Saturday, October 3, 2015

Hope There's a Reasonable Explanation for the Conservate Play Calling

OK folks, one way to look at an ugly win (apart from just taking it and being grateful) is to consider that many variables affect the way coaches prepare for games. For example, coaches have to be worried about revealing too much as they get ready for the really important games. The coaches don't want to show UM and OSU too much, and that's why they significantly limit their playbook in games that should be easier to win.

I hope that something like that is what's going on here, because this game was almost lost by the coaching staff. It appears that the coaches decided that they could win this game with just a power running game. They were right to some extent (the Spartans were running the ball pretty well), but they weren't completely, and it almost cost them.

It's tough to accept decisions like that because the Spartans have their most talented passing game in...perhaps ever: a senior quarterback that may get drafted in the first round, 4 senior receivers, and talented tight ends. They should not be struggling in the passing game, they should not be nervous about their passing game. That's why I'm guessing that the coaches are saving their passing plays for another game.

If so, they should be careful. They should be wary of getting themselves upset, and they don't want their passing game to be out of game day practice. Those guys need some reps.

Other thoughts

The secondary continues to struggle. Nicholson is not showing the aggressiveness he needs to be an effective safety, and Hicks struggled in one on one coverage. At least Colquhoun seems to be making progress. He did struggle, but he has shown improvement. I see the makings of effective secondary, but Williamson will have to get healthy, Cox will probably have to take over Nicholson, and Hicks and Colquhoun will have to continue getting better each week.

Injuries. I love the resilience of the o-line, but folks, MSU has nearly stretched its depth to the limit. I can't see them going far, if they don't get Conklin and Keiler back, and or if Machado doesn't improve in a hurry.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Play the Guys that Deliver

As you can easily figure out, I rarely post on this blog anymore -- too much work and stuff. But every now and then things happen that move me enough to vent with a post few will read.

Anyway, today I am moved by the observation that MSU is not always going with its best players. There's politics in sports. Coaches make promises to seniors, they make promises to highly touted freshmen. But sometimes, you need to break those promises when someone else gives you a better chance to win.

Gerald Holmes got me thinking about this. He really looks like the most effective running back on the team. He is as strong and fast as the other running backs, but he also seems to have better vision and clearly he is more decisive. Maybe it was just this game? I don't think so. I thought Holmes also looked best in the Spring. Holmes may not hit as many long runs as Madre London, but he is the more consistent back per carry.

Montae Nicholson is not playing like I anticipated. He is often out of position, takes bad angles, and his amazing athleticism is not translating into tackling ability on the open field. I think he has a bright future, but right now I see him struggling, and I see Demetrious Cox as a more solid option at safety.

Darian Hicks looks like he has more of the tools to be a lock down corner than the other options currently available to MSU. He is more fluid and seems to stick to his receivers better than the other corners.

There may be others, but these are the players that led me to write this post.

Maybe I'm just a misinformed couch potato, who doesn't get to see everything that goes into decisions on playing time. But I do think that coaches often let politics or biases influence who they play. And I hate to say it, but the way Michigan is playing, the Spartans can't afford to have coaching biases hold the team back, even if the bias only hurts a little.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Effective Running Backs Come in all Shapes and Sizes

After decades of watching football I have come to the conclusion that effective running backs come in all shapes and sizes, and even speeds. I think most of us have a tendency to look for "prototypical" measureables in running backs, probably because we were influenced by certain events, or more particularly, certain players.

I used to think that running backs had to be 5' 8", 205 pounds, shifty, and fast as hell. Of course, that's because I grew up watching Barry Sanders. But since my days of watching Barry, I have seen effective running backs come in many shapes, sizes, and speeds.

At MSU we've had the "Barry" backs -- Ringer, Baker, Hill. We've also had outstanding power backs -- Bell, Duckett. And we've even had the in-between backs -- Jeremy Langford. Most of them were/are pretty fast, but not all of them. Bell and Duckett had wheels, but they didn't have elite speed. And while you can say that Duckett was effective in large part because of his power, I think Bell is more effective because of his intelligence. Bell is a powerful back, but the dominating performance he put on last night for Pittsburgh was more about his vision and the moves he's developed over the years. He displayed an amazing level of creativity.

The sad thing for recruiting is that it's tough to identify who is going to be a great running. In the first place, we are blinded by our biases, which develop when we watch our heroes. But it's also hard because many kids develop vision and creativity years after they commit -- look at Langford.

So what's the lesson? We and the coaches can't do much about the second problem, but we and they can do something about the first. They can consciously address their instinct to find the next Barry or the next Bell, and focus more on the kids that show good vision and creativity, regardless of their measureables.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Review of OSU Game: We're Going to Need Obsession

Well folks, this one hurt. No getting around it. It hurt because it obviously kills our dreams of a national championship. And it hurts because it shows you that in the long term MSU will have a tough path to the national championship and even the B10 title.

The good news is that at least MSU showed they can score on a very good OSU defense. The offense was not overwhelmed and actually won the battle against OSU's defense. But the bad news is that offenses have now figured out how to beat a Narduzzi defense. The Spartan D is clearly struggling against offenses that use a lot spread elements. The secondary has also just plain blown too many coverages.

In the long run, Ohio State and Urban Meyer are now clearly focused on (and probably obsessed with) MSU. They will not overlook MSU, again. They will prepare a full year to make sure they beat MSU. That's what we saw in this game. We saw the results of a year-long adjustment by Meyer and OSU. Of course, Meyer was helped by the fact that Barrett may be the best quarterback in the country. I actually do think that MSU could have beat OSU with Braxton Miller. But JT Barrett is too accurate. That's what you need to beat a Narduzzi D.

So, now MSU needs to embark on its year-long adjustment. They must find a way to deal with spread offenses and with JT Barrett. They may want to start by looking at how Alabama handles all the spread-ish offenses it faces. They may want to even look at what Rich Rodriguez does to slow down teams like Oregon.

The coaches will have a lot of work to do. This could be the start of a grueling rivalry.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Preview of Ohio State Game

I shouldn't call it a preview because, as you may have noticed, my MSU blogging is almost nonexistent this season, and consequently, this post is about to be as inadequate as a Michigan road. Still, I got two cents about this game I gotta get off my chest. 

Basically, there are two things that worry me about Ohio State. The firs concern is that OSU is a dangerous offensively explosive team that can put up points in a hurry. MSU will have to keep the foot on the gas the whole game, and unfortunately, as we've seen, MSU has had a tough time doing that this year. They played a complete game against Michigan, but I would not be shocked if they suffer another letdown against OSU. And this time, I think it could cost them.

So for me, one of the keys to this game is whether MSU can keep the pedal to the metal the entire game. If not, there is great danger.

The second concern I have is with the MSU secondary. They have a lot of talent, but they have allowed several big plays all season long. They have had blown coverages in every game. Lucky for them, most teams, including UM, have not been able to take much advantage of those mistakes. But OSU has the talent and ability to do so.

OSU loves to create blown coverages by overloading one side of the field with several receivers. Last year, the Spartans handled that strategy pretty well. I'm nervous that they won't handle it so well this year. That's one thing I would definitely focus on in practice. The young secondary guys have to know how to deal with those kinds of strategies or OSU is going to look a lot like Oregon.

Anyway, if MSU can address those two concerns, they should have a great shot at winning and even dominating the game. If not, there is a strong possibility of heartbreak. Steel yourselves...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Preview of UM Game: at My Signal, Unleash Hell

The gap between these two rivals has never been so much in favor of MSU as it is this year.
If MSU recognizes that you never take a rival lightly, if it comes out focused and intense, if it "unleashes hell" on UM, the Spartans will comfortably win this one and complete the task of establishing themselves as the dominant program in the state.  If MSU comes out unfocused and takes UM lightly, they could easily suffer one of the greatest losses in program history. Apart from the humiliation it would bring to MSU, a loss would also give UM some footing, something to build on.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Spectre of Complacency

I think the Nebraska game confirmed the full arrival of MSU's next big challenge: complacency. We saw that the Oregon game was not a fluke, that this team has a hard time finishing games. And I think a lot of that has to do with complacency.

Don't blame the players and coaches. Clearly, the rest of Spartan Nation is also infected. The fans who left early felt it. I felt it. My stress levels were way down at the start of the 4th quarter. I just could not imagine how Nebraska could get back into this one. And yet, they came within inches of giving the Spartans what would have been one of the worst losses...ever!

And lest you think it's easy to get rid of complacency, ask yourself this: "aren't you already anticipating an easy MSU victory over Purdue?" I am. I can't get myself pumped up. And if I can't get myself pumped up, I imagine the coaches and players are having a more difficult time than usual.

I guess when you're climbing to the top, it's easier to stay hungry, to want to prove yourself. When you get to the top, you really start to believe that all you have to do is show up. It doesn't help when you look so dominant through 3 quarters. Through 3 quarters, we have seen that this team is a championship team. But once you take that foot off the gas, it looks like MSU is really struggling to get that foot back on the gas.

I don't know how you deal with complacency, but the Spartans must find some answers quickly. In the short term, it could cost them a game that they should win this season. In the long run, complacency is likely to get worse as MSU's recruiting continues to improve.