|WHAT||Michigan at Michigan State|
East Lansing, MI
October 29th, 2016
|THE LINE||Michigan –24.5|
minimal chance of rain
The ironic thing is they had just achieved #respekt. The numbers didn't like MSU as much as you might expect them to like a team that was technically a participant in the playoff. But they'd won so many games over the past seven years that even the purveyors of the numbers were willing to overlook them, and the iffy recruiting, and the alarming number of departures on the defensive line. So too were various analysts, who proclaimed MSU still MSU after beating Mighty Notre Dame.
"Michigan State is the best team in the Big 10"
— ESPNU (@ESPNU) September 20, 2016
Bill Connelly's season preview said MSU would outperform their preseason S&P+ ranking of #22. The worst case scenario:
...if last year's happy turnovers luck reverses, maybe the Spartans settle for a 9-4 finish and a New Year's Day bowl.
Life comes at you fast.
Run Offense vs MSU
No aspect of MSU's team has been as disappointing as this one. The secondary was wonky last year and question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback gave some people pause, but if there was one thing MSU could hang their hat on it was Malik McDowell and friends backed by the vaunted MSU linebacker corps crushing all opposing run games, Narduzzi style. It's no exaggeration to state that the Spartan rise was founded on a brutal run defense and everything else they figured out as they went along.
Through four games this largely held. Michigan State crushed Notre Dame's ground game, held Wisconsin to under three yards a carry, and had a somewhat dodgy but respectable-ish outing against Indiana. Since:
BYU: 49 rushes, 260 yards, 5.3 YPC
Northwestern: 51 rushes, 209 yards, 4.1 YPC
Maryland: 42 rushes, 247 yards, 5.9 YPC.
Not coincidentally, this is when MSU went from meh to ass. Even the pounding at the hands of Wisconsin could be chalked up to a defensive touchdown and, yes, trouble with the snap on a punt. The Badgers didn't manage much offense of their own that wasn't "throw at Demetrious Cox on third down." The last three games have seen MSU beaten by middling opponents by at least two scores, because the run D has deserted them. Why?
MSU couldn't recruit well enough and took a number of bad gambles on kids who washed out of the program. Coupled with expiring eligibility for three of last years starters and MSU's inability to scam a sixth year for Damon Knox, this saw seven guys exit the program. In response MSU imported a couple of grad transfers, one of them a sixth-year kid out of Nebraska.
A DL grad transfer is a huge warning sign. Any DL who can play will play for their team, because DL rotate all the time. If Nebraska thought Kevin Williams could play he would be at Nebraska. Instead he is playing DT at 275 for MSU and racking up a horrendous –15.7 per PFF, most of which has been failures on the ground.
MSU's trying to replace him with anyone they can find, which resulted in three straight snaps against Maryland where converted OL Kyonta Stallworth got put on skates and taken on a tour of the stadium. Williams somehow has as many snaps as McDowell, and help does not appear to be forthcoming.
For his part, McDowell has been in and out of the lineup. He picked up a targeting call against Indiana and has limped out of many games for breathers; when on the field he has a tendency to try to make every play himself, which results in some big lanes when he gets it wrong. MSU robbed Peter to pay Paul last week by moving him to end.
Meanwhile, linebacker John Reschke went out with a significant injury a few weeks ago and Ed Davis has just 47 snaps on the season so MSU has been forced to turn to Andrew Dowell and Chris Frey. Fray's been all right; Dowell average. MLB Riley Bullough is fresh off picking up three personal fouls and a ejection in under a quarter of play against Maryland; with Bullough out MSU tore the redshirt off a random low-rated freshman, who duly played like it.
MSU is still super aggressive on run action and could hold Michigan down for a reasonable period of time if they're getting their calls right and showing some new things. A lack of depth and what projects to be not much time of possession for the MSU offense will see them wear down eventually and start getting gashed. The quarter-by-quarter S&P+ tells quite a tale:
The other way this goes is that Harbaugh's run game confuses the dickens out of the LB level and M blows the DL off the ball and this is a hootenanny from the drop.
KEY MATCHUP: MASON COLE versus MSU DTs. He's scuffled; they've scuffled.
[Hit THE JUMP for OH MAN THIS LINE against MICHIGAN'S DL is a THING I SAY EVERY WEEK NOW]
Rich Rodriguez would not stand to benefit from it, but Michigan’s next All-American defensive back roamed the sidelines before practice one warm day in 2009, surveyed what was (and was not) happening on the field, and from that moment, in Rodriguez’s parlance, was ‘all in.’ Jourdan Lewis stood on the field behind the shiny new Glick Field House that day and saw Denard Robinson—“Nardy,” as Lewis calls him— scampering, pulling, darting around and away from defenders— and no one else he recognized. Compared to 2006, a team full of names like Breaston and Henne and Hart and Manningham, names that Lewis reels off with ease, the only thing similar was that the players in front of him were clad in the familiar winged helmet. Lewis wanted then precisely what he wants now: to be a football star, and to use the platform afforded a football player to change the culture.
[After THE JUMP: “…he knows what lifelines can do, because he was given it.”]
Our intrepid scout/MGoUtilityMan David Nasternak made the trek to what might as well have been South Bend to take in Michigan commit Phil Paea’s serial tiny-right-tackle crunching. Paea’s an interesting prospect because he’s incredibly raw, yet somehow he passes the “could this guy play in college” eye test; he moves well and gives sideline-to-sideline effort, and when he stays low he moves the opposition. His Berrien Springs squad had to go to overtime to beat Buchanan, so we were able to get a fair amount of Paea film, which you can use to answer the burning question: 3-tech, SDE, or both?
[After THE JUMP: Phil Paea film and scouting report]
- Competition junkies vs. fake punt conspiracy theories
- Michigan’s not playing these teams; they’re playing Ohio State.
- Speight’s bye week refinement.
- How is State going to move the ball? Was O’Connor saved for this game?
- Blocking punts: has Michigan solved the spread?
- Big XII offense: nearly a mile a game.
- How good is Washington? Man, if Josh Rosen didn’t play for a crap program
- Hoops open practice: Xavier Simpson can D, no shoot, might be enough to push Walton to the 2 and use MAAR as your rotation guy.
You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.
THE USUAL LINKS
Previously: Michigan State Offense
I switched around the games a bit for scouting MSU's defense. For recency, I went back over the Maryland game last night. (I recommend doing this.) For an opponent that more closely resembles Michigan, I went back to the Wisconsin game. State had a number of changes to the two-deep between those two games, including moving their best player. I have more notes than are probably necessary, so let's dig right in.
Personnel: Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Changes on the Michigan side: Henry Poggi at fullback with Khalid Hill dinged up (Hill may very well still play) and Jehu Chesson loses his shield—the production and draft hype both aren't there right now, but that could change.
MSU has shifted their lineup around quite a bit. Evan Jones, who started the first five games at SDE, is out with an undisclosed injury. To cover for him, Malik McDowell slid out from three-tech to SDE, opening up a spot for Brandon Clemons, who's been surprisingly good for a midseason position-switch starter—he started the first four games at right guard.
CB Darian Hicks was out of the lineup for two games with an injury and returned to his starting spot last week. "STAR" linebacker Jon Reschke has been out since week three with an ankle injury. Riley Bullough is back at the MIKE for at least, like, ten minutes or so.
Base Set? 4-3. MSU utilizes a number of defensive backs in nickel and dime formations. The primary reserve is freshman corner Justin Lane, who usually plays on the outside with Vayante Copeland or another starting DB sliding inside.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
SPONSOR NOTES: I was struck when we were hanging out at the Bo Store that it was very cool that some of our main sponsors were very much like us: small businesses in the Michigan community run by guys who are just dudes, you know? I like to think that UGP and Homesure are the MGoBlogs of their respective fields: small, detailed, involved, pantsless.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Illinois loaded the box the entire game, usually in an over front
They played with one safety exclusively and had 8 or 9 in the box depending on whether M was in a big formation or not.
Michigan didn't have anything too weird except a slightly modified T:
This was one play only. Oh, right, and TRAIN.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Starting line of Braden-Bredeson-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson went most of the way, getting 66 snaps each. The backup line now reads JBB-Runyan-Kugler-Onwenu-Dawson, FWIW. Ulizio got bumped by JBB, must be primarily a tackle.
Butt got the most snaps of any skill player with 56, and Asiasi wasn't far behind with 41. Wheatley had his most extended playing time in a while with 31 snaps; Bunting returned on a single snap. With Perry out the main beneficiary was Kekoa Crawford, who had 35 snaps; Chesson had 33 and Darboh 44. McDoom had his usual deployment.
Poggi and Hill again split snaps about down the middle.
[After THE JUMP: a diversity of items.]