A win is a win. And we’ll take this one. But, from an analytical standpoint, there were as many things, if not more, to be worried about than there were positives to take from this game:
Good: Javon Ringer didn’t take the beating he has in previous games: 25 carries, 1 reception, no kick-off returns.
Bad: Ringer averaged only 3.6 yards per rushing attempt (91 yards on 25 carries).
Good: Brian Hoyer in the first half: 8-14 for 113 yards and a TD.
Bad*: Brian Hoyer in the second half: 5-10 for 69 yards an an INT.
*Or at least not quite as good
Good: Brett Swenson’s perfection on three field goal attempts.
Bad: The failure to convert 3 of 4 red zone trips into TDs.
Good: The defense did just enough to hold off the Iowa offense in the second half, despite being on the field for 16 minutes in a 22-and-a-half-minute span.
Bad: Otis Wiley and Chris Rucker both suffered injuries of unknown seriousness (Mark Dell, too?).
Good: Creating three turnovers–two of them when Iowa had reached the redzone.
Bad: Getting outgained by 34 yards.
Very, very good: Adam Decker’s solo tackle for a loss on fourth and inches.
Bad: If Decker doesn’t make that play, it’s hard to see how we win this game.
Stepping back from this game, it certainly feels good to be 5-1 and one of only three Big Ten teams with two conference wins. But I think expectations have to be reasonable going forward. MSU could very well be underdogs (at least narrowly) in 5 of their 6 remaining games. As asserted here, a 7-5 regular season should not be considered a “late season collapse.”
At this point, it’s hard to identify what the strength of this team is. Iowa showed the running game can be stymied by a physical defense. And the passing game is still erratic. First down stats:
- In the first half, MSU ran the ball on 9 of 12 first down opportunities. They gained a total of just 18 yards on those 9 runs and gained four yards or more on only 3 of the 9 attempts.
- They shifted toward the pass somewhat in the second half, throwing on 5 of 11 first down opportunities. Hoyer was 3-5 for 45 yards on those attempts. After two first-down pass completions on the opening drive of the second half, though, MSU couldn’t sustain a drive for the rest of the half. They picked up just one first down in their next four drives.
- For the game, MSU gained only 40 yards on 15 first-down runs (2.7 yards/attempt). Hoyer was 4-8 for 97 yards on first down passing attempts. 85 of those yards came on two passes. The average return on a first down pass continues to be good, but the average is based on a few big plays, leaving a substantial probability of a second and 10 if MSU throws on first down.
The defense, meanwhile, has played just well enough to hold off opponents in the fourth quarter, but hasn’t been tested by a good, well-rounded offense since the Cal game. Indiana, a team we gave up 29 points and 473 total yard to last week, only put up 7 points and 293 yards against Minnesota today. And a secondary that was already suspect is now pretty banged up.
Anyway, I apologize for being such a downer following a beautiful, sunny day on which Michigan State won its homecoming game. Maybe you guys can identify some positives indicators of future success I’m missing here.