Michigan State football

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Michigan State football: What’s wrong with the 2022 offense?

The 2022 season has been a nightmare for Michigan State football, especially the offense which has taken a nosedive.

Listen, I know most of you have moved on from Michigan State football (I personally don’t blame you), but I’ve only begun what will end up being an autopsy of this mess of a 2022 season.

With one game guaranteed on the schedule, I figured I would give myself a head start in piecing together what went so bad, and more importantly, why it went so bad — and what it means for the future of Michigan State football under Mel Tucker.

Like with any autopsy, exploration and fact-finding come first. The why will come later once the picture becomes more and more clear — and the offense is on the table today.

Anyone with eyes has seen the struggles this offense has had, it’s even looked incredibly painful most of the time, and the numbers bear that out in almost every aspect. Michigan State averages -0.76 EPA/play, which ranks them 102nd in the country. EPA stands for “expected points added” and if you are unfamiliar with this statistic, don’t be alarmed. This statistic provides meaning to the idea that all yards are not created equal.

For example, gaining five yards on a third-and-2 at your opponent’s 11-yard line is worth more than gaining five yards on 1st & 10 on your own 15-yard line. Given the down and distance and yards to go, there is an expected point value, and what the play results in is your EPA. If you’re on offense and the EPA is greater than 0, that is a successful play. If it’s less, that’s an unsuccessful play. So since MSU averages -0.76 EPA/play, that means this offense is losing points every time it snaps the ball relative to what is expected.

Now, the bright spot (albeit not very bright at all but we have to work with what we have) is the passing game. MSU ranks 54th in EPA/pass at 0.056. Not great, but way better than 102nd. Ranking 54th is also way better than ranking 130th out of 131 FBS teams, which is what MSU ranks in EPA/rush at -0.252.

Knowing this as a whole about the offense, it’s no wonder that the Spartans only score on one-third of their drives and how the offense has gone without scoring on offense on eight straight drives two separate times. Knowing this, it’s time to dig further into how we got here.

Slow starts

Michigan State has been baaaaaaaaaaaad in the first half. Like bad, bad. Especially bad on the first drive of the game. If you don’t believe me, one, have you watched a game? And, two, see below:

  • First Drive Results
    • Western Michigan: Three-and-out
    • Akron: Touchdown
    • Washington: Punt
    • Minnesota: Three-and-out
    • Maryland: Touchdown
    • Ohio State: Interception
    • Wisconsin: Three-and-out
    • Michigan: Punt
    • Illinois: Interception
    • Rutgers: Punt
    • Indiana: Field goal

Yuck.

Remember last year when Michigan State was literally scoring on every first play for consecutive games in a row? Yeah, me too. To me, this goes beyond losing elite talent out of the backfield, both from a play design and execution standpoint something is incredibly broken with this offense. Again, we all knew this, but it’s important to have the numbers to back it up.

Speaking of numbers, here are more bad ones.

Michigan State has scored less than seven points in the first quarter four times, has had a total of five scoreless quarters in the first half, and has trailed at halftime six times. In that order, Michigan State is 1-3, 1-3, 1-5 in those instances with the sole win in the last two instances being against Wisconsin, and it took overtime and the “Jayden Reed down there somewhere” meme coming to life for that to happen.

MSU’s offensive success rate has been about 43.1 percent in the first half — which would put them outside the top 30ish in terms of that metric — but the problem is that the EPA/play of -0.010 would put them at 70th out of all FBS programs. It’s all good, “they had us in the first half”, right? This team makes adjustments and improves in the second half, right?

No.

So, it looks like the opposing team adjusts and MSU does not. This offense has had 15 (!!) three-and-outs in the second half — most notably three against Maryland in a game that the defense surprisingly did their job in. Michigan State has also turned the ball over 12 times in the second half, that is including turning the ball over on fourth down. Those are 27 drives that MSU had an opportunity to score, and then wound up with nothing.

Michigan State is 0-4 in games where it has multiple three-and-outs in the second half, and also 0-4 in games where it’s turned the ball over more than once in the second half, again including not converting on fourth downs. The bright spot? MSU only has one loss when scoring on multiple drives in the second half, which was to Washington, who lead 22-0 in that game.

Oh, that 43 percent first-half success rate? That’s down to 37.5 percent in the second half. Not only is that bad but Michigan State’s offense drops its success rate from 38.1 percent in the third quarter to 37.1 percent in the fourth quarter. So success rate is bad, but EPA can’t get any worse, there’s no way.

MSU found a way. The second half EPA/play comes out -0.09, which would rank the Spartans 115th out of 131 FBS teams.

As you can see, your eyes are not deceiving you, this offense is as stagnant and as bad at times as it appears. If this team gets down multiple scores, it’s harder and harder to make the case that they can claw out of it. That pains me to say, especially with the amount of skill talent on this roster. Be it execution or otherwise, this year has been absolutely dreadful for Michigan State’s offense and Jay Johnson should have a warm seat because of it.

The run game appears improved, but was that due to the opponents? The offense finally put up points. but where were those points when it came time to put an Indiana team away and clinch a bowl berth?

This offense was meant to carry the water for the defense given its own set of struggles, and in 2022, it’s been doing it with a leaky bucket.

(If you like this, follow my bad opinions live on Twitter *while it’s still around* @maxwellklitzke)

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