About Last Week


If he says "left foot, maize" I'm in real trouble here (Fuller)

The Road Ahead

Michigan State (4-2, 2-1 B1G)

Last week: Won at Penn State, 21-17

Recap: lolwut?

We use the phrase “Peak Sparty” around here a lot, and in a lot of contexts. Indeed, perhaps we overuse it. But if “unranked Michigan State team fresh off a ten point home loss to a bad Northwestern team defeats the #8 team in the country on the road and does so in a fashion that sees them DROP two spots in S&P+” isn’t Peak Sparty, it is only because no prominent MSU player was suspended for the first half of the first play of the game for his involvement a pending RICO case.

I won’t say Michigan State was lucky. That would be a homer-ish thing to say. I would not deign to impugn Brian Lewerke’s 47% completions, or Michigan State’s 1.5-yards-per-play-worse-than-Penn-State performance. I will, however, not-so-subtly gesture towards Bill Connelly, who says that Michigan State was lucky:

Michigan State had a turnover margin that was +4.1 ahead of where national averages suggest it should have been. As each turnover is worth approximately five points, that means the Spartans enjoyed about a 20- to 21-point boost thanks to turnovers luck. In a four-point win. I swear, that happens every single time Sparty plays PSU, Michigan, or Ohio State, doesn’t it...

This was the result of the fact that (1) Michigan State fumbled four time and recovered all four, (2) Penn State fumbled once and lost it, and (3) Penn State defended 16 of Brian Lewerke’s passes, which is an outrageous number, with only one pick. And this isn’t just nerd-theory: Penn State dropped a gift of an interception that would have sealed the game.

This game also featured the most Michigan State drive of all time:

  • Brian Lewerke run for 11 yards
  • Run for 4 yards
  • Incomplete pass
  • Incomplete pass
  • Fake punt for 26 yards
  • Run for 3 yards
  • Halfback pass for 36 yards to the 1 yard line
  • Run for no gain
  • Run for no gain, fumble, recover own fumble
  • Run for no gain to set up 4th and goal but Penn State commits personal foul to get a new set of downs after an MSU player poked a Penn State player in the eye Three Stooges-style
  • Run for 1 yard touchdown

81 yards of grit, determination, empty calories, Harry Potter spells, and chicken entrails.

This team is as frightening as: I… have no idea. Usually Michigan is the team onto which Sparty drops the Alpaca Dominating Mediocrity Out Of Nowhere performance. Respect Level = Yes

Michigan can sleep soundly about: After holding their first five opponents to about 26 rushing yards per game at 1.3 yards per carry, Michigan State allowed Penn State to accumulate 205 yards at 6.4 YPC.

Michigan should worry about: More that 60% of those yards came on two big carries by Miles Sanders. The other 30 carries went for 2.6 YPC.

When they play Michigan: I respect this opponent and the things they choose to do and be. Those things are worthy of respect and admiration and additional respect.

Next week: vs. Michigan, noon, FOX (MSU +7)

[AFTER THE JUMP: More respect. Also Rutger.]

Brian Lewerke
i like the way lewerke [Bryan Fuller]

Resources: My charting, MSU game notes, MSU roster, Bill C profile, CFBstats

DISRESPEKT is earned. Anyone can become a scrappy, well-coached, ball-control program that wins a few big games despite never showing much in the way of draft picks and fancystats. But the more you win, the more that disrespect erodes. It takes an extraordinary program to reach true DISRESPEKT, to both keep winning AND continue to prove, day in and day out, that you objectively shouldn't.

Sending a string of quarterbacks to the NFL, returning 10 starters, getting some Heisman chatter, having a top-10 class reach drinking age, blocking someone: these are all acts that will undermine the foundations of a good DISRESPEKT, catapulting your Bill C numbers into playoff contention, making pundits believe for reasons they don't quite understand, and convincing Vegas to put the dreaded minus sign after your name. DISRESPEKT requires a true commitment to playing hurt and underrecruited backups, taking behavioral penalties, pulling statistical improbabilities out of your ass, then going online to make fun of all the losers and their math.

This Michigan State offense has reached peak DISRESPEKT. The top-250 RB who "skipped the NFL" is voluntarily on the bench. Lewerke's Heisman campaign barely merits all-Big Ten honorable mention. All but one of their burly receivers are injured. The offensive lineman most expected to be good is the least likely to play. Their biggest gainers are trick plays, and their best actual play is throwing a too-short fade into perfect coverage.

They're #75 to Bill Connelly, brutal to watch, and perfectly formed for the narratives of people who hate smart. They just knocked off #6 Penn State on the road. My brain says Michigan's #1 S&P+ defense can go into that cold, wet slab of concrete and whup these guys. History is clear they'll find a way to get just enough. I'm terrified.

The film: MSU-PSU was a classic upset. State collected all four of their fumbles plus Penn State's, Penn State defenders dropped all four of Lewerke passes they jumped, and while they did intercept one of their 12(!) additional one-handed passes defensed, Spartan receivers caught four of them. MSU's longest play from scrimmage was a fake punt, and their four touchdowns were off an RB pass, a fake field goal, and two dead drives extended by unnecessary defensive penalties. The national takeaway was why didn't they save this game for Michigan. I also charted the offense vs. Indiana, whose defense is conceptually a lot more like ours. That game too featured a lot of luck, but also Cody White.

Personnel: My diagram:


PDF version, full-size version (or click on the image)

Putting aside the offensive line situation, MSU's skill position personnel is dealing with a lot of their own injuries. RB L.J. Scott has a recurring ankle issue and Dantonio said last week that it'll be up to Scott, who's been dressing, when he plays again. I'm guessing that will be Michigan, but he's been a progressively paler shadow of the dynamo freshman we saw in 2015. In fact I think he's been fully passed by sophomore RB Connor Heyward, a thick north-south type, if not also by the slightly more agile but still tank-like RB La'Darious Jefferson. All three are under 4 YPC this season, but again, the OL is after the jump.

Talent at receiver this year was a deep pool until somebody went grenade fishing in it. Jumbo slot WR Darrell Stewart is expected back for the first time since an (ankle?) injury against IU, and WR Cody White, the Tarik Black to Felton's DPJ, broke his wrist against CMU and is probably still out for this one. Add to the list freshman WR Jalen Nailor, who hasn't dressed the last few weeks, last year's top backup WR Cam Chambers, who's got 137 yards this year on just 8 targets but has been playing with a cast on his hand, and a backup slot Andre Welch. By the the PSU game regular outside options had been whittled down to just star split end Felton Davis, a Braylonesque threat we'll get into at the Dangerman section, and flanker Brandon Sowards, a skinny 5th year senior who wasn't used until this year except as a backup punt returner. In Stewart's absence smurfy slot Laress Nelson was highly productive, gathering 5 receptions on as many targets for 12 YPT, most of those seams.

In hefty skill position guys, tight end is a rotation after they failed to get much of a senior year bump out of returning starter TE Matt Sokol, who's been less a part of the offense of late. Backup TE Matt Dotson, a true sophomore, is basically a flex receiver. He's big enough to get away with some big guy OPI and shrug off little guy OPI, but not much of a blocker yet at this stage. There's also "TE" Chase Gianacakos, an offensive tackle-sized big boy who moved from guard and is purely in there to road grade. Standard blocky FB Collin Lucas has been dealing with an injury as well but I'm sure they've got a play designed for him in this game.

And then there's QB Brian "I Like the Way" Lewerke, whose legs were the engine of last year's MSU's offense, and whose star is hanging on right now only out of respect for his prior season. He'll have his own section too, after…


Chris Partridge doing some coaching

Things Discussed

  • Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus' progress
  • Quinn Nordin is on the right track, definitely not the wrong track
  • Trick plays! Michigan State might run some of those
  • How Partridge tells players to respond to criticism

[After THE JUMP: A transcript]

Ed Warinner, magician, stands on the sideline

Ed Warinner talks to the media.

we'll always have that game against IMG 

just don't read the caption

Quintel Kent return

Speedy Feet-let