Saturday, June 6, 2020

Halftime Thoughts: Michigan's athletes take over in first half

November 16, 2019
Sophomore cornerback Shakur Brown (29) interferes with Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins (4).
Sophomore cornerback Shakur Brown (29) interferes with Michigan wide receiver Nico Collins (4). —
Photo by Matt Zubik | The State News

ANN ARBOR, Mich.— No. 14 Michigan leads Michigan State 17-7 at the half. The Spartans surprisingly connected on the first punch and looked poised offensively. That didn't last very long as the Wolverines used their athletes to find space in open field and take the two-score lead into the break.

Here are some quick thoughts from halftime at Michigan Stadium.

Michigan State opens to the drive at its pace

Michigan outgained the Spartans 118-78 at the end of the first quarter, but the Spartans led on the scoreboard thanks to a textbook scoring drive by Brian Lewerke and the MSU offense. On their second offensive possession, the Spartans began at their own 40-yard line thanks to a fourth down stop by Josh Butler.

Michigan State marched on a nine-play, 60-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard touchdown pass by fullback Max Rosenthal when he leaked out of the backfield from the I-formation.

That offensive possession was as solid as any Michigan State has had this season. The Spartans converted on one third-down with a completion to Julian Barnett which moved MSU into Michigan territory, and a fourth down conversion on an option run by Brian Lewerke.

Barnett caught three passes for 29 yards in the half.

The Spartans used the run to set up the pass, a 30-yard completion to Cody White to get inside the 1-yard line, and Rosenthal found the end zone on the next play. From a play calling standpoint, everything looked fluid. There was a purpose for each play call and, for the most part, it all worked to a success.

The only question is, would it hold up the rest of the half?

Michigan has the athletes to play in space and MSU couldn't stop them

It was pretty evident early on how Michigan planned to attack Michigan State's defense. The Wolverines used a ton of motion in the backfield, threw to the edges and got their playmakers in open space.

Michigan has the speed to do that. Michigan State struggles to tackle in open field. It was the perfect mismatch and Michigan used it to its advantage on its scoring drive to tie the game at seven.

Shea Patterson connected with Nico Collins in the middle of the field for 15 yards. Then he found Donovan Peoples-Jones on the sideline for seven yards, with 15 tacked on because of a late hit on Shakur Brown.

Ronnie Bell gained 18 more yards to move inside the 5-yard line when MSU's Tre Person couldn't bring him down in space for a short gain. Two plays later, Hassan Haskins found the end zone from 1-yard out to tie the game.

Patterson was 4-for-4 for 48 yards on the drive, and looked as solid as Lewerke did on Michigan State's scoring drive. Bell had a monster half for the Wolverines, catching seven passes for 118 yards.

Shakur Brown is not the answer for MSU at cornerback

Michigan State's defense has had a rough go of it over the past two games — or really all season — but let's just focus on the last six quarters. Since Brown has returned from injury and taken over at the starting CB spot for Josh Butler, he has looked pretty subpar to say the least.

Brown was beaten twice in last week's loss against Illinois for long touchdowns — 46 yards and 83 yards — by Josh Imatorbhebhe. Then was beaten on fourth-and-17 by Imatorbhebhe, which would have ended the gain if the Spartans could get a stop.

Brown's struggles returned in The Big House, both in coverage and in penalties. On the Wolverines' first scoring drive, Brown was tagged with a late-hit call that moved the possession inside the 30-yard line. Then, on a crucial third-down, with Michigan's offense back up to its own goal line, Brown played soft coverage on Peoples-Jones, and he was able to pick up the sticks.

The Wolverines moved inside the five-yard line when Brown was called for pass interference in the end zone while trying to guard Collins. And Patterson found Nick Eubanks for a five-yard touchdown two plays later.

Brown did make a crucial pass breakup in the end zone as Michigan looked to take a 21-7 lead, which helped the Spartans hold the Wolverines to a 28-yard field goal to end the half.

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