OFI: Spartans Bring the Pain

OFI: Spartans Bring the Pain
OFI: Spartans Bring the Pain
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Matt Hinton

For sheer statistical absurdity, clearly, 2013 belongs to the offenses. Baylor is averaging upwards of 700 yards and 60 points per game, sums of such fire and brimstone the Bears have risen from out of the polls entirely in the preseason and into the top five despite a marquee win over Buffalo. Oregon and Florida State are averaging well over 50 points apiece, and winning by nearly 40. Through ten weeks, 15 FBS teams are putting up at least 40 points per game, up from eight teams in 2012, nine in both 2011 and 2010 and just two in 2009. If you're generating 400 yards per game in total offense right now, you're slightly below average.

Then there's Michigan State, a team that came into the weekend barely ranked in any of the major polls, boasting a lo-fi, retrograde offense even by the standards of the Big Ten. But why would anyone judge the Spartans by any standard as pedestrian as that? After Saturday's start-to-finish, 29–6 bludgeoning of Michigan, it's clear the MSU defense is emerging as its own standard, one of the gold variety. If there is a defensive equivalent of Baylor's offense in college football, this is it.

And if that sounds like hyperbole, it's only because you missed the carnage unfolding in real time. Even the box score makes me cringe: Michigan QB Devin Gardner was sacked seven times, leaving the Wolverines with fewer net rushing yards for the game (–48) than any FBS offense in the past three seasons, and leaving Gardner so "beat up," in his coach's words, that he had to be pulled in the fourth quarter even without reporting a specific injury. Combined with the weather, the division standings and the grim reality of being humiliated by an in-state rival, it was as miserable an afternoon as an offense in 2013 could conceivably endure. The thing is, almost every offense that's faced Michigan State has limped away muttering the same thing:

Aside from Michigan and Notre Dame, that's hardly a blue-chip schedule, but it's certainly better to date than Baylor's, and the Spartans have not shown a crack in the facade. For the season, they lead the nation in total defense, rushing defense and pass efficiency defense, and as of Saturday have not allowed a touchdown in 12 consecutive quarters. Since the turn of the century, the only defense that allowed fewer yards per game or per play over a full season than Michigan State has allowed through nine games is Alabama in 2011, en route to the national championship.

If the offense hadn't fallen into a well at Notre Dame, MSU's only loss, the Spartans might be viable players in that conversation, convoluted as it is at this time of year. As it is, they're head-and-shoulders above the rest of the Legends Division, and the only B1G contender still within sight of Ohio State's rocket to the Rose Bowl. For the first time in a long time, the Buckeyes may have share this stratosphere.


  • Florida State's dominant, 41–14 romp over Miami was all the more impressive for the fact that a) Phenom quarterback Jameis Winston has apparently been carving up defenses all season without his contact lenses, and b) You may recall that this is the same FSU outfit that lost eleven draft picks to the 2013 Draft, more than any other school in the nation, and the Seminoles are somehow better in their absence. (The exodus included the starting quarterback, E.J. Manuel, who had 23 touchdown passes in 14 games as a senior; Winston has 24 in just eight games as a redshirt freshman.) Although Florida State is back to No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, the margin over No. 3 Oregon is still too narrow to prevent the Ducks from leaping back into No. 2 with a win over Stanford on Thursday night. From there, FSU's strength of schedule down the stretch doesn't have enough juice to make another move unless Oregon actually loses or comes very, very close -– not a good bet for a team that's won 23 straight against unranked opponents by at least 17 points, but it's a chance.
  • Continuing its philosophical shift away from the "Air Raid," Oklahoma State finished with 55 carries for 281 yards and five touchdowns against Texas Tech, the second week in a row the Cowboys have kept the ball on the ground on at least 60 percent of their snaps in a Big 12 win. At any other point in the last four years, that number would have been unthinkable: Since 2010, OSU has been consistently pass-oriented in Big 12 play, including the first three conference games of this season, when it put the ball in the air 57 percent of the time. The transition has paid off, though, producing more points in two games against Tech and Iowa State (110) than the Cowboys scored in four games against Mississippi State, West Virginia, Kansas State and TCU.
  • Up by three with 8:17 to play in the fourth quarter, Georgia proceeded to put the clock out of its misery on a 15-play, 67-yard march that marked its longest drive of the season, preserving both a 23–20 win over Florida and the Bulldogs' hopes of taking the SEC East for the third year in a row. The final push began at the UGA 17 and included four third-down conversions, the clincher coming on a third-down penalty against Florida's Darius Cummings for illegal hands to the face with a little over a minute to play.


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1. ALABAMA (8–0).
3. OREGON (8–0).
4. OHIO STATE (9–0).
5. STANFORD (7–1).
6. BAYLOR (7–0).
7. MISSOURI (8–1).
8. CLEMSON (8–1).
9. OKLAHOMA (7–1).
10. AUBURN (8–1).
11. MIAMI (7–1).
12. LSU (7–2).
14. TEXAS A&M (7–2).
17. ARIZONA STATE (6–2).
19. BYU (6–2).
20. UCLA (6–2).
21. NOTRE DAME (7–2).
22. OLE MISS (5–3).
23. TEXAS (6–2).
24. LOUISVILLE (7–1).
25. FRESNO STATE (7–0).
– – –
In: Louisville, Fresno State.
Out: Texas Tech, Michigan.
Waiting: Wisconsin, Northern Illinois, Georgia, Washington, Arizona.


The weekend's most outstanding linemen, defenders and other darkhorses.

1. SHILIQUE CALHOUN • DE, Michigan State.
Calhoun led the Spartans' assault on Gardner, crashing the Wolverine backfield for three sacks of the team's seven sacks and a pair of QB hurries to boot in one of the most dominating defensive turns by any team this season. He also came away with the Big Ten lead for sacks on the season, with 6.5.

2. AARON DONALD • DT, Pittsburgh
Even in a losing effort, Donald was a nightmare against Georgia Tech's triple-option attack, turning in the defensive stat line of the year with 11 solo tackles, six tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles in a 21–10 defeat. (Fittingly, Donald reclaimed the national lead in TFLs by a comfortable margin.) Meanwhile, on the other side, the Panther offense finished with a grand total of –5 yards rushing, losing yardage on ten of its 21 carries (including five sacks) with a long gain of seven. Good effort, bros.

Pierre-Louis, Asprilla and Edebali combined for 22 tackles and four turnovers against Virginia Tech, leading directly to 17 points in a 34–27 upset for the Eagles. Asprilla came up with the first takeaway of the day in the third quarter, returning an interception 49 yards to set up a short B.C. field goal; a few series later, Edebali made his mark on a sack-and-strip that put the offense at close range for a 17-yard touchdown "drive." From there, Pierre-Louis extended the lead on a 33-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter, and Edebali drove the nail in the coffin with his second sack/forced fumble on the Hokies' final possession. Going back to last week's debacle against Duke, Va. Tech quarterback Logan Thomas has eight giveaways to his credit (six interceptions, two fumbles) in two games.

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The Midshipmen ran 70 times for 331 yards at Notre Dame, methodically piling up the yards and points behind Bradyn Heap, E.K. Binns, Tanner Fleming, Jake Zuzek and Brandon Green despite failing to produce a single carry longer than 20 yards in a close, 38–34 loss. Altogether, the Midshipmen scored touchdowns on five of nine offensive possessions, four of them covering at least 70 yards, and racked up a 16-minute advantage in time of possession before a last-gasp fourth-down attempt came up short in Irish territory.

5. D'JHOUN SMITH • CB, Florida Atlantic.
Tulane led FAU at end of the first half, 17–7, but failed to earn a first down in the second, at one point throwing four interceptions on four consecutive passes – three of the picks by Smith – en route to a 34–17 loss. Between them, Green Wave quarterbacks Nick Montana (yes, that Montana) and Devin Powell finished 11-of-31 for 105 yards and zero touchdowns to balance the four picks, good for an astounding pass efficiency rating of 38.1. The only FBS offenses with a worse number to their credit this season are Arkansas, which turned in a 34.8 against South Carolina; Syracuse, which finished with a 35.3 against Clemson; and South Florida, which put up a 36.7 against Michigan State and still ranks dead last nationally in the category.

6. MARCUS TROTTER • LB, Wisconsin.
Filling in for injured starter/Lowsman regular Chris Borland, Trotter made good on the opportunity with a team-high nine tackles against Iowa, including two for loss, helping hold the Hawkeyes out of the end zone in a 28–9 win. Iowa finished with 115 yards rushing on 3.6 perry carry, its worst output of the season on the ground against any defense that isn't Michigan State's, and 43 of those yards came on one play.


6 comments, Last at 10 Nov 2013, 6:42am

#1 by Anon (not verified) // Nov 04, 2013 - 9:24pm

Might want to check the math in the chart for: Notre Dame > scoring offense > difference

Points: 0

#2 by Trinian (not verified) // Nov 04, 2013 - 9:38pm

If the Spartans are that good on defense, how did they give up 28 points to my Hoosiers? I love my Hoosiers, but the thought that they can score four touchdowns on a great defense boggles my mind.

47 on a bad Michigan team, sure; 39 on Minnesota, ok; but 28 on the best defensive team in the nation???

Points: 0

#3 by Aaron Brooks G… // Nov 05, 2013 - 12:09am

Garbage time TD. MSU doesn't hang 42 on many people.

Points: 0

#5 by Will // Nov 05, 2013 - 1:21pm

The first touchdown was a 64 yard run - those happen sometimes.

The second touchdown was set up by a botched punt.

The third touchdown was set up by a 53 yard pass.

The last touchdown was garbage time, set up by an INT.

This is how you score on Sparty - explosive plays and mistakes.


Points: 0

#4 by bucko (not verified) // Nov 05, 2013 - 11:58am

Trotter got to make those plays because guys like Beau Allen and Pat Muldoon played out of their minds on Saturday. They were eating up multiple blockers each play leaving Trotter and others free to make tackles.

Points: 0

#6 by bucko (not verified) // Nov 10, 2013 - 6:42am

Wisconsin dominated BYU until garbage time late where the Cougars finally gained some yards. Until about 5 minutes were left the Badgers had doubled BYU in every offensive number (including the score) and the BYU qb was running for his life on almost every pass play. If the WI qb plays better and doesn't force his guys to make diving catches on almost every throw the Badgers easily put up over 40 points.

Points: 0

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