Defense Against Arizona State - Only 1 Three-and-Out

Defense Against Arizona State - Only 1 Three-and-Out

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Defense Against Arizona State - Only 1 Three-and-Out

During Mark Dantonio’s weekly press conference, as he discussed the Spartans’ tough 16-13 loss to Arizona State Saturday night, he quickly touched on one of the most under-reported stats of the night. The defense has to get off the field on 3rd down…

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Michigan State fans – and, of course, coaches and players – continue to dissect the disappointing loss to Arizona State this past Saturday night out on the 100-degree heat of the desert.

Some of the experts have mentioned that the heat was a major contributor to the Spartans’ inability to finish off the Sun Devils.

I won’t disagree that it was hot – the joint was like the mosh pit at the Smashing Pumpkins show I reveled in at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro in the summer of 1993.

People in the stands at Sun Devil Stadium were beginning to melt into one another’s persons.

Yes, it was hot.

But a lot of people were enjoying themselves.

To suggest that the heat was a reason for Michigan State’s inability to put the game away doesn’t work for me.

To the Spartans that have made this argument – and there have been many – I ask them this:

Did you agree with the UMAAers who said that the reason Michigan State won last year’s 14-10 slugfest in Ann Arbor was because UMAA couldn’t run their offense in the monsoon?

The truth is that UMAA didn’t have an offense to run and their references to the weather in defense of their loss that night made as much sense as the whining about their basketball program getting a raw deal from the minor transgressions and infractions stemming from the Fab Five Era.

Michigan State won that game in that monsoon because the Spartans outplayed UMAA and the weather was just something Michigan State did a far better job of fighting through.

Michigan State fans – you can’t have it both ways.

It was just as hot out there for the Arizona State players and the game wasn’t won or lost due to the temperatures.

We’ve said it in the last few days – as has everyone else –

Michigan State ran for a total of 63 yards, the team was unable to convert in the red zone, and the talent of All-Everything N’Keal Harry eventually caught up with the Spartans’ secondary.

However, in Mark Dantonio’s press conference this week, as he addressed the esoteric elements related to his team’s need to bounce back after the loss, get up off the mat, and not feel sorry for itself, he breezed by a stat that I haven’t heard a lot of references made to this week:

Michigan State’s defense allowed only one three-and-out all night long.

Arizona State had 11 possessions over the course of the ball game.

Just to be clear – we’re not referring to 3rd down conversion rates in the aggregate.

Michigan State actually did pretty well on 3rd down defensive efficiency – Arizona State was 6 for 16 on 3rd downs.

That’s not a bad showing – particularly on the road (and in that pesky heat).

What Dantonio is talking about is literally limiting the opponent to three plays per a possession.

When a team heads out there and is running back to the sideline five seconds later after being thwarted on three straight plays, that does more than force a punt.

“Three-plays-and-out” demoralizes an offense, frustrates an offense, forces an offense to lose confidence in its game plan, ends up keeps the opposing defense out on the field longer, and leads to an ability to put games away in the 4th quarter.

Third down efficiency is appropriately focused on by fans and the experts – but that third down efficiency doesn’t always get dissected into an even more detailed focus related to that “three-plays-and-out” thing that Dantonio is referring to.

And he’s saying that 1 out of 11 isn’t going to cut it.

I’d bet a Shark Bowl that Dantonio has been very involved in Mike Tressel’s defensive meetings this week.

I’d bet bag of fragels from Bagel Fragel that Dantonio isn’t just saying that the defense has to clamp down and be even better on 3rd down defense – I’d bet that he’s saying the defense needs to be killing opponents’ drive after three plays, period.

It’ll be an important thing to keep an eye out for in the next couple of games – this defense is too good to be allowing all of the yardage through the air that it’s given up in the first two weeks.

And it’s too good to only limit an opponent to one three-and-out over eleven possessions.

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