Michigan State will likely enter Saturday’s in state rivalry against the University of Michigan around a 10 point underdog. With the Wolverines having home field advantage they will be an even heavier favorite. Yet, the location of the game may not be the deciding factor. I believe the late kickoff on Saturday could be. This is because even when the lights illuminate the stadium, the Spartan defense stays invisible.
By now, if you are a fan of Michigan or Michigan State you know that for the first time in their 110 year history of meeting on the gridiron, the battle for the Paul Bunyan trophy (and bragging rights) begins with a 7:30 kickoff time.
In terms of playing the game, having a late kickoff does not seem like that big of a deal. Most teams play at least one game with a 7:00 p.m. start or later during the duration of the season. However, in recent games, a prime time start has resulted in a loss for the Spartans.
Going back to the 2016 season the Spartans have lost four straight games with a kickoff coming at 7:00 p.m. or later. Their last win came in week two of 2016 in a win against Notre Dame. Since then MSU has lost at Indiana, at Maryland, at Penn State and home against Notre Dame (in 2017), all under the lights.
Even with the recent struggles to win in night games, coach Mark Dantonio does not believe that anything needs to change for MSU.
“Well, nothing has really changed. I mean, we’ve been playing some games at night in the past, but it’s tough to wait around all day,” said Dantonio in his weekly press conference. “But you know, just– they tell you where to show up, you show up and play. That is our m.o.”
I argue that a change is needed for Michigan State to regain its success in night games. To put it simply, in night games the Michigan State defense just has to play better.
Looking at the four losses for Michigan State in these night games there is one stat that is consistent throughout. Michigan State’s defense had given up over 400 yards of offense to their opposition. In only one of those games had they won the yardage battle (at Indiana).
Now this could just be an unfortunate coincidence for Michigan State. However, since the beginning of the 2015 season this has been a recurring theme for the Spartan defense. In the nine games that MSU has played at 7:00 p.m. or later since the beginning of the 2015 season, only three times did the defense hold their opposition to under 400 yards ( at Western Michigan in 2015, at Rutgers in 2015, and vs Furman in 2016).
If that is not enough to convince you that MSU’s defense struggles under lights, just look at how they have performed in day or afternoon games. In the same time period, the defense has given up 400 yards to their opposition just four times in 18 games.
This season, MSU’s defense has stood out as one of the best in the country statistically but could also be looked as unproven. They have held two MAC offenses and an inconsistent Iowa offense at bay. In their first test of the season, Dantonio’s defense gave up just under 500 yards of offense to Notre Dame….under the lights.
Looking to Saturday against the Wolverines, will Michigan State’s defense be able to change their narrative of struggling under the lights? Only time will tell.