Film Review: Michigan State at Indiana, 2021

I breakdown interesting plays - schematically, technically, and from an execution standpoint - from the 2021 Michigan State at Indiana football game.

At the end of the article, I will briefly look ahead to Michigan vs Michigan State.

Michigan State

I have previously broken down MSU, which you can find here: LINK

The strengths and negatives are largely holding from previous viewings, but a few things stood out.

  • Slade had a great game at DT in this one, and was probably the most disruptive DL for MSU.
  • Both offensively and defensively a few key adjustments really helped MSU.
    • Offensively, a change from strong side split zone to more weak side stretch really helped make the LBs be a little more static and to utilize the slant-heavy DL momentum against them
    • Defensively, a move from their typical Cover 3 and Cover 4 MOD to more man/press on the outside limited some of the screen elements that were very effective in the first half (especially to the boundary). Downside of this was that it resulted in quite a few defensive pass interference flags.
Indiana Strengths

  • The offense in general had a solid gameplan to attack Michigan State, utilizing motion and formation into boundary to gain numbers and leverage advantages.
  • The skill guys are solid. At WR they have a few that can adjust well to the ball in the air (which helps them pick up the DPI), and I think their RBs are actually solid, though not explosive.
  • I really like the LB group, with McFadden sticking out particularly. I think they set up the combo blocks well, understand gap discipline, and flow in a disciplined manner to get free hats to the ball.
  • Despite being down a good CB, the defensive backs did really well staying over top of routes. They have solid athleticism there, and prevented the big shots that MSU is used to getting.
Indiana Negatives
  • The OL just has a lot of work to do. Had some decent stretch runs that relied on some gap issues from MSU. Had more counter success on limited attempts aided by motion. But they could not get movement inside, and pullers had a lot of trouble getting to the second level consistently with any sort of urgency.
  • QB was obviously a problem in this one. Accuracy, reading the defense, etc. That really left a lot of yards and some points off the board. This and the OL trouble above clearly are a major contributor to red zone issues.
  • There did appear to be yards available once they caught onto some of the run game tendencies, things that I'm anticipating OSU picked up on a bit. They could be moved and their momentum used against them up front.
  • They also appeared to be giving short/intermediate throws with some consistency. Hitting those and having patience before attacking over the top may have opened things up a bit more for MSU.


Looking Forward: Michigan vs Michigan State, 2021 

I will say up front that I do not like making game predictions. Way too many variables and you put it down as a single score or prediction and it really doesn't do justice to anything. Is it cowardly? Absolutely. But I've been consistent with that for years.

One thing I will say is I could see this game ending up any way besides a shoot out. If Michigan can finish drives with TDs, I think it'll be hard for MSU to get enough possessions to find enough points. If MSU can hit their explosives, I think it'll be hard for Michigan to have to keep up with a pass first (note, this is different than run-pass balanced) offense. And of course, things could bog down like a standard Michigan-MSU game and the first to 20 win. Who knows.

Somethings I've seen from each team that I anticipate they will utilize in their game plan:

For Michigan State running/Walker, they have to find ways to get the ball to Walker outside the box. With rolled down safeties and strong edge defense, the two best defenses the Spartans have faced (Nebraska and Indiana) have shown you can bottle up Walker in what isn't a terribly diverse run game. So they have to find ways to get him outside the box on screens and passes and potentially a sweep style run scheme. This also sets up a few QB runs.

For Michigan State passing, they need to be patient. I anticipate that Michigan should correctly stick with their Cover 4 MOD and some of their Cover 3 schemes which will help the CBs be protected from deep shots. There are yards available underneath. MSU passing attack hasn't always stayed patient, and can kind of press trying to make the explosive play. They need to stay patient and take the yards given, then the explosives will present themselves.

For Michigan running, they can't avoid being themselves. There is some urgency to pass the ball, but this is a run based team, and while it may not generate flashy offense, they have to be true to their personality and base the offense on what they do. Much like vs Wisconsin, they should be more balanced and utilize passes on first and second down (notably, take the free yards on first down, and Cade can't force the deep shot; you don't need to prove you can hit them, because you won't if they aren't open, take the intermediate) and take some shots if you get ahead of the chains with first down runs. Indiana actually had an abnormally high success rate running vs MSU (relative to their season to date), and that's where the Wolverines excel. If they can turn some of those successful plays into chunks or explosives (which I think they are a little better suited for than Indiana, though not great), it should be success

I expect Michigan to base heavily in gap schemes, as they did last year. I think this is correct though, as they've shown an ability to adjust post-snap to defensive responses. They can utilize motion and focus on those orbit/swing routes to take advantage of some of the free yards MSU showed against Indiana.

I expect JJ to be mixed in more, still primarily as a runner. But I expect they mix up some of the tendencies, featuring JJ but actually giving to the RB, and also play action to put some of the deep shots in his hands. These are probably more simple reads, and likely to be more forced, but you have to take your chances.

For Michigan Passing, I anticipate Michigan will like going in empty on 3rd and manageable. I think they have a match up advantage RB-TE vs LB. And I think they should be confident they can find some success underneath. 

Defensively, I expect MSU to roll down the weak boundary safety a bit and play some games with the Nickel a bit to try to gain back numbers advantages in the box and provide some uncertainty for Michigan's front on who they need to block (along with some CB pressure). CBs for MSU haven't been great this year, but I anticipate they will roll with playing some off coverage out there and risking that match up.

Defensively for Michigan, again, off coverage with strategic opportunities to trap or rob underneath throws. Keep Walker inside the box and don't over-pursue on the RB as he loves to cut back. Force MSU to try to churn their way down the field, where largely due to the OL and some untimely sacks, they have struggled.


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