Another lopsided game and another poor showing by the Michigan State offense this weekend as the Spartans got shut out 24-0 against Indiana. There was not a whole lot that went right for the Spartans, except that the defense did play hard for the entire game and kept the Hoosiers off the scoreboard in the second half.
Let’s look at a few plays.
Indiana Rushing TD
This was the first score of the game coming late in the first quarter. The defense had gotten a couple stops to start the game, including an interception by Shakur Brown on the opening possession. But a stalled out drive and then a quick interception thrown by Rocky Lombardi put the defense back out there, and Indiana was able to drive down the field into the red zone.
It is third-and-five from the MSU eight-yard line and the Spartans are hoping to hold Indiana to a field goal try. This play, was destined to work though. The MSU defensive alignment already suggests this is going to be a problem. You have three receivers to the top, and MSU appears to be in zone, with multiple defenders to the near side that basically have no one to cover.
Meanwhile, the middle is wide open. The Michigan State line is set up in such a way that there is already a huge gap right up the gut, with only ONE defender in the second level as the other linebacker drops back into coverage. Indiana’s offensive line has more than enough people to easily block all MSU defenders in the way, and despite the high snap, the running lane is Mack Truck sized.
We continue to get examples of the new MSU defensive scheme having issues like this in the run game. It was an issue in each of the first two losses and here it shows up again.
And IU could have done any number of things against this look and been successful. If you watch you can see the slot receiver swing out for a bubble screen pass, that would likely have resulted in a touchdown, or at least a first down, had they chose to go that route.
Not a good look on third down trying to make a stop and force a field goal.
Lombardi’s Second Interception
This was the play that finally got Lombardi benched, at least for now. It was just a horrible interception and the second one he threw on the first play of a possession. And it is one that just shouldn’t happen.
It is the far side of the field we need to focus on. The outside receiver is going to run a deep fly, while the slot receiver is going to run an out route.
The slot corner is going to come on a blitz, and the linebacker on that side is going to slide into coverage.
Indiana is in two-deep safety coverage, or cover two. The outside corner is going to pass the outside receiver off to the safety and sit down in the intermediate area, right where the out route is headed.
Lombardi is locked in to this route the whole time. He sees the blitz coming, and thinks his man will have the advantage against the linebacker. But he completely misreads the zone coverage and ends up throwing it right to the Indiana corner.
The really bad part about this is Lombardi waits so long that the corner has already passed off the outside receiver by the time the he is ready to throw the ball. It should be glaringly obvious what the defense is, but he doesn’t look at the rest of the field. If he goes through his progressions he would see a wide open receiver in the middle of the field where the linebacker vacated to cover for the blitzer.
The pass rush was coming, but it was picked up enough that he had time. He just wasn’t able to recognize what was happening and threw a bad pick into double coverage.
Payton Thorne Run
This was the first play of the game for Thorne, which went for 38 yards, and it shows that he has a diverse enough skill set that you should be able to build some sort of workable offense with him at the helm.
It is a read option and Thorne does a great job of selling it, and pulling it back when he recognizes where the blocking is going. You can see IU crashes down to take away the inside run and MSU has three blockers to the left side to get out in front of Thorne if he keeps it. Indiana has only two defenders on that side of the play that haven’t committed yet.
Watch Thorne really sell it with his body and then hit the hole and turn it up field. He does a great job following his blocking as well. It is a well-executed play all around and something that needs to remain in the rotation if MSU moves forward with Thorne.
The run game has not worked at all for Michigan State this year. The Spartans are the fifth worst team in the country in terms of rushing yards per game, and are third from the bottom in yards per rush. Introducing some more read option, quarterback run plays should help open things up a little bit. Minimally it will give defenses something else to think about.
That’s all for this week, let’s hope we have some Spartan touchdowns to look at next week against Maryland.