Michigan State Offensive Breakdown
Senior quarterback Kirk Cousins seems like he has been a successful quarterback at Michigan State for several years. He is a very cerebral signal caller that doesn't make many mistakes. He isn't the type of guy to take the team on his shoulders, but he will rarely, if ever, let them down. Cousins is absolutely deadly if he is able to step up in the pocket. He makes accurate, strong throws when he is moving toward the line of scrimmage. He is a solid passer when moving to his right, but struggles a bit when moving to his left. He also lacks pocket presence when facing the blitz. He will often step up into the pressure or move laterally in a way that will put his tackles at a disadvantage as they are blocking for the pocket and he is drifting outside. The bottom line on Cousins is that he won't make many mistakes with the football, but he also won't beat you with his legs or the big play very often either. If he gets hot, he is very hard to stop. When cold, Cousins has to rely on the running game.
Like most successful programs, MSU employs a two back system. Sophomore Le'Veon Bell is the Spartans' leading rusher, and at 6-foot-2, 237 pounds, he is a load to bring down. Bell runs a bit upright, but knows when to lower his shoulder and really does a great job of wearing down defenses. Like most big running backs, he isn't a big play threat, but he is almost unstoppable in short yardage. Bell has great vision and will kill a defense if he is able to grab four and five yards a carry. Edwin Baker is the Spartan's second leading-rusher, and he has shown the ability to pick up tough yardage. Baker is a smaller back at 5-foo-9, 208 pounds, but he is physical and is a downhill runner with the ability to cut back. He only has one less carry than Bell on the season, but 245 fewer yards, so he isn't much of a big play threat. He also lacks the speed to get to the edge and if defenses can bounce him to the edge, he is usually at a disadvantage.
When it comes to pass catchers in the Big 10, they don't get any better than senior wide receiver B.J. Cunningham. At 6- -2, 232 pounds, Cunningham is a big body that Cousins rarely misses. He is a physical player who uses his strength to get separation and win battles at the top of the route. He isn't a speedster, but he can get behind defenses with crisp routes and his ability break tackles after the catch. Keyshawn Martin is MSU's second option at receiver, and while he hasn't shown the big play ability of Cunningham, he has been one of their most reliable 3rd down options. Martin is a smaller target at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, but he does a great job of finding space in the defense. He also runs excellent routes to the outside and defenders have a hard time keeping tabs on him when he runs shallow crossing routes. Tight ends Dion Sims and Brian Linthicum have different roles, but both are dangerous in different ways. Linthicum has been a solid third down target, but hasn't done much in the red zone. Sims is considered their most effective blocking tight end, but he has also done some damage in the red zone this year with three touchdowns.
Michigan State's offensive line is not a typical Big 10 front five. They average well under 300 pounds per lineman, but they are athletic and do an excellent job of getting to the second level of the defense. They love to run the traditional power plays where their play side linemen can block down and the backside guard and pull around to clean things up for the running back. Left tackle Dan France is the best of the bunch, and he is excellent in pass protection. He does a great job of using his hands to keep separation, and when bull rushed, he is strong enough to steer the defender completely out of the play. Other than France, none of the other linemen stand out, but all of them are very solid. Center Travis Jackson is only 265 pounds, and has struggled with some of the bigger nose tackles and one techniques he has faced this year.
• First Down - The Spartans are balanced on first down. 51% run and 49% pass.
•Second down and long - On second and long, the Spartans will often turn to a straight drop back pass and try to find openings in the defense in the middle of the field. Cunningham has been the go to receiver in this situation. The Spartans go to the air 63% of the time in this situation.
• Second down and medium - Second and medium is a down and distance dominated by the run (68%). The Spartans will often use an isolation, power, or inside zone play to make it third and manageable, but they have a great deal of success running the ball on second and medium as they average 7.8 yards per carry on this down and distance.
• Second down and short - This is another run heavy down for MSU (72%). They do, however, change how they like to run the ball, as they will often try more outside runs on 3rd down. They like to take advantage of the defense closing down the inside running lanes and use the outside run hit the big play.
• Third down and long - When third down is longer than 10 yards, the Spartans are quite conservative as they run the ball 64% of the time. When under 10 yards, they go to the air 82% of the time.
• Third down and medium - This down and distance is a pass dominant down for MSU. They go to the air 71% of the time, and they throw the ball outside the hash marks on 63% of those pass attempts.
• Third down and short - MSU loves running the ball on third and short (81%). They are highly successful on third and short. They convert over 80% of the time on third and under four yards.
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