To the Booth: Michigan State By the Numbers

By Chad Peltier on December 5, 2013 at 11:15a
No damns will be given for the entire state. Especially by Mr. Hyde.

There's no question that Michigan State will be the toughest team that the Buckeyes have faced all season. The dummy statistics show that the Narduzzi-led defense is the best in the country, and as I'll show below, the more advanced metrics tend to agree.

The F/+ rankings have the MSU defense ranked second behind Virginia Tech. Bill Connelly, using the F/+ data, gives Ohio State a 65.5% win probability and a projected score of 28-23. However, he notes that, 

A turnover is worth about five equivalent points on average, which means that the results of six of the seven conference championships above could be flipped by a single interception or fumble.

It is imperative that the Buckeyes have a positive or at least neutral turnover margin this Saturday. 

Let's Talk About That Defense 

According to Brian Kelly, Michigan State's defense is not only the top in the country, but an insurmountable force:

"There's apparently no weaknesses in our estimation as you attack them. You try to get big-chunk plays. You try to push the ball down the field because you cannot win a battle at the line of scrimmage."

It seems to me what he's saying is that opposing offenses have to try for explosive plays, because MSU's aggressive safety play and stellar defensive line play will lead to low running back success rates and poor drive efficiency. What do the statistics say? 

  PPP YPP YPA PlPP PoPP Ex. Plays Turnovers Red Zone TD %
MSU Defense .187 20.2 3.77 4.88 .910 32 (4th)  +12 43.5%
OSU Offense .666 11.0 7.33 8.71 3.80 75 (20th) +6 83.9%
  • A couple of notes about the chart above: PLPP stands for average plays per possession and POPP stands for points per possession. Now we have a better understanding of drive efficiency in addition to play efficiency. 
  • Nebraska is one of the top rushing offenses that MSU has seen, and the MSU defense allowed 182 yards for 5.7 yards per carry in that matchup. For a comparison, the Buckeyes average 7.1 yards per carry and are second in the nation in rushing yards per game behind Army. Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah had a 64% success rate, which is a very efficient game. In fact, Nebraska managed two of MSU's five runs of 20+ yards this season. 
  • The Spartans are extremely proficient at preventing explosive rushing plays, but that is partly a function of their opposing rushing offenses. Here are the S&P rushing rankings of MSU's opponents:
  W. MICh S. FLA Notre Dame  Iowa IND Purdue ILLI UM NEB NW MINN
Opp RUSH S&P+ Rank 118 100 24 54 4 85 22 65 14 37 71
  • While Nebraska found success against the Spartan's rushing defense, Indiana did not. Looking closer at that game's box score, the overall team yards per carry is brought down significantly by sacks – Indiana's Coleman actually averaged 5.3 yards per carry.
  • All in all, Michigan State has faced two great, three good, and seven very bad rushing offenses. Nebraska and Indiana both managed to have efficient, if not prolific, rushing performances. However, the Spartan defense truly has yet to face a rushing offense on Ohio State's level – mainly because there aren't very many in the country. 
  • Turnover margin is not just about defenses, but it is worth discussing here because MSU's defense has 27 takeaways on the season. That's 12th in the country in terms of turnovers forced, and 5th in the country in turnovers by the MSU defense. The point being that if turnovers play as big a role as Connelly's projections suggest (i.e. five points allowed per turnover), then that simply underscores how important ball security will be for the Buckeyes. Thank goodness for playing in that dome. 
  • Take some solace in the fact that the Buckeyes are actually pretty exceptional in ball security as well. The offense is ranked in the top twenty for fewest turnovers lost, while the defense has been fairly proficient with interceptions. 
  • Herman-Narduzzi is definitely the top matchup of the game, and we'll see the best of their chess match in the red zone. The Buckeyes ascended to the top spot in red zone touchdown percentage after loitering in the top-3 for much of the season, while the Spartans are sixth in opponent red zone touchdown percentage.

Defensive Edge 

Few are talking about this matchup, though Conner Cook has steadily improved throughout the season. 

  PPP YPP YPA PLPP POPP Ex. Plays Red Zone TD %
MSU Offense .412 12.9 5.33 5.67 2.34 49 (84th) 55.6%
OSU Defense .285 17.6 5.01 5.57 1.59 37 (11th) 65.8%

Here are some notes courtesy of the Ohio State Athletic Department: 

Opponent Avg. Yards Actual Yards Difference
Wisconsin 349.5 104 -245
Northwestern 249 155 -94
Iowa 207.5 130 -77
Penn State 157.2 120 -37
Purdue 76.1 27 -49
Illinois 136.4 132 -2
Indiana 189.9 122 -67
He's no Hyde, but he makes the offense go, that's for sure. Jeremy Langford has been dependable 

In Big Ten play Ohio State has shut down the run. The Buckeyes held No. 23 Wisconsin to 104 rushing yards -- 245 yards below its season average. The very next week Ohio State held No. 15 Northwestern to 155 yards below its average of 249 yards per game. Against Iowa, Ohio State held the Hawkeyes to 130 yards on the ground, 77 yards below its season average, before holding Penn State to 120 yards, 37 below its average. The Buckeyes then allowed just 27 rushing yards in the 56-0 win at Purdue and held Indiana 67 yards below its average.

  • My only real concern about the Michigan State offense – the one led by Mr. Bollman – is an overabundance of runningback screens on passing downs against over-pursuing defenders. Here's what that looks like
  • Michigan State's offense is not really built to create explosive plays, nor does it average a high number of plays per drive. This indicates that the Spartans score primarily by playing field position. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's called TresselBall. Michigan State is ranked second on Football Outsider's overall field position FEI rankings, and first in the country in "Starting Field Position Delta" which is the difference between one's opponents and own starting field position. Michigan State's average starting field position is the 33 yard line. 
  • Further, MSU's excellent field position is not a function of their special teams, which are good but not exceptional. Instead, it's the defense that puts the offense is such excellent field position. Without that, the Michigan State offense has not shown the ability to consistently produce extremely long drives, nor big chunks of yards on explosive plays. 
  • Fun fact: Carlos Hyde leads the country in yards per carry (7.81 YPC) during conference play for runningbacks with at least ten attempts per game. Another fun fact? Braxton Miller is fourth in that category with 7.1 YPC. 
  • Langford has picked up steam lately in conference play, topping six yards per carry against Northwestern and Minnesota. He has 31 rushes of 10+ yards and six of 20+ yards. For a comparison, Hyde has 40 and eleven. 

Comments Show All Comments

Doc's picture

This article has given me at least a little hope we can match up with Sparty. Ii know we are favored and all, but this game scares me.  I keep seeing the replay of The Game on BTN and seeing the defense shredded like leftover turkey is very disturbing to me.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

Chad Peltier's picture

Oh, it scares me too. But I think there are some silver linings in the numbers, albeit some tough matchups too (red zone TD %, turnover margin, and explosive plays allowed, mainly). 

Doc's picture

Well Chad, thanks for pointing out those silver linings.  You have no idea how much I needed them.

CJDPHoS Member

The Official DDS of 11W

WC Buckeye's picture

I think there is also no question that Ohio State is by far the toughest team that MSU will have faced all season. Great stuff - I am feeling more optimistic with each passing day leading up to the game. If we take care of the football, mix up the plays to keep the defense off balance, we will win, dare I say pretty comfortably.

The only thing that's new in the world is the history that we have forgotten.

Buckeye06's picture

As said in the article, I think the key will be field position.  If OSU can churn out a couple first downs on most of it's possessions, it will be extremely difficult for MSU to drive the field.  If the offense can get the ball out past the 30 most of the time, at the very least, then the D will be in a position to succeed. 
And I think OSU's offense plays a little more balanced, since it is inside and we can throw the ball around.  TE's down the seam has been a Miller special the last couple of weeks, and I expect them to be big this weekend (I think our TEs score twice in fact)

albinomosquito's picture

Who has the better punter?  If worse comes to worse, I hope Cam can bail us out when needed.

saevel25's picture

Since MSU likes to play tough man coverage on the outside. I would like to see a lot of 2 TE in the game. Send them down the middle on play action passes splitting the safeties who jump up in run support. The good thing about Man Coverage as well, is that it opens up run plays on the outside. Since DB's line up on the WR, the WR doesn't have to go search for a DB to block. I can see a lot of quick screens, bubble screens, and jet sweeps. 
To me OSU should go with the game plan they had against NW. Get the RB out near the sideline for an outlet pass. Since it is man coverage, a Linebacker or Safety will have to cover him. I think Hyde has an advantage their. 

d5k's picture

A lot of play action and Braxton scrambling on passing downs should solve a lot of what MSU is trying to do along with mixing up the running game by confusing the reads.  If they run scrape exchanges, blitzing the OLB to the field constantly, we need to counter by running packaged plays and outside zone which essentially read the OLB.  We can run in a lot of different ways which is a big part of why we are efficient even when we are using 65% running plays.

Seattle Linga's picture

The two glaring possitives are:
MSU has not faced relatively good offenses in Wisky and PSU in this years schedule
Most importantly they have not faced our offense that is bringing their best game to the carpet this Saturday night!

WezBuck28's picture

Could playing in this big of game against a team like the buckeyes for the first time in his young career have any affect on Cook?

Barnsey69's picture

How did ND beat Sparty?

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

d5k's picture

Their defense won and they got timely penalties vs. the physical pass defense.

Barnsey69's picture

Nevermind, answered my own question. Both teams mustered just over 200 yards in total offense, so it was definitely a defensive game with only one turnover between them (MSU threw one INT). Currently Notre Dame is ranked #46 in total defense, so hopefully that translates to Buckeyes WILL move the ball on Sparty.

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

hhilanders's picture

No one has been able to completely stop our offense this year. We have had a few series or in the Iowa case a whole half where we didn't look very good. I am concerned if we get into a position of not being able to move the ball consistently, then we may start pressing. Everyone will try and make a play or break a big one which can lead to problems. While we have played close games they have been higher scoring. A low scoring game may be a bigger mental issue than the score itself. My hope is we have patience and keep pounding it.

Jdadams01's picture

In the Iowa game, we looked great offensively. We didn't punt the entire game. We just didn't get many first half possessions.

Jabba the Hoke's picture

Yes, the offense was extremely efficient in that game.

Matt M.'s picture

I'm a huge fan of the fact that Miller will not need the gloves for this game. He hates the cold and struggles a bit with the gloves on. Not to mention having to pull the ninja mask away from his eyes to see what he's doing. 
Speaking of which... it looks like we have a blizzard on the way. Anyone know when the buses roll out? Hoping for safe travels. Could get nasty out there.

albinomosquito's picture

Agreed.  Indy/Dayton are right in the thick of it too.  Safe travels to all this weekend.

BuckeyeBartT's picture

Both Sides: Turnovers, Red Zone, and what Bollman does with changing tenancies will determine the outcome. The hitting will be off the charts.... Who wants to kick butt more and win!!! Get them ready UFM!!!

RedStorm45's picture

LOL Brian Kelly, you don't have Ohio State's O-Line.  Or RB.  Or QB.  Talk to us at 11:59 P.M. Saturday.

RBuck's picture

This indicates that the Spartans score primarily by playing field position. If that sounds familiar, it's because it's called TresselBall.

Don't get me wrong because I'm a huge fan of Tressel. But....Urbanball > Tresselball. Urbz has already shown that. Buckeyes 34-20.

Long live the southend.

ibuck's picture

Buckeyes need to play hard on both sides + special teams for a full 60 minutes. No cruising if they get up by a couple scores. They must keep emotions on "simmer"; not boiling over. 
The D must tackle well and be careful not to over-pursue. And I hope they cover closely and rush 4 or more.
The O must be tenacious if it gets tough to get 1st downs, and mustn't be "loose with the ball."

Our honor defend, so we'll fight to the end !

If you can't win your conference, just quietly accept your non-playoff bowl game.

gneptuneproductions's picture

Prediction: Ohio State will be aggressive on Special Teams and force and Punt Block, along with a possible field goal block, thus giving Ohio State crucial momentum and that along with Hyde coming up strong in the 4th quarter leads to a misleadingly lopsided score for a game that was tight through 3 quarters. 
Something like 38-17

Jabba the Hoke's picture

Dantonio loves trick plays, can't get overly aggressive on blocks.

mchaytou21's picture

So long as the defense can force some short MSU offensive possessions, I think Ohio State will wear down the MSU defense. Time of possession will be key in this game, and because MSU does not sustain drives very well, I think Ohio State's offense will be able to take advantage of a tired MSU defense late in the game. BUT, this is all contingent on Ohio State's Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde we shall see what happens.
All in all, I predict a 14 point victory for the bucks. Heres to hoping that my prediction, or any prediction that has the Buckeyes winning this Saturday, is the right one!

When an intimidator fails to intimidate, he becomes intimidated.