Saturday, September 29, 2012

MSU season on the brink of disaster

It has been a long three weeks for the Michigan State football program.
In that time, the expectations for this season went from being a dark horse to win the national championship to being an outsider in the Big Ten race.
The Spartans suffered their second loss in three weeks, falling 17-16 to Ohio State at home on Saturday.
It was another ugly showing for Michigan State, and another game where the Spartans had an opportunity to win, but failed to make the plays it needed to to get the job done.
Unlike recent seasons, Michigan State has failed to show a lot of composure and come-from-behind ability in the fourth quarter.
The blame for Saturday’s loss goes on the whole team.
The defense gave up too many big plays and couldn’t get the stops it needed to against a one-man offense.
The MSU offense continued to have struggles moving the ball. When the Spartans did put a drive together, it settled for field goals instead of getting touchdowns.
On special teams, another missed field goal from Dan Conroy could have made the difference between a win and a loss.
Ohio State wasn’t overly impressive, but quarterback Braxton Miller did enough to lead the Buckeyes to a win. Ohio State had nearly 400 yards of offense against the Spartan defense, which is losing its credibility as an “elite defense” more and more with each game.
The ultimate disappointment for Spartan fans had to come on the final offensive play for the Buckeyes. Facing a 3rd and 4, Ohio State was able to run for a first down right up the middle of the Spartan defense. An elite, or even very good defense makes that stop.
When it comes to the offense, the same issues keep coming up. Receivers dropped passes again. Andrew Maxwell missed open receivers again. The offensive line failed to open up running lanes again.
Le’Veon Bell was held to just 49 yards on 17 carries. In past weeks, when Bell has rushed for big yards, it seemed as if he had to do a lot of the work himself. In both losses, he hasn’t been very visible in the game and that is because the line is losing the battle up front. Now add to that another big injury, with center Travis Jackson out for the rest of the year due to multiple leg injuries in Saturday’s game. The MSU line has been struggling when healthy, one can only assume those struggles continue with key pieces missing.
The only saving grace for the Spartans right now is that this was not a Legends Division game. MSU still controls its own destiny to get to the Big Ten Championship Game. However, based on what we have seen, can we really expect that to happen?
The Spartans head to Indiana next week and then return home to host Iowa. Those have to be wins.
Then, a rough three-week stretch awaits that will determine if this season is a complete failure. Those games are at Michigan, at Wisconsin, and then home against Nebraska.
Michigan State needs to find some solutions over these next two weeks, or the Spartans are going to find themselves back in the murky waters of mediocrity.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Prediction for Ohio State vs. Michigan State

The Big Ten season is going to start off really well for one team and really poorly for the other as Michigan State hosts Ohio State at 3:30 p.m. today.
This game could really go a number of ways, as both teams have looked bad in recent weeks.
However, this game looks to be shaping up well for Michigan State in my opinion.
This is not an easy task for Ohio State, as it plays its road opener against one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Regardless of what the Buckeyes have done on offense or defense this season, you don’t truly know about your team until you play on the road.
Look at Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are like night and day when it comes to playing at home or on the road.
Ohio State can win this game if it can manage to make big plays on offense and special teams. I don’t see the Buckeyes being able to sustain drives against the MSU defense, but there will be opportunities for a big play here and there. Braxton Miller will need to be aggressive and accurate when he attacks the MSU secondary. Turnovers are likely to happen, but that can’t discourage him from taking chances later in the game. If the Buckeyes can get a few big touchdown plays, that could be enough to win the game.
Michigan State can win if the defense keeps Miller in check and the offensive resolves some of its issues of recent weeks. Expect the Buckeyes to stack the box on defense and dare Andrew Maxwell and the Michigan State receivers to beat them. If the Spartans can avoid drops and Le’Veon Bell can continue to be a consistent presence on the ground, Michigan State shouldn’t have much trouble putting drives together on this Ohio State defense, which is giving up nearly 400 yards per game.
The potential is there for this to be a 6-3 game. The potential is also there for there to be some scoring. Expect somewhere in between. The Spartans should have gotten a wake-up call from last week’s performance against Eastern Michigan. If MSU can’t get up and play well for this game, then it’s going to be a long season in Spartan country.
Ohio State is still far from a finished product. Urban Meyer will probably do big things with the Buckeyes, but not this year. Look for Michigan State to pick up another win over OSU in a hard-fought, grind-it-out game.
Prediction: MSU 20, Ohio State 10

Keys to victory for MSU against Ohio State

The Big Ten season kicks off in a big way on Saturday with Michigan State hosting Ohio State. Here is a look at the keys to the game for the Spartans.
Defense lives up to the hype – The Michigan State defense has been very good, but not quite as good as many expected. The Spartans are still leading the Big Ten in points allowed (11.8) and yards allowed (237.3) per game. Ohio State has impressive offensive numbers, with a lot of that due to Braxton Miller. Last year, the Spartans held Miller in check in just his second start for the Buckeyes. MSU will see a better Miller, but I don’t think he has the weapons to put up a lot of impressive stats. Ohio State will get the occasional chunk of yards, but the Spartan defense needs to contain Miller. So far, of the four games Ohio State has played, they have went against defenses that rank 93rd or worse in points allowed in three of those contests. When you combine that with this being the first road game for the Buckeyes, it should shape up well for the MSU defense.
Make the most of the opportunities on offense – I could have just titled this one “CATCH THE BALL.” The Ohio State defense is giving up just 17.3 points per game, but it is allowing close to 400 yards per contest. That means the plays are there for the taking against the Buckeyes, but the Spartan receivers and quarterback Andrew Maxwell will have to step up. MSU can’t afford early drops, because they seem to get in Maxwell’s head and cause him to become inaccurate. The Buckeyes will probably look to stack the box and challenge Maxwell to beat them, as they hope to contain Le’Veon Bell. When the opportunity comes for 1-on-1 coverage down field, Maxwell and his receivers need to make plays.
Win the line of scrimmage – Despite the struggles in giving up yards, Ohio State has been able to get after the quarterback. The Buckeyes have 10 sacks this year, and that could pose a problem for a banged-up MSU offensive line that has underperformed at times this year. While Andrew Maxwell needs to step up, so does the offensive line. The Spartans have to still be able to establish a steady running game with Bell to keep the offense balanced and they have to give Maxwell time to throw. If Maxwell faces a lot of pressure, like he did against Notre Dame, it will be another long day for the offense.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

What Ohio State is saying about MSU

The only game featuring MSU or Michigan this week is the Spartans hosting Ohio State. Here is a look at the news coming out of Buckeye camp heading into Saturday’s contest.

Ohio State
Quarterback play will be key for both teams on Saturday, as MSU hopes to find a spark from Andrew Maxwell and his receivers while Ohio State is hoping that Braxton Miller will continue to play as well as he has.
That could be an issue against this MSU defense, which limited Miller in last year’s meeting. In only his second start as the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes, Miller was just 5 of 10 passing for 56 yards and was credited with -27 rushing yards due to four sacks.
Bill Rabinowitz, of The Columbus Dispatch, has some thoughts from Miller heading into this year’s game, noting that Miller feels like a completely different player.
“I looked at my body,” Miller said last night. “I was like 190 (pounds). I was skinny. I’m more developed as a quarterback, and I’m trying to learn each day.”
Miller has gained 26 pounds of muscle since that game, but the biggest transformation has come between his ears. He has gone from hoping for success as an unready freshman to expecting success as a burgeoning sophomore.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I have a lot of confidence.”
With good reason. Miller is the nation’s 15th-leading rusher, averaging 110 yards. He’s 25th in all-purpose yards with an average of 299 a game.
“He’s a lot different now than he was,” coach Urban Meyer said. “It’s typical (progress) from year one to year two.”
Miller has currently rushed for 441 yards and seven touchdowns this season and he is 60 of 98 passing for 754 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He is currently 10th in the nation in rushing yards.
Miller has led the offense to 37.8 points and 427 total yards per game, but Saturday will be his first road start of the season.
Along with his thoughts on Miller, Urban Meyer also offered some thoughts on the MSU defense.
“This is a force-you-to-go-over-the-top defense,” Meyer said. “This is a defense that’s very physical. They’re going to devote a lot of people to stop the run. (Miller) is a big part of our run game, so there aren’t going to be as many seams.”
Michigan State currently ranks sixth in the country in yards allowed at 237.3 per game.
By comparison, the Ohio State defense is holding opponents to just 17.3 points per game, but the Buckeyes are giving up nearly 400 yards per contest. Ohio State has given up the second most passing yards (1,109) of any team in the Big Ten.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Little Brother Scale after Week 4

Right now, it would be hard for me to say anyone is a “Big Brother” between these two teams.
Both looked so bad at times on Saturday that neither deserves praise. But, I will carry on.
The one thing that stands out for Michigan is that it had the game in its hands. It moved the ball better than Notre Dame and really had multiple chances to take control of the contest, but six turnovers let it slip away.
In Notre Dame’s meeting with Michigan State, you never felt like the Spartans had the control of the game. MSU had to fight for everything it could get.
That showed up again against Eastern Michigan. Despite a dominant defensive showing for the Spartans, the offense just couldn’t make anything happen.
As one dimensional as the Michigan offense is with Denard Robinson, the MSU offense has become just as one dimensional with Le’Veon Bell. The only difference is that Robinson is capable of doing more in a single play than Bell.
Despite that, the MSU defense is better than the Michigan defense and the Spartans still have a better recent track record than the Wolverines.
With Big Ten play getting started this week, the picture of what the season holds for both teams will start to clear up. We are less than a month away than the anticipated game on Oct. 20. This season has felt like a wash thus far, so the scale goes back to where it was before the season began.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Big Ten Teleconference Quotes from Brady Hoke

Another Big Ten Teleconference was held on Tuesday. Earlier this morning it was announced that Notre Dame is cancelling games with Michigan from 2015-17, meaning the final meeting in the foreseeable future between the Wolverines and Irish will be in the 2014 season.
Here is a collection of some of the quotes from Michigan’s Brady Hoke during Tuesday’s teleconference. I forgot to hit record for the Mark Dantonio portion of the call, but will add his comments when the replay is put online. My apologies for that.

Brady Hoke
Opening thoughts on last week: Obviously coming off a hard-fought game in South Bend on Saturday night. We had some opportunities. Give Notre Dame credit, they played good football. We’ve got to take care of the football better. We’ve got to execute better on both sides of the ball. Our team will take this week and we will get better in fundamentals and techniques and we will get ready for the Big Ten season.
Does having a bye week prior to Big Ten play help: Bye weeks are so tricky, to some degree, and what you want to get accomplished each year and your team’s are all different; the maturity of your team, the youth of your team. I think for us, at this point, I would say it’s a good time for us to re-evaluate where we are at and re-evaluate some of the personnel and, also, to get better as a football team from a standpoint of playing your position and doing your job.
On the defense: I think we were better last week. We have to continue that trend. I thought the effort and the demeanor that our defense played with during the course of the game was, really, kept us in the football game. We’ve got to improve upon that. You’ve got to make plays when the opportunity is there and we, unfortunately, didn’t do that a couple times.
On Notre Dame opting out of the agreement with Michigan: My reaction is they are doing…Notre Dame made a decision. That’s not our decision. Dave (Brandon) told me on Sunday about what was going to happen. It’s unfortunate and it’s a great rivalry and all those things, but they have to do what they think is best. We’ll move on and it adds some new scheduling opportunities for us.
On Devin Gardner’s injury states: He’s fine.
On scheduling and the importance of strength of schedule: I think we have done a pretty good job here at scheduling. Obviously, the national rivalry with Notre Dame, when that was on the schedule, your strength of schedule was pretty good. We opened up with Alabama this year and played Air Force, which is a good Mountain West team. I think that is all part of it.
On the struggles of the Big Ten: One thing is, first and foremost, I think we have a great conference. A great conference from many standpoints. From the academic standpoint of the universities that are in this conference to the competitiveness to the student-athletes and how they react. Do we want to play better? There is no question. I don’t think there is a coach in America that doesn’t want to play better no matter what your record is. I think our conference will continue to be as good a conference as there is and I think the coaches and the student-athletes work very hard.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend Recap: More confused than ever

I give up.
I am done trying to figure out Michigan and Michigan State this year, or the entire Big Ten for that matter.
Here are my final thoughts on the Spartans and Wolverines for the weekend.

Just a few weeks ago, nobody was giving more praise to the Spartans than I was. I legitimately thought this team was a top-10 caliber program.
The defense looked so tough that I thought the Spartans could overcome all their offensive woes.
Turns out, I might be wrong.
Notre Dame was able to dominate MSU and then Eastern Michigan came into Spartan Stadium on Saturday and gave the Spartans a scare.
The defense was solid, but the offense was putrid.
There were drops, bad passes and plenty of offensive line issues. The only bright spot was Le’Veon Bell, but he had to do it all himself for the most part.
MSU can’t continue to rely on Bell to take 35 carries a game and survive. It is clear that when Bell is not on the field, the rest of the offense can’t function.
As Big Ten play starts, MSU is in need of a quick fix that might not be coming.
Mark Dantonio is on edge over the offense, as I said in my column for The Oakland Press.
The receivers need to start making plays and that should help Maxwell settle in at quarterback. The early drops seem to be getting into his head and that has led to some bad throws.
Right now, this team is all about Bell and defense and you can’t expect them to be perfect all the time.

We all knew Denard Robinson wasn’t a great passer.
But, that had to be frustrating to watch.
The Michigan defense finally had a really solid performance this season, but it was washed away by an awful showing from the offense.
That game was Michigan’s for the taking, but when a team has six turnovers, it is hard to overcome.
I credit Robinson for shouldering all the blame. It shows leadership on his part. His problem is he continues to make amateur mistakes when throwing the ball. When under pressure, he has to throw the ball away or take a sack, not force something into the opposition.
I can understand wanting to make a play, but sometimes the best play to be made is the safest won. The way the defense played on Saturday, Denard didn’t have to win the game, he just had to not lose it. But, he did lose it.
The good news for Michigan is that it seems to be closer to solving its problems than Michigan State right now.
Denard will continue to put up impressive numbers against mediocre Big Ten defenses and the defense should keep improving with each week.
The test will come in those close games and whether Robinson will help or harm the Wolverines.
As great of a player and a weapon that he is, he still has the potential for a meltdown. It is the live by the sword, die by the sword situation that the Michigan offense is in.
Maybe this will be the game gets Robinson more composed and turns the season around. Time will tell.

Big Ten
On a final note, and in all seriousness, is this the worst the Big Ten has ever been?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Predictions for Michigan/MSU in Week 4

Michigan State vs. Eastern Michigan
I will be attending this game and I expect it to be very lopsided. The Spartans should have no trouble on either side of the ball and will use this game to try and improve on their chemistry in the passing game. Similar to what Michigan looked to do last week against UMass, the Spartans will want to see control on the line of scrimmage from the offense and the defense. Look for Andrew Maxwell to have his best game yet as a starter as the Spartans look to get the taste of last week’s loss out of their mouths.
Michigan State 42, Eastern Michigan 6

Michigan vs. Notre Dame
Sure, Denard Robinson has a great history against Notre Dame. But, this doesn’t look to be the same Fighting Irish of past seasons. This team looks better. In fairness, Michigan looks worse than it did a year ago as well. The Wolverine defense has been very suspect against the run and that is something Notre Dame looks to be able to do very well. I expect the Irish to control tempo on offense and keep Michigan’s offense of the field. When Denard is on the field, he has the potential to make a big play, but he will need help from his receivers and good protection from the offensive line. The Notre Dame defense is very strong up front and should make things difficult for him. Michigan always has that “puncher’s chance” with Denard, but I don’t think he will have enough tricks up his sleeve on Saturday night. Notre Dame seems primed to have a 10-win season and make a return to the national picture.
Notre Dame 31, Michigan 20

Keys to victory for MSU/Michigan on Saturday

The fourth week of the season is just 24 hours away. Here is a look at my keys to victory for both games.

Eastern Michigan at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m.
Find some confidence on offense – This shouldn’t be difficult as Eastern Michigan is giving up over 500 yards per game. After last week’s performance the Spartans need to find something on offense that can give them some confidence heading into Big Ten play. Andrew Maxwell needs to find some chemistry with his receivers. The MSU receivers need to make plays and catch the ball consistently. The Spartan offensive line needs to open up running lanes for Le’Veon Bell and not force him to have to do most of the work. Regardless of what happens on Saturday, there will still be a lot of questions about the offense heading into the Ohio State game. But if the offense struggles on Saturday, there will be even more reason to be concerned.
Don’t let EMU get started – The MSU defense needs to keep the Eagles from establishing anything early. The Eagles would ideally like to be a running team, but if they find themselves behind by a lot early, it makes them a passing team. If the defense can force some quick stops, the offense should be able to put this game away early.
Get Dan Conroy some confidence – Like the offense, MSU’s kicker could use a little confidence as well. In some odd stats, Conroy is 4-for-4 on kicks from 20-29 yards and 50 yards or more, yet is 0-for-3 on kicks from 30-49 yards. With the struggles of the offense (which will still be a problem entering conference play) the Spartans are going to have to rely on Conroy to be consistent. On Saturday, hitting a few field goals in that 30-49 range will do a lot for him going forward. I am not saying the Spartans should kill drives for Conroy’s sake, but I do expect a few opportunities to arise.

Michigan at Notre Dame, 7:30 p.m.
Attack the weakened secondary – Notre Dame has nightmares about what Denard Robinson has done to them. It seems as if the Irish front seven on defense are finally capable of containing his running ability. However, Notre Dame is dealing with a lot of inexperience in the secondary, especially with safety Jamoris Slaughter now out for the season. I am not typically one to encourage a lot of passing from Robinson, but this could be a game where he could do some damage with his arm if his receivers can step up and win 1-on-1 battles. Similar to the fourth quarter of last year’s game, there may need to be some balls tossed in the air on Saturday. Look for Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess to be targeted a lot with their bigger frames.
Protect Denard – In order for Key 1 to happen, the offensive line is going to have to play better than it has. The Fighting Irish have 11 sacks in three games and their pressure on Andrew Maxwell last week caused the MSU offense to crumble. Robinson has the running ability to avoid pressure, but the Irish may have the speed to keep up with him this year.
Contain the run – Notre Dame was able to run the ball well enough that Everett Golson didn’t have to win the game on his own last week. Golson still made some big plays when needed, but Brian Kelly has to be thinking about keeping it simple for his quarterback. The Wolverines are giving up an average of 211.3 rushing yards per game this season. Notre Dame can run the ball and will run the ball if Michigan allows it. The Michigan front seven has to be up to the challenge and contain the run. If not, Notre Dame will be able to control the ball with lengthy drives and keep Denard and the offense off the field.

BONUS KEY – Create Turnovers – In a game like this, turnovers will be crucial. Michigan has failed to create turnovers consistently on defense. Saturday would be a good day for the Wolverines to change that trend. The opportunity will be there for the secondary to make plays, so someone will have to step up.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

What ND/EMU are saying about Michigan/MSU

As I do each Thursday, I thought I would see what the opponents for MSU and Michigan are saying about Saturday’s games.

Notre Dame
Earlier this week, the focus for Notre Dame was on moving past Michigan State.
Brian Hamilton, of The Chicago Tribune, has a piece about Brian Kelly quickly having his team forget about last week’s win and thinking about Saturday’s game with the Wolverines
"As soon as we got in the locker room, (Kelly) brought us down to earth," tailback Cierre Wood said. "He said celebrate, but also know this isn't anything. We haven't reached our peak yet. We haven't done anything."
As of Sunday, Notre Dame (3-0) has a sparkly No. 11 ranking, its best since late 2006. It has a bitter rival visiting for another night-game spectacle. And it has the memory of what happened under similar circumstances last year, as it is possible facial bones never set properly after the Irish fell on them.
The article also talks about the injury issues for the Irish as safety Jamoris Slaughter is now out for the year with a torn Achilles’ tendon. Three of the four starters in the Irish secondary are now in their first year of solid game action.

Eastern Michigan
It has already been a long season for Ron English and Eastern Michigan, as the Eagles are off to a 0-3 start.
It probably won’t get much better on Saturday when the Eagles head to East Lansing to face a Michigan State team eager to get the taste of last week’s game out of its mouth.
Joe Rexrode, of The Detroit Free Press, spoke with English about facing MSU and English didn’t see much weakness in the team.
"They look pretty good to me. That's an excellent football team," English said. "I know they dropped a few spots in the polls after that loss, but I think by the end of the year you'll see Michigan State back in the top 10."
The Eagles (0-3) don't appear to have much of a shot at their first win over MSU in nine tries Saturday. They are coming off a 54-16 loss at Purdue, and English's focus is on improvement this week before an off week and full immersion in Mid-American Conference play.
EMU ranks 120th out of 120 FBS teams in rush defense (312.3 a game) and 116th in total defense (514.3). English said his team has been "feast or famine" against the run -- solid for several plays before yielding a big one.
Another interesting note about this game is that EMU running backs coach is Mike Hart, the very same Mike Hart that made the “Little Brother” comments that have sparked the MSU run over Michigan for the last four seasons.
Hart is not taking interview requests this week.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Little Brother Scale after Week 3

Since introducing the Little Brother Scale during the offseason, things had continued to go well for Michigan State.
That all changed on Saturday.
The Spartans were soundly beaten by Notre Dame and their weaknesses coming into the season were amplified by a team that could contain their strengths.
It is too early to know just how good Notre Dame will be, but it is clear that MSU was a bit over-hyped (I include myself in that) after the first two weeks of the season.
With the Spartan performance, the door opens for Michigan to make some progress in the scale.
Not only because Michigan rolled UMass last week, but because the Wolverines face Notre Dame on Saturday.
The Wolverines have a track record of success against the Irish and another win over them would certainly build some confidence for the rest of the season.
Michigan still seems to be battling some issues of its own on the offensive line, which could be a factor on Saturday. Certainly the defense will have to come up with some big plays to keep the Irish to a low point total at home.
Michigan may have the athletes on offense to do what Michigan State couldn’t do, but the Wolverines are going to need someone other than Denard Robinson to step up.
MSU has a cake game against Eastern Michigan, and then the real test of where the Spartans are heading is next week when they host Ohio State.
For now, the Spartans are still ahead, but the gap is a little closer than last week.
LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: MSU 17¼, Michigan 14¾ 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Big Ten Teleconference quotes from Sept. 18

Brady Hoke
On this week: Obviously this is a special week. It’s a great rivalry game for us. It’s a fun game to be a part of either as a coach or a player. We were pleased with the win last Saturday, but we have to play a lot better than we did and we have to make the improvements we need to make from week to week.
Why has Denard Robinson been so successful against Notre Dame: I don’t know. I don’t know if anyone knows that. Every year is different. Every game is different. The pieces that are on the field are different. It has just been lucky for us…lucky for Michigan that he has played well late in ball games.
Are you concerned about the future of this rivalry with Notre Dame’s new agreement with the ACC: That’s probably a decision I will have nothing to do with. I think it’s a great rivalry from a national perspective. I don’t know…they have to take care of what they need to take care of by going into the ACC in the other sports and having the opportunity to play competitive games against people outside the conference. Believe me, we have enough going on here to worry about what we are doing.
What stood out the most about Denard’s performance last year against Notre Dame: No. 1, for three quarters we did nothing, on either side of the ball. So that’s what I remember the most. I think Denard, in the fourth quarter, played well. I think his receivers did a good job. I thought some of the adjustments Al Borges made were very good for us offensively. We just kept fighting away.
Is Denard a player that shines in the big games: I hope he shines in a lot of games. He is your quarterback and he handles the ball a lot. From my vantage point, we are just glad he’s our quarterback at Michigan.
Are you concerned about the physicality of your team: I think we need to play more physical. I think we need to play faster on both sides of the ball. I think finishing plays is something we need to do a better job at. When you look at defense, getting 11 guys to the football and the physicalness we want to play up front with. From the offensive standpoint, the movement at the line of scrimmage, so we can be a little more vertical in our run game. All those things are part of it.
What is Notre Dame bringing to the table defensively that is different from last year: When you watch them, their front seven is playing very aggressive. They held Michigan State to 50 yards rushing. I think they have done a tremendous job at the point of attack. They flow to the ball really, really well. They have created turnovers and opportunities for their offense. That’s a big part of the game of football, when you look at field position and opportunities and possessions for your offense that your defense can create.

Mark Dantonio
On last week: Tough loss this past weekend. It’s hard, but it’s very competitive out there and we want to get back on the right path, so we’re moving forward.
On losing at home during a big recruiting weekend and how that impacts landing the recruits: It helps every time you get a young man on campus. I think that is the main thing. A lot of our guys will come for the game experience. They will have the opportunity to maybe see a coach, possibly see me, but there will be another time they come where they will have an opportunity to sit down with the coach and talk and I think it is important that every time a young man comes to campus he sees a different aspect of what he is going to experience when he plays here. That’s what we’ve always tried to do here. If one guy can only come one weekend and he’s from a long ways away, we are going to try to give him the total exposure. It’s extremely competitive. On a day like the Notre Dame game, it’s extremely busy.
On Andrew Maxwell’s learning curve: I think a quarterback continues to grow. It’s a lot like golf. You can call the same play, but it’s always a different shot. You can be the same distance away from a hole, but its always a different shot you are taking. There are so many different things a quarterback is seeing, from different coverages to different pressures, blitzes, that no play that we run is too often the same because the different things that add up on it. I think he continues to develop. The thing I have been most impressed about Andrew is that he has a very strong arm, physically. He has a very good hand on our offensive, conceptually. He is extremely composed and resilient and he doesn’t panic under pressure. Those are the things that will bring him forward. The other things, if he can maintain those things, the other things will iron themselves out. It is an experience-based position. You just make great strides in every game you play. Especially when you are doing it for…. he is going into his fourth game this week as a starter. That’s not very many. When you look back and make a statement, for example, Kirk Cousins played 30 as a starter, or more. There is a learning curve, but I am very impressed and happy with what he has done.
On the potential for changes in the lineup: I think there are always guys that are in that area that they may start, they may not start based on their inexperiences and other things. Particularly at wide receiver and our remaining safety position and one of our defensive tackle positions. Those type of things, there is a little bit of play there because we have guys with similar abilities. It’s not like they’re playing bad football, it is just we have guys that are similar in their abilities at those particular positions that probably warrant opportunities.
What do you expect to see out of your receivers: I think for us to step forward we have to catch the ball cleanly. We have to make the tough catch. Credit Notre Dame with defending some balls and getting them out with the swat or something of that nature. But, you have to make the big play in the football game and you have to catch the deep ball. You have to have great run after catch. Those are the things you are trying to see who is able to create that and fill the void that Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham and Keith Nichol left. Those guys were more experienced players and it was second nature to them to get the ball and go. For our guys right now, they are young and inexperienced, so they are getting the experience as we go. But, they are outstanding athletes and they have outstanding talent and they have the ability to catch the football from top to bottom. But they are young, and just like the quarterback, they have to get lined up properly and run the right route and play within the confines of your system.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fair or Foul: Judging the Week 3 Criticisms

Things were pretty peaceful between Michigan and Michigan State fans after Week 2. Both teams won and put up some strong production numbers. There wasn’t much need for trash talk.
That peace time quickly went away this Saturday.
Following Michigan State’s loss to Notre Dame, 20-3, the Wolverine faithful came out and launched a full-force attack on the Spartans. In turn, MSU fans came back with some intriguing attacks of their own.
For that reason, I have to do another Fair or Foul

Argument from Michigan fans: MSU was exposed against Notre Dame and the Spartans are just a mid-level team again.
Nobody was hyping the Spartans more than I was last week. I thought their defense was among the best in the country and that would allow them to beat a team like Notre Dame. I definitely underestimated Notre Dame and what they would be able to do to the Spartans. Notre Dame exposed the MSU offense for the weaknesses we all knew they had coming into the season. The Spartan offensive line struggled to create running lanes and provide pass protection early, and that spelled MSU’s demise. While MSU was exposed, it doesn’t mean that the Spartans are back to being a mid-level team. Don’t forget, MSU lost 31-13 to Notre Dame last year and went on to an 11-win season. Granted, this year’s loss was at home, but the Spartans are still going to be a tough out in the Big Ten. VERDICT: FOUL

Argument from MSU fans: At least we didn’t lose 41-14 to Alabama.
This argument makes no sense at all. MSU lost at home to Notre Dame, a team that has been fighting to be in the top 25 in the past few years. Michigan lost, in virtually a road game, to top-ranked Alabama, the defending national champion. Through three games, Michigan is the only team to have scored points against Alabama. While I think Notre Dame is shaping up to have a strong year, the Fighting Irish are not the Crimson Tide. VERDICT: FOUL

Argument from Michigan fans: General mocking for losing to Notre Dame
Perhaps Michigan fans have forgotten that they head to South Bend this week. I think it would be wise to tone down the trash talk until that game is over. The biggest argument you will have so far this season that Michigan is the better team is if the Wolverines go into Notre Dame and come out with a win. But if Michigan loses, or gets dominated, all this trash talk is going to get thrown right back at you. I know Michigan has had Brian Kelly’s number, but it appears the Fighting Irish have some very good athletes on defense this season. VERDICT: FOUL

Argument from MSU fans: Why is Michigan talking trash at all? Four straight!
I can’t really argue with this one. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who loses to whom until Oct. 20. Michigan needs to beat Michigan State to stop the verbal assault. Even a win over Notre Dame this Saturday won’t change the last four meetings with the Spartans. For Michigan to get back some control of the in-state rivalry, it needs to win this year at home. VERDICT: FAIR

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Final thoughts from Week 3

No matter if it was a 50-point win or a 17-point loss, both Michigan and Michigan State seemed disappointed when Saturday concluded.
Here are some closing thoughts from the weekend.

Notre Dame 20, MSU 3
I was quite surprised that Notre Dame won so convincingly. I thought it would be close, because I didn’t think the MSU offense would be able to dominate, but I didn’t see the defense allowing 20 points.
Don’t get me wrong, the defense still played well enough to win, allowing only 300 total yards, but they didn’t apply pressure to the quarterback and allowed a few big runs.
But the defense wasn’t the issue. The issue was the offense, and it was everyone on the offense.
We all knew that there were concerns about quarterback Andrew Maxwell and the inexperienced receivers heading into the season.
What I expected is that the offensive line would make up for some of those issues. However, on Saturday, the line was the big problem. They failed to open up running lanes and protect Maxwell. Then, when the Spartans had to become a passing team, Maxwell wasn’t comfortable.
The receivers dropped some passes and Maxwell seemed rattled, but this team needs the line to be stronger. I know that the Spartans were without Fonoti, but this is an issue that has been consistent this year.
Le’Veon Bell has been getting plenty of carries and has 357 yards rushing, but his ypc is just 4.4. Bell has to do most of the work to get his yardage.
The Spartans appear to be a team that is going to go as far as their offensive line can take them.

Michigan 63, UMass 13
Michigan looked good for the most part, but that was expected in this game.
Still, the mood after the game was disappointment from coach Brady Hoke.
I think Hoke saw what most of us saw. He saw that Michigan wasn’t overpowering UMass on the front lines. The Minutemen had a season-high rushing total against the Wolverines and Michigan didn’t have much success running the ball up the middle.
Denard Robinson was solid rushing the ball again, but some of his rushes came on scrambles and others came from getting outside the tackles.
Fitz Toussaint had 85 yards rushing, but on 15 carries. Against a team like UMass, you would like to see that average (5.7 ypc) a little higher.
What is also standing out is that Michigan is really lacking in playmakers outside of Robinson. Not just on offense, but defense too. I wrote a column about it in today’s Oakland Press
The Wolverines aren’t getting a lot of pressure on the quarterback from their defensive line and the back seven aren’t creating turnovers. The Wolverines still don’t have an interception this season through three games.
Next week should paint the real picture of what “Team 133” is going to be. I think the Wolverines have the speed to deal with Notre Dame’s defense, but the line is going to have to play much better.
It may take another shootout to win, but a win at Notre Dame right now would be the biggest win any team in the state would have this season.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Predictions for Week 3

UMass at Michigan, 3:30 p.m.
It seems impossible to conjure up a way that Michigan loses this game. UMass is bad. In fact, UMass may be the worst FBS team in the country. The Wolverines should have their way with the Minutemen and it shouldn’t take long for this game to get out of hand. I see Michigan winning easy, but the point spread for the game is around 45 points. I can never feel good about giving any team that many points. There are just too many things that can go wrong in that scenario. I see Michigan winning, but don’t know if they can cover the lofty odds.
Michigan 50, UMass 10

Notre Dame at MSU, 8 p.m.
This game should be exciting and filled with emotion. Both teams are off to strong starts and hopeful for a 10-win season. I think the fact that the Spartans are at home will really be the deciding factor in their victory. I see Everett Golson struggling in this one. It will be a tough environment for a freshman quarterback. I don’t see the MSU offense having great success, but doing enough to stay ahead of the Irish. With the lead, the MSU defense will make enough plays to keep the Spartans on top. It won’t be a pretty victory, but that is becoming MSU’s style.
Michigan State 20, Notre Dame 13

Keys to victory for MSU/Notre Dame, Michigan/UMass

We are just 24 hours away from another busy Saturday of college football. Here is a look at my three keys to victory for Michigan and Michigan State.

3 Keys for Michigan vs. UMass
Start Fast – UMass doesn’t have much to offer in this game, so Michigan needs to put the Minutemen away quickly. This is a game that should provide an opportunity for a lot of backups and underclassmen to get snaps, so it is important for Michigan to not let this game linger on into the second half.
Find Some Confidence On Defense – The Wolverines have not been strong on defense, particularly against the run and on the defensive line. Michigan needs to find a little confidence this week in that regard. The Wolverines should be able to overpower UMass up front and get into the backfield. Brady Hoke said he wants to see his guys do a better job of getting off blocks this week. If they can’t do that against UMass, there may not be a team they will be able to do it against.
Stay Healthy – This isn’t something Michigan has a lot of control over, but in a game like this, you don’t want to have anyone get injured. Don’t have Denard Robinson take too many hits. Give him the opportunity to make plays, but look to establish Fitzgerald Toussaint and other offensive weapons other than Denard. Also, as said before, get the backups some reps in this game when it gets out of hand.

3 Keys for MSU vs. Notre Dame
Test Golson – Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson is playing in his first true road game under the lights. I am sure he will have some nerves and there is a possibility for mistakes to happen for the Notre Dame offense. The Spartans need to pressure Golson early with different blitz packages and make him have to make quick decisions. The MSU secondary is strong enough to play 1-on-1 coverage in this game, so don’t give Golson time to look for openings. If he is rushed into throwing, it should lead to turnovers.
Win The Battle Up Front – This is talking about the offensive line. So far, MSU has been able to run the ball well, but the Spartans aren’t exactly gashing defenses either. Bell has been steady, but is picking up yards in small chunks. The Notre Dame defense has been very strong thus far, but is untested. MSU will need to be able to establish Bell in this game in order to control the tempo and keep Andrew Maxwell from being under fire all contest. The Irish had four sacks last week against Purdue and forced the Boilermakers into just 19 of 37 passing. If the Spartans have to rely on Maxwell to win, he may not be up to the task.
Special Teams Need To Be Special – I expect points to be at a premium in this game, so every yard will count. Field position will play a big role, as will field goals. The Irish have yet to hit a field goal past 40 yards this season, but their coverage units have been strong. Dan Conroy has a 50-yard field goal this season for MSU, but he is 0-2 from 30-49 yards. Conroy will need to be on his game. Return man Nick Hill could also be a big asset for the Spartans. He is averaging over 15 yards per punt return, and a big return could mean the difference between a win and a loss on Saturday.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Notre Dame/UMass media is saying about Saturday

We are just a few days away from the third games of the season for MSU and Michigan. Here is a look at what the Notre Dame and UMass media is saying about Saturday’s action.

MSU vs. Notre Dame
Most of the talk in Irish country is about Notre Dame’s new affiliation to the ACC, and what it means for football scheduling going forward. Certainly that could impact Michigan and Michigan State in the future.
For now, the talk at Notre Dame is centered on the quarterback position, as Tommy Rees had to fill in last week for an injured Everett Golson. The Chicago Tribune has a story on Rees and his role with the Irish.
Golson injured his thumb against Purdue last week and Rees filled in, leading Notre Dame on its final drive to a 27-yard field goal, which won the game, 20-17.
Despite Rees’ play, Kelly is sticking with Golson as his quarterback against Michigan State. It seems to be the logical choice.
No matter which quarterback Kelly has on the field, they will be facing the toughest defense they have met all season. With Golson under center, you have to expect some mistakes as he heads into his first true road game of his college football career.

Michigan vs. UMass
UMass hasn’t had much to be excited about in its first season as a FBS program.
The Minutemen have lost to both Connecticut and Indiana by a combined score of 82-6 this season, all while averaging just 161.5 yards of offense per game.
Ron Chimelis, of The Republican, writes about UMass’ struggles in becoming a FBS program.
Chimelis says that now that UMass is a FBS program, it has actually become more of an underdog than when it was a FCS school. The Minutemen actually gave Michigan a scare in 2010, losing 42-37. But, that team seems to be nowhere in sight.
Chimelis paints a grim picture of the current state of UMass football and it appears Michigan should have a walk in the park on Saturday.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Little Brother Scale after Week 2

Week 2 of the college football season was an opportunity for progress for both Michigan and Michigan State.
The Spartans were hoping to see improvement in their offense against a weak Central Michigan defense while Michigan was hoping to make strides on both sides of the ball against Air Force.
Michigan seemed to find its offense last week, racking up 422 yards. Denard Robinson looked like the Denard Robinson we know, as he rushed for 218 yards and threw for 208 with four total touchdowns.
Wolverine fans should feel better knowing that Michigan should be able to move the ball going forward. There aren’t many defenses like Alabama’s in the Big Ten.
What does have to concern Michigan fans is that Air Force put up 25 points and 417 yards on the Wolverines. Only three times last year did a team put up 25 points or more against Michigan and now that has already happened twice in two games.
The loss up front from last season has clearly been an issue for Michigan. The Wolverines need to be able to rely on their defense in close games and I don’t think that is something they can do right now. As we know, Michigan’s offense is still limited when facing a fast and physical defense. The Wolverines still have a few of those defenses on the schedule, so the Michigan defense will need to step up in those games. Playing UMass this week should help create some confidence on the defensive side of the ball.
For MSU, the Spartans dominated Central Michigan and didn’t allow a touchdown on defense for the second straight contest.
It appears the Spartans’ defense is as good as advertised, but this week against Notre Dame will really tell us if the Spartans have a top 5 defense.
Andrew Maxwell and the young MSU receivers made improvements against the Chippewas as well, but it appears that the Spartans have a simple formula for success.
MSU will use its defense to keep the score low, manage the game offensively with a steady diet of Le’Veon Bell, and put Maxwell in low-stress situations where he can succeed and not cost Michigan State the game.
Right now, MSU is much better built to play its style of football than Michigan is to play its style.
For that reason, Michigan fans have to be growing more concerned about Oct. 20, and I see the Spartans taking another slight step up in the Little Brother Scale
LITTLE BROTHER SCALE: MSU 17¾, Michigan 14¼ 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Hoke/Dantonio Quotes from Tuesday's Teleconference

Here are some quotes from Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio from Tuesday's Big Ten Coaches Teleconference.

Brady Hoke
Opening Thoughts
We are looking forward to go out again and play at home. Our students were great and they showed a lot of support for our team. We are happy to win the game against Air Force, against a good football team, but we have a long way to go as a football team with our improvement each week that we need to have to be playing Michigan football.
On if he’s more concerned or more encouraged after these first two games
Probably a little bit of both, to be honest with you. There is some concern there, that we need to play better on both sides of the ball up front. We need to block better. We need to be a little more physical at the point of attack. From a defensive prospective, when you give up the rushing yards that we have so far, (we want to see) our defensive front playing and getting off blocks and being disruptive.
How he would like to see Devin Gardner apply his QB past and put it into being a WR
We obviously would like to see that. That helps him a little bit, knowing what Denard is seeing and what he is looking for. I think he is just scratching the surface of being the kind of receiver we need him to be.
Is it difficult to keep your team focused this week given the struggles of UMass?
No, I don’t think so. I think you see some good things they do from an offensive and defensive perspective. I know Charley (Molnar), he is going through growing pains, like we all do, and growing a program. We’ve got to get so much better as a program and our improvement has to be something that can be measured from week to week to week. We have a lot of respect (for UMass) and from all phases of the game, we need to get better.
On what he would like to see improve on the defense this week:
First and foremost, our run defense. (We want to see us) doing a much better job at the point of attack and a much better job of getting off blocks. That’s one of the things that has been discouraging. We have done a decent job of taking on blocks and pad level, but getting off blocks, I don’t think we’ve done a good job with that at all.
Did he expect these defensive issues coming into the season?
I think we all knew that we were going to be different up front defensively with three guys graduating that started and played a lot of football and were good football players. We are kind of a work in progress with some guys that haven’t played much football getting opportunities and with some guys that played some, but haven’t been full-time starters.
Do you have to be patient with so many young guys playing?
I don’t think you are any more patient. They are playing Division 1 football and recruited to play Division 1 football. There are expectations that every coach has for how they want to play the game, so when you look at it that way, we have to just keep improving. We have to keep teach fundamentals and technique…the little details of what you want to do on both sides of the ball. That is probably the biggest thing, when you’ve got young players, is them understanding how you prepare and the things you need to do to play your best.
On the “slow start” of the Big Ten this year
I don’t know about that. I think “slow start” or however you want to say it…you can spin it however you want to but we’ve got a great conference and we’ve got great student-athletes who are working hard and preparing. I’m not speaking for everybody, but our conference, at the end of the day, will hold up to anybody.

Mark Dantonio
Le’Veon Bell’s development as a runner and Brad Salem’s (RB Coach) impact
Le’Veon has always had great vision, great cutting ability and the ability to get positive yards after contact. That is one of the things he’s done since he’s come here. I think the more experience the guy gets, the more confidence a guy gets, the more instinctive he becomes. Coach Salem does a tremendous job in terms of articulating the finer points of a running back’s play or the exact….where to press or what hole to press or what gap to press in certain runs. The pass protection, the techniques and all the different things, the nuisances really of playing the game. But, inevitably it comes down to the player being able to execute and Le’Veon is able to do that at a very, very high level.
On the Big Ten’s relationship with the MAC
I think that we have had a great relationship with the Mid-American Conference. Most Big Ten schools do. I think for the most part, the in-state schools in the Big Ten actively try to play the in-state schools in their respective states. I think you look around the conference and that is pretty much the norm. (The MAC) is outstanding football. Great coaching. A lot of players you already know about, although they maybe didn’t have the opportunity to come to a Big Ten school, they were highly recruited guys and they settled at their respective schools. I think (the relationship) is a positive. It’s challenging, just like playing anybody, it’s challenging. There are some very, very good players in that conference.
Going back to the Notre Dame game 2 years ago, and the “Little Giants” call. Had he ever done it before in a game situation like that?
On the last play in the game? In overtime? No. I have never done that. Not many have, probably. As I have said before, it was about the timing of the play. We had worked on it. We had gotten sacked. We were just outside what I thought was a for-sure makeable field goal. We were just over 50 percent, I thought, if we executed the fake. I really felt like we had a cool customer. We had a guy under center, in Aaron Bates, who we had used on a lot of fakes in the previous four years. At least four or five. I felt like he was a guy who wouldn’t panic. If things broke down, he wouldn’t panic, and that’s exactly what happened. Things broke down a little bit and he had to move right or left. He moved right, stay composed and delivered.
Is there a way to prepare to make that call or is it just about feel?
I don’t know if there is any time to prepare for it. The decision had to be made very quickly. As I remember the clock went all the way down to almost zero, but we got it off. We just felt like it wasn’t a done deal. It was a 48 or 49-yard kick. Dan Conroy was a redshirt sophomore. It was his first big, big game. It was his first kick with the game on the line. I just felt like the pressure had to come to me and not to him, and that’s what we did. It’s just a game, just a game.
On the talk that MSU is carrying the banner for the Big Ten right now
I think that we have played two games. It is very, very early in the season. Last year, as I remember, we didn’t play well at Notre Dame and people sort of wrote us off. We ended up No. 9, or something like that, in the nation. People will respond. That is the nature of football, the competitive nature of it. People are going to respond and reset things and reset their compass and move forward. I think it is still very competitive in the country right now in terms of winning and losing football games. It is extremely competitive and there are so many different teams, that if their matchups go one way, the game goes the other way.
How much clearer is the receiving depth chart now compared to training camp?
When we came into camp we had quite a few players that we were looking at and saying ‘where is he at in the scheme of things’. I think now it is a little cleaner. We have designated eight guys that will travel and all eight of those guys may play. That is the reality of it. Because we are young at that position, those players need game experience to show where they are at. They can do things in practice, but they need game experience to sort of bring things along, in terms of providing that. The practice time is obviously very important as well. You have to evaluate the practice time, but all those guys will have an opportunity to be involved and play. Certainly we have three or four guys that are ahead of that group, but the other guys will play as well.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Week 2 Recap & Week 3 Odds

This past weekend saw a pair of wins in state and we were able to get a better idea of what Michigan and Michigan State are going to be this season. Here are a few final thoughts from the weekend, and if you didn't read my column on MSU from the CMU game, you can read it here.

Michigan defense continues to struggles
Michigan fans have to be a little nervous about the Michigan defense allowing 417 yards at home to Air Force. Perhaps it was the triple option that caused the problems, but certainly you have to expect better from this unit based on last season. Right now they are giving up 424 total yards and 261 rushing yards per game.

Denard is still Denard
Robinson was able to get back to his old self on Saturday, throwing for over 200 yards while rushing for 218 and two touchdowns. This is the Robinson we have grown accustomed to and the one that should be around most of the season. Not many teams have the defensive skill that Alabama does. The Tide was able to contain Robinson’s speed and force him to just be a passer. When he can be the running threat he was against Air Force, it allows him to be more successful as a passer. This week against UMass should see Robinson put up big numbers again.

MSU Defense still strong
The Spartans did not allow a touchdown on defense on Saturday against Central Michigan. That is two games without a TD from the opposing offense. The Spartans are also allowing just 225 total yards per game, which ranks eighth in the country. Of teams that have played two games, they are sixth in the nation in fewest yards allowed. The Spartans are going to rely on the defense this season and hope for continued progress from Andrew Maxwell and the offense.

We have a Big Ten favorite
Five Big Ten teams are 2-0 and it would be hard to say any of them are playing better than Michigan State. Ohio State has looked impressive, but the Buckeyes didn’t slow down an offense like Boise State. Wisconsin has looked like a shell of its old self, which is really surprising. Nebraska was unable to make the plays it needed to against UCLA and continues to struggle away from Lincoln. There is still plenty of football to be played, but MSU looks to be threatening to contend for the Big Ten once again.

Week 3 Odds
Here is a listing of the odds for this week’s games.
Michigan -45.5 vs. UMass
Michigan State -3.5 vs. Notre Dame
UMass has lost both games by a combined score of 83-6 to the likes of Connecticut and Indiana. This should be a game for Michigan to gel on offense and defense and build some confidence heading into the trip to South Bend.
Michigan State faces an offense with some speed that could pose problems. The Irish have allowed just 27 points over two games, so this could be a defensive showcase.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The games of Week 2 of the college football season are upon us. Here are my picks for the weekend.

MSU at CMU – 3:30 pm.
I will be live at this game and taking part in a live chat if you are interested in sharing your thoughts.
This game should be a victory for Michigan State, and should be a sizeable one.
Regardless of the environment and atmosphere, the fact is the Spartans are a much better team.
The MSU defense has the ability to completely shut down the CMU offense. Their front seven should contain the Chippewa run game and apply pressure to quarterback Ryan Radcliff, which will lead to turnovers.
The Spartan offense can control tempo with its powerful running game, which will open the door for play action passing against a questionable secondary.
I can see the game being within reach for CMU at halftime, but ultimately look for the Spartans to pull away.
Due to the relationship between coaches Mark Dantonio and Dan Enos, I don’t see MSU trying to embarrass the Chippewas.
Prediction – MSU 37, CMU 13

Air Force at Michigan – 3:30 p.m.
I look for Michigan to really try to put on a show today.
The Wolverines need to re-establish themselves after last week’s loss and the Air Force defense can certainly give up some points.
I’d expect Denard Robinson and Fitzgerald Toussaint to pile up the rushing yards, in excess of 200 yards combined. As Air Force commits to the run, it will open things up for Robinson to hit a few lengthy passes.
Defensively, I think Michigan will stumble a few times against the option, but not enough to allow Air Force to score consistently. This game will be somewhat of a scoring race, and the Falcons won’t be able to match the Wolverines score for score.
Prediction – Michigan 45, Air Force 20

Friday, September 7, 2012

Live Chat for MSU-CMU

Join myself and Nate Schneider of the Mt. Pleasant Morning Sun for a live chat during the CMU vs. Michigan State football game. The chat is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m.

Keys to victory for MSU, Michigan in Week 2

3 keys to victory for MSU vs. Central Michigan
Silence the crowd early: The Chippewas are going to look to feed off the emotion of hosting Michigan State. The crowd of around 35,000 should be on fire early on. The Spartans need to quiet that crowd quickly and now allow the Chippewas to feed off that energy. Getting the ball to start and driving right down the field would be the best way to get that done.
Pound Green Pound: Michigan State established a steady run game against Boise State last week. In the early part of this game, the Spartans should do the same. The Spartans need to give Andrew Maxwell a chance to improve, but not at the expense of the team. MSU should use its bigger offensive line and Le’Veon Bell to set the tone early and then let Maxwell attack the CMU secondary.
Be prepared for anything: The Spartans have a tremendous defense, but they can’t get cocky. Central Michigan could unload the playbook offensively, which means MSU needs to play disciplined football. The linebackers will have to stick to their assignments and watch out for misdirection plays. CMU should know it can’t try to push the ball right up the middle of the MSU defense, so it will look to find other ways to move down the field.

3 keys to victory for Michigan vs. Air Force
Forget last week: It has been said plenty of times by Brady Hoke and many Michigan players, but the Wolverines have to forget about last week’s loss. Dwelling on it will cause the Wolverines to start 0-2. This isn’t an easy game by any means, so Michigan needs to take the Falcons seriously.
Open up the playbook: Michigan was criticized for not using Denard Robinson much in the run game last week. That may have been a conservative approach to playing against a physical team in a non-conference game. However, the Michigan offense needs to find some success this week and gain confidence. With Fitzgerald Toussaint back, I expect Michigan to be more aggressive on offense and work Robinson more into the rushing game. If Michigan wants him to pass, start him off with some quick throws to build his confidence.
Stay disciplined on defense: Similar to what I said about MSU, Michigan needs to play disciplined defense against the Air Force option. If the Wolverines stick to their assignments, they shouldn’t have much trouble containing the option. The more Michigan can force Air Force into third-and-long situation, the better the day will be. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A look at CMU/Air Force heading into Week 2

The second week of college football games are just a few days away, so let’s take a look at what Michigan State’s and Michigan’s opponents are saying entering the weekend.

Central Michigan
Michigan State should be walking into a pretty hostile environment on Saturday as Central Michigan is hyping Saturday’s game at Kelly/Shorts Stadium as the biggest home game in the program’s history.
One underlying theme to Saturday’s game is that current Chippewa head coach, Dan Enos, is a former Spartan quarterback and assistant under Mark Dantonio.
Nate Schneider of The Morning Sun in Mt. Pleasant has a story on Dantonio discussing his past allegiance to MSU and his current state as head coach of CMU entering Saturday’s game. Here is a quote from the article from Enos on the difficulties of coaching against Dantonio and MSU
“This is difficult,” Enos said. “We texted each other the other day and we both said this is hard. Games against friends always are. But you have to put that aside and play football, so that’s what it is. We’ll see each other Saturday, but it’s hard to coach against someone you have so much respect and admiration for and are friends with off the field. It’s part of the deal and also makes it a little more exciting. I love those guys over there and it’s going to be a fun day and a fun environment.”
Another interesting aspect to this game is the apparent support for MSU on the CMU campus. Central Michigan Life had a story on current Chippewa students going to Saturday’s game to support the Spartans. The photo to the right appeared this week at the La Senorita in Mt. Pleasant, just off the CMU campus.
I can understand people in Mt. Pleasant supporting MSU on any other week, but am surprised so many would blatantly root against the home-town team.

Air Force
Michigan comes into this week’s game with Air Force looking to get the taste of last week’s loss to Alabama out of its mouth.
The Falcons, on the other hand, are spending their time worrying about stopping Denard Robinson and praising the Michigan program.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun held his weekly press conference boasting about the Wolverines and how great of a program they are. Here are some of Calhoun’s quotes from The Denver Post.
"There are a handful of programs in college football that are guaranteed at least 10 victories every season," Calhoun said, "Michigan is one of them. They clearly are the favorite to win the Big Ten Conference."
"There's not a more dynamic player in college football right now," Calhoun said of the 6-foot , 197-pound Robinson
The article also talks about some of the injury issues for the Falcons as center Michael Husar is out for the rest of the season following a knee injury last week. Receiver Ty MacArthur is going to be a game-time decision for Saturday’s contest due to a head injury.