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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – MSU

October 12, 2010

THE GOOD

  • Running Backs – One thing that baffled me is why the running backs didn’t get more carries on Saturday.  I thought that the trio of Shaw, Hopkins and Smith all ran hard, and ran well.  Each averaged at least 4.9 yards per carry.  They moved the chains, and didn’t fumble.  Yet they only got 13 carries between the 3 of them.  Hopkins showed a toughness that I had heard about, and Smith was shifty as expected.  The speed back, Shaw, was limited because of injuries, but looked good early on, rushing for 29 yards on his first 4 carries.  Maybe it was due to injury, but he didn’t see the field again.  I was very pleased with what the running backs did – against a pretty decent rush defense.  I only wish they had more opportunities.
  • James Rogers – One of the biggest plays on Saturday was the 44 yard touchdown pass to Mark Dell to begin the 3rd quarter that gave MSU a 24-10 lead.  Dell ran right by true frosh Cullen Christian on that play.  Until that play, Mark Dell, perhaps MSU’s best receiver, didn’t have a catch.  A big reason for this was the play of James Rogers, who had a couple of pass breakups earlier and had basically shut Dell down.  3 plays before Dell’s long TD, Rogers left the game with cramps.  It’s not a coincidence that Dell caught 2 long passes against Rogers’ replacement.  Rogers is by no means a lockdown corner, but he played very well on Saturday, and is turning into a nice defensive back.   There weren’t many highlights on defense on Saturday, but James Rogers was one of them.

THE BAD

  • Denard – Before I go any further regarding Denard’s first appearance under The Bad, I want to be clear that without him this game would have been a full-scale blowout, and we’d probably be 3-3 right now instead of 5-1.  He’s a special player and will bounce back.  But Denard did not bring his best game on Saturday – and while his heroics and ability helped lead us in the right direction, his poor decisions and misreads were the reason we didn’t have a chance to win that game.  His stat line wasn’t all that bad – 17/29 passing for 215 yards (including a couple of drops by receivers) and 86 yards on 21 carries rushing.  But  his 3 interceptions were as costly as depositing money in an account with Bernie Madoff in the Summer of 2007.    It wasn’t just the picks that were costly.  D-Rob missed a couple of wide open receivers – both inside the red zone that would have led to touchdowns.  For whatever reason, he just didn’t look comfortable out there.  It’s only his 6th start, and maybe the big crowd and big game got to him.  It happens to even the great ones.  My guess is he bounces backs strong against Iowa.
  • Playcalling – As I alluded to above, I’m wasn’t thrilled with the playcalling on Saturday, both on offense and defense.  From the offensive standpoint, I thought we threw the ball way too much, considering we were churning out almost 5 yards per carry.  Even when we got behind, our “jet” tempo offense is fast enough that we can still run the ball and save clock.  At the very least, I would have liked to see the running backs get more than 13 carries.  Defensively, I appreciated the coaches willingness to change-up the scheme and move to a 4-2-5 alignment, but I hated the way we left young corners on an island in man to man coverage.  As I said in the preview, I would have forced Kirk Cousins to nickel and dime us down the field and be perfect throwing the ball.  Instead, we gave up several big plays through the passing game in man to man coverage that our young defensive backs just weren’t up to.
  • The Little Things – In Any Given Sunday, Al Pacino, in addition to giving one of the best inspirational movie monologues ever performed, hits the nail on the head when he points out that football is a game of inches.  On Saturday, all of the inches went against us.  I’m sure there are many examples, but here are 4 instances where had the inches gone in our favor, this game may have been drastically different
    • On the third play from scrimmage, the offense had a play blocked beautifully at the line of scrimmage.  The linebackers were all blocked, and the only player unblocked on the right side of the field was the MSU safety, who had Daryl Stonum running directly at him.  D-Rob moved right, and slipped as he did, allowing an MSU lineman to get a hand on him.  He still picked up 8 or 9 yards, but he would have gone 60 yards for the touchdown without the slip.  The play was blocked that well.  We would have led 7-0, and had the defense stepped up like it did on MSU’s initial drive, would have been driving for a 2 score lead on our 2nd drive.
    • On the 2nd drive, on, 3rd and 3 from the MSU 28, Robinson rolled right, and overthrew a wide open Daryl Stonum in the end zone.  A few inches lower, and its a touchdown. We ended up with a FG, and instead of a 7-0 lead, its only 3-0.
    • On both of the interceptions in the end zone, D-Rob made the proper read, and had an open receiver, but threw behind him on both.  On the first interception, the pass was about 6 inches behind Roundtree.  On the second interception, the pass was behind Hemingway, but if it had been thrown over the DB to the taller Hemingway, it would have been a touchdown.  In either instance, a touchdown would have been huge – either giving us a 7-0 lead, or pulling us to within 24-17 midway through the 3rd quarter.
    • With the score 10-7 in favor of Michigan, and MSU facing a 3rd and long inside their own territory, a false start penalty on MSU negated a play on which Michigan had stopped MSU and they would have been forced to punt.  The offensive was moving the ball well at that point, and I think there is a good chance we move the ball down the field and score, giving us at least a 13-7 lead, and maybe a 17-7 lead.  Instead, MSU converts on the replay of 3rd down, and subsequently survives a fumbled snap on the drive before scoring a touchdown.

Flip any of these “inches” plays in our favor, and I think this game plays out very differently.  MSU gets all the credit for winning those inches plays, but this is not the blowout that the scoreboard suggests.

  • Turnovers – Very few teams lose a turnover battle 3-0, and win football games in the Big Ten.  If you do it on drives when you’re already in the red zone, it’s even tougher to overcome.  The biggest problem I have with all 3 turnovers is that none of them were truly forced.  This wasn’t a linebacker stripping a running back of a fumble, or a defensive linemen hitting a QB in mid throw.  In both end zone interceptions, D-Rob had plenty of time to throw, and even had open receivers – he just made bad throws.  On the third interception, Robinson again was unpressured, but threw into double coverage, while missing a wide open receiver near the sideline about 15 yards downfield.  MSU actually blew coverage on that play, but Robinson threw to the wrong receiver.  Each MSU defensive back had to make good plays on the ball to get the picks, especially on the third pick, but it kills me that these were largely unforced errors.

THE UGLY

  • Red Zone Offense – Coming into the game our red zone offense was among the best in the country, scoring on 20 of 22 trips, and scoring touchdowns on 19 of those 20 trips.  We had 5 trips to the red zone Saturday, but came away with only 17 points.  Based on our averages heading into the game, our expected amount of points should have been 31 points.  Two interceptions thrown into the end zone, and one trip settling for a field goal were basically what cost us this game.  On those 3 trips, had we even managed 13 points (2 FG’s and a TD), we would have been trailing by 7 in the 4th quarter.  And had we scored those points early, I think the entire game goes differently.  The good news is that I think this game was the aberration – just a couple of bad throws from D-Rob.   But on replay, it makes me sick to my stomach that we left so many points on the board.
  • Shamwow Strikes Again – I really hate to continually pick on Obi Ezeh, but Saturday’s performance was just brutal.  When you’re directly responsible for the other team scoring 14 points, it’s not a good day.  On both long touchdown runs, Obi somehow managed to run himself 5 yards out of the play before the running back even reached the line of scrimmage.  Had Obi been anywhere near position, 2 very long touchdown runs are at the very worst 10-15 yard runs, and probably 2-3 yard runs.  MSU continually ran up the middle, and did so at Obi’s expense.  At this point, I’m flabbergasted that Obi is still the starter.  Kenny Demens and Mark Moundros both deserve a shot.  They may not make big plays, but as long as they don’t result in big plays for the other team, it’s an improvement.
  • Loss of Goodwill – One of the best parts about this 5-0 start is that felt like the momentum was starting to turn on the program.  The team was unbeaten and one win from bowl game eligibility, we had a Heisman Trophy candidate, and some of the Rich Rodriguez haters were starting to come around.  Despite this loss, we still have a Heisman Trophy candidate (and maybe still the leader) and we’re still well on pace to go to a bowl, maybe even a good one.  But the Rich Rodriguez haters we’re given a whole lot of ammunition to start re-building a case against him.   What’s ridiculous to me is that most of these “fans” predicted us to be 3-3 at this point, yet our 5-1 record isn’t good enough.  I’m not excusing the loss to MSU, but it certainly isn’t reason to revisit Rich Rod’s job approval ratings.  What the loss to MSU does is magnify the importance of this weekend’s game against Iowa. Win, and we’re 6-1, bowl eligible, and back in the Big Ten race as we head into our bye week.  Lose, and the vultures will have 2 weeks to circle and surround the program with their negativity.  It is a very, very big game from a momentum program standpoint.
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