While this doesn't paint a pretty picture for the run game, either, after halftime Michigan passed on 60% of its first downs, got one completion on a short route that turned into a big gain when Roundtree broke a tackle, and did nothing else.These numbers seemed wrong and after looking through the box scores that I typically look at (Rivals and ESPN), I still don't know where these numbers came from. Both box scores say that Michigan ran the ball 36 times for 82 yards (an average of 2.3 yards per carry). In college, sack yardage is inexplicably taken away from the running game, but even if we add in the yards from Michigan's seven sacks (62), Michigan average only 4 YPC (144 yards with sacks removed), not the gaudy 5.2 YPC that Brian cites.
For the game Michigan tried to pass at least 41 times*, averaging 2.8 yards per attempt and giving up a defensive touchdown.
TWO POINT EIGHT YARDS
RUN THE FOOTBALL!!!!
……Sorry. Sorry.Michigan tried to run the ball 26 times and averaged… oh, Jesus… 5.2 yards per carry. Fitzgerald Toussaint got two carries, Denard twelve.
The same discrepancies exist in the passing game. Both box scores list Michigan as completing 12 of 31 passes through the air for 168 yards (5.4 YPA). If you remove sack yardage from those passing numbers, Michigan averaged 3.29 YPA (102 yards with sack yardage subtracted)
To make the running numbers worse, 80 of Michigan's rushing yards came on five carries:
- 26-yard Vincent Smith carry on a miraculous Denard zone read
- 15-yard Denard scramble for a touchdown (supposed to be a pass)
- 15-yard Denard carry on a jet sweep
- 11-yard QB draw on 2nd and 18 when MSU is playing prevent
- 13-yard Denard carry on a jet sweep
[UPDATE: A commenter notes that if we remove sack yards from rushing totals, we also have to remove the rushing attempts. Therefore, Michigan produced 144 yards on 29 carries (4.9 YPC). For the cherry picked rushed above, Michigan average 64 yards on 24 carries (2.6 YPC).
Similar logic applied to the passing numbers. If you add rushing totals back into the passing numbers, Michigan netted 102 yards on 38 attempts (2.7 YPA).
I didn't expect Brian to make an error like this and by my math (wrong) it seemed like he had. While Michigan did struggle passing the ball, I still think saying the team rushed for 5.2 YPC (or 4.9, whatever the case may be) is a bit misleading.]
This is the kind of defensive formation Michigan saw all game:
Regardless of the weather, you don't run against this formation. You can't. MSU's safeties are 8 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the defense is essentially playing cover zero. If your receivers can't get open (and QB can't throw to them) with this coverage, you're not winning.
Before the game, the logic was that the wind would hurt Michigan State more because they relied more heavily on the passing game. In reality, Kirk Cousins, being a much better passer than Denard, was able to more effectively manage the adverse conditions. The Spartan defense, therefore, was able to key on the running game because of Denard's existing passing struggles in addition to the blustery conditions.
The real problem with Michigan's offense in this game was the structure of the passing routes. Almost all of the Michigan receivers were running vertical routes that took too long to develop. With the MSU blitzes and the windy conditions, long-developing routes were never going to be successful. To make matters worse, MSU completely disregarded the bubble screen. Michigan hasn't used it once this season and so defenses are allowed to align like this:
That's Michigan's best receiver (Junior Hemingway) lined up in the slot with a safety 10 yards off the line of scrimmage in man coverage. Michigan would run a pitch option here that would net two (TWO!) yards. On the next play, Drew Dileo will dive for the first down on Michigan's fake punt.
For a coordinator that tries to exploit man coverage by taking shots down the field, it's willful stupidity not to throw bubble screens when a defense aligns like this. Worse still, Michigan ran into a defensive front that had eight men in the box openly showing a run blitz. Even one of those throwback screens that Michigan has used this season would have worked; MSU was overpursuing for most of the game.
I don't think Michigan threw the ball too much against MSU. The bigger problem was the passing routes that the team ran. With a defense so obviously selling out on the run by constantly blitzing (which also stopped deep routes), the short hitches and screen passes that Denard has proven he can throw would've been a superior option to the deep routes that Borges called in an attempt to exploit single coverage on the outside.