To win the Big Ten Title, you have to be able to win on the road. Michigan State failed in its first attempt to be road warriors by losing to the Irish in South Bend 31-13. The Spartans now have another opportunity to conduct its travel plans to Columbus this weekend as a business trip. I like that Coach Dantonio has held the players out of the media spotlight this week prior to facing OSU. The players really do need to focus on what is awaiting them at their travel destination. It will be a Buckeye rushing offense looking to destroy a Spartan Defense that has not been tested in this area.
Football statistics can tell you quite a bit, but they do not tell the whole story. Michigan State’s defense comes into Saturday's game highly touted in many defensive statistics. The Spartans are ranked no.1 in Total Defense in the country giving up only 172.25 yards a game. They’ve gotten turnovers and have played very good Pass Defense (also no. 1) against mostly spread attacks. This could be where the rubber meets the road this weekend on how good this 2011 defense can be. Michigan State has only giving up roughly 71.25 yards a game on the ground giving it a no. 10 ranking nationally. This is the key for MSU to emerge victorious against the Buckeyes. Ohio State will try to challenge MSU in an area that has not been tested so far this year.
Ohio State has big running backs like MSU’s own Le'veon Bell. Running Back Carlos Hyde comes in at 6’0” 240 Lbs and he definitely runs downhill. The Fr Rod Smith is 6’3” 230 Lbs is better than Hyde and is just starting his OSU career. Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry are nice compliments as scat and do it all backs compared to the bruisers. But enter the caveat, which is Ohio State’s new young QB Braxton Miller. He is nowhere near being a polished passer, but his ability to break contain is similar to former Ohio State QB Troy Smith. Michigan State must be very gap disciplined on first and second down with bootleg fakes and roll outs where Miller has run the ball. The key for MSU is to force 3rd downs, which will force Miller to throw the ball.
If Michigan State can turn the tide on the Buckeyes and force them to test an area where they are not comfortable, it will lead to turnovers to be capitalized upon. When you travel, you should always wear a seatbelt. It will be highly recommended traveling to Columbus. This will be a bumpy ride!
Coach Mark Dantonio recently made it a point to talk about MSU's identity as a
football team. After all, each year a team develops a personality of who they are going
to be. Is it mental toughness? An ability to come through in the Clutch? Physical dominance? Or will it be something you never want to see...a team that folds under pressure? Prior to the Notre Dame contest, Mark wanted to see how his team would respond on the road and if his
team's identity would emerge.
On Saturday, I believe Spartan fans began to see glimpses of what MSU could be in 2011, but mistakes - like 12 penalties for 86 yards - did not allow its identity to truly come out. Defensively, Michigan State was tremendous for the most part,
holding Notre Dame to 275 yards offensively, but you have to get
off the field on 3rd down. Two pass interference penalties did not allow that
to happen, and resulted in two Notre Dame scores. These failures played into
Notre Dame's favor.
When Notre Dame got up by three scores, MSU's running attack was essentially
taken off the table. Running the football truly has to be Michigan State's
identity in 2011. The personnel on the roster dictates that it's the strength of the team, so let's dive deeper into why.
Michigan State is three deep at running back and the tight end position.
Offensive coordinator Dan Roshar wanted to feature this strength against Notre
Dame. He deployed numerous two tight end sets, unbalanced line sets, and
play-action passes from both because it cuts down on play call predictability.
Two tight end sets balances a defensive front. Defensively, opponents do not
want to get exposed by not having the proper number of bodies where they are
outmanned. It also forces a defense to declare coverage. It is difficult to
play a base cover 2 versus two tight end sets because, again, the defense is
physically outmanned with the extra beef on the field. Normally, a defense will
roll a safety down, declaring their strength and to even up the odds if the
offense elects to run the ball.
Being down two scores, it essentially took Michigan State out of
this personnel grouping. The challenge for Michigan State moving forward is how
can this identity emerge with 3 offensive lineman going down to injury.
Technically, this personnel grouping should be featured more because tight ends
can help out young inexperienced tackles.
Michigan State has got to be able to run the ball. Mark Dantonio said as much
at his weekly press conference. Rushing for 13 yards on only 14 carries is not
going to cut it. The Big Ten season is fast approaching. Look for Michigan
State to feature two tight end sets against Central Michigan this weekend.
Their 2011 identity must be found and forced by Mark Dantonio this weekend.
The Spartans are 2-0 going into their first away game. Playing at Notre Dame is never easy, but this game will be easier than most. No, it won’t be easy stopping Notre Dame’s offense. They are who they are, which is an explosive offense that has put up over 1,000 yards in two ball games. Both of which were devastating losses that have put Notre Dame's back up against the wall. Essentially, it is a one game season for Notre Dame. If they don’t win this weekend, their season is over! Head Coach Brian Kelly can state all he wants that facing MSU is just another “rivalry game”. But it is more than that concerning his future. Coach Kelly has come unglued during the first two weeks of play, drawing comparisons to Woody Hayes in regards to his demeanor and his coaching directed toward players (please refer to previous blog about the “Human Element”). Quite frankly, it is who he is as a coach, and Michigan State was right to bypass his bid to undercut Mark Dantonio for the head coaching job at MSU.
Michigan State is under no pressure to win this ball game. It means nothing in the grand scheme of things to win the Big Ten. The goal this weekend is to get better as a football team and gear up for what lies ahead. Coming away with a victory is always important - especially versus Notre Dame - but it is not the be all, end all for Michigan State’s season aspirations.
It will be close, competitive, and heated. Do you think Mark Dantonio forgot about Brian Kelly’s undermining ways? I don’t think so, and it's why this game will have some juice, but MSU is feeling no pressure. They just have to come out and be who they are, which is a physical, smart, well coached team. They have leadership in the right positions, like at quarterback with Kirk Cousins. How ironic that Notre Dame cannot say the same. Two years ago a poor Red Zone decision by Kirk cost the Spartans in South Bend. It still sits in his craw and he’s still looking to finish that drive. Conversely, Notre Dame is going through their growing pains at quarterback with a young Tommy Rees who has turned over the ball with regularity. He is not prepared for the defensive blitzes Defensive Coordinator Pat Narduzzi is about to unleash on him.
Saturday's game begins with the goal to get better. It is a fact finding mission of what they will be able to do during the Big Ten season.
All Michigan State has to do is Play Ball! If they do that, they come away 3-0. Notre Dame has shown that they will self destruct under the pressure. It is already proven and it is too much for their coach to handle.
You always feel good about a victory in the season opener, but a couple of key issues still remain for the Spartans to clean up. Here are some things to look for in week two versus Florida Atlantic:
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Coming off last year’s Co-Big Ten Championship season, there are a lot of impressive reasons to like the 2011 Michigan State Spartans. So much so, nearly every publication and analyst has predicted Michigan State to become outright Big Ten Champions this season. I feel I need to temper the enthusiasm or better yet, use the analogy of the Saturday Night Live skit “Simmer […]
About JimEntering his sixth season as analyst for the Spartan Sports Network, Jim Miller was a three-year starter for Coach George Perles at Michigan State.
What’s in your football head? I want to know!