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.
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…
- 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.
- Orhian Johnson missed a tackle.
- Christian Bryant tried the old Cato June shoulder-block, which Mumphery bounced off of.
- Travis Howard tried to strip the ball instead of tackling.
- Etienne Sabino tried to strip the ball instead of tackling.
- ALL OF THE STRIPPING
- NONE OF THE 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.