safety on that side of the field, and WMU has seven defenders in that red circle within seven yards of the line of scrimmage.

Two of the other four are in the green circle, and Stewart is about to split them and cut to the vacated part of the field.

Here in motion you can see everyone get sucked up by the fake, Stewart gets loose behind and Lewerke has plenty of time with the line providing the blocking and Collins picking up the extra rusher on the outside.

Lewerke delivers a good ball and Stewart is in the endzone with line of white jerseys trying to catch up.

The effectiveness of this play is without a doubt the result of the positive running plays from earlier in the game. This is exactly how you take advantage of a defense with play calling.

Red Zone

One of the biggest issues for MSU the last few years has been turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns instead of field goals. Now they weren’t perfect in this game, but they did convert five of their eight red zone chances into touchdowns, so that is pretty good, certainly an improvement over one-for-four last week.

Here is the first one and it comes shortly after that Collins run we broke down up top. MSU is first-and-goal and comes out three wide to the right with Collins in the backfield with Lewerke in shotgun.

They are going to fake the handoff to Collins, which is going to pull in basically everyone near the line for Western. Dotson is going to leak out to the open area of the field. Any of the four WMU defenders that should be covering him in the red circle all bite on the run, leaving him wide open.

It’s a simple little play but it works because even if the defender plays it without biting on the run, Dotson still has leverage and size on him. Lewerke also starts to move to that side of the field before making the throw, so there might have been a run option there if the defender had dropped into coverage. Either way it was an easy six points.

Here is another one. MSU is once again first-and-goal from the two. This time Lewerke is under center in a tight formation. Dotson came in motion before this from the near side across the back field. Now he is going to work his way back to the near side after the play fake to Collins.

Lewerke is going to fake the hand off and roll out to the near side. Either Dotson on the underneath route, or White on the outside are options. He could also potentially run it if no one is open.

Western actually reacts to this pretty well, but Dotson dragging across causes the corner on the outside to jump up in before seeing the linebacker pick up Dotson. That gives White plenty of room to work with and he does a good job coming back to the ball towards Lewerke, who puts it in a spot where only he can get it. Touchdown for the fourth straight trip to the red zone.

Boy that was fun wasn’t it? Let’s do that again next week.