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.

Coaching

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.

Conclusion

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

Fastest Start to a Season?

I don't want to get too excited. After all, MSU was playing a severely over-matched team. But then again, MSU always plays over-matched teams to start the season. And for the life of me, I cannot recall a start to the season like this one. OK, you could argue that last year's defense started faster. They put on a dominating performance against Western Michigan. But the defense looked pretty dominant today, and contrary to last year, so did the offense. Man does the offense look loaded.

Thoughts on the Offense

Cook looked like a top 5 NFL draft pick. He showed intelligence, a strong arm, accuracy, creativity, mobility...We'll see how he looks against better defenses, but if this keeps up, we're talking Heisman. No question about it. Holy cow! O'Connor and Terry are clearly behind Cook, and they had me thinking the season would have collapsed if Cook's knee had collapsed. But they also picked it up after slow starts. Both made some nice throws and showed some wheels.

The next thing that impressed me about the offense was the quality of the receivers. Maybe Jacksonville's secondary has a way of making receivers look great, but man did the receivers look good. Lippett will be drafted in the first 3 rounds of the NFL draft. Troup looks like he also will be in a couple of years. Burbridge clearly possesses elite athleticism, though he needs to show up more as a receiver. As for tight ends, Price seems to be picking up where he left off. But I'd like to see the tight ends will show up a little more next week and throughout the season.

The running game looked good, as usual; but the way it looked good was unusual. Nick Hill looked explosive, while Langford didn't get the chance to do what he usually does in the second half. The other running backs didn't get a chance to do much, but I was impressed with Gerald Holmes. He is much quicker and faster than I remember.

The backup running backs also had to run behind a less experienced o-line. The coaches decided to give some of the younger o-linemen a chance to play, and Brian Allen, for example, clearly struggled in his first game. But when you're up by 35, you might as well give your young guys (who are supposed to be providing depth this year) some much needed experience. The depth on the offensive line is the main area of concern for this team. The starters look good, but the backups need a lot of reps.

Thoughts on the Defense

The defensive ends and linebackers stood out to me. Calhoun, Rush, Cooper, and Davis were disruptive in the backfield, while T. Jones and Harris were solid in stopping the run.

I wanted to see more from the defensive tackles. Of course, they have freshmen contributing there, but I had hoped Thomas and Heath would be a little more disruptive. Hopefully by next week.

The secondary was excellent, except for a few shaky plays from Darian Hicks, who was apparently responsible for the long Jacksonville completion on the first play of the game.

Special Teams

The coverage teams were swarming. Great tackle by Nicholson on the opening kickoff.

The kicking had some issues that must be fixed by next week. Geiger missed badly on his first attempt, and Sadler's punt looked like it was blocked.

Coaches

Nice job getting the team ready for a weak opponent. No danger like last year.

Good job giving non-starters a lot of playing time in the second half. I think the coaches made a mistake a few years ago when they did not give guys like Andrew Maxwell more playing time during blowouts.


Saturday, February 8, 2014

Thoughts on 2014 Recruiting Class

Folks, it's been said that this could be the best recruiting class of the Dantonio era, and I think that we can safely say that's true for the defensive talent. IF it all pans out, this class has the talent to take MSU's d-line and safeties to unheard of heights. The linebackers and corners should be solid, though I don't think they improve on what MSU already has for those groups. Overall, this class could help MSU's defense field Alabama-type talent within 2 or 3 years.

On offense, the talent looks solid, but I don't think it dramatically improves on what MSU already has or has had (in the past few years) at most of the positions. However, if Montae Nicholson ends up at wide receiver, then we're looking at a step up at wide receiver. He has Plaxico Burress kind of talent. Overall, the offensive talent in this class is something to be happy about, but I wouldn't say that it will allow MSU to field Alabama-type talent on offense in the near future.

With that, let me pass along my quick take on each member of the 2014 class.

Miguel Machado. Somehow missed him when I first created this post, and I don't know how, since I'm quite excited about this kid. He reminds me of Fou Fonoti, but he seems to be a little bigger, and possibly stronger and quicker. He also shows good aggressiveness and a good motor, which makes him a very good match for MSU's style of offense. He is another JUCO kid who should immediately be able to compete for the starting right tackle position. But even if he doesn't win that position, he should provide valuable depth at a position that was getting a bit thin. I wouldn't be surprised if Machado becomes a 2-year starter, though he will have to beat out some other talented guys.

T.J. Harrell. He was considered a 3-star recruit by most recruiting services, but he had offers from several top programs. So something doesn't add up. Perhaps it's because most recruiting services list him as a safety, and I would agree that he doesn't have elite explosiveness for a safety. But MSU recruited him to play linebacker, and that's where he really looks like a 4-star recruit. His athleticism is excellent for a linebacker, but what's more impressive is his ability to find the ball and his aggressive tackling. He'll need to add some size, but I could see him contributing by year 2, and perhaps even starting by year 3.

Malik McDowell. Don't want to say too much about McDowell until he actually makes it to campus. But he clearly deserves his 5-star rating. He will need to work on technique, but he is certainly very athletic, strong, and disruptive. If he makes it to campus, he could definitely contribute as a freshman.

Craig Evans. He is one of the highest-rated recruits in this class. He does look strong and he consumes a lot of space, but he will need to continue working on becoming more explosive and disruptive. Dantonio suggested that Evans may contribute as a true freshman, but I think that will be easier said than done, considering that MSU is quite loaded at DT. Even if he plays as a freshman, I don't think he'll have a significant impact until his second year in the program. To me he looks like he's going to need a year with Ken Mannie and a year of working on technique.

David Hedelin. Still waiting for word on his LOI, but Hedelin is actually one of the guys I'm most excited about. He's supposed to be an OT, but he moves and hits like a fullback. So he has the athleticism to play left tackle, but he'll need to add about 30 pounds. He is a JUCO kid, so he should be able to contribute early, if he gets to campus.

Montae Nicholson. He's one of the highest-rated recruits in the class and for good reason. He is an outstanding athlete who could excel at safety or wide receiver. At wide receiver, he could dominate like Plaxico Burress once did. But I'm sure the defensive coaches will fight to keep him on their side.

Montez Sweat. He is one of the lowest-rated recruits in this class, but he clearly has the tools to be one of the top guys by the time it's all said and done. Unfortunately, I can only find video of Sweat playing basketball. Still, you can see that he has the size and athleticism to be an elite defensive end -- which is what Dantonio mentioned he would play. I can see him easily getting around most offensive tackles. I wouldn't be surprised if he also turned into the next Dion Sims, who went from basketball to tight end. He's likely raw, so he probably won't start to really contribute until his third year in the program.

Madre London. I originally thought of London as more of a slashing runner like former Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor. But I'm thinking that he moves more like Chicago running back Matt Forte. He's not going to break off 60-yard runs, but it looks like he has the vision and power to deliver LeVeon Bell kind of productivity. There are rumblings that he could play as a true freshman, but I don't quite see that happening, unless there are a lot of injuries. The Spartans are too loaded at running back next year. Nonetheless, London should start to contribute significantly by his second year.

Jake Hartbarger. The Spartans have a good track record with kickers, so I trust that Hartbarger will be another good one by year 2.

Nick Padla. He is one of the lower-rated players in the class, but he has a great frame and good aggressiveness. Kind of reminds me of Jack Conklin, who obviously turned out to be quite the diamond in the rough. Of course, only time will tell if Padla is really another diamond in the rough. I could see him making contributions at guard earlier in his MSU career, and perhaps eventually moving out to tackle. In short, I'm hoping Padla is another Conklin, but I will settle for another Dan France.

Robert Bowers. He is not that highly rated, but I think he's one of the more exciting guys in this class. He is clearly in the mold of Shilique Calhoun and Demetrius Cooper: a long, fast kid who needs to add some size and strength. That formula has been working well for the Spartans, and I expect it to work again with Bowers. He has all the tools, including the aggressiveness and "high motor." I expect him to take a similar developmental trajectory as Calhoun: redshirt the first year, make some plays the second year, and then really start to emerge by year three.

Matt Morrissey. He has the tools to be a solid safety or receiver. He has good size, awareness, and aggressiveness. His speed is decent. I could see him evolving into an elite linebacker, but he would need to gain about 30 pounds, which might not be easy for him to do. Since MSU is loaded at linebacker and since they are bringing in 4 linebackers in this class, Morrissey's best opportunity for early playing time will come at safety and wide receiver -- where MSU could be a little thin in a couple of years.

Gerald Owens. If he can manage his weight, Owens could turn out to be a star. He really looks like TJ Duckett. But you never know with running backs. Many have the talent, but they end up lacking something, like vision or the ability to learn pass protection. Owens seems to have all the tools, but we'll see where he ends up. He could be like Delton Williams and get some carries as a freshman, especially in goal line situations. But he'll have to show that he can protect the ball.

David Beedle. He's the least hyped of MSU's DT recruits, but Beedle has some excellent quickness and size. He has the tools to develop into a very good DT by his third or fourth year. But I also wouldn't be surprised if he moved to offensive guard. MSU is deep now at DT, and they have not recruited any guards in 2 years.

Jalen Watts-Jackson. He is one of the lower-rated recruits in the class and in the limited video that is available I don't see much explosiveness. But JWJ was only a junior in that video, and he did impress the coaches at a summer camp with his speed and vertical jump. So he is likely a much different player now than in the video I saw. So there is not much info to evaluate him by, but I will say that his vertical and his ability to go up for the ball in the air are traits that could make him a solid safety. But as a safety he would also have to stop the run, so he would need to put on some mass. We'll have to wait and see what happens with JWJ.

Vayante Copeland. He is one of the higher-rated recruits in this class with the gifts to play corner or running back. He will very likely be a corner, but the coaches may be tempted to give him some plays on offense and special teams -- though I don't think that he'll be able to beat out RJ Shelton to get those plays. Copeland could be the highest-rated corner MSU has been able to recruit in the Dantonio era, so big things will be expected from him. He has all the tools, but only time will tell if he can bring them all together.

Chris Frey. For a linebacker, he has a good frame, pretty good mobility, and good field awareness. He will need to keep adding size and strength, but I could see him becoming the starting middle linebacker in a couple of years. Of course, MSU is always loaded at linebacker, so the competition will be fierce. If the competition turns out to be too fierce, Frey looks like he could make a nice contribution at fullback.

Matt Sokol. He has outstanding size and I would say elite athleticism for a tight end. So the potential is there. But tight ends also need to be able to block and run routes, so there's no guarantee that Sokol's potential will be fulfilled. If he can figure out the fundamentals, and if he can avoid injuries, he has a bright future ahead of him. But he also has several talented players to compete with, so I think he won't start to emerge until his third year in the program.

Enoch Smith. He is one of the better DT recruits MSU has brought in, not just in this class, but in the last few classes. He is a little small, but he is very strong and relatively quick. His size and the talent ahead of him will probably limit his contributions in the first 2 years, but he should have a shot at starting by his third year.

Brian Allen. He's a little small for a center, but he has everything else going for him. The center position is part of the family business (with brother Jack already starting at center for MSU). He is also a wrestling champ, so he has good quickness and a great understanding of leverage. He should take over for Jack in a couple of years, but until then, I don't know if he'll be able to get on the field. Perhaps we'll see him play some guard by year 2.

Chase Gianacakos. Ken Mannie will need to help him reshape his body, but he has a good frame and pretty good quickness for offensive tackle. I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up at guard for the first few years, since MSU has recruited several offensive tackles in the last few years. But I also wouldn't be surprised to see him develop into a solid tackle by his junior year.

Deon Drake. If he has fully recovered from injury, Drake is one of the more exciting recruits in this class. He has speed, field awareness, and best of all, a Denicos Allen type of toughness. He looks like he could play outside or middle linebacker, but he will have to add quite a bit of size to play middle. He looks like he could contribute by year 2, but we'll have to see how it's going with things like injuries and learning the playbook.

Byron Bullough. He looks like he is the most athletic of the Bullough brothers, and he seems to have the same kind of football intelligence. If he can add size and keep his speed, there is no reason why he can't match and perhaps surpass what Max did. The only obstacle is the competition at linebacker. MSU is now set to be loaded at the position for years to come, so several talented guys won't get to play as much as they hope.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Training with QB Gurus

As we look forward to the next season, I have begun to wonder about things like, "should all MSU's quarterbacks make their way out to California to train with a quarterback guru?" On the plus side, Connor Cook probably benefited at least to some extent from doing so. In my view, it never hurts to get training tips from different coaches, as long as they know what they're doing. Different coaches emphasize different things, and they usually have good reason for doing so. On the other hand, I assume that training with gurus is expensive, and I would hate for kids to feel pressured to have to spend large sums of their own money to compete for starting positions as QBs. Perhaps this would be a good reason to give players a stipend, to help them defray the costs of additional training that will probably become standard in the coming years.