I'm assuming that the 16 MSU points equates to one defensive TD, one FG and three safties?
The Weekly Six-Michigan State Preview
Since the 2011 game is what everyone keeps talking about, let’s not do this again – uniformz or result (AnnArbor.com)
1. Field Position
|Off Exp Pts||Def Exp Pts||Gap|
|Michigan St||29.1||23.2||+5.9 (6)|
This is the most critical factor in the game. Michigan can not afford to spot Michigan State seven points in field position. Not all turnovers are created equal and in this game the most dangerous ones will be ones that set up Michigan State in great scoring position (or are a TD on the return). Michigan State’s 6th best gap is largely driven by a nation leading five defensive touchdowns. At one point, Michigan State looked like they might be around 25% non-offensive touchdowns, the peak over the last ten seasons for any team, but based on their current trajectory that seems less likely (besides South Florida is on pace to blow away the record with 57% non-offensive TDs this season).
A neutral result on field position will be a huge win for Michigan in this game, but that could be a tough task. The Spartans have won field position in 5 of 7 FBS games this season and never given up more than a minor 2 point difference. Michigan has won field position against Minnesota, Central Michigan and Penn State and trailed in its other four games.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan wins the turnover margin and has a slight advantage in field position
Worst Case Scenario: Devin Gardner get the yips again and Michigan yields multiple Spartan short or no field drives.
2. Early Downs
|Early Conversions||Avg 3rd Down|
|Michigan Offense||48% (34)||6.9 (95)|
|MSU Defense||28% (1)||7.6 (6)|
|MSU Offense||38% (107)||5.7 (34)|
|Michigan Defense||44% (45)||7.1 (19)|
For Michigan State opponents, barely 1 in 4 first downs gets converted before facing a third down, best in the nation. When the offense does get to third down, an average of nearly 8 yards to go doesn’t make things any easier.
When Michigan State has the ball, they aren’t very good at generating early first downs but they are pretty good at staying ahead of the chains to give themselves manageable third downs.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan forgoes attempting to put together drives 3-5 yards at a time and is able to push for the chains on first and second down, putting together a few quick drives in exchange for less running into the wall on first down. The defense continues to hold out on first and second down and generates enough long third downs to consistently end MSU drives.
Worst Case Scenario: The Penn State offensive game plan but against a much better defense, Michigan routinely finds themselves in long down and distance situations without any tradeoff of attempted big plays. On defense, Michigan can’t get Michigan State behind the chains and a repeat of Minnesota happens.
3. Leverage Situations
|Adjusted 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Michigan Offense||-2% (72)||5.1 (54)|
|MSU Defense||+1% (64)||4.7 (35)|
|MSU Offense||-10% (121)||4.1 (111)|
|Michigan Defense||+9% (109)||4.5 (29)|
As good as the Spartans have been on standard downs they have been average on regular down and distances. If Michigan can effectively use Devin Gardner on third down, there is evidence that Michigan State’s largest vulnerability could be on key third downs and in the red zone. Not that they’re bad at either, they’re just not nearly as dominant.
Michigan State third downs should be a battle of who struggles the most. A lot will be dictated by the early downs. Michigan’s advantage is that they will likely only have to win 1 in 3 or 4 third downs to end a Spartan drive. Michigan should be prepared for all kind of trick plays in the red zone as Michigan State’s status quo once arriving has been field goals.
Best Case Scenario: Devin Gardner, high leverage play savant returns and Michigan can do enough in other situations to keep Michigan State from being in advantageous position on leverage plays.
Worst Case Scenario: Michigan State’s high leverage numbers are a small sample size issue and they pressure Michigan into disastrous third downs and red zone play. The defense does its work on early downs but cedes ground regularly on third down. Anything more than one red zone trip resulting in a touchdown for the Spartan offense would be a major disappointment.
4. The Key Factors
|Bonus Yards||Total Conversion Rate|
|Michigan Offense||188 (13)||75% (38)|
|MSU Defense||79 (4)||57% (1)|
|MSU Offense||97 (114)||71% (69)|
|Michigan Defense||122 (35)||67% (30)|
Total Conversion Rate = First downs achieved/First downs initiated
Besides turnovers/field position, if I had to pick one measure for which the Michigan offense had to have a positive day on, it would be Bonus Yards. If Michigan can get Gallon and Funchess loose in the Spartan secondary or if Devin Gardner can break out some long runs I really like their chances. At a 57% conversion rate allowed the odds of putting five first downs together in a row is about 1 in 16. If Michigan’s game plan is to plod down the field then its only hope is to win another 12-10 slugfest. If Michigan can put together even 150 yards beyond the line of scrimmage their odds go up dramatically.
Michigan State is moving close to the middle of the pack in terms of conversion rate as the season has progressed. At this point they are an average team at moving the chains, but they are really bad at generating big plays, with less than 100 yards per game beyond the first down mark. Michigan’s defense and Michigan State offense are really following the same path, minimize mistakes and drive the field. Michigan is planning that even at 70% chance of converting a first down that 30% is going to happen before your drive is done. Michigan State is hoping it has enough short fields that it only needs 3 first downs to get a score.
Best Case Scenario: Michigan’s playmakers are able to generate yards in chunks and the defense sees a lot of mild bending and minimal breaking.
Worst Case Scenario: Michigan attempts to drive the field a couple yards at a time and isn’t able to look down field until its too late, the defense faces a lot of short fields and Michigan State’s able to string together enough offense to put it away.
5. Special Teams
|Kicking||Punting||Punt Ret||Kickoff||Kick Ret||Total|
|Michigan||-5 (102)||-6 (97)||-5 (105)||-1 (75)||-1 (63)||-17 (112)|
|MSU||+0 (60)||+22 (1)||-4 (104)||+4 (16)||+4 (23)||+26 (7)|
All numbers are total points vs. average over the whole season to date
Nick Baumgardner pointed out on Saturday that Michigan State might be a 3 loss team with an average punter. It’s impossible to go back and assess that question, but Sadler has been worth an NCAA best 22 points on the season (that includes punts and returns/touchbacks). Even beyond the punting brilliance, Michigan State has a clear special teams advantage over Michigan. For the year, swapping the two units would be worth 43 points in either direction. Michigan has been 17 points below average, with subpar showing in all categories while Michigan State has been strong in all categories but place kicking and punt returns.
The one thing I’ll be looking for on Saturday, does Al Borges put the game in Devin Gardner’s hands and does Gardner look comfortable with it. I like Michigan’s chances if that happens. I feel relatively certain that Michigan’s defense will hold Michigan State’s offense to about a touchdown less than their field position would expect. What Michigan does on offense is anybody’s guess. I think as ugly as it looked at the time, Notre Dame’s game plan against Michigan State is the one to replicate. There are a couple teams out there who could put together multiple sustained drives on Michigan State, Michigan isn’t one of them and probably won’t be one for another two years. Three big downfield plays that turn into touchdowns should be enough for Michigan to win as long as they don’t consistently set up Michigan State in short fields.
Michigan 24 Michigan St 16
Speaking of past game plans to replicate, how about Michigan's game plan for Ohio State in 2002? Lots of safe passes (46 attempts, only 5.4 YPA), lots of pass protection, lots of defense. Michigan lost that game (9-14), but mainly because we had to settle for three FGs on our red zone opportunities. With Gardner, I think we get a couple of those into the end zone.
Thank you for diving into the numbers as usual.
Seems like on D we want to make State nickle and dime down the field and force them into 3rd downs - which plays well with what we have been doing.
On O we need to take some shots and hope for the big play. Does anyone know how many big plays the State D has given up on the season?
I don't think that many, although the teams they have faced have been incapable of big offensive plays because they are terrible.
The only team to consistently take shots was Notre Dame. There were drives that were seemingly built out of the Tecmo Super Bowl playbook, where Rees just stepped back, and hucked the ball downfield. The plays rarely worked, but the receivers tended to be open, or would draw a PI/holding penalty from Dennard (who did nothing but commit penalties that game).
I agree with Mathlete: the key to this game is hitting those big plays, and forcing the MSU DB's to play against our talented receivers in space. We'll either draw penalties, or Gallon and Funchess will chew up yardage. This also requires Gardner to be solid, or at least Rees-ian in his passes (overthrowing everyone is preferable to turnovers).
ND had a fine gameplan against MSU (the best of any of their opponents by far), and it worked. It wasn't pretty, but you could see they were never panicked, and they simply bled MSU dry over the course of the game. It was punt-punt-punt for a while, but ND never got impatient, didn't make too many bonehead mistakes, and left with a fairly comfortable victory. That's the key.
My biggest concern is that the ND d-line was nigh on dominant throughout that whole game, and I don't know that we have that kind of talent up front to kill drives dead on the reg.
behind TOs for keys to this game.
I'm very happy with your prediction.