Fee Fi Foe Film: Michigan State Offense

Submitted by Ace on October 14th, 2015 at 5:36 PM

Cackle with knowing glee if...

Michigan State entered the Rutgers game with a banged-up offensive line and it showed; star left tackle Jack Conklin didn't play—and the "available in an emergency" caveat seemed dubious at best given the score and the success of RU's D-line—while Kodi Kieler, the normal starting right tackle, struggled mightily in his first game back from injury, not looking nearly 100% as he was in and out of the game at left tackle.

Then Rimington-caliber center Jack Allen, who'd slid out to left tackle when Kieler was on the bench, got rolled up on late in the game; his status for Michigan is very much in doubt, possibly even more so than Conklin or Kieler.

Rutgers dominated up front against MSU. Michigan's D-line awaits. This could be a real good time.

Personnel. Seth's diagram once again requires GIF form, this time to represent the myriad possibilities on State's O-line, which are helpfully mapped out at The Only Colors [click to embiggen]:

Now with D-line rotation.

Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid. MSU went with a lot of two-wide ace and I-form on first down, almost always to run the ball, and when that didn't work they'd go into the gun and usually add another receiver for second and third downs.

Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone stuff.

Hurry it up or grind it out? State tried to tempo Rutgers exactly once and had a run get blown up at the line. Otherwise, they were content to huddle up and grind it out.

[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]

Quarterback Dilithium Level (Scale: 1 [Navarre] to 10 [Denard]): Connor Cook is a capable but not explosive runner. MSU got a key first down on a read option keeper in this one when Cook didn't waste any time getting upfield; they'll break out a designed QB run every so often to keep defenses honest. Cook's mobility comes into play more in the passing game; he's good at breaking the pocket and throwing on the run, though he uses his legs more to buy time than to scramble downfield. He gets a 6.

Dangerman: The dangermen on the offensive line are all injured to some degree, so I'll skip discussion of them for now.

You're familiar with Cook. I thought he was phenomenal in this game given the circumstances. Despite facing a heavy rush on many of his attempts, he averaged 9.4 yards per attempt with no completion longer than 29 yards, and he only had one glaring error, uncharacteristically forcing a pass into the end zone that Rutgers intercepted in spectacular fashion.

Otherwise, Cook made several spectacular throws, often of the impossible-to-defend back-shoulder variety:

I had him down for five DOs in this game and could've given him one or two more. Other than a tendancy to occasionally sail passes to his left, he's very accurate, and he was really impressive at throwing while under duress—he'll need a similar performance Saturday.

Cook's top target all season, meanwhile, has been Aaron Burbridge, who's gone from disappointment to one of the best receivers in college football during his senior season. He's got twice as many catches as any other Spartan this year; he's dangerous both as a downfield threat and a catch-and-run target—MSU even gave him a couple jet sweeps in this one. Handling him one-on-one is a difficult task:

Expect Jourdan Lewis to shadow Burbridge in arguably the most important personnel matchup of this game.

Zook Factor: Dantonio had a moment of #B1G, punting on 4th-and-6 from the Rutgers 44 with the Spartans clinging to a three-point lead. While the punt pinned RU at the five, they drove for the tying field goal anyway.

HenneChart: On a high volume of throws, Cook put up an impressive Downfield Success Rate, especially when considering the heat he faced:

Rutgers 5 19 (5) 1 3 4x 1 -- 6 -- 70%

Note the pressure figure: MSU's line really struggled. Cook has a quick release and usually makes his reads in a hurry and he still ended up rushing a large number of throws.


I found MSU's offense rather predictable. When Cook goes under center, they usually run. When he's in the gun, they throw.

Formations Run Pass PA
Gun 8 30 6
I-Form 8 1 --
Ace 12 -- 1
Pistol -- -- --
Heavy 8 -- 1

Most of those under-center snaps come on first down.

Down Run Pass PA
1st 24 4 3
2nd 7 13 4
3rd 5 13 1

That's almost as predictable as Northwestern's offense; MSU just decides to start throwing a down earlier.

The discussion of this offense has to start with the offensive line, which looked bad in all phases. The run game never got going outside of one nice first-half run by Gerald Holmes when Rutgers screwed up their run fits and a couple half-decent gains by LJ Scott at the very end of the game; MSU averaged 3.3 YPC against the nation's #79 run defense by S&P+. Kieler looked nearly immobile at left tackle; everyone not named Jack Allen underwhelmed. The screencap that graces the top of this post isn't out of line with how they performed all night.

A huge factor in that was confusion up front when Rutgers did anything besides rush four guys without any frippery. If they blitzed or stunted, missed pickups were the norm.

Communication should improve if Conklin is able to give it a go at left tackle, but his health is in doubt and the probable loss of Allen at center likely offsets any improvement that would bring from a communication standpoint. This line looked overwhelmed against Rutgers; Michigan's defensive front is just a bit better than Rutgers' and now MSU almost certainly has to shake up their lineup again.

The lack of blocking made it hard to judge the running backs but I've watched a fair amount of MSU this season. Madre London is a solid back who's got some power but isn't a huge open-field threat; naturally, he got hurt and didn't return. Gerald Holmes was next in line in this game; he made a couple nice open-field cuts to break off the 30-yarder and otherwise did very little. Touted freshman LJ Scott has an impressive size/speed combination and gets the edge more often than the other backs; he's more of a threat to break a play for 20 yards than to go all the way, but I'd still consider him their big-play back.

Burbridge was covered above; he's the biggest threat on this offense. The rest of the receivers are pretty meh. Macgarrett Kings Jr. is undersized for an outside receiver and not always reliable to bring the ball in. Slot RJ Shelton is far more dangerous on jet sweeps than downfield passes and jet sweeps seem ill-advised against this defense. DeAnthony Arnett—remember him?—had a couple big plays in this one, including a touchdown on a perfectly thrown wheel route, but he's only seen six targets all year. If Michigan can shut down Burbridge, State is in trouble.

The blocky/catchy types were pretty impressive. Josiah Price is among the walking wounded; when healthy he's a solid blocker who can threaten the seam. Paul Lang was targeted downfield a few times by Cook and looked like a viable receiver. Jamal Lyles is a plus as a blocker. Fullback Trevon Pendleton also impressed as a blocker; MSU will sometimes use him as a surprising lead blocker on screens:

That worked against Rutgers' soft coverage; we'll see if they even try it against Michigan.

Unless at least two of Conklin, Kieler, and Jack Allen are magically healthy for this game, I have a hard time seeing MSU consistently putting points on the board. Even with Allen healthy, MSU's runs mostly met a wad of bodies and their pass-blocking was downright bad. Cook will have to be near-perfect, and while he's very capable, he can't block for himself.

The absence of James Ross could hurt Michigan—the Spartans spend nearly equal time in one- or two-receiver sets as they did in 3+, so M might not be able to play base nickel—but he's only out for a half, Ben Gedeon exists, and State is likely to be throwing on second and third down anyway.

I can't avoid the conclusion that was obvious to anyone who watched this game: Michigan should maul MSU up front; with Jourdan Lewis a threat to completely neutralize Burbridge, State is going to have to move the ball in ways they so far haven't been able to do against much lesser defenses.



October 14th, 2015 at 6:32 PM ^

With Ross out for the first half and with Michigan's emphasis on a clock-consuming running game, would it make sense if Michigan wins the toss to go on offense first?  They might then have several more minutes of possession/plays in the first half which partially mitigates the loss of Ross.


October 14th, 2015 at 7:02 PM ^

Another thing that may help mitigate his loss is the fact that MSUs line is so injured. One thing I am VERY confident in is our ability to stop the run. If their trend of running on first down holds true for this game, we'll be in a lot of nickel package. I really don't think playing nickel will be a disadvantage against the run with their line so weak right now.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad


October 14th, 2015 at 7:09 PM ^

but I still see this game as a dogfight.  I feel pretty good about UM's defense matching up against the MSU offense but I'm a little nervous how the UM offense is going to do against the Sparty defense.  I know Harbaugh will have some good play calls, but I think field position is going to important.  If the Rudock that showed up against NU shows up for MSU, I like our chances.  If bad Jake shows up, it could be a very low scoring game decided by field position.

At the beginning of the game, I trust the defense more than the offense.


October 14th, 2015 at 7:56 PM ^

Yes, go on offense first.  They will get the ball to start the 2nd half, but we will have Ross to defend that series.  If they get the ball to start the first half, we don't have Ross for that series.

Plus, if we do get a long drive and get some points, it pust pressure on Cook to keep pace and makes him error-prone.


October 14th, 2015 at 6:34 PM ^

I'm still scared of MSU.  Yes. it's impossible to understate the upgrade in coaching we have which is - bar none - the biggest difference between now and the 2013/14 shitshows.  But - also yes! - I still have PTSD from said MSU games, so until Sparty is decapitated at Saturday ~6.53 PM EST and we double-tap just to make sure, I'm not underestimating those Natty-Lite swilling, engineer-beating douchebrahs until they're sixteen feet under and Harbaugh piles the last heap of dirt of them.

Granted I said that NU would be a too-close-for-comfort win last week, so... yeah.  I'm still paranoid, ok?


October 14th, 2015 at 6:55 PM ^

I want Michigan to win. I don't care about by how much and I don't care about any other hyperbole describing it. After the past two years and 6 of the last 7 Al Davis sums it up best, "Just win baby." 


October 14th, 2015 at 6:59 PM ^

Never thought I would see a coach make it 9 years at MSU let alone compile a record of 81-31, especially coming after the Bobby Williams and John L. Smith years. I knew Dantonio had been quite successful but not to that degree. 


October 14th, 2015 at 6:59 PM ^

We actually maul MSU like we did in 2006, I just don't believe we win going away in that fashion. I've seen so many preditions of a huge U-M win that it's bordering on group-think, and that's never a good thing.

I still believe we are capable of winning the game. We have the coaching staff that can (finally) prepare the team in the necessary ways.

But the team from East Lansing is also talented, well-coached; and so far undefeated. That's not nothing. Their QB is the best one faced by Michigan yet and I expect that Michigan will get their best game of the season by far.

I'd just like to break their hearts for once, instead of ours.


October 15th, 2015 at 12:46 PM ^

I've seen so many predictions that Sparty will win or make it close that it's bordering on groupthink, and that's never a good thing.

It's not as bad as hysterical over-reactions like arguing that the people who disagree with you are "bordering on groupthink," but it's not good.


October 14th, 2015 at 7:09 PM ^

Definitely feel the same way, and think all Michigan fans should be skeptical with how confident we are feeling. MSU has weapons offensively, but just hasn't seemed to use them effectively this year. It may gel this week, and this may be the week our defense makes a few key mistakes.


We just need to get to Cook frequently. Knock on wood, but I don't see their run game being an issue.


October 14th, 2015 at 7:13 PM ^

Our OL play and QB performance will determine the outcome of the game.....hopefully both feel comfortable enough with our playbook that they can just let the talent flow and not be hesitant.

It's gonna be close.


October 14th, 2015 at 7:16 PM ^

Indeed Cook was phenomenal in that game.  23-38, 357, 2 TDs, 1 INT

Some of those throws and catches were amazing.

If Michigan does shut down the Spartan running game and forces MSU to throw, things are going to get very interesting.  Spartans beat Oregon, Air Force and Rutgers last week with big pass plays. They will be a huge test for Michigan's secondary.

As great as UM's DL and secondary may be, in my view, Michigan wins this game running the ball and keeping Cook and his receivers on the bench.




October 14th, 2015 at 7:39 PM ^

The rational part of my brain notes that all available evidence points toward a decisive Michigan victory...which just makes the irrational Michigan fan part of my brain even more terrified.


October 14th, 2015 at 8:00 PM ^

We are clearly the better team, but our offense still sucks, they have an NFL QB, and we've left people open in the passing game who drop the ball or are missed by their QB.  We shouldn't lose this game but we could.



October 14th, 2015 at 8:07 PM ^

It's all about Cook, getting to him, and the DBs not allowing anyting but the most difficult of catches.  (and Bolden or whomever on their TEs who are solid)

Also while UM has a better DL than Rutgers, Rutgers does have a NFL bound DE who I believe got a ton of their pressures. So its not like Rutgers was devoid of talent up there - and they blitzed constantly.

That was probably one of Cook's top 4 games in his career - other than the Big 10 Championship game and Stanford he rarely does it back to back but on the other hand with their D the past few years and quality of opponents they have faced he hasn't been asked to do it back to back.

Agree on Lewis v Burbridge.  Seeing Stribling on Kings is the other key one - Kings is shifty and a big YAC guy but has not been as prevalent in their offense this year as usual.  Shelton doesnt scare - he will prob get a few catches but he is not explosive in any way.  Distribution this year: Burbridge 34 catches, Shelton 17, Kings 14 (Kings missed some time)

If our DL can do "things" I think we can overwhelm them even with Cook being a good guy under pressure.  Would love to see some TOs as well - MSU only has 3 I believe all year.

We need to do one of these for special teams this week by the way since MSU's is so LOL.


October 14th, 2015 at 8:04 PM ^

Posted from diary for those who don't get there. Statistical strengths on offense - ironically passing O is not one, since they are very DeBord this year and don't use their weapons to full extent and content to run a lot.

MSU Strengths

    Rank Value       UM rank Value
Offense         Defense      
3rd down conversion %   8 50%   3rd down conv % D   1 18.8%
Passes Had Intercepted   10 2   Passes intercepted   27 7
Passing yds per comp   28 13.7          
Fumbles lost   2 1   Fumbles recovered   117 1
Sacks allowed / game   8 0.67   Sacks / game   38 2.5
TFL allowed / game   20 4.5   TFL / game   15 8.0
Defense         Offense      
Fumbles recovered   23 5   Fumbles lost   40 3
Passes Intercepted   36 6   Passes had intercepted   80 6
Red zone defense   29 76.5%   Red zone offense   12 95%
Rushing defense   34 130.2   Rushing offense   33 201.3
Sacks / game   7 3.5   Sacks allowed / game   36 1.3
Tackles for loss / game   23 7.5   TFL allowed / game   26 4.7
Misc / Special Teams         Misc / Special Teams      
Blocked kicks   5 2   Blocked kicked allowed   T1 0
Fewest Penalties/Game   17 4.7   Penalties/Game   31 5.2
Fewest Penalty Yds/Game   6 35.3   Penalty Yds/Game   49 51.7
TOP   24 32:26   TOP   4 34:47
Turnover Margin / game   8 1.33   Turnover Margin / game   77 -0.2
Turnovers lost   4 3   Turnovers gained   68 8



MSU Weaknesses

    Natl rank Value       UM rank Value
Offense         Defense      
Completion %   70 60%          
Passing Offense   76 222.3   Passing defense   2 115.5
Red zone offense   89 80%   Red zone defense   67 83%
Total offense   72 397.3   Total defense   2 181.3
Defense         Offense      
Passing yds Allowed   88 242   Passing yds   97 189.2
Misc / Special Teams         Misc / Special Teams      
Blocked kicks Allowed   120 3   Blocked kicks     0
Kickoff return defense   71 21.5   Kickoffs returns   1 39
Kickoffs returns   86 20   Kickoff return defense   24 18.1
Net punting   104 35          
Punt return defense   119 16.1   Punt returns   60 8.7
Punt returns   124 1   Punt return defense   58 7.5



October 14th, 2015 at 8:11 PM ^

I was feeling pretty confident after reading the post. Then I started reading the comments and I am way down. Our fans are finding every possible thing that can go wrong and why we wouldn't win this game. I think this is what we did for NU, BYU games also.

Dammit, I shouldn't have read the comments. Now, I am completely down on the team. I was really looking forward to making the trip for this first time this year and my enthusiasm was killed. I hate cook - both Connor and Dane.

Stringer Bell

October 14th, 2015 at 8:23 PM ^

Most Michigan fans are just traumatized by the past 7 years, and for good reason. These are 2 different teams from the past couple of years though. You can bet that we will not be out-toughed and physically dominated like the past 2 meetings, not with Harbaugh. And these kids definitely remember the ass whoopings that MSU has given us, I bet they'll be motivated by that as well.


October 14th, 2015 at 9:21 PM ^

Yes, yes and yes.  Exactly how I feel.  Fuck the last 7 years because they are making it almost impossible to enjoy this run.  I just keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, a 30pt blow out loss at the hands of a rival, a sudden complete regression on all fronts, teams doing what they havent been able to do all season against us.  It goes on and on.  I know its crazy, and our coaches are so much better than they have been in the past, but I just can't help that nagging negative feeling. 


October 14th, 2015 at 9:03 PM ^

I don't guarantee a win, but WRT Sparty it's beyond the losses at this point.  Hoke was so thoroughly dominated that the team would curl up and cower.  Seeing Michigan lose was bad enough; seeing Michigan crawling with a ball gag and leash led by Sparty with Joffrey-esque smugness was excessively irritating.  That era is OVER and good riddance.

I can't predict the future but this Michigan is different -- I could see it from the start, even though we lost to Utah.  They don't concede a down.  Michigan State could still win, but they need just about everything to go right:

1) Cook needs a repeat performance of his DSR against Rutgers.
2) Burbridge needs to outplay Jourdan Lewis (AND the safety help if he goes deep).
3) Sad Ghost Rudock needs to cough up the ball 2-3 times.

. . . and that'll basically be Utah redux.  Now ask yourself this:  Does Harbaugh strike you as the kind of coach that'll let Sparty punch his team in the mouth?

Even if Michigan loses, they'll go down not like a stuffed animal getting mauled by a dog, but as a bloodied wolverine making everything within claw distance regret that they can feel pain.  It'll still be a lot more fun to watch.

Stringer Bell

October 14th, 2015 at 9:13 PM ^

A lot of the trepidation about Rudock is a bit unwarranted.  Over the past 2 home games his QBR has been above 95, which is really good (whether or not you like QBR is a different story).  His best performance of the season to date came against the best defense we're likely to face until OSU.  I don't think Rudock will need to win the game as I think we will be able to run on Sparty but I do think he'll make some big throws that will help our cause.

As I've said before, Sparty has been wholly unimpressive this year and any ranking system that doesn't factor in preseason rankings will show this.  They're not the same team they've been the past 2 years.


October 14th, 2015 at 10:05 PM ^

I'm just saying Sparty needs that to happen.  Our only L of the season so far against a Top-10 team was because Rudock threw three picks, two to a receiver who's since been benched.  Is Michigan State as good as Utah?  Doesn't look it.

Durkin isn't the sort to stand pat if Cook goes all Tom Brady on the underneath stuff.  He starts adjusting from the very first drive.  Burbridge will be bracketed all game.  Michigan State doesn't have enough weapons to score points without help, and that's even assuming they're flat-out lying about how injured their O-line is (I honestly wouldn't put it past them).  We always get their A-game but that won't be enough this time.  Michigan has pitched shutouts against offenses not much worse than them (BYU was no cupcake).  They will literally need Rudock to lose this game, but even that's making no assumptions about what Harbaugh's saved up in his RPS+3 bag of tricks.

Again, it's STAEE so anything can happen.  But all those "anythings" have to go in Sparty's favor, and some of them look pretty darn iffy.

Go Blue Beat T…

October 14th, 2015 at 8:22 PM ^

this season had the same feel as 2006 after the ND game. Content to watch our boring team annihilate everyone until Nov 28th. Hopefully no more bs helmet-to-helmet calls then. 

Honestly, y'all need to quit sweatin D'Antonio's balls. It's just State.