Friday, October 06, 2006

A Quick Preview of the Michigan State Spartans

Sorry for the lack of posting the last few days. Billing and work came due so my focus, naturally, had to be on the things that keep a roof over my head and beer in my fridge. A majority of that work is done so back to blogging we go.

So far this year I've caught large chunks of two Michigan State games and watched a third in full. I watched pieces of the MSU/Idaho game, watched/listened to almost all of the MSU/ND game, and watched the MSU/Illinois game in its entirety.

That said I have no idea what to make of the players on this team. I know what to make of the coaching staff, but know nothing about the Spartan players' mental makeup.

Before I get into the preview I'd like to say one thing up front. I actually like Michigan State as a University. I applied there and considered going there before narrowing my choices. Athleticly it's a great school. The hockey team is always NCAA tournament competitive. The basketball team always has "National Title Favorite" draped over it like a towel on a wet swimmer. And, until recently, the football team was pretty good too. Two bad, bad hires have destroyed a football program. The only world comparison I can come up with is the city Sarevejo. Once it was one of the pristine jewels of athletics. Then war and corruption destroyed it and made it a shadow of its former glory. You can walk into the Olympic park there and still hear the roars of the fans and marvel at what a spectacular site it one was. But when you focus your eyes on what is actually before you, you are greeted with the harsh reality that now exists. That's what happens when you look at the Spartans today.

It shouldn't be that way. Grown men shouldn't yell themselves horse and then drown in a puddle of their own tears because of this team. The Big Ten and College Football in general are better off when Michigan State has a strong vibrant program. I hope at some point this program recovers. Not just for the sake of the Big Ten, College football, and Michigan State's fans, but for the children. Won't somebody please think of the children.

Now, on to the preview.

As I'm sure you're aware, Michigan State's record stands at 3-2, 0-1. After rolling out victories over Idaho, Eastern Michigan, and Pittsburgh the Spartans have stumbled badly dropping two straight heartbreakers to Notre Dame and Illinois.

The MSU meltdown against Notre Dame has been chronicled ad nausem, so I won't belabor that point other than to say that the Michigan State offense turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter and gave up the game winning points on an INT. The defense was routinely placed in positions at the end of that game where it had no chance to succeed. So don't take away from the ND game that the Spartan defense is basically a turnstile. That would be bad. There is a tremendous amount a talent in East Lansing. The people responsible for orchestrating it, well, they're not so good.

Coaching

[Name Redacted II] - Came over from Louisville after playing his former school against his current school in a horrid display of greed. With his team in a bowl game [Name Redacted II] played Michigan State into an obscenely overextended contract. His team found out at HALFTIME OF THEIR BOWL GAME that he was leaving for MSU. Guess how that turned out.

Despite tremendous success in Conference USA coaching Louisville, [Name Redacted II] has never been able to duplicate it at MSU. During his tenure at MSU, he has managed only one winning season and one bowl game (which he lost).

A gifted offensive coach, Defense has seemed to be the forgotten child of the MSU football team. The corners especially seem to be ignored or beaten with reeds in lieu of coaching. [Name Redacted II]'s weaknesses center on his inability to get his very talented team to focus after the first 30 minutes of a game. His record at MSU is 21-20.

Offense

Fast. Capable of scoring oodles of points in no time flat. Also capable of long periods of uselessness. If you ever get MSU's offense to show up for a full game, it can be one of the best in the country.

QB

Drew Stanton. Hyped as the next coming by Phil Steele, Mel Kiper, Tom Lemming and all the other people not named Mark Foley (too soon?) who make their living measuring teenagers, Stanton has steadily regressed as the season has gone on. When I first saw Stanton play Michigan he scared the hell out of me. He's very fast on his feet and capable of gobbling up large chunks of yardage if left unattended. He's got a cannon for an arm. His arm strength is one of the things that has tantalized pro scouts since his first days on campus. His numbers this year are pretty impressive too. So far he's passed for 935 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs, and completed his passes at a 63.3% rate. He's impressed on the ground too. To date Stanton has 278 yards rushing and 3 rushing TDs. Stanton is big, strong, and capable when given a chance to throw or run.

The problem this year has been poor decision making and a worse offensive line. Stanton's always made some questionable mistakes during his tenure at Michigan State. Whether it's just bad luck or a faulty thought process is up to you. I will submit his second half performance is evidence of both. Stanton seems to find a way to fumble or throw and interception at the worst possible times. In big games when the Spartans need to keep the chains moving, he's failed to do so.

He's the college football equivalent of a Nuke LaLoosh. Fully capable of shutting you out, but doesn't seem to have the mental make up to do it. One might argue that under a different coach he could. We'll have to see if an NFL team spends a draft pick and a Crash Davis on him, in order to turn him into the player everyone seems to think he can be.

Stanton's coming into the game with a nasty set of bruised ribs. If the O-line is as bad as it was against Illinois, yielding 6 sacks, don't expect Stanton to last past the third quarter. In that case you'll likely see Brian Hoyer take over the signal calling for the Spartans. Hoyer's had a good start to the season throwing 6 out 7 passes for completions and a TD. But he's not even in Stanton's orbit in terms of talent.

RB

MSU's talented running back Jevon Ringer is out for the season after blowing out a knee in the second quarter against Illinois. This is a very tough blow for the Spartans because Ringer is a very talented running back who honestly scared the hell out of me. Ringer was like a bull with a hemi strapped under its horns. Fast yet capable of wrecking your china shop if you didn't tackle properly.

Replacing him is another of MSU's seemingly endless supply of Oldsmobile sized running backs, Jehuu Caulcrick. Caulcrick is massive at 260, yet possesses decent speed for a man his size. A straight ahead "bull" rusher who seems to prefer hitting tacklers than eluding them. But don't sleep on his speed, he rushed for 111 yards on EIGHT carries against Notre Dame along with a 30-yard TD run. He's got five rushing TDs so far and now that Ringer is gone for the season he will see the bulk of the carries for Sparty. Big, quick, hard to bring down. He'll definitely be a challenge for the D-line and LBs. Caulcrick has also caught a few passes out of the backfield so the line backers had better be aware of him in the flats or he's going to bowl over our safeties.

WR

State is not totally dependent on the ground game to make things happen. As witnessed by Stanton's 8 TD passes, the Spartans can and will air it out. At the head of that effort will be the 6'2" Kerry Reed and 6'6" Matt Trannon, who have 22 and 21 receptions this year respectively. Reed has been Stanton's favorite target so far this year. So far Reed leads the Spartans with 4 receiving TDs and 302 receiving yards. Though not the supposed star of the Spartan offense he has emerged as one of their biggest threats.

The "Biggest Threat" label belongs to Matt Trannon. On size and speed alone he presents Michigan's biggest challenge. We saw what big receivers do to Michigan's defensive backs during the Minnesota game. If given time, they can take advantage of the size difference and make plays. Trannon will have to have a big day for MSU to win the game. As MSU's true No. 1 receiver he's seen the bulk of coverages this year. It's likely he and Hall will be matched up all day with a little safety help over the top. Trannon is a game changer. Size and speed are natural gifts, that if he can exploit, will make this a competitive ball game.

MSU uses plenty of spread attacks, so also be on the look out for burner Jerramy Scott who is 3rd on the team in receptions, and Terry (Buddy) Love at the WR position. Michigan State doesn't use their TE a lot. I mention TE Kellen Davis only so you're aware he exists, which is more than I can say for Stanton. Davis has 5 catches on the year.

O-Line

Porous. Stanton has spent far to much time on his back this year. Illinois marauded the MSU backfield last week. Look for an improved game out of the line but also look for holes to open up to the QB. Left guard Pete Clifford, right guard Roland Martin, and right tackle Jesse Miller are all first time starters. Stanton should be scared.

Defense

Technically, it exists. After an excellent first half against the Irish, the MSU defense has gone into hiding allowing 19 points in the second half against ND and 23 points to Illinois. The weakness of this defense is its corners. Against ND and Illinois the Spartan corners were routinely beaten deep. They were also poor at making routine tackles. The safeties, while excellent in run support have also been victimized in the air attack.

As a team the Spartans have 7 sacks. 3 have come from imposing defensive tackle Ryan Clifton. The Spartans look good in the middle but seem to get little push on the outside. Another imposing DT, David Stanton left the Illinois game with an injury, but is expected to play.

The strongest point on the team appears to be the safeties. Safeties Warrick and Wiley lead the team with 32 and 38 tackles respectively. The problem is when your safeties are doing most of the work, it means your front 7 aren't getting it done.

Watching the last few games, MSU is extremely vulnerable over the top and at the corners.

It'll be up to Henne & Co. to take advantage.

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