MSU-OSU: Relevant To Our Interests Part I Comment Count

Brian October 4th, 2012 at 11:51 AM



It's a bye week, so let's take a look at a game that may tell us something about the two most important games on the schedule. This is a little like evaluating a spring game—is OSU's defensive line rampant or is MSU's offensive line mewling?—but there are Things that can be Learned.

To the knowledgemobile!

Michigan State Offense vs Ohio State Defense

Andrew Maxwell is a lot better than his stats give him credit for. In this one he had 269 yards and a touchdown on 42 attempts, which is a mediocre-to-poor 6.4 YPA. But it's not his fault. Every negative thing you've heard about the MSU wide receiver corps is true, and then some. They drop balls. They can't get separation. They drop some more balls. They're not particularly big targets. Etc.

Maxwell himself is a dart-thrower who handles pressure well. He laid in three twenty-yard corner routes perfectly, and what did he get from them?

Bupkis. At no point did anyone have an inch of separation.That happened twice in the first half and when Maxwell managed to thread the tiniest of needles in the second half, Fowler was separated from the ball. Fowler has now been displaced by Aaron Burbridge because obviously.

Also, doink.

Burbridge must be running routes so wrong they're backwards in practice. DeAnthony Arnett, too.

Anyway, Maxwell had time and was deadly accurate in this game. Good play from the OSU secondary and awful awful awful WR play held his numbers down, as they have every game this year. With a few more games under his belt, Maxwell will not be a huge step down from Kirk Cousins when the time comes.

Is Jonathan Hankins immense or is MSU's offensive line a shambles? Both, probably. Here's Hankins destroying the surest thing on the Michigan State line, senior multi-year starter Chris MacDonald:

Hankins destroying the right tackle:


OSU flips Hankins between three DL spots (everything but WDE); in this game they played him exclusively at three-tech, where he owned. A very large part of MSU's anemic rushing output (LeVeon Bell had 45 yards on 17 carries) was Hankins demanding doubles all day, or blowing up plays when he was not doubled.

/shakes fist at Rich Rodriguez and Archie Collins

As for the MSU OL, it's getting kind of shambling. Maxwell had time to throw in the second half when MSU abandoned the ground game and turned into Oklahoma State lite, but OSU's edge rush guys aren't great. WDE Nathan Williams is Frank Clark but more responsible, and it's basically down to Garrett Goebel and John Simon to get to the QB since it's not in Hankins' job description to do so. In this game Simon was quiet.

Point shambles. With nine minutes left in the  game, MSU faced a fourth and one. They've got Le'Veon Bell. They passed. I thought this was defensible.

Le'Veon Bell is still terrifying. OSU bottled him up by forcing him to do things in the backfield, which robs him of his momentum and takes away the YAC that turns three yard runs into five. MSU does lack an alternative this year. Nick Hill is just a guy, and Larry Caper has been almost totally marginalized. Without Baker the Spartans don't have the option of attacking the edges as much as they did last year—welcome news for Michigan.

Ohio State's secondary is athletic and dumb. Keith Mumphery rumblestumbled for a 29 yard touchdown when…

  1. Orhian Johnson dragged way out of position on a run fake to the opposite side of the field he couldn't do anything about anyway.
  2. Orhian Johnson missed a tackle.
  3. Christian Bryant tried the old Cato June shoulder-block, which Mumphery bounced off of.
  4. Travis Howard tried to strip the ball instead of tackling.
  5. Etienne Sabino tried to strip the ball instead of tackling.

It's something to behold:

Try to imagine Kovacs doing what Christian Bryant does here if you want your head to explode due to logic error.

On the other hand, MSU corner routes were obliterated by Johnson getting over and the corner being underneath, as mentioned above under the Maxwell bit.

OSU's corners got flagged a lot in this game. They're aggressive and will gamble on the flag instead of playing passively and hoping things go right for them. If refereeing is home-field biased this is not so good for M.

Here's what happens when pattern matching goes awry. Pattern matching is nouveau  zone coverage in which the guy you're in man-to-man on is determined after the snap. It's what Alabama uses, what a lot of the NFL uses… it's the in thing. Now offensive coordinators are trying to beat it, and here's the first instance I've seen* of a route clearly predicated on the idea the opponent is pattern matching.

MSU WR Bennie Fowler will run an out and up, which happens all the time on the outside. It's not something that common in the slot, at least in my experience. Johnson is checking him because if the #2 WR goes vertical, that's his guy. Once he breaks to the out he thinks "not my problem" and starts looking for a post or crossing route from the other side of the field. As soon as Johnson looks away, the WR does go vertical (this is clear only on the replay):

Big third down conversion because MSU messed with Johnson's key. RPS +2.

*[I'm sure this has been going on for a few years now; this is just the first one that was like "ohhhhh I get it."]

MSU has a screen I remember and hate. They're running it a little differently, but if you remember Michigan's matchups with Wisconsin about a decade ago you probably remember their middle TE screen that invariably picked up 15 yards. MSU is running a variation of that with Bell where instead of looping the ball over someone the QB just zips it to the RB quickly before the DE can collapse back inside. I want to call it a "zip screen" or something because the main advantage it has is being super quick relative to other screens. Por ejemplo:

That's the screen that you thought "ohhhh lucky" on in the Boise game when a DE almost intercepted it, BTW.

OSU will leave big holes in their zone occasionally. MSU's sporadic success in their passing game came largely when big gaping holes sprung in OSU's zone coverage, like here:

Also, Dion Sims is a horse of a tight end. That's a full ten yards after contact.

Here a simple snag package gets Mumphery open for a big gain:

That's a very large hole off a corner blitz; wonder if someone (Shazier most likely) busted there.

Where is the pressure? Despite MSU abandoning the run almost entirely in the second half, OSU was unable to generate much pressure.Williams will run at you fast if you don't get a block on him but he's not an elite pass rusher by any stretch of the imagination. He's just a guy.

More worrying for Ohio State (and Michigan) was Simon's almost total lack of impact. I've seen him beast up in a couple games this year, but not against MSU. I swear, if MSU can cobble together an OL that can fend off Michigan again this year I'm going to have a fit. Another fit. Fitty fit fit.


M Wolve

October 4th, 2012 at 12:03 PM ^

isn't really a play that I'd call out and say OSU has huge holes in their zone.  This was a new design by MSU's OC that had Sims lined up as the left tackle.  OSU didn't have a scheme to counter this right away, which allowed Sims to be open 10 yards down field.  I think MSU got an alignment penalty on the play, IIRC.  Sims' power is pretty ridiculous though. 


October 4th, 2012 at 12:13 PM ^

This was such a weird and unexpected match-up. Maxwell deffinately looked good, but at the same time, coming into this game, OSU had the worst defense in the B1G. Against the murder's row of Miami OH, UCF, UAB, and Cal. Think about that. Did they step up finally in this game or is MSU so bad that OSU's D still managed to become the 10th best D in the league and MSU only manage 16 points despite gaining three big TOs. I really don't know. This league sucks right now. Maybe Herbstreit is right that Purdue is the best.


October 4th, 2012 at 12:40 PM ^

It seems to me that so many of Sparty's routes are quick slants (or other quick throw routes), even going back to Cousins.  Is this my imagination?  If not, why don't DC's take a chance with robber coverage (no idea what I'm talking about so verbiage may be off) or something that has a corner/nickel sit or drift into the passing lane?  Especially given the WR's are terrible.  The potential gain seems worth the risk.


October 4th, 2012 at 1:16 PM ^

I hear you saying that

"With a few more games under his belt, Maxwell will not be a huge step down from Kirk Cousins when the time comes."  " and I"

And I think you may be on crack.

What exactly has he done that has led you to believe this?  Maybe its selective perception, but I have watched him overthrow, underthrow, thow wide, and throw tight...with wide open receivers.  Yes, they are terrible receivers.  But you act like that fact in itself explains 100% of Maxwell's shortcomings.  If you took the time to actually UFR his games(without prejudice) I'm pretty sure you would come up with a different conclusion.

OSU sold out to stop the run.  They held Bell to what, 30 or 40 yards?  How do you suppose Maxwell would have done had OSU actually acknowledged his arm as a threat?

Lastly, Cousins was a special college player.  He will probably start on an NFL team sooner rather than later.  The fact that he never played in a rose bowl is about as strong an indightment of the futility of MSU's program as you can make.  And you want to compare Andrew Maxwell to HIM? 

Name me a starting spartan QB worse than Andrew Maxwell.  Something tells me I'll be waiting a long time for an answer.



October 4th, 2012 at 1:35 PM ^

Agree with a lot of this.  There's more to being a QB than an accurate arm.  We need to see Maxwell in a tough road game before we have any idea if he's even very good.  Leadership is a big part of the position as well, and Coupons did as well as you can at MSU re. this.  Maxwell doesn't seem to be cut that way.  I have been fairly impressed with his arm though.

Disagree in that I don't think Coupons will ever be a starter in the NFL.  He did a lot of things well, but one thing he did regularly was squirm under pressure and avoid contact like the plague.  I think the rough hits that are a regular part of NFL life will marginalize him, and he'll end up being a valuable clipboard holder for many years.


October 4th, 2012 at 1:37 PM ^

Well in a few more games you would expect maxwell to improve his consistency and the recievers to improve as well, its still his first year starting after all. I think he is an average quarterback at best but with bell in the backfield that is all he needs to be just somebody to hit the play action or slant to loosen up the defense so bell can do his thing.


October 4th, 2012 at 1:46 PM ^

Just stating my opinion...don't neg me bro!!


I kinda disagree with the pattern matching thing…the setup here is a nickel 3-3-5 it looks like cover 3 cloud.  The outside lb should be pattern reading the #2 receiver not the deep safety.  The safety #19 should be reading the qb and staying deep as the deepest to his side in between his landmarks.  In high school those landmarks are hash to hash not sure about college.    The safety is wrong in that he either forgot his assignment which is to stay deep as the deepest or he lost eye discipline and bit real hard on a route on the other side of the field, which at that moment didn’t concern him.  If he stays deep the msu qb has to throw the pass over the lb…who still should be getting depth (which he didn’t) and the safety who should be coming up once the ball is thrown.  So I do agree that pattern matching was taking place, I just don’t agree that the safety was the one pattern matching.


October 4th, 2012 at 1:59 PM ^

let me google that for you:

The first link:

"A Detroit native, Collins spent four years as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Southeastern High School (2006-09)" where Hankins went to high school.



October 4th, 2012 at 2:07 PM ^

His high school coach who played for MSU and has been successfully steering kids anywhere that isn't Ann Arbor since Lloyd days. He was made famous when he said to the Fr**p that Andre Criswell wasn't given a chance because he was made a grad assistant (the smartest thing he has ever said).

Had to do that from memory of a few years ago so sorry if i got any facts incorrect.


October 4th, 2012 at 2:37 PM ^

Doesn't mean he will make it of course.  There are many reasons college quarterbacks don't regardless of physical talent.


To ClearEyesFullHart, you are a football idiot.  Maxwell has a cannon for an arm.  He's developing touch but not fully there yet.  He is accurate.  Not in the category of Brees or Montana(or even Cousins in my opinion), but he's accurate enough.  When you throw the ball 40+ times you're going to miss some.  Some of those MIGHT even be on purpose to avoid a sack or potential interception due to good coverage.

I've watched him every game and he's improving.  He had a good game agains Ohio State.  He displayed good pocket poise and I believe he's getting past his first read quicker now.   Hard to say if he's getting past his second with regularity.  If Burbridge is better than Fowler(if not he's the worst 4* recurit ever), don't be surprised if Maxwell lights up Michigan for 300 yards if needed(it will be needed if Michigan stuffs Bell consistently as Ohio State did).

If Michigan State has a poor season(7-5 woudl be considered poor IMO) it won't be on Maxwell. 




October 4th, 2012 at 3:21 PM ^

even mentioning Montana or Brees here is laughable.  Mentioning Maxwell being a shade worse than Cousins is excessively premature. 

Your guy has played against nobody and Notre Dame.  All at home.  You don't know much about him.  And given that, to say he has pro potential or he's not much of letdown from Cousins or (tee-hee) mention him with Brees or Montana is silly.

He's got a good arm, he's looked OK so far.  His stats are worse than they should be because his receivers are terrible.  That's all OK.  Anything more (including Brian's assertion) is premature.