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Film Room: Michigan State vs. Michigan

Ricky White and Rocky Lombardi brought Paul Bunyan back to East Lansing

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Michigan Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

That was fun this weekend wasn’t it? After a week that felt like absolute doom and gloom following the Rutgers game, MSU reminded us what it was like to feel joy again. A road win at the Big House as three-plus touchdown underdogs...just delightful.

Let’s take a look at how they did it.

Ricky F’N White

This game will likely go down in rivalry lore as “The Ricky White Game.” The freshman had eight catches for 196 yards and a touchdown. He had a combination of deep balls and possession catches that helped move the chains on critical third downs. He was an absolute beast and torched the UM secondary all day.

Here’s the first big play that went for a touchdown and got things rolling. As you can see there is nothing all that complicated about it. White kind of takes a couple short steps and then just blows past the cornerback. Once he has a step, Rocky delivers a perfect ball.

Here it is from the wide look. One thing that stands out is that Jayden Reed is also wide open in the middle of the field and had Rocky thrown his way it was likely also going to be a touchdown. There was no help over the top for either one and that play was just wide open for MSU in every possible way.

Here is the beautiful stop and go route that White executes early in the second half. He completely puts the defender in a blender. What also helps is that the help in the middle of the field (red) bites on the initial play action. Once he realizes what is happening, he turns and sprints back toward White, but it is too late.

Here it is in motion. You can see the corner bite big time on the stop, then he’s caught flat footed and Ricky flies by him. Another near perfect deep ball from Rocky Lombardi turns it into a big gain. You also get a good look at the defender in the middle of the field biting on the play action. Just perfectly executed by everyone.

This is arguably the biggest play of the game. Spartans are pinned deep after a fantastic punt. It is second-and-nine and they are staring at punting from deep in their end zone and giving up field position. Instead, Michigan State springs White again for a huge gain. This is basically the same as the last one, but White’s route isn’t as pronounced. He gives a little shake inside and then blows by the defender on the outside. Rocky fakes a handoff, pump fakes, and lets it fly.

The safety in the middle of the field doesn’t bite as hard this time, but he’s held in place long enough. The result is a diving catch and MSU is on the move again.

Again, nothing terribly complicated, but terribly effective.

The last one here sets up the game winning touchdown, and more than anything is a spectacular effort by White with a slightly under thrown ball and a defender all over him. Once again, Rocky realizes it is basically single coverage, as the safety is not in position to provide help over the top until it is too late. Ricky burns the corner yet again.

All of these are a combination of great recognition, good throws, and great receiving plays. Some of these are dropped in the bucket for White, but several others required him to make some pretty difficult catches. He was fantastic all day.

Connor Heyward Touchdowns

The play that we just looked at set up this next one, the game winning touchdown. It came after a “clipping” penalty set the Spartans back in a lengthy goal-to-go situation.

This was a beautiful play design. Heyward (yellow) is going to leak out of the backfield and sit down underneath. Meanwhile the center, Nick Samac (green), is going to pull after he sells the initial block and wipe out the corner (red) who is in zone coverage. The corner lets Jalen Nailor (orange) go when he cuts inside, but gets completely run out of the play by the Samac anyway. Nailor gets upfield and does enough of a job getting in the way of the safety, that Heyward can make it to the end zone.

Rocky does a great job too of holding the ball long enough to let the play develop, and suck in the initial wave of defenders, while his lineman get out to block for Heyward.

You can see the block here by Samac, just running the corner right out of the play. It really was well done. We have seen them execute quite a few good screen plays over the first couple weeks, and this one finally didn’t get erased with a phantom “blind side block” call.

This was the second receiving touchdown of the game for Heyward. His first came on third-and-goal in the second quarter and put MSU up 14-7. That play was much simpler, and was really a matter of Heyward just beating his man.

You can see he comes out of the backfield and just cuts outside. He gets the step on the defender and Lombardi hits him right where it needs to be for him to get across the goal line.

These are the types of plays where I expected Heyward to be used and to be effective, and it definitely showed up this weekend. Using him like this where his versatility comes into play helps maximize his potential.

Paul Bunyan is back in East Lansing thanks to White, Heyward, and Lombardi. The defense was excellent too, containing the Wolverines and making them work for everything they got. All around team effort in the win, which was a massive improvement over the first game’s collective team loss.

Let’s keep it rolling next week into Iowa.