During that wild Minnesota win Saturday, I had the luxury of drinking some Japanese beer at a sushi bar and strolling over to an Animal House-esque Michigan State Halloween house party. Amidst this fine East Lansing bedlam, I was unable to watch the entire contest between the Gophers and Spartans.
Today, I remedied this by watching the memorable game in its entirety. I wanted to see if, upon further review, the Spartans defense was as bad as advertised.
Here are the non quantifiable stats I picked from the Minnesota offensive possessions:
Missed Tackles in the Spartan Secondary: 1...Surprisingly low for a unit that gave up 416 yards passing. Instead of whiffing on tackles completely, the defenders were simply in bad position.
Completely Blown Coverages: 3...Most of these were early in the game, as the Spartan defenders were unable to keep their zone integrity. When a receiver cut across the field towards the opposite sideline, the zone wouldn't move with that player. Ross Weaver and Eric Gordon were the main culprits early, but Chris L. Rucker spent the second half being lit up.
QB Pressures: 4...The Spartans didn't touch Weber until the third quarter. Talk all you want about the confused zone, but any cornerback looks bad when he has to maintain coverage for 4-5 seconds.
Important Defense Adjustments: 2...If you give up 270 first half passing yards, I would hope for some changes. In the second half, I saw one cornerback blitz and a few linebacker blitzes. Also, MSU threw in a 3-3 scheme on one third down scenario - the Gophers converted anyways. Narduzzi has his base defense and really won't do anything - three linebackers ALWAYS and little change elsewhere.
Impressive Minnesota Catches: 4...Sweet catches were plentiful as Weber had time to whip the ball deep and to the sidelines. Tow-Arnett made a touchdown grab so sweet that the announcer referred to Tow-Arnett as Weber's "blankie." Love it.
Impressive Weber Throws: 4...The man was dialed in all night, but he zipped a couple balls down the middle that were especially well done. He also tossed two touchdowns on one possession - the first got reversed, but the second stood.
So in conclusion, the torchable Spartan secondary (Jeremy Ware, Rucker, Weaver, Marcus Hyde) showed little interest in keeping their zone coverage intact, while the front four refused to pressure Weber. Pat Narduzzi stuck to his 4-3 guns and failed to mix up his coverages, but he can't be blamed for the circus catches made by the Gopher WR's. I'll be keeping a close watch on this Spartan team as Mark Dantonio tries to pull his squad back from the edge of the Queso Bowl.