Upon first glance, it’s hard not to see why Michigan State is favored by 9 points by most Las Vegas sportsbooks in today’s matchup with Illinois. They are 6-1 this season and currently sport the #1 Total Defense in the nation giving up 228 ypg with an average of 3.59 yards per play. They also have the #4 Scoring Defense in the nation, allowing 13.6 ppg.
Those are impressive rankings for sure, and should give Illinois fans a reason to worry about the Illini offense having a tough day, but not everything is at it seems.
By removing the game against an FCS school (YSU) from MSU’s wins total, you immediately find out that their remaining 5 wins came against teams with a combined overall record of 10-25. Further, those teams national scoring defense rankings are as follows:
- Western Michigan – 115th in Points Against (37.5 ppg)
- South Florida – 88th in Points Against (30.2 ppg)
- Iowa – 18th in Points Against (19.3)
- Indiana – 113th in Points Against (37.1)
- Purdue – 107th in Points Against (34.4)
Upon further digging, you can see that the Spartan offense struggled mightily against all but one of these defenses:
- Western Michigan – The Spartans scored 1 offensive TD, and 2 FG.
- South Florida – The Spartans scored 1 offensive TD.
- Iowa – The Spartans scored 2 offensive TD and 4 FG.
- Indiana – The Spartans scored 6 offensive TD.
- Purdue – The Spartans scored 1 offensive TD.
In total, the MSU offense had 67 drives in these games, and they managed to score a total of 11 offensive TD, although more than half of those TD came against Indiana’s vaunted Ghost Defense. So, not only do they struggle, but they struggle against some of the worst defenses in the entire country, with the exception of their offensive output against Indiana.
Now, let’s take a look at this statistical marvel that is the MSU defense. Look, please keep in mind what I am about to show you is how stats can only tell you so much, because I do believe the MSU D isn’t just a statistical mirage and that they are definitely one of the better defenses in the country, but so far the offenses they have played are not exactly burning up the nation.
- Western Michigan – 121st in Points For (13.4)
- South Florida – 120th in Points For (16.2)
- Iowa – 71st in Points For (28.9)
- Indiana – Tie – 11th in Points For (42.4)
- Purdue – 122nd in Points For (13.1)
With the exception of Indiana, who hung 28 points in 13 drives, the rest of these offenses simply aren’t good.
Now, with all of the information before you, you are free to form your own opinion of MSU’s defense. Personally, as I said above, I think they are certainly very good, but are they truly #1 good?
I think we will find out the answer to that question over the next 3 weeks as they face Illinois (36th in Points For at 35.3 ppg), Michigan (Tie 11th in Points For at 42.4 ppg), and Nebraska (10th in Points For at 42.7 ppg). If they hold all three of these offenses well below their averages, just as they did against Indiana, then you will have your answer. However, if they don’t, then you’ll see that they were just a product of who they have played so far.
At any rate, the purpose of this exercise was to show you that you shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you read, and you also shouldn’t count out Illinois just because the national rankings seem to imply that Illinois should have no statistical chance of winning.
OC Bill Cubit and the Illini offense certainly have their work cut out for them, but there is no reason that Illinois can’t put up some points today and pull the upset against MSU on Homecoming.
Enjoy the game. Oskee Wow Wow!
You can follow Ryan @RPKraemer