Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Trouble with Iowa

OK, so MSU is now a win away from heading to the playoffs. Too bad they are facing a dangerous Iowa team that can easily make the B1G championship game a nail-biter.

Iowa is well-coached. The players don't make many mistakes and their coaches also show a lot of creativity when it comes to play calling. They will be ready for MSU and they will squeeze every wrinkle possible out of their playbook.

In terms of talent, they are solid on defense, and they have an outstanding running back and an outstanding quarterback. Jordan Canzeri could be the most troublesome back MSU has faced since Ameer Abdullah, and CJ Beathard is frustratingly smart, mobile and accurate.

Thankfully, MSU matches up well with Iowa. Frankly, MSU is more talented on both sides of the ball. So I can only see MSU losing this one, if they make more mistakes (especially turnovers), if the Iowa coaches out-work the MSU coaches, or if Canzeri and Beathard go absolutely nuts -- kind of like Russell Wilson in the B1G championship game a few years ago (that still hurts).

So the Spartans are going to have to protect the ball and they'll have to be ready for some creative playcalling from the Iowa side. The secondary will have to step up because Beathard could be the best passer they've faced all year. He could expose them.


Montae Nicholson has proven me completely wrong. Because of his struggles throughout most of this season, I thought he would need to be moved to wide receiver next year. In fact, he now looks like he could be a first-round pick as a safety by the time he graduates.

Gerald Holmes continues to look like the most effective back. In fact, I think the offense works better when he's getting the carries. He clearly has the best vision, the best ability to anticipate where the holes will be -- he is Anakin Skywalker of the backs, if you will. He is also a little shiftier than the other backs, which helps him gain yards when the blocking isn't there. He also just makes a lot of smart plays.

The corners, Hicks and Colquhoun are playing very well. They are showing a lot of confidence and athleticism. They will be tested against Iowa, so hopefully they don't end up getting exposed.  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thoughts on OSU Game: MSU is Elite!

OK, so last night's victory was among the best in Spartan football history. MSU just beat the defending national champions, a team on a 23 game winning streak, in their own stadium. That kind of victory says MSU is an elite program. Period. MSU is now the kind of program that can go into the stadium of another elite program and win. And they can beat that program 3 times in 5 years. All that is left to accomplish is to win a national championship, and that remains a real possibility this year.

Other impressions

The O-line stunned me. They let the OSU defensive ends beat them a few times, but otherwise, they dominated an elite defensive line. It was an astonishing performance that hopefully will continue all the way to a national championship.

Tyler O'Connor showed flashes of being a gunslinger. He flashed some Favre-like abilities: confidence, a good arm, and effective scrambling ability. He could be something special next year, though he has a lot of work to do. Damion Terry reminded me of Tyrod Taylor a bit, but he does need to improve his accuracy or develop better chemistry with the receivers.

The running backs were solid. I still think Holmes is the top back, but we did get to see flashes of Scott's high ceiling. Next year, the running game could be special. This year, they could still get on a roll and dominate, if the O-line continues to play like it did in this game.

The defense looked like a standard MSU defense: dominant. The weather helped. It eliminated OSU's passing game and it was amazing to see MSU's front seven dominate an offense full of 5-star recruits. But even the secondary looked outstanding most of the time, particularly with tackling (shout out to Montae Nicholson, who I hope proves my doubts about his ability to play safety completely wrong). We'll have to wait until MSU plays a good passing team to get a better sense of where the secondary is at. But I think they may have turned the corner. Which means, this defense could be about dominate games the way MSU defenses normally do.

It was great to see Michael Geiger hit the winning kick, but we can see that he has an issue with the ball hooking. He was able to adjust for it on the winning kick, in part because he missed his first kick, and perhaps in part because OSU called the timeout to try to freeze him -- basically, they let him have a practice kick (I hate the idea of "freezing the kicker"). But the hooking action shows there is something wrong with his technique, and it's something that will make him relatively inaccurate the rest of the season.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Bad Surprises

I used to regularly write a post about how "surprises" have such a big influence on how the season is going to go. I figure it's a good time to revisit that theme because there are some key surprises that are massively influencing what is happening to the Spartans this season. Obviously, surprises can come in the form of injuries, but let me stick to surprises in player performances. Three areas that have surprised in a bad way this season are the O-line,  running backs and the secondary.

Coming into the season, we thought that MSU was going to have its best O-line in the Dantonio era. And we can now safely say that this O-line is one of the leas effective of the last 3 years. Injuries have played a role, but almost all the starters are back now, and yet they have struggled in both the run game and pass protection. And sadly, the struggles could get magnified against Ohio State.

As for the running backs, we knew it would be tough to replace Jeremy Langford, but right now the only consistent RB has been Gerald Holmes, and he's been held back by the struggles of the O-line. I think Holmes has the potential to salvage the season for the running backs, but he is going to need help from the O-line, and perhaps just as importantly, he could use help from an explosive back (a lightning option, if you will). Somehow, the coaches ended up recruiting too many big backs, and no real speed backs. It's starting to become clear that their current group is limiting the playbook. They can't outrun defenders to the outside, so basically, all runs have to be between the tackles. That may be fine much of the time, but you need guys that can keep the defensive ends honest, guys that can add a few extra plays to your playbook. Whatever happened to Nick Tompkins?

As for the secondary, we knew they would struggle, but we didn't expect this much struggle. The safety position was supposed to be a strength, but the injury to RJ Williamson and the massive regression of Montae Nicholson have turned this area into a pretty sizable liability. At least Arjen Colquhoun has been a nice positive surprise. As I've said before, he could be really good by the end of the season. Hopefully, Nicholson will progress and hopefully Darian Hicks can solidify the other corner position, while Cox solidifies the other safety position. I don't expect them to revive the no-fly zone, but hopefully they can become serviceable.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shout out to these guys...

So I'll leave it to the rest of the media and blogosphere to praise guys like Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun. Here I want to praise some guys that haven't received much attention but that seem set to make critical contributions the rest of the way.

I'll start with the guy who impressed me most in the Indiana game, and that would be Arjen Colquhoun. This guy started the season giving opposing receivers 10-yard cushions and now he is starting to flash some Trae Waynes type of abilities. He's fast and has developed some stickiness. He still has work to do, and maybe the Indiana game was just a flash in the pan, but if he continues to progress, don't be surprised if he gets noticed by NFL scouts by the end of the season.

I've praised Gerald Holmes before ... and I'll bring him up again. He is getting close to looking like the go-to back. He still has work to do, but I still see him as the most decisive of the backs, and he seems to also have the best vision. If the O-line can start to more consistently open some holes, I think Holmes could take off in the remainder of the season.

Jermaine Edmondson is making some contributions, particularly as a guy who's being asked to blitz and play zone coverage. It would be a great stroke of luck for MSU, if Edmondson could begin to make Colquhoun-like contributions at corner or safety -- he's been looking like a safety to me.

When Benny McGowan moved to center, the O-line seemed to function a little better. He deserves credit for his versatility.

I saw Joel Heath making some plays, and if he can continue to do so the remainder of the season, this D-line could indeed become one of the best in MSU history.

Moving guys around

I believe I saw Montae Nicholson make another critical mistake and I'm starting to wonder if the Spartan coaches shouldn't start thinking about moving him to wide receiver. Perhaps not this season, since depth is such a concern, but certainly for next year. I don't know that he has the aggressiveness to be a safety, but he definitely has the tools to be an elite receiver. The Spartans will be very thin at receiver next year, so a switch of this kind could be beneficial to all.

I'd like to see Demetrious Cox playing safety. In my mind, he's one of the top safeties in the conference, but he doesn't quite have the stickiness to be a top cornerback, at this point. At the same time, while I love what the freshmen safeties are doing, having 2 of them back there is a concern. Hopefully, Hicks will return soon, and that will allow Cox to stay at safety.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

At my signal...unleash hell

The Spartans are wounded and Michigan looks strong. But I watched each of their games this week and I saw that the Spartans can match up well with Michigan, and that the Spartans are close to putting it all together. They need to be sharp, intense, and ready to stop the inside trap -- Harbaugh's favorite play, it seems. And they have to do it for 4 quarters!

It's time to take this season to the next level. It's time to unleash hell!

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.