Position Battles: MSU vs FAU
MSU O-Line vs. FAU D-Line
This is going to be the position battle of the day. There has been a lot of moving and shaking from last week to this week in East Lansing. Seemingly everything has changed on both sides of MSU’s line.
Last Week This Week
Jared McGaha – Started at LT 2nd String RT
Dan France – 2nd String LT Possible starter at LT
Fou Fonoti – 2nd String RT Possible starter at LT
The Spartans are suddenly without any true experience at Left Tackle - Kirk Cousins’ blind side. Dan France, as we all know, is in his first year on offense after spending his freshman year along the D-Line. Fonoti, a JC transfer, told me at practice this week that he played guard in High School and only played Right Tackle at Cerritos College in California. While the switch may sound simple, Fou says that switching his kick and post foot can be a challenge because it’s not something that comes naturally. He hopes that the reps he got in practice will make it much more natural by game time.
Across the line is an experienced group of Owl’s in the first year of a base 3-4 defense. 5th year senior Kevin Cyrille is the leader of this group. He’s played in every game over the past 2-plus seasons and brings 5 career sacks and 18 career tackles for loss to East Lansing. Junior Right End Jamere Johnson could create problems for MSU. I said COULD. In 32 career games, Johnson only has 45 stops. Just one came against Florida in their opener. 5th Senior NT Jarvis Givens squats 815 pounds according to the FAU media guide. Problem is, that might be the best thing he does having played in every game in his 3+ seasons. Yet he’s only averaging 8.6 tackles per season.
VERDICT: Wash…although, a couple weeks from now I’d give MSU the easy edge.
MSU RBs vs. FAU LB’s
The Spartans #1 tailback in the first two meetings with FAU have combined to rush for 465 yards, thanks to Javon Ringer’s 282 in 2008 and Edwin Baker’s 183 in 2010. So I imagine by now that FAU Coach Howard Schnellenberger has had enough of MSU’s ground attack in his life…and I have a feeling that he’ll be reaching for his barf bag a third straight time. Last week, the BBC (Baker, Bell, Caper) carried the mail a meager 28 times but amassed 153 yards and 3 touchdowns. And if you ask them, they might not have been real pleased with that…which bodes worse for the Owls. Last year, Baker and Bell combined for 232 yards on just 25 carries and hit paydirt twice. The Spartans could probably run toss sweeps all day on the Owls, but I have a feeling that they’ll want to work on their production inside the tackles on Saturday, something they struggled with last week.
Starting Middle Linebacker David Hinds boasts the most experience in the Owl LB core as a junior. He has been starting games since his freshman season, but still has only compiled 52 tackles and 2 sacks. The other three starting linebackers – Cory Henry (OLB), Toney Moore (ILB) and Randell Johnson (OLB) are all sophomores and have even less experience. However, Coach Schnellenberger has loaded up this new 3-4 scheme with a lot of team speed. So with all of the youth and inexperience on MSU’s O-line – especially at the tackle position – this young group of Owls could cause some difficulty…especially early on.
MSU WR’s & TE’s vs FAU DB’s
This is an obvious position of strength for the Spartans. B.J. Cunningham is coming off a career 9-catch, 130-yard game against Youngstown State and is poised to break MSU’s all-time reception record on the Spartan’s first possession. Meanwhile, Keshawn Martin needs just 35 receiving yards to reach 1,000 for his career. If that’s not enough for the Owl’s, they’ll still have to contend with Senior Keith Nichol along with a couple guys looking for a breakout season in redshirt freshmen Tony Lippett and Keith Mumphery. Oh, and don’t forget Bennie Fowler if he’s to return from his leg injury. Coach D said he just needs rest, so I’d give his return 5% chance.
As for the Tight End’s…well, the Spartans have 3 starters essentially. Kirk Cousins looked for a couple of them down the field last week. We should see more of the same on Saturday.
The Owl Corners and Safeties are flying with confidence, fresh off of a three interception performance of the Florida Gators…which is even more impressive going up against the vaunted Charlie Weis offense! (Please note the sarcasm there). Free Safety Marcus Bartels is the clear cut leader of this group as a Senior. He has recorded 230 career tackles and 4 interceptions and is listed as a 1st team All-Sun Belt Conference player by Phil Steele.
However, outside of Bartels, there is little experience. Sophomore Corners Keith Reaser and Treon Howard have just 5 starts between them and junior Strong Safety Demetrius Williamson has just 23 career tackles.
MSU D-Line vs. FAU O-Line
This is another interesting game for the Spartan D-line. Fans have been waiting for a line that will consistently put pressure on an opponent’s offense without aid of a blitz. Last week, because of the spread offense of Youngstown State, the Spartans didn’t record a sack. They were however able to get into the backfield at times and stop the Penguins behind the line of scrimmage with 6 tackles for loss. While FAU runs a pro-style offense which would typically give us an indication of where the D-line’s progress is, the Owl’s run a lot of 3-step drops and get rid of the ball quickly. Jerel Worthy, Anthony Rashad White should stuff the run against a weak FAU O-line, while the speed of Will Gholston, Marcus Rush and company will wreak some havoc outside.
Let’s be honest, the Owl O-line can’t block. Left Guard Andy Czuprynski is a guy who switched to the O-line – from the D-line - late in the Spring and is now starting. Last year, the Owls averaged 2.85 yards per carry and just 95 yards per game. Last week against Florida, they gained only 30 yards against the Gators – albeit a very good Gator front four. This same line allowed nearly 3 sacks per game last season and gave up just 2 last week to Florida. But remember, they get the ball away quickly.
MSU LBs vs. FAU RB’s
The Spartan linebackers fared very well against Youngstown State last week…possibly the best playing group of the defense from a week ago. This week’s starting unit of Denicos Allen, Chris Norman, and Max Bullough flew around the field last week. By the time the 2nd half rolled around, they looked very comfortable playing together – combining for 30 tackles. Junior Steve Gardiner will look to make a mark at the SAM position in a backup role, and Coach Narduzzi would love to see what he has in true freshman Taiwan Jones.
5th year senior Alfred Morris is the best player on the team. Last year he fell 72 yards shy of becoming the first back to back 1,000 yard rusher in school history. He’s a wide back at 222 pounds and won’t kill you with speed. But he’s a reliable ball carrier who does his job if his O-line allows. The proof is that he gained just 16 yards on 14 carries against Florida. Last year against MSU Morris ran for 54 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.
MSU DB’s vs FAU WR’s & TE’s
I really like what I saw against Youngstown State last week with this young group. Veteran Johnny Adams is what I expected, only better. I know he’s a great cover corner, but he also laid the lumber on the Penguins numerous times, which is surprising for opponents when you consider his 175-pound frame. I thought Darqueze Dennard held his own last week as the field corner. He’s more physical at the line and it looks like that’s where he can really gain his advantage. Time will tell. We all know that co-captain Trenton Robinson is the rock in the defensive backfield and Isaiah Lewis should have a lot of confidence after making his first career interception last week. MSU coaches are very pleased with his progression during the offseason.
The Owls are very young at the receiver position with Sophomore DeAndre Richardson and Freshman Marcus Cunningham. Richardson has just 14 career catches – including 2 last week – and no touchdowns. Meanwhile, Cunningham is still looking for his first career catch. 5th year senior Darian Williams is their go to guy as a Tight End and the FAU coaches are looking for a breakout year from him. The problem is, when you combine the inexperience at receiver and quarterback, then add it to a poor offensive line, and you have a bad offense.
No surprises here. We know what to expect from Kirk. He completed 18-of-22 passes last week for 222 yards and a TD. His progressional reads look improved as evidenced by his numerous check downs to BJ Cunningham last week. I’m sure he just wants to work in his Tight Ends more this week.
Wilbert made his first career start last week and did pretty much what he was asked to do. However there wasn’t much he could do against the Florida D. He completed 53% of his passes (14-26) and didn’t turn the ball over. His size is probably his biggest asset at 6-6, 225.
Verdict: We all know the answer here.