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Notre Dame kicked us up and down the field on first down, on both sides of the ball. On offense, they got into '2ndand 5 or better' situations over half the time (14/26) and racked up the EqPts on the down as well (An astounding 12.409 out of their 16.855 total points came on 1st down. That's about 74% of their total production during the game). Simply put, ND was going for the big gain, and pulling it off, at the very beginning of a set of downs.
And when ND was on defense, though Michigan State ran a sizable, for MSU at least, 32 plays on first down, they were only 'successful' on less than a third of them, and hardly managed any good yardage out of so many opportunities.
This meant MSU constantly had to fight out of bad down and distance situations on offense and defense.
2. Oh God, the field position! It means nothing! Nothing!
I was stupefied to see how many times MSU turned a good start into nothing.
Cousins and co. started drives at the:
ND 46, ND 27, MSU 45, MSU 47, MSU 40, MSU 41, ND 21, and the MSU 47
What did they get out of these eight seemingly advantageous starting points? 3 points. Excuse me while I go punch probability in the face.
But seriously, this is good news/bad news time.
Bad news: Obviously the lack of offensive cohesion lost us this game. If a team gets that many good starting positions, you should expect 17, 21, maybe even 28 points out of it, even against a good defense. 3 is awful and unacceptable. Needless to say, if MSU keeps flubbing chances like these, we're in big trouble.
The good news is: field position normally does mean something. It means a lot actually, and I'd expect this type of performance to be an aberration. Meaning, if Nick Hill can continue to be more light beam than man on kick off returns, the defense continues to be opportunistic in turning teams over around mid field, and Keshawn does his Keshawn thing on punt returns, this bodes well for the team's future.
4. New math may be different than it first appears
Uh, so these calculations don't include 80+ yard kick off returns for TDs, which obviously goes a ways to explaining the gap between the two teams. Furthermore, they also don't directly incorporate penalty yards where ND was +33 yards on the afternoon.
On the other hand, the definition of what a 'close game' is happened to remove a couple of pretty good drives from MSU's close game stats ledger (as the game yo-yo'd between 15 [close] and 18 points [not close]. Also, the close game razor did not remove a horrifyingly bad -4.48 EqPt play from MSU's stats on that 82 yard interception return.
So, this game was probably closer than the final score looked, which well, happens when you come out of drives that ended on the 2 and 3 yards lines with 0 points (and a gifted field goal try to your opponent).
5. Where is the explosion on offense?
Through three games, there have been a startlingly low amount of big plays from the Spartan's O. The first two games I chalked it up to vanilla play calling, but after Roushar literally (and by literally, I mean figuratively) threw the kitchen sink out onto the field, and didn't get a single play over 30 yards to show for it, we maybe need to be concerned about this.
I gotta think at some point MSU is going to rip off a bunch of huge gains simply because the Cousins, Cunningham, Martin, Baker, Bell, Sims group is just too good not to, but maybe they won't. And if they don't, we better hope the performance of the defense through three weeks is for real, because we won't be able to dink and dunk our way down the field on the road against some of the defenses on our schedule.
A lot of words have been spilled over this game. To be honest, the most upsetting thing about the game to me wasn't the loss, which, well thorough, contained enough good things from MSU to keep me upbeat, but rather the loss of Skyler Burkland, whose absence likely worsens an already average offensive line, and maybe more importantly, carries over the o-line tumult into next season, as well as this one. Just a crushing, crushing loss (not to mention later revealed injuries to both Treadwell and McGaha).
On the bright side, despite their record, that Notre Dame team is good. And make no mistake, this wasn't 2010 Iowa redux. This was, more or less, a one possession game that turned on a couple of backbreaking plays by the Notre Dame squad. All credit to them for making those plays.
Furthermore, if you have to loss a game, in the grand scheme of things, a non-conference loss to a highly regarded (if not highly ranked) Notre Dame team on the road, is hardly the worst thing in the world. The Big Ten Title race is still totally alive, we surprisingly didn't fall out of both top 25 polls, and it's much better to lose early than late.
With all that said, this game clearly exposed some flaws within this particular team, and does little to bolster the shaky credibility of Michigan State as a top 20 program. I can say all I want that this game wasn't as bad as it first appeared, but if you don't think the general football world isn't waiting to pull out the 'Same Ol' Spartans' and 'Sparty No!' memes, you're crazy. Games like this don't help the weekly fight for respect and relevance, cause at the end of the day, 18 points is 18 points. At some point, 'they were better than they looked' needs to turn into 'they were better'.
Games like this won't help the confidence within the program that we can consistently beat good teams on the road, and don't bode especially well for upcoming contests against Ohio State or Nebraska. The running game, penalties, and general special team's Jekyll and Hyde act need to stop, or we're headed for '2009 with a better defense'. And that might still mean 9 wins, but it could mean 7. Or worse.
There's a really good Michigan State team hiding under that performance, but let's be clear, it is hiding right now. I hope the team figures its problems out this Saturday against CMU, because (admittedly, a similarly dysfunctional) OSU looms large, and the UM game doesn't much look like the fairly easy out it appeared to be at the start of the season. Hopefully, this was just a sub-par performance and not a harbinger of games to come.