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.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review of Oregon Game

There are many ways to take this loss. I'm going to take it as a loss to a championship team. Oregon is good. Really good. If they stay healthy, I think they should go all the way. MSU had to play it's best game to have a chance in this one, and as we saw, they didn't. The most disheartening thing was really how poorly several of MSU's stars played. Oh well, MSU tends to get stronger as the season goes on. So hopefully the Spartans will get another shot at Oregon.

Thoughts on Offense

Boy, I hope Oregon's D is good, real good, because otherwise, the Spartan O is in some trouble. The running game was definitely a problem. The inability to get much on first down runs forced changes to the game plan that just didn't work after the first half. MSU needs balance, so the running game needs to get on track.

That will require better play from the O-line. They had their moments, but overall, the O-line struggled to get much push and they allowed Cook to get pressured too much.The running backs didn't help much, either. They didn't have much space to run, but they also struggled to create much on their own, Langford in particular.

Cook looked pretty good, but not like the prodigy I thought he was last week. Some of the receivers could have done a little better. Though Lippett continues to excel. Price also played pretty well.

Thoughts on Defense

I hope the unbelievable number of blown coverages is something that goes away as the season progresses. The defense played well, overall, but the big plays killed them. It was sad to see Drummond blowing the coverage on 2 plays.

Trae Waynes stood out. He should be an All-American. Marcus Rush was also outstanding.

Special Teams

Shelton could finally be the explosive return guy MSU has been looking for since KMart.

The coverage was good against a speedy return team.

The kicking was good.


Bottom line on this one is that the Oregon coaches seemed better prepared. They worked in effective plays that I have seen MSU use before, but didn't use today. For example, on one of Oregon's touchdowns, they had one receiver "screen" Hicks so that the other receiver could get wide open. MSU did that to Nebraska last year but they didn't use it at all today.

I'm pretty sure that one reason MSU had so many blown coverages is that the Oregon coaches threw in some wrinkles the Spartans secondary was not prepared for. Unfortunately, MSU did not seem to have come prepared with their own wrinkles.


MSU is further along than they ever have been at this point in the year. So that's encouraging. I think they have what it takes to run the table in the B1G. But they have to be focused and hungry. Sadly, I take the fact that several of their stars struggled today as a sign of some complacency.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Preview of Oregon Game

The Spartans are underdogs on this one, and I think that would be a flawed assessment if MSU was fully healthy. I think the Spartan D is good enough to slow the Oregon offense down enough for a Spartan offense, at full strength, to score enough to win. The problem is that the O-line looks like it could struggle, at least enough to prevent the Spartan offense from keeping up with the Oregon offense.

The O-line is without Connor Kruse and likely Travis Jackson. That means Brian Allen will likely have to start, and he looked like a freshman on Saturday. He missed a couple of blocks and had a couple of penalties (or was it just one?) called against him. Hopefully, his performance was just the result of nerves, from playing in his first college game ever. Even if Allen plays well, the Spartans will have to hope the O-line does not suffer any more injuries, since there appears to be very little depth behind Allen.

Unfortunately, the O-line could turn out to be the Achilles heel of this mighty team. I really think this team is capable of winning the national championship. The defense is already good and will be at a championship level by the end of the season. And the offense is loaded everywhere but on the O-line. Connor Cook looks like a rare talent (he's gifted and will be the best quarterback to have played for MSU) that could lift this team to unimagined heights. But he's going to need a decent O-line.

So it all comes down to the O-line. Since I'm a Spartan slappy, I'll say that Allen will play much better this week, and Cook and the rest of the offense will get a chance to show their stuff. The other thing key is that elite defenses usually end up containing elite offenses - think of Oregon vs Auburn, and Oregon vs Stanford. So hopefully, the MSU defense is as elite as I think it is.

Final Score: MSU 36 Oregon 27