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Stats that defined 2016: Michigan State Spartans

The 2016 season is officially in the rear-view mirror, but the Big Ten blog is taking one last look back at the numbers that defined each conference program this past season. Some teams underperformed, while others surprised by making drastic improvements in key areas.

We'll look at three stats that help explain the 2016 season for each Big Ten team. Next up: Michigan State, which suffered through a 3-9 season.

11: The number of sacks the Spartans managed in 12 games. That was the fewest of any Power 5 team, and only two FBS teams had a lower total. The complete lack of a pass rush was a big reason why Michigan State had trouble stopping opposing teams' passing attacks and limiting their big plays. A disappointing season by projected All-American Malik McDowell and some inexperienced players on the defensive line contributed to the issues. This will be a big priority for Mark Dantonio in the offseason.

Minus-58: That was Michigan State's point differential in fourth quarters in 2016. Only Georgia State and -- hey, there -- Illinois were outscored more in the final 15 minutes than the Spartans. Dantonio's team was highly competitive in several games it lost, such as Indiana, Northwestern, Michigan and Ohio State, but simply could not make the plays down the stretch to get over the hump. For a program that emphasized finishing and "finding the inches" to great success the previous few years, this had to be particularly frustrating.

60.3: The number of penalty yards per game surrendered by Michigan State. Only Maryland gave opponents more yards on penalties than the Spartans. And the 9.4 yards per infraction flagged on Dantonio's club ranked 106th nationally. Put together a weak pass rush, an inability to make plays in the fourth quarter and a lack of discipline, and you start to see how Michigan State got to 3-9 one year after making the College Football Playoff.