How come I get the feeling that the national sports media hasn’t accepted what is taking place in East Lansing? The Game Day crew from ESPN continue to place MSU on upset alert while commenting about the Spartan year end collapse that is sure to come after having played Michigan. The point that many in sports media are missing is that since Mark Dantonio arrived this has essentially become a moot subject. Those late season collapses were a result primarily of talent and depth issues, combined with the stellar coaching of Bobby Williams and John L Smith. It is as if they can’t come to grips with MSU’s success and shaking the label of “Same ole Spartans.”

So why is this 2010 version different than all the other teams they preceded? To begin, let’s understand that Mark Dantonio is 4-0 after his teams have played the Wolverines, and are 6-2 in the month of November the past three seasons. Not quite the record one would expect from listening to the “Three men and a baby” crew on ESPN. By the way, Desmond Howard is the baby in that group. Wouldn’t one agree that a fourth consecutive reversal of this once frustrating trend has finally laid this myth to rest? That was the old MSU, not the one now coached and recruited by Mark Dantonio. The depth issues that plagued this team in the past when injuries would mount are no longer a problem.

Now that Dantonio has slain this dragon he now faces an even greater challenge, maintaining his teams focus. When you are one of a handful of undefeated teams and rated in the top 10 in the national polls rest assured that every opponent will give you their “A game.” That means that there is no rest for the wicked, and MSU will have to bring it every weekend. This is the next step, where teams struggling to prove their worthiness continue to elevate their game so that an upset will not occur. This team has that capability. They have remained relatively healthy because of their depth and the ability to rotate players so that no one is hitting a performance wall due to fatigue. That’s what the good teams have done for years, and now MSU has that capability.

This weekend MSU travels to Evanston to play the Wildcats of Northwestern, taking another step in their maturing process. Aside from the first year overtime loss 48-40, MSU has managed to contain NU’s spread offense, allowing an average of 17 points in the last two contests. I don’t have the fear and trepidation of encountering the spread this year as the defense has continually stepped up their game the last three weeks. MSU played at a championship level last Saturday, holding the Illini without a touchdown the entire game and scoreless the second half.

The defensive line in particular have become more dominant, occupying blockers so that the line backing corps can make tackles as well as finding a renewed pass rush allowing the need for blitzing to be diminished. When you include the front fours ability to disrupt a quarterbacks sight line when their arms are raised and batting down passes, the job of the back seven is greatly reduced. MSU will need that kind of performance on Saturday and every weekend going forward. Greg Jones’ 14 tackle game against Illinois can be directly attributable to the fact that he was allowed to roam relatively unimpeded, making him even more of a threat and more difficult for offensive coordinators to scheme.

Seeing how MSU was able to bottle up mobile quarterbacks Robinson and Scheelhaase these past two weeks Persa should be a less daunting task running wise. Passing, Persa has the ability to make you pay, but as I explained above, the MSU front four is becoming a more disruptive force. I believe the Spartans could realistically hold NU to under 275 yards of offense, and create a few takeaways.

Offensively MSU will need for the offensive line to rebound from its performance this past weekend. Illinois’ front four seemingly played the first half in the Spartan backfield. They were able to make some head way in the second half, but more is required from these five. I don’t expect MSU to face another combination of defensive linemen and linebackers with the quickness, power and speed possessed by the Illini. Northwestern has a serviceable defensive line, backed by a solid group of linebackers. If Foreman and MacDonald are able to get to the next level and disrupt the Wildcat linebackers, the trio of Baker, Bell and Caper will have numerous runs of 8 yards or more. Once the NU safety’s creep up to commit to the run, Cousins should be able to hit Cunningham, Dell or Martin for scores. I also expect both Linthicum and Gantt to play a substantial role in the offense this week, particularly finding open spots in the middle of the field for intermediate gains of 10 to 15 yards.

Expect MSU to win by no less than three scores if the defense continues their mastery and the offense pounds the ball.

PMFMILW wrote:
Enjoy it Sparty, it wont last forever you know it and I know it.
10/9/2010 10:29:48 PM

It’s comments like these from arrogant UM fans that make this third consecutive win all the more satisfying. Yes, I and all Spartan fans will bask in this our third consecutive victory.  We will enjoy it for another twelve months until these two teams meet again and we can help celebrate with all those MSU football players next year who will be able to say they never experienced the taste of defeat against the Wolverines.

Now I must admit that I agree with this UM slappy that this dominance won’t last forever. Granted, all things eventually come to an end, and no one would better know that than a UM fan these past three seasons as the chapter on UM’s forty year dominance over MSU has concluded.

The question now becomes, “How long will MSU dominance over their crack-whore sibling from the south last?” Not even the best walmart wolverine can honestly say. I do know that their fear is MSU having a similar run of dominance that we have all seen come to a close back in 2008.

Not even the national media’s Viagra hard-on the last two seasons over UM’s fast start can conceal the obvious short comings of a Rich Rodriguez coached and recruited team these past three years. They like so many of the UM faithful don’t want to, or can’t face the realization that UM football is insignificant as how it relates to the game today.

In years past, a single loss by a UM team was usually dealt with the knowledge that they were likely out of the national championship title hunt. But this loss on Saturday, their first of the season, signified that they won’t even contend for a conference title. Even the season ending game against OSU will not hold the same luster as in seasons past when it was the “Big Two and the little eight” routinely vying for the conference title and the opportunity to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. ABC will do its best to hype this game come late November, but everyone will know they are just trying to put lipstick on a pig to make it look more attractive. It doesn’t work as has been verified by witnessing the countless number of UM coeds having done this very thing for decades without success. Just like an ugly UM coed it is now requiring a case of beer and a quart of Jack Daniels for UM football to look good to their fans.

Enough about UM, the real story on Saturday was MSU and its dominance in every phase of the game. Running, passing, blocking and tackling by the Spartans were on full display. It wasn’t as if MSU played a perfect game, but the fact that MSU was able to impose their will whenever there was a hint that UM might mount some sort of a comeback. Every challenge was answered by this MSU team. The repeated camera shots of Mark Dantonio, sitting confident and stoic in the coach’s box, looking like the emperor at the coliseum, with the crowd awaiting his thumbs up or thumbs down decision on whether he would spare the life of the opponent or end it. The decision was made, thumbs down, and the Spartan proceeded to slay the Wolverines.

Three games into the season I wrote that MSU was a mediocre team based solely on their performance on the field against less than stellar opponents. The issues that plagued the defense last year did not appear to be corrected. The defense was struggling to get off the field on third down, the secondary showed little improvement in playing the ball when it was in the air, and the ability of the front four to apply pressure. It was frustrating because I believed MSU had the talent it just didn’t appear to be translating on the field. That is until Dantonio made the call, “Little Giants”, and subsequently suffered a mild heart attack. It’s as if those two events ignited a spark in this team and their entire persona changed, as their performance has been elevated.

The last three games MSU has faced and overcome challenges both on and off the field. They exhibited no emotional let down when playing Northern Colorado after their exciting overtime win against Notre Dame and without Mark Dantonio on the sidelines. They stood toe to toe against Wisconsin and matched their physicality. Again there was no emotional letdown in this team after learning that their coach had suffered a minor setback in his recovery. Then on Saturday this MSU team faced the media hype and the demons from the past that often saw MSU crumble the week after experiencing a possible program defining win. On this Saturday there was none of that. MSU was focused with a single purpose, to win the game. They would do it by being faster, stronger, physical and composed. Everything that Michigan once was.

MSU made a STATEment this past Saturday. They have raised the bar for themselves and the expectations of their fans. As a team I believe they have learned from Mark Dantonio’s heart attack how quickly in life things can change. As the saying goes, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift and that is why the call it the present.” MSU needs to maintain their focus on the objective Mark Dantonio set for this team when he was hired in December of 2006, winning a Big Ten championship. They can do that by treating each game with equal importance. Good job little brother, you are becoming a man.

As one who has ridden the MSU secondary unmercifully the past two seasons for their ineptness I know when accolades are merited. The Spartan secondary did a terrific job in locking down the Badger receivers, and keeping Scott Tolzien, to under 150 yards passing. Though I still have an issue with them not looking back for the ball, all the Spartan defenders played tight enough coverage that they typically delivered a hit just as the ball arrived to break up the pass or limit the yards after catch. If they can continue to maintain and eventually improve upon the coverage they displayed on Saturday MSU will have as close to a championship style defense as the 1987 Rose Bowl Team.

Hats off to the offensive line for paving the way to 175 yards rushing against a very solid Badger front seven. I was going to reserve judgment of this unit until they played a respectable defense. The four 200 yard rushing games were a welcome sign, however it would have meant little if they were unable to have similar success against what I and many others considered an upper tier Big Ten program. Even the failure to score on fourth and goal from the one yard line was excused. UW had six down linemen, and the lead blocker on that play, Brian Linthicum lost his footing preventing him from gaining any momentum to push the pile or block his defender. I stated in an earlier article that the sign of a solid offensive line is if they can get a back to the 1000 yard plateau. This starting five has that ability and with the three-headed monster at running back that MSU can unleash it is plausible that MSU could have two or possibly three backs with more than 800 yards rushing apiece.

I know that much of the media attention regarding the most electrifying player in the Big Ten is focused on Denard Robinson, but that may certainly change a bit come Saturday. Keshawn Martin is equally as electrifying as he is truly a triple threat catching, running and receiving on offense and as a return man. The kid is a game changer and because of him being a threat as a return man he affects how punters and place kickers approach the mental side of kicking a football. Punters fear over-kicking their coverage or line-driving a punt that will allow Martin a chance to take it to the house. That shanked punt by Brad Nortman can be directly attributed to Martin. In his attempt to get more hang time, Nortman altered his natural mechanics to prevent Martin from making a return resulting in a 14 yard punt. I would not be surprised if Martin received the Big Ten special teams player of the week award for his performance.

Overall it was a very satisfying Saturday and not just from the aspect of the win. MSU made a statement that they are capable of competing with the upper tier teams on an equal level. The game was exciting as neither team budged much and the outcome was still in doubt with less than five minutes to play, requiring the fans to stay to the very end. Blowouts are nice, but nothing creates a buzz in a stadium for the players and crowd when every play in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter is critical.

Now it is on to Michigan. I am struggling to keep myself from coming out directly and saying MSU is going to win, but it is difficult not to. When you examine the three main categories, offense, defense and special teams, Michigan is woefully deficient in two of the those three, and the only one that has performed well still has a huge question mark about its true capabilities.

The UM offense consists of Denard Robinson and little else. He is Antwan Randal El deux, only with more national media attention. To be honest, comparing him to the former Indiana quarterback is a disservice because ARE was actually a very good passer who just had extraordinary running ability. Robinson on the other hand has extrodinary running ability and …well let’s face it, if the Heisman trophy depicted a quarterback throwing Denard would not even be in the discussion. To be fair, the UM offense is not set up to throw the ball down field more than 7 to 10 yards and hope that the receiver will do the rest. Last Saturday against IU’s “We can’t cover or tackle” secondary UM was successful in turning those short throws into huge gains.

I am not naïve to think that Robinson is not a threat every time he has the ball in his hands, because he is capable of eluding tacklers and going all the way. What will be interesting to see is how he and the UM offense will operate if MSU is somehow capable of effectively limit his rushing production. If the MSU defense bottles up Robinson and his running, they essentially have shut down the UM offense. UM does not have a viable running game strictly using their running backs. Robinson may be able to dink and dunk his way down the field using five to seven yard routes, but once inside the red zone the spread loses its advantage of operating in space, making it less effective at scoring touchdowns. At some point Rodriguez will have to make the decision to stay with Robinson and have him try to win the game using his arm if MSU shuts down his running ability, or make the move to bring in another quarterback who is more adept at passing?

I have read some of the UM bravado about having two capable backups, one having starting experience. But playing Forcier would be conceding that Robinson is nothing more than a glorified running back operating in the wildcat. I am looking forward to see how MSU will handle Robinson’s running. Shut the Robinson ground game down and all the air goes out of the Robinson for Heisman balloon.

Defensively I will give credit to Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh. These three are the elite of the UM defense, unfortunately for them the other eight they play with are the dregs of the defense. Neutralize or exploit the effectiveness of Martin, Van Bergen and Roh and MSU will have a field day both running and throwing the ball. UM has not faced a truly balanced offense this season, but they have proven that they are totally incapable of defending the pass and only slightly better at stopping the run.

If MSU’s front five dominate the line of scrimmage don’t be surprised to see Baker, Bell and Caper each owning multiple 20+ yard carries. UM’s two veteran linebackers Mouton and Ezeh don’t possess the speed and the instincts to keep this trio of MSU runners from breaking into the secondary and making road kill of some helpless Wolverine defensive back. Baker specifically, with his combination of explosive speed and deceptive moves, will likely require many of the UM back eight to pick up their jockstraps after getting juked by him. Throw in the issues that both Gantt and Lithicum provide in coverage for all three of the UM linebackers and the term “First and Ten, Spartans” will resonate repeatedly through the Big House.

As maligned as the MSU secondary has been over the last two seasons is nothing compared to the 2010 version of the Michigan secondary. Individually and collectively this is a horrible unit, with equal parts of little experience and ability. IU put up 480 yards of passing because they simply could. UM had no answer for the IU passing game even though they knew they could readily ignore any attempts that IU made at running the ball. UM knew they were going to throw, dropped eight into coverage, often against four, and still gave up huge plays. It was an exercise in futility, but now according to some UM pundits this will all magically be resolved against the likes of Cunningham, Dell, Martin and Nichol. The only way UM’s secondary holds Cousins and the MSU passing attack under 200 yards is if MSU only throws the ball a total of five passes, and even then the total yards could possibly near that figure.

The final observation is regarding UM’s special teams play. When you have a group of place kickers who are a combined 1 for 5 in field goals you better hope that your offense scores a lot of points. In all honesty I don’t expect Rodriguez to attempt a fieldgoal unless it less than thirty yards, meaning that their drive stalled at the thirteen yard line. Even then I would expect Rodriguez to opt for his offense to try and score or convert on fourth down rather than trot his kicking unit.

UM has not had to punt a great deal, and true freshman Will Hagerup has performed adequately in those few occasions, however he has never had to punt to as gifted a return man as Martin. And only averaging 38 yards per punt doesn’t allow for much in the way of returns because the Wolverine punt coverage team doesn’t have to run too far. The test for this true freshman will be how he handles kicking from deep in his own territory and needs to really boom a long punt. If he does get a hold of one and out kicks the coverage Martin will make them pay.

UM Kick coverage is abysmal at best with opponent’s generally obtaining starting field position at the thirty yard line or greater. Again, Martin and Bell have the potential to provide MSU with a short field every time the Wolverines kick off, but hopefully those opportunities will be few and far between.

MSU weathered the storm of not having Mark Dantonio on the sidelines this past weekend. Granted the competition was less than stellar, but the team responded admirably to the adverse circumstances. The question now becomes how will they respond if they have to endure a second week without him on the sidelines now that the competition will be considerably ramped up?

As expected there were few if any surprises in MSU’s basic philosophy in what and how they were going to go about competing on Saturday. Treadwell did nothing out of the ordinary to make anyone think that Dantonio still wasn’t on the sideline. It will be interesting to observe how Treadwell performs this Saturday against the Badgers if Dantonio is once again not available? Just how close to the vest will Treadwell keep the play calling, especially if this is remains a close ball game late into the fourth quarter? Will he add or take a few un-Dantonio like plays or chances? To be fair to Don Treadwell, he does have head coaching aspirations and he could possibly use this opportunity to audition to prove just how capable a leader he could be for a program looking for a new head coach. Even though Treadwell’s main objective is to keep things as similar to that of his boss, I have to wonder what he may do to leave his impression as to the kind of coach he is.

I’m sure the Badgers would rather see Dantonio standing on the sideline because they are more familiar with his profile and know what he is likely to do a majority of the time. With Treadwell there is no familiarity with him regarding his tendencies as a coach. Being an offensive coordinator is one thing, but Dantonio has set the tone for how he operates, and has the final say on on-field decisions. Treadwell is an unknown, and though he did not deviate from the script this past Saturday, there is no certainty that he will continue that trend. Knowing your opponents tendencies is what film study is all about. Teams chart the frequency of plays based on down and distance and establish a high probability of what play will be run. A lot of that has to do with the head coaches philosophy and demeanor. Treadwell, his demeanor and decision making process are unknowns and could differ enough from that of Dantonio’s to confuse and confound opponents. We shall see.

Concerns:

Still no measureable success in applying pressure from the front four. You know it is bad when defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi makes mention of it in his post game interview. This coming from a guy who ignores stats and applies the “Stats are for losers” mentality. Did he just have an epiphany after his defense was held sackless by a FCS team? Maybe he caught a glimpse of the ND/Stanford game before facing the media and witnessed the easy in which the Cardinal defense was able to apply pressure and get to Crist using only a three-man rush. Whatever the case, the fact remains that far too often opposing quarterbacks go undisturbed in the pocket without facing pressure. I understand that Northern Colorado had a mobile QB and that he routinely rolled out and bought time, but the fact that the DC specifically referenced the fact that his DL failed to apply pressure shows just how dire the situation has become. Even when MSU reverts to blitzing are they able to get to the QB. Defensive line coach Ted Gill has been on my “Needs to Produce” list along with Barnett, but his unit just isn’t showing they are capable of beating an opponent whether they are using speed or brute strength. To their credit the DL has performed admirably against the run based on the level of competition, but Saturday is a whole different story. How the DL holds up against an offensive line that completely dominated them last year will say a lot as to their true capabilities.

Where is the “Special” in special teams? Besides a couple of impressive returns against FAU, Martin’s contribution as a returner this young season has been non-existent. True teams are kicking away from him and spying him more, but he has not provided MSU with the quality of field position anticipated by many. Hope the entire return team picks up their level of performance because this was one area that many were counting on to provide MSU a measurable advantage.

The secondary will continue to draw my ire until I see them look back for the ball when covering a receiver. Before everyone goes “Whiner” on me let me just state that after watching the secondary play of Alabama, Arkansas, Stanford, FSU, Auburn, South Carolina, and Boise State, the MSU secondary displays few of the basic fundamentals and traits that these exhibit. I’m not saying that these secondary units didn’t have breakdowns on occasion, but none of the defensive backs failed to turn and look back for the ball in coverage. The four interceptions were a surprise, but three of the four were by linebackers (Jones second INT and Bullough’s first were textbook coverage for linebackers). To Rucker’s and Adam’s credit, they did a solid job this past Saturday, but they did not have many opportunities covering receivers on deep routes. The poor play by the NC quarterback contributed significantly in limiting this aspect. This Saturday could be a replay of the ND game with Scott Tolzien exposing the MSU secondary and their lack of ability to play the ball in the air.

Observations:

We are a third of the way through the regular season schedule. MSU is where I and many expected them to be at 4-0 heading into the conference opener. The two major surprises thus far this year has to be the emergence of true freshman Le’Veon Bell and Dantonio suffering a heart attack. Suffice it say both were unexpected. Bell’s performance was unexpected because of last year’s performance of Edwin Baker and Larry Caper and their improvement heading into the season. It was not required, nor was it much of a concern that MSU find a third running back to complement these two. With Caper’s hand injury the workload appeared likely to fall squarely on the shoulders of Baker, but that hasn’t been the case. Bell is to Caper what Gehrig was to Pipp. It is going to be difficult to take carries away from Bell until he is stopped.

How many of us even gave consideration to Dantonio suffering a heart attack? I know I sure didn’t. I, like Dantonio are both in our fifties, and he appears to be the picture of health. If you had to pick likely candidates for coaches suffering a heart attack Mark Mangino, Charlie Weis, Ralph Friedgen or even Joe Paterno (due to his advanced age) would probably topped the list. I guess the American Heart Association will have to add another bullet point to its list of ways to reduce the risk of a heart attack. Besides not smoking, eating healthy, exercising and watching your weight, they will add avoid coaching football at MSU. Get well soon Coach Dantonio.

I have got to wonder what the general mindset of the team is this week after experiencing the high from an exciting come from behind, overtime, victory and the shock and disbelief of learning that their coach had suffered a heart attack and will be unavailable for an unspecified amount of time?  Sports by its nature are often affected by emotions of a player, team, coach, or crowd, and this Saturday the eyes of the nation will be on the Spartans.  You can bet that there will be more than one mention about how MSU will respond without Dantonio on the sideline.  I can already hear the hosts of three major college broadcasts, Chris Fowler, John Saunder, and Tim Brando enquiring as to how the team will or has responded to the absence of their coach.

Last week all the focus on playing Notre Dame at night was supposed to be sufficient to get the team motivated.  For additional incentive, Dantonio named the injured Josh Rouse as the honorary captain, hoping to provide an additional emotional lift to his team much in the way that Amp Campbell did in 1998.  For as exciting as the game may have concluded, I came away with the feeling that the team wasn’t as psychologically and emotionally charged as hoped for.  In fact I would say that Notre Dame displayed more of an energized persona than did the Spartans.

That brings me to this weeks question, “What is going to be the attitude of the team come Saturday?”  Will Northern Colorado have the misfortune of shaking up a hornets nest or will the atmosphere be more like a funeral wake?

I would hope that the Spartans, collectively as well as individually will dig deep and play with the purpose and resolve appropriate to honor their coach.  They do not need to dwell on the misfortune of temporarily losing their head coach.  It is not the type of attitude exhibited by Dantonio when faced with adversity, and lord knows he has had his share these past few years with player arrests and dismissals.  Even with this most recent setback, Dantonio has displayed an attitude that this is just a minor inconvenience and he will come through it stronger and more qualified to even handle a near death experience.

Until his return to the sideline I would hope that the team will maintain the resolve displayed by their coach.  Many members of the team have expressed their genuine love and appreciation for Dantonio and see him as a father figure.  If by misfortune Mark Dantonio would have died Sunday morning I would hope that the lessons learned by the players by being around this man would have rubbed off.  Dantonio has preached that life is filled with obstacles that must be overcome.  I cannot think of a better way to honor one’s father than by carrying on his legacy.

Here’s to hoping that the players feel the same way and use this as motivation this Saturday and throughout the remainder of the season.

If as a Spartan fan you are ready to come down off the euphoria of MSU’s exciting overtime victory against Notre Dame then maybe you are ready to accept the reality that the 2010 version is nothing more than a mediocre team at best. For all the strides made in improved recruiting the product on the field has remained relatively the same. For someone who has been and is still a huge Dantonio supporter that is a bitter pill to swallow as my expectations were considerably higher.

Three games into the 2010 season the MSU defense still has no solution for how to pressure the quarterback or play pass defense. Each quarterback that MSU has faced has ended up having a career day. It doesn’t matter if they are a first year starter or seasoned veteran, they will invariably end up shredding the Spartan secondary. It has come to the point that I concede that the MSU defense is incapable of holding any opponent to under 300 yards passing or having them convert nearly half of their third down conversions, regardless of the distance.

As exciting as the MSU/ND game was, it still lack

What is most disappointing to me is that many of the Spartan faithful are viewing the victory over Notre Dame as some kind of epic achievement. The fact is Notre Dame is a mediocre program currently and it took MSU going to overtime in order to win this game. Notre Dame is not going to challenge for a BCS bowl invite this year, and will likely struggle to break .500. It will be interesting to see in the next few weeks when facing the likes of Stanford, Pitt, Boston College or Utah how Notre Dame competes. If their defense finds it difficult to hold these teams to under thirty points while their offense that managed 460 yards against MSU is held to numbers 100 yards less will be an indictment to the performance of this MSU team.

I know that many of you are probably saying that I am being a whiner, or something to the effect that I and every Spartan fan should revel in the joy of the victory. Yes it beats MSU having an “L”, but let’s keep things in perspective. MSU eked out a victory against a team that is in it’s fourth rebuilding phase in a dozen years. If this is the best that Dantonio and staff can do against mediocre teams then it is no wonder that MSU is overmatched and manhandled by upper tier conference opponents.

What these first three games have shown me is that the passing game still suffers from inconsistency. The major difference so far this year being the play at quarterback and not just the dropping of passes by the receiving corps. Cousins, has not looked sharp and his decision making has seemed to have regressed. I don’t know if he is putting more pressure on himself by trying to make plays and forcing the ball instead of taking what the defense will give him, but his performance has been nothing short of disappointing.

MSU appears to have found an exceptional talent in running back Le’Veon Bell. He has exhibited a decent amount of speed and power along with his outstanding ability to read his linemen and allow them to make their blocks. He is an excellent accompaniment to Edwin Baker, who has tremendous breakaway speed, moves, and toughness and is showing a better understanding of reading blocks this season. So far MSU has not needed or missed having Larry Caper in the backfield. Hopefully by sitting him out the first two games it has allowed his fracture to heal completely. It is a long season and having a third back with his abilities is a luxury.

As happy as I am about the play of Baker and Bell, I am still holding my judgment about the play of the offensive line until MSU begins to face a higher level of defensive lines. Pushing around WMU and FAU tells me little as to their true abilities of being a dominant run blocking unit. Pass protection has already shown to have dropped several notches as they have already surrendered half as many sacks in three games then they did all of last year. With UW, Iowa, UM and PSU still to play there is plenty left to prove. If, and that’s a big “IF” the offensive line is as formidable at run blocking as it has displayed in these first three games, Baker and Bell could easily each have a one thousand yard season in 2010. I don’t know what the record for runs of greater than 50 yards in a season by MSU is, but I sense that record could be surpassed this year.

As mentioned before the passing game has been inconsistent, both in the standpoint of the performance of the quarterback and the receivers. The number of drops since the opener has reduced, but the passing game just feels to be out of sorts. I can’t put my finger on what the possible problem/problems are, but this part of the offense is just not in sync. I have wondered if the early season drops have made Cousins hesitant to throw passes because of the uncertainty if they will make the catch. I can only speculate but the passing game hasn’t been as much of a weapon as anticipated.

Defensively this unit has not done anything to eliminate the perception that it’s secondary is nothing more than a sieve. If the MSU staff can introduce a new gadget play on a Wednesday and execute it perfectly on Saturday, why can’t Barnett and Dantonio instruct the defensive backs to look back for the ball when defending the pass? DB’s are told to watch the eyes of the quarterback, but for the members of the MSU defensive backfield that is impossible unless they have eyes in the back of their heads. I watched multiple games these past three weekends, paying close attention to DB play. The majority of the defenders I witnessed did several things that I would consider fundamental when covering a receiver. First, when running down field with a receiver they typically were hand-checking them. Getting a feel for where they were. Secondly they would look back for the ball at least once while in coverage. Not once have I seen MSU’s defensive backs exhibit this behavior, for the last two seasons. Shameful. That falls directly on the coaches and their instruction.

The other no-show as far as performance by a unit has been the defensive front, specifically when it comes to rushing the passer. The only pressure this unit creates is the one felt by my blood as it continually rises while I watch our opponent quarterbacks stand uncontested in the pocket for extended periods of time. I don’t want to hear the excuse from anybody that MSU hasn’t introduced their entire defensive scheme. It is not about scheme, it’s about a defensive lineman either out-quicking or overpowering the man in front of them, and so far MSU has lost every battle. Neely has been serviceable at best, but he is not going to cause any offensive coordinators any sleepless nights worrying about how to keep him out of the pocket. Drone and Freeman are still learning, but Hoover is an unmitigated bust. Sadly the only advantage the kid has is his height other than that he doesn’t possess either exceptional quickness or strength to routinely beat an offensive tackle. One indication of a good defensive line is the number of holding penalties assessed to the offensive line during a game while in pass protection. If there are no holding penalties being called you can bet that the offensive line is easily handling the defensive line.

We are a quarter of the way through the season and have been competitive against three mediocre programs. That tells me that something is missing and that missing ingredient is what will keep MSU from being competitive against teams like Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

Lastly, I would like to extend my prayers and best wishes to Mark Dantonio and his family for his complete recovery.

That’s what I came away with after watching MSU play the Western Michigan Broncos. Encroachment, off sides, and delay of game penalties, running third down routes short of the first down markers reflect poorly on any staff and are an indication of an undisciplined squad, and that is what I witnessed.

To add insult to injury the defensive line still needs a map to find the opposing teams backfield, let alone the quarterback. The secondary still doesn’t know how to play the ball when it is in the air as they never, NEVER, look back for the ball. Again that reflects on the coaching these players are receiving if you believe the hype that they have the talent. Gill, Barnett aren’t earning their paychecks, but then again either is defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Continuity is important for a coaching staff but only if the members of the staff are capable of instructing their units. I am not seeing that from Gill or Barnett, and that will be the ruin of Dantonio if not corrected, immediately. I am not advocating firing them now, but just let them know that their performance is holding the improvement of this unit back. Terrible.

Dantonio preached that the defense needed to learn how to come off the field, but WMU repeatedly found ways to convert third and fourth down plays to keep drives alive or score. Obviously his words have fallen on deaf ears of his defensive staff and the players. WMU gave the Spartan defense all they could handle, and I can only imagine what a good offensive team can and will do to this team. If they can’t get off the field against WMU how do they expect to be competitive with UW, Iowa, or PSU? They won’t unless a fire is lit under the members of this side of the ball. During the game the announcers commented after WMU scored their second touchdown that Dantonio got into the face of his defense. My only question is what took him so long? I would have been chewing on their asses the entire first half after the first second series by the Broncos and continued well into the locker room at half time.

MSU showed no improvement in the defensive areas that have been an issue the past few seasons. As I stated above, if MSU supposedly has the talent, then the only logical cause for the lack of improvement rests squarely on the shoulders of the defensive coaches, Gill, Barnett, and Narduzzi.

The defensive lapses overshadowed a rather impressive first game by freshman Le’Veon Bell. Bell did nothing to diminish Howard Griffith’s statement about him possibly becoming the featured back in this offense by mid-season if not sooner. The young man showed toughness running between the tackles and good speed going to the outside. Before I get ahead of myself I have to remember that this was against WMU, a defense that allowed Ashton Leggett to have a career day last season. Still Bell’s performance was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Receiver’s were awful. It appeared at times that they sprayed PAM on their gloves because nothing stuck to their hands. They couldn’t catch a pass with a bushel basket. Terrible. Poor Cousins was hesitant to throw because he didn’t know if anyone of his receivers would actually catch a ball that hit them in their hands.

Dantonio has his work cut out for him this week as there are plenty of areas that need to be revisited and corrections made. You can color me unimpressed with this Spartan performance, and I fear that there may be more of these performances ahead.

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