Monday, December 6, 2010

Mississippi State: NCAA rankings

Ed. note: Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking some time to break down Mississippi State film and see how Michigan matches up. First up, by the numbers.

Like most of you, I didn't see a whole ton of Mississippi State's games this year, something that will hopefully change if I can get a hold of some torrents. So right now, I don't have much to go on besides NCAA standings and various box scores. In the interest of talking about football when little else is going on, let's take a look at Michigan's bowl opponent strictly by the numbers. NCAA rankings:
  • Rushing offense: 16th nationally; 215.75 yards per game,  4.61 yards per carry
  • Passing offense: 91st nationally;  178.58 yards per game,  8.09 yards per attempt
  • Scoring offense: 58th nationally;  27.08 points per game
All of that paints the picture of a run-first team that uses the run to set up some crushing play-action passes. The good news for Michigan is that Mississippi State doesn't have the Scott Tolzien or Ricky Stanzi-like prototypical drop back QB who is going to pick apart Michigan's defense (starter Chris Relf is completing only 56% of his passes). Unfortunately, because of the play-action, Michigan will probably spend very little time blitzing with their linebackers, opening up running lanes for a potent attack. However, Mississippi State only ranks 50th in passing efficiency, so the play-action may not be quite as effective as the numbers indicate. This side of the ball may very well come down to the reaction time of Mouton, Demens, and Ezeh, as well as aggressive playcalling on Greg Robinson's behalf.
  • Rushing defense: 20th; 121.67 yards per game, 3.56 yards per attempt
  • Passing defense: 89th;  236.42 yards per game, 7.00 yards per attempt
  • Scoring defense: 27th; 20.33 points per game
These are pretty middling numbers, frankly. While their rush defense appears to be strong, both Iowa and Ohio State are ranked well above them, and Mississippi State's numbers are almost identical to those of Michigan State's. Michigan rushed for 4.8 YPC against MSU, 4.4 YPC against Ohio State, and 4.5 YPC against Iowa. So while each of those defenses slowed Michigan's ground game, expecting Mississippi State to do much more than that is unlikely.

What killed Michigan in each of those three games were turnovers. They had 10 combined in those losses and at least three in each game. Mississippi State's scoring defense seems somewhat incongruous with their yardage allowed (primarily 89th in passing defense), but a quick look at turnovers shows that they are 21st nationally in turnovers gained with 26. FWIW, Ohio State is 12th (29), Iowa is 47th (22), and MSU is 34th (24). If Michigan doesn't shoot themselves in the foot, chances are they'll be able to move the ball pretty well against a so-so defense.

What does it mean? On paper at least, this seems like a really good matchup for Michigan. Mississippi State's run defense is strong but on par or worse than three units Michigan has already seen and moved the ball effectively against. In terms of pass defense, statistically they are sandwiched between Purdue and Indiana, two teams that offered very little in the way of resistance (save the former's awful weather conditions).

On the other side of the ball, Mississippi State either can't or willfully hasn't shown the ability to exploit Michigan's greatest weakness: the passing game. They rarely throw the ball and rely primarily on a solid rushing attack. Michigan's traditional 4-3 did wonders against Ohio State's rush attack (the 89-yard, Vinopal-missed-tackle run excluded, Ohio State averaged 3.8 YPC), and a healthy Mike Martin could go a long way to shutting down Mississippi State's running game.

Turnovers look like they'll be the deciding factor in this one. If Michigan can hold onto the ball, they should be able to move up and down the field on Mississippi State. Then again, they did hold Auburn to only 17 points. But Auburn had two turnovers (an interception and a fumble) as well as a significant yardage disparity (348 vs. 246) that indicates they should've won by significantly more. I'll be watching this game to see what exactly Mississippi State did to hold down Cam Newton and the Auburn offense, but suffice it to say, I'd bet Auburn shot themselves in the foot a lot (a quick spot check shows a missed field in addition to the aforementioned turnovers).


Anonymous said...

"Then again, they did hold Auburn to only 17 points. But Auburn had two turnovers (an interception and a fumble) as well as a significant yardage disparity (348 vs. 246) that indicates they should've won by significantly more."

I appreciate the optimism, but couldn't you just change Auburn to Michigan, and the last line to "should've lost by significantly less?" The performance of the team to date doesn't give me any reason to hope that we'll be better than -2 in turnovers, which doesn't bode particularly well.

Chris Gaerig said...

I had a chance to watch the game yesterday. The interception was a poor throw by Newton: tossing a ball into double coverage against cover-2. Auburn's fumble was a muffed punt. And Mississippi State also recovered a surprise onside kick (which doesn't show up in the box score as a turnover, but essentially is one).

I'm not trying to say that Michigan = Auburn and their performances will be similar, just that by most measures, Auburn won the game despite shooting themselves in the foot several times, which is what we've come to expect out of Michigan.

Anonymous said...

The bulldogs also dropped an interception against Auburn that would have resulted in an easy TD. If you couple that with the dropped pass on the Auburn 15 on the final drive, Mississippi State could have easily won the game or at least tied it and went into overtime.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate that, and I do enjoy the optimism of this being a good matchup. However, as you said, I don't expect only a foot-shooting, but foot-mass murder from Michigan at this point. God help my poor remote control if Jeremy Gallon trots out to field a kickoff.

Chris Gaerig said...

Re: the easy interception. I'll be doing a picture pages on that later this week. As I mentioned in my overview of Mississippi State's defense in this game, they were fundamentally unsound against screens. The play in question is one in which they jumped the screen route rather than try to play it correctly. It was a high variance play (succeed and it's a defensive TD, fail and it's probably an offensive TD) that ended in very little. But I'll talk about how Michigan will attack this.

I do think that this is a good matchup. Whether or not that results in a victory is yet to be seen.

Post a Comment