Saturday night in Tempe, Arizona, where Arizona State hosted the Spartans of Michigan State, had both fan bases locked-in for the whole game. It was a defensive battle in the low scoring, 16 to 13 win in favor of ASU.
MSU played their hearts out in an environment to which they are not accustomed. Kick-off temperature at 10:45 pm. eastern time was 110 degrees Fahrenheit on the field. There is no way to simulate that type of heat during a week of practice. That is not why they lost, but it definitely plays a role in a team’s mental and physical state for four quarters.
The positives on both sides of the football
Michigan State’s receiving core is the real deal. Cody White, Felton Davis and Darrell Stewart Jr. can compete with any secondary in the country and still make plays. They have been the most consistent element of the Spartans offense thus far.
Brian Lewerke once again showed that he is one of the top quarterbacks in the Big Ten. Going 27 for 39, 314 yards and one touchdown is hard to argue against. The interception he threw was the right read, but the ball just sailed on him because he had to throw off his back foot and against his throwing shoulder with pressure in his face. If they complete that pass, the Spartans win that game.
The screen game of Michigan State was successful with L.J. Scott and Connor Heyward. They got away from that too quickly with Arizona State’s aggressive defensive scheme.
On the other side of the football, Michigan State fixed their issues with their run defense from week one and shut down ASU’s run game from the very beginning. ASU was only able to get 44 yards on 29 rushing attempts. The Spartans did what that the Spartans do: stop the run.
Why Arizona State gave MSU fits on offense
The week one struggles of a high-tempo, no-huddle offense against Utah State, carried over into week two’s loss against ASU. ASU had enough talent at quarterback, as well as, arguably, the number one wide receiver prospect in the 2019 NFL Draft, junior, N’keal Harry, to make up for for the lack of run game. Harry came down with a big touchdown mid-way through the 4th quarter to tie the game at 13 all. Arizona State’s receiving core had their way with the Spartans secondary for most of the night.
MSU was also unable to consistently contain and get pressure on ASU’s quarterback, Manny Wilkins, which gave him time to pick his way down the field. Wilkins put up some big-time numbers throwing for 380 yards on 48 attempts, completing 30 of them. Giving up close to 400 yards in the air does not bode well for getting a win.
ASU was able to complete a high percentage of their short-to-intermediate throws, and just enough deep ball connections to win the game. It felt like ASU was able to run a hitch, curl, slant, five to ten-yard outs, comebacks and dig routes whenever they wanted to. And when MSU didn’t get to the quarterback, Wilkins would extend the play with his legs or find an open receiver.
Once again, MSU’s outside linebackers struggled to get in the underneath to intermediate passing lanes to disrupt windows through which for Wilkins to throw. As a change of pace, MSU tried to go to man coverage, but struggled with penalties and were not able to stay in the hip pocket of ASU receivers.
Michigan State will be stout against the run all year. If they don’t fix their secondary issues, with predominately spread teams on their schedule remaining, and don’t find a way to get a pass rush on the quarterback, it will be a long season defensively in East Lansing.
Why Arizona State gave MSU fits on defense
For two straight weeks, MSU has not been able to establish their downhill, smash mouth football mentality that East Lansing has become so accustomed to over the past four seasons. 27 rushing attempts for 63 yards is not the MSU way to success on offense. For MSU to get back on track, they need to establish their run game to open up big plays for Lewerke in the passing game.
ASU does not have the biggest defensive front MSU will face all year, but the post-snap slanting and blitzes from the second level of the defense made it tough for MSU to find a rhythm in their run game. The confusion carried over into pass protection for a good chunk of the night. The interception Lewerke threw in the first half is an example of that.
Indiana similar philosophy to ASU
Indiana runs almost an identical style of offense as MSU’s last two opponents. Another quick, no-huddle philosophy that premises on getting the ball to the edge quickly with bubble and rocket screens. The Hoosiers pride themselves on RPO’s(Run Pass-Option) plays to stretch a defense vertically and sideline-to-sideline, which MSU has struggled to defend this season thus far. The offensive line of IU will be the best against which they have battled as well. IU has had a strong run game the past few seasons and will look to set it up with the quick-hitting edge screens to open up the run lanes inside.
Indiana’s defense has been a struggle for them for a while too, though. I predict we will see Michigan State have their best offensive performance as a unit against IU. It may be a high scoring affair that will come down to a what defense can get a couple crucial stops. I give that edge to Mark Dantonio and his Spartans.
Featured image courtesy of Lansing State Journal
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