This Mike Hart stuff never gets old
Sometimes you have to let your little brother dominate your own sports teams to boost his confidence a bit. Sun Tzu's Art of War recommends going 1- 8 against Sparty to place them in a false reality of security. This is some high-level, trust-the-process type thinking that you or I can't really ever hope to understand, but it worked out because now we have Harbaugh, Michigan State looks more like Western Michigan's Little Brother, and the Wolverines are now favorites to win in Columbus. And Harbaugh is still exceeding expectations in his second season.
Don’t @ me, Sparty.
Anyway, let’s recap
In expected dominating fashion, Michigan routed Michigan State, kept the proverbial foot on the proverbial gas pedal and enshrouded the 24 point spread in a cloud of dust.
Or, okay, so they didn't do any of that.
Well at least they shut down Michigan State's offense with a majestic display of the breadth of their defensive plumage.
Okay but Darboh was amazing.
Let’s check in on Peppers.
Looks like we’re back on track.
Which begs the question, what went wrong?
THEY ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE
Michigan State's strategy was clear from the beginning. Run the ball and control the clock to limit Michigan's chances on offense to keep the score within reach. Ultimately it didn't really work. The game wasn't as close as the nine point margin of victory would lead you to believe. But Michigan State did expose weaknesses in Michigan's defense and flaws in their overall ability to win in Tampa.
LJ Scott was effective because the offensive line blocked well and allowed him to get to the second level frequently where Michigan's linebackers failed to do much of anything proscribed to the position, although it’s hard to claim they are completely at fault. Michigan State executed their very complex Line Up More Blockers Than Defenders strategy well enough to limit the movements of Michigan’s linebackers.
Michigan made the necessary adjustments to free up Peppers, Gedeon, McCray, et. al. but the fact remains that the Spartans revealed exploitable weaknesses in Michigan’s defense.
Michigan State puts so many lineman in the game, they have no trouble releasing from their double-teams and removing Peppers and Gedeon from the action.
On the next play, Michigan State lines up in a more standard formation. Watch Peppers move around and sniff out the hole.
That’s what we’ve come to expect from Michigan. And it’s so often the case because Peppers is able to essentially roam around the defense as he pleases. Michigan State, however, figured out that if you run right into Peppers, it’s much easier to neutralize his presence. There are very few players in the country who are going to out maneuver Peppers, but running straight into his grill with lead blockers can payoff.
Peppers is at the bottom of the defensive line here
Gedeon and McCray were at least able to get to the line and fill some holes, but LJ Scott is much faster and easily outran them, past Peppers buried under a lineman.
Again, on this next play, MSU runs directly into Peppers — who might be the best block shedder in the country, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to get out on the correct side all of the time, and when Michigan leaves him on an island, it can be bad news.
It’s not helpful either when your other linebackers are missing tackles.
Thankfully, Peppers is a pretty good football player, and makes plays like this look routine and banal.
Peppers is at the top of the linebacker stack
Not only does Peppers throw a lineman off his left shoulder, but he tackles Scott before he gets back to scrimmage.
Having that kind of athleticism and football ability is a luxury, and Michigan doesn’t rely only on Peppers to make things happen. After MSU made it clear they were going to run down the maw of Peppers, Don Brown adjusted and brought help to Peppers’ side of the field.
Peppers is shoved out of the play, but the entire defense slants his direction and they stick the Spartans with a three yard loss.
Here Michigan State forces Peppers to the inside of the play, but with the sacrifice of LJ Scott running in open space without blockers before he’s even back to the line of scrimmage and he only manages to pick up a couple yards with forward momentum.
It’s pretty clear that Michigan State had a good plan going into this game, and they executed it as well as one could expect. The problem is that Michigan is far too talented to let themselves get pushed around all game like MSU was able to do in the first quarter.
Even against a better team, Michigan has the talent at corner and safety to stay with opposing receivers which frees up Don Brown to move his linebackers around as needed.
Much More Notable Things to Worry About
Michigan got the ball back after stopping MSU on fourth down with 1:41 left on the clock. What’s expected from a pro-style, power running team like Harbaugh’s Michigan is an efficient, painless killing of the clock.
But that’s not what happened.
Quick Aside: We did get to see Peppers run back the dumb STATEMENT two-point conversion for a safety, so it’s sort of a six-of-one situation that we couldn’t run out the clock.
The short of it is that Michigan failed to do what it has done so well otherwise this season — move the chains on the ground. For whatever reason, a lot of what Michigan ran in the fourth (let alone the final possession) looked like this:
Despite the fact that Michigan has two of the best run blockers in the country in Magnuson and Kalis, and despite the fact that Kalis was pulling on this play to the left side and clearing a lane like the snowplow he is, Karan Higdon still elects to run straight up the middle.
Maybe Harbaugh needed more evidence that he should run behind his best players? Who knows. The important bits here are that if Michigan is going to win out and make a bid for the National Championship, they absolutely have to be able to switch into a power running clock killer. If they can’t get that done against the 2016 Michigan State Spartans, what is the scoreboard going to look like against a team with even an average defense?