Saturday, September 14, 2013

Reaction to Michigan State's 55-17 win over Youngstown State

I was at Spartan Stadium on Saturday and saw the Michigan State scoring outburst in person.
It was a good showing for Michigan State, and a much-needed breakout performance for its offense.
I wrote a column on the importance of Saturday’s performance for the offense and quarterback Connor Cook.
It’s easy to say Cook was the reason that Michigan State put up 55 points, but the performance was a collective improvement by all parts.
Receivers caught the tough passes and got separation from the defenders. The offensive line provided protection and created running lanes. Ball carries found open space and made tacklers miss. The quarterbacks didn’t turn the ball over. It all came together for the offense.
Now, the real question is, can Michigan State repeat its performance going forward?
If Michigan State is going to do anything this season, it will need Saturday’s offense to show up more often than not. The MSU defense is always going to give the Spartans a chance to win, but the offense will have to score some points from time-to-time.
Michigan State likely won’t play a defense as bad as Youngstown State’s for the rest of the season, but that doesn’t mean we should look past what the Spartans did on Saturday. It was a step in the right direction and it gave the Spartans some clarity about the quarterback position going forward.
Connor Cook is the guy, and the Spartans are going to win or lose with him under center.
Next week’s game at Notre Dame should give a clearer picture if Michigan State really has solved some of its issues on offense.

Reaction to Michigan's 28-24 win over Akron

I think most of us expected a letdown from Michigan on Saturday, but we couldn’t have expected what we got.
The Wolverines didn’t just have a letdown, they were fortunate to get a win at home over AKRON!
The Zips should have won that game. They arguably were the better team on Saturday in the 28-24 loss to the Wolverines at the Big House.
If it wasn’t for a pair of missed field goals, an INT in the end zone and a terrible play call on 3rd and goal from the 1, the Zips would have won the game somewhat comfortably.
All the good that came from Michigan’s 2-0 start was essentially wiped away in Saturday’s win.
Devin Garnder, though he had not been perfect, had won over Michigan fans everywhere as “the guy.” On Saturday, Gardner looked lost and, even worse, was a turnover machine.
Gardner led Michigan to a win over Notre Dame. On Saturday, the Wolverines won in spite of him.
Gardner wasn’t the only problem, however.
The offensive line didn’t do much in the run game. Sure, Michigan had 185 rushing yards, but 112 of that came from Gardner. The Wolverines need to find a consistent running game with its collection of backs, especially with Big Ten play on the horizon.
Michigan’s defense has to be a concern as well. The Wolverines gave up 417 yards to an Akron team that averaged 303 yards per game after playing juggernauts like Central Florida and James Madison.
A letdown would have been an ugly 17-point win over the Zips. This was much more than that. This was concerning if you are a Wolverine fan. This had to put doubt, not only in the minds of Michigan fans, but in the minds of the players as well. Suddenly, next week’s game at Connecticut doesn’t look as appealing as it did a week ago.
Michigan still has a good football team, but it needs to progress, not regress. Devin Gardner is still a talented quarterback, but he has to learn from his mistakes.
Next week’s game will tell a lot about where this team is heading as it begins Big Ten play. If the Wolverines come out on the road and put a beating on the Huskies, then they got the message from Saturday’s mess. If the game is another nail-biter, it could be another disappointing season.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Predictions for Akron vs. Michigan/Youngstown State vs. MSU

Akron at Michigan, Noon ET
This should be a sizable win for Michigan at home. Coming off the emotional win against Notre Dame, the Wolverines could use a game like this, where it can afford to make some mistakes and still win. I don’t know that Michigan will look real crisp, as they could be looking past Akron, but the Wolverines should still win with ease. The Zips haven’t shown much ability to stop weaker offenses than Michigan, so look for Devin Gardner to put up impressive numbers. Michigan also should be able to work in a lot of running back options and the defense should hold Akron in check.
Michigan 41, Akron 6

Youngstown State at Michigan State, 2PM ET
MSU could spice this game up by having head coach Mark Dantonio spin a wheel prior to each offensive possession to determine which of the four quarterback options will take the field. The crowd would at least be on the edge of its seat for that. Youngstown State isn’t a bad FCS program and the Spartans would be foolish to come into this game overconfident for any reason, given its extreme offensive struggles. The Spartans need to find their offensive identity in this game, because it can’t go into the rest of the schedule not knowing who their quarterback is. I expect the MSU defense to continue to be impressive, but you can’t expect two more touchdowns this week. This one will be on the offense, and the unit better answer the call. If it can’t score against Youngstown State, just who are the Spartans going to score against?
Michigan State 20 (all from the offense), Youngstown State 10

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Who should Michigan State's starting QB be?

The MSU offense is a mess.
That’s not really breaking news.
The real news is that heading into the third week of the season, the Spartans still don’t have a defined quarterback. In fact, Michigan State has four quarterbacks in the mix.

Andrew Maxwell – Maxwell is the one with all the experience (he’s a fifth-year senior) and is currently leading the team in passing yards (114), completion percentage (50 percent) and completions (15). Maxwell struggled throughout last season, going 234 of 446 passing for 2,606 yards and 13 touchdowns with nine interceptions. Maxwell has been notorious for throwing short of the sticks on third down and shows little mobility in the pocket. He has been most impacted by the drops of the receivers, but that could be due to the ball he throws.
Connor Cook – Cook, a sophomore, was given the opportunity to win the job last week against South Florida but he went just 6 of 11 passing for 32 yards. He also rushed for 10 yards on nine carries. There seems to be a belief among the coaching staff that he is the best man for the job, as he will be getting most of the reps with the first team in practice this week. Cook has the mobility that Maxwell doesn’t, but there has been no proof that he can consistently lead the MSU offense down the field. He is just 12 of 27 passing for the season for 74 yards.
Tyler O’Connor – The redshirt freshman got an opportunity last week against South Florida, but he apparently blew that chance with a questionable pass attempt in the red zone. O’Connor did lead MSU down the field and setup the Spartans for a field goal, which happened to be missed. However, a throw into triple coverage in the end zone frustrated the coaching staff and earned him the bench for the rest of the game and possibly the season. It seemed like a quick hook for O’Connor. While his throw was poor and was lucky not to be a turnover, he’s also a freshman that is going to make some mistakes. If anything, MSU is hurting his development by making him think he will get the hook if he ever makes a mistake.
Damion Terry – The true freshman out of Erie, Pa. appears set to make his MSU debut this week. He has been getting No. 2 reps during practice this week and likely would have been given a chance last week if not for an illness keeping him from practicing. The fan base seems to want to see what Terry can do, but just how much leeway would he be given when he steps on the field? Would he be pulled if he makes one questionable throw or fumbles the ball? Certainly a true freshman has to be expected to make some mistakes along the way.

No matter what Michigan State does going forward, it has to make a decision after this week’s game with Youngstown State. Notre Dame is on the horizon and then Big Ten play starts. You can’t go into these important games still playing up to four quarterbacks.
So who do you think gives MSU the best chance to win?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Reaction to Michigan's 41-30 win over Notre Dame

Michigan got a big win at home Saturday night and Devin Gardner got a marquee win as starting quarterback of the Wolverines under his belt.
He almost let the game get away from him, but composed himself and helped lead the offense to finish the job in the fourth quarter.
There is reason for optimism at Michigan. It is now 2-0 and looking at a schedule that should allow the Wolverines to be 7-0 heading into the home stretch of the season.
The offense was great, racking up 460 yards of offense on Notre Dame. The Wolverines consistently moved the ball down the field and Devin Gardner took a step forward as a quarterback while Jeremy Gallon further improved his status as a playmaker.
Gardner finished with 294 yards and four touchdowns on 21 of 33 passing while rushing for 82 yards on 13 carries and a score. Gardner also overcame a bad situation in the game. Up 14 in the third quarter, he made a poor decision by trying to extend a play when it wasn’t necessary. He could have taken a sack and the game would have been in Michigan’s control, but instead he ran backwards into the end zone. From there, instead of take the safety that was inevitable, he tried to heave the ball away while being hit, but it ended up being caught by the Irish in the end zone for a touchdown, completely changing the complexion of the game.
Had Notre Dame went on to win and Gardner folded from that point forward, it could have changed the whole dynamic of the season and his career. Instead, he bounced back and threw another touchdown pass in the fourth quarter.
Gallon had a tremendous game, catching eight passes for 184 yards. He made play after play for Gardner. Some were ad-libbed, and some were not. He is clearly establishing himself as a top receiver in the Big Ten.
Where Michigan can be somewhat concerned is on defense. The Wolverines gave up 410 yards to Notre Dame, including 314 passing yards. Michigan had plenty of chances to keep Notre Dame from staying in this game, but the defense just couldn’t get the stops.
Michigan isn’t going to face any powerful offenses for at least a month, so the Wolverines have time to fix the problems, but Michigan will certainly face better offenses than Notre Dame as the season progresses. The Wolverines found themselves getting pushed around up front later in the contest. It could have been fatigue, but it’s something that will have to be addressed.
All-in-all, it was a good night for Michigan and a big win on national television.
Michigan and Michigan State are both 2-0, but both fan bases have to feel drastically different about the state of their current teams.

Reaction to Michigan State's 21-6 win over South Florida

There isn’t much for me to say other than what I said in my column for The Oakland Press.
Michigan State has an outstanding defense. It is a defense that is capable of winning championships.
Only problem is, that defense is attached to an awful offense.
Sure, it is only the second game of the season, but the problems the MSU offense has had thus far are nearly identical to the problems it had last season. Not to mention that the Spartans have faced to below average defenses and not been able to score. What is MSU going to do when it starts facing a defense that can actually play defense?
Mark Dantonio seems a little desperate. He is trying any combo of quarterbacks, receivers and running backs he can to get the formula right. The only problem is, it seems to be getting Michigan State further from finding the answer.
If Michigan State ultimately has a mediocre season, it will really be kicking itself. These past two seasons, Michigan State has had a defense that was one of the best in the nation. To not be able to accomplish more would be a shame. It’s not often a program is able to have a defense that can truly be dominant, but MSU has something very close to that. If the Spartans could just develop a mildly consistent offense, it could find itself going to Pasadena for the first time in a long time.
However, I don’t hold out much faith that that will happen. The MSU quarterbacks, receivers and offensive line don’t appear to be up to the task of taking Michigan State to the top of the Big Ten.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Predictions for MSU vs. USF and Michigan vs. Notre Dame

South Florida at Michigan State
Despite the offensive struggles Michigan State had last weekend, the defense still looked very strong. Now the Spartans face a South Florida team that had just 342 yards of offense against McNeese State while allowing 424 total yards to the Cowboys. If Michigan State can’t consistently move the ball against the Bulls on Saturday afternoon, then there should be some real concerns about the MSU offense. I expect the Spartan defense to make some big plays early on, maybe even score a touchdown, and allow the offense to play with less pressure. No matter who is under center for MSU, they should be able to lead the offense to multiple scores.
Michigan State 34, South Florida 13

Notre Dame at Michigan
The Fighting Irish and Brian Kelly have given Michigan every reason to be pumped up for this game. Kelly gave the Wolverines the bulletin board material by saying Michigan wasn’t a “historic” rival for the Fighting Irish. Brady Hoke has probably been beating his players over the head with that. Adding to it all is the fact that this game is on national television and under the lights at the Big House. The crowd should be electric and carry Michigan to a strong start. If Devin Gardner can avoid turnovers, Michigan should be able to win this game. The Wolverines’ defense will be able to apply pressure to Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees. From there, it will be up to Rees to make good decisions, which I don’t think he will. With an early lead, the Michigan offense can control the ball and have steady drives on the ground and through the air. I don’t think the Wolverines will run away with this one, but I do think they will lead for nearly all of the game.
Michigan 27, Notre Dame 17

Monday, September 2, 2013

Week 2 Odds for Michigan and Michigan State

The first week of the college football season is closing today and the second week is nearing. Here is a look at the odds for Michigan and Michigan State this week.

Michigan State –18.5 vs. South Florida
The Spartans remain in East Lansing to host South Florida this upcoming Saturday. Michigan State is coming off its 26-13 win over Western Michigan where the offense struggled and the defense looked strong. South Florida, on the other hand, looked awful, as the Bulls were hammered at home by McNeese State, 53-21. The Bulls gave up 424 yards of offense to McNeese State while amassing just 342 yards. One would think that the Spartans will be able to move the ball better against the Bulls and South Florida should struggle to move the ball against the MSU defense. The 18.5-point spread wouldn’t be much for MSU to cover, but the offense didn’t give us much faith that it can put up points.

Michigan -3 vs. Notre Dame
Michigan looked good in its 59-9 win over Central Michigan, but the Wolverines can play better. Notre Dame had a 28-6 win over Temple at home on Saturday in which the Fighting Irish amassed 543 yards of offense. Notre Dame gave up 362 yards of offense to Temple, so there is a sense that Michigan can move the ball against the Irish. The question will be can Devin Gardner make the key throws and avoid turnovers? Turnovers destroyed Michigan’s chances of beating Notre Dame last season and could tell the tale of this game. The Michigan defense will be tested by Notre Dame’s offense, but don’t look for the Irish to pile up 500 yards against the Wolverines. As the spread indicates, this should be a close game.