Movie Theater: Michigan State Spartans vs. Michigan Wolverines
In many ways, it felt like the 2013 Michigan vs. State of Michigan game The score was close at half-time, but the final score reflected the state of the wider game.
Tunnels, rocking helmets and narratives have largely obscured the fact that Michigan State’s defense played its best game of the season by some margin, and still gave up more than 5 yards on the ground, and lost by 22 points, as the attack showed an uncharacteristic impotence.
Starting with the clear highlight of the night for Michigan State fans, MSU’s offense was sparked by two impressive catches by wide receiver Keon Coleman (#0).
One of the big bye week additions on offense was trying to spread Michigan’s defense with very wide receiver splits, out of the hashes both downfield and on the edge. One side has a group of three MSU receivers with a simple screen to Tre Mosely (#17), with Coleman split all alone downfield. The screen was thrown several times throughout the game, to little effect. On this play, quarterback Payton Thorne looks Coleman all the way and lays a jump ball that makes for a great catch.
Michigan cornerback Gemon Green (No. 22), is known for his ability to stay in phase, but short circuits when the ball is in the air. That was the case here, as demonstrated both earlier and in the Ricky White game in 2020. Michigan tried to get a safety to go over the top in time to help, but Makari Paige (#7) was too late .
After another success throwing Coleman in the first half, Jayden Reed and Coleman received a grand total of five targets in the second half. The natural question is “why?!?!?” I think there are three likely answers.
First, Michigan’s offense was able to shut down MSU’s three-and-out offense by going long drives as the game wore on. Second, Thorne was under constant siege and missed multiple shots that would have been converted. Third, I mentioned earlier that Michigan made a concerted effort to have a safety over deep balls to prevent Coleman’s “mossings.” This was much more at stake in the second half, as can be seen below.
This route has been beaten six ways since Sunday, and MSU is lucky not to be intercepted.
A question I was asked in the comments section earlier in the season was essentially “What is our offensive identity?” It’s a fair question. MSU certainly leaned toward a “never touch, hit dingers” philosophy last year, which worked with the nation’s best running back in Kenneth Walker III, a stable of capable wide receivers and a functional offensive line.
With a beleaguered offensive line and pedestrian backs, the same philosophy hasn’t been maximally effective despite good receiver talent. Michigan State struggles to run the ball and gives up pressure on too many drop backs. There isn’t enough organization on the offensive line to handle the pull action or gap schemes, which reduces the run scheme to a simple inside/outside zone restriction. Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson implemented more movement in the offense this week, moving the tight ends around to try to create matchups. Still, the X’s and O’s were missing, and the “Jimmies and Joes” couldn’t stack up.
The final score could have looked a lot uglier, but MSU forced multiple field goals instead of touchdowns in red zone/goal-to-go situations. I think Michigan’s main wrinkle in on-and-off situations was using quarterback JJ McCarthy’s (#9) legs on option plays to create 11-on-11 situations. I think, but I’m not sure, that MSU had this planned and fully unloaded.
On each of the next two plays, look at No. 33 safety Kendell Brooks. MSU “scratches” the mesh point, sending Brooks to call McCarthy on the run option mesh points. McCarthy can’t handle both the linebacker’s leverage and an unblocked safety, so the run threat is neutralized and the field goal fest was on.
Defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton has been rightfully criticized, but this was his best game plan. Another adjustment he made was to really limit Michigan’s passing game by keeping two safeties on obvious passes.
In many situations, by not giving up on deep drives, McCarthy was forced to control the ball or leave the pocket and run. This work was a functional sack. Watch McCarthy’s head as he tries to pass a deep progression, but is thwarted by the two safeties holding the lid on the offense as McCarthy looks in the end zone. McCarthy wants to go to the closest receiver, Roman Wilson (No. 14), but he is “blocked” from his route, and McCarthy had to attempt a scramble.
The downside to keeping players deep is that McCarthy was able to pick up 50 yards on the ground, including four first down conversions. Here, McCarthy goes through almost an entire progression, but can’t find an open player and has to tuck the ball and move the chains.
MSU debuted with a run-heavy 4-3 front against Wisconsin and mixed it up again against Michigan. The downside to moving Jacoby Windmon (#4) from EDGE to a true linebacker spot is that he and Cal Haladay (#27) have to do real linebacker stuff, like *cover. * Michigan exploited it mercilessly with tight level routes. , and trying to match up speedy position players with skills in one-on-one matchups with linebackers. There is no better example than Jacoby Windmon trying to cover Donovan Edwards, who was coveted by Ohio State as receiver.
The appeal of a 4-3 is that it allows you to play “bigger” and stop the run. However, when he gives up 276 yards rushing on more than 5 yards per carry, one has to wonder about the transition costs of that move. MSU was able to avoid explosive drives, but consistently mounted for four, five and six yards at a time to keep the chains moving.
Michigan’s offensive line created a constant push and the backs were good enough to make hay. Michigan was able to run the ball against the strength of MSU’s defense, the interior of the defensive line, well enough. More yards should have been had (and taken) on the edge, but running back Blake Corum’s second touchdown shows what Michigan did inside.
Michigan takes a tight end through the hole to seal an edge, and No. 77 Michigan left guard Trevor Keegan absolutely mash. When the linebackers can react, they face the release of Michigan’s blockers, and Corum is in the end zone.
Corum went to the second level untouched on most of the runs, and when you factor in his ability to drop forward and break contact seemingly every time…it’s a lot like the 5 yards per carry that Michigan averaged. And so it goes on.
Last year, Michigan managed 146 rushing yards on 4.3 yards per carry against MSU. Although ranked as a contender for Michigan’s ground game in 2021, MSU’s win in this game obscured the fact that there were still yards to be had on the ground against MSU last year and created unrealistic expectations about what MSU could be expected to do against Michigan. rush attack In 2021, Michigan’s running game was limited, but the “success” wasn’t entirely affecting the Wolverines’ running game, forcing them into high-level third-and-long situations . Michigan still had more than half of its first downs last year, and getting nearly 150 rushing yards is more than completely shutting down a team. This year, the dam broke a little more, though not as much as many Michigan fans expected.
Finally, I wanted to talk about the fourth stop (you know the one).
I was going to draw an elaborate diagram showing exactly what went wrong, but it’s much more “meta” than simply bad assignment football (which, to be clear, it was). You just can’t come out of a timeout and not have half the offensive line nYou don’t know the snap count.
Coleman absolutely blows a linebacker at the top of the formation, and Tyler Hunt (No. 97) toward the bottom of the formation gets his face crossed as bad as you’ll ever see. Those two backs find Jalen Berger (No. 8) in the backfield, where they’re joined by running back Maliq Carr (No. 6) at the bottom of the formation, allowing him to pass. charming
Next week, Michigan State will lose two defensive starters against another down-and-out team with a salty defense. If a bowl is to be made, its gut check time for the Spartans.
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